Found in Translation: The Mad Butcher of Berggasse

Found in Translation: The Mad Butcher of Berggasse

Happy 2014. So far, this year is looking promising.

I woke up on the morning of Jan. 1 to a nice surprise: The notification that the first post of a new blog called Wien um die Jahrhundertwende (Vienna at the Turn of the Century) was devoted to discussing Freud’s Butcher.

I was pretty sure the writeup was positive.

Vienna at the turn of the century

Illustration from Wien um die Jahrhundertwende (Vienna at the Turn of the Century)

I couldn’t be certain at first, however, because the blog is in German, a language I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t know, in spite of the fact that it was the native tongue of both my parents. Perhaps because it was the native tongue of both parents. They strongly discouraged me from learning German, partly because they associated it with memories of Nazi-occupied Austria and partly because they didn’t want me to know their secrets.

I was oddly — and atypically — obedient, much to my later regret. Especially since I started doing research into my family history.

Bing vs Google

In order to find out what the blog said, I turned to a couple of popular online translators, Bing and Google — with decidedly odd results.

Here is the first paragraph of the original text:

Fleisch, Freud und Familienforschung – auf dieser Grundlage betreibt die Amerikanerin Edie Jarolim seit eineinhalb Jahren das lesenswerte Blog Ihr Grossonkel mütterlicherseits, Siegmund Kornmehl, betrieb um die Jahrhundertwende eine koschere  Metzgerei in der Wiener Berggasse 19. Eine weltbekannte Adresse, denn im selben Haus wohnte und praktizierte Siegmund Freud. Wo einst ihr Grossonkel und der Namensvetter Siegmunds frisch Geschlachtetes über die Ladentheke reichte, befinden sich heute Teile des Freud-Museums.

The translation from Bing:

Meat, Freud and family research – on this basis, the American runs for one and a half years the worth reading blog Edie Jarolim Her great-uncle, Siegmund grain flour, ran around the turn of the century a kosher butcher shop in the Viennese Berggasse 19. A famous address, because in the same House lived and practiced Siegmund Freud. Where once her great-uncle and the namesake freshly slaughtered over the counter handed Siegmund, there are parts of the Freud Museum today.
The translation from Google:
Meat, Freud and family research – on this basis, operates the American Edie Jarolim and a half years since the blog worth reading . Your Gross maternal uncle , Siegmund grain flour, operating around the turn of the century a kosher butcher shop in the Vienna Berggasse 19 A world- known address , as lived in the same house and practiced Siegmund Freud. Where once handed her great-uncle and namesake Siegmund fresh Slaughtered over the counter, are now part of the Freud Museum.

Getting past the strangled syntax of the first sentences of both, I noted the phrases “worth reading blog”/”blog worth reading.” Good sign.

Then I got sidetracked by analyzing the comparative merits of the translations.

Collage from Wien um die Jahrhundertwende

Collage from Wien um die Jahrhundertwende

Regarding the amount of time my blog existed, the Bing translation is superior, rendering “eineinhalb Jahren” correctly as “a year and a half”;  Google rudely deletes a year from my blogging practice.  And Google seems to have a problem with personal pronouns, idioms, and consistency: “Ihr Grossonkel mütterlicherseits” becomes “Your Gross maternal uncle” in one part of the paragraph, while “Ihr Grossonkel” is “her great uncle” later on. On the other hand, Bing omits the adjective “mütterlicherseits” — “maternal” — that indicates the great uncle is on my mother’s side of the family. Which is pretty rude too.

Both Bing and Google seem have to a problem with proper names — at least when they don’t belong to famous people like Freud. I understand that  surnames pose a problem in German translation, since all nouns are capitalized, but it’s still funny to see Siegmund Kornmehl transformed into “Siegmund grain flour.”

Finally, Bing wins the award for inadvertent dark humor with: “Where once her great-uncle and the namesake freshly slaughtered over the counter handed Siegmund, there are parts of the Freud Museum today” — a grisly scene straight out of “Sweeney Todd.” I only hope that Johnny Depp will play my great uncle Siegmund in the movie, “Feasting on Freud: The Mad Butcher of Berggasse.”

Analyze that.

But about the blog

A Dutch friend who lives in Denmark — I mention his heritage because every Dutch person I’ve met seems to know a hundred languages — provided a much better summary of the entire article. I’m paraphrasing:

Great review of your blog: The author calls your articles “authentic,”and says that your vivid curiosity is contagious. She says you provide new material on the history of Vienna and Freud and you analyze Freud from a very personal perspective, as a wearer of spectacles, a dog lover and as possible lover of his sister-in-law, while at the same time upholding scientific standards by citing several sources. The comment section of your blog contains lively discussions of the topics you write about.


I also consulted the author’s “About Me” page, as it was conveniently labeled in English. I gleaned that her name was Dorothea Eppler, and that she lived with her family in Zürich (no surprise that she could read and analyze my blog, then; the Swiss also know a hundred languages).

I posted a comment to the author, thanking her for her post and explaining my linguistic difficulties. She wrote back, also in the comments section:

Dear Edie, I just started studies in creative writing at the Alice Salomon University in Berlin. We were asked to start writing a blog. By researching information about Vienna and Freud in the beginning of the 20th century, I was lucky to find your blog. In my opinion your writing seems to be a very good example for exploring one’s own biography. I liked very much how you linked your personal family history, the history of Vienna and other questions like food, psychoanalysis and Jewish life. I already knew that Siegmund Freud liked “Rinderbraten” very much. It’s funny to know that your granduncle may have processed the meat he ate.

As opposed, say, to having processed Freud himself…

I was struck by Dorothea’s allusion to rinderbraten as Freud’s favorite dish; I had read it was tafelspitz (both are beef dishes but the preparations are quite different). We have since had some private correspondence about Freud’s dietary preferences. It seems that there is an entire book written on the topic — in German. Sigh.

One last aside: I love the alliteration of my blog’s subcategories as rendered by Dorothea in German, “Fleisch, Freud und Familienforschung.” I once contemplated making a change for alliteration’s sake but let it slide because it was too complicated to change the different category links. I’m pleased to have it done for me in another language.

Good Riddance 2013

In my dog blog, which Dorothea was also kind enough to link to,  I have established “a guilt-free zone for good dog owners.” There is no way that a blog about Freud and Jewish life could establish such a zone.

So l admit that, while I was thrilled with the positive review of Freud’s Butcher, it also made me feel guilty. Some of you might have noticed I haven’t been blogging here very much. That is, in large part, because I returned to dog blogging, where I covered such difficult topics as my dog’s last weeks as well as the subsequent mourning process and a fundraiser in his honor. I am not a very good multi-tasker, especially when it comes to writing. This post, which I started last Thursday and have since been revising endlessly, is now more than 1,000, 1200, 1300, 1500 words long.

I have joked that my life in 2013 was like a bad country & western song: My dog died, I needed a new roof for my house, I lost my (human) best friend…  But there was one element that didn’t quite belong to the C & W formula for misfortune: I got turned down for an NEH grant to write the book this blog was always intended to support, which involves travel to Vienna to do research — not to mention the translation of documents from German.

So I’m at a crossroads. I can’t imagine giving up Freud’s Butcher. Interesting people like Dorothea and Aurelia Young, the daughter of Oscar Nemon, who sculpted Freud, are always turning up. I can’t resist exploring their stories, entering the research doors they open.  I recently found the prescription for Freud’s glasses and I have pinned down a branch of the family in Australia whose story reveals a chapter of Jewish history that is news to me. But I can’t afford these diversions from making a living. And while rescuing my family history from oblivion is an admirable goal, it too often leads to the death and destruction of the Holocaust, dark places I don’t want to go, especially when I am feeling gloomy.  The family tree itself is in the excellent hands of frequent contributor Jill Kornmehl.

We’ll see. I have a couple of ideas for less gloomy book projects that might help pay the bills and also be a great fit for Freud’s Butcher.

Then again, I also have one for another dog book.

All inquiries from agents and editors are welcome.

10 Responses to Found in Translation: The Mad Butcher of Berggasse

  1. Leo says:

    Ha! Can’t stop laughing about your battle with the translator bots!

    I hope a new unexpected door will open, so you can continue with the book. Maybe a trip to Vienna could help somehow, that new door could be over there too.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks, Leo. I told you your translation was much better.

      I would love to go to Vienna but, sadly, finances prevent it (there’s that new roof…). But I’ll find a way somehow. This is the year of determination!

  2. Laura says:

    It was good to see a long, funny Freud’s Butcher post in my 2014 inbox. Too bad about the NEH grant, but have you thought about *crowdsourcing* the funding for continuing your book? Here’s a link to all the possible places to do that (aside from the obvious Kickstarter), but maybe there’s one specifically for genealogical ventures? Good luck and keep posting!
    Laura recently posted..Forget Resolutions: What Are Your New Year’s “Questolutions”?My Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks, Laura. Funny you should mention crowdsourcing. I have thought about it and wondered if it was tacky, if I was too old… you know the usual doubts. Do you know anyone who has done this successfully for a book? I really love the idea.

      • Laura says:

        I know some “famous” authors, like Seth Godin, who had a roaring success Kickstarting their book but haven’t researched regular authors making it work. Would take some Googling (or maybe there are success stories on the individual sites). I do know that it usually takes an engaging video to start it off, which isn’t usually an author’s forte, but I think you could do something really funny/intriguing with Freud, the butcher, and genealogy and your wry sense of humor. You could even make your age a plus, reaching out to boomers for their support (I could see it being a story that gets picked up in the media). Let me know if you ever want help brainstorming–I have lots of ideas….
        Laura recently posted..Forget Resolutions: What Are Your New Year’s “Questolutions”?My Profile

  3. […] –  die Alliteration auf unserem Blog gefiel der amerikanischen Bloggerin Edie Jarolim. Auf bezieht sie sich ausführlich auf unseren Artikel. Ebenso erläutert die studierte […]

  4. Jill says:

    Thanks for the complement! I’ll try to keep the family tree safe and updated–but it is no replacement for the wonderful job you have done rescuing the family from oblivion. The need to focus at other endeavors seems to coincide with almost completing the mystery of Freud’s Butcher(s) and their families. Just a bit more and we are done!

  5. Anna Redsand says:

    Love this post, Edie, as I am always interested in issues of language, bilingualism, and translation and the resulting humor that often accompanies them.

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