The Weekender, September 29, 2017

1) “The German schoolboy jailed for writing to the BBC” (BBC, 8 minutes, September 2017). This happened in 1970, during the Cold War.

It was the last day of the summer holidays. For 18-year-old Karl-Heinz Borchardt that should have meant an afternoon on a windswept Baltic beach with his girlfriend, or a few hours spent trying to catch the latest pop songs on his portable radio.
Instead his childhood came to a sudden end.

His mother hurried into his room unusually early and told him to get dressed. Five uniformed agents were waiting downstairs.

Borchardt bought himself time. “I needed time to think,” he says. “It could have been for any number of reasons.”

Insisting he needed a wash, he started to fling sheets of incriminating texts out of the window. He couldn’t know that the secret police already had all the evidence they needed.

2) Win a Ticket to China: I’ve teamed up with a few other newsletters to bring you an awesome giveaway — you can win a free ticket to China. (And back. It’s a roundtrip ticket, don’t worry.) Just click here to enter!

3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: The Man Who Ate Potatoes. Lots of Potatoes. Really, he ate a lot of potatoes. But apparently, someone else ate more! Thanks to all the readers who told me about him.

Tuesday: Why We Yawn.

Wednesday: Capital for a Day​. The story of Lancaster, PA, and how it was the capital of the United States for about 24 hours.

Thursday: The Town that Drives Itself. The city of autonomous cars.

4) “The Five Stirring Stanzas That Proved a Poem Can Help End a War” (Narratively, 13 minutes, September 2017). This is a really neat story about, well, a poem, and the Hungarian Civil War.

There was another flyer making the rounds, a reprint of a poem written in 1914. Its title was spelled out in large block letters: “To my soldier-son.” The five stanzas spoke directly to the army in the voice of a soldier’s mother begging her son not to suppress an upcoming workers’ demonstration. Each stanza ends with the same bold-face imperative: “Do not shoot, my son, for I too will be there!” And sure enough, when the people gathered outside Budapest’s Hotel Astoria that night, cheering on Mihály Károlyi as he spoke to them from the hotel balcony, hordes of soldiers joined them – not to shoot, but to protest by the people’s sides.


5) “From Ghost Town to Havana: Two Teams, Two Countries, One Game” (LongReads, 7 minutes, September 2017).

Unless you’re a fictional character boldly leaping from skyscraper to skyscraper in a stretch leotard, origin stories are fickle, slippery narratives, particularly when it comes to artistic endeavors. Maybe the idea came while you were taking a bath, but why’d you get into that bath? What were you thinking just before the eureka moment? How’d you get to those thoughts?

So, when I asked San Francisco Bay Area filmmaker Eugene Corr why he took nine youth baseball players from an impoverished section of West Oakland to Cuba back in 2010, I knew I’d get a distilled version of reality. In Corr’s documentary about the trip, Ghost Town to Havana, he mentions his own fractured relationship with his father, a former youth baseball instructor, so I figured that’d fit in somewhere. Along with the magic of the bat-and-ball sport that binds together the capitalist and socialist countries that have 103 miles of sea between them.

But what I didn’t expect was that the whole trip happened because Corr got mad at George W. Bush.

6) “Thomas the Imperialist Tank Engine” (Slate, 7 minutes, July 2011). The sub-head: “The not-so-hidden subtexts of the popular children’s show.” It’s true — if you think about how the people treat the trains, it’s a dystopia of abuse. For more on this subject, the New Yorker ran a similar-themed piece this week, available here.

Have a great weekend!