Mail In Ballots: A Question for the Forum

The mail-in ballot

Well, it is that time of season- the bi-annual elections in the USA. Unlike the congressional elections of 2010, this one is much uglier than the last for a lot is at steak for not only the politicians that are up for elections, but also the President and his challenger. A lot of promises were made and broken. A lot of Americans are frustrated with the way the country is going. And the rest of the world, including us expatriates, are holding our breaths until we turn blue, in hopes that one or the other will be sworn in for four years of beatings from Congress and the American people, and words of advice from the Europeans being criticized for their own debt woes “Kümmern Sie sich um Ihre eigene Sachen!” (In German: Mind your own business!)

For us expatriates, this election year marks the very first time that we can register online and receive our ballots in attachment. No more calling or writing letters directly to the county courts of the last place of residence. Now, you can go to a website, fill out your biographical information, providing information through your passport, before it gets shipped to the courthouse where the recorder sends you the ballot via e-mail for you to vote. Sadly though, Americans back home have yet to figure out a quicker and more efficient way for us expats to send our ballots back home for processing; especially as the ballot envelope is much smaller than the ballot itself (see picture below).

The ballot envelope

But as I was casting my ballot, a question came to mind while at the breakfast table. This has something to do with the way the names are arranged on the ballots (see the first picture at the top of the article); especially with regards to the Presidency. Normally, one has the incumbent (Barack Obama) on top followed by the challenger (Mitt Romney) and the rest of the candidates. However, it appears the opposite is the case. Even more strangely, the arrangement in the Senate ballot has the Independent on top, followed by the two main party candidates and other third parties.  Is this part of a scheme to trick people into voting for the wrong candidate just by reading the top people and voting for them? Or is there a scheme that is supposed to be standard procedure like it appears on the ballot? It is very strange for in the last Presidential elections, Obama was on top, followed by John McCain. Call me paranoid, but the election campaign so far has produced some of the ugliest topics that have made their way onto the dinner table of many homes and onto social networks, like facebook, isolating one from another and splitting families into pieces. Some of them will be mentioned as the Flensburg Files and its sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will cover the topics prior to Election Day on 6 November. But when casting my ballot via mail, which did not require the use of the makeshift ballot envelope but a normal one taped with the envelope, I looked at both candidates based on what they offer and what Obama has done so far. So I was not fooled by the arrangement of the ballots. If you feel spooked by the ballot as you read this column, or if you feel that others are convincing you that one or the other is not suitable for the Presidency- I actually had that discussion during one of my English classes in 2008 which was an eye-opener in itself- then perhaps you should refer to a column I wrote some weeks ago, based on my visit to the national library of a former (and now late) president, who shaped America to what it is today, after World War II came to an end. Perhaps this link will help…

 

Stay tuned, more to come…..

Hiatus at Holnis


For the third time in three years, the author took a two-week trip to Flensburg and the surrounding area, but this time with some company. Some of the articles to come will deal with the summer trip.
Here is a question I have for those who love travelling or taking a vacation in the summer time, regardless of where you are living: What is your favorite travel destination in the summer time? And what was the most memorable trip you have ever taken (regardless of whether it was by yourself or with family)?
For many living in Germany, there are two favorite places to go in the year: the Alps in the winter time for skiing, rock climbing and having fun in the snow, and the Baltic Sea in the summer time, to cool off in the water, walk in the wild and visit the places of interest. While we spent a couple weeks on the island of Usedom last year (which features the key tourist communities of Ahlbeck, Bansin and Heringsdorf on the German side and Swinemunde on the Polish side, this year’s Baltic Sea trip took us to the other side of the Baltic sea coast, namely Flensburg and the peninsula of Holnis.
While there has been a lot to say about Flensburg based on my observations (and more to say about the city in the coming columns), what is so special about Holnis?  The peninsula is approximately 8 km long and 3 km wide and is the northernmost tip of Germany, subtracting the island of Sylt, which is only accessible via train crossing a dam connecting it and the mainland. If one wants to try local specialties and enjoy fun on the beach without having to face overcrowding, then this is the place to be.
Holnis features the city of Gluecksburg, home of the castle which recently turned 425 years old and was built for a royal family, whose ties are link to Denmark, England and France. The city of 4,500 inhabitants also has a health spa and swimming complex in addition to its beaches on the western side and the port, where ships travelling to and from Flensburg come in. It also has a ranch on the southwestern end of the city, which provides people with a chance to go horseback riding. Gluecksburg used to have a rail line connecting it to Flensburg and Kappeln. Yet the line was discontinued in 1952 and the railway station was converted to a city library and bus station, where bus lines connecting Holnis, Wees and Flensburg stop there on the hour.
From there going to the end of the peninsula, one will run across villages, beaches and natural green areas that provide people with an opportunity to do whatever they want to. In Bockholm (2 km north of Gluecksburg), there is golfing possibilities nearby, even though golfing in Germany can be very expensive. I checked out the prices at the golf course, only to find that unless you have $250 for a round of 18 holes and people with as deep of pockets as you do, you are better off golfing in the States, where you can pay a tenth of the amount and still have fun. Bockholm has the lone general store where you can purchase virtually everything you need for food and supplies without having to travel to Gluecksburg or even Flensburg, even the ingredients for the Flensburg Flotilla drink (a recipe is enclosed below). Two kilometers to the west is Schausende, and its famous lighthouse- the only one on the west end of the peninsula that guides ships and yachts to and from Flensburg along the Fjord. The other ones can be found on the Danish side. Here in Schausende, one may see a lot of buildings resembling hotels and resorts. Sadly though, they are developed only from private residents with little beaches around for them to go swimming. While many do enjoy a good sunset, there is room for improvement. Going beyond Schausende, one will see natural habitats extending to the very tip of the western part of the peninsula. Much of it has been protected by federal law and there are even restrictions with regards to entering the natural habitats and breeding grounds, which are occupied by sea gulls and various forms of geese and ducks. But it does not mean one cannot walk or even bike in that area, for a trail exists both along along the west bank of the peninsula, going past North Bridge and the bogs,  climbing up The Cliff, the highest point of the peninsula at 45 meters high.
If one wants to go swimming or enjoy the delicacies, one has to cross the main highway to the eastern end of the peninsula. There, all of the eating, recreational and even lodging and camping possibilities can be found in the villages of Drei and Holnis and along the six kilometer stretch of beach reaching the very tip of the eastern side of the peninsula. If one wants to stay in a cottage overlooking the lake, it is possible to do that without having to worry about the costs for renting that and the bikes that go along with that. We did just that and enjoyed the view of the beach, which was just two minutes away by foot.  You can do a whole lot while at the beach apart from swimming, snorkeling and digging for shrimp and clam shells. One can take the paddle boat for an hour and go along the coastal area. The same applies when renting a four-wheel tandem bike and going along the bike trail.  For sports extremists, there is wind and kite surfing (which I’ll write about in a separate column). And the most relaxing sport can be found in mini-golf, which is right next door to the cottages where we stayed.
However, one cannot do everything for free, especially going for a swim. The beaches of Holnis were the first ones I’ve seen where one has to pay in order to use it. Between 8:00 in the morning and 6:00 in the evening, one is required to pay up to 5 Euros per person per day to use the beach or use the Ostsee Card, a card where there are discounts for places to visit and other things to purchase. These are usually available through the campgrounds and cottage providers, as well as local stores in Gluecksburg. Those caught without proof (either the card or a beach payment for use receipt) face a fine of 25 Euros. While it is unimaginable to charge people to use the beach, the reason behind it is to stem the flow of tourists visiting the area, and with that, potential to alter the landscape of the area to one’s disadvantage. This includes overcrowding and littering, something that we saw at Usedom Island last year because of its popularity. The concept may be absurd, but it makes sense so that everyone can use the area and come away happy. It would not be surprising if other regions along the Baltic and North Seas, let alone other places outside of Germany either has a similar policy or will implement it in the future.
Local specialties are plentiful to find in this region. One can enjoy various plates dealing with fish, crab and shrimp, including eggs and shrimp platter, smoked fish and matjes filet sandwiches, the third of which is the flag ship specialty of Schleswig-Holstein. One will find them virtually everywhere, among them, the Faehrhaus Restaurant in Holnis, located only two kilometers from the eastern tip of the peninsula. The restaurant used to be a shipping port that existed in the 17oos before it was converted into a restaurant in the 1950s. But the most famous food in this region is roasted potatoes with onions and meat slices. It is usually fried in oil and can be eaten either alone or with other main dishes dealing with meat and fish. The Strand Pavilion in Drei is one of the restaurants in the region that serves the finest roasted potatoes. It is a family business that offers a wide array of entrees that are affordable for everyone, and whose owners are very friendly and do everything possible to make the customer happy.
But the trip to the region is not complete without seeing the sun rise and set, which presents a spectacular site for everyone to see. The best places to see them are at the eastern tip as well as along the western end south of The Cliff. One may be lucky to see the sun rise and set with a sailboat on the horizon. But that requires staying for some time and having some luck.
While there are a lot of photos worth showing of the island, I’ve picked out the top 25 photos worth seeing, six of which can be found here, with all of them being available via flickr, which can be viewed by clicking here. Information on the Flensburg Files’ availability on flickr can be found here. Hope you enjoy the pics. Maybe they will give you an incentive to consider travelling to the region sometime in the near future, especially in the summer time, when there is a lot going on. More articles on Flensburg, Gluecksburg and Holnis  are on the way both here as well as in its sister column the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.

Photos:

The Cliff
Sunset at a homestead near the tip of Holnis Peninsula

Sunset at the tip of Holnis Peninsula

Recipe for Flensburg Flotilla:
The beverage is in connection with the themes that are typical for Flensburg and the Holnis region: apples, beer and rum. Created in 2010, the recipe calls for the following:
1 beer mug
45% must have apple juice
45% must have beer (Flensburger or any beer that is pilsner (with herbs). Becks Beer is also useful).
10% must consist of Jamaica Rum (Pott, Hansen’s, or anything similar. No Captain Jack as it is too fizzy). Must be 40-proof.

Flensburg Files News Flyer 5 September 2012

There were a lot of events that happened while I was on hiatus for a few weeks, two of which were spent back in Flensburg and the surrounding area with my family. Most of the events have a zero at the end of each number, marking some events that should not have happened but they did. However some high fives are included in the mix that are deemed memorable for Germany, and even for this region. Here are some short FYIs that you may have not heard of while reading the newspaper or listening the news, but are worth noting:

Rostock-Lichterhagen:

22-24 August marked the 20th anniversary of the worst rioting in the history of Germany since the Kristallnacht of 1938. During that time, Lichterhagen, a suburb of Rostock, the largest city in Mecklenburg-Pommerania in northeastern Germany was a refugee point for Roma and Vietnamese immigrants. However, it was a focus of three days of clashes between residents and right-wing extremists on one side, and the refugees on the other. Fires broke out in the residential complex where the refugees were staying, causing many to escape to the roof. Hundreds of people were injured in fighting, while over 1000 were arrested, most of them right wing extremists originating as far as the former West Germany. The incident cast a dark shadow over the city and its government for not handling the issue of foreigners  properly, let alone having trained police officers to end the conflict. It also set off the debate dealing with the problem of right-wing extremism in Germany, especially in the former East Germany, where neo-nazis remained underground until after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Over 70% of the refugees affected by the violence left Rostock after the incident. President Gauck attended the 20th anniversary ceremony on 24 August and spoke about the dangers to democracy.

More info on the incident can be found here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riot_of_Rostock-Lichtenhagen; http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,16194604,00.html

 

Munich:

Today marks the 40-year anniversary of the Munich Olympics Massacre. A Palestinian terrorist group stormed the a house where 11 Israelis were living, held them hostage and later killed all of them as the police tried to set them free. It overshadowed a then successful Olympic Games, which was the first for Germany since hosting the Games in 1936 in Berlin. Germany was in the process of reconciling with the Jews after the Holocaust, only to be reminded painfully through the event that it had a long way to go in order to become a multi-cultural state and be able to mend its relations with the Jews. Since that time, the country has long since healed from the wounds of the terrorist, the relations with Israel and the Jewish community have improved dramatically, but memories of the event are still there and will not be forgotten.  Info here.

The famous slogan that was found throughout all of Sonderburg. Better luck next time.

Aarhus:

Every year in Europe, there is a city that is nominated as a Capital of Culture, based on the cultural diversity and economic state. During that year, a variety of festivals and events marking the city’s heritage take place, drawing in three times as many people on average than usual. While this year’s title goes to Maribor (Slovakia) and Guimares (Portugal) and the hosts for 2013 goes to Marseilles (France) and Kosice (Slovakia), Aarhus (Denmark) outbid Flensburg’s Danish neighbor to the north, Sonderburg to be the 2017 European Capital. It is the second city in Denmark to host this title (Copenhagen was the Cultural Capital in 1996). Had Sonderburg won, it would have joined Flensburg to host the event, which would have made Flensburg the fourth German city to host the event. Both cities will continue with joint projects to draw in more people to visit and live in the region. Berlin (1988), Weimar (1999) and Essen (2010) were the other German cities that were Cultural Capitals since the initiative was approved in 1985. More information here:    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Capital_of_Culture

Mirror reflection of Gluecksburg Castle. Photo taken during the 425th birthday celebration.
Low attendance at the open-air church service due to hot and humid weather.

Gluecksburg:

The castle of Gluecksburg, located northeast of Flensburg,  celebrated its 425th anniversary during the weekend of 18-19 August, with concerts and an open-air church service. Attendance was low due to warm and humid weather, plus it had celebrated the 12th annual Beach Mile a weekend earlier. The castle was built to house of the Royal Family of King Christian IX of Gluecksburg-Sonderburg, whose family bloodline covers five countries including the UK and France. The Castle was vacated after World War I when the Royalty was forced into exile but was later converted into a museum. The castle is one of a few that is surrounded by a lake, making it accessible only by bridge. More information on the castle will be presented in another separate article.

 

50 Years of Soccer in Germany:

Germany is now in its second month of the three-tiered German Bundesliga season, which marks its 50th anniversary. Initiated in 1962, the league featured 16 teams that originated from five different leagues in Germany, including ones from Muenster, Berlin, Munich, Dortmund and Cologne. The league now features three top flight leagues (the top two featuring 18 teams each and the third league (established in 2008) featuring 20 teams). To learn more about how the German Bundesliga works and read about its history, a couple links will help you:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fu%C3%9Fball-Bundesliga

http://www.dfb.de/index.php?id=511741

A couple articles pertaining to German soccer is in the mix, as the Files did a segment on the problem with German soccer. The first two can be viewed here:

Part I

Part II

What was that? I’m being photographed? Well then, here you go!

Flensburg Files now on flickr:

Available from now on, the Flensburg Files is now available on flickr, together with its sister column, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Just type in FlensburgBridgehunter12 and you are there. You will have an opportunity to view the photos taken by the author and comment on them as you wish. Subscriptions are available. The Files is still available through Twitter and Facebook where you can subscribe and receive many articles that are in the mix. One of which deals with a tour of the Holnis region, which is in the next column.

A Small Step into a Giant World: A Tribute to Neil Armstrong

“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Those few words created waves that would shap the way we think of exploration. From the moment Earth was created, man wanted to explore new things, seek out new civilizations, experiencing things that were deemed impossible at first but were eventually accomplished by one’s own will. It started with the exploration of new lands through Christopher Columbus, Hernando DeSoto and Sir Francis Drake, followed by encountering cultures while settling in places like Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620) where we adopted many customs that still exist today (think of Thanksgiving, the turkey and corn). When we made our stake in the ownership of the country through Manifest Destiny, we looked ahead to see what was out there and where we could live and have a new and better life. When the frontier closed in 1890, we looked to the skies to see what was out there. While the first liquid-based rocket was launched by Robert Goddard in 1926 and Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947, the first men that entered space were Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard. Soon more astronauts were taking to the skies and into outer space, but no one really thought about going to the moon and landing- that was until 1969.

When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and took those first few steps on its soil, it changed everything we thought about exploration. On the one hand we realized that we had reached our climax and our limit in exploration in general. Unless one invented warp speed (like it was seen in Star Trek) and invented a man-made spacecraft to take us to Mars and beyond, we would not be able to go further than the moon. On the other hand, Armstrong opened the doors of opportunity in ways no one had ever thought of before. It led to the question of whether there is life beyond our planet and if so, where…. 43 years, one International Space Station, several Voyagers, Rovers and Star Trek films later, one can debate on this question. While Rover provided us with the most recent photos, temperatures and samples from Mars a few weeks ago, we are three generations away from landing on Mars and creating a civilization; six more away from creating a starship that takes us beyond the solar system- maybe more if we are still as strapped for cash as NASA is right now….

Many of us probably have read about space exploration and at least have heard of Armstrong’s moon landing, but little do we realized, Armstrong’s first steps on the moon indirectly brought the world closer together (despite the conflicts we had with Russia and China at that time), encouraging us to explore not only our own surroundings and experiencing things that we never thought of, but also meet different people and their own cultures, making us more cosmopolitan than we were before the event.

We had already lost an important astronaut in Dr. Sally Ride, who died on 23 July of cancer, who was the first woman to enter space (that happened in 1983). Space added another star in Neil Armstrong, who died on 25 August at the age of 82. He left a legacy that is still being taught in the history classes with the hope that someday, each student will look to the stars and ask themselves if there is life beyond their borders. I sometimes wonder that myself and hope that the younger people will take that small step into the unknown and see for themselves. Only then will they be able to answer that question.