When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou

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Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. She had written seven autobiographies about her life, all of them having received accolades. She had written a great deal about society and the environment, her family and her hardships. But one of the poems somewhat stood out that deserves recognition post humus. This Genre special looks at life and death and how things change. It is somewhat tragic as it deals with the fall of the greats and the struggle to pick up where they have left off- to regenerate and regrow. This poem is dedicated to not only what has happened in California and the west coast with the forest fires, but also to all those whom we miss. Atfer all, we have a lot of growing up to do in order to understand how our environment works and how we should foster its growth in order to have any chance of life for future generations.

“When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down in tall grasses,
and even elephants lumber after safety.
When great trees fall in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines, gnaws on kind words unsaid,
promised walks never taken.

Great souls die and our reality,
bound to them, takes leave of us.
Our souls, dependent upon their nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed and informed by their radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always irregularly. 
Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never to be the same,
whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. 
Be and be better. 
For they existed.”

 

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The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

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In connection with the recent attacks on Central American migrants wishing to cross the border separating Mexico and the United States, the second segment of this poem has been echoing throughout the social network scene.

Little do they realize is this important section comes from a poem written by Emma Lazarus entitled the New Colossus. Written in 1883, Ms. Lazarus’ mission for this poem is to empower the US at that time to be the open gates that welcomed those wishing to flee the country for a better life. Originally written as part of a fund raiser for the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty, which had been in construction at that time, it had been set aside and forgotten when The Lady was completed and opened to the public in 1886. Lazarus died a year later at the age of 38, after becoming serious ill after her second trip to Europe. Yet, her friend Georgina Schuyler, campaigned to have her and her poem memorialized in 1901. Two years later, a plaque with her poem was created for the inside wall of the pedestal inside the Statue of Liberty, dedicating it in her memory and to the immigrants who saw the statue as the symbol of freedom and a new life. The original writing can be found at the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City.   The entire poem follows these lines below:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 

This poem is dedicated to the thousands of Latin Americans fleeing repression and violence in their homelands for the United States to have a better life. The same goes for the refugees of Syria, Yemen, Iraq and parts of the Middle East and Africa who are seeking a better life in Europe and eventually the States as well. Always remember, the light will always be on; the door open, even if you toil through the waters, barracades and those who reject you. You are all always welcome.

 

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Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) had Jewish ancestry with her family originating from Germany and Portugal. Although she had spent almost her entire life in New York City, much of her writing has to do with the German heritage as she has written poems and stories with the likes of Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine mentioned. The poetry works of these two German writers were adapted into English by Ms. Lazarus. Other themes of her works written had to do with immigration and its hardships as well as the Jewish religion, which she was born and raised into.  Details on her life and work can be found here.

 

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How to Meet and Befriend a Refugee

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In connection with the topic of refugees and how to integrate them into society, I came across a cool dialog where two students get to know a refugee who originates from the Democratic Republic of Congo but fled the country due to violence and social unrest. Take a look at the six minute dialog and ask yourselves the following questions:

  1. How have you encountered new people and tried to integrate them?
  2. Given the current situation facing many regions in Europe and North America, how would you improve relations with the new person where you both can benefit from it?
  3. Is this dialog useful for this purpose?

 

Some of things the kids talk about may surprise you and help you change the way you act towards people from different regions and with different backgrounds. Something to think about there. J

 

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Santa Goes Shopping- Kaufland Commercial ’18

 

With the holiday season around the corner, we have Father Christmas (Santa Claus) in action, as seen in the Christmas commercial presented by German supermarket chain Kaufland. This was released shortly before Thanksgiving and even though it is a tradition over here in Germany to have food chains to release commercials with special themes just in time for the holiday season, this one is special as Germany, like many countries in Europe, is latching onto the Black Friday tradition, where people line up in front of malls and major stores to get the best deals for Christmas. The difference here is that Kaufland, like many store chains, are introducing Black Week. Taking place at the same time as Thanksgiving, Black Week shoppers can find the best deals both in stores as well as online- mostly through Amazon, who may have started this tradition. Whether it is a good idea to order online or not remains to be open, but if Father Christmas keeps huffing and puffing to get everything last minute, he won’t have to worry about weight loss come Christmas time. It’s just a matter of persuading people perceiving him as fat and jolly that being slim and active is a wonderful thing. 😉

 

So let’s shop and celebrate smart, shall we?

 

The Flensburg Files is about to go on tour to the Christmas markets again, as the first one opens after Thanksgiving. To look at the previous places visited, click here.

There is also a collection of other Christmas stories, films and poems in the Literature and Genre section. Click here and scroll down, there are some funny ones worth seeing.

While the Christmas market tour will include some catching up from last year (the author was sick during much of the holiday season last year), it will include some cool activities for you to try out, not to mention a couple things to think about- the author sometimes has to get them off his chest and many can benefit from it.

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Guessing Quiz: Thanksgiving and Food in the USA

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Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. It’s a special day where people gather to reflect on the year and appreciate what they have and have achieved. While the holiday is celebrated in other countries, such as Canada, Germany and other European countries, they take place earlier and have their own customs that are different to what Americans are accustomed to. Aside from having the turkey and stuffing, what else is typical of this holiday?

To find out, I’ve compiled a Guessing Quiz for you to try and test your knowledge. It’s multiple choice but only one answer is possible.  Good for just about any place. Let’s start with the first question:

1. What is so special about Thanksgiving?
a. It marks the anniversary of the ratification of the US Constitution in 1787
b. It’s a day of giving thanks
c. It’s the last day before the fasting period starts.

 
2. When did the first Pilgrims arrive?
a. 1620
b. 1863
c. 1621
d. 1815

 
3. Where did the first Pilgrims originate from?
a. Norway
b. Germany
c. Spain
d. England

 
4. Where did the Pilgrims land?
a. Virginia
b. Massachusetts
c. New York
d. Delware

 
5. Who led the expedition and later became the mayor of the first settlement?
a. William Bradford
b. Giovanni de Verrazano
c. Hernando Cortes
d. Francisco Coronado

 
6. Which Indian chief helped the settlers establish their foothold on their
community and later helped commemorate the Thanksgiving celebration?
a. Massasoit
b. Dances with Wolves
c. Crazy Horse
d. Sitting Bull

 
7. When was Thanksgiving permanently declared a national holiday?
a. 1863
b. 1865
c. 1918
d. 1783

 
8. Which US President proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday?
a. Theodore Roosevelt
b. Abraham Lincoln
c. William McKinley
d. Andrew Johnson

 
9. Which of the foods served is NOT typical of Thanksgiving? Mark only one.
a. Turkey
b. Mashed Potatoes
c. Sweet Potatoes
d. Cranberry sauce
e. Pumpkin Pancakes
f. Pumpkin Pie

 
10. What sport is the most popular to watch on Thanksgiving?
a. Basketball
b. Football
c. American Football
d. Professional Wrestling
e. Ice Hockey
f. Handball
g. Curling

 

As a bonus, I’ve included a quiz on American food in order to determine what you can find in the States.  And while some of them can be found in Europe, it’s not as popular as when you find along the store shelves. Good luck in this version:

  • What is a Smorgasbord?
    • An “all-you-can-eat restaurant
    • A Norwegian sandwich
    • Food that is sold at a convenient store

 

  • What is a potluck dinner?
    • A meal that is cooked in a big pot
    • Whoever is lucky gets to eat first
    • An event where everyone can bring some food and drink to share with others

 

  • What is egg nog?
    • Another word for pancake
    • A drink consisting of eggs, milk/cream, sugar, spices and sometimes alcohol (mainly rum)
    • A sweet bread with eight eggs.

 

  • Egg nog translated into German would be similar to which drink?
    • Eierpunsch
    • Eierlikör
    • Eieradvokaat

 

  • What does a yam refer to?
    • People whining
    • People enjoying food
    • Sweet potato

 

  • Jell-O in America is a special pudding. What is it, exactly?
    • Créme Brulette
    • Wiggle-Pudding (Wackelpudding in D)
    • Creme pudding

 

  • What ingredient does NOT go into chili con carne?
    • black beans
    • corn
    • tofu

 

  • Which main dish is universally served for the holidays, regardless of which one?
    • Hamburger
    • Turkey
    • Roast Beef

 

  • Root beer is referred to which type of drink?
    • Dark beer
    • Light beer with 10% alcohol
    • A sweet drink flavored with roots and different spices

 

  • Smores is what kind of desert?
    • Ice cream shake
    • Sandwich with a melted marshmallow and chocolate on a graham cracker
    • Oreo sandwich with ice cream.

 

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The Flensburg Files and sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful start into the holiday season!

 

Author’s note: The graphic above is courtesy of Tracy Nelson, who was famous for her role at Sister Steve in the Father Dowling Mysteries

 

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Answers to Part 1:

  1. b,  2. c, 3. d, 4. b, 5. a, 6. a, 7. a, 8. b, 9. e, 10. b

Answers to Part 2:

  1. a, 2. c, 3. b, 4. c, 5. c, 6. b, 7. c, 8. b, 9. c, 10. c

Buß- und Bettag: Saxony’s Version of Memorial Day…… Or is it?

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In America, we have two different types of memorial days- Memorial Day itself, which honors those who passed on, and Veteran’s Day, which honors and also memorializes those who fought in all the wars that the US has been involved in to date.  The first one takes place on the last Monday of every May and is considered a statutory non-working holiday. There, flowers are lain on the graves of those lost. Parades honoring the fallen and church services are held on that day.  Veteran’s Day was introduced over 100 years ago as part of the Treaty of Armistice, thus declaring World War I officially over on the 11th of November, 1918 at the 11th minute of the 11th hour. Governmental offices and most businesses and schools are closed on that day, pending on the individual state’s guidelines,  and the holiday is celebrated in many ways- be it parades or other ceremonies, public addresses or other civil gatherings.

In Germany we have one holiday that has the equivalence to Memorial Day but has, as one person had put it in an interview, become a long-forgotten holiday.  Buß und Bett Tag, known as the Day of Repentance and Prayer if translated into English, was first introduced by the Kingdom of Prussia in 1878 and got its origins from the days after Martin Luther’s Reformation in 1532 as Emperor Charles V proclaimed, at the behest of the Protestants, to commemorate the Ottoman conquest of the Holy Roman Empire in 1354. When the Prussian Empire succumbed to the German Empire in 1871, the day was later adopted in all of the newly-formed German states, where the Day of Prayer was to take place either 11 days before the first Advent and/or before the 23rd of November- as originally declared during Prussia’s existence.  That day was abolished in 1934 by Hitler and was only partially lifted in the 1960s, where only the western half celebrated it and the eastern half was banned from celebrating it by the SED_dictatorship.

It was not until 1990 when a newly-reunified Germany reintroduced it to all the states, but only temporarily. In 1994, the government under Kohl introduced a bill to reform the health care and social security system, requiring more payments into the system and people to work more hours. As part of the package, all the federal states voted to add a day onto the working schedule, hence the elimination of Buß und Bett Tag.

All of them except Saxony.  In Bavaria, it is still a working holiday but the children have the day off from school.

While Buß und Bett Tag is practiced today in those two states, there are many theories as to how people still interpret this day. It is a non-working holiday in Saxony, going by the proclamation by the book, yet the residents are required to pay 13-15% more into the health care fund for that day. When asked what people do on that day, the response: We travel to the Czech Republic, or to the neighboring states because there are businesse open there.

Has Buß und Bett Tag become the long-forgotten holiday, as forgotten as the Sunday ritual of going to church? I decided to find out how it is celebrated to this day. Being a member of a church choir for the day, I earned a free pass to see how the holiday is observed, and this is what I found:

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It turns out, Buß und Bett Tag is not only the time to remember the people who died, but it is a time of reflection of our own past actions and what we can do to right the wrongs done onto others. Pending on which church a person attends in Saxony, the holiday brings people together for over an hour of church service. Yet in other cases, concerts are added to the mix, using songs that honor the people and their relationship with the Lord.  At a church in Zwickau, the congregation was treated to a short skit in connection with the Lost Son (the book of Luke 15:11-32)  but in modern form, followed by a sermon on how forgiveness and reconciliation far outweigh the sins committed onto others. Lessons on how to treat others well despite their backgrounds reinforce the meaning of the holiday  in terms of reflection.  At a church in Glauchau, a choir concert, featuring two choirs and an orchestra, rocking to the tunes of John Rutter and Antonin Dvorak honor the dead and those retiring from the years of hard work, thus stressing the meaning of the holiday in terms of honor.

Still, the number of people participating in these events are relatively small, running parallel to the problems America is currently facing with a decline in church attendance and the forced consolidation of two or more congretations.  And while the majority of church-goers in the US are over 50 years of age, in Germany, there seems to be an even proportion of people paying respects to the Lord, including families (especially with children), friends and strangers.  From the view of the majoirty, when looking at the scene on this day, one can see children playing, families catching up on housework and even small businesses doing overtime to set up the huts for the Christmas market, which starts on the following weekend in the first Advent.  Despite this trend, it does not mean one needs to follow the suit of the other states by “getting with the program” and abolishing this sacred day.  Granted unions have been striving to push for the abolition of extra pay into the health care and pensioner’s fund citing its irrelevance to today’s standards.

Judging from my observations, having a day like Buß und Bett Tag could be a blessing even if it is considered the official day of rest. Most countries in the western hemisphere have a special day commemorating the living and the dead, honoring them for their work. If each state in Germany was to follow what is being followed in Saxony, it would serve as an opportunity for all people to honor and pay tribute to those who deserved it, pray for those who are in need (and find ways to help them), and repent for the sins done onto others (and again find ways to forgive them).  One doesn’t need to have a fancy ceremony, like parades and the like, as seen in Memorial Day celebrations, but simply church services, charitable events and concerts with the themes of reflection and tribute, as seen here in Saxony. Anything more than that would be considered overkill.

Many of us seem to forget the real meaning of family and friendship, respecting and honoring some and helping others because we are all consumed by work, individual gratification and materialistic items. In fact some holidays, like Christmas and Easter have become so materialistic and sometimes ignored, that their underlying meanings have become very irrelevant.  When we think of only Father Christmas/ Santa Claus/ Der Weihnachtsmann and the presents we receive from them, then it is time to reexamine ourselves and look at the real meaning of these holidays, which means the life of Christ, and the meaning of the people in our lives whom we care about.

Therefore, we should keep this day of remembrance and reflection, so that we can remember the people who made a difference in our lives, reflect on what we have done and what we should do differently and especially, reconsider some things in our lives because of the potential for failure. Buß und Bett Tag has a much thorougher meaning than what has been perceived. It’s not just a day of rest, but a day to look back and look forward. While Germany has many holidays, these holidays are meant for a time of rest, reflection, reunions and gatherings and refueling ourselves for work. By eliminating even one day for the purpose of work,  we take away more than that day to spend it for ourselves and our families and friends.  Therefore, when having another day like this one in the future, think about what we have and what we have done (or should be doing). A little time of reflection and remembrance will help a person go an even longer way.

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The biblical origin of this day stems from the book of Jonah, which states the following:

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. 5So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. 6For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? 10And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not

Jonah 3:4-10

 

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