Christmas Market Tour 2017: Hof (Bavaria)

24173702_1739533812744649_9147679218570939230_o

Little is known about the first stop on the Christmas market tour of 2017. Hof is located in Bavaria near the Franconian Forest and the Fichtel Mountains. The city of 47,500 inhabitants is located along the Saxon Saale River near the border of both the Czech Republic to the east and the German state of Saxony to the north. In fact, the city is 13 kilometers west of the former Communist Triangle at Trojmezí (CZ). Hof was the symbol of freedom as tens of thousands of East Germans entered Bavaria by train in 1989. It was followed by the opening of the gates and and tens of thousands of Trabants and Wartburg cars entering Hof when the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November of the same year. All of those fleeing the country wanted nothing more but either freedom to move and live, or the removal of the communist regime led by Erich Honnecker or even both. They eventually got their wish and then some with the German reunification. Almost 30 years later, the borders and fencing have all but disappeared with the exception of a section of a preserved watchman’s tower and fencing north of Hof near Mödlareuth. Hof is now situated at the three-state corner with Bavaria meeting Saxony and Thuringia both former states of East Germany.

When looking at Hof more closely, one can see the historic town center and many antique houses and buildings in other suburbs in one piece. Hof survived almost unscath by the air raids during World War II and has prospered since then, thanks to tourism, agriculture and small industry. The city center is 150-200 meters above the river, anchored by a combination of shopping and religion- the later featuring the twin finial towers of the St. Marion Catholic Church. The shopping mile at Altstadt connects Post Street with Lorenz Church and street via the Catholic Church- a span of over one kilometer.

And this shopping mile is the focus of the Christmas Market at Hof’s Altstadt. Getting to the market by car, let alone by foot is difficult- perhaps the one of the most difficult of the Christmas markets to date. It has nothing to do with the maze in getting to the market, as was the case with the Christmas market in Chemnitz, when I wrote about it in 2015. While the street plans are mainly gridded- similar to a typical American town- the main problem was finding a place to park in Hof, for the parking lot and places along the streets were filled to the brim. When they were not occupied by cars, they were reserved for the handicapped, delivery trucks and bikes. This was compounded by speeding cars, traffic lights and even traffic jams. These are typical scenes of a typical southern German town as the region is the fastest growing in the country in terms of people, houses, and even transportation.  When finding a place to park, it is highly recommended to take your time, find the right spot to park without getting ticketed and impounded, and expect to walk to the Altstadt from your parked car.

This was the case during my visit, but despite this, the walk to the market was well worth it.  🙂

The market itself was really small, stretching from the Catholic Church to Post Street along the upper end of the shopping mile going past the Gallerie Kaufhof. Its aesthetic features include Christmas trees (some decorated) wrapped around street lamps along the shopping mile, LED lighting illuminating the sidewalks with Christmas slogans and light brown pinewood Christmas huts with gabled roofing and decorated with natural pine nbeedle garland and Christmas figures, such as the snowman, Santa Claus (or Weihnachtsman in German) and reindeers. The main attraction is a nine meter high Christmas pyramid, with angelic figures, whose dark brown color with white paintings resemble a gingerbread cake. Yet it is not like in Hansel and Gretel because it holds the largest of the Glühwein (mulled wine) stands at the market.  The backdrop of the market is both the church as well as the historic buildings, minus the rather modern Kaufhof. Still the market is a great stop for a drink and food after a long day of Christmas shopping.

Approximately 40 huts lined up and down the shopping mile as well as the pyramid and neighboring carousel on one end, but gallery of fairy tales and a Children’s train station on the opposite end.  The stands sold many handcrafted goods originating from the region, including the lighted Christmas arch from the Fichtel Mountains, ceramic manger sets that include a real lantern hung over the crib where baby Jesus was born and woolen clothing made in time for skiing. 🙂

But inspite this, one should pay attention to the food and drink available at the market because they are either local or multicultural. Local in this case means, in terms of food, the hot pot Schnitz and the Hofer Bratwurst (the thin version of the well acclaimed Bratwurst whose taste reminds a person of the Nuremberg Bratwurst); for the beverages, there is the local Glühwein from the nearby wineries in and around the Franconian region. Most importantly, one should try the Franconian Punch: an alcoholic drink that features orangesrum and other spices. Some include red wine and are thus renamed orange Frankenwald wine, yet just punch with the rum alone makes it the real thing worth drinking. 🙂

Yet multicultural food and drink mean that stands originating from several different country serving their own form of homemade local delicacies can be found at the Christmas market. From my own observations, stands with goodies from six different countries are worth trying while in Hof. They include those from Mexico, Belgium, Czech Republic, Turkey, Italy and Syria. Ironically, these specialties come from three of the countries that US President Trump detests (both officially and behind closed doors), one of these three is a royal pain in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s neck. I’ll allow you to figure out which three countries I’m referring to. 😉

While I never had a chance to try all of the delicious delicacies from those stands, I tried the Gözlem (a Turkish Yufka tortilla that is filled with feta (sheep) cheese and spinach) and several small bars that contain pistachio, a nut most commonly found in Syria. The Syrians baker at that stand had a wide selection of pistachio bars, rolls, spaghetti-style bars, etc., that contained lots of these nuts plus sugar, eggs and other sweet spices. It tasted really good- enough to take it home to try with the family, especially my daughter, who is friends with a Syrian in school. 🙂 Syrians, who fled the region because of war and famine and have made their homes here in Europe, are one of the most overlooked groups when it comes to their heritage. From mainstream media, they fled to find a new life but struggle to establish their existence because of hate crimes and fake news from neo-conservative, far-right “news” sources, such as Britain First and Breitbart (US). Yet inspite of attempts of instilling fear and forcing others to turn away and against them, the majority of the public believe that the refugees have as much right to live in Germany as the Germans themselves, let alone other expatriates, like yours truly, who have escaped their home countries and found a better life.  And when looking at them even closer, one can see their special talents and food specialties, the latter of which brought out the Mr Food in me because of their secret ingredient of pistachio and its “Ooh, it’s so good!” comment.

Given the situation they are in, we have to put ourselves in our place and ask ourselves, what would we have done if we were in the crossfires? What talents and special characteristics can we take with so that we can use it for others? After all, every country has been in a war in one way or another. Germany’s last war ended 72 years ago. America’s home turf soil happened 152 years ago, focusing on slavery of the minority.  Both cultures are still alive and stronger than ever before. For refugees, like the Syrians, Turks, Kurds, Iranians and others affected by the war, they too have a right to live and shine for others and therefore, we must respect their rights and talents like we have for our own. We can learn from each other through our actions. 🙂

Summing up the Hof Christmas market, the first in Bavaria since starting my Christmas market series in 2010, I found that despite the problems with traffic, that the Christmas market in the old town was a cool place to visit. Accessible by going up the hill to the church and turning left, the market has a small hometown setting that is appealing to locals and regionals alike. One can try all the local and multi-cultural specialties and talk to people from different regions, while listening to music played or sung on stage (located at the entrance to the mall passage). And while Hof and Bayreuth have some equal characteristics in terms of having a university and similar population size, the arrangement and offer of the Christmas market falls clearly in favor of Hof this time, although admittedly, perhaps Bayreuth has changed since my visit seven years ago.

In either case, as you can see in the pics below and here per link, Hof is one city worth a visit, especially during the holiday season. One can learn culture, history and heritage for one day and come away with a small town feeling, learning a bit and enjoying that Christmas feeling.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

fast fact logo

Mr. Food, going by the name of Art Ginsburg, started a short TV show bearing his nickname in 1975 and continued to run it until his death in 2012 due to cancer. Howard Rosenthal now runs the show bearing the name.

 

FlFiHolidays2017

Advertisements

Germans and Demonstrations: What We Want is Color; What We Don’t Want is a Union

protest title pic

Protest, the right to express our opinion, our objection, our own dismay to something that does not fit. Derived from the Latin word meaning to testify for something, protests are designed to deliver a message, whether it was objecting to a decision of a local mayor to demolish a historic landmark in favor of a shopping mall, demanding a change in government because of a corrupt leader, putting pressure on companies to increase wages and improve working conditions or as seen in the pics here, rejecting certain people because of their threat to their societal infrastructure.

Germany leads the way in the number of protests and their variety of themes. No matter when the politicians speak, no matter if it is spontaneous or planned, no matter how many policemen are involved, and no matter how extreme, when a demonstration takes place, the entire city is shut down and isolated from the rest of the world. The demonstrations take place in many forms. We have the May Day demonstrations and with that, also demonstrations by workers’ unions, demanding better pay and working conditions. This form occurs most frequently, no matter where. Then we have the most popular, which are the environmental demonstrations, featuring sit-ins, blocking and chanting for no nuclear storage facilities, international trade deals harming the environment and no pollution, period.

Then we have the most current, which are the demonstrations involving refugees and right-wing extremism. Since the beginning of last year, the number of refugees coming into Germany, even for a temporary stay has risen above 2 million. And with that come attempts of accomodating them and demonstrations for and against the refugees. Those against the refugees, including many forms of PEGIDA, have attacked refugees and the places where they were supposed to stay, enchanting “Wir sind das Volk” and using tactics from the playbook of the Third Reich, which you can see here.  On the flip side, there are just as many people opposed to PEGIDA and have been more than open to refugees, granting them places to live and work as well as integrating them into the culture. Unlike the PEGIDA, which like the Alternative for Germany, has called for a ban on Islam in Germany, the opponents to the two groups are more aware of the social and cultural background (partly because of German history but also because of their multicultural mentality) and see the immigration of refugees as a motor for economic growth in Germany, producing jobs in many fields and learning the bright sides of religion and culture. 🙂

But when looking at German demonstrations by itself, I was asked by a German student colleague during the last protest whether or not the Germans are crazy and insane about demonstrating. When looking at the pics below and speaking from personal experience participating in a half dozen protests since coming here in 1999, the answer to that question is a resounding “Jein!” (Yes and no in German). There are two really strong arguments favoring the no portion of “Jein!” The first argument is because Germans are trained to be informed and confront controversial issues, even if means taking to the streets and express their disdain towards politicians. This has to do with the Beutelsbach Consensus of 1976, where pupils in all German educational institutions are taught how to be address all controversial topics in the classroom and express their personal opinion, without having the teacher of social studies influence their opinions. The consensus features three key points, which are:

1. Prohibition against Overwhelming the Pupil

2. Treating Controversial Subjects as Controversial

3. Giving Weight to the Personal Interests of Pupils

Learning the lessons from the past, educators and political scientists pushed the importance of pure democracy into the classrooms with the goal of addressing the themes from individual standpoints, both inside the classroom as well as in the public. This is something that has not been introduced in American classrooms but should, in order to learn how to deal with confrontations and conflicts. As of right now, the consensus is the trend where politicians make decisions behind closed doors and take haste action before the public is able to be informed about it and assemble a protest. An act of cowardice and one that goes against the ideas of American democracy.

The second argument for demonstrations is they can bring out the colorful and best of people from different backgrounds, bringing them together and encouraging time together. Be it mini-concerts, mini-tournaments or even sit-ins with beer and friends, having peaceful demonstrations show solidarity and support, encouraging others to join, even if it is for a few minutes.

The yes argument, apart from fancy outfits and some DJ-ing, the craziest is when counter-demonstrators arrive to make trouble, only to be pelted with stones, bottles and other items. This happens often when protests dealing with right-wing extremists and PEGIDA members are in the vicinity, as they are against the ideals of a modern, multi-cultural Germany. While the police try to protect both sides, they end up being sandwiched by both sides, resulting in the question of whether the German Constitution should be reformed to ban violence and certain groups deeming a threat to German society. Up until now, the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe have not touched their fingers on this topic. With the violence increasing every year, perhaps they should…..

With more hot topics coming to the table and the politicians trying to address them, there will be more protests and demonstrations by the public expressing their concerns about them. Not all demonstrations are bad, as many people support measures that are beneficial to a multicultural Germany. However, some are deemed necessary to make the point clear: The public knows the history; the public wants a say in this; and the public wants the politicians to listen. Call it crazy, but thanks to Beutelsbach, combined with the awareness of the importance of keeping the country clean of potential dictators, the demonstrations have worked a great deal, because to all involved, listening and acting in the benefit of the majority does matter.

Perhaps the Americans should make note of this, especially those who engage in closed door deals without informing and listening to the public. We are not stupid, you know….

frage für das forum

 

 

Check out the photo gallery of the recent protest that occurred in Jena on 20 April, 2016 (click on the photo for a larger view). The demonstrations involved 200 Thugida (Thuringia version of PEGIDA) and NPD people celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday while more than three thousand condemned these demonstrations with that of their own. According to the newspaper OTZ, six cars were destroyed, 15 people were injured and over two dozen were taken into custody. While the protest was smaller than expected, local officials spoke of a new generation of violent protests. This leads to the following questions:

  1. How can society find a way to disable and eliminate such radical groups?
  2. How can society educate people about the dangers of being an extremist?
  3. What can be done to eliminate problems that spawn such protests?
  4. How can history teach society to learn and understand both sides of the story involving key events and their actors?
  5. In connection with question 4., how can the youth be taught not to be extremists?

protest10

flefi deutschland logo

Facts about Germany: German Bureaucracy

IMG_20151010_153244

OK everyone, let’s be honest for a couple seconds. What is the number one annoying habit in Germany that you would love to see eliminated?  After living in Germany for over 17 years, there is one that has been number one on my hit list and it is the B-word.

BUREAUCRACY!!!

Bureaucracy is the engine of German efficiency. It helps keep the country running and people out of trouble. It ensures that people reach their goals legally and with no incident. It also gives people a daily dose of Aspirin, courtesy of Bayer, because of the number of papers to fill out, the search for information in a computer filled with letters from a can of Spaghetti-Os soup, the excessive travelling needed for an apostille (with -th, by the way) needed for a wedding, and the countless stops at a small local unknown church to pray intensively for the nightmare to stop.

Despite all the articles written about German bureaucracy (most of which you’ll find at the end of this article), the one variant that will never be replaced is the system where you look at a government official in the eye, when she provides you with an Amtsdeutsch (governmental German) word that you, as a normal person, don’t know the simple German equivalent. Or when you watch people at the Zollamt (customs office) walk around like Borgs bitching about politics while waiting for a package from the US- searched with contents confiscated because of their illegality. Or when you receive a response to a complaint saying “Das ist ein Käse!” (equivalent to This is Bullshit!)

In other words, you cannot escape German bureacracy, period! No matter how the Chancellor reforms the system, you must prepare for the red-tape version of the decathelon and have your endurance tested, let alone your sanity.

I found seven types of bureaucracy that are typical of Germany. As you live longer in the country, it is most likely that you will encounter one type each, at least once; more if you are a student, businessperson or a person about to marry someone in Germany. There are no known remedies to get around them. You just need to be clever and witty, calm and cool, and diligent and strong as steel to get through them. In the end, despite the grey hairs and the bruised ego, you will be wiser and stronger than when you enter the first office you see, asking for a form. 😉

 

Carousel-Style: This style of buraeucracy comprises of a person who is sent around to every single office to take care of a form- a way of deferring him/her to authorities, most of whom are unwilling to process the person’s request. Sometimes it is referred to a slingshot if Office A sends a person through several agencies before ending up back at the same office a couple hours later. An example of this:

Darius wants to apply for a German as a Foreign Language Class at a university in Hanover. He asks Ms. Schmidt, only for her to send him to five different offices who refuse to process his request (beginning with Mrs. Jürgensen, then Ms. Schneider, Mr. Neste, Ms. Mulder and lastly Mr. Kahn) before the last person sends him back to Ms. Schmidt, who reluctantly processes his application. Wonderful sling-shot as seen in a Star Trek film above!

Mine-Style:  This type of bureaucracy runs along the lines of Wile E. Coyote being blown to pieces while pursuing the Road Runner. A person is ambituous in starting a business only to fall into several traps because of certain guidelines to be fulfilled, let alone fees and taxes to pay and additional forms to fill out along the way. Half of German start-up businesses as well as individual pursuits of degrees and career ladders end up failing because of the lack of awareness of the mines that are in the way, ready to blow up. That is the main reason why Germans are really cautious in any affairs on the business and personal level- they have been there at one point of their lives.

 

Goal-Line-Stance Style: Named after a defensive play in American football, this style of bureaucracy consists of a request of forwarding an application to an agency via its subordinates being not only rejected, but sent back to the person requesting him/her to do it on one’s own. It’s a way of telling the applicant that they are too lazy to walk the 100 meters to the point of destination and they would enjoy having the applicant to drive 30 kilometers to the subordinates to do the job. This happened to me once when I requested the international office of a German university to forward a request to the student services center, only for them to send the request back via mail, asking me to do it myself! This despite the fact that instead of wasting 2 extra days, the person at the office could have walked the 50 meters to the destination to drop off the letter. Talk about irony for an institute wanting to be student and family friendly, especially to foreign students! However, such stances are common in many cases, so please have a couple extra envelops, stamps and running shoes ready should you deal with this type and fail….

 

Hanging Chad/ Cliffhanger Style: Also known as the Härtefälle, this type of bureaucracy is one to avoid at all costs if you are pressed for time and need a form submitted within a day or two of the deadline, before your own “judgement day.”  Here, you submit the form to a worker, only for him/her to forward the request to the superiors, despite pleas to hurry. Why? The form must be approved before the deadline although there is a clause denying that request. This applies to students wanting to apply for a third attempt of an exam in a subject or changing a subject after failing an exam twice, risking the possibilities of getting expelled from college. This is standard practice at a German university, especially for students pursuing a teaching degree. It is like a cliffhanger because your future depends on whether a form you desperately need approved will be accepted or not. Apart from the Härtefälle at a German university, examples of such burearcracy can be found with visa forms, last minute requests to book hotels and some emergencies, like this story, just to name a few. The terminology is named after a dispute over which chads should be accepted in the voting ballot in Florida during the infamous 2000 US Presidential Elections.

 

Collapsing Bridge Style: Your plan to succeed is like crossing a bridge. You may never know when it collapses. This style of bureaucracy presents some surprises that keeps you from achieving your goal because there are some missing components needed to realize your goal that you either don’t know about or you want to try to circumvent- in both times, failing in the process! It can happen during any course of the process, whether it is through wedding planning, immigration or even during your studies, just to name a few.

Take for instance your first state exam for education. You register for the exam for English and History, take part of the former and complete the education portion, but have to change the latter to Social Studies. Despite having completed your semester of practical training, you need to complete another semester for Social Studies. While German law requires you to register for the subjects studied, you cannot continue taking the exam for English until the practical training in Social Studies is completed, thus pushing your finish time back a semester or two. Annoying if you want to finish and earn some cold hard cash teaching, but there is a reason for spending a couple hours looking at the Prüfungsordnung (Studies Guidelines in this case) before embarking on the painstaking task of getting that teaching license!

 

Jesus Christ Lizard Style- This type of bureaucracy is the exact opposite of the Collapsing Bridge style, only to imply that shortcuts and other incentives are provided to ensure that a form you are filling out or a process that is taking place is completed quicker and easier than expected. However, these shortcuts are not taken for granted and you must have proof that warrant a walk on water. For instance:

Cora applies for a Master’s Studies program in Anglistik-Amerikanistik at a university in Berlin and finds that she needs 60 credits of classes in liguistics, cultural studies, history, literature and political science- all of which have to be taken in sequential order in accordance to the Prüfungsordnung. Fortunately, she majored in Political Science and English and thanks to the credits accrued, the examiner’s office accredited her points and allowed her to start at a higher semester, taking upper level classes instead of the lower ones for anything dealing with English and Political Science.

However, this type of bureaucracy can occur if there are other circumstances that warrant it, such as the lines at the US border controls, where at all international airports, there is an express line for Americans and an ordinary line for the “other bunch.” This is just one of many examples of the style named literally after lizards walking on water, as seen in the film above.

Maze Style- This is perhaps the longest and most tortuous process a person can ever go through. Here, one has to go through every office and agency, filling out every paper and paying every fee in order to achieve your goal. Sometimes it requires trips covering hundreds of kilometers in order to obtain a single form. If you marry a German in Germany and are a non-German, prepare for a trip to Berlin for a couple of forms at your consulate, as well as a trip to the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner’s Office) for your three-year visa, which eventually turns into a permanent residency if you remain married after three years. It is more complicated when applying for a work visa or even an asylum because of proof that you have a job awaiting you or come from a war-torn region and pose no threat, because of the time needed for the forms of both to be approved.

 

What stories do you have involving bureaucracy in Germany? Share it here or on the Files’ facebook pages. In the meantime, check out the links involving German bureaucracy below and enjoy reading more about this unique feature and annoyance that will never go away:

http://www.dw.com/en/germans-and-bureaucracy/a-16446787

http://www.thelocal.de/20130814/51391

http://www.economist.com/node/2127649

🙂

 

flefi-deutschland-logo

Germany at 25: TÜV

b0783
All photos courtesy of TÜV SÜD, used with permission

Lake Crystal, Minnesota. May 7th, 2014. A 58-year old woman was travelling home in a thunder storm after a long day in the massage business, taking care of customers located away from her office in Fairmont. She was heading westbound on a major highway connecting Mankato with Windom and was just passing Lake Crystal when the scare of her life happened! Lightning struck her SUV, a Chevy Blazer, disabling the vehicle and with it, the automatic lock system set in the lock position! As she called for help on her mobile phone, lightning struck again, setting the vehicle on fire!! She was trapped and tried frantically to set herself free! At the same time, a police officer and a driver nearby, saw the blaze and ran as quickly as possible to the burning car, with the officer breaking the window on the passenger side and both men pulling her out of the car! And just in time too, as the vehicle exploded just as they were getting to the squad car! A video of the event can be found here:

While the driver survived with only scratches and bruises, the vehicle was a total loss, but it led to some questions, which included the main one: How could this happened and could this have been avoided?

In Germany, such an incident is very rare to find, namely because of its tough regulations for all vehicles. In particular, the TÜV.  Known as the Technischer Überwachungsverein, this organization was founded in 1866 in Mannheim under the name Gesellschaft zur Ueberwachung und Versicherung von Dampfkesseln (or The Association for the Inspection and Safety of Steam Engines and Boilers) in response to the numerous steam engine explosions in  what is now Bavaria, Thuringia and the Ruhr Area in North Rhine-Westphalia. Its success in five years time in reducing the number of accidents prompted the conversion from a private organization to a state-run entity in 1871, the same year Germany was established, with several key members like Walther Kyssing overseeing the organization.  Starting with 43 TÜVs, the numbers have been reduced through consolidation to five: TÜV South, TÜV North, TÜV Thuringia, TÜV Rhineland and TÜV Saarland, with one located in Turkey, France and Austria.

7-tuv-sud-service-center-eichstatter-strasse

TÜV has regulations for all engines and appliances to ensure that they work properly and the consumers are not harmed by potental defaults. This also applies with automobiles as well, as federal and European laws require that all cars are inspected accordingly so that they are operating according to regulations.

“It applies to automatic locks in cars,” says Vicenzo Luca, Head of Corporate Communications at TÜV South, located in Munich. The agency is the largest in Germany, with 19,000 employees and serving Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg. “While automatic locks are allowed in Europe, they are inspected to ensure they function properly.”  One has to be careful with the role of TÜV for they are not the ones with the regulations outright. “The  law-giving authority is the European Commission and in Germany the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA) in Flensburg, and not the TÜV organisiations,” Luca states in an interview with the Files.  This leads to the question of how TÜV works in today’s Germany. If asked how TÜV works, using the South organization as an example, it would be explained like this, according to the interviewee:

“TÜV SÜD is a global technical services company made up of the INDUSTRY, MOBILITY and CERTIFICATION Segments. Its service portfolio comprises the areas of testing, inspection, auditing, certification and training. TÜV SÜD brings people, technology and the environment together – ensuring lasting, sustainable results and adding value.

Founded in 1866 as a steam boiler inspection association, TÜV SÜD has evolved into a global, future-oriented enterprise. Over 22,000 staff continually improve technology, systems and expertise at over 800 locations in over 50 countries. By increasing safety and certainty, they add economic value, strengthening the competitiveness of their clients throughout the world.

In the INDUSTRY Segment, TÜV SÜD’s suite of services spans support for the safe and reliable operation of industrial plants, services for infrastructure and the real-estate industry and the testing of rolling stock, signalling systems and rail infrastructure. In the MOBILITY Segment, TÜV SÜD’s experts carry out periodict technical inspection of vehicles and emission tests and support automotive manufacturers in the design, development and international approval of new models and components. The CERTIFICATION Segment covers services aimed at ensuring the marketability of consumer, medical and industrial products and the certification of processes and management systems across all industries.”

In other words, no certificate is a no-go. When owning a car in Germany,  “…..German law regulates that cars have to be inspected the first time after 36 months after initial registration,”  added Luca. “The subsequent inspections are every 24 months.”  

After the first three years, the car has to be inspected- afterwards, every two years. If there is a reason behind the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with their cars, it is not only because they should look nice, it is because they should function and given the TÜV approval according to law.  But apart from locks, the TÜV inspects the following car parts:

  •     Brakes
  •     Wheels/tyres
  •     Frame/body
  •     Exhaust system
  •     Steering
  •      Lighting/electrical systems
  •      Windows/mirrors
  •      Accessories
  •      Pedals, seats, seat belts
  •      Electronic safety systems

TUEV_SUED_TUEV-Report_1699

During the inspection, when flaws are discovered in the car, car owners are required to fix these flaws or risk losing the vehicle altogether while paying hefty fines. According to Luca, ” Flaws have to be fixed within a four-weeks-time and then the car has to be re-inspected. The fine for driving without valid inspection varies by the time the inspection is overdue. From 2 to  4 months, 40 Euro. From 4 to 8 months, 60 Euro. More than 8 months 75 Euro. If the car is a serious danger for road safety, the police can withdraw it immediately from circulation.”

If looking at the cars on America’s freeways today, looking at the appearance of them alone, three out of four would be removed from the highway, for having bumpers attached to the car via duct tape or black-colored exhaust fumes from the tail pipe are not allowed. Owners of half of the remaining 25% of the cars would be forced to fix the cars or face fines and comfiscation by the police. This leads to the question of how important it is to have the cars inspected. According to Luca, it is important to have the cars inspected through TÜV because, “The third-party-inspection adds substantial value to road-safety in Germany, as conflicts of interest are avoided. As the inspecting organisations do not draw any financial benefit from a possible reparation of a car, the owner can rely on a neutral judgement.  On the other hand garage owners can proove to critical car owners that a reparation is required.”  Yet, while regulations are universal in Europe, each state has its own set of inspections that fulfill the guidelines. “Within the EC periodical technical inspections are part of the road safety program,” says Luca. “The inspections  and the periods vary from state to state, but basically the have the same goal.”

TÜV regulations apply for all vehicles with a cubic capacity of more than 50 ccm, meaning trucks, trekkers, motorcycles and trailers, according to Luca. Yet no inspection guidelines apply for bicycles, although from the author’s point of view, it would not hurt as some of the components, including gears, bike chains and lighting should work properly if bikers commute on a daily basis, like the author does. But perhaps in a few years, a TÜV guideline will be enforced and the bike shops will profit from new customers needing their bikes inspected and fixed to fulfill guidelines. A similar guideline already exists in Switzerland, together with a vignette, insurance to protect the bikes from damage or theft.

IMGP8434
Bike inspections don’t belong to the TÜV but with all the daily commutes, bikers may have to consider this option

With more vehicles on the road than 10 years ago, the importance of inspections is increasing not only for the safety of the driver but of others on the road as well. And while such an inspection is costly, it will benefit the driver and the car. Especially when the driver wants to avoid an incident like it happened in Lake Crystal last year. While it is unknown who is at fault for the technical defect which almost took the life of the driver, it is almost certain that with inspections like what is being done with TÜV, chances of such a freak incident will decrease. This was the mentality that Germans had when creating the inspection organization for steam engines and boilers 140 years ago, and it is the mentality that exists today, which justifies high quality products, especially when it comes to cars, a prized good for a German household. 🙂 ❤

Flensburg Files logo France 15

The author would like to thank Vicenzo Luca for his help and photos for this article. 

Germany at 25: Civil Courage

The German Order of Merit Cross (Bundesverdienstkreuz) awarded to Vaclav Havel in 2007. Photo taken by the Národní museum in Prague. Link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:German_order_merit_with_special_sash.jpg

Civil Courage: derived from the Latin word civilis and the French word courage and meaning the courage of the people to do something what is deemed right. In German, it is known as Zivilcourage and has been one of the most talked about topics in the past two decades. Politicians, civic leaders and organizations in civil society have called upon Germans to show civil courage and help others when help is needed. But why is that when civil courage is a natural trait you see in other countries, including the US?

Especially when it comes to the problem with right-winged extremists has civil courage been heavily discussed for reasons of fear: fear that the laws in the books may be used against them, but also fear of retaliation on the part of people involved wanting to help them. It also presents a conflict of interest between instinct- knowing that there is someone there to help- and the protection of privacy and one’s own private sphere, as mentioned by Prof. Veronika  Brandstätter of the University of Zurich in an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel. According to the professor of psychology, specializing in motivation psychology, Civil Courage is a question of value in terms of democracy and humanity, examining the issues of solidarity, tolerance and the readiness to help.  In other words, how far can you go to help someone? What resources are at your disposal and whether additional help is necessary in some cases. While he points out rescuing someone trapped on thin ice as one of the obvious signs where one stops his activities immediately to help, the issue involving right-wing extremism has been an ongoing theme since 1990, which seems to have climbed to the top three in terms of problems Germany is facing at present- refugees and the widening of social classes are the other two, with the Volkswagon scandal not far behind.

Examining the situation 25 years ago, especially in the eastern half of Germany, there were only very few traces of solidarity towards those in need for two reasons:

1. The traumatic effects of National Socialism in the 1930s and 40s, counting the devastation Germany faced in World War II, combined with Germany being a battlefield during the Cold War as Communism and Capitalism locked horns along the East-West borders including Berlin.  Here, we had two major poles: those who still believed in the German race and those who were afraid of being arrested by one of the two Superpowers. For the former, a classic example of how right-winged nationalism was strong was the riots in Rostock in 1992, where residents and neo-Nazis attacked apartments occupied by Vietnamese immigrants, setting them on fire and chasing the occupants away. The Police were poorly equipped to handle the protests. Further attacks on foreigners followed where bystanders stepped aside to avoid any confrontation by the extremists who dubbed them as helpers.

For the latter, it had to do with the sphere of influence the two superpowers had on the divided Germany: the US for the western half and the Soviet Union for the eastern half. Both were of the opinion that Germany should be rebuilt and grow but on a controlled basis, for fearing of another rise in power. This resulted in the post-war generations growing up being influenced by two different powers that reshaped their way of thinking. It did not mean that the country of free-thinkers was a puppet. It meant that in order for the country to achieve its independence, the Germans had to abide by the regulations from the outside, which disappeared bit by bit as the country bought itself back its independence, only to have that achieved with German Reunification in 1990. And even then, the people growing up during the Cold War era had the extra caution mentality, where help is only given when it is deemed safe to do so.

The second reason behind the lack of solidarity is the mentality of letting the people “swim in cold water” and fend for themselves. This meant that there was an expectation that people coming to Germany (or at least a region in Germany) were to have learned the language, customs and way of life, and there was no need to assist them, even if asked. Even the idea of saying “Schönen Tag wünsche ich Ihnen/Dir!” (Have a nice day) 15 years ago seemed preposterous in the eyes of many who prefer to concentrate on their own affairs and not that of others. Again, this applies to the older generations who may had never dealt with situations with refugees and foreign residents as we are working with today. When first arriving in 1999, the first negative impression per se was the customer service in many stores and offices, where the atmosphere was either monotonous, unfriendly or both. The exception was at the university and offices that deal with foreign students.

Let’s fast forward to the present, and how Germany has cleaned its image a great deal. The meaning of civil courage has become a household name in the country for three major reasons:

1. People and organizations are being recognized for their services of helping those in need, regardless of circumstances and what background they have. Every year the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Cross of Merit) is given out to outstanding people for their extraordinary service, regardless of which level (local, state or national). First introduced in 1951 by German President Theodor Heuss, there are eight different classes awarded pending on the degree of service. Even cities have introduced their own awards to people for their service to the community. While this had gone almost unnoticed before 1990, it has taken center stage since then, especially as politicians have strongly encouraged people to show solidarity and help the people who are in need, including the current German president Joachim Gaucke in his televised speeches.

The second reason behind the importance of civil courage is the rise of the next generations (those born from 1970 onwards) and their awareness of problems on the global front. These people usually have university degrees, speak at least two foreign languages, have travelled to foreign countries, encountered people from different cultures and are more aware of the problems Germany is facing in comparison with other countries in the world than the baby boomers, many of whom fought for their rights on their own soil and not in a foreign country. The more experiences they gathered and the more aware of the situation they are, the more likely they will help others out, especially those wanting to settle down in Germany for an uncertain period of time.

And finally, the people in Germany have become more aware of the problems facing them as far as domestic issues and immigration are concerned. This is caused in part due to the information they receive in the news as well as the experience they have gathered and shared with others. Even if certain stereotypes of those in need (especially the refugees and immigrants) are held by some based on rumors, having experienced it on hand or through others sometimes helps them reshape the way of thinking and reconsider their actions towards others in a positive manner.

It still does not mean that the country is perfect. There are still attacks on foreigners, especially in light of the large influx of refugees from Syria, and parts of Africa. Refugees and immigrants are looking for new homes and a new life. The gap between rich and poor is widening, especially when it comes to children who live in poverty. And we still have problems with pollution and other environmental issues. But we are seeing the gravity of the situation, and we have more people ready and willing to help, regardless of what the consequences are and how they are recognized in the end for their work. In the 15+ years living here, one can find this variable that is recognizable and much appreciated: openness and kindness. There was not much there at first when I came, but one will find it often nowadays, no matter where a person goes. And this is something that does not go unnoticed while traveling through or living in Germany.

frage für das forum

To finish this article, here is an exercise designed to test your knowledge about how civil courage should be implemented. Look at the situations below and ask yourself what you would do in a situation. Remember, what you do for action may be different for others and can lead to a discussion.

  1. You drive on the motorway and see a person seeking a ride to the nearest petrol station. This is just after passing a car with a flat.
  2. There is a family of refugees entering your community with nothing except what they wear, no money and little knowledge of the language. They are looking for a place to live and work.
  3. A friend prepares a party for another friend visiting from another country but is overwhelmed and needs some help.
  4. Two people fight over how they should work together on a project with one wanting to work alone and another wanting to work together.
  5. You see a group of neo-Nazis harassing someone from Africa, spitting on them and pushing them around, while riding a tram.
  6. You’re at a dance with some friends only to find someone sitting in the corner, all alone.
  7. While jogging, you encounter a dog who has lost his owner and follows you around. The animal carries a tag.
  8. A woman at work receives unwanted attention by someone with interest and does not seem to leave her alone.
  9. You break off contact with a colleague because of a fallout only to meet the person again in a different work setting months later.
  10. You witness an accident involving a car and a bike while biking to a party.

Note: Feel free to comment to any of the situations above by placing your comments below or in the Fles’ facebook pages.  🙂

FF 25 Logo

City Institutions, Laws and Agreements: The Origin of the Flensburg Files

FL Harbor

Author’s Note: This article is a two-in-one deal. It’s an article in connection with Germany’s 25th anniversary, but it’s also in connection with the Files’ five years and how this column came into being. Enjoy! 🙂 

While living in Germany, one will see a unique feature that has been talked about at the dinner table: institutions, laws and agreements named after German cities. We are not talking about institutions like breweries, whose headquarters are found at their places of origin, like the Flensburger, the Berliner Weisse, the Köstritzer, the Saalfelder and the like. That topic is saved for a rainy day, unless you want to know more about German beer (in that case, there’s an article for you right here). And what is also typical are the newspapers named after cities- these are also common everywhere and heceforth will be left out here.

What is meant by institutions are the banks and insurance companies that were founded in the place or origin, and with some exceptions to the rule, still exist today. Many of these financial institutions had their roots to the time of Bismarck’s regime beginning in 1871, the time when Germany was first founded as a country. Part of that had to do with Bismarck’s introduction of the social welfare and health care systems, where every citizen was required to have insurance in case of an accident. With that came the dawn of the insurance (More on that later). The Dresdner Bank was one of these examples. Founded in 1872 Karl Freiherr von Kaskel and based in Dresden, the bank became one of largest banks in Germany and eastern Europe, surviving two World Wars and the Cold War before it folded into the Commerzbank in 2009. There is also the insurance group Alte Leipziger, located an hour west of the city in Leipzig, which provides insurance coverage, especially for burn-out syndrome and other psychological disorders. One will find such (financial institutions) in many big cities, such as Munich, Stuttgart, Hannover and Frankfurt, just to name a few.

City laws and agreements are even more unique in Germany. While in the Anglo-Saxon countries have conferences and agreements on a larger scale in terms of international relations (such as the Washington Conference of 1922, the Bonn Agreement on Afghanistan in 2001 and the Frankfurt Documents in 1948), what is meant by agreements are the creation of domestic laws and systems that people in Germany have to abide by, which were signed and enacted at the place of origin. In some cases, like the Flensburg Point System, there is even an office that specializes in this type of law. As seen in the point system, the Kraftfahrtbundesamt (the office of vehicular registration) in Flensburg is responsible for giving drivers points for violations on the road. Other agreements known to exist include:

_The Düsseldorfer Tabelle: Founded in 1962 based on a controversial ruling and its subsequent appeal, the table determines how much child support a partner has to provide at the time of the divorce. It is classified based on the amount of money that person has to pay per month until the child is 25 years of age.

_Frankfurter Tabelle: This table is used to determine how much money a traveller should receive as a refund for lack of accomodations. This is determined by another table created in Kempten. The Würzburger Tabelle has a similar scheme but for boat cruises.

These are just a handful of agreements and laws that exist, which leads us to this activity:

Identify which city has its own law and agreement that was enacted in its place of origin and describe briefly what it is and how it works. That you can do in the comment section, links are welcomed regardless of language. 🙂

DSCF8470

Origin of the Files:

Keeping German cities in mind, the next question that many readers, family members, friends and colleagues have been asking me is: Why Flensburg and not Frankfurt?  As Piggeldy and Frederick would say: Nichts leichter als das (Easy as this):

I visited Flensburg for the first time in May 2010, as I needed to get away from everything that had been going on in my life that was unwelcomed. Just to put it bluntly and leaving it there. I had heard of the city and its proud heritage from a pair of people who either come from there or have lived there for many years. One was a former student colleague from my days as a teacher in Bayreuth, another was my best friend and his girlfriend from my days in Thuringia. I had heard about the point system before that and the beer. But upon setting foot on Flensburg soil, and exploring the city and visiting the people, it became the city worth visiting (along with the surrounding region), because of its natural surroundings, its landscape, and especially its history, tied together with that of Germany, Denmark and on the international scene. Some articles have been written about it, other themes have yet to make the column (and will soon enough). 🙂

While my main profession is an English teacher (and I’ve been doing this for 15 years), my second profession is a writer, who has been contributing works not only to this one but also to other newspapers. One day, in response to a letter I had written to a local newspaper demanding that my hometown in Minnesota set an example of what Flensburg is doing with its historic architecture by saving the former high school building, a friend and former high school classmate of mine recommended me to the areavoices website, where I can write about my experiences as a Minnesotan living in Germany, providing some photos and food for thought. She works at the Forum Communications Company based in Fargo, North Dakota but has newspaper offices throughout the Midwest, including Worthington (Minnesota),  Mitchell (South Dakota), and those throughout North Dakota in Grand Forks, Jamestown and Williston, just to name a few.

After some thought about her offer, why not?

Together with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, the Flensburg Files made its debut in October 2010. The origin of the Files came from my will to keep the German tradition alive: my visit in Flensburg, using the German city name for the title, and the files- there is a file for every document submitted in a form of article, photos, interviews and the life. Besides, one can do a whole lot with the letter F, as you can see in the logos below.

Five years laters, the Files is running strong. Not only does the column provide some topics pertaining to German-American themes and places to visit (Christmas markets included), but it has extended to include more on culture, education (esp. for those wanting to learn English and are non natives), current events and some food for thought on the part of the author. It now has a wordpress website, which has attracted almost a thousand subscribers (and counting) plus unknown numbers of frequent visitors to the Files’ facebook pages and twitter. In other words, it has gotten bigger, attracting a large audience from all aspects of the world. Plans are in the making in the future to include a couple more social networks and provide a few more series beyond 2015, but the Files will remain the same, an online column that provides readers with an insight of German-American themes, even if it means going behind the scenes, as the author has done already.

This leads to the last question: Why Flensburg and not other cities in Germany? We have too many institutions, laws and agreements going by the names of Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg, just to name a few. Plus using names of other small cities are possible but they don’t provide the kick to a top-notch column like this one. One could rename it like the Husum Herald, St.Pauli Sentinal,  Münster Morning News, Nuremberg Newsflyer, Glauchau (Daily) Globe (here, the people in Worthington would have a say in that), Leipzig Local (again same as Glauchau as that group exists), Weimar World News, etc. But nothing can top what the Flensburg Files can offer for title. And sometimes using something local and building off of what the city offers for rum, beer, handball and its point system, in addition to its beaches, landscape and especially its heritage can give a city like Flensburg a boost, like it has in the five years it has been in business, with many more years to come. 🙂

To close this article here’s a word of advice for those wanting to start an online column like this one, or a career as a journalist. Because our world is full of lies and corruption, there is one variable that is constant, which is the truth. The truth is the most important commodity a person has to deal with. This includes being true to yourself and your future. If you are sure that you want to uncover the truth and expose it, then do it. People may laugh at you at first, and you may face failure for the first few months or even years, but in the end, if you are true to your heart, you will win the hearts and minds of true friends who will stay with you to ensure that you stay to your course to become a successful writer. It takes likes of patience, passion, perseverence and persistence- the 4 Ps. Once followed, and once you receive accolades and respect for you as a true writer, then you will reach your destiny and beyond. Aim high and let the heavens do the rest.

And now, back to the writing…… 🙂

Logo from 2011
Logo from 2013
FF new logo1
Its present logo (since 2014)

FF 25 Logo

five years flfi

Germany at 25: Einkaufsoffener Sonntag- Shopping on the Day of Rest

P1030734

It all started at the beginning- 1945. Germany laid in shambles. Houses and apartments were destroyed. The people, walking around in tathered clothing, were looking for one scrap of food to survive. They were homeless and helpless, just as helpless as they were during the Third Reich and the Great War. The Allies, victors over the National Socialists who led Germany to ruin, decided, let there be new homes, grocery stores and clothing stores so that the people can buy food for the table, books and paper for school and clothes to keep warm. And so, amid the ruins rose small stores and shops for people to purchase their goods and money flowed in so that they can spend it on whatever was needed.

And that was the introduction of the modern store. And life was good.

11 years later in 1956, Germany was on the road to becoming  the Wunderkind, producing the strongest economic growth on the European continent by 1961. The stores were open, selling name-brand clothing and food either homegrown or imported. Conflicts arose between consumers and store owners over when to have the stores open. This is mainly in part because of the importance of spending time with family and in the church. Henceforth, the German government in Bonn introduced a law, requiring all stores to be open from 7:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the evening. Exception was with restaurants, pharmacies/chemists and petrol stations. Saturdays are opening hours from 7:00am until 2:00pm.

And that was the introduction of opening hours for all stores. And life was good.

Fast forward 33 years later to 1989, and the trend is going towards consumption and longer hours. The government introduced the long Thursday hours, where stores are allowed to serve customers until 8:30pm. This is in addition to having opening hours on one Saturday a month and on the Saturdays before Advent until 6:00pm.  It was then followed by a new law, passed in 1996, where stores are allowed to open from 6:00am until 8:00pm Mondays through Fridays and from 7:00am until 4:00pm on Saturdays.

And that was the extension of opening hours for all stores. And life was good.

Fast forward 10 years later, and we see the introduction of Einkaufsoffener Sonntag. Prior to the law passed in 2006, no stores were allowed open on Sundays, holidays and Christmas Eve after 2:00pm. Exceptions were the kiosks, small stores at the airports and train stations, petrol stations and restaurants. One Sunday a month, stores are open after church services from 1:00pm until 6:00pm. On this day and the day before that, people storm the stores, buying last minute items and creating lines going all the way to the back of the store. Tensions rise and violence sometimes happens because of the lack of patience and the need to buy the last items as if the world is coming to an end. Even more so when stores are closed on a holiday- on Saturdays! Profits rise, but also the amount of stuff and tension from buying it rise as well.

And that was the introduction of Sunday hours in stores. And life was……

UNBEGREIFLICH! Incomprehensible. In the 16+ years living in Germany, no trend has been as controversial as the opening hours on the Day of Rest. Looking at 1999, when first coming to Germany, I witnessed long lines at stores and small shops on Fridays and Saturdays, where people stocked up on goods for the weekend, as if they will be out before Sunday. Sunday was a sacred holiday- as sacred as books and the Bible.  Looking at the current situation with Einkaufsoffener Sonntag, the trend stays the same: long lines with people fighting to get the last item. The difference, more families are spending time in stores and not in parks, churches or visiting family and friends. Could this trend erode the fabric of family and friendships? Hardly, for we have technologies keeping people in contact and we still find time for people instead of goods.  However, with the need for even more flexible hours, we are starting to see Germany look like the USA, where we have stores open 24 hours a day, even on holidays. And even though stores in the US are beginning to cut back, starting with the elimination of hours on Thanksgiving and Black Friday (see article here), Germany is going with the trend that the Americans had had ten years ago.

The good news is despite general approval for opening hours up until 9:00pm on weeknight, the majority still disapprove having shops open on Sundays except for the Advent period. If this trend continues, in the long term, we could see stores returning to their original hours as enacted in 1996. And perhaps it is a good thing too, for we consumers need to learn to live more with less items and not waste time in line. If we cannot get what we want, we wait. We look for alternatives. We find ways to avoid such maddness in lines and devote our time with four main characters in life: our children and loved ones, our families, our friends and Christ.

And this applies to work as well, which is why I’m quitting right now….. 🙂

P1030733

frage für das forum

Which is better: a huge supermarket with a wide array of goods, like you see in the pictures above or a small shop with just the bare minumum?

What is your view on opening hours on Sundays: Would you rather see stores open on these days or should they be closed on this day of rest with the exception of Advent? Why?

Situation: You are at the butcher’s wanting beef for your stew but you are in line with people wanting the same product. Do you:

a. Budge in front of them  b. Negotiate with them  c. Choose another butcher or store d. Elect to become a vegetarian or vegan?

Place your comments here and/or the Files’ facebook pages. Looking forward to your thoughts on this. 🙂

FF 25 Logo