Communication is Key: Pay Attention to Your Customers

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Day one of the trip to the United States and we had one of the most bizarre episodes of “Die Bahn macht mich mobil” moments ever recorded in my time here in Germany. Actually we had two incidents but on the same train, an ICE-train to Frankfurt from Erfurt. And it involved a pair of seats and a retro-active reservation. A family boards the train in coach 21, expecting to have seats 81, 82, & 83 – with table and two of them next to the window. Another woman had the same seat reserved- seat 81. An elderly couple were sitting in two of the seats- 81 and 82- and refused to move. All three parties had their seats reserved. Which one of the parties lucked out and why?

Enter the conductor who speaks with a stuffy nose but has a Berlin accent but looks and behaves like Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, the first of most likely two Supreme Court nominees of President Trump. The verdict: the family is out of luck and has to sit somewhere else.

 

Why?

 

We found out that “Mr. Gorsuch” claimed that the train ticket was valid on the 6th instead of the 16th. AND here’s the kicker:  That ticket was reserved on the 9th!  Since when do you book retroactively, three days AFTER the trip had “taken place?”

How does the ticket person get out of this fix: Simple- defer responsibility on the customer. Tell the customer that the Deutsche Bahn has a disclaimer that says customers should pay attention to their ticket when they purchase it because they are not responsible for any mishaps that happen- all written in tiny little letters which require the magnifying glass.

 

Nice going, Gorsuch!

 

Same day, different situation, different place- Frankfurt Airport.

Sitting at Gateway 46 for hours, passengers going to Pittsburgh are becoming anxious and annoyed because our scheduled flight was for 4:00pm and it was well after the hour. One passenger decides to investigate the matter and ask the ticket agent who is extremely busy but was professional about it- friendly and persistent. End result: Gate 48 and we don’t leave before six!

The kicker here: The airline (Condor) offers us free drinks-including alcohol plus free premium entertainment for the entire flight to compensate the customers for the delay.

 

Classy!  🙂

 

Now look at the difference between the two for a minute: one behaves like Gorsuch and chastises the customer and the other one apologizes and tries a “Wiedergutmachung” with the film and drinks. They are both German-run companies and they are both trying to win and keep their customers by providing the best service possible. Yet history shows if a provider makes a mistake and tries to defer responsibility onto the customers, chances are more likely that that provider will lose the customer more quickly than the one who makes the mistake, says sorry and makes up for it. It’s a principle I learned from working a hellish summer of 1997 for an eccentric restaurant owner in Iowa, which is always make the customer happy.

While some of things he did while working in a hot kitchen at 40° C left us scratching our heads, he realized that we were all human beings and sometimes mistakes can happen. Therefore if a customer was unhappy, he made sure that the food was done right. If not, he gave them a free dessert or cocktail of choice.

The Happy Customer model has worked for all businesses that provide services to their customers with a goal of winning and keeping them. If one defers responsibility, the customer leaves. If the provider begs and pleads for a positive feedback when addressing a problem by e-mail, the customer can also leave. The incident with the Bahn added to the pile of reasons for having bought a car for commuting purposes, which is a story saved for another time. Perhaps they should look to the likes of Condor to address their problems of service on the train.

And as for the second argument, that is in reference to the next entry on my trip through the States……

BTW: CHeck out this Genre of the Week about the Bahn. A song from the Wiseguys and more I will not say here. 😉

 

And to the person who taught everybody how to make the customers happy, enjoy your retirement. You taught us well. 🙂

 

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Historic Structures and Glasses: Restore vs. Replacement in Simpler Terms

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Co-written with sister column, bhc-logo-newest1

The discussion about the preservation and reuse of historic places has existed since the 1950s, thanks to the preservation laws that have been in place. The German Preservation Laws were passed in 1958, whereas the Historic Preservation Laws that established the National Park Service and National Register of Historic Places in the USA were enacted in 1966. Both serve the lone purpose of identifying and designating places unique to the cultural identity and history of their respective countries. Furthermore, these places are protected from any sort of modernization that would otherwise alter or destroy the structure in its original form. Protected places often receive tax credits, grants and other amenities that are normally and often not granted if it is not protected or even nominated for listing as a historic site.  This applies to not only buildings and bridges but also to roadways and highways, windmills, towers of any sorts, forts and castles, citadels and educational institutions and even memorials commemorating important events.

Dedicating and designating sites often receive mixed reactions, from overwhelming joy because they can better enjoy the sites and educate the younger generations, to disgruntlement because they want to relieve themselves of a potential liability.

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Since working with a preservation group in western Saxony on saving the Bockau Arch Bridge, a seven-span stone arch bridge that spans the Zwickau Mulde between Bockau and Zschorlau, six kilometers southwest of Aue, the theme involving this structure has been ownership. The bridge has been closed to all traffic since August 2017 while a replacement is being built on a new alignment. Once the new bridge opens, the 150-year old structure will come down unless someone is willing to step in and take over ownership and the responsibilities involved. . Taking the structure means paying for its maintenance and assuming all responsibility for anything that could potentially happen. And this is the key here: Ownership.

Who wants to own a piece of history? To examine this, let’s look at a basic example of a commodity where two thirds of the world’s population wear on a regular basis- the author included as well: glasses.

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The author’s sunglasses: the older model from 2005 on top; the newest pair from 2018 at the bottom.

Ever since Marco Polo’s invention, glasses have been improved, innovated and modernized to not only make the person look great in appearance. It also helps them to better see the environment surrounding them, regardless of whether they are near-sighted or far sighted, have astigmatism or require bi-focals to read, or if they want protect their eyes from the sun in the form of shades. Glasses can be plastic or metal (or even both). And like the historic structures, the materials can be recycled if no one wants them. Yet by the same token, many of us love to keep them for the purpose of memories or give them away to those who need them. For over 30 years, I have worn nine pairs of glasses and two pairs of sunglasses; this does not count the eight years that I primarily wore contact lenses, which was during my time in high school and college. Like our historic structures, glasses have a life span. They are worn until the frames develop rust and corrosion, the vision changes or they are broken.

In some cases, many look for a new frames because they want to “look cool” in front of their peers. The “look cool” mentality has overtaken society to a point where it can be applicable to about everything: cars, clothing, houses and especially historic places and structures of interest. Basically, people just ignore the significance of these structures and things that had been built in the past, which hold memories, contribute to the development of a country, region or even community, or are simply fashionable. Still in spite of all this, one has to do something about the glasses, just as much one has to do something about the historic building.

So let’s take these two pairs of sunglasses, for example. Like in the picture above, the top one I was prescribed by an optometrist in 2005; the bottom one most recently in June 2018. The top one is a combination of plastic and steel- the temples, ends and hinges are made of steel; the eye wires are plastic. The lenses are made with Carl Zeiss branded glass with a sealcoat covering to protect it from scratches.  The bottom ones are plastic- frames, temples and nosepiece; the lenses are plastic but with a sealcoat protectant and dimmers to protect the eyes from the sun. The brand name is generic- no name.  The difference is that the changes in the eyes required new sunglasses for the purpose of driving or doing work outside.  As I wear the new sunglasses, which are not as high quality but is “cool,” according to standards, the question is what to do with the old sunglasses?

There are enough options to go around, even if the sunglasses are not considered significant. One can keep the old pair for memory purposes. Good if you have enough space for them. One can give them away to someone who needs them. If they are non-prescription lenses, that is much easier than those with a prescription. With the prescription lenses, one will need to remove them from the frame before giving them away. Then there is the option of handing them into the glasses provider, who takes the pair apart and allows for the materials to be recycled.  More likely one will return the old pair to the provider to be recycled and reused than it would be to give them away because of the factors of age, quality of the materials and glass parts and especially the questions with the lenses themselves. One can keep the pair, but it would be the same as leaving them out of sight and out of mind.

And this mentality can be implemented to any historic structure. People strive for cooler, more modern buildings, infrastructure or the like, but do not pay attention to the significance of the structure they are replacing in terms of learning about the past and figuring its reuse in the future. While some of  these “oldtimers “ are eventually vacated and abandoned, most of them are eventually torn down with the materials being reused for other purposes; parts of sentimental values, such as finials, statues and plaques, are donated to museums and other associations to be put on display.

The Bridge at Pointer’s Ridge. Built in 1910 by the Western Bridge Company of Omaha, NE. The Big Sioux River crossing was one of five bridges removed after years of abandonment in 2012. Photo taken in 1999 when it was still open.

One of examples that comes to mind when looking at this mentality are the bridges of Minnehaha County in South Dakota. The most populous county in the state whose county seat is Sioux Falls (also the largest city in the state), the county used to have dozens of historic truss bridges that served rail and automobile traffic. As of present, 30 known truss bridges exists in the county, down from 43 in 1990, and half as many as in 1980.  At least six of them are abandoned awaiting reuse. This includes a rails-to-road bridge that was replaced in 1997 but has been sitting alongside a gravel road just outside Dell Rapids ever since.  A big highlight came with the fall of five truss bridges between Dell Rapids and Crooks in 2012, which included three through truss spans- two of which had crossed the Big Sioux. All three were eligible for the National Register. The reasons behind the removal were simple: Abandoned for too long and liability was too much to handle

This leads me to my last point on the glasses principle: what if the structures are protected by law, listed as a historic monument?  Let’s look at the glasses principle again to answer that question. Imagine you have a couple sets of glasses you don’t want to part ways with, even as you clean your room or  flat. What do you do with them? In the case of my old sunglasses, the answer is simple- I keep them for one can reuse them for other purposes. Even if I allow my own daughter to use them for decorating dolls or giant teddy bears, or even for artwork, the old pair is mine, if and only if I want to keep them and allow for use by someone else under my care.  The only way I would not keep the old sunglasses is if I really want to get rid of them and no one wants them.

Big Sioux River Crossing at 255th Street: One of five bridges removed in 2012 after decades of abandonment. Photo taken in 1999.

For historic places, this is where we have somewhat of a grey area. If you treat the historic place as if it is protected and provide great care for it, then there is a guarantee that it will remain in its original, pristine condition. The problem is if you want to get rid of it and your place is protected by law. Here you must find the right person who will take as good care of it as you do with your glasses. And that is not easy because the owner must have the financial security and the willpower just to do that. Then the person taking it over does not automatically do what he/she pleases. If protected under preservation laws you must treat it as if it is yours but it is actually not, just like renting a house.  Half the places that have been torn down despite its designation as a historical site was because of the lack of ownership and their willingness to do something to their liking. Even if there are options for restoration available, if no one wants it, it has to go, even if it means taking it off the historic registry list to do that.  Sometimes properties are reclaimed at the very last second, just like the old glasses, because of the need to save it. While one can easily do that with glasses, it is difficult to do that with historic places, for replacement contracts often include removal clauses for the old structure, something that is very difficult to rescind without taking the matter to court.

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In reference to the project on the Bockau Arch Bridge in Germany, we are actually at that point. Despite its protection as a historic structure, its designation was taken off recently, thus allowing for the contract for the new bridge at the expense of the old structure to proceed. Yet, like with the pair of old glasses, last ditch attempts are being made to stop the process for there are possible suitors willing to take over the old structure and repurpose it for bike and pedestrian use. While neither of the communities have expressed interest, despite convincing arguments that the bridge can be maintained at a price that is 100 times less than the calculated amount, the group working to save the bridge is forming an association which will feature a network of patrons in the region, willing to chip in to own the bridge privately. Despite this, the debate on ownership and the bridge’s future lies in the hands of the state parliament because the bridge carries a federal highway, which is maintained on the state and national levels. Will it become like the old pair of glasses that is saved the last second will be decided upon later this fall.

To summarize briefly on the glasses principle, glasses and buildings each have a short lifespan because of their functionality and appearance. We tend to favor the latter more than the former and therefore, replace them with newer, more modern and stylish things to keep up with the pace. However, the older structures, just like the discarded pair of glasses, are downgraded on the scale, despite its protection under laws and ownership. When listed as a historical site, the proprietor works for and together with the government to ensure its upkeep, just like lending old glasses to someone for use, as long as the person knows he/she is “borrowing” it. When it is not listed , they are either abandoned or torn down, just like storing the glasses in the drawers or even having them recycled. However the decision is final if and only if no one wants it, and this could be a last-second thing.

The Bridge at Iverson Crossing south of Sioux Falls. Built in 1897, added to the National Register in 1996. Now privately owned. Photo taken in 1998.

We cannot plan ahead for things that need to be built, expanded or even replaced, for there may be someone with a strong backbone and staunch support who will step in the last minute to stake their claim. This applies to replacing older, historic structures with modern ones that have less taste and value. In the face of environmental issues we’re seeing globally on a daily basis, we have to use and reuse buildings and other structures to prevent the waste of materials that are becoming rarer to use, the destruction of natural habitats that may never recover but most importantly, remind the younger generations of our history and how we got this far. While some of us have little memories of our old glasses in schools with the exception of school class and party photos, almost all of us have memories of our experiences at, in, or on a historic structure that deserves to be recognized and kept for others to see. It’s just a matter of handling them, like the glasses we are wearing.

 

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The Last Get-Together at the Cottage on the Beach

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While I’m still in the process of consolidating the Files and giving it a make-over, I decided to share this poem I put together. It was based on childhood memories I had spending it at a cottage on the north shore of a major lake in Iowa. It was owned by my great-aunt and featured a beach and a sun-room overlooking the water, where we spent half our time; the other half was in the water. And having a couple cousins, we entertained her and her guests as we grew up. This poem is dedicated in her memory for after 94 years, she decided it was time to sail off into the sunset to meet the rest of her family who had preceeded her- namely her parents, her five siblings (including my grandmother), and many close friends she knew in school, church and in other social gatherings.  It was my pleasure having spent my summers with her and my trips to the Seas in the north of Germany will be a reminder of the times I enjoyed growing up. So this poem is for her with a heart-felt thanks. ❤

 

Today is the day we say good-bye to a dear friend,

Who welcomed us with open arms,

Who met and knew many people, from places near and far,

Who led us through the cottage, a small place but with big rooms, like a kitchen, dining area and sun room,

Who offered us coffee, banana bread and kolaches, all homemade with a personal touch,

Who entertained us in the sun room, overlooking the rolling sea, filled with sailors, fishermen and swimmers,

Who had a large beach where we could tan and swim, the first two things we did when we came to visit,

Who would have thought that the cottage would be the care of someone else, after many decades and hundreds of guests and relatives?

 

Today we make our final swim at the cottage of our dear friend,

Who taught us how to swim,

Who showed us the right way to snorkel,

Who had a half dozen inner-tubes and showed us how to balance them,

Who kept our large collection of shiny rocks we found, while underwater for many hours,

Who was very creative in offering us things we need to build a sand castle, like buckets, shovels, glasses and pans,

Who owned the oldest footbath in the region for us to clean our feet,

Who offered chairs and shade for us to sit and relax.

Who would have thought that today, our place to swim is at a waterpark, with plastic slides, ceramic swimming pools and red-suited life guards, watching like a hawk to ensure that the many visitors behave themselves?

 

Today we have our final potluck brunch at the cottage of our dear friend

Who always had it in the sun room overlooking the sea,

Who always made home-cooked meals from generations of family recipes

Who always encouraged us to bring our homemade food to share with others

Who was laden with five-course meal for an average of 20 people, like deviled eggs, homemade hamburgers, potato salad- or any salad, every platter possible, including the pastries; with punch, coffee and ginger ale, our favorites to drink,

Who started off with the Lord’s Prayer, thanking Jesus before we feasted: Bless us oh Lord in the gifts you gave us and help us help those in need, those we love the most,

Who allowed us to eat and entertain ourselves, sharing stories, jokes and testimonials- no politics or debates, no facebook to distract us, no insults and verbal spats,

Who enjoyed every story in the lives of the people she loved dearly- siblings, children and grand-children alike.

Who would have thought today that our family is stretched out too thin- living in faraway places, having little contact except on the internet, and not having time to even say hi to our loved ones?

 

Today we play our final card game at the cottage of our dear friend

Who taught us how to play farkle,

Who showed us how to poker-face in poker,

Who taught us when to show the cards in Rummy,

Who encouraged us to win the race in cribbage,

Who showed us how to go-fish.

Who would have thought today that all our games could be played online, while missing out on personal reactions that are funny and priceless?

 

Today is our final bonfire at the beach of the cottage of our dear friend

Who showed us how to roast sausages without burning them,

Who showed us how to make smores with marshmallows and Hershey’s,

Who showed us how to pop every corn made by Orville Redenbacher,

Who showed us how to cover fruit in a chocolate fountain,

Who showed us how to have the greatest time at her cottage.

Who would have thought today that we would never experience them with our children as our dear friend had to move on, growing older by the year and knowing that the time has come to say her good-byes to the hundreds she met along the way-

Hundreds including us and personally, me.

 

Tonight will be our final night to camp at the beach of the cottage of our dear friend

Who allowed us to sleep on the sands of the beach

Who allowed us to watch the fireworks go off on an important holiday

Who allowed us to look into the stars at night and dream

Who allowed us to become who we are because

We spent all our summers at the cottage.

Who would have thought that after all these years we still remember our dear friend, her cottage and all the great times we had there?

 

We still do.  And we still will remember these times as the best.

 

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Ampelmänner: The Traffic Lights from East Germany

From 2011: 

This year has been the year of the roaring zeros in the eastern part of Germany, as many universities, private firms and organizations in the former East German states of Mecklenburg-Pomerania, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia are celebrating 20 years of existence and the nostalgia that had existed prior to the Revolution of 1989 managed to make its way to the main stream of German culture and international prominence; especially after 50 years.
Strangely enough, the pedestrian traffic lights in the eastern part of Germany happen to fall into the category of international prominence. 50 years ago this year, Karl Peglau of the Ministry of Transportation got a bit creative and tried to present the then German Democratic Republic with a mannequin figure, who stretched its arms out in red to alert the pedestrians to stop and waltzed across the street whistling his favorite tune in green, as seen in the photos taken below:

The Socialist Party eventually approved the introduction of the mannequin figure traffic light for the pedestrian crossings, and the first one was installed in Berlin in 1969 in the suburb of Mitte.  It became a ‘household product’ typical of East Germany afterwards as the drivers of the Trabant automobile (another East German product one can still see on the streets today but in fewer numbers) and pedestrians alike were awed by its appearance in the streets of Weimar, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Erfurt, Rostock, Potsdam, just to name a few.  Even more so is the fact that Peglau and later others did not stop there with their creative mannequin figure as it presented itself in many different forms; especially in green, which made it even more popular among the residents and visitors passing through the country- from the east, that is (the borders to the west were closed the same year Peglau invented the beloved mannequin figure).    Over the years, more than 30 different green mannequins appeared on the traffic lights ranging from a small girl carrying a Valentine’s heart to her sweetheart to a small child carrying a lantern at night to celebrate St. Martin’s Day (which is celebrated in November) or St. Nicholas carrying his bag full of toys to fill in the shoes of small children on St. Nicholas’ Day (which is celebrated on 6 December).  A gallery of examples the author photographed while in Erfurt in October of this year is provided below for the reader’s enjoyment:

 

The lady and the purse
St. Nicholas with his bag of toys for the children

 

Don’t bike or walk unless signaled to do so!

While the mannequin was not popular in the western part of Germany and therefore not adopted after 1989, a person from Baden-Wurttemberg decided to market the beloved mannequin and today, one can buy a T-shirt with the  walking green mannequin figure on it, drink coffee in a cup with the red mannequin figure on it, or buy a poster with a drunken green mannequin on it as it tries for another bottle of beer (believe it or not, it exists.) But those are just to name a few.  It is highly doubtful the pedestrian traffic lights in western Germany or even the ones in the US would stand a match against the ones in eastern Germany and therefore be marketed in a way that people will buy them.

Typical western German traffic light with a bike signal. This is go….
….and this is the signal to stop!

But despite its popularity that exists in the eastern part of Germany and the fact that people elsewhere are embracing it through merchandise and photos, in the eyes of many people still (after 21 years), it is considered an “Ossie” product from the former Socialist regime, which stressed the importance of Marxism and Leninism and is therefore considered “evil.” More alarming is the fact that many people (even in the USA) believe that there are two Germanys still, even though they have been reunified for 21 years (3 October is the anniversary of the reunification of Germany and is declared a national holiday).  On the contrary though, despite our thinking of a “Wessie” (as the eastern Germans considered the westerners before and after 1989), many countries have embraced some of the products and structures that had existed before 1989. In particular, the Scandanavian countries  (Finland and Sweden) adopted the education system of the former East Germany because of its clear structure and learning levels that students can achieve in 13 years. Many countries still have government-owned health insurance and/or obliges the residents to have health insurance so that they do not have to worry about paying out of their pockets for the most important operations that can save their lives. And even in the western half of Germany, the people are embracing some of the TV programs that originate from the eastern part, like Sandman, the Fox and the Elster (a black and white bird found mostly in the eastern part), and other cartoon shows. During my trek to the Christmas markets last year in Nuremberg and Frankfurt (Main), one can see eastern German specialties there that are worth tasting, like the famous Thuringian bratwurst.


It is time that we crack open the books, travel to these regions, and put aside the differences that apparently still divides East and West and embrace the cultures of one another, perhaps even adopting them for the good of oneself and the rest of society.  Learning something new once a day will not harm the person but will make him/her more informative than before. This was the mentality that the late news anchor Peter Jennings took when he learned something new everyday and found ways of informing the public about it in his newscast World News Tonight, which he hosted for 23 years until he succumbed to cancer in 2006.  While the mannequin traffic light is the tiniest aspect that one would even dream of writing, it represents a fraction of the culture and history that is worth reading about, even if it came from the former East Germany. And with globalization dominating every aspect of life, one should embrace rather be inclusive, for learning about something every day will make a person more open to the world and wiser than the one who is ignorant.

OK, you can cross now- even by bike.

 

Link to the story (German): http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/Ampelmann100.html

Most Wanted Teacher

Teaching: the fruits of life
Teaching: the fruits of life Photo taken in 2007

From 2010:

OK, it’s official. I’ve just been declared the most wanted teacher on campus by the students!  Just when I was about to sit down and relax over a cup of cappucino, I was received by a storm of students whom I taught English in the last semester at a  university in  Germany and their first question was: “Mr. Smith, can we join a class you’re teaching?” The next comment was “Mr. Smith, I’m really interested in taking part in your class. Do you think it’s possible to do it this semester?” Then came the next one: “Mr. Smith, we really enjoyed your class last semester. Is there a way to participate in one of your classes?” And another one: “We really miss you, Mr. Smith.”  The further the trend kept going and the more helpless I became because I realized a few days days earlier that my courses were filled to the brim with no elbow-space to manoever. While I had to tell them that it was not possible this semester (which I didn’t really like doing), it led me to conclude that patronism has reached levels that had not been seen until this afternoon. In the almost 10 years I have been teaching English in Germany, the only highlights that I have seen in my success, apart from climbing up the “corporate ladder” in the educational food chain starting with freelance teaching adults to teaching students full time at a university, were students patronizing my teaching by visiting my classes over and over again, while recommending my classes to others. Many of students I’ve taught over the years still keep in touch with me through all possible means of communication, and I help many of them out when they need it. This includes having an English gathering outside the university once a week, where we just sit and remininsce over a beer or ice cream. This also includes having an English section in my facebook profile, where many students pick up some interesting facts worth noting.  But still, what makes a teacher really good at what he is doing and what makes the students patronize you for your work?

It is not necessarily the qualifications you have.  People can go to college and obtain an education degree with very little or no experience in the classroom and they end up becoming the worst teachers in the institution they are working. It is even more striking with professors at universities both here in Europe as well as in the United States, as they are faced with, on the one end, the publications versus the people scenario and on the other end, the publish or perish approach. That means that in order to become successful, they have to publish as many pieces of work as possible, even if it comes at the expense of interacting with the students and helping them when they need it the most. If they interact more with the students, they risk not spending time with their work and thus become expendible.  Sure training courses and obtaining a certificate saying that you can teach a certain subject may help a teacher become more successful, but practical experiences make it more rewarding, something that is lacking across the board for many wanting to enter the field.

This brings me to another point worth mentioning, which is the need for English teachers in general. In the past 15-20 years, we have seen the increase in popularity in the English language because it is being used on a regular basis, while doing business, travelling, and dealing with politics on the international scale, just to name a few. In fact, while over 375 million people use English as their primary language (in other words, they’re native speakers like yours truly), almost a billion people- a sixth of the world’s population use English as a secondary language (English as a foreign language).  The numbers are increasing and with that, the demand for English teachers is also increasing, as companies, academic institutions, and even private groups (like families, for example) are hiring people who either have the qualifications needed for teaching or have practical experiences or both.  It depends on who you are working for.

The only problem with that is as an English teacher, unless you have strong connections with your colleagues or if you can identify and expose any loopholes in the regulations, you are sometimes expected to be mobile, which makes it difficult for many who just want to settle down and work in one spot for more than two years. This was the case with one of the universities in northern Bavaria where I was hired there for only two years with no contract extension possibilities, and despite building my cartell with mainly the students and other personnel, I had to leave when the contract ran out. Fortunately I did land a job elsewhere right before I left, but it clearly shows that flexibility and mobility are  also important for a teacher,  albeit it does have its disadvantages regarding gathering experiences, developing ties with other people, and settling down and having a family life just like everyone else.

This brings me to the topic of cartells, which can reap rewards if you develop your ties carefully with the right people. The success as a teacher can depend on the following factors: 1. Whether or not you can get along with your colleagues, 2. Whether or not you can get along with your students, and 3. Whether or not you can adapt to the system that is present at the place where you are teaching or if it collides with your own set of ethics. From my personal experience and based on my personal beliefs, it is important that you have your own code of ethics on how to interact with people, work with them so that they are very successful in the end, and be yourself when you’re in front of the class teaching them some new and interesting facts. By the same token, one also has to adapt to the environment and make some compromises between the teacher, the students, and the rest of the people working in the institution, so that everyone is on the same page in the end.  However, sometimes things do not work the way they should and you just have to make the best judgement and hope for the best.

One factor that a teacher should be aware of is the student-teacher relationship, which is a big deal in the USA and is becoming more and more of an issue  in Europe. This is really fragile as it can either help or harm your career, pending on the interaction between the two. While some students are better off being students, and some will become friends, there are some rare occurances where one will become your “coach” for life, changing your life and world around to your benefit. However, laws are being put into place forbidding this type of practice which has split the public into two. Proponents claim that it would avoid any types of scandals affecting the institution and the reputation involved, opponents claim that it would poison the relationship in the classroom where it should be relaxed and enjoyable to both the teacher and the students.  There is an interesting article on this topic which is enclosed at the end of this file.

But all of these factors that I’ve just mentioned only represent a fraction of what makes a teacher an excellent one. Qualifications help but practical experience counts the most. The need for native speakers and those with a solid background in foreign languages (in this case, English) is high. The relationship with the students is also important. But the secret to being a successful teacher is being you. Based on my personal experience they include:

Being creative and spontaneous in teaching some new things to the students

Finding the trouble spots and exploiting and covering them

Being there for the students when they need your help regardless of the circumstances

Being sensitive but stirn to the students- meaning man has to know his limitations regarding what is allowed and what is not allowed.

and most of all, if anything goes wrong, it is ok to admit your mistake. This is the pitfall for many teachers who claim to be Mr. Perfect but defers every single bit of responsibility to others without looking at himself first.  Students will understand if you admit and apologize for the mistake and will respect you more if you learn from them.

What makes it also useful is to develop your own set of guidelines and add the rules as you go along, whether it is on a sheet of paper or making a mental note. In either case, it helps you remember, based on your experiences, what you can do and what is not allowed. This helps you in future dealings with situations that you dealt with in the past. The more rules, the more you’re respected by your peers because of the set of morals you have, and in the end, the more people you’ll have on your side when you need them.

And best of all, while you are the man who provides the students with the materials and stories for them to learn, it also helps to take some lessons and ideas with you from the students as they will be useful in the future.

Every great teacher has his own roots at the beginning as a novice and if he can proceed in making a difference in the lives of the students while at the same time be himself, then he will in the end become profi in his work. While my ideas I mentioned above are just my strategies in becoming successful, others may have their own set of ideas. The main point is to be yourself and be true to your students and let the success  and the patronism on the part of the students take care of themselves.

This takes me to the fazit which I can say that while many students from my last semester have to wait until the next semester when the opportunity arises, many have expressed interest in my next English gathering, which is once a week and off campus. It will be interesting to see how many of them will show up at a café in the city center for a good beer and some good conversation…

 

Link:

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=401935


	

BUGA- The German Garden and Horticulture Show 2011: Coblence (D: Koblenz)

(Written as a co-column with sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles)

A Cathedral in the midst of flowers and flora

People take pride in gardening, a pastime where they plant whatever they want, make their houses and apartments attractive enough for others to admire and envy, and present their prized product at various competitions at the local, state, and even national level, be it at a local festival or a county or state fair. Gardening provides people with a chance to enjoy the great outdoors, meet new people and be creative, no matter how.

In Germany, this is especially noticeable despite the close quarters residents have to endure. While private property in Germany may be a quarter of the size of that of the US on average and the majority of the population live in apartments and duplexes, the people there treat gardening like it is sacred, and experiment with various plants and vegetation even if they originate from places far away. And when it comes to an event like the German Garden and Horticulture Show (a.k.a. BUGA), people flock there to see the finest plants and vegetation from all over the world.

Founded in 1951, the event takes place every two years and serves as a trio function. The first is to encourage cities and regions to spruce up their land and cityscapes and make it attractive for people visiting or wanting to live there. The second is to provide additional income for the tourism industry and encourage the areas to use it to improve areas for people to see. And lastly, environmentally speaking, it provides people with an opportunity to showcase how the host cities/regions make their landscapes more energy efficient and environmentally safe. An example of how these theories come into practice is the 2007 BUGA in Gera and Ronneburg in eastern Thuringia, where the former lead mine near the latter host town was converted to a large park with lots of vegetation for people to enjoy. The city of Gera reshaped itself from a run-down former Communist town into one that presented a classic example of how history and modernization harmonize with each other with renovated ornamental buildings, former East German buildings being reused for recreational purposes and a revamped infrastructure which featured two new train stations and several new bridges along the White Elster River, including the Textima Suspension Bridge at Hofwiesen Park Park and the Dragon’s Tail Bridge near Ronneburg.

For the city of Koblenz, this year’s BUGA is a special one for the community of over 106,000 inhabitants. Established between 18 and 10 BC,  the city is home to the German Corner (Deutsches Eck), where the Rhein and the Mosel Rivers meet. This is the site where the city center was created by the Teutonic Order in 1218, and the statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I. was created in 1897 and reestablished again in 1993 after he was knocked off his horse during World War II.  There is the old town with many churches and buildings dating back to the Renaissance- almost all of which have been restored and are livelier than ever before. The Ehrenbreitstein castle, located on the east end of the Rhein opposite the city provides tourists with awesome views of the city and the deep river valley, known as the main corridor for shipping traffic between the Alps in northern Switzerland and the mouth at the North Sea near Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The newly restored castle with its large gardens is one of the largest castles to be seen along the mega-river.  All three of these areas were the venue of the flower and horticultural exhibits with the Ehrenbreitstein and the old town hosting multicultural events held almost every day between April and the weekend of 16 October.  Koblenz is the first city in Rheinland-Palatinate to host the 30th biannual event, even though it is the third largest city in the state behind Trier and Mainz (the state’s capital).

Yet if one is not interested in the large garden display with observation deck at Ehrenbreitstein, the flower garden at Deutsche Eck or some of the culture events occurring in the city center, there is plenty to do and see while in Koblenz. Take for instance the tour of the castles  along the Rhein and Mosel Rivers, for example. One can take a 2-3 hour boat trip to see the likes of the Marksburg and Stolzenfels along the Rhein and the Thurant and Metternich  along the Mosel while at the same time, enjoy a typical Rheinland-Palatinate meal and a Königsberger beer, locally brewed at the company just outside the city. This is one of the things that one must do; especially when the weather is schizophrenic like it was during the visit recently. And while there may be some people who want to crash the party while intoxicated, like it was the case during the boat tour, the trip with the wild breeze hollowing through the Rhein is worth every minute of the trip, together with a little bit of brain food on the history of the region.

Doing some comparison between this year’s BUGA and that of 2007 in Gera and Ronneburg, one can see stark contrasts with regards to the city and landscapes and the way the government on the local level worked to bring the BUGA to their venues.  Gera and Ronneburg for the most part was built from the ground up with some places being rebuilt to look more attractive for the tourists.  The park near Ronneburg used to be the site of the former lead mining facility which emitted harmful fumes in the air and whose chemicals seeped into the ground water, causing pollution never before imagined, and cutting short the lives of thousands of workers and those living in surrounding areas by up to 30% because of various forms of cancer and other respiratory diseases. It took more than 15 years and hundreds of millions of Euros to clean up the facility and convert the area into a place of recreation not only for the BUGA but afterwards. This included turning areas that were altered through strip-mining into artificial valleys filled with plants and wildlife, which support the creek going past the former site and into Ronneburg. Three bridges were constructed in and around the areas, two of which span the newly built valley including the Dragon’s Tail Pedestrian Bridge, one of the longest in the state of Thuringia.

With this year’s BUGA, it represents a mirror reflection to the one in 2007 as the infrastructure and the architecture of Koblenz has already been provided. It is more of the question of making a name for itself and bringing out the best in the city and its heritage.  Up to 500 million Euros (or $710 million) was spent sprucing up the city center and Ehrenbreitstein Castle by renovating the buildings, redesigning the streets to make it more pedestrian friendly and in cases, like the castle on the hill of the Rhine, rebuild in many places so that the guests can ooh and aah at the city and the river valley from up above. There was little need to renovate the train station, like in Gera and Ronneburg, and there was no need to build new bridges as the existing ones serve traffic over the Rhine and Mosel, including the Balduin Bridge, a stone arch bridge over the Mosel that has been in service since the 14th Century.  As a bonus, a cable car line runs from the Deutsche Eck directly over the Rhine and up to Ehrenbreitstein.  As a finish product of all the renovating that was done to the city, one will be amazed at the beauty the city has to offer, not only on the outside but also on the inside. While one will find the likes of the Residential Palace, the Church of our Lady and the city center of Münzplatz inspiring on the outside, one will feel like walking into the city’s past and seeing what the city was like in the Renaissance Age, even though much of the city was in fact severely damaged and destroyed in many parts during World War II.

When the 2011 BUGA ends during the weekend of October 14-16,  all the newly renovated places will become the care of the local government, whose responsibility will be to upkeep them and prevent them from becoming something similar to the prairie flower “Hour of Fame.” This means that the places that have been newly established from the old or constructed from scratch must be maintained in order to prevent negligence and vandalism. The difficult part about this task is the financing for the maintenance of these places. This is one problem that Gera and Ronneburg have with the park with the Dragon’s Tail Bridge, as attempts to sell it to private groups have failed up to now due to lack of funds and interest from the tourist. The future of the place at the moment is in doubt.  What the city of Koblenz must avoid is following a path similar to what happened as a result of the “BUGA-Hangover-Effect.” The difference between the two venues is clear and works to Koblenz’s advantage quite well. Tourism is well-established in the city thanks to its heritage and its proximity to the Rhine and Mosel Rivers and the places that are offered within spitting distance of the city. Also helpful to the city is the fact that events like the Christmas Market (which takes place from 18 November to 22 December this year) will draw in more tourists and revenue, which means more flexibility in terms of keeping the places clean and looking like they were during the BUGA.  This is something that is still being worked on in Gera and Ronneburg, as the venues are looking for ways out of two problems that they have at the moment- reshaping the city and landscapes and population loss as many people are emigrating away from the region for better job prospects. Both of these have resulted in the loss of revenue that is badly needed.

While Koblenz will be left to run its course, the next two BUGAs in Germany will be in the northern parts of the country. In 2013 the event will take place in Hamburg. It will be the fourth time the city hosts the event (the last one being in 1973 ), but the city of 1.5 million inhabitants- the second  largest city and  city-state in the country- is transforming itself both architecturally as well as infrastructurally, from an industrial port to one which holds character regarding its heritage as well as one that is working on becoming a carbon neutral city, like Copenhagen. Already the International Building Expo has been working on reshaping the cityscape of the city center known as Hafen City and its southern suburb of Wilhelmsburg, with the goal of having the area ready to take on many garden-lovers and environmentalists in two-years’ time. After that event, it moves southeast to the Havel region in the state of Brandenburg in 2015. That region is rich with forests and lakes, and with Berlin and Potsdam located nearby, people will have more than what they bargained for with this year’s BUGA in Koblenz.

There are many ways to look at the BUGA this year and how Koblenz has benefitted from it. Given its location and its heritage, the city benefitted from the surge of tourists and revenue, which can be used for future projects. The city has already taken advantage of the event by showcasing its finest plants and flowers, while presenting the treasures of the city- the old town (with its churches and the Residential Palace, the Deutsche Eck, and the Ehrenbreitstein Castle to those who want to see it. And for those like yours truly and the people who accompanied me on the trip, the incentive is there to see the region again, while at the same time, see if Hamburg and the Havel region can copy the successes displayed by this year’s BUGA in Koblenz. We will have to see when travelling to the next one.

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  1. While at Ehrenbreitstein Castle, there was a showcase on forests in Germany and the facts are rather interesting to note. Despite being just a tad bit bigger than Thuringia and smaller than Hesse, Rheinland-Palatinate is tied with Hesse with the largest percentage of forests existing in the state with 42%. Bavaria comes in third with 36% and Thuringia with 23%. Schleswig-Holstein is last with only 10%, which also ranks it second to last if one includes the three city-states (Bremen has only 5%).
  2. Interesting Facts about Koblenz’s places of interest- The Ehrenbreitstein was first built in 1000 AD, extended while under the control of the Archbishops of Trier 20 years later, destroyed by the French in 1801 after a long siege, and rebuilt massively using its original foundations in 1816-32. Much of the castle was rebuilt after World War II which includes three new additions, one of which houses an eatery. Apart from the beautiful courtyard, the castle today holds two museums (Rhein and the state) and hosts numerous events both inside as well as outside at the amphitheater.

 

Just south of the city there is the Stolzenfels Castle, which was built in the 13th Century. Napoleon I donated the ruins to the city in 1802, which then gave it to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia in 1823. It was rebuilt under his control from 1836 to 1842. Much of the castle was rebuilt using the design from the one built in the 13th Century but was destroyed during Napoleon’s siege of the city in 1801.

 

The Residential Palace overlooking the Rhein was the last building that was contructed before the French Revolution, as it was built for the last Prince-Elector of Trier from 1777 to 1786. It was completely destroyed during World War II but was rebuilt from scratch in 1951. Most of the public offices are now housed here today. Distinctive of the palace is the beautiful court facing the city (was filled with flowers and a beautiful pool) and the promenade facing the river to the east, where a statue of Josef Görres (1776-1823), a prominent Koblenzer overlooks the river. Görres was an elementary school teacher, writer for the city’s newspaper, and a philosopher.

A Link to Koblenz’s bridges and its association with the BUGA 2011 can be found here: https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/buga-the-german-garden-and-horticulture-show-2011-koblenz-and-the-citys-bridges/

Photo gallery:

Ready, Set, Water!

 

Koblenz Old Town

 

Löhrstrasse Shopping Corridor

 

Münzplatz at night

 

“Die Tafel” Long Table at the front gardens of the Residential Palace

 

Pool at the Residential Palace

 

Residential Palace

 

Flowers at the Residential Palace

 

Pool of flowers at the front court of the Residential Palace

 

St. Kantor Basilica

 

Statue of Josef Görre at the Residential Palace

 

Stolzenfels Castle

 

Marksburg Castle at Braubach

 

Colorful array of flowers at Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

Colorful array of flowers at Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

Cactus exhibit at Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

Tomato display at the greenhouse at Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

Overview of Koblenz from Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

Liebfrauenkirche from Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

The outer walls of Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

The old and new sides of Ehrenbreitstein Castle: This was the amphitheater where outdoor events took place 

 

Ehrenbreitstein Castle looking east

 

Newly built section of Ehrenbreitstein: Here is where the state museum, food court, and tourist information center are located

 

Deutsche Eck (German Corner): Where the Mosel (above) and the Rhein (below) meet

 

Close-up on a marigould at the west entrance to the Residential Palace

 

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