Winter Genre: Der große Schnee (The Big Snow)

There are several literary pieces and documentaries that focus on aspects of the Great Storm of 1978/79, and the catastrophic winter that followed, which brought the northern half of West Germany and all of East Germany to a complete standstill. The majority of the pieces have focused on the hardest hit areas of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein- in particular, the areas of Kiel and Flensburg.

Der Große Schnee (in English: The Big Snow), written by Helmuth Sethe of the Husumer Nachrichten (Husum News, part of shz, Inc.) focuses on both the Great Storm that started right before the New Year, plus the winter that followed, which included the winter storm on 13 February- a month and a half later. All of them affecting Schleswig-Holstein, but with a focus on the North Sea coastal area (Dithmarschen and greater Husum), as well as the cities of Flensburg and Kiel and the surrounding areas. It was originally written after the winter storm in February that same year, but has been edited and republished multiple times, with the last edition having been released in 2011.

There are several photos and stories that were in connection with the great winter disaster and were graphic in detail- with reports of people and animals both freezing to death while being snowed in, collapsed roofs because of the thickness of the snow, capsized boats and people treading through icy waters along flooded streets of coastal cities. Yet there were some glaring facts that are worth mentioning about this storm according to the writer. Here are the top five worth mentioning:

  1. Power outages- Many towns and villages were without power because of downed power lines due to ice. But no area was as bad as the districts of Schleswig-Flensburg and Nordfriesland. There, as many as 111 villages were without electricity for days, many of them were cut off from the rest of the world. Many had to make due with cutting up wood and creating fireplaces to keep warm.
  2. Stranded vacationers- Many vacationers were returning from Scandanavia when they were greeted by barricades at the German/Danish borders in Krusau and Ellund. Reason: The storm forced an executive order by the West German and state governments to shut down all traffic (rail and vehicular) on the German side. Traffic jams of more than 10 kilometers on the Danish side, plus stranded drivers seeking shelter were the result.
  3. Field Landing- When the state prime minister Gerhard Stoltenberg was finally informed of the current weather situation in Schleswig-Holstein (he and his family were on vacation at that time), he did not realize how bad it was until his helicopter had to land in a nearby field and he had to go by truck and sleigh to visit the hard hit regions. Reason: The snow had drifted in at the airports and with drifts as high as 6 meters, it was impossible for any aircraft to land even.
  4. The Sleigh as Transportation- With no possibilities with the car, many people had to make do with sleds, sleighs and even skis. It was not a rarity to watch people cross-country ski in the countryside during this time as the snow was thick enough to warrant it. Sleds were not only used for downhill fun, but also for shopping. It was a site to watch people pull their groceries home on an open sled.
  5. Flensburg as Little Venice- The storms produced a series of high tides (up to four meters) which flooded much of the city center and Roter Strasse, as well as everything along the Fjorde. Many people had to use boats to get by. These tides left another mess though- erosion, especially along the areas near Wassersleben near the Bridge of Friendship at the border.

There are many more examples to mention in the book, yet these five came to mind when reading this book myself. There have been countless other winter storms afterwards that crippled the region and brought with it high snow drifts, ice and flooding, including the last big snow storm in Flensburg in early 2018. But none was as glaring and captivating as the one from 40 years ago, especially when reading the accounts written by the editor. The book did bring back some memories of snow storms that I dealt with as a child growing up in Minnesota and a snowstorm of similar proportions happened shortly after this one, which left a big drift of a meter to the door of our house on a lake. Yet for those who lived through this harsh winter in northern Germany of 40 years ago, this book will bring back some memories of how one survived one of the worst of all time. So read it, share your stories, ask others about it. You’ll be amazed at the stories they will share about this event.

You can also watch some of the documentaries that were from the last entry by clicking here.

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When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Santa Goes Shopping- Kaufland Commercial ’18

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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Documentary: Deaths in Despair: The End of the American Dream

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A while back, I wrote an essay on the American Dream and how it has changed over the past half decade to a point where it has become diverse in many ways, shape and form. In theory one can achieve the dream through hard work. In praxis, however, it is a totally different league. And especially within the last decade, this American Dream has become more and more materialistic, divided based on money, power and even social, ethnical and cultural backgrounds, and especially since Donald Trump has taken over, more dysfunctional than at any time in American history.

No wonder why these dystopian variants are leading to the breakdown of families and friendships, the rise in violence and in many cases, as we can see in this documentary below, the rise in the rate of suicides. Nobel prize-winning economist Angus Deaton, and his wife, fellow Princeton Prof. Anne Case, have traveled together with Wall Street Journal’s Jason Belini from coast to coast to find out what is leading to the disappearance of the American Dream, and how it is impacting other countries in many ways, shape and form. In this 10-minute documentary, produced by Moving Upstream, the three take a look at this and whether suicide and other social pathologies are causing this almost seven-decade long dream to become a memory.

Watch this clip and have a look at the questions you can discuss below. For the American expatriates residing overseas, like yours truly, this is definitely worth watching and discussing for elements of the American Dream are impacting other countries, including those you are living in.

 

 

  1. What has changed in the American Dream over the past decades?
  2. What variants could benefit keeping the American Dream alive?
  3. Aside from the suicide rate, what variants are contributing to the death of the American Dream? 
  4. If there was a luxury that you had growing up as a child (be it 30 years ago or more) that you miss in today’s society, what would it be and why?
  5. If you were the president of the US and had to look at the problems facing America, especially in this clip, what would you do to make the lives of Americans better and help them fulfill their happiness?
  6. How is the American Dream affecting other countries? 
  7. How is social media affecting American society?
  8. Is it true that the high rate of suicide in the US is negatively affecting the American Dream? If not, what other factors are contributing to its demise? 

 

Fl Fi USA

A Split’s a Loss: At Look at the Mid-Term Elections from an Expat’s Point of View

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I would like to open my analysis with a comment that was made in the film “Look Who’s Back,” a German satire film released in 2015. In one of the final scenes in the film, when the character Adolf Hitler (the reborn version, played by Oliver Masucci) is shot by the person who had discovered him and traveled with him throughout Germany, Fabian Swatziki (played by Fabian Busch) only to re-emerge as if he was unstoppable. The comment is as follows:

“I cannot be defeated because the people supported me. If I’m a monster then so is the public because they elected me.”

When waking up this morning to realize that the prophesies of the Democrats taking over the entire Congress- the House of Representatives and Senate- failed because of a split in control, the first thought came to mind was that film, the rise of the far right, the inability to stop it and this particular comment.  Anger, defeat and confusion followed. The first question that came to mind was why is it that despite several firsts  (first Muslims, Native Americans, homosexuals and women being elected to the House and Senate) that Donald Trump succeeded?

Let’s look at how politics work in Washington briefly and why this mid-term was so important. When a proposal for a law is introduced, it first goes to the House. If approved, then it goes to the Senate. If the green light is given, the president can sign or veto the bill. The Democrats managed to regain the majority of the House but lost out on the chance to claim the Senate, while the Republicans extended its majority by three more seats. While in theory, the House can stop every bill that Trump introduces, while at the same carry out investigations into his corruptive schemes he had with Russia in 2016 and other issues, this “split” in Washington is in fact a victory, for Trump and his Republicans. In other words, the Democrats lost the mid-terms.

The fact that the blue-wave never amounted to anything means that Trump can still control the way America is run as is. He has a stronger majority in the Senate, which can enable him to appoint people to special posts, like the Supreme Court, to his own liking. He has circumvented laws and other legal processes in order to shove his agenda down the throats of his opponents, especially including his executive orders, which he has carried out at least 100 times since having taken office in January 2017. He already has the backing of the conservative majority in the Supreme Court, thanks to his nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, with a third one surely to happen before his term is done, should either Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Clarence Thomas or both be unable to continue. He has the support of Vladimir Putin and Kim Il Jung, two adversaries who would like to see the western democracy annihilated.  Then there is the American people- mostly white Christians coming from rural settings with little educational experience or even a sense of cultural tolerance- the likes of Homer Simpson, whom Trump is still getting a solid backing versus the city-slickers and coastal areas folks who are used to the luxuries of multicultural diversity, public transport and global awareness, which has resulted in a division of the country into two America’s- a division which has never been seen before in our time.

It was hoped that with a majority in both the House and the Senate, Trump would have been declawed and defanged- forced into a role as a lame duck. Better would have been the prospects of impeaching him and removing him from office. But now, the best but also the most dangerous solution is eengaging in bi-partisan politics, which working together with the Democrats would not fit the profile of the narccist the president is. That concept is foreign in his vocabulary because Trump has never appreciated them as much as as he has loathed liberal and mainstream media, such as public radio, CNN and NBC. The cooperation may work temporarily but it will fail before the end of 2019, resulting in the country being at a complete standstill, while breaking apart at the seams.

So the final question is what is there to be done between now and 2020? The Democrats have lost, despite regaining the House. Trump is being Trump, although he has attempted to “clean house,” which includes Attorney General Jeff Sessions leaving. Voters are claiming victory, yet they are still divided. Countries like Germany and France are forging their own alliances with other countries in Europe and elsewhere to serve as a counter-weight to America. And we as expatriates are getting footed the bill for our own contributions for voting for the right cause, which is unity, freedom, cooperation and lastly (but most importantly), democracy. This split is a loss for America for it has become more divided than ever, thus setting the stage for the fall, just like with other empires  that happened before us- the Soviet Union, Great Britain and its empire, Germany under Hitler, but most importantly, the Roman Empire.  With each day passing between now and 2020, we will see America and its influence wane, each American leaving the country or renouncing their citizenship, and everything American that we find here in Europe to disappear, bit by bit.

By the time 2020 rolls around with the presidential elections, we may not see much of America left to celebrate or even support. And a filled-out, mail-in ballot may become worthless in the end.  From my standpoint, it will be that key factor that will force me to turn my back on the country I was born and raised, and had lots of great memories growing up.  We really don’t know what will happen or what we can do at this point. All we can do is watch and pray, hoping for the best but planning for the worse.

 

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Promotional Campaign for the 2018 Mid-Term Elections

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In light of the Mid-term Elections in the United States, which takes place on November 6th, I’ve produced a video about the state of the US from an American expatriate’s point of view, asking the American people both here and abroad: Is this the America we want?

There are two options: One can sit out and allow for events to happen, or one can take the extra hour and vote. If you don’t like what you see in the US and its standing in the world, then my only advice is this……

VOTE!

 

Fl Fi USA

We’re Fine. It’s You We’re Worried About- Info-prying and the attempt to Make America Conform Again

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In a democracy, there is no such thing as conformity. We can unite but have different opinions and ideas on how to solve problems, as long as we respect them, and especially as long as they are appropriate in today’s situation.  Democracy ends when we are forced to conform to the practices that are considered harmful to oneself and those affected.  America has never been the democratic state that it was 50 years ago, nor has it never been what it should be- a country where everyone, regardless of race, religion, socio-economic background or even now in Trump’s America, political affiliation, has the right to vote, express themselves freely, and do something for the good of others.  It has become a state of conformity, where if you do not share the opinions and feelings of the other side, even though you do not like them, then you are looked down upon, defamed and shamed in front of others.

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Growing up in a poor family in rural Minnesota, the idea of a “conformed state” had more to do with the type of clothes a person wore, the type of car a person was driving (if the person owned a car at that time), who you were dating, whether or not you were a macho-man, what types of jobs your parents had and the religious denomination you you were associated with, if you were attending church regularly on a Sunday. America still lives in that conformed state today, despite attempts to include everyone based on race, religion, socio-economic background, opinions on the current events of today, sexual preferences and even preference for certain foods- veering away from meat products and embracing vegetarianism and veganism. But given the situation we have been working with since Trump won the elections in November 2016, we are rolling back the prejudices against these minorities and engaging in McCarthyism 2.0, namely scrutinizing the people based on political affiliation. Gone away are the political discussions that were once constructive and meaningful, we are engaging in “throat-cutting” scare-tactics, where any opinion you say about the problems in the US can be used against you with physical force, social networking force (including the use of facebook and twitter), or through naming and shaming in public.

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Yet there is a new weapon that is being used in American society that my wife, daughter and I noticed during our road trip through the Midwest this past summer, and that is “Info-Prying.” Info-prying is the process of interrogating foreigners, especially those living in Europe, as to finding out what exactly is going on outside the US, in hopes to extract information and start a political discussion. “Info-Prying” is being done by three different parties: 1. Those who felt misinterpreted by the media because of Trump’s constant attacks and want to know the real truth, 2. Those who want a confirmation of Trump’s claims and want to pick a fight to support their claims, and 3. Those who really want a conversation about the problems facing America under Trump.  Sadly, based on the observations, the majority of Americans belong to either points 1 and 2, and there is a dwindling minority belonging to number 3.

Why is that, exactly? Think about that for a minute.

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One of the interpretations that can be quickly explained is Trump’s conditioning of the American public into believing everything he says. However, Trump’s supporters still belong in the minority. Since having taken office in January 2017, an average of only 42% of Americans support the president and his rather ubiquitous policies, whereas 56% of the public would like to see him gone sooner than later. Still when asking around the neighborhood to find out whether or not they are safe living in peaceful co-existence between a Democrat and a Republican, most will agree that the answer to that question is “no.”  Reason: because whenever a person states an opinion with a Trump supporter, it is met with violence.  And while it is easy to “unfriend” or delete someone from a facebook network, meeting that person with physical violence and with guns can have an everlasting effect on the person stating the facts.  Families have fallen apart because of the effects of Trump’s rhetoric in pitting family members against each other. Best friends have because strangers because of their own political opinions. And one out of ten Americans have admitted leaving the country should Trump be re-elected; just as many as the rate of American expatriates, including myself, who are considering ditching their American passports, once and for all.

 

With all these facts in mind, we had to be very careful as to what we said to those who tried to “info-pry” us about the problems in Europe, for relations between the US and Europe have been frigid since Trump took over in January 2017. The information on the invasion of immigrants in Europe and how they were committing vast amounts of crime, as broadcasted by Breitbart and other right-wing networks were highly over-exaggerated. Despite the infamous attacks during the New Year’s celebrations in Cologne and Hamburg in 2015, combined with the events in Chemnitz this year and trucks being used as weapons, these incidents were only arbitrary and despite measures to curb this type of violence, which includes deporting those with a criminal record and having barriers set up to keep vehicles out of pedestrian areas, the crime rate in Europe is lower among immigrants than the natives who were born there. In fact, most of the crimes committed by the immigrants have been petty- whether they are burglaries, theft or fake IDs. We do have incidents involving those who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, but they are fewer than what was reported by Breitbart . So in other words, Europe is not as black as what the media says. It is going far right, which is a scary trend, but that is because of home-grown fears that the immigrants will dominate the scene with their own language instead of adopting the German language, let alone the lingua franca language in English and French. Politicians from the Social Democrats, to the Greens and to even the Conservative Christian Democrats know the problems and are working to integrate those who want to live in Europe, even if it’s for a while. This integration comes with the lesson of understanding cultures and social backgrounds, which Europe has long profited from, learning the lessons from World War II and the Cold War.

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So to sum up the answer of whether Europe is going to be run over, becoming an Islamic State, as some of the info-pryers had tried to get out of us, the answer is “no.” We are doing fine. We know the problems that are facing Europe with the immigrants, but that is something we can handle.

The problem is how Americans are doing at home. That is what nine out of ten Europeans are concerned about. How can we deal with “info-pryers” who are modestly wanting answers but most of them want to pick a fight and support Trump?

Americans have a lot of issues to deal with at home, all of them are home-grown and growing every year. Yet they seem to ignore thees problems at home and try to find problems outside the country, where they are either non-existent or those where they can be solved by those who know the problem and don’t need any American advice.

Therefore, our only answers that came out to those who tried to pry open the can full of issues in Europe: “We’re doing fine. It is you guys we are worried about. We’re worried that your own problems are mounting and in the end, cannot be handled anymore.”  While one person from the group, who asked about Europe’s problems, eventually agreed to the fact that America does have a big problem- bigger than Europe’s own set, others turned a blind eye saying America is great, thanks to Trump. But little do they realize, America’s Roman Empire is crumbling every year, bit by bit, and if America is to be great again, it needs to conform to the changing trends outside its realm in order for any generation to benefit what American stood for, over a half century ago, which is democracy, openness, pursuit of happiness, and embracing change, but keeping to these principles, which has been accepted by Europe and other countries.

The America we know right now isn’t that America. It’s too materialistic, too fanatical and too invasive. Scale back and take care of yourselves first, because we are doing fine. When your house is in order and the country is with the program regarding even the three most important items facing our planet: the environment, human rights and modernizing the infrastructure, we can talk. Right now, info-pryers don’t have a place in our lives and the lives of other people we know personally.  Thank you.

 

Fl Fi USA