The Art of Forgiveness and Friendship

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I would like to start this journey with a quote by Ritu Ghadourey about forgiving others for hurtful actions: A broken friendship that is mended through forgiveness can be even stronger than it once was. 

As I entered the US for the first time since 2015, I noticed right away how deeply divided the country was (and still is)- more so than when Barack Obama was president. The first impression of this was how the media was involving itself. Once toted as the main source of information to allow us to think about the events, talk about it and even take action, America’s media today  is making the decisions for us, without even allowing us to think of the reasons for the actions taken by President Trump, his members of the Oval Office and the special investigations councillor Robert Mueller, who is trying to dig dirt and undermine the president. With each character coming on screen to muckrake on both sides, one has to wonder if this is just another Hollywood film that is screaming to be booed and jeered. And with each repetitive claim by the president that there was no collusion between him and Russian president Vladimir Putin, how many times will he say it (even when jumping up and down on the trampoline) until we all figure out that he’s indeed a liar and a crook.

We do know however, that despite my detestation of watching Trump and all his cronies on TV while having breakfast, we do have one variant that is working against us: With each action committed on both sides of the aisle, regardless of hate crimes, bashing media outlets, making false statements and the like, we are hurting ourselves and others, to a point where we may never talk to our neighbors, friends and family members ever again. Our belief in the media is deceiving ouselves and not allowing us time to think about the issues at hand.  And our actions towards others is making it difficult for us to come to terms with the people we hurt the most.

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Inspite of this however, I learned most recently that even the most painful actions done onto others can be forgiven, if one is willing to reach out and ask for it. In some cases, it can forge friendships that are better than the last one. I have a couple examples which show that forgiveness can be sought and new friendships created.

A few months ago, a friend of mine from Arizona, named Calvin, was approached by a former high school classmate named Jared after a 20+ year absence. Both of them were playing American football at a high school in Tucson; yet Calvin, who was too skinny to play lineman, was bullied by Jared and several other players, who were three times his size and thought he was gay.  One day, Jared had the cheek to pee in Calvin’s sports locker. Upset that he was being treated unfairly and was not getting enough support by the coaches, Calvin quit the team and eventually changed schools, where he ran in cross country and excelled in fine arts in Casa Grande, graduating with honors and eventually moving onto college at the University of Minnesota and later into teaching in Osnabrück in Germany.  We met while I was an exchange student and we shared some stories of our time playing football in high school. We both hated the sport as we were “bench-warmers,” which was equally as degrading as being bullied. Jared reached out to him one day in May after Calvin wrote of his experiences of being bullied on facebook, in response to an increase of cyberbullying at his former high school in Tucson. Jared was principal there and had to sit a person, who was robbing others of lunch money down, and tell him what he did to Calvin. He looked him up and reconnected. Then after reading his article posted on facebook, Jared wrote a long letter of apology to Calvin explaining that his lack of self-confidence was the catalyst to doing what he did to him. In response to the letter, Calvin forgave him, explaining that what was done was wrong but it’s nothing compared to what is going on in the present. 

In the present means the days of social networking, cyberbullying, grooming, happy-slapping and the like. Let’s put it this way, as much as I was bullied in high school 25 years ago, I was thankful that the internet did not exist in its present-day form. Otherwise, …….

Calvin’s suggestion to Jared was the same as offering a good starting point: “Together, we can set examples for other kids to understand that what is being done to others, even online, is wrong and not tolerated.”  In other words, the willingness to make peace and work together to ensure that no one else gets bullied  were two giant steps to forging a good friendship and they have since been on good terms. 

Yet sometimes people can hurt each other to a point where they basically break off all ties, even if one was unaware of the actions committed. Sometimes such actions can be the result of the “My way is the highway” mentality. Others have to do with cultural and personal differences between the two people. Normally when ties are cut like that, then it is too late and even impossible to make amends.

That is unless one of them reaches out to ask for peace. This happened to another friend in Kiel, a while back and to this day, he’s figuring out the reason why and finding ways to reforge a friendship with this girl. Her name was Karin and she and Nick were attending college in Berlin in 2014. She was a very nice girl, as Nick described her- a deeply devoted Christian, kind but had that magic that got Nick interested. They had been working together on a project when they suddenly “butted heads” during a dance at one of the assembly halls.  How this happened was not explained but attempts to reconcile even online failed, and they broke off all contact after the project was finished, but not before havig hurt each other verbally, resulting in after-effects that were lasting for months after the break-off. Nick was moving on with his life when Karin suddenly re-appeared on his facebook page, offering peace to him. In response, Nick replied that under the conditions that we’d meet and talk about it would that be considered. Two hours of deep conversations brought forth forgiveness and establishing the building blocks for a restart, despite them having partners and full-time jobs.  Yet this example came with a lot of strings attached, which was the fact that she was not ready to be friends just yet; she needed time as the healer though they are still communcating to this day but not on facebook. Nick is hoping that it will happen someday as it would give them a chance to chat online about their jobs and families and just be friends. Let’s hope that their road to friendship is a smooth one there.

But looking at both examples, one has to ask ourselves how much damage has the United States done to its people and ts allies. The country has alienated its long-time allies of Europe and Canada and embraced Russia, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, although with the third example one can agree with re-establishing ties with Kim to a certain degree. The US has alienated its own people while our president is watching families and friends fight over politics, like it was a wrestling match. And even the media outlets are equally bad with each one having their own “Mean” Gene Okerlund and their sets of wrestlers trash-talking to the audience. No wonder why we have a combination of George Orwell’s 1984 and the Spanish Civil War all at once, when American society is conditioned to think one way or another. To sum up the situation, we’re living in a society where the media has control of the lives of Americans, and Americans can choose who to befriend and who to dump, based on which political alliance they are in, thus polarizing ourselves, our friends, family members and our neighboring countries. A sad devlopment and one that could destroy the fabric of democracy should the trend continue.

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Stern Magazine

Yet inspite of all this, I have learned to separate politics from friendships and family to avoid any inner-strife. But most importantly, to forgive others for their mistakes. Yet it will be a difficult drive to make amends with the  people we hurt the most. While some allies like Canada and Great Britain will be ready to forgive right away,  others like France and Germany will be even more difficult because of the damage inflicted already. But the most difficult will be the ability to trust each other and be willing to work together. That includes rebuilding the trust between the government, the media and the people. I guess it is similar to the example with Karin and Nick. If one person offers peace then it is because the other has the characteristics that is liked (and blessed in Christian terms) and that the person wants to reforge a better relationship than before so that they can work out the bigger problems they are facing. And we have more than enough to go around.

After the third day of listening to politics at a hotel in Pittsburgh, I decided to tune it out because it was a waste of time and energy. I decided that if people want to know more about our situation in Europe in comparison with the US that we would be truthful about it, but ensure that we are not enforcing our opinions onto them but to get them to understand the situation from a neutral person’s point of view.  At the same time, however, I’m taking an advice that was based on the stories that I just presented with Jared and Calvin on one end, but also with Nick and Karin on the other. If we hurt the ones that care for us, regardless of difference and opinion, we apologize and forgive. Forgiveness is free and can forge better friendships than in the past.  And this is what is needed in this day and age as we have bigger issues to handle and little time left to get them done.

And with that comes a pair of quotes to end this topic on how to reforge a friendship through forgiveness:

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Forgiveness is the best form of love. It takes a strong person to say sorry, yet it takes a stronger person to forgive. 

 

Fl Fi USA

 

 

Disclaimer: While these two examples are true stories, for the purpose of protecting their identities, the names of the people mentioned as well as the places where the stories took place have been altered. 

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What is an American Dream? Does it really exist?

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This first article is the first of many to come as I embark on a road trip with my wife and daughter and try and answer the question of whether the American Dream still exists or if it is just a faded memory. The idea of a journal had several stories to go along with that. We’ll start off with my absence from the country. On our last visit in 2015, it was during the era of President Barack Obama and despite the States’ best relations with Germany, Europe and the allies, combined with a sound economy and low unemployment, the country was stuck with inner-strife both on social and political levels. Fast forward to this year, and we see a different environment. America is isolating itself, the conflicts have exacerbated and it feels like the country is on the verge of a civil war similar to what happened in Spain. Yet there has to be some bright sides to what is going on, right? That’s why I’m embarking on that journey to understand the logic of my (still) fellow countrymen from an outsider’s point of view and show the readers what I saw.

Another idea came from a presentation a former student colleague did for her student-teaching in Saxony a year ago. She wanted to know from me what the definition of the American Dream is and whether it exists. She teaches English and Geography on the high school level. And while this essay was based on my discussion with her on that topic, I’m hoping that my journey to Trump’s America will provide some light on some topics of concern, which includes our encounters with locals, discussions with family and friends and just simply looking at the landscape for people to see and better understand. And for me, as an American expat having resided in Germany for nearly 20 years, to understand.

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So without further ado, the first entry here starts with this question:

What is an American Dream? Does it really exist?

 

This is one question that is really broad because of different success stories from people with different backgrounds, plus how it has developed since 1945. If one wants a very simple definition of the American Dream, it would be the strive for personal success, which means people grow up in a traditional family with siblings and two cars, who usually go to church on Sundays, involve themselves in extra-curricular activities in school to find their fame,  find their sweetheart in high school whom they later marry, graduate and either go to college or take up a profession, and then repeat the cycle over and over again. But if I was to go by that definition, it would be similar to the question about freedom in America, which was discussed in an episode of Newsstory a few years ago and by today’s standards, the term of American Dream would be considered naive at best.

 A link to a review I did a couple years ago is enclosed here:

 https://flensburgerfiles.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/genre-of-the-week-america-is-not-the-greatest-nation-on-the-face-of-the-earth-any-more-the-newsroom/

  

Over the years, I’ve noticed that the success of the American Dream has not only been based on the materials they possess- be it clothing, cars, music they listen to, movies they watch and friends they have, but also based on the haves, have nots, used to haves, wished they had, wished they would’ve hads, etc., and I’ve seen that the success of the Dream has veered away from striving to become successful as a person to the strive to be associated with a certain group as a way of having a sense of belonging. This especially includes political affiliations for if you are a member of one political party, you alienate the others who are in the other party. If you don’t make the right amount of money to keep up with the Joneses, you are looked down upon as trash. If you cannot conform to the neighborhood, the neighbors will make sure you do with force.  And if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ, you don’t deserve to be in heaven. All of these senses of belongings started creeping up in the 1990s and have dominated the American scene ever since, especially since September 11, 2001 with the attacks on Washington and New York, which resulted in the lives of 3300 people being lost. Especially when we look at the key elements of money and power, religion and politics they have dominated the dinner tables and classrooms in the States and have destroyed families, marriages and even friendships because whatever opinion you might have, your own individual ideas and thoughts, don’t matter to the others because that’s not what they want in life. If you ask whether the American Dream still exists today as it was 25, 40, or even 50 years ago, in its original form, it no longer does because today’s American is raised to belong instead of raised to be individually successful. And if people look at you differently, they will make note of that either in person or through social media. 

 

Link: https://flensburgerfiles.wordpress.com/2017/03/21/genre-of-the-week-are-you-lost-in-the-world-like-me-by-steve-cutts-and-moby/

 I’m actually happy that social networking never existed during my days in school because  it would never have allowed me to be successful as a person because I was different from most people. I was raised poor with my parents having job-hopped during my time growing up. My father was a teacher before he became a robotics technician by the time I was in my last year in high school. My mom worked in many fields before settling down as a massage therapist and worked with people with developmental disabilities. The community in Minnesota I grew up in, had their typical American status quos where the baby-boomers and the war-generations had established themselves and it was expected that their kids were to follow their footsteps. If they fail or try and veer off in their own direction, they are looked down upon. This happened to me because of my dad’s father (my grandfather) being a successful American football player and sheriff of the county. Since my dad failed to live up to the family name, he tried to get me to make up for that, especially with American football. Didn’t work. The sport wasted my time and I wanted to spend time with other people, travel and take photos, bike and just be me.  I had my own dream of becoming either a teacher or civil engineer and not having much “materialistic” items in the house got me to being creative with things from the nature when growing up. Despite all the bullying and peer pressure I got from my family and peers in school, I somehow bucked the trend and showed others that I could be better than others in things that are not mainstream and require pressure and boos from fans.  But that was with direct confrontation and not what students are doing in school with facebook, twitter and other means of e-communication. Had that piece of media existed, I don’t know what would’ve become of me, to put it diplomatically speaking.

 After high school, I followed the trend in going to college and collecting some very valuable experience, especially through travel and photography, but also through social work. Yet my breakthrough came when I met my college sweetheart who was from Germany and was doing her exchange program at my college. After she left I took her advice and went abroad- something that was absent in the American Dream, if looking at it from a naive person’s perspective- because a true American never lives abroad as everything he/she wants to have is in the States. However there are some like me who beg to differ and wanted to try something new, and learn new cultures, something that would make me a universalist like Emma Watson. To this day I have no regrets taking that step because I knew that I wanted to explore new places and try new things. It was at that time where I started my career as a teacher, something that I still enjoy as much as I do with writing. 

But looking at the American Dream from a universalist perspective, and also from a modernist’s perspective, we see five different strands of Americans fulfilling their dreams:

 

  1. The traditionalist role- following the footsteps of the forefathers by striving for a career, having a house and family and fulfilling the duties of going to church and engaging in social events in their own circles. The majority of people, esp. in rural areas still have this role even though the numbers are decreasing.

 

  1. The universalist role- these are people who don’t follow the American Dream and are wanderers, looking for adventure until they settle down somewhere outside their home. This where I fit in. Ironically, two other classmates of mine are in that boat too, as they have been living in Germany since 2014.

 Link:

 https://flensburgerfiles.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/americans-in-germany-2-hometown-locals-part-i/  (This has two parts)

  

  1. The disadvantaged role- these are people who struggle to make a living because of adverse conditions, such as long-term unemployment, abuse, discrimmination and other social issues. Sadly this applies for over 65% of the American population and affecting all race. This also applies to the undereducated who are also ignorant.

  

  1. The experimental role- these are people who instead of following the traditional role, they discover themselves through the creation of alternative lifestyles-regardless of whether they adopted them or created them. This also includes homosexuality, feminism, aethesism and the like. Basically it’s individual preference. These people usually don’t experiment with things from other countries so they don’t do much travelling outside the States unless they are doing it for a cause.

 

  1. The multicultural role- these are people who used to lead the American Dream until they decided to travel for a while and see new cultures before they return home to share with others. I had one classmate who did just that, having left Minnesota for five states, three countries including Germany and then resettling in the States. Only a few of these kinds you will find in the country today

 

But the categories are not completely etched in stone as there are some outliers that have made it successfully despite having come from broken households. This applies to several players in the NFL and NBA who have come from that category but found their way to success, despite having still face adversity because of their skin color. Michael Oher (the film The Blindside) is the poster boy for this rags to riches category that still exists but the numbers have dwindled over the years. We also have some who followed the traditionalist line as a child but veered off to become a rebel and hippie, putting them into categories 2,4 and 5. That number has increased over the years because of their tiredness of being controlled by their parents regarding every step they take.

 To summarize the debate and clear up the matter, the American Dream still exists today but definitely not in the form it used to be. And despite Donald Trump’s feeble attempts to right the country into that traditional role- which will never happen because he has been a symbol for dividing the country into the neo-right vs. neo-left (a recipe for a civil war similar to what happened in Spain in the 1930s)- the American Dream has branched off into several segments, each of which has its own ways of struggling to establish a foundation which families can thrive on, and each of them are so different that they can never get along unless they find one common ground that could destroy the US, such as climate change and all the fighting that has come from it. If they could at least look at the issues that threaten the existence of the American Dream in any way, shape or form and tackle them together without the use of religion, politics and other items dividing the country, then we can maintain this Dream for generations to come. Otherwise if they don’t, we won’t have much left of the US by the time our children reach our ages. And with my daughter closing in on the 10 mark at the time of this post, time is running short to make that change.

 And from my experience, even if I’ve had my share of trials and tribulations as well as successes, if there is one thing we can learn from it, it is this: There is a thing called TEAM. Not like in German, where we have the Toll, Eine Andere Machts (I even witnessed that with our group presentation in Novels and Films with Volkmann a couple years ago), but this one I learned from football: Together, Everyone Accomplishes More.  We just have to allow for others to develop their talents and utilize them to help others. 

May the journey to find the good to turn things around begin. To be continued…..

Fl Fi USA

Aus! Vorbei! Und Tschüss, Jogi und Co!

 

German Soccer Team sets all time lows in their earliest exit from the 2018 World Soccer Cup in Russia in history.

There is a quote to start off this column about the defeat of the defending World Cup Champions of 2014 Germany, and it is a very simple one to swallow: Glauben und Sagen sind Gut; Kontrolle und Beweise sind besser. In English, it goes along the lines of Belief and Talk are good; Proof and Evidence are better. Germany was suppoosed to defend their 2014 World Cup title in the way it performed four years ago. However, a 2-0 pasting by South Korea in the last game of the first round of the 2018 World Cup in Russia sealed the deal in setting all new lows for the German soccer team in history.  To start off with, it was the first time in 80 years that Germany was eliminated after the first round in the World Cup. The last time it happened, it was after the Anschluss with Austria, which had been the better team before HItler took over.  It was also the first time in 18 years that the national soccer team was eliminated after the first round in an international tournament. The last time it happened was in the Euro-Cup in 2000. And like in this tournament, it featured a very lackluster performance that consisted of a tie and two defeats- a 1-0 shutout to England, its first in 32 years, and a 3-0 freightliner to Portugal.

While the German national coach  Erich Ribbeck eventually resigned after the early exit in 2000, the question is whether Joachim Loewe (Jogi, for short), Germany’s present national coach will do the same after this disastrous outing at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.  After all, the ball started rolling after the team suffered its first World Cup defeat in the opener of the first round since the 1982 tournament as West Germany. And like the upset to Algeria, the German soccer team of 2018 appeared clueless and defenseless against Mexico, having been upset in the first game 1-0.  After redeeming themselves in game two with a 2-1 win against Sweden, they needed their third win against South Korea, which not only did not happen, but they were humbled, spanked, annihilated, and embarassed. The last 10 minutes of that match summarized their latest outing in the tournament.

Before going further, let’s have a look at the highlights of the three matches:

Game 1:  1-0 for Mexico

Game 2: 2-1 victory over Sweden

Game 3: 2-0 loss to South Korea.

 

Surely the pressure is on Jogi to resign, yet when asked if he was going to do so, the response was simple: “It’s too early. I’m deeply disappointed. I never thought we would lose to South Korea.”

Those were his words. The head coach, who has led the team since 2006, with two second place finishes in the Euro-Cup (2016) and the World Cup (2010) and the World Cup Championship in 2014, plus the 2017 Confederations Cup title, is considering stepping down.  My advice to Jogi is: Don’t do it.

Why take this bold approach?  As Piggeldy and Frederick would say: Nicht leichter als das  (Not easier than this.)

Germany has a long tradition of producing the finest soccer players as much as the finest coaches. In fact, some of the best players have become even better coaches, be it Rudi Voeller, Franz Beckenbauer or even Jogi himself. Each coach has had their own way of training their players to become the best in them.  Even players like Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose, Thomas Mueller or even Manuel Neubert would be potential coaches for local soccer teams or even a national team if they wanted to take that path because of their experience. However, Jogi’s  time has not come to step down just yet.

It has nothing to do with the contract that takes him through 2023. It has more to do with the coach with his character versus the personalities of the players.  That has to do with how he and the German team have projected themselves so far. One doesn’t need to go further than listening to some of the parodies many German radio stations  have produced, looking at the German soccer team in general: a coach who is cool under pressure, trying to keep the team together, despite all the minor personal issues each player and personnel had up until the most recent game with South Korea. The best parody so far has been with Jogis Eleven, a comedy produced by central German radio station Jump Radio (powered by MDR Radio).  If one has a team that is coherent like a family, on the same page and have the same values and goals, then one can go far.

However, if one has a team where one promises to win it all but loses it all because of the lack of will to pull it all off, then it is very obvious that a disaster like this would happen. Already the team struggled to win even one game in 2018, having won only one game in the friendly matches prior to the opening game of the World Cup- a 2-1 squeaker against Saudi Arabia, the same team that they had spanked 8-0 in the opening round of the 2002 World Cup. Otherwise, they had two additional losses and one tie. Very atypical for the 2014 Champions. There, the red flags were going up. Then came the arrogance of the team, which revealed its ugly face after Tony’s Kroos’ last second win against Sweden in game 2 of the first round.  This altercation came after the game was over:

This is just as poor sportsmanship as a man slapping a woman, invoking spousal abuse. Even as a husband of a wonderful German wife and proud parent of a German-American daughter, this act of cockiness is an act of cowardness revealing the biggest weakness of the German soccer team, which is they were just not good enough- physically but especially mentally. It would be a matter of time until this disasterous third game that exposed everything and scared every naked woman taking a shower by a peeping tomcat.

In simpler languages, the performance by the team was just not cool, and Loewe as a coach only has part of the blame.  The players themselves have at least half the blame, if not the majority. But to be diplomatic, there is enough blame to go around because of the lack of attention to the other teams and how they have improved in comparision to how Germany has improved, making their shortest showing on record look like round one of the Rocky Balboa- Clubber Lang boxing match in Rocky III:

And even that defeat presents a good quote by Robert Collier: In every defeat is a lesson showing you home to win the victory the next time.

And so, we are going home, starting over from scratch. The poor performance shows that the team is in dire need of a change. Most of the players on the roster are past their prime, beset by injuries and a change of attitude since the 2014 Cup. The gap between the has-beens and the rookies is as wide as ever before, with the latter not undertanding the importance of  representing Germany and the world on the international stage. The personnel on the team is ready to step aside from their duties in soccer, especially the ones involved with the altercation with the Swedish soccer team after the second game. And basically, the team is in total disarray- in need of a total makeover. Yet it does not require the change in guard as the coach of the German national team.

In fact, keeping Jogi would represent continuity for Germany, for he can form the next set of soccer players who are ready to redeem themselves and prepare for a shot at the Euro-Cup in 2020. For himself, staying on would provide him with a chance to achieve the impossible, which is winning of Euro-Cup. The last time Germany won that was in 1996, the only time the team won since West and East Germany reunited in 1990. If he was to keep a couple members from the 2014 team, it would be the first for them as well.  Yet one thing is  certain, the team that showed up for  the 2018 World Cup will have all but maybe one or two  players disappear come 2020. Jogi will definitely look for ways to bring the next generation onto the international stage, while looking at ways of saying good-bye to the older generation, who is ripe to move on.

Yet Jogi must be aware that in the event that he stays on as coach for the German national soccer team, it will be his last chance to redeem himself, both for the Euro-Cup and for the 2022 World Cup. He must make it count but he must have the support of his personnel to make it happen. And it is very obvious that there must not be a repeat of what happened in the 2018 World Cup. The revival and return to relevance will be long, hard and bloody, like in the second boxing match between Rocky and Lang (see below). But with the right coach, like Jogi, and a set of players with as big of an appetite for an international title, the quest for success will be well worth it.

So without further ado, get back to work and look ahead to 2020. Go get ’em, Coach!

 

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Celebrating the Night of Atlantis in Handewitt

Sunset in Handewitt; photo taken in April 2011

There are many places in the world where different landscapes meet in one spot, and one can take advantage of what it has to offer. Flensburg and the surrounding area is one of them. You have the city that is located on a body of water known as the Fjorde, which leads to the Baltic Sea. About 5km to the north, there are rolling hills and forest. And to the west you have flat farmland surrounded by forests. Coming in from Denmark through the village of Ellund, I biked through one kilometer of forest followed by another kilometer of farmland until I stumbled into a quiet town of Handewitt, located roughly seven kilometers west of Flensburg. The town itself is surrounded by vast amounts of farmland, yet going through the city center by bike, it resembled a city that has long since been modernized, thanks to rows upon rows of red-brick houses lining the streets no matter where you go and upper class families owning high class German cars, like Audi and BMW- not the household name of Volkswagon and Opel, which most middle and lower class families own.

Coming in at sundown, Handewitt was totally asleep. Nobody was on the streets. Even the church located on the hill and providing a blick of the town of probably 4000 stood empty even though the lights were on. And even when the soft white fluorescent street lamps flamed on to provide safety on the streets, no one was driving around on the streets. The only sounds I could carry in were that of the herd of cattle on the west end of town, settling down with its calves for the night and cars traveling along the main highway going to Flensburg, which makes a tangent over the north end of Flensburg. What a good way to describe a town, which can pride itself in partnering with neighboring Flensburg to form the handball powerhouse SG Flensburg-Handewitt.

The church on the hill in Handewitt; photo taken in April, 2011

But silence can be its only beauty. Sometimes towns that are that quiet can also present its true colors which one can enjoy. Many of the towns have suffered from scars as a result of traffic congestion, noise and people who sometimes disregard the wishes of the town’s inhabitants to respect its environment and significance. Tourism has taken its toll on many places to a point where they do not look nice anymore, thanks to too much development and degradation, and too little nature and to a certain degree lack of natural sounds which make them special- not just the voices of the town’s past inhabitants let alone the flora and fauna that exist, but the silence that calms the nerves and makes the places much more comfortable to visit. All one needs is silence, listening to just the wind rustling the trees, the wild animals wandering the streets, and maybe a couple people talking about the past-or the future. This is what made the visit to Handewitt very surreal.

Leving the town for the route back to the hotel, 10 km away to the east, I happened to bike past a couple of restaurants and had an opportunity to eavesdrop on the topic of Atlantis and the end of an era. People were discussing the good times of the past and worrying about what the future holds. The year 2011 was to become the year to end all eras and the start of new ones. Atlantis was the reference to the Space Shuttle program by NASA, which has come to a successful end. With each quote from those talking about it brought back memories of growing up with the Space Shuttle program, how some watched the launch of a Shuttle live in Florida and lit the sky in the wee hours of the morning, how they watched from their tellies how the Shuttles contributed to the development of the International Space Station, which still encircles the Earth and watches over us day in, day out, and how two Shuttle disasters (1986 with Challenger and 2001 with Columbia) raised concerns regarding costs to maintain these vessels and make them safe for travel. The one from 1986 I watched live from the resource center of the elementary school I was attending in MN, but watching the live launch of Discovery at the beginning of 1988 for the first time since the disaster showed the willingness of the US to pick up the pieces and move on, looking ahead to the future. This was the next question that was posed by the group discussing it over Aquavit (a typical local liquor), Pott Rum, and Flensburger beer. Some say the Europeans will take over and NASA will cease to exist. Others say the opposite will be the case. In either case, once the Space Shuttle program is finished, the remaining three shuttles (Atlantis, Discovery, and Endeavor) will become part of American history and a plan has to be made to continue flying into outer space, even if the US is hampered by an enormous deficit.

Heading home in the dark; photo taken in April 2011

It is almost like biking without headlights, which I discovered while leaving the conversation and the quiet town of Handewitt for the robust town of Flensburg. Going without headlights can be a dangerous tact, but there was no choice. One has to do it even if it meant following the bright fiery yellow sodium street lamps lining the main highway to achieve that task. Sometimes one has to think about the future and battle through the handicaps in life to achieve the goals, taking advantage of the whatever opportunity that lies ahead. NASA is working on that with hopes to have another person in outer space in 3-4 years, and when that happens, a new era will start and the past will be laid to rest, leaving its legacy that the next generation is expected to follow. And when I head to my destination at the hotel on the east end of Flensburg, I will remember my visit to Handewitt, the Night of Atlantis, and how I managed to make it back in one piece, preparing for the next day of adventures ahead of me.

 

THE AUTHOR OF THE FLENSBURG FILES WOULD LIKE TO DEDICATE THIS IN HONOR OF THE ASTRONAUTS OF ATLANTIS, DISCOVERY, ENDEAVOR, CHALLENGER, AND COLUMBIA WHO RESHAPED THE WAY WE SEE THE WORLD BEYOND OUR BOUNDARIES. YOU MADE A GREAT DIFFERENCE FOR CIVILIZATION AND PAINTED THE PATH FOR FUTURE SPACE FLIGHTS WHICH WILL TAKE PEOPLE TO PLACES NOT SEEN YET, EMBRACING THE UNKNOWN AND MAKING LIFE BETTER FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS TO COME.

Living in a World they didn’t make, by Janet Jackson

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Our next Genre of the Week focuses on gun violence and takes us back to 1989. It was at that time that one of the members of the Jackson family released a powerful album containing songs that focused on social aspects. Janet Jackson started her career with the rest of her siblings in 1973, yet went solo in 1986 with her first solo album (and third overall), Control.  Her breakthrough came with Rhythm Nation 1814, which was released in 1989 and won six platinums, garnered 12 million Dollars in sales and made it all the way to number 1. on the Bilboard charts in the US. It was the first album where songs reached number 1 in the Top 40 Charts for three straight years, and it was the first where seven songs made it to the Top 100.  It is considered one of the most iconic pop music albums in history, with a mixture of rhythm and dance but also some slow dances. The album focused not only on themes of love and dance, but also social issues, which included drug use, domestic dispute, violence,…..

and guns.

While Janet managed to get seven songs into the Top 100, this song deserves to win the Flensburg Files Genre of the Week, even if the song was produced almost 30 years ago. Entitled Living in the World They Didn’t Make, Janet takes us to a school where memories are left over after a shooting incident that happens on school grounds. Children playing on the playground- gone. Teachers helping other- gone. Neighborhoods and families- shattered. All of these ring a bell to the problem with gun violence and the school shootings that have plagued the US as of late. While some have refused to talk about it, when looking at the March on Washington that happened on 24th of March, the theme of gun laws, school violence and issues that have led to people taking it out with the guns have been brought forward to those who want to see change and will not rest until it happens, regardless of who is representing each state in Congress and is running the country at the White House.

Gun violence was the issue upon the song’s release and is still the issue to this day. Listen to the song and ask yourselves, how can we put an end to this madness without having the teacher march around with a machine gun in the classroom.

This Genre of the Week song is for the kids at Parkland who took courageous steps and brought this up front and personal on Capitol Hill. Keep strong, be stronger. Eventually those who resisted will listen or cave in. You will have it your way soon. ❤ 🙂

 

Fl Fi USA

Leipzig Book Convention 2018: No Record but Lots of Suspense

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LEIPZIG-  If there is one theme that would sum up the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention this past weekend, it would be suspense. While members of the committee had expected another record year with a possible 300,000 visitors, that mark was missed by a long shot and for the first time in six years, the number of visitors at this year’s convention had decreased. 271,000 visitors went to the convention that took place from 15th to 18th March, a decrease of 14,000 from last year’s number of 285,000.  But despite the decrease, there was a lot of suspense in this year’s convention, which goes beyond the theme of Romania as the guest country. Here are some examples based on the author’s annual visit together with family members:

Snow and Cold- The decrease in numbers had a lot to do with Old Man Winter’s last grasp. Snow and blowing snow, combined with extreme cold temperatures brought vast parts of central and northern Germany to a near standstill, with parts of Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia taking the brunt of the storm.  Frozen overhead lines and crossing points were additional factors that led to the shut down of the main railway stations in Leipzig and Halle (Saale) and the cancellation of train services spanning seven German states and points to the east. This led to overfilled streetcars and buses to the Messe Convention. Adding traffic jams on the major highways also because of blowing and drifting snow and many who wanted to go to the book convention decided to stay home- at least until the sunniest day of the convention, which was the last day (Sunday). But even then, the one critique point that seems to be the problem in Germany is snow removal, where much of the parking lots were still unplowed when guests arrived on Sunday, undoubtedly the peak of the four-day long convention.

Fighting the Right- Another factor affecting the numbers is the increase in the number and influence of the far-right media. Several publishing companies producing such propaganda in newspapers and books were present, mostly in Hall 3. This included Compact and Neue Stimmen, a pair of most prominent magazines that have ties with the far right groups including the Pegida, National Party (NPD) and Alternative for Germany (AfD), the third of which is currently in the German Federal Parliament as an opposition to the newly created Grand Coalition with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats.  Especially on Friday and Saturdays clashes broke out between the far right and far left, resulting in police involvement and arrests. As they wanted to avoid massive conflicts like it happened at the 2017 Book Convention in Frankfurt/Main, it was met with partial success for despite measures to prevent violent outbreaks, the far right, with its anti-democratic and anti-European policies kept many away because of their strive to commit strife. On the flip side, several prominent authors who have written about right-wing terrorism and its threat to democracy were on hand. One of them, Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad, won the European book prize for her work on Anders Breivik, a far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in two separate attacks in 2011. People like Seierstad believe that right-wing extremism has been on the rise since then, including her home country.

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Peaceful Co-existence- While the snowstorm and the far-right made waves in the media, one aspect that was seldom touched was religion. In Hall 3 there was a section where Christianity and Islam were in peaceful co-existence of each other. At least four booths with publications and newspapers on Islam and another seven on Christianity were found clumped together with people gathering to both sides of the aisle. Interesting was how the two religions attracted the people. On the side of Islam, people came in droves because of their interest in the religion and the literature that pertained to it. This is disregarding how it was written- which was either German or Arabic with a couple English examples.  This included the Islam Newspaper in German, which judging by my observations, has a lot of culture and history, but go along the mentality of the Native Americans as described by historian Dee Brown: “We are still here.” Why? Because of attempts to suppress their culture by the domination of Christianity and the western way of life, one can see that Islam still exists and the impression is that they are open to anyone wishing to learn at least a bit of the religion. There had been fears that the religion would dominate the European landscape. That is not true. The people of Islam wish to have a sort of peaceful co-existence that has not existed for a long time, for many since the time before the Arab Spring of 2011 which led to millions fleeing the war-torn areas. On the other side, Christianity was presented in a marketing fashion. While on the way to the main entrance of the convention, we were greeted by hippie-style Christians who gave us a free coupon to one of the booths that was giving away books dealing with stories involving Christ, philosophy and the existence of God. Another booth was continuing the Martin Luther celebrations of 500 years ago by illustrating the printing press used to produce the 500 Theses written by Luther. And then there was Christianity in the form of music and schools that offer both. Target language was both German and English and they attracted a fair number of people. Yet despite the moderate increase of younger people joining Christ, the numbers have decreased on a global scale thanks to corruption, sex abuse scandals and attempts to associate Christianity with far-right figures, such as US President Trump. One can see the desperate attempts to convince people to join by giving away books upon leaving the Buch Messe- and seeing tons being discarded in garbage cans in the parking lot. It does appear that if Christianity was to regain its original form, it may need to separate itself from politics and reinvent itself by adapting to the needs of today’s generations, a step that has been taken in some aspects, like homosexuality, but in others- like tolerance- it’s having problems doing.

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Blocks at the Manga–  While the Manga exhibition, located in Hall 5, attracted its typical individuals, which included superheroes, waitresses in short skirts, aliens, and people dressed up in outfits dating back 125 years ago, one has to look more carefully at the trends that a person can find. While the theme from last year  was lighting in Japan, this year’s theme seemed to be boxes and its several shapes, designs and sizes. No matter whether they were lunch boxes, jewelry boxes or even mini-storage boxes or even designer boxes  found at booths like the Sega games, it was a real treat just to see these boxes while looking at the products typical of Japan, which include stuffed animals, sweets, games, books and even dishware, just to name a few.

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Thinking Scandanavia- To round off our tour of the Buchmesse, we have some literature recommendations worth noting. One of the unique aspects of the convention was found at the international book section in Hall 4 and in Scandanavia. Consisting of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finnland, the themes most commonly written by authors in the region  consists of mysteries, tourism, mental well-being and lastly photography. Two books that represent fine examples of such works is a Danish work by Meik Wilking entitled The Little Book of Lykke: The Path to being the Happiest People in the World, which focuses on the Danish secret to being the happiest society in the world. This includes the way of life, physical and mental well-being, mentality towards materialist items and money as well as the power of the bicycle.  Another is a collection of night-time and sometimes underwater photography by Finnish author Petri Juntunen entitled “At the Heart of It All,” where he brings the new meaning of photography to light, as he focuses on relicts and other non-life forms that are shone down by a ray of light, showing the interest from above.

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To sum up the visit and the highlights, the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention may have not set any records this year, yet judging from the news and my own observations, one could not get enough of the suspense that was presented, both positively as well as negatively. Still, as themes, such as religion, extremism, social and cultural issues and current affairs (such as environment and climate change) become the everyday norm, such book conventions like in Leipzig and also in Frankfurt/Main will need to adapt in a way that these issues are addressed and people understand them and take action. This action should also include putting an end to hate and violence, a commodity that has always been a burden to society but one that seems to become a universal problem on all fronts, especially since the end of 2015. It is only hoped that the next book convention will bring about constructive themes and discussion instead of propagizing hatred and inequality based on things we don’t like.

The next Leipzig Buchmesse will take place  from 21st to 24th March 2019. To see more photos of the Buchmesse, please click here as it will take you to the Files’ facebook page and its photo album. Please feel free to add your photos and impressions of the Buchmesse. We love to see them. 🙂

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Genre of the Week: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain

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As we look at ways to control the sale of guns and put an end to gun violence in the United States, one of the aspects that was brought many times is mental health.  People who think that we should focus on the issue of mental health claim that the majority of shooters happen to be people who are loners, suffer from some sort of depression, schizophrenia, or have some sort of narccist personality disorder, have come from broken homes where they had been abused by (foster) parents, have been bullied by others, are bullies themselves or a combination of the factors.  In other words, if a student is alone, doesn’t have many friends and always keeps to him/herself, then that person is at risk of committing a violent crime such as a shooting spree, as we have seen with the last school shooting in Florida or the bloodiest massacre in US history at Las Vegas in 2017.

Yet little has anyone realized that there are some advantages of being a loner. Introverts are people who thrive when they are by themselves, creating things with no one around that in the end others can benefit from their inventions. Albert Einstein, Agatha Christie, Arthur Miller, Thomas Edison are a few very popular examples of introverts who never liked being an outgoing entertainer towards others- a primary characteristic of an introvert- and prefer to work on tasks on their own, as they can better concentrate and be creative in their thoughts and imagination. Unlike extroverts, who present proposals to others during meetings and try to make the best out of thriving from attention, introverts prefer to be in the background in group conversations, listening to others and only contributing when absolutely necessary.  This makes them excellent in art (or any kind of fine arts) but lousy in a forensics competition, where they are forced to talk even though they don’t really feel like it.  Admittedly in high school, I was one of the introverts who thrived that way- in art and music- but really sucked in sports (except track and field) and forensics.  😉  And even as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, while I enjoy telling stories and helping people out with improving their language skills, in the end, when the bell rings at the end of the day, my place is in the office with the doors closed, brewing up something for the next day (or week) with no people around to “pester” me. 😉

Introverts unfortunately are the most easily targeted individuals as they are seen as outcasts- bullied by those who don’t like their secret “behind-the-scenes” talent (because they don’t have it in them), pushed by their parents so that they can get recognized by the public (this one I can fully relate while growing up) and forced into the conversation by teachers who think introverts are a sign of a bigger problem- if a teacher looks at each student’s own personal book, they can read between the lines in terms of their personalities and the reasons for that.  But as Susan Cain mentions in a TED-Talk presentation in 2012, introverts are a lot brighter and more sophisticated than what others think, and therefore should not be mistaken for someone who wants to do harm to others.  Sometimes by getting to know them further and giving them space, they can thrive better and provide others with something that surprises and dazzles them.

Some of their inventions can become the household product in the future. 🙂

So let’s have a look at the Genre of the Week and the theme of Introverts:

 

Fl Fi USA