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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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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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

 

 

 

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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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. 

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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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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FlixBus to Enter “Fernverkehr”-Market as FlixTrain

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One of the former Locomore train cars to be used by FlixTrain  WIkicommons

Munich-based bus provider to offer long-distance train services to compete with German Railways- The Bahn. Expansion is expected.

MUNICH- “Actually, for us is the train like a big bus.” When the CEO of FlixBus Jochen Engert mentioned this in an interview with the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, the first thing that came to mind is how to get passengers from point a to point b on the tracks without getting nickeled and dimed by the German Railways- The Bahn. When FlixBus was established in 2011, its primary goal was to provide travelers with an affordable and painless way to get them where they want to be, while on the highway.  Today’s FlixBus covers 80% of all bus markets in Germany, providing 120,000 daily connections to over 1,000 destinations in 20 countries, from Bucharest to Bordeaux, Kiel to Milan and from Luxembourg to Prague, with stops big cities like Berlin, Hanover and Frankfurt, as well as smaller ones like Jena, Bamberg and Wolfsburg, just to name a few.

While FlixBus is making its American debut this April, providing residents along the West Coast with the signature modern green double-decker busses that Europeans are accustomed to, the company is making a splash on the railways. In a railroad market where the Bahn predominates long-distance rail services with its white, black and red ICE-trains and InterCity services, as well as its red and white Regio-trains, passengers are going to see the light green trains, known as FlixTrains competing beginning in April. At a cost of 10 Euros per single ticket, passengers can travel on the Flixbus going up to 200 km/h (125 mph)- equivalent to most IC-trains and the older ICE-trains between Berlin and Stuttgart as well as between Hamburg and Cologne. The plan is to have 28 stops available for up to four trains traveling in each direction per day on both routes.

The routes are somewhat familiar for they had been used by other private train services. Locomore was the first to provide daily services from Berlin to Stuttgart via Wolfsburg, Fulda and Frankfurt/Main. Starting in December 2016 until its insolvency in May 2017, Locomore operated one train in each direction, stopping at 18 stations. It had planned new routes between Berlin and Binz, Berlin-Hanover-Cologne-Bonn and Frankfurt-Augsburg-Berlin. In August 2017, the Czech-based Leo-Express and FlixBus acquired Locomore’s assets and have started painting the Locomore trains green to show ownership of the services. The trains will be run under FlixTrain by April. The Hamburg-Cologne line used to be an independent entity  known as HBX, where trains stopped in Osnabrück, Düsseldorf and Essen. The HBX was acquired by FlixBus and will start operating under FlixTrain at the end of March.

While this FlixTrain experiment will be done gradually (starting with two trains in each direction per day), the plan is if successful, the Flixtrain will provide more trains on these two routes and expand to include more cities in the near future.  The caveat behind this expansion is twofold. Firstly, despite its generous offers of: long distance trains at 200 kph at a price equivalent to a trip by FlixBus, coaches with an eatery, children’s playground and air conditioned seating, free Wifi and films and ordering tickets online or with an app, it will be difficult to lure passengers away from their loyal Bahn or car because of the advantages both has, plus private trains have as many problems with train delays and technical issues as other train services, both private and public.  Secondly the provider would have to choose carefully which cities to expand their services to for many reasons: 1. The train engines would need to be compatible with the track as some areas are not electrified, 2. They will need to be aware of the other trains that serve the cities and their customers and 3. The train’s availability on a daily basis may present some problems as private trains tend to have a difficult time sharing the track with the competitors.

But despite the possible setbacks of Flixtrain, there are some lines that couple possibly benefit from the expansion should business be successful and people turn to them instead of the Bahn and its reputation of being late most of the time and having overpriced tickets. Some potential candidates include:

Saale- Route (Leipzig-Jena-Saalfeld-Bamberg-Nuremberg)- Especially residents in Jena, Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Naumburg have suffered a great deal since the ICE-train was rerouted onto the new Berlin-Leipzig/Halle-Erfurt-Nuremberg-Munich line in December 2017 as they had to face taking Regio-trains to Erfurt or Leipzig just to catch the next available long-distance train. Despite efforts to have faster Regio-Express trains available by December 2018, it may not be enough for many  who have already invested a year’s salary in a new car. With FlixTrain, it could serve as a medium to long-term fix for people going to either Berlin or Munich without changing trains.

Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate- It has been 16 years since the last ICE-train has served this route and plans to electrify the line has been really slow-going- the requirement for having a long-distance train. Yet if diesel locomotives are available this would be a temporary fix until the electrification is finished. For people in Bayreuth, Hof, Zwickau, Glauchau and Chemnitz, having a FlixTrain would be a blessing as they could arrive at their destinations in time that is much quicker than with the motorway, which runs parallel but is beset with traffic jams caused by accidents and narrow four-lanes. Currently MRB-Rail operates the Hof-Dresden portion and the Bahn the rest, both as RegioTrains.

MDV Route- Consisting of the lines Leipzig-Naumburg-Weimar-Erfurt, Chemnitz-Glauchau-Gera-Jena-Weimar-Erfurt and Erfurt-Kassel-Dortmund-Cologne, the route has similar problems with electrification as the Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate but between Weimar and Glauchau. Still the route has potential for attracting passengers who have been forced to deal with mostly RegioTrains and a pair of InterCity trains per day.

Schleswig-Holstein-Express- Connecting Hamburg with Flensburg via Rendsburg, this route has rarely seen Fernverkehr since the Bahn pulled its ICE-trains off the tracks three years ago and Germany and Denmark allowed the inter-rail agreement to run out at the end of 2016. The trains have operated regionally but people would benefit more with long-distance rail services between Hamburg and Denmark via Flensburg with the option of extending southward. As an alternative one could route a train through Kiel before entering Flensburg, yet a pair of bridges will need replacement and the tracks need to be added.  FlixBus already has bus connections in Scandanavia and could benefit with a pair of FlixTrain services going through Denmark.

North Sea Route: As the North Sea region in Schleswig-Holstein is very popular, especially during the summer, this route between Hamburg and Sylt via Husum would be beneficial for a FlixTrain. Originally, this route was operated by Nord-Ostsee Bahn Rail before it went bankrupt in 2014 and was taken over by the Bahn. Yet many customers are dissatisfied with the old-timer trains and the service of the Regio-Trains. Plus only a handful of IC-trains connect Sylt with Frankfurt on a daily basis.

These are the top five routes FlixTrain should pursue if it is successful and decides to expand. There are other routes to consider, yet one has to think about the advantages and disadvantages to having a cheap train service with the same services as the Bahn’s. Therefore to conclude, here are a couple questions to think about (let alone comment on):

  1. Would you prefer FlixTrain over the Bahn (or other rail services)  if it was to come to your town?
  2. Which rail routes, aside from the five mentioned ones, would you like to see FlixTrain using and why?

 

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