Berlin Wall: Keeping the Memory Alive

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Germany has had some problems keeping the memories of the past alive. This goes back to the end of World War II and the topic involving the German Question: “Who are We?” and “What can History teach us from this ordeal.”  While we struggle to keep the memorials devoted to the Holocaust alive to remind ourselves of what happened during Hitler’s Reign of Terror, others elect to eradicate it- either because it was too traumatizing to even talk about it (the German Population suffered as much as the Jews and Minorities that were persecuted and suffered in concentration camps) or because it is considered  “harmlos”, something that is a typical genocide because other countries have witnessed it and the people who lived through this have long passed.

The same holds true for the time after the War, as two Germanys were divided for another 45 years, 21 of which was through a series of concrete walls, barbed wiring and border guards, ordered to shoot escapees on site, who wanted to flee to the West. During the time of East Germany, the people were under surveillance by the Stasi and tortured if they were suspected of not behaving like a communist.

While many of the people living during that time are beginning to pass, we’re being confronted with keeping the memories of 1989 alive. It was an iconic moment, for the Walls that cut Germany and its capital Berlin into two have come down, yet thanks to the increase of development through urbanization and modernization, much of the memories of the Wall and the Events that led its the Fall are starting to fade, being pushed into the backburner. People born on or after 1989 have little recolection of the events that ushered the new republic of Germany and with that, the new world order, as far as Democracy is concerned.  For many, they have the mentality of “History is History; It’s the Future we’re concerned with.”

In this documentary, Richard Quest of the American news network CNN looks at the Berlin Wall in the present and two generations with different mindsets: those who have experienced it and those who were born afterwards. The goal is to bridge the gap between the two so that this important event is passed down to the next generations in order to understand the significance of the event. This was produced in 2012 as part of the series Future Cities.

Link: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/business/2012/03/26/future-cities-berlin-quest-urban-landscape.cnn

 

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Genre on 1989: The Magic Lantern by Timothy Garton Ash

To understand the magnitude of the Fall of the Berlin Wall on 9th of November, 1989 and the implications it had on international politics and the way of life between East and West, there are some key literary pieces one should read before traveling to central and eastern Europe, for the topic on the differences between East and West is still being talked about to this day, which includes discussions on their nostalgia, the differences in development and modernization of the basic infrastructure in both regions and lastly, societal issues including income disparity, unemployment, violence and/or xenophobia and other issues.

The first book that came to mind, and one that I read prior to emigrating to Germany is a key piece by Timothy Garton Ash entitled „The Magic Lantern.“ This piece was written in 1990 and has been rewritten and edited many time since then. The book looks at the revolution of 1989, from the author’s point of view, in the capitals of the four countries behind the Iron Curtain: Poland, Hungary, German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and Czechoslovakia.

One has to keep the background information in mind. Mr. Ash had been behind the Iron Curtain as a student in East Berlin during the early 1980s, studying at Humboldt University, but was also at the Free University in West Berlin on the opposite side of the border. His experiences there can be found in the book „The File,“ which was published in 1997. In that book, he mentioned that he was under surveillance by the State Security Police (Stasi) while in the East.

In the Magic Lantern, Mr. Ash focused on the revolution that started on the grassroots level but later turned into an event that became known as the domino effect. For the grassroot part, the countries found sophisticated ways of pressuring their communist regimes to submit to their demands for peace and democracy. This included rallies by young people leading free democratic organizations, religious organizations and even groups that opposed the brutal regime. They were sophisticated based on lessons learned in the past, that demonstrations outright without creative back-up planning led to army forces of the Warsaw Pact to roll in and quash them, putting many key players behind these protests into prison. Some even died from being tortured by the countries security police forces in their respective countries. After the failures in East Berlin (1953), Budapest (1956), Prague (1968) and Warsaw (1983), the opposition needed time to retreat, replan, reenvision and reenact the movements in an attempt to put enough pressure on the regime until they finally conceded. In some cases, the leaders were pressured by Michail Gorbachev to allow the borders to reopen, thanks to his policies of Gastnost and Peristroika.

The end result of these grassroot movements came with free elections in Poland, the peaceful funeral of Nagy and the opening of the gates between Hungary and Austria, the Magic Lantern movement in Prague under Havel, and of course the peaceful demonstrations in East Germany, which culminated into the Fall of the Wall. Yet with these grassroot movements came the downfall that happened in sequential order. It started in Poland, then worked its way to Hungary. Once Honecker was removed and replaced by Egon Krenz, the Wall fell in East Germany. And lastly, the Czechs had their say and were granted freedom and democracy Velvet style. In each of the countries, it was only possible thanks to the pressure on the dictators to either step in and accept or step aside and resign. Ash, who was following the events live, documented the events through interviews, observations and collecting enough experience to later make him a journalist and later a scholar for Central and Eastern European Politics and History.

The Magic Lantern does answer a lot of questions about the motivations towards the movement to bring down the Berlin Wall and open the gate between East and West Germany, such as how the movement was started to begin with. Like in the other regimes, the SED Government under Erich Honecker was one of the most sophisticated but brutal regimes in history in terms of its infrastructure, law enforcement and education. Those who remained in East Germany had to submit to the policies of Communism, learning Russian and the ideals of Marx and Leninism. Christianity was suppressed as far as it could go. Those opposing Communism were either spied upon, imprisoned or in some cases, expelled by being sent to the West. There was systematic desegregation between those who support Communism and those against thanks in part to the role of the Stasi of documenting every move made by its citizens. Ash was one of those targeted during his visit, according to his book „The File.“ And if they were not killed in an attempt to flee over the border, they convened and found creative ways to „end the war,“ as one person mentioned in the Magic Lantern.

This „war“ was in reference to a perpetual war which started in 1939 with World War II, continued after the War ended in 1945 and Germany being a battlefield between the US and the Soviet Union until 1990.  If this was what one of the residents mentioned in the interview with Mr. Ash, then the war would be considered the longest in modern history. Mr. Ash fought his way back into East Germany in July 1989 and followed the events that unfolded afterwards, both there and beyond, seeing the stalwarth regime of Honecker crack at the foundations, as many East Germans fled to the West via Prague and Budapest going into Austria. It followed with peaceful demonstrations in Leipzig and spreading throughout the country. Gorbachev hinted to the Politburo that „Life punishes those who wait,“ resulting in Honecker’s removal and replacement with Krenz.

And the rest was history. Once the Wall fell, people celebrated and pushed for German Reunification, which happened 11 months later. Once the Wall fell, as Ash stated, the other countries toppled much quicker than thought. It even resulted in the break-up of the Soviet Union, which concluded at the end of 1991.

Ash’s book, The Magic Lantern, traces all of the events that marked that watershed. Once one dam broke, all the others followed, no matter how sturdy the dam was. And when all was finished, it was a fresh clean start for the region, painting it the way it should be. The Magic Lantern provides you some places in the capitals worth visiting, where the demonstrations took place. Many of them have been considered historic sites with tour guides being provided. The book is the best starting point to finding out the past of the countries and how they have been progressing ever since.

Ash’s book does raise one question that is affecting global society at present: Do we have another domino effect in the making and if so how? We did see it with the Trump effect, with Donald Trump winning the 2016 Presidential Elections with his far right stance. This influence has stoked far-right thinking and the strive to break away from international organizations, even with the European Union. Some countries have gone far right in their elections since then while other far-right countries have become stronger in countries still governed by the middle. However, with environmental issues coming to a head, and green movements growing everywhere, inspite denials from the likes of Trump, it makes a person wonder if the Greta Thunberg effect will create a revolution that will not only have a domino effect on the countries, but will set the world straight once and for all, just like in 1989. This question I hope will have answered, regardless of who’s willing to step up to the podium.

Author’s Note: More on Timothy Garton Ash, his life and works can be found here: https://www.timothygartonash.com/

 

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Adam Fletcher’s How to be German

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This year marks 20 years that I’ve been living in Germany and making my living as an English teacher and a writer. Looking back at my arrival in Thuringia in 1999, there were no guides as how to speak German properly, no tour guides of unknown cities except those in Bavaria, Hesse and Baden-Wurttemberg (obvious because they were laden with American soldiers stationed there), and especially no detailed rules as to how to behave in Germany and immerse yourself into German culture, unless you have a German girlfriend- later turned wife, who is willing to show you the fine points to avoid making a fool out of yourself.  😉  ❤

But imagine you came to Germany all alone and clueless about the customs and culture. There are two ways to handle it:

You can be a fool and boast about being American, speaking loudly, getting drunk and speaking English as if you own the country (thank God we haven’t become the 51st State of the Union, especially given the current situation at the time of this posting).

Or you can inquire about the culture and immerse yourself into it while learning the language at the same time.

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Adam Fletcher has done the second. Having lived in Germany since 2007, the writer from Great Britain has been writing books on German culture for 12 years and how it has evolved and changed over time. But if there is one book that serves as a “starting point” in learning German culture and its language, but also getting a great laugh out of it, it would definitely be the guide on how to be German. Written in 2013, Fletcher gives you 50 points on how to immerse yourself in the culture in Germany. As a way of learning German, Fletcher has the points written in both languages, dividing the book into the English and the German halves, nonetheless, provides some humor in each of the points, adapted so that they are not lost in translation. The book is easy to read and easy to laugh about, just like the writer himself, as you can see in a TED talk special below:

Fletcher has followed up with part 2, written in 2016 because of changes that have been taking place in Germany due top current events and changes in the behavior of the country’s inhabitants and the environment in general.  How they have changed in terms of German customs, I have an activity for you to try for your amusement and discussion:

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Take a look at the points Mr. Fletcher makes on how to become a German and integrate into Germany’s culture. Determine if they are true/ relevant or false /irrelevant or dependent on situation.  Mark them with the following letters:

 

  • Applicable, like it or not
  • Bunch of bullsh–; not true, fake, quatsch
  • Changed based on laws passed since 2013
  • Depends- depends on the situation and the person(s) you are interacting with
  • Eliminated: doesn’t exist anymore
  • Forgotten: exists but long forgotten
  • Exists; good for the culture

 

Good luck with the points and the discussion that follows. Feel free to comment in the Files’ page or on its facebook page.  🙂

 

Points made by Fletcher Your Opinion
Put on your houseshoes (Hausschuhe) when entering the house
Eat a long breakfast
Planning, Preparation and Process are key
Get some insurance, it can save your lives.
Dress seriously, no matter what occasion
Speak German, it’s the official language.
Denglish is in- Outgesourced, downgeloaded, upgegraded
Obey the red man- The German traffic light
Drink Apfelschorle
Drink mixed beverages
Eat German food
Know your potatoes (and how to make them)
Bring Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) to a gathering
Eat German bread.
“Mahlzeit” when meeting people
Hate the GEZ/ GEMA (the fees for TV and radio for public channels)
Say what you mean
Speak freely about sex.
Do nothing on Sundays
Watch Tatort- a criminal series that is seen Sundays at 8:15pm on public TV
Nothing is true unless you read it in the Spiegel magazine
Always send friendly greetings (Mit freundlichen Grüßen)
Always use „Prost!“ when making a toast. (Prost means Cheers)
Drink Bionade and buy “Bio-produkte”
Recycle! Recycle! Recycle!
Follow the rules, always!
Love your car.
Deal with “Klugscheisse” (smart-asses)
Interrogate jokes!
Don’t light your cigarettes from a candle
“Fenster auf Kippen” Windows in tilt format when opened.
Feel mixed about Berlin.
Hate the banana.
Hate the Saxony dialect.
Pick a Side and Respect the Divide (between East and West Germany)
Fahr Schwarz (Ride as a Stowaway).
Get qualified
Enlarge your CV (Resumé)
Find a “real” job
Fail at sarcasm.
Learn to enjoy bureaucracy.
Learn the German lingua expressions, such as Gut-gut, naja, ach so, doch, alles klar and und sonst so.
Practicality trumps everything
Travel seriously.
Know that birthdays are serious business
Watch “Dinner for One” on New Years Eve.
Forget anything you were ever told about fireworks
Hate “Schlager,” know every word in it.
Say “Tschüß!” (Good bye).

 

Afterwards, find out what should be added to the Top 50 for some aspects may be missing. From my own perspective, at least 10 additional points are missing, such as the following:

  1. The Autobahn is the new Daytona Speedway. Speed limits don’t apply.
  2. Dress up as native Americans with fireworks for a soccer game
  3. Die Bahn macht mich mobil (The German Railways drive me nuts).
  4. Learn the many usages of the word “doch.”
  5. Learn the hundred variants of sausages and beer
  6. Every window of a flat should have a Christmas arch (Lichterbogen) and pyramid.
  7. Flensburg points are no laughing matter, even when visiting Germany
  8. Always have carp during months which have the R in it.
  9. Smile when you are blitzed by the Gatsometer (Blitzer), have your money ready for photo-pickup.
  10. Never rent a flat, whose landlord is a cleaning firm.
  11. Know what “Grobmull” is so that you known when to trash your furniture.
  12. Miners parades at Christmas markets.
  13. Always wish someone a nice day, even if they hate your guts.
  14. Take “Jesus-freaks” seriously.
  15. Respect the quiet hours, regardless of holiday and birthday.

There are more to add but you have an idea. Some of the points may have been mentioned in the 2016 version and I’m sure Adam Fletcher has part 3 in the works, whose ideas I have may be added. 😉 While he has published a work on how to be British, it would be curious to find out what 50 points should be made on how to be an American. But that would take lots of time and traveling to achieve this feat, for even though the region do share this one key point: “Do NOT talk politics if you want to live a long life.”, each region and state has their set of 50 points. If the 50 points for the whole country is achieved and written, I will definitely be the first one to write (and make a critique) about it.  😉 🙂

 

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Adam Fletcher has a website that promotes his work which you can click here:

http://adam-fletcher.co.uk/

After living in Leipzig for many years, he now lives in Berlin.

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The 26 Letters that Spell Peace

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A while back, I ran across this small piece of advice, creatively written by a teacher who has expertise in dealing with politics and society, conflicts and adversity, as well as differences and misunderstandings. This person arranged this paragraph with the word of advice, in the order of the alphabet. 26 words, all 26 letters.  Have a look at this:

Always

Be

Cool.

Don’t have

Ego with

Friends and Family.

Give-up

Hurting

Individuals.

Just

Keep

Loving

Mankind.

Never

Omit

Prayers.

Quietly

Remember God.

Speak

the Truth.

Use

Valid

Words.

Xpress

Your

Zeal.

 

All I can say is: “Respect!”  But definitely some Food for Thought. 🙂 ❤

 

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Genre of the Week: I am a Teacher

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One of many German schools.

Author’s Note: A while back, I ran across this poem through one of my English teaching colleagues who is in the same teaching network as I am. Teaching is a tough profession where one has to have strong nerves and courage to not just order to the classroom, but to teach the students the essentials that will help them in their career path. This poem is for all the teachers out there, regardless of which subjects you are teaching, and regardless which age groups, educational institution and backgrounds. Behind every person is- a teacher

I may be a School Teacher

I may be a College Lecturer

I may be a University Professor!

 

Behind that Doctor,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Engineer,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Statistician,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Nuclear Physicist,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Mathmatician,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Scientist,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Zoologist,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Entomologist,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Botanist,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Economist,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Entrepreneuer,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Lawyer,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behiond that Political Scientist,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Psychologist,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Architect,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Astrologer,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

Behind that Astronomer,

It’s Me, a Teacher.

I don’t qualify for a bungalow, or a villa, nor earn enough to buy an expensive house or a car, like corrupt officers or corrupt politicians,

But yes, I’m a Teacher.

Some think or even say that I have too many holidays. They never know that I spend those holidays either correcting papers or planning what and how I’m going to teach when I go back to the blackboard or whiteboard…….

Because I am a Teacher.

Sometimes I get confused and even get stressed by the ever-changing policies over what and how I have to teach…..

Despite all that, I am a Teacher and I love to teach and I am teaching….

On pay-days, I don’t laugh as corrupt officers and others do. But by the next day, I love to come with a smile to those that I teach…..

Because I am a Teacher;  yes, I am a Teacher

The main source of my satisfaction is when I see them grow. I see them succeed. I see them having all those assets. I see them bravely face the world and its challenges. And I say yes, I have taught in spite of living in a world opened by Google….

Because I am a Teacher…… Yes I am a Teacher

It doesn’t matter how they look at me

It doesn’t matter how much more they earn than I do

It doesn’t matter that they drive while I walk because all they have is through me, A Teacher

Whether they acknowledge me or not, I am a Teacher.

 

This poem is dedicated to all the teachers, lecturers, professors and students (past and present), who have seen teachers toil through the papers, tearing up when grown-ups don’t cry, and take pride in the work in the classroom and on paper. Each of us have a favorite teacher or two. Many teachers still keep in touch with their former students to find out how they are doing. And sometimes torches get passed down because of how the teacher teaches in the classroom and how the students enjoy the class and take something with them as they move on to the next chapter in life. This one is for you. 🙂 ❤ 

 

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Genre of the Week: Das Haus am See by Peter Fox

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There have been many books, films and other genres that carry the name Lake House, which is the English translation of the title of this week’s Genre special. One of the well-known ones was The Lake House, a film starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reaves that was released in 2006 and focuses on a love affair between two people, two years apart, using the mailbox as the primary means of communication. But even as the film focuses on the love affair and the house that was to be passed down like a torch, another genre bearing the same name has a different meaning.

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Das Haus am See is a song produced by German pop and reggae singer Peter Fox in 2008, two years after the release of the film. The song has no relation to the film nor does it have a similar meaning. It primarily focuses on life in the city and how the lead singer longs for life in the countryside, with a house on a lake, a family and an environment where no one knows his name and he has a sense of peace and serenity. The main idea behind this is a quiet life surrounded by green and water, where life can be more diverse and adventuresome than in a city where everyone knows you and you know the neighborhood you are living in.

The setting of the song, also seen in the youtube clip is Berlin, the same place where Mr. Fox was born and raised and still lives in the suburb of Kreuzberg to this day. The song features a diverse set of strings, brass and background choral music, mixing the two music types together that Mr. Fox has gotten accustomed to in his 20+ year career in the music business. And while the music presents a subdued environment which doesn’t require heavy metal or dance pop (the latter, together with techno, is one of Germany’s key signatures), it does take a person back to the house on the lake, enjoying the great times with friends and loved ones. This was one of the key items that this song takes me back to- my time growing up at a house on a lake in Minnesota, with a golf course across the street from there.

Many of you have these memories of your times growing up there, while others long for that life. In either case, this song is for you and should give you an incentive to find that peace you are longing for. Enjoy!

Video:

 

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By the way, the lyrics are below, all in German but one can make a good translation exercise out of it.  🙂

Hier bin ich gebor’n und laufe durch die Straßen
Kenn’ die Gesichter, jedes Haus und jeden Laden.
Ich muss mal weg, kenn jede Taube hier beim Namen.
Daumen raus, ich warte auf ‘ne schicke Frau mit schnellem Wagen.
Die Sonne blendet, alles fliegt vorbei.
Und die Welt hinter mir wird langsam klein.
Doch die Welt vor mir ist für mich gemacht!
Ich weiß, sie wartet und ich hol sie ab!
Ich hab den Tag auf meiner Seite, ich hab Rückenwind!
Ein Frauenchor am Straßenrand, der für mich singt!
Ich lehne mich zurück und guck ins tiefe Blau
schließ’ die Augen und lauf einfach geradeaus.
Und am Ende der Straße steht ein Haus am See.
Orangenbaumblätter liegen auf dem Weg.
Ich hab 20 Kinder, meine Frau ist schön.
Alle komm’n vorbei, ich brauch nie rauszugehen.
Ich suche neues Land mit unbekannten Straßen
Fremde Gesichter und keiner kennt mein’n Namen!
Alles gewinnen beim Spiel mit gezinkten Karten.
Alles verlieren, Gott hat einen harten linken Haken.

Ich grabe Schätze aus im Schnee und Sand
Und Frauen rauben mir jeden Verstand!
Doch irgendwann werd ich vom Glück verfolgt
Und komm zurück mit beiden Taschen voll Gold.
Ich lad’ die alten Vögel und Verwandten ein.
Und alle fang’n vor Freude an zu wein’n.
Wir grillen, die Mamas kochen und wir saufen Schnaps.
Und feiern eine Woche jede Nacht.
Und der Mond scheint hell auf mein Haus am See.
Orangenbaumblätter liegen auf dem Weg.
Ich hab 20 Kinder, meine Frau ist schön.
Alle komm’n vorbei, ich brauch nie rauszugehen.
Und am Ende der Straße steht ein Haus am See.
Orangen-braune Blätter liegen auf dem Weg.
Ich hab 20 Kinder, meine Frau ist schön.
Alle komm’n vorbei, ich brauch nie rauszugehen.
Hier bin ich gebor’n, hier werd ich begraben.
Hab taube Ohr’n, ‘nen weißen Bart und sitz im Garten.
Meine 100 Enkel spielen Cricket auf’m Rasen.
Wenn ich so daran denke, kann ich’s eigentlich kaum erwarten.

 

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Genre of the Week: ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig

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This excerpt alone should be the incentive to read the book on how to survive the World without going insane. There have been many issues facing us in the past decade. In the last two years alone, the number of problems affecting us has increased exponentially. Yet before considering radical measures that could potentially backfire, one should take a look around us from an objective point of view, even from others, like this author did. Once that is done, we can take the measures needed to change the things we need to change in our world. Every little thing we do will have a huge impact on how we live, both long and short term.

A little food for thought while you order this book via Amazon or even pick it up at the library. 🙂

 

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