Genre of the Week: Three and a Half Hours

Probstzella: The memorial using the remains of the border control building. The train station complex is in the background. Photo taken in 2010

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This week’s Genre of the Week is in connection with the 60th Anniversary of the Construction of the Berlin Wall. On August 13th, 1961, the East German government sealed off the border with its western neighbor, West Germany- first by constructing the Berlin Wall, a 155-kilometer long wall that encompassed all of West Berlin. In addition, the border was fenced off and walled from a point east of Lübeck, going south then east before terminating at the border with Czechoslovakia, located east of Hof. It separated the eastern states with the like of Shcleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, Hesse and Bavaria. The walls remained for 28 years until the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November, 1989 and the reopening of the border along the state borders days later.  While Germany has remained a unified country for 30 years, the scars of the divided Germany, which started after the capitulation of the Nazis on 7 May, 1945 still remains and serves as a reminder that events like this must never be repeated anywhere.

The next genre I’m presenting is a book that I’m reading at present but one that has been converted into a film, which one can (and should also) see when talking about the Berlin Wall.  Three and a Half Hours (German: Dreieinhalb Stunden) is a historic fictional book that has its roots to those who were in fact forced to decide between East and West, capitalism and socialism, freedom and supervision. The idea came from author Robert Krause, whose grandparents and parents both were caught in that line of fire on 13 August, 1961. Krause (*1970), who originates from Dresden, mentioned that his grandparents had traveled on that day when the border closed, his father was with a friend in West Berlin.  It looks at a situation which can be used in a classroom on history, German or other classes that focuses on governments, foreign languages and culture in a form of “Make a Decision:”

Imagine this situation: You are traveling on an Interzone Train from Munich to Berlin on 13 August, 1961 and you learn that the border between East and West Germany would be closed off to ensure that no one flees the Communist state. If you have three and a half hours time, before crossing the border at Probstzella, and you had a choice between entering East Germany or staying in West Germany, what would you do?

Keep in mind that you have a residence in the East and you wish to return there.

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The book and the film have a set of characters that want to travel to East Germany because they either have homes there, have concerts there, want to escape the laws in Bavaria in two cases or in one case, want to return one’s remains home because that person died in Munich. At the train station in Probstzella, a train conductor, who falls in love with a camera person from DEFA in East Berlin, also is faced with a difficult decision. Each character has his/her past and ideas behind their decision.  The book has a lot of suspense especially when the passengers learn of the construction of the Wall and the closing of the border, which amps up the temperatures of each of the characters for the decision they make would be the one they have to live with for a long time- even for the rest of their lives.  The pages go by as fast as the characters who are face with the decisions, which makes sense to divide up the chapters based on each of the affected characters. One by one, the puzzles fall into place, yet the decision impacts families, friendships and lastly, their futures.

The book was converted into film in 2020 and both have received a mixture of praise and criticism. Krause is considered a great storyteller and placed emphasis on history based on personal experience, while getting the readers involved in the suspense. He himself escaped to the West at the age of 19 to start a new life in Munich, so some of the stories he collected as a child can be related to what happened. It opens the wounds of the past to find out the motives behind people making the most important decision of their lives, and the construction of the Wall served as that testament to deciding between the continuation of their normal lives and starting a new life.

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Photo by Raka Miftah on Pexels.com

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It brings up a game which teachers and students can put together based on this story. It’s called Stay or Go.  You need different colors of pens as well as different colors of index cards, preferably the smallest available. Then you do the following:

  • Divide the index cards up by colors into the different categories that should read the following: The Characters, Their Lifestyle, Their Career, Their Family Status, Their Satisfaction with their Lives, Their Motives for being in West Germany, and Their Motives for being in East Germany.
  • Minus the characters in the story, for each category, make as many points as possible. They don’t have to be stuck solely on the book or film themselves but one can add some points from their own ideas and thoughts. Please make sure a color is assigned to each category.
  • Each participant is assigned a character.
  • The participant must choose from each category one card. The cards in each category can be stacked or mixed in a pile.
  • As soon as the participant chooses each card from all of the categories, he/she must decide whether crossing the border would make sense, keeping in mind the following points:
  1. If you go from West to East, you may not be able to escape back into West again
  2. If you go from East to West, you face the risk of getting arrested or shot
  3. The conditions of both East and West Germany must be mentioned prior to playing the game, both as positive as well as negative aspects
  4. You must provide reasons for your decision. This can be done in a short presentation.

The game can be played in small groups but also in classroom size where the teacher can make a buffet of categories and students can choose one from each category on the buffet.  

This game not only helps a person better understand the history of Germany during that time but also provides a chance to discuss with others regardless of which foreign language you use.

The book and the film, based on the events that happened 60 years ago, serves as a remembrance of the events that must not be forgotten. Many of us have a tendency of forgetting about history before it’s repeated again somewhere else. Yet such stories exist because we want to remember the events and share them with the next generation for them to understand. Three and a Half Hours is one of those books turned films that fulfills that purpose and then some.

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The border station Probstzella at the Thuringian-Bavarian border is in one of the stories and you can read up on my visit there by clicking here. The border station was shut down on December 12th 1961 and remained closed until 1989, thus forcing trains to cross into the West through Gutenfürst near Hof.

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Genre of the Week: The Collini Case

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On May 24, 1968, the West German government passed a resolution calling for the partial exoneration of much of its population for their roles during the era of Adolf Hitler which lasted from 1933 until Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 7, 1945, thus ending World War II in the European theater. The Act, known as the Einführungsgesetz zum Gesetz über Ordnungswidrigkeiten (EGOWiG), called for all crimes committed against humanity to either be considered a minor offence or dismissed altogether. The argument for the EGOWiG was that these crimes happened over two decades ago and that the statue of limitations would have long since expired. The enactment of EGOWiG sparked an outrage among the population, whose wounds caused by the oppression of the Hitler Regime and the subsequent result of World War II, had not been healed.  Half of the population saw the “Verharmlosung” (playing down) of the crimes to be heinous- on par with the crimes against humanity already carried out through the Holocaust. The other half saw EGOWiG as an attempt to close the book on Germany’s dark past and to allow the people to move on with their lives, even those who had active involvement during the Third Reich and were scarred as a result. 

EGOWiG remained in force until November 30, 2007, and even though the government claimed that it was not valid for use anymore, prosecutors and activists continued pursuing the remaining living people of that time, who were involved with the atrocities. The purpose was to bring their crimes to light and help the population remember the atrocities and ensure they never happen again. The trial of a 100-year old concentration camp worker scheduled to take place this year may be the last of a string of trials and convictions which started with John Demjanjuk’s trial and guilty verdict in 2011.

EGOWiG was the focus of a combination of a novel and a film that one should see and even talk about. The Collini Case was a novel written by Ferdinand von Schirach in 2011. The plot of the story was set in Berlin, where a retired person of Italian descent, named Collini, stormed a company owned by Jean-Baptiste Meyer and shot him three times at point blank range, killing him instantly. He then turned himself in when police arrived at the crime scene. He was represented by the defense lawyer Caspar Leinen. After not being able to meet halfway even in terms of communication, Leinen, who is the protagonist in the story, goes to Collini’s hometown of Montecatini in Italy, where the lawyer finds out the horrifying truth behind the killer’s motives. Leinen gets help from his father, who researches the atrocities committed during the Nazi occupation, and a woman named Nina, who is a student of business and Italian.

It was revealed that Meyer was a Nazi commandant who stormed an Italian town seeking revenge for the murders of two of his comrades. Using the 10 to two ratio, he ordered the execution of 20 of the townsmen, including Collini’s father, which Collini himself was forced by Meyer to watch the execution. The incident was one of many committed by the Nazis during its two-year occupation of Italy, where nearly 100,000 citizens of different social and ethnic backgrounds lost their lives. Attempts to bring Meyer to court by Collini and his sister failed in 1968. Then he remained silent until his sister’s death in 2001, the year of the story setting, where he committed his act of revenge on Meyer.

The story has a lot of twists and turns which started off with some memories of Leinen, when Meyer himself took him in for adoption when he was a child. Then there were memories of him and his close friend Johanna, who was Meyer’s granddaughter, whom Meyer himself parented when she lost both her parents and brother in a car accident in 1991, yet it becomes strained when Leinen represented Collini in the court case and pushed to the breaking point when she learned of the crimes her grandfather had committed while Leinen presented the facts. What led to the exultation of the defendant was the testimony of the prosecutor, whom Leinen questioned about his involvement in the EGOWiG ruling in 1968. The prosecutor, who was close to retirement, had played the role of the antagonist and tried very hard to bring Collini to justice and keep the EGOWiG a permanent secret, something that he failed in the end.

The novel was converted to a film by written by Christian Zübert, Robert Gold, and Jens-Frederik Otto, and was directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner. Released in 2019, the film starred Elyas M’Barek, who had previously starred in the Fack ju Göthe trilogy as well as voiced the German version of Paddington Bear. Collini was played by Franco Nero. The film has been nominated for accolades in both Germany as well as in Isreal but has won just the Haugesund Filmfestival Award in 2020. Still, after watching the entire film in its entirety, it will likely receive more accolades for its work, especially as it features historic fiction with a story based on events that happened in the past.

Events like that of the EGOWiG. The film and the novel is important for much of the attempts to sweep the tragedies under the rug still exist to this day. We don’t need to look further than the incident in Washington, DC on January 6th of this year, when outgoing US President Donald Trump marched onto the Capitol demanding that the votes from the November 6th Elections be overturned, only to watch thousands of his followers storm onto the grounds and into the building in what is now called the Insurrection.  These events drew stark parallels to the burning of the Reichtstag Building in Berlin in 1932, prior to Hitler’s rise to power. But attempts on the part of Trump’s supporters to turn a blind eye at the expense of those who defended the Capitol, let alone those who want to get down to the bottom of the incident has the same pattern as when Germany tried to exonerate those involved as a Nazi during Hitler’s regime with the EGOWiG. Still, like the Collini Case shows, no matter how hard a person tries to ignore it, or even cover it up, the constant variable that always prevail is justice. The truth will always be uncovered and justice will be served, no matter how and no matter the consequences. And even when Collini was at peace when the ECOWiG was exposed in the court trial towards the end, justice did have its consequences both affecting the past as well as the present.

The question that is left from this review is what happens when such exposures like this one in the novel and film, affects the future, in terms of friendships, careers and the like. This depends on how the affected are able or even willing embrace this new discovery. As a general rule, such discoveries bring out the real characters in a person. There are those who are willing to get it over with and be at peace. There are those who are not willing to hear it and want to continue as is.  The Collini Case provides us with this food for thought: Actions impact the future of the person who committed it. What was done in the past will be uncovered in the future.

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Genre: Castle on the Hill

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This Genre profile is also a classroom activity to be used to talk about memories and past tense. This song, Castle on the Hill, was written by Ed Sheeran and released two years later. It focuses on memories of a childhood where one experiences his ups and downs, his firsts and lasts, his friends and foes, and his love for the land he grew up. It talks about friendships and love, experiences that are worth remembering and those that are worth forgetting, and lastly what has changed between now and the time then. Have a look at the piece that is worth watching and listening to:

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Now comes the exercises that are worth doing. You can do one or all of them, but they all talk about the same thing- memories of growing up.

  • Experiences- Make a list of personal experiences you had in your childhood, both good and bad. Then choose one out of each and tell us a story about the experience- when it happened, why you did it and the result. Most importantly, each story must include a lesson to share with everyone.
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  • Friends- Make a list of friends with whom you hung around with during your childhood. Then you can do one or more of the following:

_Who was your best friend? Tell us about him/her?

_Tell us about your circle of friends- each one about his/her life, characteristics, like/dislikes/ hobbies, etc., and what happened to them in the present.

_Your experiences hanging out with your friends- what you normally did and the events that happened that were good or bad

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  • Place of childhood- Tell us about the place where you grew up. What did the community have while you were growing up and what has changed between now and then.
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  • Favorite Foods- Tell us your favorite foods you had while growing up and why you liked it so much. Would you recommend it to others and if so, why? Apply this to other topics, like TV shows/movies, music, books/magazines, cars, places to visit, etc. Anything that comes to heart and mind and you wish to talk about.
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  • Life with your family- What kind of family did you have? Tell us about your parents and siblings. What kind of life did you have with the family? Some events that happened that had a defining moment in your life would be helpful but not a must.
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  • What things did you wish you could have done but didn’t? Every single one of us has done this and has a list of regrets. List them and ask what would have happened had you done what you regretted not having done.
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  • Random Questions. Then feel free to add a few questions of your own on some index cards and have your students pick a card, read the question and talk about it. The questions must have to do with childhood memories and must be appropriate for classroom use.

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The song itself received numerous accolades and ended up as nr. 2 in the hit charts in most countries. It’s one song where you can close your eyes and return to the day of what you were as a child, reliving the days and trying to ask yourself, what-if. Therefore, it’s worth listening to in class, but just as valuable sharing your childhood experiences, regardless of where you came from and what you experienced. Our past helps us determine who we are at present but provides lessons to the future generations.

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Genre Profile: Be Legendary by Pop Evil

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There are heroes and then there are legendsheroes get remembered but legends never die.– Averstu.com

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In our first Genre Profile (formerly Genre of the Week) in ages, this song came to mind when we talk about legends. The past year and a half brought out not only the best in everyone but also legends. Doctors, nurses, law enforcement, journalists, teachers (among them) but also the common person have risked their lives to help others who were badly in need of help but have been left in the dust because of greed and ignorance.

It leads to the question of how we want to be remembered- specifically how we perceive ourselves in front of everyone and how we can make a difference.

And this is what the song is all about. Produced by the American rock music group Pop Evil, the plot looks at a group of people who find a relict of their youth- a video game machine sitting disused for many years- and decide to relive the moment when they became heroes in their game, answering all of the questions, many of which include all the „what-ifs“.

The song not only focuses on the past but it also sends a message which is „Now is our time. How do we want to be remembered?“ 

And this is where we start off with a good conversation with the older generations, asking them about their lives and how they would like to be remembered. Sometimes a look in the past can help us in the present dictate what our future should be like.  Something to think about as you listen to this song……..

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The Threat to Democracy by Amanda Gorman

I found this quote through a friend of mine recently, which bests describe what is happening to our democracy at present. It’s from Amanda Gorman and it is based on what we had to endure during the Presidency of Donald Trump, as well as in Europe, where certain governments in the east have taken over and stripped people of their rights to a freedom of speech-namely in Hungary, Turkey, Poland and Belarus. The influence from China and Russia may have played a role in this, yet one should know how democracy has managed to prevail, even against the most brutal of regimes. We just have to take the Revolution of 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany, combined with the creation and expansion of the European Union as examples of how people fought for their rights to be heard. The elections of 2020 in the USA with Joe Biden winning it made a clear statement that democracy is not just for the privileged, it’s for everyone.

And with that, the quote:

We’ve seen a force that

would rather shatter our nation rather than share it,

would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed,

it can never be permanently defeated.

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Some food for thought here……

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A Wish and a Decidation that Made it Happen- Coca Cola Christmas Commercial

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What is your wish for Christmas and what would it take for your wish to come true? This is the main theme for a truly, heart-wrenching commercial that was released in the media by Coca-Cola this year. The first Coca-cola commercial with Santa came in 1986, with the Santa train being introduced in the late 1990s. And while people can associate the Santa train with the Coca-Cola commercials, not to mention the title oft he song, The Real Thing by the late Melanie Thorton, this commercial hits the spot because of the love and dedication that it took to make the wish happen.

So have a look at the commercial and think about what you wish for- carefully. Then ask yourself what it would take to make this wish come true.

As a bonus, enjoy the song, The Real Thing by Melanie Thorton……..

I myself have a personal wish for you all, which you will find in the Advent Calendar that you will see quite soon.

Happy Holidays! 🕯️🕯️❤️❄️☕☃️🎄⛪🎁🎉⛄🌨️🤠🚛🚛🚛

Genre: Lovely Day

This next genre article takes us back to the year 1977. It was that year that Lovely Day was first released and it appeared on the radio waves. Produced by Bill Withers (1938-2020), Lovely Day made it to the record books when Wither sang and held one note for 18 seconds towards the end of the song. That record held until 2000 when Morton Harket surpassed it by 2 seconds in the Summer Moved On (as part of the group A-ha). The song made it into the top 10 in the R&B Charts in the US as well as the overall charts in Great Britain, and was the most loved song in France at the time of its release.

Lovely Day has a setting similar to the rising sun on a new day, where everything that had happened the day before belongs to the past and it is time to move on and enjoy the new day and what is in front of us. After what we have dealt with in the past year, with 2020 being the year to forget with the Corona Virus, Donald Trump’s tirade, divisions and warfare as well as Querdenker and Qanons trying to undermine the power of authority and democracy, 2021 and beyond should be treated like a lovely day, where we can break away and embrace in the new. This was the meaning behind the original song, as you will see in the concert below:

Lovely Day was reproduced twice since its original release. The first remake was produced by the Soul System with Michelle Visage in 1992 for the soundtrack The Bodyguard starring Kevin Costner and Witney Houston. That song belonged to the early years of rap music in America but has a unique rhythm which made it a popular dance song during the early 1990s.

The second remake was in connection with the film The Secret Life of Pets 2 and was released by LunchMoney Lewis and Amine in 2019. The song was presented in the end credits of the film as the Withers version was presented at the beginning. Yet unlike the original version, the newest remake does not follow the musical patterns of the previous two, yet lyrical elements from the Withers version were integrated into this song together with the dancing rhythm from the Soul System version.

The three songs share one key element and that it symbolizes the beginning of something brand new, leaving the past behind and moving on to something different, correcting every wrong and pursuing something right. It goes beyond the rising sun, it goes beyond the plan to do something. It has to do with turning the page and just doing it. After all, life is not all games and competition, it is the pursuit of happiness and righteousness for onesself and the people around them. Something to think about as you listen to the three pieces each stemming from different eras, but all of them have the same theme, the same taste and the same rhythm.

The Corona Poem by Marilia Escramona

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In connection with the Covid-19 Virus, here’s a Poem written by one of the members of the English Teacher community that explains it all: the advantages of and the joys of staying home and being safe from the virus that hasn’t seem to slow down or even stop. Enjoy this homemade poetry:

East or West

Home is the best

Take some rest

Don’t call guest

Enjoy home fest

No outing zest

It’s a life-saving test

So, be in your nest.

 

This is my request.

 

This was our home in the US in North Carolina. Note the front yard. This house was about 3,000 square feet of space (278 square meters). We lived in a sub-division outside of Raleigh, NC, and in our sub-division there were about 10 different architectural styles you could choose from.  Also, because of the wood construction, an internet wifi signal was able to be received anywhere in the house without any extenders.

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Greatness is Upon You

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I was presented with a motivational video from one of my students who talked about Track and Field the other day. It’s a speech on the life of a person and how he/she can make a difference during the time on Earth. Most importantly is how the person will be remembered. The motivational speech and everything that has to do with the sport says it all.

 

 

In these troubling times, like we have now, we’re at the crossroads and the question is: Is the country we’re living in the place you want to live in? If not, how do you want to change it?  Something to think about, preferrably outside social media, which is why I’m signing off for the weekend.

Peace ❤

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FlFi10

Genre of the Week: A Tribute to the Swing

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This week’s Genre of the Week pays a tribute to some of the greatest soul and R&B (rhythm and blues) singers who have passed recently. One of them happened to be the predecessor to Elvis Presley in terms of fame during the infancy of rock music, Little Richard. Known as the Innovator, the Originator and the Architect of Rock and Roll, Little Richard was known as the person who created rock and roll with its combination of piano, brass and swing, and set the foundation for other artists of his time to follow suit, namely, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Eddie Cochran and especially, Elvis, who later became the King of Rock and Roll. While Little Richard provided the swing, especially with his smash hit, Tutti Frutti (released in 1955), other musicians experimented with instruments which led to rock music splitting into its many forms later on during the 60s, 70s, and 80s, such as heavy metal, R&B, dance (including disco) and pop music. Little Richard continued his career in R&B and soul music, thus leaving 73 years of legacy for many generations to listen to and learn about how rock music was born, raised and fanned out into the forms we listen to today. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. The Swing died on May 9th at the age of 87.

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One of the first things that came to mind upon hearing of his passing was a mixture of swing and rock, where Tutti Frutti was paid a tribute. In 1989, Jive Bunny and the Master Mixers created a mix of techno, pop, jazz, classic rock and swing with the release of Swing the Mood.

Little Richard’s masterpiece was included together with what other pieces of music? Hint: One of them was a song by Elvis, another was first used in a TV sitcom Happy Days. There are two versions. Listen to them and try to figure out who sang what song and in which year. Enjoy this one as we pay tribute to Little Richard.

Short Version:

 

Long (12 Inch Record) Version:

 

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Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers also had two other songs that were released, paying tribute to classic rock and swing, That’s What I Like and Let’s Party. They too were released in 1989 and all three of them reached Nr. 1 in the Bilboards. The group from Yorkshire, England later became known as Mastermix DJ Music Service and to this day, produce music and dance mixes for radio and for online streaming.

 

Fl Fi USA