Paying Tribute to Tina Turner

Photo by Aldiyar Seitkassymov on


Simply the best and better than all the rest. That would be the signature statement for the Queen of Rock, Tina Turner, who died yesterday at her home in Zürich at the age of 83. Millions of tributes have been pouring in, as with obituaries like the one in the link below:

When I think of Tina Turner, I think of the Crottendorfer incense figure (Räuchermann) shaped like a Christmas tree that is named Tina Tanne. Whoever made this must have been a Tina Turner fan. 😉

Growing up as an 80s kid, I enjoyed all of her hits when played on the radio and even have the very best hits on CD. But if there was one hit that really stands out, it’s this one:

Released in 1984, it was not only the hit that helped her launch her solo career; it was also used in the TV series Miami Vice that same year in one of the episodes. It was found in the closing scene where the two characters, Crockett and Tubbs return to Miami at sundown after completing their case in the Bahamas. And like the two characters, Tina’s farewell could best be described as that: On a boat and riding off into the sunset, simply the best after over 60 years in the business.

Many thanks for what you did. You will be missed by many! ❤



From the Attic: The Ghost Army

Photo by Art Guzman on

A few months ago, in one of my English classes, a student presented a topic that most of us probably don’t know about unless you relate it to a popular film. The topic was called the Ghost Army.

When we think of the topic Ghost Army, the first thing that comes to mind is the third film of the trilogy Lord of the Rings, where in the first of two climatic battle scenes, Aragom and his two other companions, Gimil and Legolas arrive with the Army of the Dead, ghosts from the past, to successfully defeat the Orcs, Haradims and the Witch King at the Battle of Dethenor. Here’s a clip of that scene below:


In this case, the Ghost Army that we are talking about is in relation with World War II. In 1944, a crew of the 23rd Special Headquartered Unit of the United States Army was created. With 1100 troops at their disposal, the mission was to deceive the Nazi Troops and Adolf Hitler by misleading them to remote locations, buying time for the Allies march into Germany and towards Berlin. The Ghost Army was created in Camp Pine, New York by Ralph Ingersoll and Billy Harris, and led by Colonel Harry L. Leeder. It was inspired by the British units who had used similar deception techniques in their successful operations in Operation Bertram during the battle of El Alamein in late 1942. The unit arrived in Europe in full combat in January 1944 and remained there until after the war ended in 1945.

The unit consisted of artists, actors, strategists and geniuses with a mission of misleading Hitler’s troops by creating fake military outlets and equipment, designed to make the Nazis believe that the troops were there when in all reality, they were hundreds of miles elsewhere. Even Theodor Geissel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) was one of the members of this special group. Nazi Germany had an upper hand with technology and warfare, including the Blitzkrieg, which was very successful during the early half of the war as it conquered almost all of Europe and the western parts of the Soviet Union. It was the mission of the US Army, with help of the British, to outsmart and outfox the Nazis through the use of the Ghost Army.

There are several videos that talk about the success of the Ghost Army. This one, provided by National Museum of American Jewish Military History, looks at the history of the Ghost Army from start to the end, looking at all the techniques used to twart the Nazis. They include some of the figures that played key roles in the success of the army. The video was cut up into chapters and one can play them at their convenience, let alone use them for history class on any level. Take a look at them and enjoy!

If you want a more compacted version, here is a 20-minute version that will summarize the history of the Ghost Army:

The story of the Ghost Army was kept secret for more than 50 years. In 1996, the information was finally declassified and in February 2022, members of the Ghost Army were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, for their unique and highly distinguished service. Since 1996, there have been several documentaries and interviews about the success of the Ghost Army. Originally, we knew of other war techniques that were used to defeat Nazi Germany, from Scorched Earth (practiced for centuries by Russia/ Soviet Union), to code-breaking (practiced by the Navajo Tribes), to assasins and mobs (practiced mainly by the French), to Wasps (practiced by Britain’s RAF and America’s Air Force). Yet somehow, historians have wondered what other techniques were used apart from that. The story of the Ghost Army is very new and still in its infancy. But with much of the War Generation passing on, it is important that their stories are told by the next generations in order to understand how important they were in winning the war and freeing Europe from the grasp of fascism and national socialism. The Ghost Army was one that was unknown for many decades, but it is one that for generations to come will be remembered as one of the key aspects to winning World War II.

To my student who presented this topic, on behalf of us historians and English teachers, as well as the families of the Ghost Army members who fought successfully in the name of freedom and democracy, you have our thanks! 🙂


Wake Awake, For the Night is Flying

Photo by David Bartus on

To start off the Christmas Calendar Series, I would like to start with a choral song that marks the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ. Philipp Nicolai (1568-1608) in 1599 wrote the original music piece in German entitled “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (in English: Awake, the voice is calling us). It was a Lutheran piece that was played in churches across Prussia and other German-speaking regions for several centuries. Even Johann Sebastian Bach added his version of the piece to his cantata under the title Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140 (Sleepers Awake) in 1724. The first English translation of the piece was produced in 1858 by Catherine Winkworth, which was later followed by two more versions written by Francis Crawford Burkitt in 1906 and George Ratcliffe Woodward two years later.

All three versions are based on the works of Nicolai where the text in the piece was derived from  the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1–13). Nicolai refers to other biblical ideas, such as from Revelations the mentioning of marriage (Revelation 19:6–9) and the twelve gates, every one of pearl (Revelation 21:21), and from the First Epistle to the Corinthians the phrase “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The irony of the whole story was Nicolai had written the original masterpiece during the time a plague wreaked havoc on the town of Unna (near present-day Dortmund in North Rhine-Westphalia) and it was this piece that served as a sign of hope, where people should wake up and see the light of hope for Christ was born and he was the sign of hope.

In this piece, I’m presenting two versions of it. The first one was written by F. Melius Christiansen (1871- 1955). This was written during the time he conducted the St. Olaf College Choir from 1912 to 1944. His children would later find success at my alma mater, Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, Paul J. Christiansen (1914- 1997) would follow his father’s footsteps as choir director and composer there, having established a long-held traditional Christmas concerts, held on campus and in Minneapolis every year for over a half century.

This piece by F. Melius is conducted primarily in C natural major and can be performed on the high school and college level. I remember having sung this with my high school choir in Jackson, Minnesota many years ago and the resonance from the song has remained in memory ever since. This example seen below was performed by the St. Olaf College Choir in 2018, F. Melius’ alma mater.

The second version is a women’s acapella chamber piece conducted by the Dominican Sisters of Mary- Mother of the Eucharist. It was founded by John O’Connor in Nashville, Tennessee in 1997 and follows the chasm of the Dominican Order. The choir is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This piece, sung in E-flat major, resembles a church piece as it is sung in verses, each one having a refrain at the end, yet this one is best performed in a chamber of a monastery. Its echoes can be felt throughout the church no matter where the person is at.

And like in the past few years, where trials and tribulations seemed to be dominant in our lives, with war, the Covid-19 virus and a lot of uncertainty, I hope this season will bring hope to all those who need it. This piece seems to be our starting point as we have to look for the hope that has been missing for sometime. We all have it, it’s a question of just finding it.


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


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.


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.


Photo by Raka Miftah on


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.


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.


2021 German Garden Show (BuGa) in Erfurt

What city in central Germany has the highest number of churches, bridges and people in the state of Thuringia and has two universities, dozens of parks, two main bike trails and miles of forest. It’s one of the oldest known towns in Germany and has the largest cathedral in the eastern half of Germany. It has a unique Christmas market which features its own domino stein cubes, homemade and very tasty. And it is this year’s venue for the 2021 German Garden Show (BuGa).

Any guesses?

It’s Erfurt. With a population of 230,000 inhabitants, Erfurt is located near the junction of two major motorways- the A4 between Dresden and Aachen and the A71 between Sangerhausen and Bavaria. It is the northernmost city in the Thuringian Forest region, which extends to the south and west towards Oberhof, Eisenach and Meiningen. It has 247 bridges total, though the most famous is the Krämerbrücke (Merchant’s Bridge), one of four house bridges in Germany. And it has over three dozen churches in and around the city where the river Gera flows through. This includes the world famous Erfurt Cathedral, Erfurter Dom, which hosts its summer music festival every year and has a wonderful backdrop for the Erfurt Christmas Market. And right next door to the cathedral and the market square Domplatz is one of two venues for the 2021 German Garden Show (BuGa), the Petersberg Citadel, which used to house soldiers well into the 1900s.

Erfurt is the place to visit for the 2021 BuGa. The national event is held every two years in a year that ends in an odd number. And while this is the second BuGa in the state of Thuringia (the other event took place in Gera and Ronneburg in 2007), Erfurt is no stranger to gardening and horticulture for it hosted the garden show for East Germany in 1950, the very first show of its kind in the newly created Communist state. Furthermore, Erfurt is one of the places in Thuringia where you can find the herbs and spices all homegrown, together with wild flowers, plants and other vegetation.

The concept of the BuGa was introduced in 2011 while I was teaching at the University of Applied Sciences. I had the pleasure of seeing the place live with my family most recently, and the first and ever lasting impression I had with Erfurt’s BuGa is “Lokales ist alles.” (Local is everything). Yet it has two key themes to pay attention to: water and bees. What does the BuGa in Erfurt have to offer in comparison with previous BuGa’s?


The 2021 BuGa in Erfurt is laid out in two parts. The first part is located at the Petersberg Citadel, located next to the Erfurt Cathedral to the north. The Citadel was built in 1665 and is located on the hill that overlooks the city. The citadel was used first as a fortress to defend the city but was also a military compound that had been occupied by armies of eight different regimes until German Reunification in 1990. This included occupations by Sweden, Prussia, Napoleon, the German Empire, the Nazis, the Soviets and the Volksarmee- the East German army.  The facility has underwent an extensive makeover since then and has been occupied by a combination of city and state agencies, including the Thuringia Archives. It also hosts local events on the complex, be it outdoors or inside one of the restored buildings. The area is protected by preservation laws and is a National Heritage Site.  The Citadel presents a splendid view of the city center of Erfurt, including all of Domplatz and the Cathedral.

The second part of the BuGa is at Ega-Park on the western end of Erfurt. Known as the largest park in Erfurt, Ega-Park was once the site of another citadel, one that was the predecessor to the Petersberg. From the 12th Century until 1604, the Citadel Cyriaksburg once existed at the site and was used as a combination fortress and military complex. It lost its military importance when the Petersberg was built, and at the end of World War I, it was converted into a garden complex. The largest building remaining from Cyriaksburg was converted into a garden museum in 1995.

The fountains at the entrance to ega-Park


 It was at this site that the first Garden Show in East Germany was hosted in 1950. 11 years later, the International Garden Exhibition (IGA) was created, but under the name International Garden Exhibition of the Socialist States. Although there had been previous international exhibitions, the current IGA exists to this day based on the Erfurt model. Ega-Park is conveniently located between the convention center Erfurt-Messe and the Media Park, where the German TV stations MDR and KIKA (Children’s Channel) are located. Some of the cartoon characters from KIKA can be found as statues throughout Erfurt, including not only EGA Park but also in the City Center, Anger. Ega-Park is reachable via street car, which also takes you to the Airport in Bindersleben, located about 10 km west of Erfurt.


If you wish to visit the BuGa in Erfurt, you might want to visit the Petersberg first. It has nothing to do with its approximation from the City Center nor from the Cathedral, for stores are open during the daytime except Sundays in the City Center and at the Cathedral, there are markets and other events. The tour of the Citadel will take you, at the most, a half a day. Apart from being greeted with a variety of wild flowers and vegetation upon crossing the bridge into the facility, the Citadel features variety of displays and activities that will fulfill a person’s day.

After seeing some of the plants and getting a soaker with the spitting fountain at the court area, one can visit the origins of the garden through a combination of religious, spiritual and natural exhibit in the Paradise House, much of it presented in hologram. Adjacent to the Paradise House, one will find a combination of eateries and small shops in the long houses that stretch for up to 100 meters in length. Especially in the small shops will a person find everything that is made in Thuringia and one will almost never find in supermarkets, anywhere from herb liquours and mustards to homemade wines and marmalades. There are also seeds available as well as some books about Erfurt’s history. The eateries feature local specialties and you have the option of eating indoors as well as outdoors under the parasols. Given the current situation with the Covid-19 viruses and their variants, the outdoor areas are spread out and one can eat and social distance without risking infection.

One of many playgrounds at the BuGa.


To the north of the court area, one will be greeted with many forms of entertainment. This include many playgrounds and the long slides, with fancy, modernized playground equipment to satisfy everyone of all ages. Not far from there is the live events that take place going down the hill and behind the complex. This includes small concerts and even live chess.  We had a chance to watch a game live with two opponents ordering their live armies to “move and attack.” This live chess event is sponsored by the German Chess Federation (DSB).

After watching the live chess match, one should not forget the Creative Gardens section, which features creative gardening and different flowers, all lined up along the northern gate and the Festwiese and includes a cultural section where various food and drink from different areas of the globe plus entertainment are found under the orange and white canopy.

Many people don’t know much about the Citadel Petersberg and its history when visiting Erfurt. Yet like in my very first visit in 2010, the Citadel is full of surprises for the young and old. One will find a lot about the place and the exhibits when being there for a few hours. It is one place that you will walk away from- more impressed with what it offers on the inside than when you enter the complex from the outside. And it goes well beyond the grand view of Erfurt’s City Center and Cathedral.


There is an old saying when it comes to a place like Ega:  Come early and stay the whole day.  As mentioned in the introduction of Ega, the park complex is the largest of all of Erfurt’s parks and it fits into the top 10 of the largest city parks in the state of Thuringia. It would be in competition with the best looking parks with the likes of Leipzig, Bad Muskau, Berlin and even Munich. When visiting the BuGa site at Ega, one needs a whole day- from opening time at 9:00am until its closing at 8:00pm.

Ega Park is spread out along the main street, Gothaer Strasse with two entrances on each end, plus another one on the opposite end. Twenty Gardens- each with different themes-, three exhibition halls, a half dozen parks, one swimming area and tens of thousands of different types of flowers, plants and trees dominate the 36-acre area. In addition to that, the German TV-Station MDR hosts its weekly Sunday Garden Show on these grounds, and its exhibit can be found on the grounds. And lastly, an observation tower, using the remains of the former citadel can be found on the southeastern corner, where one can view all of Erfurt and other areas, as far as the eye can see, from the Thuringian Forest to the plains area to the north and east. Even the tower of the former Buchenwald concentration camp and parts of Weimar can be seen- from 30 km away!

The Observation Tower at ega-Park

While it’s impossible to include everything into the Ega-Park portion of the BuGa Tour Guide, I’m only going to make a few recommendations for you to visit if you want to at least get to the most important places first.

Exhibit Hall 1 (Halle 1):  This is located at the main entrance to the Ega-Park complex and there, it hosts monthly exhibits, all of which have to do with gardening and horticulture. Whether it includes pottery or exotic vegetation, the exhibits provide a person with a detailed insight into the topic and provide some ideas for their garden.

Japanese Garden: This was probably our most recommended place to visit. The garden features a combination of Japanese architecture and rocky landscapes with a gorgeous waterfall. Many exotic plants that are typical of Japan can be found there, as well as a pavilion and a pair of bridges built using local architecture.

Sculpture Garden: Located next to the Observation Tower, the gardens feature a display of sculptures and plants- each sculpture representing a scene from a fairy tale written by German authors.

Danakil Desert and Jungle Exhibition Hall: This was the most impression of the Ega-Park portion of the BuGa for the exhibition hall was designated solely for the purpose of addressing the most important theme that we are facing increasingly today, which is water. The hall features an exhibit on the desert with a gallery of cacti and other plants that adapt to the hot and dry conditions. The other half features the jungle section resembling the Amazon Rain Forest. Each one feature rare live animals on display, including exotic butterflies and frogs, as well as desert prairie dogs.  This hall itself, you need two hours to walk through and allow for the information to sink in on how important water really is for everyone.

Bee’s Exhibit: Located on the south end of Ega-Park, near the Rose Garden, the Bee’s Exhibit presents visitors with not only the history of bee-keeping, but also ways to help the bees through plants and other measures. It includes a gallery of “bee-friendly” plants. Bee’s are the other topic of interest for this year’s BuGa as they are facing an increasing threat of extinction caused by overfarming and urbanization. Yet the bees were plenty at the BuGa in general for one will see a bee pollinate for every third plant- on average. In other words, thousands of bees of different types can be found no matter where you walk in the BuGa.

Other noteworthy places to consider include the Gardens of Karl Foerster (1874- 1970), a gardener who popularized the use of grasses and other plants for gardening, the space observatory next to the Japanese Garden, which was also a venue for some concerts, the Iris Garden and Water Fountain, the Rose Garden and lastly, the large flower field that extends the entire length of the Ega-Park Complex. A garden featuring plants from its sister city, Mainz, must not be excluded from the list.


The 2021 Erfurt Garden Show (BuGa) brings together several themes that will have a person think about them after spending a couple days there. It goes well beyond tourism, which despite the ongoing fight against Covid-19, the city has attracted thousands since its opening in April. It brings together local culture and specialties that are typical in the region. It also brings forth the importance of our planet and the environment for the two main ingredients of human life- bees and water- will play an even bigger role in how we want to live in the coming decade and beyond. It brings children together as they are treated with lots of activities to enjoy. It brings together art and creativity for gardening and conservation brings out the best among people who work in these areas. And lastly, it brings out the appreciation and love that we have for our plants, both near and far. If there is a saying that best fits this BuGa, it would be this:

Plants bring us creativity. We find ways to protect them and let them grow, they will in turn find creative ways to help us. If we start finding creative ways to help them, we will be rewarded in the end.

Click here to find out how you can purchase a ticket for the 2021 German Garden Show (BuGa) in Erfurt. There are plenty of rates available for people of all ages and groups. They also include the free usage of public transportation, which includes all of Erfurt’s buses and trams, but also for the VMT, which includes train service along the Jena-Weimar-Erfurt-Eisenach corridor as well as within Thuringia.

Hotels in Erfurt may be too expensive. Therefore other lodging possibilities in small towns between Erfurt and Weimar as well as to the north and west should be considered. As a tip, call the hotels and bed and breakfasts directly instead of booking through for a direct call will give you cheaper rates than with online booking.

The 2021 German Garden Show in Erfurt runs from April 23rd through October 10th.  Afterwards, the next Garden Show will be held in 2023 in Mannheim.

A photo exhibit of the 2021 BuGa taken by the author and his family can be found by clicking here. Enjoy the pics! 🙂

Genre of the Week: The Collini Case

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on

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.


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:


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


  • 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.


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.


Why History Mustn’t Be Forgotten But Talked About



“History is History. It’s the Future we should worry about.”  That was a comment one of my students in English class mentioned last year as we talked about the events involving World War II. In a way if the younger generations were not living or haven’t experienced the past of their forefathers, it would be easy to say it’s time to move on and worry about the present.

However, History is History and our history can reshape the future we should worry about- more than ever before.  Germany has had its share of history, which makes it one of the most unique countries to use as reference. It survived two World Wars, 45 years of division with the Wall (or should I say Walls) and with that two different political systems. It went through three revolutions (1848, 1953 and 1989), the third of which resulted in German Reunification and all this time, it went through series of transformation in terms of architecture and infrastructure. It was the forerunner of the Autobahn, it developed the first city underwater canal system, it developed and expanded shipping canals to connect all bodies of water. It even built the finest historic bridges- many of which are still intact despite withstanding war and wear.  It produced the finest writers, like Schiller and Goethe and the best musicians we still listen to, like Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and Mendelsohn. All of these accomplishments but also trials and tribulations were remembered- through the preservation of historic places and the creation of monuments, statues and memorials. Even the Stolperstein- small bricks with memorials of those who perished in the Holocaust, can be seen on German streets today.

Can you imagine pieces of history, like the concentration camps, remnants of the Berlin Wall and the border that used to divide Germany into West and East, statues of controversial figures and the like disappearing from memory?  Many Germans have attempted to try that but the wounds are too deep and the scars still fresh, even though World War II ended 75 years ago and Germany was reunited as a whole 30 years ago. We will never be able to erase history, no matter how we try and do that.

Yet it is happening in the United States right now. Statues of prominent figures who were controversial have fallen, brand names with black people as slogans are being retired, memorials dedicated to the war that had divided the nation are being destroyed. All to protect the black population because they are being considered second class. The paranoia that has come out of the death of George Floyd, who was wrongfully killed by four Minneapolis Police Officers on 25 May, 2020, has brought the issue of racism right up to the forefront. At the same time, the paranoia is destroying the very history that we were taught in schools- how the United States grew up with free states and slave states, that blacks were kidnapped in Africa and shipped to the southern states for use on farms, how they were mistreated. We had a Civil War that put an end to slavery and to a short-lived Confederacy. Still despite being free, the blacks were still being persecuted through segregation and racial profiling. Even the Civil Rights Movement by Martin Luther King didn’t solve the problems of the racial divide. Systemic and systematic racism has been a wound that is bleeding in the United States for centuries. Even when we finally come together to talk about this topic, even in the most uncomfortable way, the scars will never disappear even when the wounds are healed.

It’s July 4th, 2020 and it’s time to think about

The American Question: Who Are We? What have We Done For This Country and The Entire World? How Can We Learn As Americans For The Future?

Based on the German Question that was raised after the end of World War II, we should be raising this question and looking back at our history, not just looking at what we accomplished but looking back at, coping with and lastly, understanding the dark sides. We have had as many dark moments as there are controversial books written about them. The Tulsa Massacre of 1921 is one of those dark events that we never talk about in classroom but is considered a defining moment in the history of racism in the United States. We have controversial figures that also became greats in their times. Some owned slaves but still shaped our country to what it is. Others rounded up Native Americans and put them on reservations and tried assimilating them. We all are guilty of our transgressions but to run away from them and not talk about them is the same as murdering people and then fleeing the country. It’s time we start talking about the most painful parts of the past and come to terms with it. It’s time we teach our generations the real history of our countries and get them to understand why they happened and how we reacted. It’s time to open up to other cultures, whom we’ve persecuted and discriminated for so long and find out who they are and why they suffered all along.

We need to discover all aspects of history and not just the few we preach about in class. History should be a requirement during all of the time in school and history teachers should be well-trained to talk about the hardest of topics, critically, objectively and simplistically, so that we all understand and can think about them. Statues and memorials should be back in their places but talked about in detail- not destroyed or desecrated. We need the Stolpersteins on America’s streets- sidewalk memorials for those whose lives were wrongfully taken- this applies to not only victims of repression and discrimination, but also social tragedies including the school shootings. Books banned from the libraries should be read again so that we all need to understand the history of our country as a whole. And lastly, extremist media- especially those from the far right, should be taken off the air once and for all. In the past four years, there have been too many prominent racists who have stoked hate and division for our country and have degraded all of America’s minorities as well as the country’s neighbors. It’s time to send the likes of Rush Limbaugh and members of One American News Network, Fox News and all of the Trump family packing. In this country, there’s no place for hatred, racism and all kinds of division that has brought the country to the brink of another civil war. Instead of just judging people based on the color of the skin, their socio-economic background and the like, we should be sitting down and talking about the history our country and our identity.

The American Question- Who We Really Are?

And hence, returning to that quote the student said: “History is History. It’s the Future We’re Talking About.”  It’s one that can be interpreted as letting go of the past and looking ahead. Yet with all the problems facing us, we need history more than ever so that we can learn from our past mistakes and use them to shape our future. So in this case, history is history. It’s the history we need to embrace now more than ever before so we can tackle the issues that are important for future generations. It’s one that goes beyond the upcoming elections on November 3rd that will bring change to the country- hopefully for the better. It’s one that will shape our country for years to come.

Enjoy the 4th to my fellow Americans at home and abroad.



Jason Smith




VfB Lübeck Returns to National Stage

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As the Corona-shortened season in Germany comes to end, here are some interesting highlights you will be seeing in the coming weeks this month. We’ll start with the rebirth of one of the more traditional soccer teams in Germany, the VfB Lübeck

LÜBECK- Established in 1919, the 100 year old soccer team once had a tradition of national football, competing in the first and second tiers of the German Soccer Bundesliga through the 1970s. The last time the soccer team competed in the Second League was in 2005. It faced two bankruptcies, one of which (in 2014) sent them to the fifth-class Schleswig-Holstein League. Now, after five years of climbing, the soccer team of VfB Lübeck has returned to the national stage in men’s soccer. The team of green and white won the Regional League North title in a Corona-shortened 2019/20 season, beating out the 2nd Team of VfL Wolfsburg and State Rival Weiche Flensburg 08 to finish with a record of 20 wins, four losses and one tie, with 61 points and outscoring opponents 64-24. Because there was no relegation game between them and the winner of another division of the Regional League, it has advanced outright.

The team will compete in the third tier of the Bundesliga, facing old rivals, like Waldhof Mannheim, FC Kaiserslautern and MSV Duisburg, but also other teams, such as Dresden, Munich (two teams), Rostock and Cologne. It is one of four newcomers that will be entering the national stage, joining FC Saarbrücken (Southwest), FC Verl (West), and Türkgücü Munich (Bavaria). Verl won the relegation round against FC Lok Leipzig from the Northeast League yesterday despite finishing tied in both games. Interestingly enough will be how Lübeck will fare out in the next season and beyond. With ist top Performance this past Season, it is one that others will have to watch out for. 

Lübeck is the second team from Schleswig-Holstein to compete on the national stage alongside Holstein Kiel in the Second League. This leaves us with Weiche Flensburg and VfL Oldenburg that are waiting in line to enter the stage. While Flensburg has established an international reputation in handball through SG Flensburg-Handewitt, the soccer team has come close to making it to the national level, having lost to Energie Cottbus in the relegation round in 2018. Still, the team has a clear shot chance to finally making it when the 20/21 season starts in August.


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.