Corona Virus: The Response, The Solution. An Interview and Speech with Bill Gates

photo of person using magnifying glass while holding a glass slide
Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

For each pandemic, there is also a silverlining. Be it the development of medicine. Be it the measures that are in place to protect people from being infected. Be it the people who are helping the infected- doctors, nurses, researchers and others in the field of medicine.  Be it the people who have done a lot of work in this field but have for the large part been ignored.

People like Bill and Melinda Gates.

Together with Paul Allen, Bill Gates founded Microsoft in 1975. Ten years later, Gates introduced a Windows program for personal computers. Both of which were in connection with Mr. Gates’ experience with developing software in the 1970s which would eventually define how we use personal computers today.  Gates is one of the richest people in the world.  Together with Melinda, they established the Gates Foundation, which focuses on public policy and public health. They have been known as one of the most generous philanthropists of all time.

Over the past decade, Gates has provided information and warnings about the potential of a new virus forming that will be equal to the Spanish Flu of over a century ago. From 1918 to 1921 the flu infected as many as 500 million globally and killed a tenth of that population.  The causes of the flu stemmed from World War I.  With the Corona Virus, that is being followed more closely as there are talks of the virus coming in waves, the second one being the deadlier form than the first. Yet the causes of the virus has been wide spread. Some have pointed to a mishap in one of the labs. Others (even the majority) have claimed that the environmental degradation caused by development of cities and agriculture, combined with climate change, may have triggered the first of several deadly virus that could kill off the global population en masse.  In either case, governments have not paid attention to the dangers……

until now.

To better understand the missing warning signs and how we can respond now to Co-Vid 19 and even to other viruses that will succeed Corona, I’ve presented a pair of TED Talks on this topic, as addressed by Bill Gates.  The first one talks about the virus we were not even close of being prepared. It was a TED Talk done in March 2015:

 

The second one is a 50+ minute interview on the possible responses to the current virus, including how The Gates Foundation is responding to the virus.  One needs to keep in mind that Corona is the first of many viruses that will affect global society in many ways- one even more drammatic than the other.

A separate article that follows (you can click here to read) looks at the lessons we can learn from the Corona Virus from his point of view. Please takes all of these points by heart for we are now living in the new norm, where instead of nuclear weapons and guns, the health of our state- both involving the human body (physio and psycho) as well as the environment will become our top concern, and for generations to come.

 

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An Interview With Fiona Pepper

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How difficult is it to understand the language of another person’s tongue?  This is something that many of us have dealt with, especially when traveling to/ in a foreign country. It is even more difficult when you are learning the language of the country you are living in, only to find that no one understands you because of the dialect and accent you use. Take German, for instance. Most of the non-native speakers of German speak high German, yet when communicating it with someone from a region with a different dialect, such as Mecklenburg-Pommerania (with its Plattdeutsch), Franconia in Bavaria, or even Schwabia in Baden-Wurrtemberg, they not only may not understand what you are saying. In fact, they may respond with their own dialect, which despite living in the country for many year, you may not be able to understand at all.

I have to admit, I was taken aback when my former boss at a German university, who had spent 12 years in Scotland, once told me that my American accent was too strange to understand, even though it is Chicago-style, the dialect that is considered high American English and spoken in the Midwest, where I originate (I’m a Minnesotan, by the way). An article about this subject can be found here.

But suppose our language is indeed strange to understand?

Last year, the Flensburg Files profiled a genre of the week entitled Skwerl, starring Karl Eccleson and Fiona Pepper, to show how a foreign language can be strange from an outsider’s point of view, featuring an activity for students learning English or any foreign language to try and decipher . Admittedly, as a teacher of English, I tried it with my students, only to find that there were many interpretations as to how the characters behaved toward each other in the five-minute skit. One of many questions the students had was what exactly happened in the story.

Well, I took a chance to find out for myself by interviewing Fiona Pepper. Absent from acting for two years and is now a radio broadcaster in Australia, Ms. Pepper took a few minutes of her time to answer some questions I had for her. For those who guessed that the couple would break up, you will be amazed as to what she mentions about Skwerl and and how a person can interpret the story from many angles.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

  1. Tell us about yourself: Why go from actress to radio host? How many years have you done both?

I studied acting at a well-respected Australian drama school called Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts (WAAPA), I worked as an actor for around 6 years and during that time I was involved in the making of Skwerl. I’ve mainly worked in theatre as well as acting in some films and commercials. I’ve now been work in radio for around 2 years. I decided to study radio because I felt frustrated working as an actor and not feeling in control of my career trajectory. There are many parallels between radio and acting and really when it comes down to it radio is simply another form of story telling.

  1. How many (short) films had you made before making the career change to radio host?

I had been working as an actor for around 6 years before I moved into radio, I’m not sure of the exact amount of short films/ films I had made in that time.

  1. Skwerl was released in 2011 and your role was the woman who makes a special meal for the boyfriend (played by Karl Eccleson). Can you briefly describe the character and her changes in personality in the story?

The character is a mid 20’s woman who is in a serious relationship, she lives with her partner and in the film they have a disagreement over her partner’s decision not to attend her mother’s birthday. I think this is probably an ongoing disagreement that the pair have.

  1. Skwerl describes the way English can be perceived by non-native speakers, yet even from a native speaker’s point of view, up until the last two sentences in the clip, it seems a bit more Dutch with some local Australian in there (from my observation). Given that plus the script formulated by Fairbairn and Eccleson that I read, what language is spoken here?

We weren’t speaking a particular language, the words were all made up. In terms of where the words were derived from, I can’t be certain because I didn’t write the script but Karl speaks fluent German and French, so I’m sure when he and Brian were writing the script they would have been drawing from other languages.

  1. After trying this out with some students, here is the plot: A nice dinner ends up going down badly after the man forgets to do something; they both get into a fight; woman wants to break up with the man for his actions, takes the plates and runs into the kitchen, crying; man is very angry because of all the years of love and dedication with her; woman brings out a pineapple with candles on there and in the end, there’s silence with the two staring at each other. Am I right with this plot, or are there some important details missing?

To be honest, I don’t think we were particularly clear on the plot when we made the film, it is therefore very much open to interpretation. The films focus is obviously on language, so the actions of the film were fairly open ended. When it came to Karl and I defining the plot it was really just to help us try and somehow remember the dialogue.

  1. What’s the symbol behind the pineapple and the three candles?

Once again I didn’t write the film so I’m not exactly sure, I think the visual impact of the pineapples and candles were more of a focus then what they actually symbolized.

Author’s note: One of the points students and teachers have mentioned with the pineapple is the three candles where the candles represented the number of years the characters had been together and the pineapple represented the place where the two had met. However, this is open for other interpretations.

  1. By looking at the clip once more and from an outsider’s point of view, how strange is English?

I don’t think it’s just English, I think all language is strange from an outsider’s point of view.

To sum up the interview, what Ms. Pepper and the crew did with Skwerl is to present a dialog in a language unknown to any of us for two purposes: to interpret the scene but also to make a point that no matter what foreign language you are learning, it will become strange at first, especially when dealing with the different dialects and accents. It is more of the question of learning the language and all the tricks and tips involved. When that is done and you have mastered the language, it opens a new world, both big and small. Small because you can understand what the “natives” are saying, but big because learning a foreign language makes you more open to new things, as well as helps you foster your development as a human being with intellect and a diverse background.

This is something to think about, not just when you try this Skwerl exercise with your groups, but also when learning a foreign language or even a regional dialect in your own language.

To follow Ms. Pepper and her works as an Australian radio broadcaster and actress, please click here and enjoy all her documentaries. For her help in clarifying this interesting play, whose activities and genre profile you should click here to view, the Files has her thanks.

FF new logo1

An Interview with Fiona Pepper

14632733_10154130237399195_949574287_o

How difficult is it to understand the language of another person’s tongue?  This is something that many of us have dealt with, especially when traveling to/ in a foreign country. It is even more difficult when you are learning the language of the country you are living in, only to find that no one understands you because of the dialect and accent you use. Take German, for instance. Most of the non-native speakers of German speak high German, yet when communicating it with someone from a region with a different dialect, such as Mecklenburg-Pommerania (with its Plattdeutsch), Franconia in Bavaria, or even Schwabia in Baden-Wurrtemberg, they not only may not understand what you are saying. In fact, they may respond with their own dialect, which despite living in the country for many year, you may not be able to understand at all.

I have to admit, I was taken aback when my former boss at a German university, who had spent 12 years in Scotland, once told me that my American accent was too strange to understand, even though it is Chicago-style, the dialect that is considered high American English and spoken in the Midwest, where I originate (I’m a Minnesotan, by the way). An article about this subject can be found here.

 

But suppose our language is indeed strange to understand?

 

Last year, the Flensburg Files profiled a genre of the week entitled Skwerl, starring Karl Eccleson and Fiona Pepper, to show how a foreign language can be strange from an outsider’s point of view, featuring an activity for students learning English or any foreign language to try and decipher . Admittedly, as a teacher of English, I tried it with my students, only to find that there were many interpretations as to how the characters behaved toward each other in the five-minute skit. One of many questions the students had was what exactly happened in the story.

 

Well, I took a chance to find out for myself by interviewing Fiona Pepper. Absent from acting for two years and is now a radio broadcaster in Australia, Ms. Pepper took a few minutes of her time to answer some questions I had for her. For those who guessed that the couple would break up, you will be amazed as to what she mentions about Skwerl and and how a person can interpret the story from many angles.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

  1. Tell us about yourself: Why go from actress to radio host? How many years have you done both?

I studied acting at a well-respected Australian drama school called Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts (WAAPA), I worked as an actor for around 6 years and during that time I was involved in the making of Skwerl. I’ve mainly worked in theatre as well as acting in some films and commercials. I’ve now been work in radio for around 2 years. I decided to study radio because I felt frustrated working as an actor and not feeling in control of my career trajectory. There are many parallels between radio and acting and really when it comes down to it radio is simply another form of story telling.

 

  1. How many (short) films had you made before making the career change to radio host?

I had been working as an actor for around 6 years before I moved into radio, I’m not sure of the exact amount of short films/ films I had made in that time.

 

  1. Skwerl was released in 2011 and your role was the woman who makes a special meal for the boyfriend (played by Karl Eccleson). Can you briefly describe the character and her changes in personality in the story?

The character is a mid 20’s woman who is in a serious relationship, she lives with her partner and in the film they have a disagreement over her partner’s decision not to attend her mother’s birthday. I think this is probably an ongoing disagreement that the pair have.

 

  1. Skwerl describes the way English can be perceived by non-native speakers, yet even from a native speaker’s point of view, up until the last two sentences in the clip, it seems a bit more Dutch with some local Australian in there (from my observation). Given that plus the script formulated by Fairbairn and Eccleson that I read, what language is spoken here?

We weren’t speaking a particular language, the words were all made up. In terms of where the words were derived from, I can’t be certain because I didn’t write the script but Karl speaks fluent German and French, so I’m sure when he and Brian were writing the script they would have been drawing from other languages.

 

  1. After trying this out with some students, here is the plot: A nice dinner ends up going down badly after the man forgets to do something; they both get into a fight; woman wants to break up with the man for his actions, takes the plates and runs into the kitchen, crying; man is very angry because of all the years of love and dedication with her; woman brings out a pineapple with candles on there and in the end, there’s silence with the two staring at each other. Am I right with this plot, or are there some important details missing?

To be honest, I don’t think we were particularly clear on the plot when we made the film, it is therefore very much open to interpretation. The films focus is obviously on language, so the actions of the film were fairly open ended. When it came to Karl and I defining the plot it was really just to help us try and somehow remember the dialogue.

 

  1. What’s the symbol behind the pineapple and the three candles?

Once again I didn’t write the film so I’m not exactly sure, I think the visual impact of the pineapples and candles were more of a focus then what they actually symbolized.

Author’s note: One of the points students and teachers have mentioned with the pineapple is the three candles where the candles represented the number of years the characters had been together and the pineapple represented the place where the two had met. However, this is open for other interpretations.

 

  1. By looking at the clip once more and from an outsider’s point of view, how strange is English?

I don’t think it’s just English, I think all language is strange from an outsider’s point of view.

 

To sum up the interview, what Ms. Pepper and the crew did with Skwerl is to present a dialog in a language unknown to any of us for two purposes: to interpret the scene but also to make a point that no matter what foreign language you are learning, it will become strange at first, especially when dealing with the different dialects and accents. It is more of the question of learning the language and all the tricks and tips involved. When that is done and you have mastered the language, it opens a new world, both big and small. Small because you can understand what the “natives” are saying, but big because learning a foreign language makes you more open to new things, as well as helps you foster your development as a human being with intellect and a diverse background.

This is something to think about, not just when you try this Skwerl exercise with your groups, but also when learning a foreign language or even a regional dialect in your own language.

To follow Ms. Pepper and her works as an Australian radio broadcaster and actress, please click here and enjoy all her documentaries. For her help in clarifying this interesting play, whose activities and genre profile you should click here to view, the Files has her thanks.

FF new logo1

New to the Files in 2016

 

skipper

When Old Man Winter is away, the critters come to play. As 2015 comes to a close on a rather mild note, when looking at the current weather in both the USA and Europe (tropical weather in Germany, flooding in northern Europe and the central part of the US, and winter wonderland in the previously dry California, Washington and Oregon), and many of us have some interesting Christmas stories similar to what is told in the eyes of four German violinists…….  🙂

 

….2016 promises to be a better year. Some of us have already received predictions of the upcoming year to be the year of love, money and happiness, yet in light of what we have seen in 2015, it is hoped that the deeds done in the new year will erase the ones committed in the past for all of us, not just the select few, right? 😉

As for 2016, here is what is in store for the Flensburg Files- at least for the first half, that is……:

  1. The year of the beer: The biggest story of this upcoming year will be the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, known in English as the Beer Purity Law, enacted in 1516 in Bavaria, which applies to the crafting of beer in Germany. To celebrate this special occasion, the author will taste-test one beer a day for the entire year. That means 366 different types of beer in 2016, which he will critique and post in the Files- both in the areavoices as well as in the wordpress versions. Some of the beers that will be tried will be popular, but there will be many microbrews that are less known but are worth trying while visiting Germany. Some themes will be introduced and some breweries will be profiled, yet if you know of a German beer that the author should try, please feel free to mention this.
  2. Germany at 25 and Things to know about German States will continue its running as both have been popular during all of 2015, plus there are some themes left to cover. Most of these will be in the Files’ wordpress version, although a sneak peak will be presented in areavoices. A list of themes and states already covered can be found here.  The next German states up for the quiz round beginning in January: Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Saxony.  Also continuing its run by popular demand is the Genre of the Week featuring works by many people that are worth recognizing, as well as some from the author.
  3. A new page focusing on Americans living in Germany will be introduced  based on the interviews done/will be done with Americans who have been living in the country and making a living there. Already we had eight people interviewed with the sixth one to be posted very soon. Another two will be included in an article about a particular German town by the sea. The interview posted includes one of that fabulous foursome from that small Minnesota town. It is hoped that more Americans have a chance to talk about their experiences living in Germany and why they choose to stay.
  4. Apart from German-named villages in the US, a look at Flensburg in Germany in comparison with the one in the US will be featured later on in the year. The author has collected a lot of information about the two and is looking at writing about “The Tale of Two Towns.”

And lastly, the Files will be expanding in terms of social media, going beyond Twitter, facebook and Google-plus. More details on that will come once the Files enters another social media platform.

Reminder that you still have a chance to enter your photo, video, and/or story for the Top Five Award, presented by the Files. The deadline for entries is January 6th with voting to commence afterwards. Much of this is in connection with the Files’ five years in the business. To learn more on how to enter, click here.  Sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is also taking entries for the 2015 Ammann Awards. Deadline for that is also January 6th with voting to commence afterwards. To learn more on how to enter, click here.

The Flensburg Files and sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to wish all of you the best this holiday season and a happy new start in 2016. See you next year and stay tuned, some more stories to come in the Files. Now off to shoot some fireworks and party! 😀

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Americans in Germany 2: Hometown Locals Part II

The family photo. Left to right: The Sutton Family (Andrew, Camden & Amanda), The Smith Family (Jason & Birgit), and the Krahmer Family (Kristin, Alexis and Brian). Missing from the photo was Clara. Daphne was born a year after this photo was taken.

Picking up where we left off in Part I, the Files’ Steve Schorr takes a look at the four locals from a small Minnesota town of Jackson, who found their place here in Germany. Here are some more questions and some interesting answers from the four:

Question 7a. What are the benefits of living in Germany?

Brian- Another one of the main reasons I wanted to move to Germany are the views on politics, social issues, economic and ecological issues.  I feel life is a lot more calm, safe, and time with family is encouraged.  Very few people work more than 40 hours, and I started this job with 27 days of vacation per year.

Kristin- The benefits for us of living here is quality of life. We find life to be at a more relaxed pace here. The ability to travel and explore is endless. Germany has less violence, better education, healthcare and just all around a better social system. Some people view the high taxes here as a drawback. We don’t really mind the higher taxes knowing that it benefits us directly in healthcare, retirement, education, environment, roads and etc.

Amanda- The biggest benefits that I have enjoyed are ease of travel without a car, wonderful healthcare, and excellent and affordable childcare.  There is a huge network of buses, trams, and trains all around Germany, so it is very possible to live without a car here.  Healthcare is stress free.  Of course it is paid for in our taxes, but if you are sick, you go to the doctor or have whatever medical procedure that you need and do not have to worry about how much it costs because it is either covered completely or very reasonable in cost.  You won’t go bankrupt or have to take out a loan to cover medical expenses in Germany.  Childcare is also very good and affordable.  Finally the bread, so many delicious options baked fresh daily.  Some bakeries are even open on Sunday.  Germans take their bread seriously. If we ever do have to leave, this will be something we will miss the most, after all the friends we have made of course.

Jason- The biggest benefit for me and my family is the possibilities of hiking in the nature and doing sports at places that are conveniently located. We have many bike trails and hiking paths, as well as parks where children can climb up jungle gyms made of wood, etc. There are beaches and other natural places for families to enjoy.

7b. What are the drawbacks?

Jason- My biggest drawback so far has been the job opportunities. Almost every job requires certain qualifications which through training at an accredited institution, takes 2-3 years; at the university, even longer. As Brian and Kristin both mentioned earlier, Germany  is in dire need of skilled workers in many branches, including in my case, teaching as many baby boomers are leaving for retirement in droves. The problem is having to go through the educational training, which in my case means 4-5 years of college, plus a semester practical training, plus an additional two-years of student teaching (Referendariat) and two state exams in order to become a fully licensed teacher. And this despite the very high demand for native speakers of English to teach in school.

It’s the same in other fields, including medicine, law and engineering. In the US, you need only four years and a test for teaching, up to five or six for becoming a lawyer, engineer or doctor. It has created a paradox for in many regions, the shortage is acute and severe, and there are not enough people to fill in the posts left empty by outgoing personnel because of the painful process for the younger people to fill in. While some states are laxing their guidelines, like reducing the two-year Referendariat to only one, as is being practiced in Saxony for teaching, there is still a long ways to go in order for the job market to become flexible like the US and other countries and the empty positions to be filled again.

Kristin- Drawbacks are being far away from family and friends. Learning German hasn’t been a piece of cake either.

Amanda- The drawback to childcare is it can be difficult to find a spot for a child in kindergarten.  Another challenge, more than a drawback, is learning the documentation and paperwork system.  Nearly everything needs some form of documentation and most things also need to be stamped by an authority.  Germans love to stamp documents.  We now find this more charming than a nuisance.

Question 8.- Have you done some traveling since coming to Germany? If so, which places have you visited and which ones would you recommend?

Amanda- Unfortunately we have not really done much traveling.  However, we have been fortunate in the places we have lived.  There is a lot to do and see in both Jena and Potsdam.  We miss the hills and hiking in Jena, but are enjoying the massive Parks and water around Potsdam.

Brian- Since we got here last year, we have visited 7 countries, and while most people have never even heard of Slovenia, it’s really cool and pretty special.

Jason- Since 1999, I’ve been all over the place, both on my own as well as with family and friends. I’ve visited 17 European States and a total of 13 German states, counting the city-states of Berlin and Hamburg, as well as my current home state of Thuringia. My favorite place in Germany has been Schleswig-Holstein because of its rural setting, and the people there are really open and friendly. Plus half of my mom’s ancestry originates from there (near Kiel). In particular, Flensburg (with its rum and handball team), Lübeck (with its marzipan), Kiel (with its historic ships), Fehmarn (with its diverse culture) and Friedrichstadt (with its taste of Dutch culture) are highly recommended.  But one should look at Saxony for its landscapes and Dresden for its architecture. Also recommended are the cities of Halle (Saale), Quedlinburg, Bamberg, and the Rhine Valley corridor between Cologne and Frankfurt. I’ve yet to see more of Baden Wurttemberg, Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, but I hope to do that someday.

Kristin- We’ve traveled over the years around Germany and 15 other countries in Europe. I have loved every place we’ve visited but some of my top favorites are Barcelona, Paris, Ljubljana, Bern, Innsbruck and Amsterdam. We spent some time north of Amsterdam in the spring and enjoyed the quaint country side with all it’s windmills and canals. Eastern Europe is also a wonderful place to visit. We enjoyed our time in Slovakia and Croatia. It’s like stepping back in time a little bit in those old Communist countries.

Question 9. Name one memorable and one not so memorable experience that you had since coming here.
Kristin- At the moment I am still in awe that I am actually living here so for me everything tends to be a memorable experience. I suppose the not so memorable moments have involved silly situations when the language barrier comes into play.

Brian- Test-driving cars on the Autobahn at 125mph (legally!) is pretty exhilarating.  Going 300kmh on a train while having a beer and enjoying the scenery was also pretty memorable.

Jason- I’ve had my share of memorable experiences as far as biking is concerned. But I have to agree with Brian with the driving part. I had to take my driver’s training in 2002 in order to convert my driver’s license in the States to that of Germany. There I was amazed at the amount of space I had to maneuver while driving, which is half of what it is in the States. The fun part was parking on the hill while putting on the hand brake, which I practiced many times. Yet I also learned how to cuss while driving because German drivers are very impatient and they love to complain about other people driving. In one instance, on my first day at the wheel, my driver’s trainer had to roll down his window to cuss at the taxi driver for cutting in front of me at an intersection even though I had the right of way. I still remember his comment to this day: “Er hat Vorfahrt, du Heinie!”

But one sad experience was that I had to stand trial as an eyewitness to a car-bike accident in 2005. There I learned firsthand how the judicial system in Germany works in comparison with the US: one judge, several jurors asking questions, but very few people in the court room. Discreet but better that than a frenzy of media hoarding the courtroom, as we see many times in the States.

Amanda- One of the best things that has happened here in Germany other than making new friends, was having our second child born here.  Often feeling lost and alone in the beginning is something I wish I could help others who are new here avoid.  Germany is a wonderful place to live, but the initial steep learning curve to learn the processes for getting settled in a language that was initially foreign to us was a bit overwhelming to say the least.

Question 10.      Many people are of the opinion that making friends with Germans is very difficult because of the different perception of friendship. Was that the case with you? Did you make friends with foreigners more than with Germans?

Amanda- This can be true to some extent.  I think Germans are very friendly, but it can be a case of ‘once you get to know them’ and it just depends on the individual person and circumstance.  As a mom to a young child and having just had a baby here, I’ve made friends with other parents in similar situations through the kindergarten, birth classes, and just seeing the same people around town.  I made two really good Germany mom friends, as well as another foreigner friend from my German class in Jena.  Here in Potsdam, I’m starting to make some new German friends as well.  At the moment it is other moms in similar situations.  We all have the same kinds of questions and concerns with our children.

Jason- Actually if looking at it from an American perspective, I’ve made as many friends with Germans as with foreigners, and they come from different areas of interest, which is a lot. Part of that has to do with the willingness to speak their language and exchange some interests and thoughts on things. However, the friendship process with Germans varies based on personality, age and the willingness to open up. I’ve discovered that the younger the generation, the more likely you will connect with them more quickly than with the older generation. However, there are still quite a few coconuts who are not willing to be open and flexible, which bucks the current trend. I had one instance with a student colleague, who was so stiff as a board when communicating with her, that we actually got into conflicts because of different perceptions of even working together. And this with everybody in a project we were working on, who were also German, which is not typical of the stereotype. After finishing the project, we stopped talking to her because of such an impasse, but I learned a very valuable lesson which I can give to anyone living in Germany: The Germans are the hosts, you are their guest. They will open up to you when they feel ready. If not, leave it. Either they will move on or they will open up when the coconut ripens. And while Germans are really willing to help you, even if you are a stranger, beware that you need to spend time with them before you can befriend them; that is if they are willing to befriend you. In that perspective, I’ve long since gotten accustomed to that and have made many friends with Germans and foreigners alike.

Kristin- This is one of the stereotypes of Germans I dislike. While typically Germans don’t bother with every day small talk with strangers, they are very nice and love to laugh. I have met some very wonderful German friends and a German friend is a friend for life. I have also become friends with people from all over while being in my language class. It’s taught me a lot about other cultures and also how those other cultures perceive the U.S.  I have had many laughs at how without even speaking, I have been asked if I am American. They tell me it’s because I am smiling or look happy.

Brian- While I have got to know a lot of people that I currently work with really well, none of them are from Germany.  They are from Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Austria, Russia, etc.  I think the stereotype about making friends with Germans is correct.  I don’t find Germans rude at all, but it can take a long time to make friends with them.  But what they call a friendship is much more than what Americans call friendships.  We’re talking going to the end of the earth to help a friend type of deal.

Question 11.   Are there any aspects that you miss about the US? If so, which ones?

Brian-  I miss some of the foods, cheap fuel, and my Colorado sunshine.

Kristin- What I miss most are my family and friends. I also miss certain foods a lot. I miss not being able to talk to everyone in English. I am not fluent yet so if I need to speak with someone, I must always stop and think about how to speak in German and if I make sense.

Jason- Apart from family and friends, I miss the road trips going cross-country with a good camera in the hand, and some historic bridges of iron and steel, many of them are dwindling in numbers every year. Otherwise,  there are really no good plausible reasons to even think about moving back to the US, not after all these years here.

Amanda- We miss our family and friends, as well as specific places we’ve been in the US, but otherwise things here are just as good, and sometimes better.

Question 12. Do you still follow the events in the US from Germany, both news and sports? What are your impressions compared to Germany?

Brian-  Unfortunately, I still thoroughly follow news in the US, mainly involving finance and politics.  One important thing I would note about Germany’s politics is that we have about 6 major political parties that make up our ‘congress’, and the system forces the parties to work together.  There’s no massive money involved, and it’s a lot less about popularity or beauty contests.  I really wish the people would push for massive reforms.  While middle-class wages have been flat in the US for the last 30 years, they’ve more than doubled in Germany.

Jason- I have to say, I’ve also followed the events in the US via internet and public radio, and picking up where Brian left off, I have to say that German news sources are much more neutral and thought provoking than those in the US, where networks tend to lean either to the far left or the far right. It was never like that when we grew up in the 1980s and 90s. However, since the four key networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) have been taken over by corporations in 2001, public television has been manipulated through funding by big corporations, and NPR is constantly being put on the chopping block for funding cuts and begging for money from listeners, there’s really no real news network that has taken a neutral stance. In fact you will never find this with German news media, like ARD, NDR, ZDF and others, but this is because we have to pay annual fees (the GEZ) to fund them. Although it is a pain, but better that than to have the corporations put their thick greasy hands into a well-designed wedding cake.

Kristin- I still follow U.S. news via the TV and will watch CNN. I also check in on various websites. Germany has many news stations on the TV from small area news from different states of Germany and then big network news channels such as CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and Deutsche Welle. I find American news stations to be comical and annoying at times. It’s so full of half hour opinion pieces and every little thing is blown out of proportion to make it seem news worthy.

Amanda- We do follow events in the US a bit.  Andrew reads the news and keeps up on things more than I do, but we both listen to National Public Radio (NPR) when we have the time.  I can’t really compare properly, as I listen to radio for US news and watch Deutsche Welle (DW) videos on YouTube for German news.  Both seem to do a good job for the stories that they cover.  At the moment, with an 8 week old, I can’t properly keep up with either.

And lastly, Question 13.  If you have some advice to give to someone wanting to relocate, what would you give them?

Amanda- Learn the language and documentation process, including what original documents to bring with you, before you arrive for a more seamless move.

Brian- I wish every person could choose whatever place in the world that they wanted to be.  However, if one is relocating, I highly suggest doing extensive research about every aspect, and thoroughly understand the culture before moving.  I pretty much did that, and have had nearly no surprises or bad experiences.

Jason- Apart from language and research, sometimes connections with people over there are useful. It makes the transition to a new environment go much smoother. This was the advantage that Brian, Kristin, Amanda and Andrew had with us when they moved here and I had with Birgit and her family when I first came to Germany.

Kristin- Reach that goal! It won’t be easy but it’s worth it. Life is too short for regrets! Do your research to learn as much as you can about the place and the culture. Learn the language!! Whether relocating is temporary or for the long haul it will be an experience to last a life time. You will learn so much about people and yourself.

FAZIT:

The last sentence mentioned by Kristin is what sums up this interview. How will one know himself if the person is not abroad? A chance like this is once in a lifetime. While leaving friends and family behind is tough, it is a way of life and they will all envy the person taking that step. And while having four people from Jackson, Minnesota collect their experiences for their families and friends back home (let alone the local newspaper) is an unusual phenomenon right now, as globalization continues to progress, more and more people will take that chance and spend at least a large portion of their lives abroad, exploring new worlds and learning the culture, thus making the world become one and smaller. That is why it would not be surprising if just as many people from a small German town, like Glauchau, Husum, Tängermünde, Bingen or even Heringsdorf were to explore the US and even such a small town like Jackson, Minnesota. It’s for the experience, one of which will most likely be shared with others beyond the media perspective.

Can you imagine such a scenario like the one here? 🙂

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Author’s Note: Steve Schorr is a freelance writer, working for several newspapers in northern Germany, including the ones for SHZ, based in Kiel. He was asked by the author to write this as a guest columnist for the Files’ to be granted the spotlight for one article, at least. He resides in Rostock. 

Americans in Germany 2: Hometown Locals Part I

Left to right: Jason D. Smith, Amanda (Draine) Sutton, Kristin (Svoboda) Krahmer, Brian Krahmer. Photo taken by Birgit Smith in 2014 in Jena.

There is an idiomatic expression that best describes a well-travelled and open-minded person:  Being a hometown person is good, travelling around is better, being abroad gives you the best.   During the author’s time in Germany, one of the observations that is definitely noticeable in the past decade is that the world is getting much smaller. It has nothing to do with the increase of goods from Germany that can be bought in the US and vice versa, but more to do with meeting people from your college town or even your hometown. During a trip to Flensburg in 2010, the author encountered a person, whose daughter went to high school in Windom, Minnesota as an exchange student! Located 40 km northeast of Worthington, which has an exchange program with Crailsheim, as well as 110 km west of New Ulm, a predominantly German city, it would be considered unusual to have a German visit a small town of 4500 inhabitants for a full year, a third as many as the two aforementioned communities.

However, what would be a reaction of the readers when they found out that four people from an even smaller community- namely Jackson, located 30 km south of Windom- are living in Germany. And all of them have an age difference of only four years?  This is what Jason Smith, Brian Krahmer, Kristin Krahmer (née Svoboda) and Amanda Sutton (née Draine) are doing.  Since 2014, the four people have been living in Germany, and albeit they live far apart, they have one thing in common: Germany is considered home to them. In this series on Americans living in Germany, the Files’ Steve Schorr asked the four people individually about their motives behind moving to Germany and comparing life there to that of their hometown. This will be divided up into two parts due to length and content. This is part I, with part II to follow.  Before moving to the questions, a brief profile of the four people:

Jason D. Smith-  Jason has lived in Germany the longest, having resided there since 1999. He graduated from Jackson High School in 1996. After three years at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, he came to Germany as a foreign exchange student at the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena and since graduating in 2001, has been teaching English at various institutions in and around Jena and Erfurt, with the exception of a two-year stint in Bayreuth at the university. He’s currently pursuing his teaching license to teach English, Social Studies and History at a German high school (Gymnasium) and is expected to obtain his 1st state exam in 2016 and his 2nd by 2018. Since 2010 he is also a writer and photographer of two blogs: The Flensburg Files and The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. With the exception of two years in Bayreuth and another two in Erfurt, Jason has been living in Jena with his wife Birgit and their seven year old daughter, Clara.

Brian and Kristin Krahmer- Brian and Kristin are the adventurous type when it comes to travelling, having lived in six different American states before moving to Germany in 2014. Kristin graduated from high school in 1996, Brian three years earlier. Married since 2000 (the same time as Jason and Birgit), the couple have done many jobs in the areas including some self-employment opportunities as carpenter, while Kristin acquired a profession as a massage therapist and Brian has 20+ years’ experience as a software developer. Since coming to Germany in 2014, they have lived in two different places in Bavaria: in Pegnitz (between Bayreuth and Nuremberg) and in their current town of Markt Rettenbach, located between Ulm and Munich near the city of Memmingen. They have a 10-year old daughter, Alexis.

Amanda (Draine) Sutton- Amanda graduated from high school, together with Jason and Kristin, in 1996 and since earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Health in 2007 and a Master’s in Radiological Health Sciences in 2009.  Both degrees were earned at Colorado State University.  After college, she spent one year working on the Hanford Site with Washington Closure Hanford as a Radiological Engineer in Washington state, followed by approximately two years working with SENES/ARCADIS as a Health Physicist out of their Denver office in Colorado before she started her family.  Her husband Andrew completed his PhD in Computer Science in 2011, also from Colorado State University.  Andrew has held post-docs in the Computer Science Departments at University of Adelaide, Colorado State University, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, and Hasso Plattner Institut/Universität Potsdam.  Amanda has lived in Minnesota, Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado, and Washington.  Since meeting Andrew, who grew up in New Mexico, they have also lived in Adelaide, South Australia and Jena, Germany.  They currently reside in Potsdam, Germany with their two children, Camden who will be three years old in November, and Daphne who is two months old.

And now, the questions:

Question 1: What motivated you to move to Germany?

Brian-  I had been to Germany 7 times before moving here.  I have always loved the culture, architecture, the autobahn, cars, transport system, the food, and of course, the beer!  The location makes it very easy to travel to dozens of countries as well.

Kristin- For over a decade Brian and I have wanted to live in Europe and we fell in love with Germany the most. I like the German architecture, food, lifestyle, varying landscapes and I admire how strongly Germans hold on to tradition. I feel Germany is a very progressive country when it comes to politics, the environment and education. I think our daughter will have some great options for education here in Germany. Brian and I have always loved exploring new places and Germany is a great starting point for exploring many other countries in Europe.

Jason- There are two people in my life who got me convinced that I should go to Germany: my German teacher in high school, who introduced me to German culture and the language in class, and my wife, who is originally from Germany in the state of Thuringia. Before meeting Birgit, I had thought about spending time in Germany but was hesitant because it was at the latter part of my studies at Concordia. When Birgit came to my alma mater in 1998, my attitude changed and after learning about the exchange program, I took advantage of it and “followed” her back to Germany to Jena. Actually she got me convinced that living abroad does give a person a grand opportunity to learn the language and the culture, and since coming here in 1999, she was right. Otherwise I would not be here today.

Amanda- My husband, Andrew, secured a post doc position as a Researcher in Computer Science with Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena.  We moved to Jena in March of 2014.  However the project relocated to Hasso Plattner Institut/Universität Potsdam and so we moved with in May 2015.  He is now a Researcher and Teacher in Algorithm Engineering here in Potsdam.

Question 2. How did you get a place of residency and work in Germany?

Brian-    I probably had an easier time than many, as I work in IT, where Germany has a shortage of workers.  I initially got a freelance visa for one year, and then renewed it for a 4-year Blue Card, which is a bit similar to a Green Card in the US.

Kristin- My permit falls under Brian’s Blue Card as a family reunification visa. Now that Brian has a Blue Card, I am now able to work. When we first arrived in Germany, Brian had a self-employment visa and I was not permitted to work. I did have to complete a 10 month language course to obtain a B1 certificate of German language and take an integration course.

Jason- Being married to a German made it really easy to get a residency and worker’s permit. During the first three years of marriage, I had a temporary residency visa which was converted to a permanent one in the fall of 2003. The reason for that is to avoid “green-card” marriages in Germany, which was common at that time. When I received my temporary visa, I also received my worker’s visa at the same time, enabling me to find a job anywhere.  While obtaining a permanent visa allows you to stay in Germany permanently, the catch is when you are absent from Germany for longer than six months and are either single or divorced. Then you run into a lot of problems getting back in, as many foreigners I know have gone through. The lone exception of course is when you trade in your citizenship with a German/ European one, which can be very expensive but one many expats have risked doing, especially because of tax issues from the US.

Amanda- It took us two months to find our first apartment in Jena because we had to learn both the language and rental process at the same time.  This combined with getting our bearings, figuring out how to properly apply for our residency and work permits, Andrew starting his new job, taking care of a toddler, and a tight rental market made it a challenging experience.  We had to learn very quickly all the necessary steps and hurdles of settling in Germany. Work was through my husband Andrew as mentioned.

Question 3. Was it difficult to get a residency and work permit?

Brian and Kristin- (Brian)- I didn’t find it that difficult to get a work permit or residency, but found it much harder than I expected to actually find a job.  I thought that IT would be an exception to most jobs and that I would be okay without being fluent in German.  The fact I am not keeps me out of most companies.

Author’s note: Both were of the opinion that skills shortage was (and still is) high in Germany, which explains the logic behind hiring refugees in Germany at the moment.

Amanda- Yes and no.  It was not difficult because Andrew had already secured work here, so it was just a matter of going through the process.  However, it was very challenging to understand this process and complete the necessary steps and documentation all in a language we were new to.  All the websites, documentation, and conversations were in German.  The beginning of our life in Germany was therefore quite difficult, as our German was very poor and we had little help in the beginning.  It was a very emotional time.

Jason- Not really as mentioned in the previous question. Yet learning the language is key to navigate through the bureaucratic mess like this one. I was lucky that the process went as smoothly as it did.

Question 4. What jobs have you worked since coming to Germany?

Kristin- I have not worked yet in Germany. I do plan on looking for some type of work in the near future. There are a few things that work against you as a foreigner. Germans have an obligation to fill jobs first to German natives. If they can not find a suitable candidate then they can fill that job with someone else. My career has mostly been a mix of Massage Therapy and odd jobs here and there for extra income. That is what I will most likely end up working here in Germany also. I am also looking into various options to put my English skills to work.

Brian- I’m a software engineer, currently working in the payment processing area.

Jason- Since 2001 I’ve been an English teacher, and with the exception of 2008-12 (when I worked full time), I’ve been working on a freelancer basis, teaching everyone of all ages, regardless of social and cultural background as well as language level. If there was one item that would be mentioned in a retirement party to take place when I turn 75, it would be this: I’ve been around the block, teaching at every type of educational institution, including the Volkshochschule (Institute of Continuing Education), German companies, Gemeinschaftsschule (community private school), Gymnasium (high school), private institutions (some funded by the Job Service Agency (Agentur für Arbeit)), private persons, the German military,  translation offices, and the university. I still have yet to teach the kids in a kindergarten or elementary school, but that will come soon enough. Yet as most institutions have limited contracts and I’m searching for something more permanent, I’m back at the university to fulfill that purpose.  Aside that, I’ve done editing and translating work, plus I’m a columnist for two blogs- a side gig but one I can imagine doing for a newspaper or publisher.

Amanda- Andrew is a Researcher and now also a Teacher in the Computer Science field.  He worked at Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena for just over a year and is now working with the Hasso Plattner Institut/Universität Potsdam.  His job has not changed, only the location.  As for me, I am allowed to work in Germany, but at the moment I stay home and take care of our two children, both under three years of age.  My job here is called a Hausfrau.  When I return to work I have interest in utilizing my degree in Environmental Health and/or learning more about Passive Housing and getting into this field.  I would enjoy working in Germany.

Question 5. Many Germans love to stay in one place, yet the trend has pointed to becoming more mobile. Have you stayed in one place since coming to Germany and if not, where have you lived?

Jason- With the exception of two years in Bayreuth and another two in Erfurt (both because of jobs) I have stayed put in Jena because of the small town environment and the beautiful forested hills along the Saale River. Whether we will stay longer in Jena will depend on where my teaching job will be, for regions in the north and east are desperately looking for licensed teachers to fill in the ranks at the schools.

Amanda- As mentioned, we have lived in Jena and now Potsdam.  We only moved because my husband’s job moved.  We would have loved to have stayed in Jena and we miss it.  That being said, we are starting to get settled in Potsdam and are meeting new people all the time.

Kristin- When we first came we lived in a small town called Pegnitz located between Nuremberg and Bayreuth. We chose this area because in Bayreuth there is a great international school in which our daughter to attended the 3rd grade. As parents, we worried about making our daughter’s transition into a new country as easy as possible. This school was very small and most of the teachers knew English so our daughter had support in English when she needed. Pegnitz also fell along a decent train connection for Brian to work in Nuremberg.

We have just recently moved further south to be closer to Munich where Brian is now working. Munich has many more job options for Brian so we want to live as close to Munich as we can but still be in a smaller city. Munich is a great city but we prefer the peacefulness of smaller towns. The area we now live in is closer to the German Alps as well so we are excited to get out and explore. It’s hard to say if this area is where we will plant our feet for the long haul. Anyone who knows the Krahmers knows that we tend to move around a lot.

 Brian- Adding on to what Kristin said, we would like to build a house and settle down somewhere, but land is extremely expensive over here, and you can’t build just anywhere, unlike a few wild places we’ve lived in the US.

Question 6.  In the time you’ve been living here in Germany, what similarities and differences have you seen in comparison with the US, in terms of culture, mentality and the environment?

Kristin-  Some similarities I see are the popularity of supermarkets and other big department stores. While many Germans will also stop by their local butcher or bakery for the best product, many Germans enjoy the convenience of one stop shopping which supermarkets provide. Germans love American entertainment so we hear many of the same music as in the States as well as blockbuster movies. Germany has many American television stations that such as Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Discovery and TLC. It is just translated into German. Germany has become ‘Americanized’ in a sense that many American phrases works it’s way into common every day language. Another similarity is Germans have great pride in their cars just as Americans do theirs. Germans also admire the American ‘Muscle Car’ a lot.

The differences I see are that people here know the value of fun and family time. Germans work less hours but are more efficient. They have many more vacation days and are always out enjoying themselves. Cafes, restaurants, soccer fields, bike trails and swimming pools are always full of people out spending time with friends and family. Stores being closed on Sundays was something for me to get used to and I love it. It forces everyone to just relax and recharge before the start of a new week.

Another difference is driving. Germans have much tougher drivers education and penalties for breaking driving laws are much more severe. Although they drive fast they tend to drive well. It is illegal to pass on the right so it forces people get over after passing immediately. I love the Autobahn not only because you can drive fast but because it is very efficient when everyone follows the rules.

Also housing here is different. For many Germans they will never live in or own a house their entire lives. They will instead rent or own an apartment. What may look like a normal size house to an American will actually house maybe two or three families inside, each living on a different level. Out in the countryside you still see the old barns still connected to the family home as they were hundreds of years ago. They’ve done this for several reasons. One is that their animals are easier to tend to when they are nearby. I have also heard that the heat generated by the animals helps keep their own houses warmer when attached to the barn. We live in an area with many dairy farms and we see milk trucks making daily rounds to collect the milk. Farmers here will still put bells on some of their cows and call them home with Alpenhorns just as their ancestors did.

Views on the environment I find much different. Recycling is serious business over here. We recycle just about everything and packaging is made so that it can be easily recycled. We even have a compost bin that gets picked up every other week as well. When you look out across a typical German city big or small you will see hundreds of solar panels on homes, apartments and even barns. Many people walk, bike or have a fuel efficient car here. The trend for local or organic ‘Bio’ foods is very strong here as it is in the U.S. right now.

Amanda- Culturally, it is different in many ways.  Germans have more social benefits like time off, maternity/paternity benefits, pay, healthcare, and childcare.  They therefore are able to take more holiday time, go on holiday more often, and in general I feel are able to relax more and have quality time either alone or with their families should they choose.  They take time off seriously.  Everything except restaurants and a few shops with permits are closed on Sundays, so no grocery or clothes shopping.  Some places, such as the post office and doctors offices are even closed for the lunch hour every day.  Germans also tend to keep their work life and private life separate.  As a parent however, I see many cultural similarities as well. We all want good healthcare, childcare, education, and overall quality of life for our children and all people.

Germans are very environmental.  Germans love organic foods and recycling.  Organic foods are reasonably priced and can be found everywhere.  Recycling and trash have separate bins for paper, glass, organic waste, plastics, etc., and trash.  Germans take great pride in separating their trash and in particular, glass items are either returned to the store for a cash refund or placed in bins located in the area by color.  They also often walk, ride their bikes, or take public transportation as a means of travel to work, drop the kids off at school, go grocery shopping, go to appointments, etc.  This is more of a cultural than environmental difference, but it is still wonderful for the environment.  Unfortunately, many American cities are designed primarily for auto use, making foot and bike travel sub-optimal or even dangerous.

Jason- Another factor worth mentioning is that Germans love to talk politics without having to bash or even “unfriend” someone for having an opinion. This is something that disturbs me when I encounter Americans and they try to impose their views and ways onto others. Germany has long been known for having a freedom of expression and opinion that is independent of what the media and other people have to say.

Additionally, Germans love to travel- not just to places inside Germany, but also to places within Europe or even America. It’s amazing to hear stories from other Germans of places they’ve visited and seen- not just the popular places like the Leaning Tower of Pisa or Hamburg, but also smaller places, like the Rum-Sugar Mile in Flensburg or many tall historic bridges in Saxony. Sometimes visiting smaller places can help you to have a bigger vocabulary as far as culture is concerned.

Brian-  I’ve said for quite some time now: “There’s hardly anything in Germany that’s drastically different, yet almost everything is a little bit different.”  I think that sums it up well, because I could go on for hours about the small differences.

The rest of the interview to be continued in Part II……..

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Americans in Germany 2: Hometown Locals

Left to right: Jason D. Smith, Amanda (Draine) Sutton, Kristin (Svoboda) Krahmer, Brian Krahmer. Photo taken by Birgit Smith in 2014 in Jena.

There is an idiomatic expression that best describes a well-travelled and open-minded person:  Being a hometown person is good, travelling around is better, being abroad gives you the best.   During the author’s time in Germany, one of the observations that is definitely noticeable in the past decade is that the world is getting much smaller. It has nothing to do with the increase of goods from Germany that can be bought in the US and vice versa, but more to do with meeting people from your college town or even your hometown. During a trip to Flensburg in 2010, the author encountered a person, whose daughter went to high school in Windom, Minnesota as an exchange student! Located 40 km northeast of Worthington, which has an exchange program with Crailsheim, as well as 110 km west of New Ulm, a predominantly German city, it would be considered unusual to have a German visit a small town of 4500 inhabitants for a full year, a third as many as the two aforementioned communities.

However, what would be a reaction of the readers when they found out that four people from an even smaller community- namely Jackson, located 30 km south of Windom- are living in Germany. And all of them have an age difference of only four years?  This is what Jason Smith, Brian Krahmer, Kristin Krahmer (née Svoboda) and Amanda Sutton (née Draine) are doing.  Since 2014, the four people have been living in Germany, and albeit they live far apart, they have one thing in common: Germany is considered home to them. In this series on Americans living in Germany, the Files’ Steve Schorr asked the four people individually about their motives behind moving to Germany and comparing life there to that of their hometown. This will be divided up into two parts due to length and content. This is part I, with part II to follow.  Before moving to the questions, a brief profile of the four people:

Jason D. Smith-  Jason has lived in Germany the longest, having resided there since 1999. He graduated from Jackson High School in 1996. After three years at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, he came to Germany as a foreign exchange student at the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena and since graduating in 2001, has been teaching English at various institutions in and around Jena and Erfurt, with the exception of a two-year stint in Bayreuth at the university. He’s currently pursuing his teaching license to teach English, Social Studies and History at a German high school (Gymnasium) and is expected to obtain his 1st state exam in 2016 and his 2nd by 2018. Since 2010 he is also a writer and photographer of two blogs: The Flensburg Files and The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. With the exception of two years in Bayreuth and another two in Erfurt, Jason has been living in Jena with his wife Birgit and their seven year old daughter, Clara.

Brian and Kristin Krahmer- Brian and Kristin are the adventurous type when it comes to travelling, having lived in six different American states before moving to Germany in 2014. Kristin graduated from high school in 1996, Brian three years earlier. Married since 2000 (the same time as Jason and Birgit), the couple have done many jobs in the areas including some self-employment opportunities as carpenter, while Kristin acquired a profession as a massage therapist and Brian has 20+ years’ experience as a software developer. Since coming to Germany in 2014, they have lived in two different places in Bavaria: in Pegnitz (between Bayreuth and Nuremberg) and in their current town of Markt Rettenbach, located between Ulm and Munich near the city of Memmingen. They have a 10-year old daughter, Alexis.

Amanda (Draine) Sutton- Amanda graduated from high school, together with Jason and Kristin, in 1996 and since earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Health in 2007 and a Master’s in Radiological Health Sciences in 2009.  Both degrees were earned at Colorado State University.  After college, she spent one year working on the Hanford Site with Washington Closure Hanford as a Radiological Engineer in Washington state, followed by approximately two years working with SENES/ARCADIS as a Health Physicist out of their Denver office in Colorado before she started her family.  Her husband Andrew completed his PhD in Computer Science in 2011, also from Colorado State University.  Andrew has held post-docs in the Computer Science Departments at University of Adelaide, Colorado State University, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, and Hasso Plattner Institut/Universität Potsdam.  Amanda has lived in Minnesota, Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado, and Washington.  Since meeting Andrew, who grew up in New Mexico, they have also lived in Adelaide, South Australia and Jena, Germany.  They currently reside in Potsdam, Germany with their two children, Camden who will be three years old in November, and Daphne who is two months old.

PARTS I & II OF THE INTERVIEW YOU WILL FIND IN THE WEBSITE VERSION OF THE FLENSBURG FILES, WHICH YOU CAN CLICK HERE.

 

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Americans in Germany 1: From Lawyer to Writer

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Ann-Marie Ackermann giving a tour of a murder site in a small German community.

In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Reunification of Germany, the Flensburg Files will be providing stories of Americans who found their way to Germany and have since considered the Bundesrepublik home. Many stories have been collected of Americans who decided to try their luck with Germany because of the need for something new. Some of them are interesting enough for you to read, share with others, and if you are dying for an adventure, want to move over to a place laden with history, culture and beautiful landscapes. 🙂 These stories and interviews will be posted during the month of October in addition to the continuing series on the 25 Reasons to Love Germany and the Quiz Series on the German states.

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Our first story in the series looks at an American who used to make a living as a lawyer in the United States. Yet, her heart fell for Germany, not only because of her father originating from the country, but also because she found romance with a German. For many years, she has made her home in Bönnigheim, which is located near the Neckar River south of Heilbronn in Baden-Wurttemberg. There, she’s a writer and translator, while enjoying her life with her husband and children. Here’s more on how Ann-Marie Ackermann rediscovered her roots by returning home to Germany. Note that this is the same person who was a guest writer a few weeks ago (her book review you’ll find here):

Question 1: What motivated you to move to Germany?

It was love…. I fell in love with a German and married him. The move overseas wasn’t as much as a shock as it might have been for other Americans. I’m first generation American and my father was from Germany, so I grew up with exposure to the German culture and language. And I love the country!

Question 2: You went from being a lawyer to a writer. Why this change?

In Germany I would have had to repeat law school. Not only does Germany have different laws, it’s based on a different legal system – the civil law system instead of the common law system of England and the United States. Law school just wasn’t practicable while I had small children underfoot. So I started a small translation business from home, translating academic articles in law and psychiatry.

Question 3: What books and essays have you written since living here in Germany?

No books, but a number of my translations have been published in English. I’ve also written about birds in German (I’m a life-long bird watcher) and have had about a dozen articles printed in magazines and an academic journal. I had a German newspaper column too. And I’m the English text editor of a German ornithological journal.

Question 4: You have a blog on history and mystery, esp. when focusing on the disappearance and death of King Ludwig II. Are you a big fan of mysteries and if so, why?

I’ve loved criminal law even when I was a kid. That’s one of the reasons I chose to study law. And working as a prosecuting attorney only honed my interest.

While researching an article about birds, I discovered a 19th century murder in my adopted German town, referenced in a forestry journal. The murder was solved almost forty years later in the United States. That  makes the case unique in 19th century German history. As a former prosecutor, I got interested and started researching, thinking I had the basis of a great article for the Germans. When the assassin’s archival trail led me to Robert E. Lee, I knew I had a great story for Americans. I have a book contract with Kent State University Press and the book will come out in 2017.  www.annmarie.ackermann.com

All in all, historical mysteries offer intellectual challenges that modern true crime doesn’t. They aren’t as sensationalist. The blood has dried and it’s the mystery that remains. And 19th century detective techniques are easier to understand than modern ones. That makes them especially appealing.

Question 5: Are you a fan of Tatort or Polizeiruf 110?

Nope! We don’t have television. I’ve watched BBC’s History Cold Case, starring forensic anthropologist Sue Black, on the internet. It is a perfect example of the kind of television show I love: science meets historical mystery.

Question 6: What places in Germany have you visited since living here? Which ones would you recommend and why?

My favorite German cities are Freiburg i.B., Stade, and Trier. All offer some history and have a charm of their own. I also love the Alps and the Wattenmeer for their nature.

Question 7: What difficulties have you encountered while living in Germany?

Navigating the German bureaucracy is quite a challenge. I particularly hate doing my taxes in German. Was it Mark Twain who wrote that a German tax return is so long you could wallpaper your living room with it?

While researching for my book, I had to learn to read the old Gothic handwriting the Germans used in the 19th century. That wasn’t easy, but I’m so glad I did. It’s fascinating to read old documents in the German archives. Learning local history has made me feel even more connected to my German town.

Question 8: If someone wants to live in Germany, what advice would you give him/her before embarking on this adventure, speaking from experience?

Language is the key to any culture. If you master the German language, it will open so many doors. It’s best, in the beginning, not to befriend Americans. If you keep your social circle exclusively German at first, you will learn the language so much faster. And it will help you make lasting German friendships.

You can find more information and stories of crimes, history and other interesting items through her website, which is: http://www.annmarieackermann.com/. Subscriptions are available. From an author’s perspective, there are many aspects she has discovered that should at least be mentioned in the classroom to raise interest among the students. This is what spending time in a foreign country can do to a person: to discover the talents that had been locked up for years while at home, only to be set free when in a different place. Ackermann’s talents is a writer and apart from enjoying her short story narratives, many of us will be looking forward to her first novel on a rather mysterious crime to be released in 2017. Keep your eyes open on some more hints and facts pertaining to this theme. 🙂

Leaving Bönnigheim, we will head to the cities of Memmingen, Jena and Potsdam, where a unique set of hometown heroes decided to leave their roots to make their homes in Germany. More on that in the next article/interview.

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Americans in Germany 1: From Lawyer to Writer

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Ann-Marie Ackermann giving a tour of a murder site in a small German community.

In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Reunification of Germany, the Flensburg Files will be providing stories of Americans who found their way to Germany and have since considered the Bundesrepublik home. Many stories have been collected of Americans who decided to try their luck with Germany because of the need for something new. Some of them are interesting enough for you to read, share with others, and if you are dying for an adventure, want to move over to a place laden with history, culture and beautiful landscapes. 🙂 These stories and interviews will be posted during the month of October in addition to the continuing series on the 25 Reasons to Love Germany and the Quiz Series on the German states.

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Our first story in the series looks at an American who used to make a living as a lawyer in the United States. Yet, her heart fell for Germany, not only because of her father originating from the country, but also because she found romance with a German. For many years, she has made her home in Bönnigheim, which is located near the Neckar River south of Heilbronn in Baden-Wurttemberg. There, she’s a writer and translator, while enjoying her life with her husband and children. Here’s more on how Ann-Marie Ackermann rediscovered her roots by returning home to Germany. Note that this is the same person who was a guest writer a few weeks ago (her book review you’ll find here):

Question 1: What motivated you to move to Germany?

It was love…. I fell in love with a German and married him. The move overseas wasn’t as much as a shock as it might have been for other Americans. I’m first generation American and my father was from Germany, so I grew up with exposure to the German culture and language. And I love the country!

Question 2: You went from being a lawyer to a writer. Why this change?

In Germany I would have had to repeat law school. Not only does Germany have different laws, it’s based on a different legal system – the civil law system instead of the common law system of England and the United States. Law school just wasn’t practicable while I had small children underfoot. So I started a small translation business from home, translating academic articles in law and psychiatry.

Question 3: What books and essays have you written since living here in Germany?

No books, but a number of my translations have been published in English. I’ve also written about birds in German (I’m a life-long bird watcher) and have had about a dozen articles printed in magazines and an academic journal. I had a German newspaper column too. And I’m the English text editor of a German ornithological journal.

Question 4: You have a blog on history and mystery, esp. when focusing on the disappearance and death of King Ludwig II. Are you a big fan of mysteries and if so, why?

I’ve loved criminal law even when I was a kid. That’s one of the reasons I chose to study law. And working as a prosecuting attorney only honed my interest.

While researching an article about birds, I discovered a 19th century murder in my adopted German town, referenced in a forestry journal. The murder was solved almost forty years later in the United States. That  makes the case unique in 19th century German history. As a former prosecutor, I got interested and started researching, thinking I had the basis of a great article for the Germans. When the assassin’s archival trail led me to Robert E. Lee, I knew I had a great story for Americans. I have a book contract with Kent State University Press and the book will come out in 2017.  www.annmarie.ackermann.com

All in all, historical mysteries offer intellectual challenges that modern true crime doesn’t. They aren’t as sensationalist. The blood has dried and it’s the mystery that remains. And 19th century detective techniques are easier to understand than modern ones. That makes them especially appealing.

Question 5: Are you a fan of Tatort or Polizeiruf 110?

Nope! We don’t have television. I’ve watched BBC’s History Cold Case, starring forensic anthropologist Sue Black, on the internet. It is a perfect example of the kind of television show I love: science meets historical mystery.

Question 6: What places in Germany have you visited since living here? Which ones would you recommend and why?

My favorite German cities are Freiburg i.B., Stade, and Trier. All offer some history and have a charm of their own. I also love the Alps and the Wattenmeer for their nature.

Question 7: What difficulties have you encountered while living in Germany?

Navigating the German bureaucracy is quite a challenge. I particularly hate doing my taxes in German. Was it Mark Twain who wrote that a German tax return is so long you could wallpaper your living room with it?

While researching for my book, I had to learn to read the old Gothic handwriting the Germans used in the 19th century. That wasn’t easy, but I’m so glad I did. It’s fascinating to read old documents in the German archives. Learning local history has made me feel even more connected to my German town.

Question 8: If someone wants to live in Germany, what advice would you give him/her before embarking on this adventure, speaking from experience?

Language is the key to any culture. If you master the German language, it will open so many doors. It’s best, in the beginning, not to befriend Americans. If you keep your social circle exclusively German at first, you will learn the language so much faster. And it will help you make lasting German friendships.

You can find more information and stories of crimes, history and other interesting items through her website, which is: http://www.annmarieackermann.com/. Subscriptions are available. From an author’s perspective, there are many aspects she has discovered that should at least be mentioned in the classroom to raise interest among the students. This is what spending time in a foreign country can do to a person: to discover the talents that had been locked up for years while at home, only to be set free when in a different place. Ackermann’s talents is a writer and apart from enjoying her short story narratives, many of us will be looking forward to her first novel on a rather mysterious crime to be released in 2017. Keep your eyes open on some more hints and facts pertaining to this theme. 🙂

Leaving Bönnigheim, we will head to the cities of Memmingen, Jena and Potsdam, where a unique set of hometown heroes decided to leave their roots to make their homes in Germany. More on that in the next article/interview.

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Germany at 25: The Beer

Flens beer

There is something about beer that brings out the best in people. Whether it brings cheer to the person’s face, brings people together or even the different tastes, beer does a body and mind good. Sometimes beer brings out the best quotes, as noted by some prominent people:

Thomas Jefferson:  “Beer, if drunk in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.”

Tina Fey: “In a study, scientists report that drinking beer can be good for the liver. I’m sorry, did I say ‘scientists’? I meant Irish people.”

Anne Sexton: “God has a brown voice, as soft and full as beer.”

Stephen King:” A man who lies about beer makes enemies.”

Martin Luther: “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!”

Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia:  “Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.”

And where in the world will you find beer in various flavors and brands? Germany. For almost 500 years, breweries have come up with the finest concoctions for people to try. Whether it was a pilsner beer, dark beer, wheat beer, malt beer, radler (alster water) or even fruit flavored beers, if there is one place where the best and brightest minds can come up with such crazy combinations of beer to satisfy the taste buds of their loyal patrons, it is Germany. And despite going through tough times- wars, economic crises and even fierce competition thanks to mergers with foreign companies, Germany still stands out as the land of beer, where it is served at any social function: get-togethers, parties and even the Oktoberfest. 🙂

If there is a posterboy for various beers that taste great and gives a person his fill, it is not necessarily the breweries in Bavaria, albeit the numbers are huge and include Löwenbraü, Oettinger, Hofbräu and Paulaner (the last two are highly recommended). Nor are they necessarily in central Germany, where many local breweries have a couple flavors only but their own unique taste that makes people buy more, like Wernesgrüner, Hasseroder, Rosen and Köstritzer. More is sometimes better if the various flavors rake in patrons and profits.

It’s located in the Hohe Nord- Flensburg.  And the name: The Flensburger. 🙂

Founded in 1888, the family-owned business is not only famous for its swing top ceramic bottle cap that goes “plop!” when opening it. Because it has bucked the trend of other beers, other local German beers are following The Flens’ lead in that aspect. The Flensburger beer is known for its various flavors of beer- over 16 flavors in all, counting the water. With the flavors that have been retired, the number is close to 20!

So why is the Flens so popular, both in Germany as well as elsewhere (even in the US)? And this for a small family-owned brewery? The author of the Files had a chance to interview Sara Janisch, an international sales representative at the Flensburger Brewery to find out the secrets to the success of the beer and how it has helped give Germany and its beer in general a grandiose reputation for its taste. While some links are available to guide you through the brewery homepage, here are some answers that will get the beer drinker the opportunity to try German beer, let alone this beer:

  1. Personally, when a tourist or expat comes to Germany, which of the types of beer should that person try first and why?

All of them, of course! You can attend a brewery tour at our facilities and afterwards will get a chance to try all of our beers. However, the Pilsener is our classic, so this one needs to be tried for sure! An insider tip is our Flensburger Weizen and the Flensburger Kellerbier. Those are definitely worth a try. But like I said – each one of our beers has its very own and special taste so best to not miss out a single one.

  1. All German beers are created based on the beer purity law of 1516, which will turn 500 next year. Can you elaborate what that law is all about and why it was enacted?

Beers that are brewed according to the German Purity Law must only contain those four ingredients: (barley)malt, hops, yeast and water. It was mainly enacted to protect beer as an important staple food and to prevent tampering with ingredients that are not suitable for consumption.

  1. The Flensburg Brewery was founded in 1888 and is one of the oldest in northern Germany at 127 years. Can you tell me how the brewery was founded and who was behind it?

The brewery was founded by five local residents in September 1888.  They had found an ideal site, a glacier spring with crystal-clear water for brewing and a way of obtaining the ice needed for the lagering cellars. When Emil Petersen took charge of the brewery in 1933, the name of the brewery was changed to Flensburger Brauereien Emil Petersen & Co. K.G., which has remained as is since then. It was during his reign until his passing in 1974 and even when Hans Dethleffsen succeeded him that the brewery expanded and later modernised, making it a one of the most successful family-owned breweries in the region. For more information, please see our homepage for further information on our history: www.flens.de/brauerei/brauereichronik (German) or www.flens.co.uk/our-history (English).

  1. While the Flensburg Pilsner is pretty much the flagship of the beers (and can be found throughout Germany and other countries), the brewery is famous for its various flavors. Apart from the Flensburger Radler, Flensburg Winterbock, Flensburger Lime and others, what other flavors have you created up to now, which ones can you find on store shelves and which ones would you personally recommend?

I attached a document with all beers and other products we currently have in our portfolio. For more information on the products you can also click on www.flens.de/produkte/sortiment (German). We created a helpful tool to track down retail markets (in Germany) that offer Flens: www.flens.de/flens-finder

  1. I also read about you creating the Flensburger Beer with quitten and pear. When did that come out and was it well received?

Flensburger Fassbrause Birne-Quitte was launched earlier this year and it turned out a perfect complement for our Fassbrause range!

  1. Have there been some flavors that were experimented but failed and were subsequentially taken off the shelves? If so, which ones and why?

A while ago we had two flavours of Flensburger Biermix (Blood orange & Grapefruit and Lemongrass), which are no longer in our portfolio.

Author’s Note: The lemongrass version I tried during the 2012 trip to Flensburg. The taste is similar to the Alsterwasser (Radler) but had a twist of lime. Nice taste but “schade” that it was pulled from the shelves. 🙂

  1. Are there any flavors that you are willing/planning to experiment with? Like strawberry, apple, etc.?

Please understand that this will be kept our secret.

Author’s note: Sometimes family breweries have the right to surprise the customers with their own concoction to market. So having this be kept top secret is no surprise and understandable, for it makes the customer become more interested. 😉

  1. Flensburger beer is common in English-speaking countries, including the US, where it was reported to be sold in places, like Texas, New York, North Dakota and even Minnesota (the last one because of the village of Flensburg located there).  Why do you think the people choose Flensburger over beers, like Budweiser, Coors or even Miller?

Our Flensburger beers have their very own distinctive tastes, in which they differ from most of the other “mainstream” beers. We are not compromising on the high quality of our products. This as well as the unique design of our swing-top bottle and the plop’ sound when opening it convinces people all over the world.

  1. While many breweries have been bought out or consolidated, the Flensburger has stood out as the “last man standing,” outfoxing the competition. In your opinion, what has been the secret to being successful?

People up here in Northern Germany are quite down-to-earth, straightforward and persistent. We don’t give up too easily, even in hard times we work as a team and face challenges together. We take pride in our history and the independence our brewery has maintained over all those years. That is something we will never give up at any price.

  1. Apart from supporting the handball team SG Flensburg-Handewitt, what other social engagements has the brewery undertaken in recent years?

The Flensburger Beer has been a proud sponsor of many sporting leagues in Schleswig-Holstein. This includes the state soccer league and our engagement in the Flens Cup tournament. We also cooperate with the SHZ Newspaper Group in awarding the People of the Year to those who engage in extraordinary activities to help those in need. Please check out the following link for further information on this: www.flens.de/aktuelles/engagement (German). We mainly focus on local projects and events.

  1. Last question: If you were to market the beer in the US and on the international scale, how would you like this logo: “Never party without the Flens!” ?

Our logo is “Flensburger. Experience the taste.”, which is not only communicated on a national basis but also internationally. Our Flensburger beers can be drunk at numerous occasions, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a party. In our portfolio we have at least one kind of beer for everyone, not only for youngsters who like to party but also for people who simply enjoy drinking an incredibly tasty beer!

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To sum up on this interview, the Flensburger beer has established itself as one of the main beers that one will see often when visiting Germany, because of its various flavors and its beloved ceramic “plop!” cap. Because of its successes other breweries are looking to the Flens for guidance as they too want to set foot on the ground in the beer business. For those who have never tried a good German beer, do not worry. There are two ways of trying the beer: One is through visiting Germany (and if time allows it, the Oktoberfest). The other is asking (or even hoping) that a good friend brings something to share with others. This was my experience when bringing two 2 liter bottles of Flensburger beer to a friend of mine in Pittsburgh in 2010 to share with others. Since that time, he has found ways to fly to Europe for some more. 🙂  If a good German beer, like the Flensburger can get someone to become a world traveller, then that person is bound to become more informed of the outside world and try new things while visiting other countries. After all, a good beer and a few small steps will make that big difference. 🙂

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Note: The author has a pair of good tricks up his sleave regarding this topic. One of which will be posted soon. The other will be announced in the fall. Stay tuned. 🙂