Notre Dame by Kerrie O’brien

Photo by: Madhurantakam [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
Our hearts bleed and our tears go out to the people in Paris and the entire country of France as one of the seven wonders of the country went up in smoke on the evening of 15th April, 2019. Fire broke out on the roof of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during evening mass. While the congregation got out as soon as the alarm went off, fire started to spread going up the spiral before it collapsed onto the roof of the building constructed in 1163. From there, fire took out the entire roof of the church before firemen stopped it from going to the twin towers where the church bells were at. It is very incomprehensible to look at the church before and after the blazing inferno, even as renovations had been ongoing prior to the fire. Thousands had put their heart and soul into building this magnificent architectural masterpiece. In the face of trying times, with protests against President Macron and a Europe that is divided over every issue possible, the fire at Notre Dame has brought together Europe, France and its people, unifying them now with one purpose: To rebuild the church, which is basically the same as rebuilding the nation.

As a tribute to the cathedral, which I visited as a college student in 1999, there is a poem that was written about Notre Dame by Irish poet Kerrie O’brien in 2016. Part of the poem series released as a book that year, this poem looks at the church as a symbol of light, love and unity, the three elements that were inseparable as the person paid homage to this historic icon and a visit to God at its alter.  You can find more poetry on Ms. O’brien by clicking here. For now, here’s to Notre Dame- you were a beauty before, you will be again…… ❤

Certain mornings
I would be the only one
To see the first streams of it –
Light
Tumbling through stained glass
Smattering everything
Red gold rose blue.
The beauty almost frightening.
Yves Klein would daub his women
Blue
And hurl them at the canvas.
Living brushes
Haphazard and outrageous –
Same effect.
Different every day
This glittering cave
Big beautiful lit up thing.
It knew and knew
Why I had come.
Blue gold rose red
Falling like water
My river walk,
My morning prayer.
I would step into it slow
Circling the altar
Gold cross flickering
In the centre
Anchored, rooted, still.
As above, so below
Eyes closed
Filling my heart
With the warmth of it
Until my body was
Sunlight and roses
And the fear
Fell away in petals
Would you believe it
If I told you
Nothing felt separate.

 

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Frage für das Forum: Should Residents in Germany automatically become Donors after Death?

Photo taken by Piotr Bodzek, MD [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D
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There is an old saying to start off the forum: If you are born to an American parent, you automtically become an American.  How about when you pass on: Should you automatically become an organ donor?

This is the question that is floating around aggressively in Berlin and is being talked about in hospitals and medical centers in Germany, thanks to German Health Minister Jens Spahn and his most recent proposal.

According to the proposal:

  • The “dual opt-out” donation system would automatically make everyone in Germany a registered organ donor.
  • People could still opt out at any time by putting themselves on a register that says they object to being a donor.
  • Family members could also revoke consent after a person dies.
  • Doctors would be required to consult with the family before removing any organs in the event a person is declared brain-dead.
  • People will be informed multiple times about the new system and the options to opt out.

The proposal comes in response to the sharp decrease in the number of organ donors between 2012 and 2017, combined with the increase in the number of patients who are on the waiting list for an organ donor.  According to a recent study, the number of organ donations carried out in Germany decreased from 1097 in 2012 to only 797 in 2017. Last year alone, some 9,400 people were on the organ transplant waiting list.  Less than 1,000 organ transplantations were carried out, while 2,000 on the waiting list died.

The current system allows for opting in to donations, where people who volunteer receive a donor card and their names are in the data bank. Critics feel that the opt-out clause is the same as forcing people to donate their organs when they die, even though they don’t want to.  Already an alternative proposal is in the works which would require repetitive questioning about donating organs when at the doctor or renewing their personal ID. The belief is that organ donations should be a conscious option that remains voluntary and not obligatory by the state.

While the debate goes to the Bundestag, the German upper parliament, which will be debated and voted upon soon, the question is whether being an automatic donor after death with the clausal to opt-out would make the best sense in the interest of the German population. Or if it makes sense to leave it the option to donate to the person him/herself. Henceforth, a poll has been created for you to vote upon. Feel free to do so and if you want, comment on this issue.

While the author does see many advantages of being an organ donor (he is one himself, plus there’s a success story on that which you can click here to read.), there are some who don’t want to based on past experiences or even religious beliefs. There are two sides to the story on this topic, just as much as two sides to the story on becoming Americans automatically when a child born to American parents is born abroad. It’s a question of listing the facts on both sides of the aisle and deciding based personal feelings towards this subject. 🙂

 

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Snowpocalypse in Germany

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Record-setting snowfall in southern and eastern Germany brings life to a standstill;  features 2-meter high drifts

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MUNICH/CHEMNITZ/SCHNEEBERG-

A friend of mine from Minnesota coined a term that many of us had not expected to witness for a long time, especially in light of the problems with global warming, a Snopocalypse! Since the beginning of this week, a storm front Benjamin roared through Germany, providing high winds and vast amount of precipitation- in the low-lying areas, rain and in the mountain regions, snow! With that, the northern and eastern parts of Germany, in particular the coastal areas, had to put up with coastal flooding because of high tides, high winds and rain. Places, like Wismar, Lübeck and Flensburg were flooded in many places, including the city center.

In the mountain areas, massive snowfall, combined with blowing and drifting and sometimes icy rain brought transportation services to a standstill in most places. Hardest hit areas were in the Alps region in southern Bavaria, but also in the mountain areas in northern Bavaria, as well as most of Saxony and Thuringia, where train services were shut down due to snow drifts. On the Harz-Brockenbahn Service route in Saxony-Anhalt, snow drifts buried a train causing rescue crews to work tirelessly around the clock to set it free. Parked cars became little mountains and hills due to the thick snow cover. Heavy, wet and sometimes sticky snow on trees caused many to fall under their own weight and their branches to break. Forests were blocked off in many parts of the Ore and Fichtel Mountains for safety reasons. Schools in Saxony and Bavaria were called off due to the snow, while other facilities were closed for safety reasons- some due to the heavy snow on Roofs; others because People living far away needed time to drive home. Yet with motorways and main roads  blocked with cars and trucks due to accidents, the trip home was for many an Odessy.  A collection of film clips with interviews of those affected will give you an idea how bad the Snowpocalypse is for much of the southern half of Germany.  

Gallery of film and photos:

 

To give you an idea of how bad, here’s an example of the snow that piled up in the town of Schneeberg in western Saxony. Nearly a half meter of snow fell and drifts were up to a meter in height. Yet Schneeberg normally receives half of what Oberwiesenthal near the Czech Border receives for snow. And as seen in the videos above, the city near the Fichtelberg got three times as much snow, plus drifts of up to 2-3 meters high.

The good news is that milder weather is coming, with temperatures ranging from the freezing point to 8°C in some places. However, it will be short-lived, for another front in the coming week will bring more snow and high winds to Germany, thus excacerbating the situation in the mountain regions. A cold front will then come and drop temperatures to well below freezing.

For those who are tired of the snow already, hang tight, we will be in for a rough ride. The Files will keep you posted on the latest on the Snowpocalypse in Germany. Yet a guide on how to survive a winter like this is in the making and will be posted here. Stay tuned.

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Promotional Campaign for the 2018 Mid-Term Elections

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In light of the Mid-term Elections in the United States, which takes place on November 6th, I’ve produced a video about the state of the US from an American expatriate’s point of view, asking the American people both here and abroad: Is this the America we want?

There are two options: One can sit out and allow for events to happen, or one can take the extra hour and vote. If you don’t like what you see in the US and its standing in the world, then my only advice is this……

VOTE!

 

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FINALLY! SG Flensburg-Handewitt Wins German Premere League Handball Championship

SG Flensburg-Handewitt wins German League Title for the second time in 14 years; its first title since 2015. 

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FLENSBURG- Schleswig-Holstein has had some interesting times lately as three teams tried to advance onto the (inter)national scene after finishing in the top three. Holstein Kiel tried to break the 36-year Bundesliga drought in soccer. But the fighting storks finished third in the Second League standings and lucked out in the relegation playoffs against VFL Wolfsburg 4-1 in two games.  SC Weiche Flensburg won the Regionalliga North title in its inaugural season after the merger between two teams in Flensburg. They came one goal and a possible shootout short against Energie Cottbus in the playoffs to become the second team from Flensburg to enter the national scene in Third League German Soccer.  The score in two games: 3-2.

While the two teams are licking their chops and reloading their manpower for another run in the 2018/19 season, one team finally broke the drought and put the northernmost sea-locked state in Germany back on the map; and that was the Albatrosses of SG Flensburg-Handewitt (FH)!  😀

After finishing in fifth during mid-season, FH capped off its comeback of the season under first-year coach Maik Machulla by holding off Göppingen (in Baden-Wurttemberg) 22-21 in the last game of the season. FH needed an outright win in order to seal the deal, for a tie would have meant a heartbreaking loss, and a third, second place finish in a row, two of which would have been behind the Lions of Rhein Neckar. The Lions defeated Leipzig 28-25 thus closing the door on the opportunity of a tie between Flensburg and Göppingen. Both teams were tied at half-time at 12-12 before FH started an offensive to take a three-goal lead with six minutes left in the game. A furious comeback was stuffed by FH’s defense despite cutting the lead to one before the buzzard. Once the game ended, it was pandemonium in Flensburg!

In its 28th season, this is only the second German Premere League Handball title ever, the team’s first since 2004. As far as (inter) national titles are concerned, while the team has yet to win the triple crown like its rival in Kiel, this is Flensburg’s first title since winning the German Cup (DHB Pokal) in 2015. In this decade alone, FH has won each of its international and national titles once: The Champions League in 2014, The Super Cup in 2013 and the European Cup in 2012, the same year Kiel won the Triple Crown (German League, Champions League and German Cup).

With the monkey off its back, Flensburg will be focusing on bigger goals as it enters uncharted territory. It will compete in the Champions League together with Rhein Neckar, Berlin Foxes and SC Magdeburg in Germany. The European competitors will be tougher to beat. Yet even though it will defend its German League title, it may face an old nemesis when in the German Cup: HSV Hamburg. The team reemerged from bankruptcy with winning the Third League title this season and will be in the Second League. Hamburg and Flensburg had battled back and forth before the team went into administration after the 2016 season. Hamburg’s last title before that was in 2011.

But in the meantime, let’s celebrate this victory and rearm for the next season. You guys deserve this title! 🙂

Highlights of the game can be found here.

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The Last of the Dinosaurs is Dead: Hamburg SV Demoted After 55 Years in German Soccer Bundesliga- Quiz

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54 years, 261 days, zero hours and 15 minutes. That was how long the German soccer team Hamburg SV lasted in the German Soccer League in the Top Tier. The team was one of the 16 founding fathers that created the Bundesliga in 1963. Its last Bundesliga title came in 1983. Now, the clock that had been keeping track of the time in the Bundesliga has stopped. Despite a 2-1 victory in the last game of the 2017/18 season against Mönchengladbach, Wolfsburg sealed HSV’s fate by running over FC Cologne 4-1. Wolfsburg needed to lose in order for HSV to play in the relegation playoffs with third place finisher in the second league Holstein Kiel. As it stands, HSV finished in second to last place in the standings and will play in the second league of the Bundesliga for the first time ever this fall. It will be accompanied by another founding Bundesliga team, last-place Cologne and if Kiel wins playoff series and enters the top league, Wolfsburg.

And while the last dinosaur officially became extinct after many years of being beset by misfortunes in management and sports and barely escaping the relegation series at least twice, it makes a person wonder how many times did the founding fathers have success in winning titles in comparison to being demoted down one league- that is until Bayern Munich’s current run of winning its fifth Bundesliga title in a row, and in cakewalk fashion. But before presenting the facts, why not try out a Guessing Quiz that looks at the founding fathers of the Bundesliga?

There were 18 teams that started play in the 1963/64 season. Since HSV’s official demotion into the second league, there are no more dinosaurs left, who played every season in the top league.

Guessing Quiz:

1. Who were the founding fathers of the Bundesliga in 1963? There were 18 of them.

 

 

2. Bayern Munich entered the top league later on and has been in the Bundesliga ever since. It now holds the title for being in the top league the longest without ever being demoted.

When did the team enter? _____________ When did the team win its first title?

 

 

3. Another team entered the Bundesliga and has yet to also play in the second league after being demoted. It holds the second longest record of its kind. Which team was it and when did it enter the first league for the first time ever?

 

 

4. One of the founding fathers actually had to play in the second league only once. After four years it returned to the top league and has been there ever since. It currently holds the title as the second longest tenured team even after it had been demoted before. Which team was that and how many years has it been in the league since its last demotion?

 

 

5. Prior to HSV’s demotion to the second league, there were two other founding teams that had been in the top league for at least three decades before being demoted for the first time. Which teams were they and when did they get demoted for the first time?

 

 

6. Which (current) founding team in the Bundesliga has never won any titles since the league’s creation?

 

 

7. Which two founding members of the Bundesliga has been in the top league the shortest time (and has still yet to return)?

 

 

8. Which German cities used to host two Bundesliga teams, one of which was a founding member of the team? Which teams are they?

 

 

9. Which German cities used to have two professional teams in the second league competing with each other before one of the two was promoted to the top league?

 

 

10. Which team would have competed with HSV as the longest tenured Bundesliga team had it not been for the one-year exile in the second league? Hint: This team has been in the second and third tiers since 2006.

 

11. Which seven teams have won doubles at least once (meaning the national cup and the Bundesliga title)? Hint: Four were from the former western half and three from the eastern half of Germany.

 

12. Of the three in the former East German Bundesliga (which dissolved after German reunification in 1990), which of them was the longest tenured team in the Bundesliga?

 

13. Of the three above-mentioned teams, which ones defeated FC Bayern Munich once before 1990 and at least once since then?

 

14. Since when has FC Bayern Munich finished no worse than third place? Fifth place?

 

15. The following teams had mascots. What were they?

Eintract Brunswick

MSV Duisburg

FC Kaiserslautern

Hertha BSC Berlin

Eintract Frankfurt

Hamburg SV

FC Cologne

 

Bonus: Holstein Kiel, whose mascot is a ___________ has not been in the Bundesliga since _________.

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Leipzig Book Convention 2018: No Record but Lots of Suspense

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LEIPZIG-  If there is one theme that would sum up the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention this past weekend, it would be suspense. While members of the committee had expected another record year with a possible 300,000 visitors, that mark was missed by a long shot and for the first time in six years, the number of visitors at this year’s convention had decreased. 271,000 visitors went to the convention that took place from 15th to 18th March, a decrease of 14,000 from last year’s number of 285,000.  But despite the decrease, there was a lot of suspense in this year’s convention, which goes beyond the theme of Romania as the guest country. Here are some examples based on the author’s annual visit together with family members:

Snow and Cold- The decrease in numbers had a lot to do with Old Man Winter’s last grasp. Snow and blowing snow, combined with extreme cold temperatures brought vast parts of central and northern Germany to a near standstill, with parts of Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia taking the brunt of the storm.  Frozen overhead lines and crossing points were additional factors that led to the shut down of the main railway stations in Leipzig and Halle (Saale) and the cancellation of train services spanning seven German states and points to the east. This led to overfilled streetcars and buses to the Messe Convention. Adding traffic jams on the major highways also because of blowing and drifting snow and many who wanted to go to the book convention decided to stay home- at least until the sunniest day of the convention, which was the last day (Sunday). But even then, the one critique point that seems to be the problem in Germany is snow removal, where much of the parking lots were still unplowed when guests arrived on Sunday, undoubtedly the peak of the four-day long convention.

Fighting the Right- Another factor affecting the numbers is the increase in the number and influence of the far-right media. Several publishing companies producing such propaganda in newspapers and books were present, mostly in Hall 3. This included Compact and Neue Stimmen, a pair of most prominent magazines that have ties with the far right groups including the Pegida, National Party (NPD) and Alternative for Germany (AfD), the third of which is currently in the German Federal Parliament as an opposition to the newly created Grand Coalition with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats.  Especially on Friday and Saturdays clashes broke out between the far right and far left, resulting in police involvement and arrests. As they wanted to avoid massive conflicts like it happened at the 2017 Book Convention in Frankfurt/Main, it was met with partial success for despite measures to prevent violent outbreaks, the far right, with its anti-democratic and anti-European policies kept many away because of their strive to commit strife. On the flip side, several prominent authors who have written about right-wing terrorism and its threat to democracy were on hand. One of them, Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad, won the European book prize for her work on Anders Breivik, a far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in two separate attacks in 2011. People like Seierstad believe that right-wing extremism has been on the rise since then, including her home country.

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Peaceful Co-existence- While the snowstorm and the far-right made waves in the media, one aspect that was seldom touched was religion. In Hall 3 there was a section where Christianity and Islam were in peaceful co-existence of each other. At least four booths with publications and newspapers on Islam and another seven on Christianity were found clumped together with people gathering to both sides of the aisle. Interesting was how the two religions attracted the people. On the side of Islam, people came in droves because of their interest in the religion and the literature that pertained to it. This is disregarding how it was written- which was either German or Arabic with a couple English examples.  This included the Islam Newspaper in German, which judging by my observations, has a lot of culture and history, but go along the mentality of the Native Americans as described by historian Dee Brown: “We are still here.” Why? Because of attempts to suppress their culture by the domination of Christianity and the western way of life, one can see that Islam still exists and the impression is that they are open to anyone wishing to learn at least a bit of the religion. There had been fears that the religion would dominate the European landscape. That is not true. The people of Islam wish to have a sort of peaceful co-existence that has not existed for a long time, for many since the time before the Arab Spring of 2011 which led to millions fleeing the war-torn areas. On the other side, Christianity was presented in a marketing fashion. While on the way to the main entrance of the convention, we were greeted by hippie-style Christians who gave us a free coupon to one of the booths that was giving away books dealing with stories involving Christ, philosophy and the existence of God. Another booth was continuing the Martin Luther celebrations of 500 years ago by illustrating the printing press used to produce the 500 Theses written by Luther. And then there was Christianity in the form of music and schools that offer both. Target language was both German and English and they attracted a fair number of people. Yet despite the moderate increase of younger people joining Christ, the numbers have decreased on a global scale thanks to corruption, sex abuse scandals and attempts to associate Christianity with far-right figures, such as US President Trump. One can see the desperate attempts to convince people to join by giving away books upon leaving the Buch Messe- and seeing tons being discarded in garbage cans in the parking lot. It does appear that if Christianity was to regain its original form, it may need to separate itself from politics and reinvent itself by adapting to the needs of today’s generations, a step that has been taken in some aspects, like homosexuality, but in others- like tolerance- it’s having problems doing.

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Blocks at the Manga–  While the Manga exhibition, located in Hall 5, attracted its typical individuals, which included superheroes, waitresses in short skirts, aliens, and people dressed up in outfits dating back 125 years ago, one has to look more carefully at the trends that a person can find. While the theme from last year  was lighting in Japan, this year’s theme seemed to be boxes and its several shapes, designs and sizes. No matter whether they were lunch boxes, jewelry boxes or even mini-storage boxes or even designer boxes  found at booths like the Sega games, it was a real treat just to see these boxes while looking at the products typical of Japan, which include stuffed animals, sweets, games, books and even dishware, just to name a few.

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Thinking Scandanavia- To round off our tour of the Buchmesse, we have some literature recommendations worth noting. One of the unique aspects of the convention was found at the international book section in Hall 4 and in Scandanavia. Consisting of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finnland, the themes most commonly written by authors in the region  consists of mysteries, tourism, mental well-being and lastly photography. Two books that represent fine examples of such works is a Danish work by Meik Wilking entitled The Little Book of Lykke: The Path to being the Happiest People in the World, which focuses on the Danish secret to being the happiest society in the world. This includes the way of life, physical and mental well-being, mentality towards materialist items and money as well as the power of the bicycle.  Another is a collection of night-time and sometimes underwater photography by Finnish author Petri Juntunen entitled “At the Heart of It All,” where he brings the new meaning of photography to light, as he focuses on relicts and other non-life forms that are shone down by a ray of light, showing the interest from above.

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To sum up the visit and the highlights, the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention may have not set any records this year, yet judging from the news and my own observations, one could not get enough of the suspense that was presented, both positively as well as negatively. Still, as themes, such as religion, extremism, social and cultural issues and current affairs (such as environment and climate change) become the everyday norm, such book conventions like in Leipzig and also in Frankfurt/Main will need to adapt in a way that these issues are addressed and people understand them and take action. This action should also include putting an end to hate and violence, a commodity that has always been a burden to society but one that seems to become a universal problem on all fronts, especially since the end of 2015. It is only hoped that the next book convention will bring about constructive themes and discussion instead of propagizing hatred and inequality based on things we don’t like.

The next Leipzig Buchmesse will take place  from 21st to 24th March 2019. To see more photos of the Buchmesse, please click here as it will take you to the Files’ facebook page and its photo album. Please feel free to add your photos and impressions of the Buchmesse. We love to see them. 🙂

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