2016 Christmas Market Tour: Flensburg

I would like to start off this tour with a story and a definition of the word punch. It happened at my cousin’s high school graduation reception in 1990 and I was 13. We had a large bowl of fruit punch that was based on a family recipe from my grandmother- basically, fruit juice with ginger ale and ice cream. I drained the lake and wanted more, but in response, my aunt (the proud mother of that high school graduate) decided to give me the punch I deserved, which went along the lines of this…..

You can imagine how I looked like minutes later, with a pair of Ozzy eyes (named after the famed rock singer Ozzy Osbourne)!  😉

The English version of punch is translated into German as Bowle, and with the exception of Feuerzangenbowle (a hot red wine punch with a sugar cone soaked in rum lit above it), a Bowle is a large bowl of sweet non-alcoholic beverage, served with or without ice cream (a typical German gets by without this).  However, punch can also mean Punsch in German, and that has alcohol in there.

The Christmas market in Flensburg is centered around this theme, as I had an opportunity to steal a couple hours to have a look at it. And believe me, having sampled at least five different types while up there, I felt like this afterwards:

I highly doubt Flensburg’s Roter Strasse, which is laden with shops connecting two markets was like Dodge City, Kansas in the Hollywood western films starring John Wayne, however if one is not careful with the punch, one could end up getting sobered up in the icy cold water of the Fjorde, located only 200 meters away. 😉

Overview of the Christmas market at Südermarkt with St. Nicolas Church in the background.

But getting to the real aspect here, Flensburg’s Christmas market is plotted out in a way that all of the  huts are located either in Südermarkt, where the St. Nicolas Church is located, or along the Roter Strasse. Basically, as a friend of mine (who is a Flensburger) suggested in an inquiry: Start at the market and work your way up the huts along the street. 😉 Normally, Flensburg has two markets- Südermarkt and Nordermarkt (at Schiffbrückstrasse). The reason Nordermarkt does not have any Christmas market huts is not just because of space issues, but also because seven eateries are located there. Another open area not used for the Christmas market is the Kanalschuppen am Hafenspitze (will be named Hafenspitze in this article), at the tip of the harbor. Some carnevals and markets can be found there in the springtime, and the space is technically suitable for a few huts and some form of amusement at Christmas time. However, that remained empty during my visit in November before the first Advent. Having the market directly in the city center at Südermarkt and along the main street definitely makes sense because of its location- with stores, museums and other public places lined up and down along the street, safety because of the high density of traffic encircling the city center via Norderhofenden, and convenience as people can shop and taste the punch, like going through revolving doors connecting the shopping center indoors and the huts and eateries outside at the market.

However, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, the theme of Flensburg’s Christmas market is the punch. One will see a booth for every three that sells this unique drink. The origin of Flensburg’s punch is from over 230 years of producing rum by as many as 20 refineries and distilleries owned by 13 different families; the most famous ones were Petersen, Hansen, Jensen, Braasch, Johannsen, Christiansen and Pott. One will see memorials, street names and businesses named after them today, while touring Flensburg.  And while one can take the Rum-Sugar Mile Tour, like I did during my first visit in 2010, that combined with the taste of rum or any form of punch with the beverage in there, provides the tourist with a unique treat at Christmas time. The lone caveat based on my personal experience: no matter what kind of punch a person tries, each one may have a different flavor but they one common ground, which is the ability to pack a punch with every sip. So please, be careful when sampling. 😉

I tried five different types of punch while at the Flensburger Christmas market. They included the following:

Johannsen Rum Punch- I tried this at the Johannsen hut along the main street and it was so powerful, that not even a slap in the face from a furious fraulein would surpass it. It had a citrus, cinnamon and dry red wine taste to it, but with the Johannsen Rum, one sip is enough for a good buzz. The hut was selling bottles of their signature punch when I was there. One of which was bought as a Christmas gift for a family member, who is a rum fan. We’ll see if he gets the same impression as I had. 😉

Braasch Rum Punch- Tasted at the booth near Südermarkt, this type of punch is a bit milder than the Johannsen as it had a taste of raisin, almonds and brown sugar in there. Still one does recognize the taste of rum when drinking it. For those who don’t like dried alcoholic beverage, like wine, this one is worth it because of its sweetness. This one is highly recommended. 🙂

Flensburg Special- This was purchased at a booth along the main street near Nordermarkt. Containing cinnamon schnaps and rum punch, this one has a very spicy but sweet taste to it, similar to cinnamon itself. If you have not tried cinnamon liquor, you don’t know what you’re missing. 😉

Fernwärme Punsch- Like the Flensburger Flotilla (a concoction featuring rum, Flensburger beer and apple juice), the Fernwärme Punsch, a.k.a. Hot Pipe Punch, features the signature products of Flensburg, minus the beer. In this case, Johannsen Rum with apple punch. The taste is sour as Granny Smith’s apples, but it is relatively mild.

Pott Rum Punch- Featuring a combination of der Gute Pott Rum, red wine and the spices that make up the spiced wine, this one is far different from the typical spiced wine because of its rum taste and its spiciness. Nevertheless, one will get a good dose of rum and Flensburg’s heritage with this sip, while trying this at the market.

But not everything is centered around rum at the Christmas market. Aside from the traditional German entrées that can be found at a Christmas market, like the goulash, bratwurst and kabobs, there were several huts that served some delicacies from outside of Germany, including Italy, Scandanavia and Turkey. One of the places worth visiting is a Turkish hut that serves Börek. Börek is a pastry that is made of a flaky dough called phyllo and is filled with either meat or a combination vegetable and cheese- namely spinach and Feta cheese. It can also be served with fruit pending on the appetite. I had a chance to try one while at Südermarkt and it tasted really delicious.

In spite of its fame in the rum industry and its multi-cultural foods the market offers, there are a couple of caveats about the market that the city government and organizers should take into consideration when planning the next Christmas market. One deals with the opening hours of the market, the other deals with spatial issues and possible expansion to make it more attractive.

The first oddity I found with the Christmas market were the hours. Flensburg’s Christmas market is one of a few in Germany that are open beyond Christmas- specifically, until the 31st of December. Most Christmas markets close before Christmas or even on Christmas Eve, thus sticking to the guidelines and observing the holidays, let alone families wishing to celebrate and then go on vacation. However, the opening hours of Flensburg’s market is even more odd. They are open until 10pm daily, even though most stores and shopping areas at and near the market close at 8:00pm sharp, unless some exceptions are noted. Aside from the fact that it was a perfect opportunity to visit during the evening of my visit in Schleswig-Holstein, there are some benefits and drawbacks to extended hours. The benefits include the possibility to eat and drink at the huts with friends, as well as buy any last minute gift items for Christmas, even if it was a bottle of a valuable rum, like Braasch or Johannsen. For many who work long hours or have to travel long distances, a brief stop at the market in Flensburg provides them with a chance to enjoy the view of the city center and harbor, while sipping one of their punches and eating a rare cuisine.

The drawbacks to having extended hours are two-fold. The first one is the conflict between the huts selling their goods, the retailers and the customers. While the market may be open until 10pm, many retailers may feel disadvantaged because of the loss of sales. In addition, many customers would like to do some nighttime shopping in addition to visiting the Christmas market and would see extended opening hours on weekdays as an advantage, especially as they do not have sufficient time to shop for Christmas. On the flip side, however, some huts I observed while touring Roter Strasse closed a half hour to an hour earlier because they didn’t have enough customers to keep their stores open. If a salesperson sees one or two customers stopping at a stand during the last two hours of the market in comparison with over 300 during peak times between 12:00 and 6:00pm, then the question remains if these two extra hours makes sense.  Roter Strasse is known to Flensburgers and tourists alike as the district that never sleeps- not just because of the lighting, but also the bustling nightlife that goes on even after 10:00pm. This is speaking from personal experience after visiting the city for the fifth time since 2010. Even at midnight, one will see people walking around or see some action in one form or another. It is also one of the busiest pedestrian pathways in northern Germany as thousands roam the streets during the day when all stores and eateries are open. Keeping this in mind, businesses and planners need to work on having transparent opening hours at the market. If the stores wish to close at 8:00pm, then the Christmas market should also follow suit and close their shops just like the other markets. If the Christmas market wishes to remain open until 10pm, then at least the shopping centers and key businesses should remain open to encourage shoppers to buy their gifts AND eat or drink at the market. Only with these uniform guidelines will Flensburg win more customers and leave no one out in the cold.

View of the market at Südermarkt and its pyramid from the steps of St. Nicolas Church.

Another critique point of the Flensburg market is the space. The market is concentrated at Südermarkt with some huts lined along Roter Strasse. Despite the main street connecting both markets, there are no huts at Nordermarkt because of its proximity to the numerous eateries nearby, let alone its size as it is at least half the size of Südermarkt. But as mentioned earlier, there is potential for expansion on the opposite end of Süderhofenden, the main highway passing through Flensburg. In the past, the highway was laden with traffic, and crossing the street to the Hafenspitze was dangerous. However, since the Deutsche Bahn has eliminated train service connecting the harbor with the train station a few years ago, plans are in the work to convert the rail tracks to a pedestrian path, thus encouraging more commerce around the harbor and possibly enlarging the Christmas market. Already in the works is the revitalizing of Angelburger Strasse from the former Comic/Bike Shop Bridge at Süderhofenden to Petersen’s Bike Shop at Bismarck Strasse by redesigning the businesses, renovating many of the historic buildings along the street to provide housing and new commerce and encouraging businesses and residents to move to the area, the city council, merchants and planners are working to attract more people and businesses and thus relieving the overcrowding that the business district has, especially at Christmas time. If successful, a row of huts and other forms of holiday entertainment, perhaps around a (cultural) theme could be provided to encourage people to visit there.

Former Restaurant Bellevue now called Heimathafen at Hafenspitze
View of Flensburg’s skyline from the Restaurant Heimathafen. This is the third picture at this site since my first visit in 2010. The Christmas tree is on the far left.

Another sign that an area of Flensburg is being revitalized came with the purchase and reopening of the former Bellevue Restaurant at Hafenspitze in June 2016. As the restaurant is fostering its growth in the number of customers, one could revitalize the area at Hafenspitze by adding an amusement section, like a theater or a few rides, and a few huts to provide food and drink for those interested. During my visit the area was completely empty and what was featured that constitutes a Christmas market was a lighted Christmas tree in the harbor. Great photo opportunity for a dedicated (night) photographer, but Flensburg can do better with utilizing and revitalizing the area, let alone a larger Christmas tree in the harbor.  With this development, the city can attract more businesses, especially from Denmark and parts of Scandanavia. There were only a couple stands selling goods from the region, despite its campaign of being the market with a Scandanavian flair. However, with some redeveloping of the aforementioned areas combined with some incentives, the city can bring in many businesses from up north- be it the ones in the north of the city, at the border in Pattburg or even in other parts of Denmark and beyond. Flensburg’s role as a border town, a multi-cultural community with the largest Danish minority in Germany and its great reputation in many fields makes it a magnet for more people, businesses, and in the end one of the most attractive Christmas markets  in the region. 🙂

Night photo of Flensburg’s City Center and Christmas tree at Hafenspitze

Flensburg’s Christmas market can be best summed up in this way. The market centers around its rum industry and its many types of punch a person can try. It does complement the businesses and historic places the city has to offer and it definitely makes the city center a rather attractive place morning, noon and night. It is a small market with a potential for greater and bigger things, especially in light of recent developments at Hafenspitze and Angelburger Strasse, but it is definitely not small enough to be missed while travelling north to Scandanavia. One just needs to start at Südermarkt and work their way along Roter Strasse. With a good punch in the hand, and a walk along the business strip, visiting each booth, one will not forget this trip. I personally didn’t. 🙂

 

Apart from this, more photos of Flensburg’s Christmas market, taken by the author, can be found on the Files’ facebook page. Just click here and you’ll be directed to the photo album.

 

  DO AGREE WITH THE AUTHOR? 

What things can be done to make Flensburg’s Christmas market more attractive? Do you agree with the author’s critique? Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the Comment section below. But don’t forget, the city council, planners and merchants would also like to hear from you too. 🙂

Prost! Cheers! Salut! Mazeltov! From the two travel companions enjoying a good Flens beer: BamBam and CoCo (brown)

The Mystery Christmas Piece: The Three Candles

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The Schwibbogen, one of the landmarks a person will see while visiting Germany at Christmas time. Consisting of an arch with holders for candles, the Bogen is more commonly known as the Lichterbogen, and has its traditions going back to the 18th Century. The first known Bogen was made in Johanngeorgenstadt in the Ore Mountain region in Saxony, in 1740. It was made of black metal, which is the color of the ore found in the mountain range, was made out of a forged metal piece, and was later painted with a series of colors, adding to the piece 11 candles. This is still the standard number for a normal Bogen, but the number of candles is dependent on the size. The smaller the Bogen, the fewer the candles. Paula Jordan, in 1937, provided the design of the Bogen, by carving a scene. At first, it featured 2 miners, 1 wood carver, a bobbin lace maker, a Christmas Tree, 2 miner’s hammers, 2 crossed swords, and an angel. The light shining in represented the light the miners went without for months as they mined the mountain. However, since World War II, the scenes have varied. Nowadays, one can see scenes depicting the trip to Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth, a historic Christmas village, and nature scenes, just to name a few.  Here’s a classical example of a Bogen one will find in a window sill of a German home:

 

Photo courtesy of Oliver Merkel.
Photo courtesy of Oliver Merkel.

One will also find Schwibbogen at the Christmas markets, including the Striezelmarkt in Dresden and the largest Schwibbogen in the world at its place of origin in Johanngeorgenstadt, which was erected in 2012 and has remained a place to see ever since! 🙂

Going from the Ore Mountains, 7,400 kilometers to the west, one will see another form of the Schwibbogen, but in the state of Iowa. During the Christmas trip through Van Buren County, Iowa, and in particular, Bentonsport, several houses were shining with candles of their own. But these are totall different than the Schwibbogen we see in German households and Christmas markets. Each window had three candles, with one in the middle that is taller than the two outer ones. This is similar to the very top picture in the article, even though it is a mimic of what was seen at the village. When attempting to photograph the houses, the author was met with this:

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Even though there is not much to see from there, it shows how the candles are arranged in front of the window, closed with a curtain. Van Buren County was predominantly Dutch (more on that will come when looking at the Christmas villages), but it is unknown what the meaning behind the three candles are, let alone who was behind the concept and why. Could it be that the Dutch were simply mimicking the Schwibbogen from Saxony but just simply using three candles instead of eleven and subtracting the designed arch holder? And what does the design of the three candles stand for?

Any ideas are more than welcomed. Just add your comments or use the contact form to inform the author what the difference between the three candles and the Schwibbogen are in terms of origin and meaning. The information will be provided once the answers are collected and when looking at the Christmas villages in the county. They are small, but each one has its own culture which has been kept by its residents. The three candles are one of these that can be seen today at Christmas time, even while passing by the houses travelling along the Des Moines River, heading northwest to Des Moines.  Looking forward to the info on this phenomenon. 🙂

 

Author’s Note: Check out the Flensburg Files’ wordpress page, as a pair of genres dealing with Christmas have been posted recently. They are film ads produced by a German and a British retailer, respectively. Both are dealing with the dark sides of Christmas, as the German one looks at loneliness without family (click here) and ways to get them home for the holidays (even though the technique presented is controversial), and the British one deals with a girl meeting a man far far away (click here), who is lonely and wants company, which is given in the end.  Both have powerful messages, so have your tissues out. 🙂

 

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Refugee Crisis in Europe: A Chance or a Hindrance for Society?

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Refugees in Europe: a topic that has become the centerpiece of all discussions at home and in public. It’s a topic that we have tried to ignore for so long, but we can no longer do. It’s a topic where many of us have become ignorant of the feelings of those who came to Europe for a reason- to escape poverty and war. Instead we end up indulging in hate: hate towards them, those who help them and even the journalists who write or even talk about them. A famous example of how a journalist took the hit and fired back was a commentary by Anja Rescke of the German public TV station NDR recently:

In response to her comment, I as a columnist have to quote about about this situation: Many of us come to Europe because we are tired of the social and economic pathologies that we had grown up with and tolerated for most of our lives. This include political debates that tear families apart, racial violence that rips the fabric of society, widening gaps in between the rich and poor, and the exponential increase in paranoia because of a misdemeanor in school that is blown out of proportion and considered a felony in the eyes of police and the principal. If you have read about a child’s homemade clock that was brought to school and was considered a bomb, you would understand my reasoning there. 😉 We have tried so hard to tame society to follow the leader like blind naive lambs being lead to the slaughter house. End result: we have been deprived our right to freedom of speech, expression, movement and action.

And this is speaking from a point of view of an American who has been living in Germany for 16 years now.  Sad, isn’t it? 😦

The situation with the refugees in Europe is no different: their homelands are in shambles, terror groups are taking over the countries, starting a holy war and suppressing the population in a brutal way, and all hope is lost, despite intervention by the US and its allies which has been meagre at best. These people are fleeing to Europe not for the sake of imposing their ways on others or making lives of their residents difficult, but they want to make a living like the ones who move there from Asia, the Americas and Australia, just to name a few.

Unfortunately, the largest influx of refugees in European history has caused a strain in the social infrastructure, let alone violence from right-winged groups. Even pressure is being applied to politicians to put a cap on the refugees coming in. A video shown below, where German chancellor Angela Merkel breaks the heart of a refugee wanting to live in Germany, is a testament showing that not everyone can live and work in a country as they please, despite the need to integrate them into society and have them fill in the gaps in many areas of industry, left behind by many either retiring or emigrating Germany:

Germany is one of a few destinations for the refugees, and with over 800,000 coming in- the highest in German history. Whether this is a blessing or a curse remains to be determined, but one thing is for sure: The majority of the German population, as informed and open as they are, would rather have them in their society than the right-winged radicals who still believe Hitler was the greatest, when in all reality he was anything BUT that. Germany has lots to offer, speaking from personal experience, and the population understands that well. Hence the embracing of people so that they can start over. It’s a well understandable explanation. However….

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Why choose Germany instead of the USA or other countries in Europe. This is for you to answer. Here’s a few questions that you can discuss, even with your students in class. They include:

  1. What are the benefits Germany has to offer in comparison with other European countries?
  2. What drawbacks could the refugees imagine having when living in Germany, APART from the language barrier?
  3. Imagine this situation: A family of refugees decide to move into your village or town. How would you help them get integrated into society? Would you be open to their culture and way of life?
  4. (Continuing from Nr. 3) Would you take a class in a language of the regions where the refugees are coming from (Russian, Arabic, Persian)?
  5. Would you embrace their religion or keep your faith? Why?
  6. In your opinion, if the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan were to end and the areas would be rebuilt, would you help in the efforts? Do you think the refugees would return and why?
  7. In connection with the author’s quote below, imagine this situation: Do you think this refugee crisis would have been hindered had it not been for the anti-Terror policies of George W. Bush, which included wars in two countries where most of the refugees are coming from? Why or why not?

To end this article I would like to present a grim reality to George W. Bush- the man who started the war in Iraq to ouster Saddam Hussein in an attempt to finish the job started by Bush Sr. This is aside the campaign to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan, which was supposed to be short and sweet.   It was not necessary to start the war in the first place, and we really do not know if the arguments for justifying the war was relevant with the attacks of 11 September 2001. But we do know this: The mission has not been accomplished, as seen in the picture on board the USS Abraham Lincoln. Not even close. Because if it had been accomplished, Iraq would have been completely rebuilt, as much as when Germany was rebuilt after World War II. We would not have terrorists chasing people out of their homes nor would we have this refugee crisis right now. In fact, we would not be drowning in hatred towards these innocent people looking for a better life than what they had. This war in Iraq, which thanks to ISIS, has spread into Syria,  is the longest war in the American history books so far, and one that has yet to be ended. Unfortunately, it is up to the other countries- not the US- to finish the job. My question to W. and those who still claim the Iraqi war was justified is this: Was this really necessary and why?

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Umweltzone (Environmental Zone)

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Before we go into another topic on the environment in the classroom, I decided to throw out a question for you to answer. In every German city, including Ulm, where I photographed this picture, we have signs like these popping up on the streets before entering the city center: the “Umweltzone” signs with a color-coded symbol indicating what is “frei” (allowed) and what is not. Sometimes these signs are accompanied with a bike and pedestrian trail sign, indicating a trail running alongside the streets. The Flensburg Files Frage für das Forum is: What does the Umwelt sign stand for, including the color-coded signs? What other signs have you seen that are similar/ in connection with this topic?

Place your comments, photos and suggestions here or in the comment section in the Files’ facebook page. The answer will come very soon. Happy Guessing! 🙂

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(New) Ulm: The Guessing Quiz

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After a long hiatus, the Files is taking you back to Minnesota and the German-named villages. Just like with the villages of Bergen and New Trier, the next stop will look at the largest of the 12 villages in Minnesota that carries a name that is common in Germany, comparing the US town with the one straddling the Danube River at the borders between Baden Wurrtemberg and Bavaria.

New Ulm was one of the first villages established after the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was signed in 1851, which allowed the settlers to claim lands in the southern half of the state of Minnesota. The town was established in 1854, four years before the state entered the Union.  The German equivalent, Ulm, dates back to the time of the Germanic tribes of the 11th Century. Yet thanks to the Napoleon Conquest combined with the rise of King Ludwig II, the city was subsequentially split along river lines in 1810. On the BW side, there is Ulm, on the Bavarian side, Neu-Ulm. Yet both the German communities and the one in Minnesota have parallel lives.

Before looking at the two communities further, here’s a Guessing Quiz for you to try out. One of which features a Mystery Building question. Without further ado, here are a few questions for you to try, with the answers to be given once the article is published:

Mark which cities has what for a place of interest, either with NU-G (Ulm/Neu Ulm, Germany), NU-US (New Ulm, US) or both.

  1. Cathedral

  2. Fort

  3. University

  4. Railway Station

  5. German-Bohemian Monument

  6. Hermann the German Monument

  7. Professional soccer team

  8. Brewery

  9. American-style street patterns

  10. Streets named after American celebrities

  11. Oktoberfest

  12. Christmas market

  13. Fachwerkhäuser (as seen in the picture)

  14. Canals that merge with a major river.

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MYSTERY BUILDING:  This building, features a water tower with a red-white checkerboard pattern located next to a shed. While the building is being used for residential purposes, the water tower is out uf use at the present time. The question is when this water tower was built and what was its original purpose? One clue to help: This is located near the Institute of Technology of Neu Ulm, in an area where the US Army was once stationed until 1991. What else do we know about this?

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GUESSING QUIZ:  This tower is located at the north end of New Ulm’s business district. What is its purpose? What is the name of the tower and who built it?

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Both cities had their share of conflicts and celebrities. Can you name at least one conflict that each town faced? Can you identify two people from each town that became celebrities and in what way?

Good luck with the guessing attempts. The answers will follow. 🙂

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Note: The bridges from both towns will appear in separate articles in the sister column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Each place has its share of history with these crossings.

Genre of the Week: America is not the greatest nation on the face of the Earth any more- The Newsroom

This entry looks at not only the genre of the week, but also a Frage für das Forum on the role of the United States as its world superpower. Or is it still?

Since moving to Germany in 1999, one of the hottest small talk topics that I’ve encountered both on the streets as well as in the classroom has been the US. And being an American expatriate from Minnesota, growing up right next to Iowa, I have not been afraid to talk about any issues the people bring up at the table, such as politics, social issues, history, culture, sports and even the people living there.  And growing up during the age of Reaganomics, Bushisms and Clintongate, I have seen America from both sides of the spectrum, watching it lead efforts to defeat communism and the former Soviet satellites open the gates to freedom, while at the same time, sow the seeds of terrorism with their lack of efforts in rebuilding Afghanistan, resulting in this day of infamy known as 11 September, 2001.

Yet still, many of us still speak of the glory days that either existed prior to 9/11 or in the eyes of many, still exist but in bits and pieces. I remember when President Obama won the Presidential elections in 2008, during my first year as lecturer of English at the University of Bayreuth, there was that feeling of a divide between those who wanted to cling on to the glory days of American exceptionalism, as demonstrated by George W. Bush, and those who were aware of the problems the US was facing at home and abroad. I can remember my dad’s question of which country was the greatest nation on the face of the Earth in terms of military and economics and his fury when I responded with “China.”  I didn’t say that without a good reason, by the way.

And this takes us to this genre of the week and in particular, this video clip from the TV show, “The Newsroom,” produced in 2012. In this scene, we have a forum where the professors are taking questions about America and its role in the world- and this in the thicket of a hefty debate. And while the first two were able to answer the question about America being the land of the free and prosperous, the third one, William McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels), who always responded with the fact that he was a fan of the New York Jets American football team, he rose to the occasion, tired of all the bickering that was going on around him, and said this about America….

Now if this is not a jaw-dropper, then what is? But it lead me into providing this question for the forum, as we’ve heard a lot about America’s ever-changing role, both on the home front as well as abroad:

How do you perceive America in your eyes today, whether you are an American living abroad or at home, whether you are a German or European, and whether you are a writer, teacher, politician or have another occupation?

Where do we see America going in 20 years?

What are some items that were common in the 80s and 90s that you would like to see again?

If we say that America is still the greatest today because of all our might that we have, how can we prove it?

These are questions that need to be answered as the country is at the crossroads in terms of their policies, societal issues at home and its relations with other countries. If we choose to ignore the problems we have, we choose to ignore ourselves, and with that, we choose to ignore the consequences of our actions.

Think about it.

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Now accepting Mystery Buildings and Places

IMGP0450It is a sight that many people do not want to see in their backyard: A derelict building like the one in the picture above near their backyard because it is an eyesore and a hazard. Yet such buildings and places like this one have a character of its own- a history that is unknown to the public, but when researched thoroughly, is unique and a valuable asset to the community. We’re seeing many historic buildings like this one being abandoned and eventually demolished without knowing more about them, let alone looking at options of restoring them. In the case of places of historic interest in Germany, much of the records were destroyed during World War II and in the case of the eastern half of the country (where the former German Democratic Republic or East Germany existed), they were either altered or destroyed by the Communist government, thus leaving oral histories as the lone source. But where are these sources and how can we bring these sites to light, attracting many to visit them, even restoring them if needed?

In response to a successful story on the Prora near Binz in Mecklenburg-Pommerania and a large demand for more stories of these mystery places, The Flensburg Files is now starting a page on Mystery Places in Germany, which you will find on the Files’ website, and is therefore accepting any inquiries of places of unique value but in need of the necessary information to solve their mysteries. This includes former factories, railroad stations, parks, apartment complexes, and even remnants of old motorways (just to name a few that are acceptable. The page will run parallel to the Mystery Bridge page provided by sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles (which you can view here). That means, the mystery building article will be posted in the Files and forwarded to various sources who might be able to help. Follow-ups will be posted, and all information will be placed in the Files’ Mystery Places page for readers to look at.

If you have something historic that you want to know more about, please send the information to Jason Smith at the Files. The e-mail address is flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. The Files is on facebook and you can also contact him through that channel. Please note all mystery bridge inquiries will be posted in the Chronicles, which is also on facebook and like the Files, you can like to follow.

 

Keeping this in mind, let’s have a look at the next mystery place, this time in a small community of Halle (Saale) in Saxony-Anhalt. While this city has prided itself on George Friedrich Händel, well-restored architecture, many historic bridges, a small but unique Christmas Market, a green and diverse zoo, and rows of parks along the Saale River, it also has some buildings and historic places worth inquiring about, even if they are abandoned like this building. Located south of the city center next to the Saale River between the Hafenbahn and Genzer Bridges, this building resembles a covered railroad turntable, used to redirect trains that terminated here at the starting point of the Hafenbahn. Yet the building seems a bit too small for that function, for steam locomotives were huge during the 1800s, the time the Hafenbahn existed- approximately 100-150 feet long (33-50 meters) and about 15-20feet wide (5-6 meters). It does however make sense, given its proximity to the Hafenbahn Bridge, which was once used as a railroad bridge before it became a pedestrian crossing.  The question is, if this was a turntable house, when was it built and how often did trains use this facility? If it was not that facility, what was the function of the building? Judging by the roof being gone, it was most likely damaged severely in World War II and was never used again afterwards. But then again, could the Communist government afford to leave buildings like this, as it is, abandoned all the way up to the present?

What do you think? Your comments, ideas and information will help a great deal towards solving this mystery….

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The Abandoned Building on the Island of Rügen

All photos courtesy of Doc Harding
All photos courtesy of Doc Harding

 

Normally the Files would not be focusing on abandoned relicts in Germany, for it is not in the domain. There are enough websites that focus on this topic, regardless of where. This includes Abandoned Iowa, which I’m subscribed to and focuses on abandoned buildings and bridges. Not surprising as I grew up in Iowa and have a love for historic bridges.

Yet this entry takes us to the island of Rügen in the German state of Mecklenburg-Pommerania (in German: Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) in northeastern Germany, and this building here. As I was doing research on information for the next Germany quiz on this rather sparsely populated state with lots of flora and fauna, one of the readers brought this item to my attention.

The island itself has a very beautiful setting, with steep chalk cliffs overlooking the Baltic Sea, acres of forest and wildlife habitat, and kilometers of beaches extending (30) kilometers. From Rostock, the state’s largest city, it is approximately 55) km. Yet the island has one eyesore, which is located at Prora. While McPomm (which is the abbreviated form of the state’s name) once belonged to East Germany and the communist state was famous for its construction of block apartments in every city and town with more than 3,000 inhabitants during its existence, the Prora building dates back to the age of the Third Reich, according to local sources.

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Located north of Binz, the Prora Building itself is five kilometers long and has five stories. Its architecture resembles that of the Third Reich and may have been the works of architect Albert Speer, who was in charge of most of the architecture in Germany during the regime of Adolf Hitler. Born in Mannheim in 1905, Speer’s rise to fame came when he was anointed by Hitler to be his architect in 1933. There he was in charge of the construction of modern buildings and redesigning districts in German cities whose aesthetic features were geometric with only design patterns and the symbol of National Socialism as the only decoration. Much of his architecture still exists in Germany today, despite attempts by locals in states like Bavaria (where Hitler began his rise to power in the 1920s), to eradicate the buildings because of their associations with the Third Reich. Speer later became in charge of the artillery division but towards the end of the war, confronted Hitler because of his irrational decision-making in response to Germany losing the war.

Because his role was almost solely an architect and he had very little to do with Hitler’s genocidal machine designed to kill “non-Aryans,” Speer was sentenced to 20 years in prison, in comparison to most of his Nazi colleagues receiving the death penalty. After his release from prison in Spandau, Speer maintained his residence for most of his life in Heidelberg, writing three still controversial novels about his life in the Third Reich and donating most of his royalties to Jewish charities. Shortly before his release in 1966, his son Albert Jr. established an architectural firm in Frankfurt (Main), whose geometrical modern architecture follows a similar pattern of his father’s, minus the decorative features.

And with that, we go back to Prora and the building complex, which has been sitting empty and intact but in a desolate state. Records show that Speer had been involved in a decree to relocate the Jews from their quarters to different areas, and this building may have been the place for placing them there. Yet by the same token, it would also have been a place to house the troops, especially as Germany had a strong Navy at that time. Record will not be able to show that for when World War II commenced in 1939, construction on the building stopped and remained in its original form all the way up to the present. We will never know whether Speer had anything to do with it, who was in charge of building this complex nor what it was used for.

Or will we?

Any ideas regarding the logic behind building this complex that is now considered an eyesore to many people, please place your thoughts and info in the comment section. If you wish to share photos of it, go ahead and do so. Sometimes a visit to the complex helps spurn a few ideas behind the history of this building, let alone a few ideas of what to do with the complex.

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At Home or Homesick? The Challenges of Living Abroad

As I was preparing an article on schooling in Germany, I happened to stumble across a question for the forum in a group consisting of American expatriates living in Germany dealing with feeling at home in Germany in comparison to living in the USA. The question was whether the expats regret living in Germany and if so, why. Within an hour of its posting, dozens of responses from members of the group came in, and the results were porous. The majority of respondents were of the opinion if there was a opportunity to return to the US, they would, in a heartbeat!

Now why would so many people want to say that about a country like Germany, which prides itself on its social security and health care network, as well as education, culture, sports, landscapes and the like?  Factors, such as difference in mentalities, difficulties making friends, xenophobia bureaucracy, job opportunities and even language barriers were mentioned, as well as missing some of the things that they were used to back home.

In the 15 years that I’ve been living in Germany, I’ve seen the good and bad sides of Germany, some of the latter that would technically scare off people wanting to live in the country, such as the lack of flexibility in the job market (my biggest pet peeve, since I’m an English teacher and blogger), the politicians trying to cut programs that are beneficial to the people, encounters with Skinheads, aggressive drivers and superficial relationships- where you are only friends with your colleagues if you have something to do with a project. But if compared to the US, some of the problems mentioned are also well known over there.

But perhaps the dissatisfaction may have to do with the decline in good relations between Berlin and Washington, which has become imminent thanks to the Spygate scandal earlier this year involving the NSA. Since the activities of the NSA were brought to light, many Americans living abroad have been put at a disadvantage thanks to additional policies by the US to put them more on a leash and Germans have even distanced themselves from the Americans abroad. This includes the latest proposal by the American tax agency IRS, which has triggered many Americans to trade in their US citizenship for one in their country of residency (click here for more details).

Despite all this, the question for the forum has gotten me to ask the forum the following:

  1. What are some things that you like about Germany that keeps you living there? The same applies to other countries abroad.
  2. What are some things you miss about the US that you can NOT get abroad?
  3. What improvements would you like to see in the place you’re living?
  4. And for those seriously thinking about moving back to the US, what factors would influence your decision about returning home?

In the 15 years living abroad, I still haven’t found anything that would convince me to return home, for there are many things that are keeping me here. Interestingly enough, more people I know are even thinking about moving abroad because Germany has more to offer than what they have at home. To give you a classic example, in a southern Minnesota town with 3,500 inhabitants, I am one of four people who are living here in Germany, two of them happen to be in the same graduating class as I am! After being the only one from the community living in Germany for 15 years, I received company from the other three, who moved to Germany with their families this year. Despite this,  we all have our reasons for living here.  Yet we have collected our share of experiences both good and bad. Many of them I’ve mentioned here in the Files. More will come in the Files as many themes will come to light that will be talked about.

But seriously, what keeps you here in Germany (or abroad) and what would you like to see changed? Put your thoughts and discussion either in the Comment section or in the Files’ facebook page and let’s get a discussion going on this theme, shall we? After all, many of us have enough experience to share, much of which will appear in the Files soon.

In School in Germany: Mock Debate

The mock debate: a teaching method that is useful for both foreign languages, as well as subjects that deal with politics, history, culture and literature. Students involved in the debate can argue their opinions, using facts obtained through research, while at the same time, gain confidence in speaking. Even more so, when debating in a foreign language, students can learn new vocabulary through speaking and listening to others, while become as much at home with the language as with their native tongue.  In general, students can become acquainted with the process of Problem-Based Learning, a method created by Howard Barrows at McMasters University in Ontario (Canada), which puts the students in a simulated situation that is similar to reality.   PBL is especially useful for teaching/learning foreign languages, and the debate is part of this method that is used very often in the classroom, regardless of class size, age, language learning niveau, and educational institution where the foreign language is being taught.
There are two forms of a mock debate which can be introduced in a foreign language class: the closed version and the open version. In a closed version, each student is given a role to act out, in connection with a certain topic and situation. The arguments the students produce have to fit the roles that are given to them. Many foreign language books feature these types of roles, where a situation is given, the roles are provided, and the students have to act out a given role. Yet in some cases, you can create your own situation in connection with a current event and provide roles for them there.  I had done this with a couple themes during my time as a teacher at the Volkshochschule in Germany (Eng.: Institution of Continuing Education) a few years before the Flensburg  Files was created in 2010, where I had chosen the theme of healthy food in a fast food restaurant. This theme was in connection with the lawsuits against McDonald’s in 2002 for ill-informing customers of the ingredients in the burgers and making them fat. The scandal was documented further in Morgan Spurlock’s “Supersize Me,” produced in 2004.   Yet, as I had seen in the Sloppy Joe’s Restaurant debate, students receiving roles often feel constrained to produce arguments for the debate, even though they may be of a different opinion to the argument that was supposed to be made in accordance to the role. Therefore, it is advisable to provide sufficient time for them to prepare and allow them to choose the roles they want to play- a role that best fits their personal opinion of the subject , sometimes makes the mock debate more interesting to watch, let alone participate.
The other kind of mock debate is the open one, where there are no roles, and students are free to prepare their arguments in connection to the theme that is given to them.  Before starting the debate, you divide them into groups. Each group is given a task for them to complete, where they can come up with arguments in small groups, before presenting them to the other groups. In other words: preparing in small groups, presenting in a big group.  The downside of the open version is the competition to see who can speak the most. The unequal amount of time can be fatal for those whose knowledge of the language or subject is limited as well as those who have the ability to speak but not the confidence. There, incentives are needed so that every member has the chance speak during the debate. Also useful is a moderator, who introduces the topic, regulates the amount of speaking time, asks questions to each group after stating their arguments and closes the debate with questions and/or voting.
An example of such an open debate is the topic I’m doing at the present time: The Great Crash of 1929 and the Question: Was Herbert Hoover responsible for allowing the crash (and subsequentially, The Great Depression) to happen?  Herbert Hoover was President of the USA from 1929 until his landslide defeat at the hands of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. While many sources and historians have claimed that Hoover allowed the economy to crash and did not help ease the pain of farmers losing their homes and businesses closing down, other sources have argued that Hoover tried to pass laws to encourage businesses to continue operating, but the Crash was the result of “The Invisible Hand” going wild, with no chance to control the destruction on Wall Street.  My father and I have argued about this topic for years (as he’s a Republican and I’m a Democrat), and I therefore decided to play the Devil’s Advocate and ask this question to my 9th grade history group at the German Gymnasium. They were divided up into three groups: Those presenting the facts about the Great Crash, those who claim that it was Hoover’s fault, and those who disagreed. Moderators were selected as well.  Preparation was needed for vocabulary words needed to be present, and students needed time to prepare and practice.
How you decide on the Mock Debate depends on the language knowledge of your students. If your students are weak in speaking, then perhaps it is not a bad idea to use the open debate, to encourage them to use their language knowledge and exchange ideas and vocabulary with other group members. If students are superb in their knowledge, and you want to challenge them on a topic, like the environment, food and nutrition, business topics, and the like, then the closed version is perhaps a good way of going about the topic, as they can learn new vocabulary through their own research and preparation for the debate. Yet one needs sufficient time to present the topic and prepare beforehand. An hour at least is needed for preparing and carrying out the debate.  Yet in the end, when the debate is finished, students can take comfort of the fact that they have learned to express themselves using new vocabulary and become more confident in their oral skills. As for the the teacher, if the mock debate is successful the first time around, he will most likely use this method again in another class.

 

This leads to my question for the readers, as we are about to present our debate in the next week: Was Herbert Hoover responsible for the Great Crash of 1929, or was he a lame duck already because the Crash was beyond his control? State your arguments and reasons here in the comment section, or on the Files’ facebook pages.  Deine Kommentare auf Deutsch sind herzlich wilkommen.
Author’s Note: If you are interested in the Closed Version example of the Mock Debate and Sloppy Joe’s Healthy Meal Plan for your class preparation, please send me a line at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com, and a copy will be sent to you, via e-mail and in PDF format.