Flensburg Files Accepting Stories of Christmas’ Past

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While Christmas is over five months away, it is the season that creeps up faster than any of the other holiday seasons of the year. It is also one that is laden with stories of presents, families, friends and lots of surprises.

Christmas also means learning about the history of how it was celebrated and this year’s Christmas  Market Tour Series will focus on just that- History.

During my Christmas market tour in Saxony last year, some recurrent themes came up that sparked my interest. In particular in the former East Germany, this included having Christmas be celebrated with little or no mentioning of Jesus Christ. In addition, we should include Räuchermänner (Smoked incense men) that were a rare commodity in the former Communist state but popular in the western half of Germany and beyond, traditional celebrations with parades honoring the miners, and lastly, the Christmas tree lit with candles.  Yet despite the parades along the Silver Road between Zwickau and Freiberg, a gallery of vintage incense men in a church in Glauchau, church services celebrating Christ’s birth in Erfurt, Lauscha glassware being sold in Leipzig and Chemnitz, and the like, we really don’t have an inside glimpse of how Christmas was celebrated in the former East Germany.

Specifically:

  • What foods were served at Christmas time?
  • What gifts were customary?
  • What were the customary traditions? As well as celebrations?
  • What did the Christmas markets look like before 1989, if they even existed at all?
  • How was Christ honored in church, especially in places where there were big pockets of Christians (who were also spied on by the secret service agency Stasi, by the way)?
  • What was the role of the government involving Christmas; especially during the days of Erich Honecker?
  • And some personal stories of Christmas in East Germany?

In connection with the continuation of the Christmas market tour in Saxony and parts of Thuringia this holiday season, the Flensburg Files is collecting stories, photos, postcards and the like, in connection with this theme of Christmas in East Germany from 1945 to the German Reunification in 1990, which will be posted in both the wordpress as well as the areavoices versions of the Flensburg Files. A book project on this subject, to be written in German and English is being considered, should there be sufficient information and stories,  some of which will be included there as well.

Between now and 20 December, 2017, you can send the requested items to Jason Smith, using this address: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. 

The stories can be submitted in German if it is your working language. It will be translated by the author into English before being posted. The focus of the Christmas stories, etc. should include not only the aforementioned states, but also in East Germany, as a whole- namely Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Berlin and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, the states that had consisted of the German Democratic Republic, which existed from 1949 until its folding into the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October, 1990.

Christmas time brings great times, memories, family, friends and stories to share. Over the past few years, I’ve heard of some stories and customs of Christmas past during my tour in the eastern part, which has spawned some curiosity in terms of how the holidays were being celebrated in comparison with other countries, including my own in the US. Oral history and artifacts are two key components to putting the pieces of the history puzzle together. While some more stories based on my tour will continue for this year and perhaps beyond, the microphone, ink and leaf, lights and stage is yours. If you have some stories to share, good or bad, we would love to hear about them. After all, digging for some facts is like digging for some gold and silver: You may never know what you come across that is worth sharing to others, especially when it comes to stories involving Chirstmas.

And so, as the miners in Saxony would say for good luck: Glück Auf! 🙂

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5 Myths About Germany

George Schorschi

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Ah, Germany! The economic powerhouse of the EU! A shining beacon of hope in a world that’s gone mad! More and more, the world turns to Berlin (and Munich and Hamburg and even Düsseldorf) as a sign of stability in uncertain times. Quality of life is high, employment is steadily rising, and the lessons of history have been well learned. However, as one starts to examine what exactly makes the German system work, they come face to face with some rather inaccurate stereotypes. So in order for you, dear reader, to truly understand what it’s like here, I offer the truth I have personally uncovered regarding 5 Myths About Germany.

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In School in Germany/ Genre of the Week: Pelmanism- From the Novel: Don’t Try This At Home by Paul Reizin

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This Genre of the Week looks at a novel that may look ordinary to some readers who go through the whole book (or even half of it before putting it down for another one) and judge it as textbook style- where the protagonist gets caught in a situation where he has to find his way out.

The novel “Don’t Try This At Home,” by Paul Reizin looks at the protagonist from a first person point-of-view, who ends up being entangled in a mafia, getting in trouble with the law, and in bed with several girls in the process. All of these are by accident; all of these despite his attempts of getting himself out of the situation, only to end up digging himself even deeper in a hole until his wit, quick thinking and a little romance got himself out in the end.  How it all happened and what his personal life was like is worth reading and interpreting yourself. 🙂

Yet Reizin’s novel also features a few unconventional games that are worth trying, if you knew how they were played and done it wisely. Pelmanism is one of those games mentioned and described in the novel.

And while in the book Pelmanism had experiments with different types of alcohol while guessing what they were without looking, the game itself can be a useful one that provides the players of all ages with valuable learning experiences in all subjects of study.

Especially, when learning foreign languages!!!! 😀

I’ve been using this game for all my English classes since 2004- most of the time when we have our last course meeting as a group before the semester ends and we part ways for other commitments in life- and the game features words that are sometimes forgotten by some and unknown by others. It also presents some of the typical things and characteristics of some students. All it takes is some guessing what the objects are and who they belong to.

 

The object of the game is simple. You need:

A sheet of paper and a writing utensil

A timer

And a bag with ten personal items- the items should be small enough to fit in a cloth bag (not a see-through plastic one)

 

How the game is played goes like this:

One student grabs a bag and places the contents on the table in the middle, while other students close their eyes and/or look away as the contents are being taken out. Once all the items are on the table, that student signals the rest of the group to open their eyes and look at the table and the objects.  At this point, students have one minute to identify the ten items on the table in their working language, namely the foreign language they are learning. At the same time, they should guess who these objects belong to.

Once the teacher, who runs the timer, says “Stop!”, the students are called on upon random to name the objects and who they belong to. The student, who gets all the objects right as well as the correct person, will be the next one that chooses another bag, and repeats the same procedure.

This whole process continues until all the bags are used up or the teacher ends the game for time reasons.  There is no clear winner, but the objective of the game is to get the students to “reactivate” their brains to remember the words they learned in the past. At the same time, they also have an opportunity to learn new vocabulary- much of which may need to be listed on a sheet of paper with the native language equivalent, should the foreign language level range from beginner to intermediate (A to B level, according to the Common European Framework). In some cases, small devices that are new to the students will need to be explained by the person who brought it with the other objects.

 

I’ve had some weird but interesting examples that warranted explaining, for instance:

A can of deoderant that is actually a capsule for fitting a small object for hiding in geocaching, a pen that functions as a light, laser pointer and hole puncher, small books full of quotes, USB-sticks with company logos, stuffed animals (also as key chains), pieces of raw material (wood, rock, metal), postcards, pictures and poems. If you can think it, you can present it and be genuine at the same time. 😉

As mentioned earlier, Pelmanism can be played by all ages, regardless of language knowledge, and if you can have at least four participants (the more, the better), you can treat yourself to an evening of fun for either the whole family or friends. If you are a teacher in an English class, you will find this useful and fun for the students; especially if you participate in the game yourself.

Pelmanism is one of those games found in a book, where if modified for use in the classroom and mastered properly, it can be a fun experience for those learning new words, especially in a foreign language. It reactivates your brain and gets you reacquainted with words learned in the past (but seldomly used in the present), while at the same time, encourages active learning and acquisition of new words into an ever-expanding vocabulary. It is a fun game for everyone, and if you are as lucky as the protagonist in the story, you might come out with more than what words you learned in the game. 😉 ❤

Thanks, Paul!

 

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Can Learning a Second Language Destroy Your Native Tongue?

For those who have been living in a country outside your home, and have had problems forgetting some words in your own language, you’re not alone. I’ve had this experience, especially since I’ve been living in Germany for almost 20 years. But so has this guest columnist, and here’s a short explanation for this. You don’t necessarily lose your language, but you integrate it into the one of your current country of residency. Enjoy! 🙂

Source: Can Learning a Second Language Destroy Your Native Tongue?

Naming and Faming: A Guide to Idiomatic Expressions in a Sense of Names

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Imagine this scenario: You are approaching a town in Iowa, tucked away in a steep river valley, while driving an 18-wheel rig (semi-truck, lorry- LKW (German). You are about to go down hill on a narrow road, and you need to slow down. In order to do that, you have to jake the truck, like in the video below:

To jake the truck means what?

 a. To shift the truck down to lower gear (5th gear)  

 b. To shift the truck up to a higher gear (2nd or 3rd gear)    

 c. To shift the truck up to a higher gear and activate the braking system  

d. To put the truck in neutral and idle the engine

It’s weird to use names to express situations in English, as we have the name Jake in there. Yet idioms in the sense of names serve as a better alternative to trying and describing situations in detail, especially when you are directing a person to do something (in linguistics terms, we would use the word imperative in this case). While German instructions tend to be detailed, long and sometimes complicated (if you don’t know the gists and shortcuts to the languages), but using idiomatic names in English is even more confusing because the notion of using a person’s name is considered insulting. Furthermore, one has to explain the origin of the idiomatic name used in the context to better understand its usage. It is safe to say especially in this case, one has to learn the idiomatic names by heart, just the way you learn (and conjugate) words in Latin.

And lastly, some expressions do not exist in mainstream English but do on a very local level, and these are in connections with certain local events that was caused by that particular person. There is one story in reference to this final argument that I will explain at the end of this exercise. 😉

Keeping this in mind, here are some exercises to get you acquainted with the idioms in connection with names. 🙂

A. Look at the following videos and determine which idiomatic name is best used.

  1. (Esp. at Minute 2:30)

The SImpson family is………

a. Trying to be rich as Croesus     b. Keeping up with the Joneses   c. Boasting like Bobby     d. Cherishing like Sherry

 

2.

My name is mud in this case is………

a. Dirty Harry   b. A fool     c. An unintelligent figure        d. both b & c     e. Bernd the Toast

 

To slip a Mickey means:

a. To put a drug into someone’s drink  b. To deceive someone    c. To trick someone              d. To gossip about someone

 

4.

To need one’s John Hancock means your (……) is needed

a. Signature    b. Penmanship       c. Handwriting           d. Story

 

5.

Great Scott is an expression used to describe……

a. Surprise        b. Shock         c. Amazement          d. Excitement         e. All are applicable

 

B. Identify the name and find out what the expression means.

  1. You can’t buy just any Smartphone. This one has to be the real McCoy.
  2. Since its founding in 2010, the company has been going Jesse, having earned millions of dollars.
  3. Jasmine is an elite class basketball player. Trading a couple of our great players for her was the Jack of all trades!
  4. You can count on Chuck to do the job. He’s always a Johnny on the spot!
  5. Working the cornfields takes the patience of Job in order to get a great harvest.
  6. Sometimes our president is Jack the lad. He has what he wants, no matter how!
  7. The public raised Cain when the politician made the announcement about the project to replace a bridge.
  8. The woman dialed for the police after a peeping Tom watched her get dressed.
  9. If there are no questions, we’ll cut to the Chase and talk about the progress of our project.
  10. I hate it when I have smart Alecs in my class, who claim they have the brightest bulb in the box!

 

C. Determine whether the following are true or false

  1. To Steve it means to do it perfectly and with power.
  2. For the love of Pete was named after one of Christ’s disciples and means happiness.
  3. Walter Mitty is a person who daydreams about success.
  4. To beat around the Bush means to get to the point, like Bush Jr.
  5. A nervous Nellie is one who is irritated or annoyed.
  6. To be happy as Larry means to be very happy over something you did successfully.
  7. Silly Sally and Good Time Sally are the same idiomatic expressions.
  8. If a person is the Benjamin of the family, then he is the oldest.
  9. To pull a Louie is to mess up on a date by not getting the girl’s telephone number.
  10. Even Stevens are things between people that are equal.
  11. A doubting Thomas is one who thinks the action will fail.
  12. We use John and Jane Does as names for unidentified people
  13. To dick around is the same as to Mickey Mouse around, when it comes to tampering with things.
  14. A person with a mixed, extreme personality is known as a Bonnie and Clyde
  15. To be petered out means to be tired. 

After being petered out by all the idiomatic names, you should have an idea of how these work in the English language. You can find more by clicking here . 🙂

To close this section, I would like to refer back to the previous arguments about the difficulty in understanding the idiomatic names in English, and with that, my third argument on local idioms that have a local meaning. Americans have been well-known to create idioms and other expressions because of their affiliation with certain events, stories and names of people. Some stick and move to mainstream, others either remain local, disappear after a certain time or even both.

Mine fortunately belonged to the idiomatic name that disappeared after a few years. In high school I was a discus thrower, and our discus throwing facility was right next to the bleechers that lined up along the football field on the left-hand side. As I was a left-handed thrower, guess where my throws always went……. 😉

 

No wooden disc survived being “Jasonized!”

 

For those who read this and attended my high school, it will bring back some memories. For those who read it for the first time, your first question is probably going to be along the lines of this: “Why have the throwing area next to a football field?”

 

My response: Ask the coach. I’m more than 20 years away from home to answer that one. 😉

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Answers:
Jake the truck:   c.
 
Activity One:
  1. b. 2. d. 3. a.  4. a.  5. e.
 
Activity Two:
  1. Real McCoy- The real, genuine thing
  2. Going Jesse- becoming a success
  3. Jack of all trades- The best of both worlds; best deal for both
  4. Johnny on the spot- always reliable and willing to do it.
  5. Patience of Job- A lot of patience; nerves of steel
  6. Jack the lad- a brash, cocky person
  7. Raise Cain- Cause a commotion; pandemonium; hot debate
  8. Peeping Tom- a stalker who watches women
  9. Cut to the Chase- Get to the point. Chase is a male name.
  10. Smart Alec- a person who claims to know everything but doesn’t in reality
 
Activity Three:
  1. t 2. f. 3. t. 4. f.  5. f.  6. t.  7. f.  8. f.  9. t.  10. t.  11. t.  12. t.  13. t.  14. f. 15. t.

Americans and Air Conditioning: A Necessity that Nobody Understands

By Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I would like to start off my article with a bizarre story that took place while teaching. The company where I was teaching English had a small air conditioning unit installed in one of the rooms in a small container, above the windows. The windows were facing the south side, meaning that in the afternoons during the summer, the temperatures are hot enough to make the 12 x 12 meter room look feel a sauna. It was in the middle of the afternoon with temperatures in the upper 30s Celsius (between 95 and 100° F), and I had the AC unit on, set at 25° C (room temperature of around 72° F). The clients were mostly blue-collar workers who needed the language for correspondence with their distributors, but we had a couple administrators as well who needed English for the office. During the session, one of the administrators decided it was way too cold to sit in the classroom and decided to warm up-

 

outside……. in the heat!

 

Think about this for a second and ask, why go into such a sauna outside when the AC was running at room temperature?

 

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If there was a list of the top ten cultural conflicts we have between Germans and Americans, the issue of air conditioning during the summer time would definitely be right up there. Growing up in Minnesota where we were blessed with extreme cold and extreme hot, the latter of which justifies AC for most of the season, it would even be in the top three for it is a constant discussion in our household.  This led me to doing a question for the forum, asking people living in Germany and America about the importance of air conditioning in the household, to find out whether my AC mentality was an American one only.

 

Despite a few comments that said otherwise, the majority said “Mr. Smith, you’re too American.”

 

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Heat rising up from the rail tracks of a rail line in Iowa. The temperature at the time of this photo in 2011: 32°C 

 

So why are we obsessed with air conditioning? Plain and simple. There were many reasons when I read the responses, but for length purposes, I condensed the reasons down to the top five:

 

  1. To regulate our body temperature. This argument is a no-brainer. People who are opposed to the AC also need to understand that our body temperature has an average of 98.6° F (ca. 37° C) and too much exposure to heat on hot days can lead to heat stroke. While we have a function as a thermostat and try to regulate it so that the body has a balance between hot and cold, being exposed to the heat for long periods of time can be life-threatening.

 

  1. It helps enhance our concentration. When a room is completely hot, we end up losing our ability to think clearly, and learning something for a test, or even preparing for a meeting or class, can be a torture. When we really want to achieve something and/or meet a deadline, we would rather eat an ice cream cone than sit in such a heated room. With the AC, the problem is solved, enough said!

 

  1. The cool breeze creates a soothing mood and great conversations with others. Having lived in a house next to a lake and having a sweet relative have a cottage in the Lakes Region south of the Minnesota-Iowa border, I was accustomed to cool breezes over the summer both while swimming outside in the heat, but also while sitting inside an air conditioned home. With the AC comes good times and great laughter under a company of friends.

 

  1. While we’re on that topic, the cool breeze and the noise from the AC make for a great sleeping environment. Some of the respondents claimed that sleeping in silence, even with the windows open can be quite spooky- especially when there is noise coming from the wildlife refuge in the middle of the night.  The sound of the AC running serves as a sort of therapy, where if switched on, you will switch yourself off into dreamland within a couple of minutes. Very easy to do!

 

  1. Having the AC unit reduces the risks of unwelcomed odors. If there is one pet peeve that is worse than not having an AC unit, it is when you are in an anti-AC environment and you have a whiff of different odors from sources you don’t want to know about. Even if we clean ourselves from top to bottom, heat produces sweat and sweat produces unwelcoming odor. Even petroleum has its own unwelcoming stench, when spewing out of a derrick in Texas at 120° F!

 

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Now it is understandable that people living in Germany do not wish to have an air conditioner in their households or sometimes at work. Several arguments I’ve read and heard from residents over here include the following:

  1. It is a waste of money to install it, let alone operate it- given the environmentally conscious and financially conservative mentality many Germans and residents have, that argument not only fits into both stereotypes but also justified.
  2. It only gets hot once or twice a year- This is pending on where you are living. It would definitely not make sense to have an air conditioning unit along the coastal areas, let alone in areas heavily forested areas, like in Hesse, Baden-Wurttemberg, Thuringia, and parts of Saxony and Bavaria. However in rural regions, like in Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Pommerania as well as in big cities, where temperatures can climb above 30°C for at least half the summer months, it would be worth the investment.
  3. People can get sick from breathing cold air- this depends on how often you clean the unit. This argument is justified because of the increased risk of Legionnaire’s Disease, but that is usually caused by breathing in air that contains dust and bacteria caused by not cleaning the ventilators, the coolant units and the coolant pipes. To avoid that, take the hour or so and clean it out before you install and operate it for the first time in the season, thank you!
  4. Especially when only the fan is on, I’ve had this argument: Air and dust is just kicked around and it’s just a dressing and ectasy used to create the mood for cooling off, when it does anything but that– Do not ask me who commented on this, but that is more than debateable, just as much as the next two arguments below…. 😉
  5. We don’t want our apartment to look like a Frozen Kingdom!  This depends on how you set the AC unit. This story has been read and heard many times and it goes back to argument 3. People have their preferences as to how cold the AC setting should be. However, one has to consider that other people have to suffer too- even more so if you forget to switch off the AC when leaving the house to go on vacation! Believe me, speaking from experience, you don’t want to enter an icebox after being away for a couple weeks, with all your furniture having a frosty covering on there! 😉

And lastly,

https://youtu.be/xat1GVnl8-k

 

Sweating is the most natural and healthy way for you to produce your own cooling system!  This argument reminds me of the song produced in 1999 by the Bloodhound Gang entitled Bad Touch. While many people prefer to sweat it out, by doing so, it does produce body fragrances that no one wants, even if masked with deoderant.

Now granted there are alternatives to sitting in a hot and sweaty room, such as meeting outside (in the shade), going through a cold sprinkler to cool off, drinking iced tea, eating ice cream and other cold foods, and even soaking your feet in cold water.  Some institutions have “Hitzfreie Tage,” which means people can go home and not worry about the heat. Good and effective suggestions they are,….

….with one exception!

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Given the increase in average temperatures (and with that, the number of heat waves) combined with the increase in the average age of the population (including a spike in the number of elderly people), some of these cool ideas can only work for a short time. In addition, the increase in heat has taken its toll on the human body, where the incidence of heat stroke and cardiovascular diseases have increased over the past 20 years. While Germany lives in a Mediterranean climate, sandwiched by two different seas plus receiving air flow from the Mediterranean, we have been blessed with relatively mild temperatures year round, in comparison with many regions in the US, including the Midwest, with its continental climate- laden with extreme temperatures combined with extreme moisture during certain parts of the year, droughts in other parts! This has played a considerable role in our decision to buy and install air conditioning.

 

But as climate change is taking shape and our temperatures are rising, it is becoming difficult to play energy conservative when we desperately want to cool off and better concentrate on our work and/or learning. For the elderly heat waves are even more dangerous to their health as they can be prone to heat stroke, dehydration and other ailments.  This leads us to a question of when it is time to really fork over the 300 Euros of one-time payment and get a unit for our workplace or even our own home.

In the last 10 years, the number of venues with air conditioning units in Germany has increased, mostly in regions where the population is dense, like in the southern and central portions, as well as in big cities. The trend is increasing unless you are living along the coastal areas. If you are one of those people, you can afford to stick to the stereotype with the AC being expendable. However, for those who are suffering, maybe the time is ripe to get that unit, and there are enough AC units with the best energy values (A+++) that will benefit your pocket. How you want to cool down the house depends on your preference. But it will pay in the end. 🙂

To close my pet-peeve story of ACs and our American obsession- er- advice to the Germans out there, I would like to refer back to my story of the lady walking out of the classroom because it was cold. I responded by switching off the AC unit, only to find it was my unintelligent wrong-doing. Faced with a blind-less window facing the sun, the temperatures increased by 5°C within a matter of 10 minutes! And with that, the unwanted odors, tempers and sweat!  Needless to say, the AC was switched back on and remained that way for the rest of class, much to the satisfaction of the students.

This should tell you something about the benefits of investing in an air conditioner. 🙂

 

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Genre of the Week: The Benefits of Failure by J.K. Rowling

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Carnegie Library in Little Falls, MN, one of the entrepreneuer’s finest architectural works. Photo taken in 2011

There was an old proverb when looking at this genre: Andrew Carnegie went from rags to riches, going from living in an impoverishing environment to building libraries, many of them still exist today, no matter where you travel in the United States.  But this speech is not just about climbing to be successful; it takes you on a roller coaster ride, going from failure, to success, back to failure and again becoming even more successful…… And the trend continues in our lives.

Each of us has had our epic failures in life, but when looking at each one, one has to look at who one really is, establishing a new foundation and doing something that is not just typical of one’s character, but something which through hard work and sacrifices will reap rewards in the end.

The Benefits of Failure was a speech spoken by JK Rowling at a commencement at Harvard University in 2008. Inspired by her background and her failures in life, the author of the Harry Potter series discusses ways to climb up from rock bottom to the summit, especially when experiencing what she experienced growing up. Going by a proverb I learned from a group of broken-hearted train passengers heading home to Schleswig-Holstein a few years ago, the only way to go is up. Adding this with mine: The summit you reach will be higher than the previous ones.

Have a look at this inspirational speech then ask yourself how you made it to the top: was it through one’s own ambition or was it through others’ ?  I’ll leave it as that and allow you to watch and think about this. 🙂

 

 

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