To The Donor in Germany With Many Thanks, Wherever You Are.

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David Weringa (left) and Tim Anderson (right), long time friends with much in common. Photo contributed by David Weringa

I would like to start this Holiday Tribute with a quote about friendship which one should keep in mind: “Friends are there when you least expect it.” That means if you are in dire straits and others turn your back, there will be one or a small set of friends, some whom you haven’t seen in years, who will be right there to help you through the hardest of times.

I would like to share this story to one unknown friend out there, who went the extra mile to save the life of another person in the most dire need. And what is special about this story is that the person who helped him lives in Germany. The person, whose life was saved, lives in the US in the State of Minnesota. Specifically, Fairmont, Minnesota, which is located 50 miles west of the nearest city of Albert Lea in the south-central part of the state.

David Weringa works in the restaurant industry and has for many years. A 1991 graduate of Granada-Huntley-East Chain High School, which is east of Fairmont, David used to be a manager of Brickhouse Pizza in Winnebago before moving to Jackson to take a more rewarding job at Pillar’s Restaurant and Grill (which is now known as Bucksnort’s). Jackson is located 30 miles west of Fairmont. He is a friend of a close friend of mine, Tim Anderson, who also lives in Jackson.  He and I were members of a barbershop quartet while in high school, but graduated one year before I did. (I am a 96er). He and David got to know each other while working at Pillar’s in Jackson and became great friends after that. While Tim was working as a bartender, waiter and assistant manager, David was working as the kitchen manager at the restaurant when he suddenly felt severe pain in his legs in the summer and fall of 2016. After several visits to five different hospitals, including the emergency room, combined with several tests, he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on November 30th, 2016. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer of the lymphoid line of blood cells characterized by the development of large numbers of immature lymphocytes. Symptoms may include feeling tired, pale skin color, fever, easy bleeding or bruising, enlarged lymph nodes, or bone pain. As an acute leukemia, ALL progresses rapidly and is typically fatal within weeks or months, if left untreated. As many as 876,000 people were affected by ALL in 2015; of which, 111,000 of them died from it. ALL affects mostly children between the ages of two and five, as they account for 50% of all cases. Yet a small number of adults have been infected with it as well.

People like David.

After the diagnosis, David was sent to Sanford Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he started chemotherapy. Consisting of eight cycles (1 week in the hospital and two weeks at home), he continued undergoing therapy until 4th of May, 2017. It was not easy for him as he lost 40 pounds in the process, plus he was unable to continue performing his duties at the restaurant he was working; as a consequence, he was forced to resign for health reasons. After the chemotherapy was completed, David was put on maintenance chemo, where doctors could check the progress of the cancer. It was at that point where bone marrow biopsy revealed that the cancer was coming back.  Faced with a life and death situation, the only hope left for him was a bone marrow transplant.

David was referred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, one of the world’s leading hospitals when it comes to treatments for very rare diseases, combined with state-of-the-art medical research and technology. There, he underwent another form of chemotherapy called Blinotumomab, which targets the cancer cells. After 28 days, the cancer went into remission, yet the hardest battle was yet to come, and it had to do with the bone marrow.

In November 2017, David returned to the Mayo after having spent much of his time at home, where he received the best news ever: doctors had found a bone marrow match on the donor list! 😀  The person who had donated the marrow was a 27-year old person who was living in Germany at the time of the transplant. There was no further information beyond that, nor was it possible to contact the donor for a year after the transplant,  and afterwards, only that person would be allowed to contact David and others. The bone marrow cells from the German were delivered to Rochester on 29 November, 2017 and transplanted into David one day later, which coincided with the one-year anniversary of his diagnosis.

While the bone marrow transplant was a success, David was not out of the woods just yet.  100 days after the transplant, a biopsy in March 2018 revealed that the cancer cells were back and the bone marrow cells were not ready to fight these cells off. As a consequence, David underwent a new targeted chemo, called Inotuzamab, which was supposed to help the new cells take on and defeat the cancer cells, but had very nasty side-effects- namely high fever, rapid heartbeat, tiredness, infections, and the decrease in number of platelets plus other symptoms. In some cases, it could cause liver failure, which is potentially fatal. In David’s case, he needed transfusions of platelets as the numbers were dreadfully low. The average number of transfusions per week, according to his account, ranged between two and seven times. These platelets serve to clot up the flow of blood in areas where a cut or a bruise happened, in order to stop the bleeding instantly. Persons with a low platelet count can experience prolonged bleeding for up to hours on end. As an example, a person with a nosebleed would need five hours or more to stop the bleeding if the count is too low. Normally it is usually between five and ten minutes if the platelet count is normal.

Finally, in June of this year, after being at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for over a half a year, David was finally able to go home. He has become healthier and stronger than he was when he entered the clinic prior to the transplant, and his cancer has since been in remission. In the interview, he mentioned that his cancer had been in remission for a total of six times during this ordeal, yet, since having left the clinic, the biopsies he has undergone have revealed that the cancer has not come back. For him it was a victory that could not have been achieved if it hadn’t been for that donor in Germany, who took the time to donate a marrow to save another life, namely his.

Donating organs, blood and the like have not been well received in Germany within the past five years. According to the German Organ Transplantation Foundation (DSO), only 797 organ donations were reported in 2017, making it 9.7 persons per 1 million. This is the lowest number since 2017, and Germany is towards the bottom in European standards, with Spain leading the pack with 46.9 donors per one million. Factors include several scandals and the lack of interest in donating even blood have played a key role in the decline, despite increases in numbers in the states of Bavaria, Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate, according to local.de. Proposals to have organ donations be obligatory after a person’s passing unless noted by the person himself have been rejected soundly because of privacy reasons, yet there are several advantages of donating organs, blood and the like, especially if one is willing to allow for the transplant in order to save the life of another.  Donor cards exist in Germany, where a person can fill out his personal data and submit it to a donor fund, granting them permission to remove the organs and like once the person passes on. This one is quite useful, if a person is like yours truly and believes that even if the person dies, the organs can still be used in someone else, as long as they are useful and working. Therefore, inspite of the scandals and lack of interest, one should have a look at the option of donating carefully and all the benefits that exist.

 

December 2018:

David still lives in Fairmont.  A lot of things are looking up for him ever since the transplant. He’s about to take on a job at Ambiance Tap House and Grill in town as soon as he’s ready. With the cancer in remission for a half a year at least and his health becoming better, he’s ready to take that step in returning to the job that he loves doing, which is working in a restaurant. It has been well over a year since the donor provided him with that bone marrow that saved his life, and David has been very thankful for that.  While the year clause has long since expired, the donor has yet to contact David to see how he is doing. For there has not been any contact, it is the wish of David to send the word of thanks to that donor, for taking the time needed to donate the marrow and save his life. That is even if that donor still wishes to remain annonymous.

And with that, I would like to end this story with a small token in German: “Vielen Dank, dass Sie diese Mühe gegeben haben, um das Leben eines Menschen wie David retten zu können. Es war das beste Geschenk, das Sie ihm gegeben haben. Dank Ihnen, kann er sein Leben weitermachen und mit vielen Freuden.”  The best present comes when the person least expects it. ❤  🙂

Special Thanks to David Weringa for providing the details to this long story and wishing him all the best.

 

 

Sunset over Flensburg

FlFi Christmas 2018

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Idiomatic Expressions with Christmas

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Right in time for the next Advent celebration to have, we have a really cool set of  idiomatic expressions that deal with Christmas, regardless of if it’s in English or German. Have a look at the Guessing Quiz and its 15 questions and take a stab at it. The answers are at the end of the article.

Good luck and Happy Holidays! 🙂 ❤

idiomatic expressions Christmas

 

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FlFi Christmas 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Answers: 1. true  2.  false 3. false 4. false  5. false  6. true  7. false   8. true   9. true  10. true  11.  a.  12. b.   13. b.  14.  b.   15. b.

Christmas Market Tour 2018: Meissen (Saxony)

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December 5th, 2018- the day before St. Nicolas Day. It is a quarter past five in the afternoon, the city center is lit with a wide array of colors, from the buildings flanking the Market Square to the City Hall, to the Church of our Lady. The tree is lit but in a much greener fashion. Huts are filled to the brim with people drinking mulled wine, hot chocolate and tea using the cups that are locally made.  Mushroom Hotdish and Hirtenkäserollen (a meat roll with cream cheese filling) are being dished out and people are having a great time, talking, eating and drinking. The mood is very cheerful and there is not much crowding.

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Suddenly, the attention turns to the stage and the city hall- each window converted to a day in each month of December, thus turning the entire building into a giant Advent Calendar.  The window of the Fifth opens and a unique form of artwork is presented with the question: From which fairy tale does this piece come from?

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The Answer: The Princess and the Pea, a work written by Hans Christian Andersen.

Each open window has a unique drawing and/or painting, all of which are homemade just like the postcards and paintings done by a family that has resided in the community for at least three centuries.  The backdrop of the market is the castle and cathedral on the hill, overlooking a major waterway and the rest of the community. It used to house a royal dynasty until a century ago when they were forced to abdicate because of the Treaty of Versailles.

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People associate the city of Meissen, located 23 kilometers along the River Elbe northwest of Dresden in the German state of Saxony, with its world-famous ceramics, as the Meissen Porcelain Company produces and exports pottery worldwide. Yet they still don’t know what they are missing. As a tip, if one visits Dresden to see the Christmas markets there, one can afford a half-hour trip to Meissen to see this one. There are many reasons to visit Meissen in general, aside from the ceramics:

  1. Albrechtsburg and Meissen Cathedral (Meissner Dom): One cannot miss seeing this tall Gothic architectural artwork which is right next to the Elbe. The castle needed 53 years to be built, having been completed in 1525. It housed the House of Wettin, a dominant force that played a role in the Kingdom of Saxony and later the German empire before 1918. The castle houses the Meissner Dom, which was completed in the 13th Century and is the tallest cathedral in the eastern half of Germany.
  2. The Church of Our Lady (Frauenkirche): This is located on the western side of the market square. The official name is the St. Afra Church and the church is famous for its organ and especially the bells, all made with Meissen porcelain. The bells play every quarter hour. That church is one of over a dozen that have a historic flavor for Meissen.
  3. The Historic City Center: Featuring the City Hall, several restaurants that have existed for over a century, the Theaterhaus and countless historic houses, people can spend a whole day window shopping, visiting ceramic and painting exhibits and enjoying the culinary dishes that are typical for Meissen and the region.
  4. Domherrenhof: Dating back to the Baroque period (and even further back), this area features a series of walls, steep steps, walkways and bridges surrounding the historic city center and extending from the St. Afra Church, all the way to the Alrechtsburg and Cathedral. The whole pathway provides visitors with a splendid view of the entire city from down below, as well as regions along the Elbe and beyond.
  5. The Meissen Vineyards: This is the signature of the region along the Elbe. Known in Europe as the northernmost vineyards, this area extends for over 60 square kilometers, along the Elbe and deep into the Spaargebirge. Festivals in the spring and fall are dedicated to the planting and harvest of grapes and the production of the wine, most of which you can only find in Saxony.

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But when it comes to Christmas markets and the like, Meissen brings out the best, not just in terms of its porcelain but also in the form of artwork. It goes all the way down to artwork on the Christmas market cups, where each year has a commemoration of some sorts, a different design that includes anything typical of Christmas and Meissen and the writing which turns the standard fonts of Times New Roman into shame. You can have a look at a pair of cups I got from there to find out.

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If you collect Christmas market cups, then Meissen is the place to stop for them.

Another feature of Meissen that one will not see is when visiting Brück and Sons, a store that was established in 1723 and still serves today as not only a bookstore- one of ten that serve the city of 28,000 inhabitants- but also a publisher.  Brück and Sons’ bookstore also has a function as a Christmas specialty store and a local shop. In other words, the store has everything but all homemade.

What does the store have? Nicht leichter als folgendes:

The store features homemade Christmas cards, Advent Calendars and other paper items, all handpainted and all have different themes, whether it is with a Christmas market scene, or a historic place of interest or even a general theme. The artwork there is genuine and is as good or even better than the works of the late Tom Kincade because of its realistic setting and the use of lighting.  If one is looking for something for Christmas, this is one of the seven wonders of Meissen that is worth seeing, especially as the store also offers homemade products, such as liquours, jams (some with whisky in it) and praline candies. The lone exception of products offered at the store are the products imported from Sweden, yet they appear to be homemade.

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But the store is not the only place where a person can stop to shop. Homemade products can also be found at the St. Afra Church. Open every day until 6pm, the church’s  basar sells a wide array of products that are handmade by several different groups, whether they are homemade Christmas stars, paper stars for the Christmas tree, homemade jam, Christmas cards and even some winter-wear, even though during my visit, the temperature was a couple degrees above zero and quite mild.  As a bonus, one can be greeted with some organ music from time to time.

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The booths at the market itself offers a lot of Christmas products that are made from the Ore Mountain region as well as the Vogtland, mostly from the latter. A real treat are the mini-Räuchermänner at a stand at (….). These are mini-incense men which uses mini-cones, half the size of a Räuchermann on average. Also found there are the Christmas Gnomes, which use the normal cones. In Germany, gnomes are becoming popular year round for they used to be found in most gardens in the summer time. Yet in the past five years, the gnomes have found their way to fame on the Christmas stage, either as incense figures or decoration on the Christmas tree.  Yet at the main market, one will find most of the city’s culinary foods, such as mushroom hotdish and Hirtenkäse-Rollchen, and pastries. Yet much of the mulled wine are produced locally, in addition to the hot chocolate.

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The only caveat to Meissen’s Christmas market is the parking. Because of the narrow streets and the close proximity of the buildings, parking and even driving is restricted when going through the Meissen Christmas market. Even the streets leading to the two markets- the smaller one included, is blocked off to ensure the safety of the visitors passing through. Henceforth, it is recommended to use the parking garages to the south and the east of the Christmas markets, including those along the Elbe, and walk to the places directly. They will save the person a lot of time and headaches, especially as the areas are restricted as is. Because most of the buildings are rather historic, there is no leeway in terms of providing better parking possibilities.

However, this may not be even necessary given the charm that Meissen has in general. When walking through the city center for the first time, there was a sense of going back into time where cars were non-existent, and the only way to get around anywhere was on foot. Even the bike trail system is rather restricted because of the narrowness of the streets, combined with the steep grades. Just add the Christmas market in Meissen to the scenery of the old town and one will be in Winter Wonderland. It’s like leaving the stresses of city life and entering a different world when walking through Meissen.  While one could add another theme to the market, such as something Medieval, etc., but it would be somewhat overkill, given the sittiing Meissen has to offer, combined with the points of interest the city has.

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To sum up this visit, there are enough reasons to visit Meissen and spend the day there. The Christmas market is one of the key reasons. It features locally handmade products that go beyond the ceramics the city prides itself on- namely artwork, clothing and anything related to paper. It offers food and drink that is based on what is offered in the region. It has a large, life-sized Advent Calendar that people can look forward to everyday. Even the market itself features events that extend until January 6th. And lastly, the market has a small-town feeling which is atypical for a town as big as Meissen itself is. One does not need to have an overcrowded but popular Christmas market, like in Nuremberg, Berlin and even neighboring Dresden. It just needs that perfect touch that makes the market the place to spend the whole day in. And Meissen is just that when looking at just the Christmas market, alone. The rest is already a given.

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More about Meissen can be found through the following links:

http://www.meissner-weihnacht.de/

https://www.stadt-meissen.de/Advent.html

More photos on the Christmas market in Meissen can be found via facebook (here) and Google (here)

FlFi Christmas 2018

Genre of the Week: Dreamer by Ozzy Osbourne

Today is the 70th birthday of one of rock and roll’s greatest, Ozzy Osbourne. For about a half century, Ozzy awed many fans with songs like Mama I’m Coming Home, The Road to Nowhere, Back on Earth, Paranoid, and No More Tears, just to name a few, both as a soloist as well as with his band Black Sabbath. And while Black Sabbath has since disbanded, Ozzy is making his last hurrah on tour, capping off a long and adventurous career, which will be remmebered for his colorful performances both on and off stages.

Ozzy had many sides of music, including his soft ones. While Mama I’m Coming Home is one of the most popular pieces in that aspect, there is one that best delivers the message. And while many of us love to dream on, some of our dreams have come true, while others will eventually bear fruit when they are good and ready. Dreamer was released in 2001 but is still played on the airwaves to this day. Its winter setting in the video has many of us dreaming about our own futures- what we want and what is awaiting us.

So to bid Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, the Genre of the Week is Dreamer. Wishing you all the best on your birthday and best wishes for your future career after the final tour.

sunset in memory

FlFi Christmas 2018

Photo Flick Nr. 8

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For the first Advent here’s a cool Photo Flick for you. Imagine this scene: An angel and Father Christmas, the more athletic and European version of Santa Claus are sitting at the table at a Christmas market. What do you think they are saying to each other?

 

Here’s an additional hint to add to the conversation:

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Share your stories and take a guess at where in Germany will a person find the Christmas market where this scene takes place. The answer will come soon! 🙂

Happy First Advent! 😀 ❤

FlFi Christmas 2018

 

Christmas Genre 2018: Christmas Needs Not Much- Only Love- A Penny Grocery Commercial

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Today is December 1st and like with the start of the Advents Calendar the Files has some surprises for you between now and the end of the holiday season.  It goes well beyond the Christmas markets that will be profiled for this year’s Christmas market tour.

We’re kicking off this holiday season with a tradition that has been in Germany’s television and also online- Christmas commercials with special meanings.  Most of these commercials are done by the food chains, like Lidl, Kaufland, Penny and Rewe, just to name a few. Yet other commercials of this caliber have been done by chains outside Germany, like John Lewis in the UK did with this ad in 2015 with the theme Loneliness.

While we provided a preview of the holiday through a healthy and energetic Santa Claus in the Kaufland commercial, this Christmas genre looks at another theme which is even closer to home than we think- poverty and the power of love.

In this commercial, the story takes place in a small, two-room house, where a single mom tries to make her son happy, despite struggling to make ends meet. When the boy was not allowed to go ice skating because of money, it broke his heart because he wanted a white Christmas. Not to worry, the mother had a grand idea to make her boy happy.  The rest is all history:

 

FlFi Christmas 2018

When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou

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Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist. She published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. She had written seven autobiographies about her life, all of them having received accolades. She had written a great deal about society and the environment, her family and her hardships. But one of the poems somewhat stood out that deserves recognition post humus. This Genre special looks at life and death and how things change. It is somewhat tragic as it deals with the fall of the greats and the struggle to pick up where they have left off- to regenerate and regrow. This poem is dedicated to not only what has happened in California and the west coast with the forest fires, but also to all those whom we miss. Atfer all, we have a lot of growing up to do in order to understand how our environment works and how we should foster its growth in order to have any chance of life for future generations.

“When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down in tall grasses,
and even elephants lumber after safety.
When great trees fall in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines, gnaws on kind words unsaid,
promised walks never taken.

Great souls die and our reality,
bound to them, takes leave of us.
Our souls, dependent upon their nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed and informed by their radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always irregularly. 
Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never to be the same,
whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. 
Be and be better. 
For they existed.”

 

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