Christmas Market Tour 2010: Bayreuth

Overview with the Christmas tree Photo taken in December 2010

After putting up with the overcrowding visitors at one of the most popular Christmas markets in Germany, the next stop on the Christmas market tour is an hour to the north in a small and quiet town of Bayreuth. The capital of the region Oberfranken (Upper Franconia) is located not far from the source of the Main River, which slithers its way for over 400 kilometers down to the mouth of the Rhein River in the twin cities of Wiesbaden and Mainz (both are west of Frankfurt/Main).  Like Jena, Bayreuth is one of those forgotten cities where people pass through enroute to either Berlin or Munich along the North-South corridor A9, and there is a good reason for that. Bayreuth is one of the biggest sleeper towns in Germany with most of the recreational possibilities located in the Fichtel Mountain region to the north and east. Its population consists mainly of those ages 40 and up and even though its main attractions include the university and the places associated with Jean Paul and Richard Wagner, the town almost always sleeps early every night of the year. That means after 7:00pm, when the stores close their doors for the evening, the whole city center becomes silent in a fashion resembling Steven King’s The Langoliers- the silence when walking through its main street Maximilianstrasse is as eerie as it gets.

However, not all of Bayreuth is as silent as the airport where the passengers were stranded in, like in the film The Langoliers. There are two time periods in the year where the city of 70,000 inhabitants is the liveliest (that is, if you subtract the basketball season in the winter time and the professional basketball team BBC Bayreuth). The first one is in July, when the Wagner Festival takes place at the Festspielhaus, located on the hill overlooking most of the city. The second one is the Bayreuther Weihnachtsmarkt, which takes place the same time as the market in Nuremberg. Like the lighted garland which runs along the Maxmilianstrasse through the city center, the Christmas market consists of booths running along the main street beginning at the west end where the Hugendubel book store and the Karstadt department store are located and ending at Sternplatz on the east end, where the bar complex Winterdorf is located. While most of the booths close up early at 7:00pm every night, the Winterdorf part of the Christmas market is open until late into the night- far later than the Glühwein booths at the Christmas market in Erfurt, which really took me by surprise given the fact that Erfurt is three times as big as its Franconian counterpart and has a very stark contrast in terms of its liveliness as a whole. If one wants to try all the concoctions in the world, ranging from Feuerzangenbowle in a cup to Winter Dream, to Nürnberger Glühwein (see the attached links for the recipes of each) then Winterdorf is the place to be, where the female bar attendants are nice looking and customer friendly, and the reunions with old friends and colleagues take place. I had the opportunity to meet up with my friends and former students at the Winterdorf, as I taught for two years at the university and they were my regular customers in all the English classes I taught there. It was a fun time as we talked about our lives in English and provided each other with some laughs and memories of the times together in the classroom, drinking all the beverages possible. Many of them I still keep in touch with through all forms of communication, as I made a difference in their lives during my two years in Bayreuth, and they made my stay a memorable one.

But aside from all the memories, another reason for nominating Bayreuth as one of the pics is its improvement with regards to city planning. In the past five years, the Maximilianstrasse was converted from an underground bus station with through traffic on the surface to one which presents some unique lighting and sculptural designs with two thirds of the street now being converted into a pedestrian and bicycle zone. The bus station is now located just off the bypass Hollernzollern Ring, which runs along the Main River. During the time I was in Bayreuth, much of the street was ripped apart for the beautification process, and most of the small shops at the Christmas market were relocated along the side streets. The entire stretch of shops between the west and east ends was completely blocked off. When I visited the market this time around, it was a whole different story. New lighting, new trees lining up along the streets, and the stretch of small shops was reestablished, making the Bayreuth Christmas one of the most hidden treasures that a person has to take a couple hours to see. While many students have claimed that Bayreuth has only Richard Wagner to offer and that the city should do more to improve its image, they are only half right. Little do they realize is that Bayreuth does offer one thing that will make their stay a wonderful one, which is its Christmas market. After all, it is the place where friends meet and/or reunite and for those without a partner, one might get lucky there.

And now the last stop on the Christmas Market tour, which requires a good 400km trip down along the Main River in one of the most popular metropolises in Europe, Frankfurt am Main. But before that, here are some recipes of beverage mixes worth trying for the holidays.

Feuerzangenbowle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feuerzangenbowle

Winter Dream:

http://www.channels.com/episodes/show/12678283/How-To-Make-The-Amaretto-Sunset

Glühwein (EN: Mulled or Spiced Wine):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulled_wine

Reference to the Langoliers:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Langoliers

More pics:

West end overlooking the book store and old town hall.
Winterdorf at Sternplatz on the east end of the market
Inside Winterdorf, where the drinks run wild and the guest are even wilder.
Ah yes, the Feuerzangenbowle!

 

FF new logo1

Advertisements

Christmas Market Tour 2017: Hof (Bavaria)

24173702_1739533812744649_9147679218570939230_o

Little is known about the first stop on the Christmas market tour of 2017. Hof is located in Bavaria near the Franconian Forest and the Fichtel Mountains. The city of 47,500 inhabitants is located along the Saxon Saale River near the border of both the Czech Republic to the east and the German state of Saxony to the north. In fact, the city is 13 kilometers west of the former Communist Triangle at Trojmezí (CZ). Hof was the symbol of freedom as tens of thousands of East Germans entered Bavaria by train in 1989. It was followed by the opening of the gates and and tens of thousands of Trabants and Wartburg cars entering Hof when the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November of the same year. All of those fleeing the country wanted nothing more but either freedom to move and live, or the removal of the communist regime led by Erich Honnecker or even both. They eventually got their wish and then some with the German reunification. Almost 30 years later, the borders and fencing have all but disappeared with the exception of a section of a preserved watchman’s tower and fencing north of Hof near Mödlareuth. Hof is now situated at the three-state corner with Bavaria meeting Saxony and Thuringia both former states of East Germany.

When looking at Hof more closely, one can see the historic town center and many antique houses and buildings in other suburbs in one piece. Hof survived almost unscath by the air raids during World War II and has prospered since then, thanks to tourism, agriculture and small industry. The city center is 150-200 meters above the river, anchored by a combination of shopping and religion- the later featuring the twin finial towers of the St. Marion Catholic Church. The shopping mile at Altstadt connects Post Street with Lorenz Church and street via the Catholic Church- a span of over one kilometer.

And this shopping mile is the focus of the Christmas Market at Hof’s Altstadt. Getting to the market by car, let alone by foot is difficult- perhaps the one of the most difficult of the Christmas markets to date. It has nothing to do with the maze in getting to the market, as was the case with the Christmas market in Chemnitz, when I wrote about it in 2015. While the street plans are mainly gridded- similar to a typical American town- the main problem was finding a place to park in Hof, for the parking lot and places along the streets were filled to the brim. When they were not occupied by cars, they were reserved for the handicapped, delivery trucks and bikes. This was compounded by speeding cars, traffic lights and even traffic jams. These are typical scenes of a typical southern German town as the region is the fastest growing in the country in terms of people, houses, and even transportation.  When finding a place to park, it is highly recommended to take your time, find the right spot to park without getting ticketed and impounded, and expect to walk to the Altstadt from your parked car.

This was the case during my visit, but despite this, the walk to the market was well worth it.  🙂

The market itself was really small, stretching from the Catholic Church to Post Street along the upper end of the shopping mile going past the Gallerie Kaufhof. Its aesthetic features include Christmas trees (some decorated) wrapped around street lamps along the shopping mile, LED lighting illuminating the sidewalks with Christmas slogans and light brown pinewood Christmas huts with gabled roofing and decorated with natural pine nbeedle garland and Christmas figures, such as the snowman, Santa Claus (or Weihnachtsman in German) and reindeers. The main attraction is a nine meter high Christmas pyramid, with angelic figures, whose dark brown color with white paintings resemble a gingerbread cake. Yet it is not like in Hansel and Gretel because it holds the largest of the Glühwein (mulled wine) stands at the market.  The backdrop of the market is both the church as well as the historic buildings, minus the rather modern Kaufhof. Still the market is a great stop for a drink and food after a long day of Christmas shopping.

Approximately 40 huts lined up and down the shopping mile as well as the pyramid and neighboring carousel on one end, but gallery of fairy tales and a Children’s train station on the opposite end.  The stands sold many handcrafted goods originating from the region, including the lighted Christmas arch from the Fichtel Mountains, ceramic manger sets that include a real lantern hung over the crib where baby Jesus was born and woolen clothing made in time for skiing. 🙂

But inspite this, one should pay attention to the food and drink available at the market because they are either local or multicultural. Local in this case means, in terms of food, the hot pot Schnitz and the Hofer Bratwurst (the thin version of the well acclaimed Bratwurst whose taste reminds a person of the Nuremberg Bratwurst); for the beverages, there is the local Glühwein from the nearby wineries in and around the Franconian region. Most importantly, one should try the Franconian Punch: an alcoholic drink that features orangesrum and other spices. Some include red wine and are thus renamed orange Frankenwald wine, yet just punch with the rum alone makes it the real thing worth drinking. 🙂

Yet multicultural food and drink mean that stands originating from several different country serving their own form of homemade local delicacies can be found at the Christmas market. From my own observations, stands with goodies from six different countries are worth trying while in Hof. They include those from Mexico, Belgium, Czech Republic, Turkey, Italy and Syria. Ironically, these specialties come from three of the countries that US President Trump detests (both officially and behind closed doors), one of these three is a royal pain in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s neck. I’ll allow you to figure out which three countries I’m referring to. 😉

While I never had a chance to try all of the delicious delicacies from those stands, I tried the Gözlem (a Turkish Yufka tortilla that is filled with feta (sheep) cheese and spinach) and several small bars that contain pistachio, a nut most commonly found in Syria. The Syrians baker at that stand had a wide selection of pistachio bars, rolls, spaghetti-style bars, etc., that contained lots of these nuts plus sugar, eggs and other sweet spices. It tasted really good- enough to take it home to try with the family, especially my daughter, who is friends with a Syrian in school. 🙂 Syrians, who fled the region because of war and famine and have made their homes here in Europe, are one of the most overlooked groups when it comes to their heritage. From mainstream media, they fled to find a new life but struggle to establish their existence because of hate crimes and fake news from neo-conservative, far-right “news” sources, such as Britain First and Breitbart (US). Yet inspite of attempts of instilling fear and forcing others to turn away and against them, the majority of the public believe that the refugees have as much right to live in Germany as the Germans themselves, let alone other expatriates, like yours truly, who have escaped their home countries and found a better life.  And when looking at them even closer, one can see their special talents and food specialties, the latter of which brought out the Mr Food in me because of their secret ingredient of pistachio and its “Ooh, it’s so good!” comment.

Given the situation they are in, we have to put ourselves in our place and ask ourselves, what would we have done if we were in the crossfires? What talents and special characteristics can we take with so that we can use it for others? After all, every country has been in a war in one way or another. Germany’s last war ended 72 years ago. America’s home turf soil happened 152 years ago, focusing on slavery of the minority.  Both cultures are still alive and stronger than ever before. For refugees, like the Syrians, Turks, Kurds, Iranians and others affected by the war, they too have a right to live and shine for others and therefore, we must respect their rights and talents like we have for our own. We can learn from each other through our actions. 🙂

Summing up the Hof Christmas market, the first in Bavaria since starting my Christmas market series in 2010, I found that despite the problems with traffic, that the Christmas market in the old town was a cool place to visit. Accessible by going up the hill to the church and turning left, the market has a small hometown setting that is appealing to locals and regionals alike. One can try all the local and multi-cultural specialties and talk to people from different regions, while listening to music played or sung on stage (located at the entrance to the mall passage). And while Hof and Bayreuth have some equal characteristics in terms of having a university and similar population size, the arrangement and offer of the Christmas market falls clearly in favor of Hof this time, although admittedly, perhaps Bayreuth has changed since my visit seven years ago.

In either case, as you can see in the pics below and here per link, Hof is one city worth a visit, especially during the holiday season. One can learn culture, history and heritage for one day and come away with a small town feeling, learning a bit and enjoying that Christmas feeling.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

fast fact logo

Mr. Food, going by the name of Art Ginsburg, started a short TV show bearing his nickname in 1975 and continued to run it until his death in 2012 due to cancer. Howard Rosenthal now runs the show bearing the name.

 

FlFiHolidays2017

The Six-Year Rule: Why A Job in German Academia is Fatal for your Teaching Career

nug3a
Wiley Campus of Hochschule Neu-Ulm in Bavaria. Photo taken in 2015

Starting off this article there is a word of advice to anyone wishing to start their career in teaching English as a foreign language, let alone in general as a professor: German Academia is the place where teachers’ careers end- after six years, that is!  If one wishes to continue as a teacher, one has to take the mentality that a person goes where the jobs are, even if it means working as a freelancer until retirement. This mentality goes along the lines of a quote by the late Paul Gruchow: “You go where the good people go. We raise our best so that they can develop a sense of home and eventually come back.”

Teachers in Germany are the highest in demand, especially in the area of foreign languages, yet barriers are standing high and tall in the path to a prosperous career that many of them decide to call it a career and find another profession. This applies not only to German laws for recognizing education degrees for schools from other countries, but this one: The Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (known in English as the Limited Contract Laws for Academics in Germany or LAG for short). Enacted in 1999, the LAG aims at limiting contracts for those wishing to work at a German university in an attempt to reduce the number of employees, including professors, receiving permanent posts and encourage competition by hiring new people every 2-3 years, pending on which German state you live in and which “Hochschule” (German university or college) you wish to work for. In a nutshell, people wishing to work at a Hochschule are given a limited contract, most of the time two years, and are allowed to work a total of six years without pursuing a doctorate. With a doctorate (PhD), one receives another six years, totaling 12 years of work. For those studying medicine, the rule is nine years before and six years after getting a PhD, thus totaling 15 years.  Once the time runs out, there is the “Berufsverbot,” which means you are not allowed to work at a German university anymore for the rest of your life.

Yet there are some exceptions to the rule which could help manuever around LAG and prolong your stay in academia. Some of which I learned most recently during an interview at a university in the state of Hesse.  The first involves having children while working at a German university. If one has a child, then the limit of the number of years allowed to work full time is extended by two years per child- a major benefit since Germany has one of the lowest birthrates of all industrialized countries in the world.  Another way of extending your life at academia is through Drittmittel- German for funding from the private sector. According to news reports from the newspaper Die Zeit, more and more academics are applying for this type of funding as a way of prolonging their careers at the German university. Basically, the funding applied for and received is what the academics have to live off from. Most of the time, the funding is barely enough to make ends meet, limited to 2-3 years- meaning another limited contract- and it comes with strings attached, which means one has to work on a project in addition to teaching. Project-hopping is another concept that is practiced at German universities, where people hop from one project to another in an attempt to stay at one university.  Then there is the Publish-or-Perish mentality, where people working at academia are expected to contribute to the university by publishing as many works as possible, while getting a meager amount of money in return. A way of staying on, yet at the cost of your teaching career because most of the time is spent on writing instead of interacting and helping students.  Getting a professorship is possible in Germany, but one needs at least 10 years to complete that, and there are several titles one needs to go through, such as PD, Junior Professor, Professor Doctor, Professor Doctor Doctor, Professor Doctor Doctor Doctor……. (You get the hint 😉  ). If one is not quick enough to obtain such a professorship, let alone follow the publish or perish mentality, then one can call it a career well before the retirement age.

All these options are doable, but in comparison with American universities and colleges, where they provide tenure tracks for those wishing to pursue a permanent form of employment (both as a professor as well as an employee), the hurdles are numerous and high- high enough for a person to a point where if one wants to race the 300 meter hurdles in track and field, it is required to practice triple jump and high jump in order to “jump the hurdles” without stumbling and eventually finish the race a winner.  In fact, only 14% of all positions at an American university have limited contracts. In Germany, the rate is 68%, one of the highest in the world! The trend is ongoing and increasing and for a good reason: budget cuts from the state, which is the main source of financing, combined with less funding possibilities from Drittmittel, is forcing institutions to lay off personnel and cut certain programs deemed as “not financially suitable for students.” Protests have taken place in many German states calling for more state and federal involvement in financing for academia but with partial success. Those who stay on have to deal with funding that is barely enough for even a single person to survive. Others, especially those fearing for their career, opt for places outside Germany, including the US, Canada and Great Britain, as working conditions and better, and  more permanent contracts are guaranteed.

 

But all is not so bad these day. Some universities in Germany are laxing their regulations by either providing permanent employment right away or after a limited contract. In a couple cases in Bavaria, the tenure track has been introduced to allow people to stay on beyond the permanent contract. Yet as it is always the case when dealing with bureaucracy in Germany, it comes with strings attached. Requirements of a degree in the respective field, like a language degree at a university for a job at a language institute is becoming the norm and not the exception. This includes Master’s degrees but also Lehramt (teaching degrees), which includes 7-8 years of studies, student teaching and two state exams (see an article posted here). Even then, the pressure to stay on when hired is enormous and one needs a lot of luck and aggression, let alone some great connections to stay on beyond the contract- preferably permanently.  But even then, when you have established these connections and a great career, chances are likely that you are shown the door when the contract is up.

nu20

This was what happened to yours truly in Bayreuth. I worked at the University’s Language Institute teaching English for two years, from 2008 until 2010. Prior to me being hired, I was told that I would be allowed to work there for two years with no further contract, then I would be banned from teaching in Bavaria. This was customary at that time.  In fact, three of my colleagues had left when I arrived; two more left after the first semester alone, and two more were offered two-year contracts under the same conditions during my time there, but they declined as the move from North-Rhine Westphalia to Bayreuth for two years was not worth the move. While the regulations, in place since 2007,  have somewhat laxed because of successful attempts to keep at least some of the teachers on (many of them had worked there for over a decade before I came), they came after I left, leaving a mark in the classroom and many positive stories and experiences to share among my student colleagues, many of whom I’m still in contact with (and are probably following this column). Despite Bayreuth’s attempts, other Bavarian universities are having a hard time copying their successful attempts so that their staff members can stay on with a permanent contract. But realizing the mentality that not everyone is that mobile and would like to settle down, the winds of change will eventually come to them and the rest of Germany as well.  For me, after another two-year contract at another Hochschule, I decided to pursue my teaching degree for the German Gymnasium, for teaching in schools are more guaranteed than in academia, yet the workload is more than in adacemia- the only caveat. 😉

To end this article, I have a word of advice to those wishing to teach in Germany: If teaching is what you want, you have to cross seven bridges to get there. Many of them are old and rickety, but they are worth crossing. Yet make sure a plan B is in place if you decide to leave it behind. After all, we have more than one talent in our lives to share with others and be successful in. 🙂

flefi-deutschland-logo

 

City Institutions, Laws and Agreements: The Origin of the Flensburg Files

FL Harbor

Author’s Note: This article is a two-in-one deal. It’s an article in connection with Germany’s 25th anniversary, but it’s also in connection with the Files’ five years and how this column came into being. Enjoy! 🙂 

While living in Germany, one will see a unique feature that has been talked about at the dinner table: institutions, laws and agreements named after German cities. We are not talking about institutions like breweries, whose headquarters are found at their places of origin, like the Flensburger, the Berliner Weisse, the Köstritzer, the Saalfelder and the like. That topic is saved for a rainy day, unless you want to know more about German beer (in that case, there’s an article for you right here). And what is also typical are the newspapers named after cities- these are also common everywhere and heceforth will be left out here.

What is meant by institutions are the banks and insurance companies that were founded in the place or origin, and with some exceptions to the rule, still exist today. Many of these financial institutions had their roots to the time of Bismarck’s regime beginning in 1871, the time when Germany was first founded as a country. Part of that had to do with Bismarck’s introduction of the social welfare and health care systems, where every citizen was required to have insurance in case of an accident. With that came the dawn of the insurance (More on that later). The Dresdner Bank was one of these examples. Founded in 1872 Karl Freiherr von Kaskel and based in Dresden, the bank became one of largest banks in Germany and eastern Europe, surviving two World Wars and the Cold War before it folded into the Commerzbank in 2009. There is also the insurance group Alte Leipziger, located an hour west of the city in Leipzig, which provides insurance coverage, especially for burn-out syndrome and other psychological disorders. One will find such (financial institutions) in many big cities, such as Munich, Stuttgart, Hannover and Frankfurt, just to name a few.

City laws and agreements are even more unique in Germany. While in the Anglo-Saxon countries have conferences and agreements on a larger scale in terms of international relations (such as the Washington Conference of 1922, the Bonn Agreement on Afghanistan in 2001 and the Frankfurt Documents in 1948), what is meant by agreements are the creation of domestic laws and systems that people in Germany have to abide by, which were signed and enacted at the place of origin. In some cases, like the Flensburg Point System, there is even an office that specializes in this type of law. As seen in the point system, the Kraftfahrtbundesamt (the office of vehicular registration) in Flensburg is responsible for giving drivers points for violations on the road. Other agreements known to exist include:

_The Düsseldorfer Tabelle: Founded in 1962 based on a controversial ruling and its subsequent appeal, the table determines how much child support a partner has to provide at the time of the divorce. It is classified based on the amount of money that person has to pay per month until the child is 25 years of age.

_Frankfurter Tabelle: This table is used to determine how much money a traveller should receive as a refund for lack of accomodations. This is determined by another table created in Kempten. The Würzburger Tabelle has a similar scheme but for boat cruises.

These are just a handful of agreements and laws that exist, which leads us to this activity:

Identify which city has its own law and agreement that was enacted in its place of origin and describe briefly what it is and how it works. That you can do in the comment section, links are welcomed regardless of language. 🙂

DSCF8470

Origin of the Files:

Keeping German cities in mind, the next question that many readers, family members, friends and colleagues have been asking me is: Why Flensburg and not Frankfurt?  As Piggeldy and Frederick would say: Nichts leichter als das (Easy as this):

I visited Flensburg for the first time in May 2010, as I needed to get away from everything that had been going on in my life that was unwelcomed. Just to put it bluntly and leaving it there. I had heard of the city and its proud heritage from a pair of people who either come from there or have lived there for many years. One was a former student colleague from my days as a teacher in Bayreuth, another was my best friend and his girlfriend from my days in Thuringia. I had heard about the point system before that and the beer. But upon setting foot on Flensburg soil, and exploring the city and visiting the people, it became the city worth visiting (along with the surrounding region), because of its natural surroundings, its landscape, and especially its history, tied together with that of Germany, Denmark and on the international scene. Some articles have been written about it, other themes have yet to make the column (and will soon enough). 🙂

While my main profession is an English teacher (and I’ve been doing this for 15 years), my second profession is a writer, who has been contributing works not only to this one but also to other newspapers. One day, in response to a letter I had written to a local newspaper demanding that my hometown in Minnesota set an example of what Flensburg is doing with its historic architecture by saving the former high school building, a friend and former high school classmate of mine recommended me to the areavoices website, where I can write about my experiences as a Minnesotan living in Germany, providing some photos and food for thought. She works at the Forum Communications Company based in Fargo, North Dakota but has newspaper offices throughout the Midwest, including Worthington (Minnesota),  Mitchell (South Dakota), and those throughout North Dakota in Grand Forks, Jamestown and Williston, just to name a few.

After some thought about her offer, why not?

Together with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, the Flensburg Files made its debut in October 2010. The origin of the Files came from my will to keep the German tradition alive: my visit in Flensburg, using the German city name for the title, and the files- there is a file for every document submitted in a form of article, photos, interviews and the life. Besides, one can do a whole lot with the letter F, as you can see in the logos below.

Five years laters, the Files is running strong. Not only does the column provide some topics pertaining to German-American themes and places to visit (Christmas markets included), but it has extended to include more on culture, education (esp. for those wanting to learn English and are non natives), current events and some food for thought on the part of the author. It now has a wordpress website, which has attracted almost a thousand subscribers (and counting) plus unknown numbers of frequent visitors to the Files’ facebook pages and twitter. In other words, it has gotten bigger, attracting a large audience from all aspects of the world. Plans are in the making in the future to include a couple more social networks and provide a few more series beyond 2015, but the Files will remain the same, an online column that provides readers with an insight of German-American themes, even if it means going behind the scenes, as the author has done already.

This leads to the last question: Why Flensburg and not other cities in Germany? We have too many institutions, laws and agreements going by the names of Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg, just to name a few. Plus using names of other small cities are possible but they don’t provide the kick to a top-notch column like this one. One could rename it like the Husum Herald, St.Pauli Sentinal,  Münster Morning News, Nuremberg Newsflyer, Glauchau (Daily) Globe (here, the people in Worthington would have a say in that), Leipzig Local (again same as Glauchau as that group exists), Weimar World News, etc. But nothing can top what the Flensburg Files can offer for title. And sometimes using something local and building off of what the city offers for rum, beer, handball and its point system, in addition to its beaches, landscape and especially its heritage can give a city like Flensburg a boost, like it has in the five years it has been in business, with many more years to come. 🙂

To close this article here’s a word of advice for those wanting to start an online column like this one, or a career as a journalist. Because our world is full of lies and corruption, there is one variable that is constant, which is the truth. The truth is the most important commodity a person has to deal with. This includes being true to yourself and your future. If you are sure that you want to uncover the truth and expose it, then do it. People may laugh at you at first, and you may face failure for the first few months or even years, but in the end, if you are true to your heart, you will win the hearts and minds of true friends who will stay with you to ensure that you stay to your course to become a successful writer. It takes likes of patience, passion, perseverence and persistence- the 4 Ps. Once followed, and once you receive accolades and respect for you as a true writer, then you will reach your destiny and beyond. Aim high and let the heavens do the rest.

And now, back to the writing…… 🙂

Logo from 2011
Logo from 2013
FF new logo1
Its present logo (since 2014)

FF 25 Logo

five years flfi

English Roundtable at the Irish Pub

The Venue of the English Roundtable: Irish Pub on a cold foggy night. Photo taken in November 2011

Author’s Note: This is a throwback article taking us back to November 2011 and dealing with a topic on learning English and the English Roundtable. There are many advantages of having such a Stammtisch, many of which us English teachers don’t know about. This leads to a question to many expatriates and non-Natives wanting to learn English of whether your community in Germany has such a roundtable. If so, what is offered there and is it beneficial. If there is none, what are the reasons for NOT having one. Place your comments below but not before reading about my experiences of having one while in Erfurt as an English lecturer. 🙂

7:30pm and after a long day in the classroom, what wonderful opportunity does a teacher have but to meet with the most dedicated students at a beloved bar in town, to practice some English in terms of small talk and to hear about their private lives, both as students as well as people. The English Roundtable (in German it would be called the Englisch Stammtisch) at an Irish Pub, like the Dubliner just minutes from the old town was just the place gather just for that occasion.

I never understand why teachers never have such events for students. After all there are many advantages that bring students together to have small talk with the native speaker of English. First and foremost, there are not many opportunities to practice English except in the classroom, but that is rather pathetic if you only have the opportunity to do that for 90 minutes once a week. Contrary to the beliefs of those who think that it is not necessary, there are a select few who want extra lessons from someone who can be reached easily for help, but cannot because of- well lack of opportunity to do it due to time and other commitments.  Having a Roundtable like this also creates a bond among the students and with the teacher, guaranteeing them that whenever there is a problem, they can turn to each other for help. It makes a distinction between who is your real friend and who is not. It provides a student with a wide array of topics worth talking about, whether they are culturally related, in connection with current events, or anything that is on one’s mind and is worth talking about, which is food for thought for those who may be interested in this. And last but not least, it produces some events that are worth remembering, whether they are funny or embarrassing, and whether they are in connection with rituals started or anything that is just out of the ordinary.

It is a Tuesday night and I am drinking a pint of Snake Bite at the Irish Pub. The night was horrible as one feels like walking through pea stew while at the same time, freezing to a point where one could turn into an ice cube in minutes!. There is a soccer match going on between Barcelona and Pilsen with the former cutting the latter into pieces. But I could not think but the memories that I had with this place and how it reinforces the idea of having more of the English Roundtables in places where universities are numerous and English is needed, for many businesses communicate in this lingua franca language.  I remember the reunion with some of my former students, three of which gave me the nickname of “Headband” as I wore it to class and pronounced it like “Head bäääääännnddd!” as one mispronounced it as “Headbahnd.” Another three and I went on a Glühwein drinking spree at a Christmas market, trying every sort of the spiced wine with all kinds of flavors, such as pear liquor and tequila (the latter really packed a punch and gave me the hangover of the century the next morning), and then rooting for the home team in a basketball game. They lost a heartbreaker thanks to a last second basket, but it was fun to cheer them on while intoxicated. Then we had another heartbreaker of the game we all watched here at the Irish Pub, where we were crying over the Pittsburgh Steelers losing by only a few points to the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl- dressed up in Steelers jerseys and staying up until the wee hours of the next morning, despite having to write the exam the next day- and me having to administer it! Then we had the women waitresses serving us and many male students staring at them because of their looks, and me rolling my eyes and wondering when they will finally get it done and date one for Christ’s sake.

Each of us had their own purpose for coming to the English Roundtable- to get help with getting a job or internship in America, to ask for ways on how to convince a non-native speaker of English to teach English the proper way, to learn more about American culture and the differences between them and us (the Germans), or just to sit, relax, enjoy a Guiness and do some small talk in English. Mine was and still is to help the students learn and send them on their way, no matter what endeavor they are pursuing. I have my regular customers and those who come and go at their convenience, yet still each one leaves their mark when they leave the Roundtable, whether it is in spirit or in writing. For mine it is almost always the latter, as each time we meet, we would take a post card, sign our names on the back and write down the topics we discuss before stashing it into the drawers of the tables for the waitresses and guests to see and awe in amazement what we discussed.

One makes me wonder why there should not be more of these Roundtables. If it is because of family commitments, I balk at it as the argument is considered null and void; especially since I have a wife and daughter who do not mind me having one as long as I stay out of trouble (that’s what spouses and children are there for). If it is because of having enough English in class, let me tell you that one can never have enough of a foreign language as it takes time and efforts. If it is because of the fear of closer student-teacher relationships, firstly a Roundtable is a meeting place for all who are interested and there are better places to meet to get to know someone further. Besides, almost all teachers (say 99.5%) over here fall into the category of married with children or have a relationship, so there is no fear of being paranoid. All the excuses that are made against a Roundtable are considered politics and counterproductive to the goal of teaching students the importance of a foreign language and how it gets them from point A to point B. The organization may be difficult and not many students will come in the beginning. But as the semester goes along and the word gets around, more will come and in the end, it will be a double victory for the teacher- for collecting valuable experience to share with future employers and with the family and for making a difference in the lives of the students.  One should give it a shot and see how it blossoms into a really popular group for all students to attend.

As I finish my last drink, I decided to look ahead to the next Roundtable for me in Erfurt. It was too foggy for the students to go to the meeting and many were just too busy to come. But looking at the Christmas market, which is about to start in a couple weeks, I can tell that many will take advantage of the opportunity and come to the next Roundtable as we will have some wonderful experiences there, in English and over spiced wine. And while most of my students from last year have left for future endeavors, there are new students who will benefit from some additional English and laughter, meeting new people and learning a little bit every day. That is what a Roundtable should be.

FF new logo1

In School in Germany: No Tailored Exams, Please!

Empty study corner at one of the German Hochschulen. Could tailored exams have something to do with that?

If there is a word of advice I could give to the teachers on the school and university level, speaking from my own experience as an English teacher, I would give them this one: Exams are no free tickets to success. Students have to pay for their ticket in order to pass. Exams are designed by the teacher with the goal of not only testing the students’ knowledge on a topic, but also to determine which areas the students need to improve on. From my standpoint, an exam is used to challenge the students- to get them to think outside the box and use the acquired knowledge in other ways and in their own words.

Sadly, looking at the exams today from a teacher’s point of view, as well as that of the students’, I see their value sliding down the mountain in a violent avalanche. And here’s a question and story to share with you as the reader:

 

First the question (and it is ok to post in the comment section and remain anonymous):

What was the weirdest exam you have ever taken in school or college? How was it structured? What about the content- was it relevant to what you learned? How were the questions formulated and how difficult were they?

 

While there were a couple instances where I formulated an exam where some sections were difficult to a point where I in the end had to throw the sections out and give the students some extra points (for the former students I taught English at the University of Bayreuth, you should have an idea what I’m referring to), as a student pursuing a teaching degree, I encountered an exam that was so bizarre, that even as a teacher would lose face if this was given in a lecture. This was known as the Tailored Exam.

 

The object of the tailored exam: a week before the exam, students get to choose a selected amount of questions to be inserted into the exam. These exam questions are based on the questions provided during the semester, sometimes in the PowerPoint presentations.  As soon as the questions are chosen, the students choose the point value for each question. This type of exam resembles ordering a meal deal at a fast food restaurant where you choose the burger as well as the size of French fries and soft drink you want.  And while this tailored exam does help the students narrow down the content needed to be studied before the exam (because the questions are already given, directing the students to the topics where they need to concentrate on), there are several drawbacks to this type of exam.

 

First of all, students have the tendency to select the easiest questions and reformulate them to their liking, thus leaving out the most relevant information needed for their studies, let alone their careers. This is similar to an exam for students of medicine, where a question on the different blood types outweighs the procedure to remove an inflamed appendix. Both are important, but if you don’t know how to conduct an appendectomy the proper way…… Taking the easiest way out through easy questions is delaying the inevitable, which is the real-time praxis. And if a person cannot handle the problems facing them in their profession, this shortcut will come back to haunt them.

Secondly, tailoring the exams to their needs will allow for a debate among the students as to which questions should be in and which ones are to be omitted- an argument that is a waste of time, especially if they need the time possible to prepare for the exam. And as for the teacher’s credibility….

Last but not least, while the teacher may find it easy to correct the exams, his/her credibility would vanish like water vaporizing from a pot at 200° Celsius, for students would dictate how the exam should be structured, and by allowing them to do this with the teacher’s consent, the authority to control the students’ wishes would be gone. And no matter how a teacher redeems him/herself (by adding trick questions or reformulating them to make them difficult for students to answer), his/her reputation would be lost for good. As a chain reaction, word about the tailored exam would spread, and the population of the student body would be divided up into those going to the teacher for an easy grade and those complaining about the fairness of the exam provided by the teacher and the institute he/she is employed at.  Not a way to end a working relationship between the university and the teacher should he/she decide to move on to another academic institution after two years or even retire.

In the 14+ years I have been teaching English, including seven at three different universities, I have found that the best way to win the hearts and minds of the students is to challenge their thinking but also be honest and fair to them. After all, as I have witnessed, students will best remember you for these characteristics in addition to your humor and creative ways to get them to listen. In the case of one of the universities I taught, I accumulated a vast number of student veterans- those visiting my classes semester after semester- as a result of this quality of teaching.  By having the students make the exam for the teacher, that teacher is diluting this quality of teaching that is badly needed in today’s schools and academic institutions. The end result is the teacher losing all the respect from the students and a career becoming short-lived.

There are many other variants of exams to give to the students, such as multiple choice, fill-in the blanks, short answer questions, essays and even the hybrid forms- the last of which I prefer. These plus a list of subjects students should expect to see in the exams will encourage them to go through the materials thoroughly and know the essentials. But tailored exams- the ones made (or should I say dictated by the students) is a no-go, unless you are a teacher wanting a quick exit from your career. But even then, there are other ways of getting out of it that are more honorable. It is also more honorable to challenge the brains of your students and get them to learn the most important things for their future careers.

So from the heart of this teacher to the hearts and creative minds of other teachers out there: No tailored exams, please! You will do yourself and your students a big favor and give education a better reputation.

 

Thank you and best of luck formulating your next exam, keeping this in mind.

Mr. Smith

 

Note: If you have some stories of exams that you wrote that were unorthodox but are considered useful for other teachers to use, or if you have some tips on how to create an exam that both the students as well as the teacher can benefit from, put your suggestions here in the comment section or send them to Jason Smith at the Files at: Flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. These ideas will be forwarded on in a different article as the Files continues to look at education in Germany vs. the US, based on the author’s experience as well as other factors influencing the educational landscape.  Thanks and looking forward to your ideas and thoughts. 

The Problem with Soccer in Germany Part 2: Fan Behavior- How the German Soccer Leagues should crack down on fan violence

Could basketball and handball surpass soccer as the most favorite sport to watch in Germany? It may be the case, after watching this basketball game between Bayreuth and Oldenbourg in the German Basketball Premier League in Dec. 2010. Bayreuth lost a heartbreaker on its home court 85-84.

Going to a soccer game on a Saturday at a German soccer stadium is a ritual for at least 10 million fans. For 90 minutes they enjoy the company of their friends and family, cheering for their favorite team, booing at the referees for making a wrong call, singing and supporting their team with slogans and fan waving, and when their favorite team scores the winning goal, they race to the entrance of the locker room, cheering and congratulating the team on a job well done.
Yet looking at soccer in Germany this year, the scene presents a rather different story. Instead of cheering for their team, fans are taunting them even if they lose, throwing firecrackers and smoke bombs in the stands and on the field. Fights are breaking out between the fans of both teams, while some are chasing the fan bus, throwing stones at the windows and harassing the driver. And the most climatic event to signal the end of Premier League Play was on 16 May in the relegation play between Hertha BSC Berlin and Fortuna Duesseldorf, when thousands of fans stormed the soccer field to celebrate Duesseldorf’s promotion to the top flight league and Berlin’s relegation to the second tier league- but with two minutes left in regulation! It took 20 minutes to bring the fans back to their seats before the game could continue, which had contain so much chaos, and as a consequence, involved the German government afterwards. While the team from Hertha filed a complaint and demanded that the game be replayed, it fell on deaf ears on the part of the German Soccer Federation (DFB) and the DFB Supreme Court. Still, it is a cause for alarm in Germany as the problem with fans, the team and even the law enforcement has reached a point where tougher measures will have to be made before the start of the 2012/13 season.
Normally one will see such fan behavior in American sports, as millions of viewers have seen some events that have led to questions about the role of fans and athletes. The best example can be found in the event on 19 November, 2004 at a basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, where a brawl among the players gave a fan an incentive to throw an object at Ron Artest, who raced into the stands to beat him up. Other fans and players jumped in and a minute later, the court was loaded with people throwing punches and kicking each other. The game was called off with less than a minute left. Artest and at least 10 other players other received suspensions of up to a year; the fan instigating the attack was banned from attending any professional basketball games at the place where the brawl took place- Detroit-for life.
In Germany, many people take pride in the country’s sports, whether it is handball or basketball. While watching a game in each sport in the last two years- a basketball game in Bayreuth (Bavaria) and a handball game in Flensburg, the mood of the fans was spectacular, as there was cheering and jeering, people meeting new people, and there were no firecrackers thrown in the sporting complexes, let alone fans running onto the court to hinder a game. Even the cheerleaders and the DJs managed to involve the fans and provide them with a spectacular show, to make the trip to the game worthwhile. An example of such sportsmanship between the fans and the players, were found in a game between SG Flensburg-Handewitt and Gummersbach on 27 April, 2011, a game which Flensburg won in a seesaw match 29-25.

Yet the fan problem in German soccer has become so dire that the DFB, German soccer leagues, the federal government, police and its labor unions, and other parties are coming together this summer to discuss ways to crack down on fan violence. Already conclusive is the fact that fines and sanctions against teams, whose fans instigated the violence, have had very little effect on curbing the violence. Banning fans from attending any soccer games, as has been stressed by German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich after the disastrous  game between Duesseldorf and Berlin may not be the most effective as fans can find creative ways of entering the soccer stadium masquerading as someone else and causing trouble there as well. The police and its union have strongly recommended that each of the 54 top flight teams and the DFB provide security fees and take points off the standings for teams instigating the violence. Yet many teams may not afford high fees for security, and for some who are cutting costs in order to compete, security is one of those aspects that has been on the chopping block.
The most viable solution to the increase in fan violence is to combine all the variants and add a five-year ban from competing on the national and international level, leaving them stuck in the Regionalliga (the fourth league) to set an example for other teams to clean up their act and be square with their fans, while at the same time, demand that each team entering the top three leagues to have strict security measures in place for every game and tournament. This includes taking finger prints and facial scans from each fan entering a sports stadium and having a database for them so that they can be tracked, scanning them for all forms of firecrackers and any materials that could potentially cause a fire, and even involving the German military at places where violence is the norm at the soccer games. In the case of the 2012 season so far, that would mean cities like Frankfurt and the surrounding areas, Cologne, Berlin, Dresden and Karlsruhe, where reports of violence have been recorded the most, would have military presence.  A record of the violence during the 2011/12 soccer season can be found here. The last part is a common practice in regions prone to violence, like the Middle East and Africa, yet it seems like the trend has arrived here, which makes more law enforcement through the police and army a necessary and not a luxury.  Should teams not afford strict security measures, they would not be allowed to compete in the top three leagues.
In the event that violence breaks out during or even after the soccer game, a “Three Strikes and You’re Out” rule should be enforced on all teams, keeping track of the record of violence committed by fans of the teams as well as scrutinizing the teams that are unable to control them. First strike means fines in the six digits and three points taken off, second strike means doubling of fines and six points taken off and the third strike means automatic relegation one league lower. If the event happens the fourth time, a five-year ban should be imposed. This rule is based on a law in the US dealing with drunk driving that was passed in the 1990s, which exists in most of the states- first strike meaning heavy fines, second strike meaning revoking the driving license and the third strike meaning jail time, in some cases, permanently. Yet its origins come from America’s favorite past time sport, baseball.  A ban from attending any soccer game for those committing the violence should be enforced, but the responsibility of keeping order at a soccer game lies solely with the two teams competing with each other. Therefore, one should consider the punishment for each insubordination a punishment for all involved.  While these measures are probably the harshest and it may contrabate the Constitutional Laws, resulting in the involvement of the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe on many occasions, but given the sophistication of the violence committed at German Soccer games, if even the German government is stepping up pressure for action, then the situation is at the point where inaction is no longer an option.
If there is a silver lining to all the violence, especially at the end of the season, it is fortunate that there have been no deaths or severe injuries reported. But it takes a tragedy to change that. It may not be the one similar to the infamous soccer stadium fire at Bradford City (in the UK) 0n 11 May, 1985, but one death will change the way we think about the game of soccer in Germany. We have already seen that in other places, as one can see with the violence at a soccer game at Port Said in Egypt on 1 February of this year, where over 70 people were killed. Unfortunately, Germany has taken one step closer to the danger zone and should the violence persist by the time the whistle blows to start the next season, we could see our first casualty recorded, regardless of which league game it is. When that happens, it will change the face of German soccer forever to a point where if there is a soccer game, the only way we will see it is on TV…….. as a virtual computer game!

 

 

Flensburg Files Fast Fact

Thestadium fire at Bradford City was (supposedly) caused by someone dropping a cigarette into the wooden bleachers full of rubbish, causing a fire that engulfed the stadium in less than five minutes. 56 people died in the fire and over 260 were injured. The fortunate part was the fact that no barriers to the soccer field were in place, like it is in today’s soccer stadiums in general, which allowed most of the fans to escape through the soccer field. It was a tragic end to the team’s promotion to the second tier of the British Premier League. The stadium was rebuilt in several phases (finishing in 2001), including replacing the wooden bleachers with steel and concrete. Since the fire, a ban of wooden bleachers have been enforced both in Britain as well as the rest of Europe.

 

Flensburg Files’ Fragen Forum:

After reading this article and watching the clips, here are a couple questions for you to mull over and discuss with other readers:

1. How would you approach the problem of fan violence in soccer stadium? Which measures are the most effective in your opinion: fines and other sanctions against teams, finger print scanning and keeping a database of the fans, point reduction in the football standings, banning teams with fan trouble from competing in certain leagues, or a combination of some of the measures? If none of the suggestions work, what would you suggest?

2. Do you think handball and basketball will surpass soccer in Germany in terms of popularity? Or will soccer remain a household name, like America has its household name sports of American football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey?

3. Do you think fan violence is a universal problem in sports or is it focused on selective sports?

 

Please submit your answers in the Comment section, which is here after this article.  Thanks and looking forward to hearing from you readers!