Photo Flick 1989 Nr. 3: Oberbaumbrücke

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The third Photo Flick in connection with the Revolution 1989 is basically a throwback to 2010 and it takes us to the Oberbaumbrücke, which spans the River Spree on the east side of Berlin, between Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. Built in 1896 under the direction of Otto Stahn, the bridge is one of Berlin’s key landmarks because of its gothic design. It’s a key crossing for subways (U-bahn) and car traffic. But it was one of the key symbols of division during the Cold War. From 1961 until the Fall of the Wall in November 1989, the concrete wall went right through the roadway portion of the bridge, and even though the structure was badly damaged and a truss span was built for U-bahn traffic, that track was barricaded shut, thus almost effectively halting passage to West-Berlin except through the border controls on the Kreuzberg side of the bridge.  Shortly after the Wall fell, the bridge was rebuilt, piece by piece to resemble its original form before World War II.

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View of the Oberbaumbrücke from the TV Tower. The East Side Gallery is on the left side of the Spree. 

Regardless of whether it can be seen along the river or even from the TV-Tower from a sniper’s view, looking at the bridge today, almost nothing is left of the Wall that cut the bridge (and Berlin) into half. Much of the area that used to be heavily patrolled with tanks, watch towers and guards have been heavily built with modern buildings with businesses, large and small, occupying the area. One of them buildings houses Universal Music Company, part of the Universal Studios consortium based in the States.

Yet it doesn’t mean the relicts have disappeared altogether. Two important points of interest still exist and should be visited while in Berlin. The first one is the East Side Gallery, a 1300 meter (4300 foot) section of the Berlin Wall that features open air art; the sections created by over 100 artists both before and after 1989. The stretch is on the Friedrichshain side of the former Wall, stretching from the bridge to Ostbahnhof Railway Station. It was renovated recently (in 2010) and is open to the public. A watch tower is included as part of the exhibit, just as much as one at the bridge itself, which was sitting empty at the time of the photo but has most likely been removed.

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The former Watch Tower on the Friedrichshain side of the bridge. 

The Oberbaumbrücke is a symbol of architecture that has withstood the test of time and the history that includes years of division. For architects, artists and bridge lovers, it’s a work of art. For educators, it is a classic example of how it became a “Borders to Bridges” story in light of going from a divided Germany and Europe into a united one. For the rest, it’s a symbol of Berlin and how it brings people together from all aspects of life. It’s definitely one worth visiting.

 

More on the bridge’s history can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oberbaum_Bridge

Information on the East Side Gallery and its paintings can be found here: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Side_Gallery

It’s part of the Tour Guide on the Bridges of Berlin, which you can click here:  https://bridgehunterschronicles.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/berlin-the-bridges-and-the-wall/

 

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Photo Flick Nr. 15/ Mystery Place

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During a recent hike along the Thuringian/Bavarian border, I happened to find this interesting place: a picnic area on the Thuringian side with a gorgeous view of Bavaria and the River Saale. Little did I realize that there had been four rusty steel fence posts- I-beam style- that was found at every single corner of the picnic area; behind the bench and the table.

I bet the Soviet troops had just as much fun with the picturesque view before 1989.

What was here before this picnic area was established?  Tell us about it. This was found between the Rudolphstein Viaduct (an article can be found here) and the village of Sparnberg, located 1 km west of the bridge and 3 km west of Hirschberg.

 

 

Task: Make a story about this scene.  🙂

 

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Mystery Building Nr. 6: A Globe Tower at a Former Mining Facility

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Antiques from the past are always the most unique, both in terms of their unusual shape but also their function in their histories. It can be large or small, geometric or Picasso-like, rusty or gleaming, designed by the likes of Dali or a total psychopath. The mystery building profiled here is a tower that is tall and rusty, but originating from the bygone era, where the purpose was unknown but was part of a complex only a pyschopath would concoct.

Located south of Leipzig along the River Pleisse near the town of Deutzen, this tower was once part of a mining complex, which altered the landscape with its extraction of brown coal, which was used for electricity. Stretching along the line between Markkleeberg and Wieratal and between Belgershain and Hartmannsdorf, the mining area was once the largest in East Germany, covering an area of over 610,000 square meters. The process of strip mining and burning coal produced pollution that is comparable to the Black Triangle Region near Zittau, where Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic meet. Thousands of residents suffered from respiratory diseases and other forms of mental illness. The soil was contaminated to a point where it was no longer fertile.

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The browness of the Pleisse as seen at this crossing near Rötha, south of Markkleeberg

Even the effects of soil and water pollution is still noiceable in the River Pleisse, which has a caramel brown color between Deutzen and the southern suburbs of Leipzig, making it non-drinkable. Even when the river was rechanneled during that time- and the river was straightened for 10 kilometers from Markkleeberg to Böhlen, much of its past can still be seen in its very murky water which has not had any underwater life for over five decades since the start of mining. Strip mining was discontinued in 1992, and much of the area is now owned by ARE Inc., based in Deutzen, which is responsible for soil treatment and environmental clean-up, including revitalizing the areas mined, converting many mined areas into lakes.

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Yet relicts, like this tower serve as a reminder of an era that one should not forget. The tower is about 60 meters tall and has a globe-like top, surrounded by a ringed platform, and easily accessible through flights of stairs zig-zagging its way inside the steel-caged support tower. One of the hints that indicates that it used to be in the mining area are the signs banning trespassing on the premise because it is a mining area. But even though it was part of history and now owned by ARE, what was its actual function? Was it a watchtower, a water tower, a chemical tower, maybe a radar tower like the one guessed at in the article of the building near Altenburg? For the last one, given its proximity to Leipzig-Halle and Altenburg Airports, this guess is justified. In either case, no one knows what this tower is.

 

Or do you have an idea?

 

If so, let’s start the idea and photosharing. Feel free to post here or on the Files’ facebook pages. It will appear in the Leipzig Glocal’s page because of its proximity to Leipzig. Let’s piece together the history of this tower, no longer in use except as a monument- serving as a reminder of a period that has passed, but should not be forgotten, for the period where strip mining existed- namely, the Cold War, has forever changed the landscape of the region.

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Lake Rötha

And while much of the area has been revitalized and converted into lakes, others will need more time to recover because of the chemicals that are still in the water and soil that will take decades to disappear. But once it happens, other bodies of water, including the River Pleisse will return to what it was before 1945, something that many people wish for because of the memories of fishing and boating along the river.

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The Use of Time Markers in English Part I: Past Simple vs Perfect Forms

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Time markers. They are like road signs- when you see one, you have to treat it accordingly. That means if you are on the road, approaching an intersection, and you come across this sign:

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By Roulex_45 (Own work)  via Wikimedia Commons

That means you should give way (or yield) to cross traffic as it has the right of way. Other road sign examples can be used as an analogy to the topic that is rather mind-boggling in the English language. Time markers are used as indicators for determining which verb tenses should be used in a sentence. Aside the fact that all forms of time, such as a day or time, are included under the definition of time markers, other grammar forms considered to be used as time markers include certain words, like ago, when, already, ever and never. They also include most of the prepositional and adverbial phrases as well as words and phrases used for sequential order, like at first, secondly and finally.  For each verb tense there is a set of time markers that helps the language learner determine what form to use.

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Our first set of time markers looks at the difference between Past Simple and Perfect form. As a quick review, Past Simple refers to an event that occurred (or simply stated, started and ended) in the past. Example sentences include:

Wilhelm Bartlemann invented the Strandkorb in 1882. (Active)

The Strandkorb was invented by Wilhelm Bartlemann in 1882.  (Passive)

The verb is invent and as it’s a regular verb, an -ed is added.

 

Another example with an irregular verb can be seen here:

The origin of this invention was found in the Netherlands as well as in Hanseatic cities, like Bremen, Hamburg and Luebeck. (Passive)

The verb is find and its past form is found.  Have you got your irregular verb lists out yet? You better, because more examples will be found below. 🙂

The time markers for Past Simple focuses on an exact time the event takes place. This means anything that has to do with ago, last (…), during (a specific period), adverbial forms dealing with a sudden event, sequential orders and finally, prepositions of time (at, in, and on) belong to the group where time markers are used to describe what happened in the past. Here’s a complete list to keep in mind:

 

Time Markers for Past Simple:

ago, last (night, week, month, year, decade, century & millenium), yesterday, at, in, on, for, during, suddenly, (un-)expectedly, from (a) to (b), in the course of (…), when (used as a subordinate clause), sequential order (first, second, lastly, finally, etc.- also after), other adverbial phrases (surprisingly, quickly, slowly, etc.)

 

Activity 1:  Identify the time markers in the following sentences below:

  1. When Elfriede von Maltzahn asked Bartlemann  to provide a beach chair for her in 1882, he came up with the idea with the Strandkorb.
  2. In the course of only a year, the first Strandkörbe were presented for rent at the beach in Warnemünde.
  3. From 1882 until the turn of the century, Strandkörbe appeared in many towns along the Baltic Sea coast as well as in the Lakes Region of Mecklenburg-Pommerania.
  4. At the same time, Johann Falck and Franz Schaft opened their own Strandkorb factories in Rostock and Kroepelin, respectively. Falck invented the Halblieger in 1897.
  5. During the Interwar period, the number of Strandkörbe and factories increased by ten fold.

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Perfect form is not in reference to young German ladies in bikinis stroming along the Baltic Sea coast (;-) ), but consists of two types: present perfect and  past perfect. The present perfect form has two functions: 1. It serves as an event that started in the past and continues into the present, and 2. It describes an event that occurred suddenly and at an unknown time in the past.  Examples include:

  1. Four factories in Germany have produced Strandkörbe since the end of World War II.

Here, we have the verb produce, which in present perfect form, means that the four companies (Eggers, Schardt, Harder and Korbwerk) are still producing Strandkörbe despite having an average age of 60+ years in the business. Korbwerk consisted of two factories from the East German era which consolidated in 1992.

 2. Look, Mom! Danny has just rented us a Strandkorb! 🙂

Here, we have the verb rent and in this context, refers to Danny having provided a Strandkorb. Yet it is unknown when, using the time marker just makes it appear that he bought it just now.

In the past perfect tense, we describe the event that occurred prior to the event occurring in the past. Basically, it means  schema A that happened before schema B- all in the past. Example:

  1. Before Bartlemann’s invention of the modern Strandkorb, weaved basket chairs with covers had been popular among the royal families in several German duchies.

Here, we refer to the popularity of basket weave chairs prior to Bartlemann’s breakthrough of the Strandkorb in 1882, using the past participle form of to be and the adjective, popular.

Time markers for perfect form consists of mainly prepositional phrases, as well as never, ever, past and last. With the exception of prior to, until and during (which are mainly used for past perfect), the following time markers can be used for both forms (unless marked with a star, which means it’s usage is strictly for present perfect):

 

for, already, just, yet*, before*, recently*, in the past/last (….)*, at last, never, ever, since*, then*, finally, in the end*, now*, at the moment,* currently*, always, traditionally, occasionally, usually, now*.

 

Activity 2:  Identify the time marker in the following sentences below and determine whether they are present or past perfect form.

  1. Prior to the invention of the Strandkorb, Bartlemann’s wife, Elisabeth had commissioned a person to improve the quality of the weaved basket chair in 1880.
  2. The oldest existing Strandkorb factory, Korbwerk, has produced Strandkörbe since the days of Karl Martin Harder in the 1920s.
  3. The Strandkorb has already become one of the key signatures of vacationing along Germany’s sea coasts and lakes.
  4. Three East German Strandkorb factories had produced their own products for 35 years until the consolidation in 1992.
  5. Carl Eggers, who had contributed to producing Strandkörbe during the Cold War, has had his family furniture business since the 1770s. (!: Two pairs of answers)

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Activity 3:  Using the time markers and the verbs in brackets, complete the following sentences using the correct verb tense (past simple, present perfect or past perfect). As this is a story, the context must be kept in mind.

  1. Three years ago, Patrick and Sandy __________ (travel) to Travemünde for vacation.
  2. They _____________ never (see) Schleswig-Holstein before.
  3. Sandy, who is an English teacher having come from Louisiana (near Baton Rouge), ___________ (live) in Germany for seven years, but ___________ (visit) never the Baltic Sea prior to the trip.
  4. Patrick ____________ (work) as a marketing manager at a computer company in Mannheim for 10 years.
  5. Patrick’s father ___________(own) a Strandkorb rental business in Eckernförde from 1960 until his death in 2003.
  6. Neither of them ___________ (rent) a Strandkorb before but they _________(plan) to do so on this trip.
  7. Patrick and Sandy __________(meet) each other when he was 23 and she was 19.
  8. They ________ (to be) in Bavaria at that time.
  9. When they __________ (arrive) at the beach, they first __________ (pay) for a Matjes sandwich, Flensburger beer and French Fries each. Then, they ________(rent) a Strandkorb located towards the water.
  10. As they were walking with their food toward their Strandkorb, a flock of seagulls _________ (line) up along the edge of the roof of a hamburger stand and at the right moment, _________(attack) them!

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Activity 4: Finish the Story  With a partner, prepare the second half of the story and decide for yourselves what happens to Patrick and Sandy. How do they deal with the sea gulls? Will they make it to the Strandkorb? Will they enjoy their trip to Travemünde?  For each verb tense, you much supply three sentences along with time markers for each one. More is better. Personal experiences with Strandkorb and seagulls are more than welcome. Make your story geniune for others to listen to. Good luck! 🙂

 

ALTERNATIVE/ FURTHER PRACTICE: In case you don’t want to do Activity 4 above or if you wish to work more on past tenses, please click here for some extra exercises that will help you better understand the mechanics of the tenses and even go wilder on the story involving Patrick, Sandy and their encounter with the seagulls. Enjoy! 🙂

 

fast fact logo: With the exception of the story in activity 3, everything in this exercise dealing with time markers for past simple and perfect form are based on a true story of how the Strandkorb was invented and has evolved as a signature for vacationing on German beaches. For more information on the history, click on this picture below, which will take you to all the facts you need to know. While the site is in English, you can switch to German or Danish as you wish. By the way, there is no direct translation for this except for beach chair, but it is in reference to a different type of chair. Hence the adoption of this unique German word. 🙂

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Minus the Yield sign, all photos were taken by the author in August 2016, while on vacation in Fehmarn.

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Genre of the Week: Deutsch

Pride: A source of inspiration. A look at the past to prepare for the future. A look at one’s personal self and what has been successful and what has yet to be conquered. But while a little pride is needed in order to earn self-respect, too much pride can be dangerous to onesself and others.

Each of us are proud of our home country because of its heritage, history and culture that can impress others around us, but also envy others. Sometimes people ask me why America is so proud of itsself. The answer I usually give is simple: Because we are people who love to give and help out. The US led efforts in rebuilding West Germany after World War II ended and assisted in reconstructing Europe, not just for the purpose of containing Communism but for the purpose of helping the war victims rebuild their shattered lives. Believe it or not, America’s efforts contributed a great deal to reuniting Germany in 1990.

And this takes us to the Genre of the Week, which will create discussions in the classroom as well as at the dinner table. Released on ZDF Neo a week ago, this rather profanity-laden video shows us the good, bad and ugly sides of Germany, pending on how a person looks at it. It is good because Germany is being shown as a country learning to take pride, let alone the lead in European politics in many aspects. It is bad because the voice shows irony behind what is mentioned and it sometimes depicts Germans and their culture as arrogant. And the ugly side has to do with the politics, showing people several reminders of what can happen if they vote for the wrong person to take office. In either case, one should watch the video below and think about how Germany has progressed in comparison with other countries. From an American expat’s point of view, it seems that the roles between America and Germany has switched over the past 25 years, with Germany taking the lead and America lagging behind. The question is whether others are of that opinion and the reason behind it.

Have a look at the music video and think about the following questions:

 

What are some aspects that you are proud of?

What aspects are you not proud of and would like to see changed?

In your opinion, how has Germany changed in comparison with America since 1990? Think of not only the political standpoint, but also in terms of culture, sports, history/heritage and mentality, just to name a few.

What are some items that make a person or country proud? 

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Germany at 25: Civil Courage

The German Order of Merit Cross (Bundesverdienstkreuz) awarded to Vaclav Havel in 2007. Photo taken by the Národní museum in Prague. Link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:German_order_merit_with_special_sash.jpg

Civil Courage: derived from the Latin word civilis and the French word courage and meaning the courage of the people to do something what is deemed right. In German, it is known as Zivilcourage and has been one of the most talked about topics in the past two decades. Politicians, civic leaders and organizations in civil society have called upon Germans to show civil courage and help others when help is needed. But why is that when civil courage is a natural trait you see in other countries, including the US?

Especially when it comes to the problem with right-winged extremists has civil courage been heavily discussed for reasons of fear: fear that the laws in the books may be used against them, but also fear of retaliation on the part of people involved wanting to help them. It also presents a conflict of interest between instinct- knowing that there is someone there to help- and the protection of privacy and one’s own private sphere, as mentioned by Prof. Veronika  Brandstätter of the University of Zurich in an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel. According to the professor of psychology, specializing in motivation psychology, Civil Courage is a question of value in terms of democracy and humanity, examining the issues of solidarity, tolerance and the readiness to help.  In other words, how far can you go to help someone? What resources are at your disposal and whether additional help is necessary in some cases. While he points out rescuing someone trapped on thin ice as one of the obvious signs where one stops his activities immediately to help, the issue involving right-wing extremism has been an ongoing theme since 1990, which seems to have climbed to the top three in terms of problems Germany is facing at present- refugees and the widening of social classes are the other two, with the Volkswagon scandal not far behind.

Examining the situation 25 years ago, especially in the eastern half of Germany, there were only very few traces of solidarity towards those in need for two reasons:

1. The traumatic effects of National Socialism in the 1930s and 40s, counting the devastation Germany faced in World War II, combined with Germany being a battlefield during the Cold War as Communism and Capitalism locked horns along the East-West borders including Berlin.  Here, we had two major poles: those who still believed in the German race and those who were afraid of being arrested by one of the two Superpowers. For the former, a classic example of how right-winged nationalism was strong was the riots in Rostock in 1992, where residents and neo-Nazis attacked apartments occupied by Vietnamese immigrants, setting them on fire and chasing the occupants away. The Police were poorly equipped to handle the protests. Further attacks on foreigners followed where bystanders stepped aside to avoid any confrontation by the extremists who dubbed them as helpers.

For the latter, it had to do with the sphere of influence the two superpowers had on the divided Germany: the US for the western half and the Soviet Union for the eastern half. Both were of the opinion that Germany should be rebuilt and grow but on a controlled basis, for fearing of another rise in power. This resulted in the post-war generations growing up being influenced by two different powers that reshaped their way of thinking. It did not mean that the country of free-thinkers was a puppet. It meant that in order for the country to achieve its independence, the Germans had to abide by the regulations from the outside, which disappeared bit by bit as the country bought itself back its independence, only to have that achieved with German Reunification in 1990. And even then, the people growing up during the Cold War era had the extra caution mentality, where help is only given when it is deemed safe to do so.

The second reason behind the lack of solidarity is the mentality of letting the people “swim in cold water” and fend for themselves. This meant that there was an expectation that people coming to Germany (or at least a region in Germany) were to have learned the language, customs and way of life, and there was no need to assist them, even if asked. Even the idea of saying “Schönen Tag wünsche ich Ihnen/Dir!” (Have a nice day) 15 years ago seemed preposterous in the eyes of many who prefer to concentrate on their own affairs and not that of others. Again, this applies to the older generations who may had never dealt with situations with refugees and foreign residents as we are working with today. When first arriving in 1999, the first negative impression per se was the customer service in many stores and offices, where the atmosphere was either monotonous, unfriendly or both. The exception was at the university and offices that deal with foreign students.

Let’s fast forward to the present, and how Germany has cleaned its image a great deal. The meaning of civil courage has become a household name in the country for three major reasons:

1. People and organizations are being recognized for their services of helping those in need, regardless of circumstances and what background they have. Every year the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Cross of Merit) is given out to outstanding people for their extraordinary service, regardless of which level (local, state or national). First introduced in 1951 by German President Theodor Heuss, there are eight different classes awarded pending on the degree of service. Even cities have introduced their own awards to people for their service to the community. While this had gone almost unnoticed before 1990, it has taken center stage since then, especially as politicians have strongly encouraged people to show solidarity and help the people who are in need, including the current German president Joachim Gaucke in his televised speeches.

The second reason behind the importance of civil courage is the rise of the next generations (those born from 1970 onwards) and their awareness of problems on the global front. These people usually have university degrees, speak at least two foreign languages, have travelled to foreign countries, encountered people from different cultures and are more aware of the problems Germany is facing in comparison with other countries in the world than the baby boomers, many of whom fought for their rights on their own soil and not in a foreign country. The more experiences they gathered and the more aware of the situation they are, the more likely they will help others out, especially those wanting to settle down in Germany for an uncertain period of time.

And finally, the people in Germany have become more aware of the problems facing them as far as domestic issues and immigration are concerned. This is caused in part due to the information they receive in the news as well as the experience they have gathered and shared with others. Even if certain stereotypes of those in need (especially the refugees and immigrants) are held by some based on rumors, having experienced it on hand or through others sometimes helps them reshape the way of thinking and reconsider their actions towards others in a positive manner.

It still does not mean that the country is perfect. There are still attacks on foreigners, especially in light of the large influx of refugees from Syria, and parts of Africa. Refugees and immigrants are looking for new homes and a new life. The gap between rich and poor is widening, especially when it comes to children who live in poverty. And we still have problems with pollution and other environmental issues. But we are seeing the gravity of the situation, and we have more people ready and willing to help, regardless of what the consequences are and how they are recognized in the end for their work. In the 15+ years living here, one can find this variable that is recognizable and much appreciated: openness and kindness. There was not much there at first when I came, but one will find it often nowadays, no matter where a person goes. And this is something that does not go unnoticed while traveling through or living in Germany.

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To finish this article, here is an exercise designed to test your knowledge about how civil courage should be implemented. Look at the situations below and ask yourself what you would do in a situation. Remember, what you do for action may be different for others and can lead to a discussion.

  1. You drive on the motorway and see a person seeking a ride to the nearest petrol station. This is just after passing a car with a flat.
  2. There is a family of refugees entering your community with nothing except what they wear, no money and little knowledge of the language. They are looking for a place to live and work.
  3. A friend prepares a party for another friend visiting from another country but is overwhelmed and needs some help.
  4. Two people fight over how they should work together on a project with one wanting to work alone and another wanting to work together.
  5. You see a group of neo-Nazis harassing someone from Africa, spitting on them and pushing them around, while riding a tram.
  6. You’re at a dance with some friends only to find someone sitting in the corner, all alone.
  7. While jogging, you encounter a dog who has lost his owner and follows you around. The animal carries a tag.
  8. A woman at work receives unwanted attention by someone with interest and does not seem to leave her alone.
  9. You break off contact with a colleague because of a fallout only to meet the person again in a different work setting months later.
  10. You witness an accident involving a car and a bike while biking to a party.

Note: Feel free to comment to any of the situations above by placing your comments below or in the Fles’ facebook pages.  🙂

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German Reunification: An Author’s Perspective

Alexanderplatz Station, the entrance point of the Christmas Market Photos taken in December 2013

“The nation will continue to be a central pole of identification, even if more and more nations come to share common economic and political forms of organization.”- Francis Fukuyama

“The nation will continue to be a central pole of identification, even if more and more nations come to share common economic and political forms of organization.”- Francis Fukuyama

25 years ago today, Germany became one country- the first since the fall of Adolf Hitler and the end of Nazism in 1945.  No longer was the country divided up into two Germanys, nor was it a chessboard between the Americans and the Soviets. Despite fears of a possible fourth Reich as well as Margaret Thatcher’s resignation in protest of this reunification, Germany’s run for a unified country was one that was indeed, an earned effort.  And it was one where many countries have since looked at for reference, because of how this work from being a divided country to a superpower was undertaken successfully. From an author’s perspective, the reunification was well-deserved and one that had been in the making for four decades, but one that would have been inevitable whether it was on 3 October, 1990 or 3 October 2000, or even 3 October of this year. It has long since been known that Germany was the land of writers and engineers, of inventors and athletes. And it’s known for its politics and women.

But looking at it differently, German Reunification represented the turning point in the world landscape. It represented the end of history as Fukuyama stated, but as far as the superpowers are concerned, let alone the traditional conflict between good and evil.  Germany represents a new generation of countries that were tired of living in the shadows of two superpowers trying to grasp power at the expense of their sovereignity and identityn but have since 1990 become a big influence in world politics today. As mentioned in a Genre of the Week article on the US no longer being the superpower it once was, the two “former” superpowers are still trying to prop up the identity of the 1980s, while the other countries have moved forward. A new and reunified Germany has set an example of how world politics should be today: democratic, pluralist and open-minded; not based on a two-party system that is controlled by money and power, and not based on a system controlled by one person alone. If people still think Germany is too powerful today, comparing it to the Third Reich, look at the videos below and see the reasons why people wanted to be Ein Volk and not Das Volk, as seen after the Wall fell. And Ein Volk nowadays has gone beyond the borders of Germany. We are united but have brought the rest of the world together to become one. 🙂

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Ask yourselves these three questions:

  1. Where were you when Germany was reunified on this special day and what was your first-hand reaction?
  2. How do you perceive Germany these days in comparison with 1990?
  3. How much influence does the country have today compared to 25 years ago, and apart from the political scene?

The Flensburg Files and sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to wish the Bundesrepublik a happy 25th anniversary. You have a lot to be proud of in the 25 years since East and West became one and a new era in history has started. This is your day to celebrate. Party hard! 😀   More articles on 25 years of Germany still to come! 😀

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In School in Germany: Talking about the Berlin Wall

November 9th 2014 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. 25 years ago on that date in 1989, after several weeks of protests, combined with the exodus of thousands of East Germans to West Germany and  changing of the guard from Erich Honecker to Egon Krenz, the announcement was made to open the gates of the Berlin Wall to allow East Germans to flee to West Berlin. At the same time, the borders separating East and West Germanys also opened for others to pass.  Tens of thousands of people who fled to the western part embraced in the western culture that was once forbidden. Many of them did not return nor decided to not talk about  life in East Germany prior to 1989.

To this day, these people still refuse to talk about it, going by the monkey mentality of “See no good of the GDR, Hear no good of the GDR and Speak no good of the GDR.” By doing so in this day and age is dangerous, for the people born in the years 1985 and up are missing out on the truth behind the Berlin Wall and the two Germanys that had existed. In the days teaching English at a university in Bavaria, no one knew about the Vita Cola, the East German version of Coca-Cola until I introduced that in one of my sessions. Very few knew about Sandman, the character that starred on East German television every night at 6:50pm, and still does to this day. Even the well acclaimed traffic lights were unknown in the eastern part and many were used to the generic traffic lights that are simply European. But by the same token, the emergence of “Ostalgia,” the mentality that East Germany was not as bad as it once was, is becoming very common thus increasing the danger glorifying the former times and degrading the western part of Germany because of  different mentalities and conflicts of interest.

During my time in the gymnasium, the topic of the Berlin Wall was brought forward to students in history, for we needed to know how good or how bad the GDR really was. The students were asked to interview their parents and grandparents to collect whatever stories they have on life in the past and compare them with their lives, in terms of childhood, culture, family and anything that would be useful for the topic. The results were surprising. The responses were short and to the point, but there were little details about the former times. If they were short, then it was the fact that the country did have some good points and that was it.  But the question is: was life in the GDR really that bad or that good to begin with?

Growing up in a large family in Minnesota, I became accustomed to storytelling, done by my grandma and her children, including my father. Many of them were detailed and enlightening and provided some morals for us to learn by. This included stories of how my grandparents survived the Great Depression and being separated because of World War II. Many of these stories I can still remember to this day. Yet the younger generations don’t seem to care much about their own history, thus putting the teachers of history, social studies and culture (including foreign languages) in a position where they have to dig up their own history and ideas to share with the students. We are facing a neglect in history, not knowing the key facts and the stories behind them, and the consequences will be fatal in 25 years time. No matter how painful or joyful, one needs a storytelling session about certain events in time from the older generations so that one understands the gravity of the events and think about them on one’s own.

And this is where we return to our subject of the Berlin Wall and how it divided Germany into two in a physical sense for 28 painful years. Nobody wanted the border but it happened. Yet life was not as bad as it seemed, as long as the Stasi did not spy on you and you faced hours of torture, examples of which can be seen in the TV series Weissensee. But nevertheless, if one wants to know more about the Wall, the divided Germany and how people came together to tear it down and bring the two countries together, one needs to find the facts. The best facts are not in the books, but through oral history.

So for all teachers talking about the Divided Germany and the Wall, challenge your students to collect facts from relatives and friends who have lived in both regions, witnessed the Wall and tried to jump it, took part in the Leipzig Demos as well as took turns with others to tear the Wall down. Interview them, ask them any questions that come across your minds- even if they are most painful. Then share them with your teachers, student colleagues and friends (here and abroad), to ensure them that the Wall was the biggest deal and despite having a decent lifestyle in both countries, it was much better with one Germany and not two. Then make sure that future generations know about it to better understand life between 1945 and 1990 and how it has shaped today’s world, in one way or another.  By doing so, we will preserve our history and better understand Germany and its role from the eyes of others.

BTW: In case you were wondering where the author was at the time of the Fall of the Wall, he was watching the coverage from home in Minnesota, writing a short summary about it for a 6th grade social studies class. Little did I realize at that time, that the Wall was one of many factors that lured me here, aside from the most obvious reason. But with the advancement of technology these days have produced recordings of the events of the Fall of the Wall. Some examples to follow soon. 🙂

Christmas Market Tour 2013: Berlin Potsdamer Platz

Left to right: Daimler, Kohlhoff and Deutsche Bahn/ Sony Center Towers. Christmas market in the foreground. Photos taken in December 2013

Our final stop on the Christmas market tour in Berlin- Mitte is Potsdamer Platz. Located one kilometer west of Brandenburg Gate, this square is one of the most highly developed areas in Mitte, most of which being constructed in the former West Berlin.  This is the spot where several hotels were located. It was also the busiest intersection in the city prior to World War II, as roads coming from Potsdam Mitte, and other points met here. This is one of the reasons why the first traffic light in Europe was built in 1924. A replica of the light, which functions as a clock, still occupies this point to this day.  After World War II, the area was completely in ruins, only to be cut in half by the Berlin Wall, when it was built in 1961. For 28 years, Potsdamer Platz was known as “No Man’s Land,” because of the Wall, as it was over 2 km wide, and the land was barren, filled with traps, patrolmen and watch towers.  Despite it being one of the death traps, Potsdamer Platz was one of the first places to be breached, when the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989, and the gates were open, allowing many East Germans to flee to the western part of Berlin and Germany.

Construction started in 1991 to reshape the square, which included the construction of buildings that housed Daimler Corporation, German Railways and Kohlhoff, as well as the Sony Center- where the German version of the Academy Awards for Films takes place annually- and the Arkade Shopping center, which features multiple stories of shops including those underground. It proceeded at a snail’s pace not only because of the competition among designers and builders on how to reshape the square, but also the stagnation of the German economy as a result of the costs involving Reunification. Germany was in a recession for two years (1993-4), which hampered Helmut Kohl’s chances of reelection as German chancellor in 1994. He won the elections anyway for a fourth term but lost out on his fifth chance to Gerhard Schröder in 1998. When visiting Potsdamer Platz in 2000, it was still a construction zone, with much left to do.

Fast forward to the present: there are no traces left of the Berlin Wall, let alone the cranes and diggers that had dominated the scene for 15 years until 2006. Instead, we have three skyscrapers, an Entertainment Quarter which includes Sony Center, many modernized residential areas with stretches of greenery to the east. Since 2006, Potsdamer Platz has served as a regional hub for rail, subway and light rail traffic, the first being part of the North-South Axis connecting Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof with points to the south, including Südkreuz Station. In fact, when walking up the stairs from the underground stations, one will see the three skyscrapers, with the Christmas market in front of them.

Interconnected with the Christmas market at Sony Center, the main theme of the Christmas market at Potsdamer Platz is: Lights! Camera! Action!  With hundreds of thousands of lights shining in the complex, the best time to visit the market is at night, where the complex and the Sony Center is lit up, creating the oohs and aahs among those who love taking night photography while beating the crowd. One can enjoy the specialties from Austria, in particular Salzburg at the huts located in front of the Kohlhoff Tower.  Mininature skiing and ice skating are also found next to one of the Salzburger huts for children wanting to have fun in the night light. Yet most of these activities can be found in the evening for it is the best time.

One of the huts serving Salzburger Delikatesse

As far as visiting the market in daylight is concerned, not much activity is seen, for only a handful of huts serving drinks and food are open, whereas others are closed until 5pm in the evening. While it may serve as a temporary stop for business people to eat and drink something for lunch, it is an inconvenience for those wanting to beat the rush of the crowd that most likely will visit the market from 6pm on, making the visit to the market among the crowd of people difficult. Alone the market itself is the place that is open the longest, hosting the festival of lights from the end of November until right before the Day of Epiphany (January 6th)- a good strategy for businesses wanting to profit from the passers-by. Yet the customer is king, and perhaps a combination of a pair of measures could max out the profits:

1. Opening the market beginning at 3:30 or 4:00pm would provide people beating the rush with a chance to tour the lights and enjoy the specialties before the normal crowd comes around. This is during the time the sun sets and presents the photographer with a chance to photograph the lights at sundown.

2. Utilize the green space for expansion. While the green area is most likely occupied by people in the summer months as they can enjoy the breeze and the sunlight, it is also useful during the time of the Christmas market where huts could utilize the space and move the crowd away from the traffic that passes through the hub. Sometimes sacrificing the space for a month for a purpose like the Christmas market can save lives as people don’t have to worry about cars speeding past. Cooperation from residents and businesses would be key in embarking on this idea.

Overview of the Market at Potsdamer Platz in daylight. Almost desolate in the daytime, yet at night…..

Overall, while the market is a quick stop for lunch for businessmen and tourists, the Christmas Market at Potsdam is clearly a night market, for the main attraction are the lights, which bring photographers and tourists together at night. Yet one has to find the best time to see it without having to fight the crowd. Therefore, come to the place early to take advantage of what it has to offer. 🙂

Photos of the Christmas market can be found here and here. Information about the history of Potsdamer Platz can be found here. Information about the Salzburger specialty foods can be found here.

 

FAST FACT POP QUIZ:

 

1. We wanted to know from you how many Christmas markets Berlin has. Without further ado: here is the answer:

109

There is a total of 109 Christmas markets in the greater Berlin area. Of which 5 are in Potsdam and 20 are located in Mitte, including the ones mentioned in the Christmas market series. If we continue with the tour of Berlin’s other Christmas market, it would take 5-8 years to visit and profile 10-15 of them. A tall order and one can only recommend the ones that are popular among people of all ages. 😉

 

2. In connection with the Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz, have a look at the picture again on the right-hand side. Any guesses what that is?

Look at the object on the right hand side of the picture and try and answer the question.

 

Here’s the answer:

The Urania World Clock

The clock was developed by Erich John  in 1969 and was part of the plan to redesign Alexanderplatz, which included the construction of the TV Tower. The clock features all 24 time zones and operates dependent on the rotation of the Earth around the sun. The aluminum clock is 2 meters tall and can be seen from the light rail tracks. More information on the clock can be found here.