Genre of the Week: Vadder, Kutter, Sohn: A Family Comedy and Drama About Reunion and Restarting Life Locally

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There is an old saying that the late Paul Gruchow once wrote in his work “Grass Roots: The Universe of Home”: You go where the good people go. We make sure our people grow up in an environment where they can one day return. While half the graduating class of an average high school in a local town remain  to start their families, the other half move to greener pastures, whereas half of those people eventually make their way back home after years of making a living and realizing it was not for them.

And as a person sees in this latest German film “Vadder, Kutter, Sohn,” home is where the heart is, even if there are changes in the surroundings.  In this Genre of the Week drama, the focus is around the father, Knud Lühr (played by Axel Prahl), who fishes for crabs for a living, directs a rather dysfunctional choir that is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary of its founding, and is an avid gambler. He is rather well known to the locals of the village of Nienkoog, located in the Dithmarschen District in Schleswig-Holstein. One day, he encounters his lost son, with whom he had no contact for over a decade. Played by Jonas Nay, Lenny left with his mother for Hamburg, where he learns a trade as a barber/hair dresser and tries his luck in the business, only for him to lose everything, including his Apartment. Flat broke, he returns to his place of childhood, only to see many changes that he does not like at all and is eventually on a confrontation course with his father for his wrongdoings that made his life turn into a  mess in the end. Realizing that he was becoming very unlucky with his business and his choir, Knud tries to win back the love for Lenny, getting him reused to the life that he once had before leaving for Hamburg.

Two factors played a key role in bringing Lenny back to his original self. The first is the bango, which Knud sold while Lenny was gone. Deemed as his indentity and his “starting capital,” Lenny freaks out when he learns the news of the bango, is lukewarm when Knud wins the bango back through a game of poker, and after failing to resell the bango, warms up to it by playing the tunes he learned while growing up.  The other was a former classmate, Merle Getjens (played by Anna von Haebler), who is a local police officer that has a rural precinct and whose heart is in the healing process after her love-interest walked off to Kiel with another woman. Realizing that she and Lenny were on parallel paths, she awakens his interest as a hairdresser which later helps him rediscover himself and eventually reunite with his father and the people he once knew but left behind for “Nichts.”

To understand the film more carefully, you should have a look for yourself. Enjoy! 🙂

Link:

http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Filme-im-Ersten/Vadder-Kutter-Sohn/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=1933898&documentId=46658734

The song that is played throughout the film and is sung by Prahl and Nay can be found here:

http://www.daserste.de/unterhaltung/film/filme-im-ersten/videos/vadder-kutter-sohn-video-axel-prahl-musikvideo-song-100.html

Vadder, Knutter, Sohn is a film that combines comedy and drama, but also compares cultural and societal aspects, such as rural life in Dithmarschen versus city life in Hamburg, an established family versus lone wolves looking for love and a place to settle down, the have/have nots versus the has beens, the past life versus the present (including all the crises), and finally the is versus the should be. Each element is found in the characters, Knud, Lenny and Merle, leading to the quest to find the real Person, as Merle told Lenny after he kissed her in the hair dressing scene: “First find out who you are, then the rest will come after.” Eventually that came with not only the 100th anniversary concert but the elements that went along with it.

This leads me to a few questions for you to think about, let alone discuss:

  1. If you were like Lenny, would you return to your hometown, why or why not?
  2. What elements of your hometown do you miss? This includes the people in your life, places you visited as a child growing up, the food that you ate, extra-curricular groups you were in, and lastly, valuable assets you had (or even still have)?
  3. If you were to think about returning to your hometown, would these be the reason or are there other factors?
  4. If there was one element in your life that you did growing up, that you want to do again, what would that be?
  5. If there was one element in your life that you regret having done and would like to do again, what would that be and why?

These were the questions that the three characters faced during the film, but they are ones that you as the reader should answer at least two of them. Otherwise you must have had a very bad childhood. Having grown up in rural Minnesota, I had my places I used to go as a child, sports I used to do and music groups I was involved with, such as a barbershop quartet, madrigals, caroling, etc. And while I have already settled down permanently in Germany and closed the opportunity on moving back to the region, singing, especially in the barbershop quartet, and eating a “Wunder- bar”- an ice cream bar made with nuts that was homemade by a local (but now, non-existing) gas station would be the two I would not mind doing again.

What about you? What do you miss?

 

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There are two sets of parallels among the three actors/-resses in this film. Axel Prahl and Jonas Nay both come from Schleswig-Holstein, so you can tell by the use of dialect and slang in the film. Prahl originates from Eutin, located southeast of Kiel, whereas Nay was born in Lübeck, home for its marzipan, maritime district, Holsten Tower and historic bridges. Prahl and Anna von Haedler star in the beloved German mystery series Tatort, where the former is half of the “Dream Team” for the Münster series. He Plays Frank Thiel, whereas his counterpart, Dr. Karl-Friedrich Boerne is played by Jan-Josef Liefers (who is from Dresden). Despite coming from Göttingen in Lower Saxony, Anna von Haedler plays Sabine Trapp in the Tatort-Cologne series, assisting the detectives, Ballauf and Schenk. Neither of the two have crossed paths in a Tatort episode as of present.

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Americans and Air Conditioning: A Necessity that Nobody Understands

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

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

 

outside……. in the heat!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

And lastly,

https://youtu.be/xat1GVnl8-k

 

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

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

….with one exception!

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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An Interview with Fiona Pepper

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How difficult is it to understand the language of another person’s tongue?  This is something that many of us have dealt with, especially when traveling to/ in a foreign country. It is even more difficult when you are learning the language of the country you are living in, only to find that no one understands you because of the dialect and accent you use. Take German, for instance. Most of the non-native speakers of German speak high German, yet when communicating it with someone from a region with a different dialect, such as Mecklenburg-Pommerania (with its Plattdeutsch), Franconia in Bavaria, or even Schwabia in Baden-Wurrtemberg, they not only may not understand what you are saying. In fact, they may respond with their own dialect, which despite living in the country for many year, you may not be able to understand at all.

I have to admit, I was taken aback when my former boss at a German university, who had spent 12 years in Scotland, once told me that my American accent was too strange to understand, even though it is Chicago-style, the dialect that is considered high American English and spoken in the Midwest, where I originate (I’m a Minnesotan, by the way). An article about this subject can be found here.

 

But suppose our language is indeed strange to understand?

 

Last year, the Flensburg Files profiled a genre of the week entitled Skwerl, starring Karl Eccleson and Fiona Pepper, to show how a foreign language can be strange from an outsider’s point of view, featuring an activity for students learning English or any foreign language to try and decipher . Admittedly, as a teacher of English, I tried it with my students, only to find that there were many interpretations as to how the characters behaved toward each other in the five-minute skit. One of many questions the students had was what exactly happened in the story.

 

Well, I took a chance to find out for myself by interviewing Fiona Pepper. Absent from acting for two years and is now a radio broadcaster in Australia, Ms. Pepper took a few minutes of her time to answer some questions I had for her. For those who guessed that the couple would break up, you will be amazed as to what she mentions about Skwerl and and how a person can interpret the story from many angles.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

  1. Tell us about yourself: Why go from actress to radio host? How many years have you done both?

I studied acting at a well-respected Australian drama school called Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts (WAAPA), I worked as an actor for around 6 years and during that time I was involved in the making of Skwerl. I’ve mainly worked in theatre as well as acting in some films and commercials. I’ve now been work in radio for around 2 years. I decided to study radio because I felt frustrated working as an actor and not feeling in control of my career trajectory. There are many parallels between radio and acting and really when it comes down to it radio is simply another form of story telling.

 

  1. How many (short) films had you made before making the career change to radio host?

I had been working as an actor for around 6 years before I moved into radio, I’m not sure of the exact amount of short films/ films I had made in that time.

 

  1. Skwerl was released in 2011 and your role was the woman who makes a special meal for the boyfriend (played by Karl Eccleson). Can you briefly describe the character and her changes in personality in the story?

The character is a mid 20’s woman who is in a serious relationship, she lives with her partner and in the film they have a disagreement over her partner’s decision not to attend her mother’s birthday. I think this is probably an ongoing disagreement that the pair have.

 

  1. Skwerl describes the way English can be perceived by non-native speakers, yet even from a native speaker’s point of view, up until the last two sentences in the clip, it seems a bit more Dutch with some local Australian in there (from my observation). Given that plus the script formulated by Fairbairn and Eccleson that I read, what language is spoken here?

We weren’t speaking a particular language, the words were all made up. In terms of where the words were derived from, I can’t be certain because I didn’t write the script but Karl speaks fluent German and French, so I’m sure when he and Brian were writing the script they would have been drawing from other languages.

 

  1. After trying this out with some students, here is the plot: A nice dinner ends up going down badly after the man forgets to do something; they both get into a fight; woman wants to break up with the man for his actions, takes the plates and runs into the kitchen, crying; man is very angry because of all the years of love and dedication with her; woman brings out a pineapple with candles on there and in the end, there’s silence with the two staring at each other. Am I right with this plot, or are there some important details missing?

To be honest, I don’t think we were particularly clear on the plot when we made the film, it is therefore very much open to interpretation. The films focus is obviously on language, so the actions of the film were fairly open ended. When it came to Karl and I defining the plot it was really just to help us try and somehow remember the dialogue.

 

  1. What’s the symbol behind the pineapple and the three candles?

Once again I didn’t write the film so I’m not exactly sure, I think the visual impact of the pineapples and candles were more of a focus then what they actually symbolized.

Author’s note: One of the points students and teachers have mentioned with the pineapple is the three candles where the candles represented the number of years the characters had been together and the pineapple represented the place where the two had met. However, this is open for other interpretations.

 

  1. By looking at the clip once more and from an outsider’s point of view, how strange is English?

I don’t think it’s just English, I think all language is strange from an outsider’s point of view.

 

To sum up the interview, what Ms. Pepper and the crew did with Skwerl is to present a dialog in a language unknown to any of us for two purposes: to interpret the scene but also to make a point that no matter what foreign language you are learning, it will become strange at first, especially when dealing with the different dialects and accents. It is more of the question of learning the language and all the tricks and tips involved. When that is done and you have mastered the language, it opens a new world, both big and small. Small because you can understand what the “natives” are saying, but big because learning a foreign language makes you more open to new things, as well as helps you foster your development as a human being with intellect and a diverse background.

This is something to think about, not just when you try this Skwerl exercise with your groups, but also when learning a foreign language or even a regional dialect in your own language.

To follow Ms. Pepper and her works as an Australian radio broadcaster and actress, please click here and enjoy all her documentaries. For her help in clarifying this interesting play, whose activities and genre profile you should click here to view, the Files has her thanks.

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Genre of the Week: Wir sind die Neuen

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Our next genre of the week looks at generational conflicts and how each one handles societal problems differently. Produced by Ralf Westhoff, Wir sind die Neuen (translated as We are the New Neighbors) features two sets of three people, each coming from two different generations. The Babyboomer generation features Annie, a biologist, Johannes, a lawyer and Eddie, a musician. Each one had their professions rise and fall and all of them are single, although Eddie reveals something far worse during the latter part of the story. Annie was evicted from her apartment and decided to create a dormitory with her two friends from college, Eddie and Johannes,  at their old apartment near campus of the university in Munich, the setting of the story. Despite their return to the days of talking about philosophy and God over a bottle of red wine, they face two conflicts: the change in personality and lifestyles over the years- which the three manage to handle in one way or another- and the centerpiece of conflicts in the story, dealing with three college students, Katharina, Thorsten and Barbara. They come from rich families, are textbook about the rules of the apartment- and thus come into conflict with the three older sixty-something inhabitants- and spend amples of time buried in the internet/laptop. Yet, they cannot grapple with the life that is outside their apartment, which includes dealing with humor, heartbreak and love, and the basics of taking care of themselves and their health. Their obsession is trying to complete their studies in law, yet being buried in books, they feel hopeless and eventually, despite their personality conflicts with Annie, Johannes and Eddie, they drop their differences and accept their offer of help. With the willingness to be open, a lot of things happen to all the characters in the story, bridging the gap between the generation that is in the twilight in their lifetimes and the generation that is blossoming and have a promising a future.

Wir sind die Neuen focuses on several aspects that can be discussed in any situation, even in the classroom. The first is dealing with the differences between the Babyboomer Generation (those born between 1945 and 1965 and were children of the parents who had served in World War II) and the Y Generation (those born from 1985 onwards) as well as the characteristics and culture values that are important to each one. This includes the music they listen to, the topics they pay attention to in the news, and their philosophical standpoint in life. Coming from the “Bridge-Generation,” known as the X-Generation (those born between 1966 and 1984), we seem to be sandwiched between the two different spheres the generations present to us. While we have created our own identities and culture, we seem to have adopted much of this from our parents as well as those who are much younger than we are.  So one aspect we can look at is what is typical of the two generations in the story and provide examples of conflicts that could potentially come between the two generations.

Another aspect worth noting is the lifestyle in Germany between the two generations and the comparison with that of another country, like the US, Britain or any European country. This includes university life, culture,  the way of thinking, etc. Many of these examples were brought up in the film.  And finally, one should have a look at how people change in life. Especially in the Baby Boomer generation, the characters among the group developed differently that there were conflicts among the group. The return to the “good old days” was an attempt to recognize their ownself, reconcile with each other for their differences and lastly, reboot their lives and try something new, or supplement their careers, as was the case with Johannes.

The film’s main theme, especially when you look at the preview is this: No matter the difference, we are all the same in one way or another. If we want to help each other succeed, we need to tear the walls down and build the bridge to bring the two together. If you are unsure how, check out the film. There are many ways of how it can be done.

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Parting Ways With Garrison Keillor

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Sinclair Lewis’ Place of Birth in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. Photo taken in 2009

When I was a child spending time with my grandmother in a rural Minnesota community, I would spend my time in her basement, building and enacting a small community called Warnerville. Fictitiously located between San Bernardino and Los Angeles, the town of 22,000 inhabitants was an oasis surrounded by mountains and desert, located next to a lake and priding itself on professional sports. While everything was built together and up, using old boxes, metal rods and wooden boards, I brought it to life with a weekly newspaper, depicting scenes one would find in Minnesota, not California. That means, the model town was a deadman’s town, similar to my recent visit to the German town of Glauchau, in western Saxony, but its stories were typical of the ones that could be found in a local Minnesota newspaper, such as pen and plow-style gossip, crops and weather, local racing on the streets of downtown and a creative mentality that makes a traditionalist share the laughing and crying pillows!  🙂 While my grandma made sure her entire basement was not an urban sprawl (my town took up half her basement floor) and my dad dreamt up concoctions of the town being destroyed by natural disasters and toxic waste spills, my idea of the town and its stories came from my aunt, whose third husband was an art teacher at a small city college in Minnesota (specifically, Marshall), and up until their divorce in 1996, were passionate about listening to public radio, and in particular- A Prairie Home Companion. 🙂

Before diving into this topic, here’s a question for the readers out there, including those residing outside the US:  Have any of you heard of A Prairie Home Companion?

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A Prairie Home Companion was started as a morning show in 1974, being broadcast live from a theater at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was later relocated to the Fitzgerald Theater in 1978, where it has been its home ever since. The show’s structure originally followed that of several shows in Germany, in particular, the NDR Comedy Club (now known as Comedy Contest): live performance with acting and music combined with a little taste of home. While NDR’s show originates from the north of Germany, A Prairie Home Companion has a taste of Minnesota, with the likes of Guy Noir- Private Eye, The Lives of the Cowboys, News from Lake Wobegon, and all kinds of performances, capped off by the piece “Tishomingo Blues“, composed by Spencer Williams but the lyrics were added by the creator of the show himself, Garrison Keillor.

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If there is a general rule for Americans, especially Minnesotans residing overseas or in Canada, you never know what American culture really is unless you listen to two hours of Garrison Keillor’s show and Lake Wobegon stories every weekend. Since being connected to internet at our home in Germany in 2009, my wife, daughter and I have been listening to a Prairie Home Companion on Sundays in the evenings at supper time, listening to fiddlers on the roof, people with Minnesota accents talk philosophy in the corn fields, celebrities impressing the audience with their solo performances, and Keillor advertising fictitious products, such as Powdermilk Biscuits, Guy’s Shoes and the Barn Machè Beauty Salon, all in beautiful Lake Wobegon.  If one is wondering, Lake Wobegon is a fictitious town on a lake in central Minnesota between Sauk Centre and St. Cloud in Stearns County, even though Keillor in his show names it Mist County. A story behind the creation of Lake Wobegon can be found here. The show in general shows American culture, especially in the Midwest, that has been rarely shown in the classroom but should. The theatricals are scripted on one hand, but looks so real to the audience that after watching a live performance, the people become attached to American life from the eyes of the creator. All scenes are lively and the performers are really relaxed and into the scenes, sometimes intermingling with the audience. It is a combination of theater and madrigals into one, with some special guests making the show even more enjoyable to watch. Sometimes, the show gives the expats a sense of home that they miss but also have in their home country.

To give you an idea of what you are missing, here are some examples:

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Despite all this, 2 July, 2016 will be remembered as the day people leave Lake Wobegon forever. Its creator Garrison Keillor is retiring from the show after 42 years. Born and raised in Anoka, Minnesota in 1942, Keillor is both a writer and a broadcaster, having graduated with a Bachelor’s in English at the University of Minnesota and starting his broadcasting during his time as a student for a campus radio station, known today as Radio K. After graduating from college, he started his career at Minnesota Educational Radio (now known as Minnesota Public Radio- MPR) in 1969, where he hosted a few programs, including the forerunner to the popular show, A Prairie Home Entertainment, which featured music that veered away from the classical music MPR had played  before. The show was later changed to A Prairie Home Companion in 1971 and it remained a radio show until it was launched as a show with live musicians three years later. Keillor was the host….

…..and the rest was history.

Minus a two-year hiatus, Keillor was a host for 40 years, and omitting the four years in New York City, all of the shows have taken place in Minnesota, which he has called home. And it is good that way as when one calls a place home, it is the place where the person does his best. This was the signature of A Prairie Home Companion and even more so as a writer. Keillor has 21 novels to his credit, ten of which come from the Lake Wobegon series, which started with the first one published in 1985. A Guy Noir novel was produced in 2012. Three poetry anthologies and three poems are included in the mix.  He also created The Writer’s Almanac, a daily post by Minnesota Public Radio which features a poem by a famous author, combined with some interesting facts about famous people, including writers, politicians, inventors and historians, just to name a few.  Keillor intends to continue writing and producing for A Prairie Home Companion, yet come this fall, the show will become the care of another host, who will carry the torch and create his new version of Lake Wobegon. But even if the host, Chris Thile,  has large shoes to fill and the show will be different, his previous experience with the show when Keillor was hosting will help him bridge the gap between the patrons who came to love Keillor over the years and those who listen to MPR and have heard of Keillor’s work, but are looking forward to a new chapter in A Prairie Home Companion.

For Keillor, there is this:  Lake Wobegon brought the Minnesotan in this author, listening to his show and following the Writer’s Almanac from Germany. Like the works of Sinclair Lewis, including his famed literary work,  Main Street USA, Lake Wobegon allows a person to close his eyes for a couple hours, head to a rural Minnesota town and enjoy the company of some interesting but friendly local people, while giving the author some ideas of what to write about in terms of articles, pieces for newspapers and even novels. And while I’m doing the first two, his ideas and stories from the shows are contributing to a concoction of events for a novel which I will get to soon. If published, I owe you a copy with a round of thanks, for bringing the two homes together for two hours on a Sunday night.  🙂

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Before doing this send off, I asked some readers if they knew about A Prairie Home Companion and what they remembered about Garrison Keillor and a lot of ideas came about. I decided as a way of closing to provide the top Garrison Keillor Greatest Hits for you to watch and listen. Most of the Prairie Home Companion shows can be found on youtube, while you can subscribe to A Prairie Home Companion and  The Writer’s Almanac via the Files’ Educational and Cultural Links (scroll down to the end and on the left).

Greatest Hits:

This four-part series is the oldest to be found to date on youtube, dating back to 1987, shortly before Garrison Keillor took a brief hiatus. Strangely enough, during his hiatus, two shows bore out of A Prairie Home Companion, one of which is All Things Considered, which is still being broadcasted on MPR today. (Click here)

A friend of mine (from Minnesota) once mentioned that he was involved in a concert featuring Keillor and the theme on Halloween. This one’s for him, even though this is an earlier version and he was in the concert with his choir about five years ago.

Holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas were Keillor’s main targets for themes in his shows but also when he is live and in person at several venues, like this one.

It’s no secret that Keillor is a lefty in terms of politics. Still he enjoys adding some humor to all the political themes, some of which would never be discussed at the dinner table these days. On his last day of performance on 2 July, 2016, he received a congratulations and best wishes by President Obama, whom he supported during the elections and his presidency. Obama was a regular listener of A Prairie Home Companion and enjoyed Keillor’s Lake Wobegon stories while dealing with political issues at the White House.

Keillor has not kept one handicap back in his career, which is his highly functioning form of autism, which he was diagnosed a few years ago. He was never a person who looked at another person straight in the eye, and was a loner. Yet, he still enjoyed the company of many people from different backgrounds. From an author’s point of view, it never shows. And as a secret ingredient: the best people, and especially story tellers of fiction happen to be the most gifted. 🙂

Guest stars have been welcomed for over a decade, including frequent visitors, such as the Civil Wars duet, who stopped by Lake Wobegon for a dinner and entertainment in 2011.

Keillor could not escape the parody of the Simpsons, like in this episode (he was played by another actor, by the way). Just wished that Homer would take in the entertainment from a different perspective. He will before the TV series finally signs off.

An excerpt from a typical Prairie Home Companion show with The Lives of the Cowboys.

And Keillor’s final News from Lake Wobegon on July 2nd at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Over 18,000 people attended his final performance and an additional 10+ million listeners honed in on his final performance of his 42-year career.

Long Live Lake Wobegon  ❤   🙂

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Germans and Demonstrations: What We Want is Color; What We Don’t Want is a Union

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Protest, the right to express our opinion, our objection, our own dismay to something that does not fit. Derived from the Latin word meaning to testify for something, protests are designed to deliver a message, whether it was objecting to a decision of a local mayor to demolish a historic landmark in favor of a shopping mall, demanding a change in government because of a corrupt leader, putting pressure on companies to increase wages and improve working conditions or as seen in the pics here, rejecting certain people because of their threat to their societal infrastructure.

Germany leads the way in the number of protests and their variety of themes. No matter when the politicians speak, no matter if it is spontaneous or planned, no matter how many policemen are involved, and no matter how extreme, when a demonstration takes place, the entire city is shut down and isolated from the rest of the world. The demonstrations take place in many forms. We have the May Day demonstrations and with that, also demonstrations by workers’ unions, demanding better pay and working conditions. This form occurs most frequently, no matter where. Then we have the most popular, which are the environmental demonstrations, featuring sit-ins, blocking and chanting for no nuclear storage facilities, international trade deals harming the environment and no pollution, period.

Then we have the most current, which are the demonstrations involving refugees and right-wing extremism. Since the beginning of last year, the number of refugees coming into Germany, even for a temporary stay has risen above 2 million. And with that come attempts of accomodating them and demonstrations for and against the refugees. Those against the refugees, including many forms of PEGIDA, have attacked refugees and the places where they were supposed to stay, enchanting “Wir sind das Volk” and using tactics from the playbook of the Third Reich, which you can see here.  On the flip side, there are just as many people opposed to PEGIDA and have been more than open to refugees, granting them places to live and work as well as integrating them into the culture. Unlike the PEGIDA, which like the Alternative for Germany, has called for a ban on Islam in Germany, the opponents to the two groups are more aware of the social and cultural background (partly because of German history but also because of their multicultural mentality) and see the immigration of refugees as a motor for economic growth in Germany, producing jobs in many fields and learning the bright sides of religion and culture. 🙂

But when looking at German demonstrations by itself, I was asked by a German student colleague during the last protest whether or not the Germans are crazy and insane about demonstrating. When looking at the pics below and speaking from personal experience participating in a half dozen protests since coming here in 1999, the answer to that question is a resounding “Jein!” (Yes and no in German). There are two really strong arguments favoring the no portion of “Jein!” The first argument is because Germans are trained to be informed and confront controversial issues, even if means taking to the streets and express their disdain towards politicians. This has to do with the Beutelsbach Consensus of 1976, where pupils in all German educational institutions are taught how to be address all controversial topics in the classroom and express their personal opinion, without having the teacher of social studies influence their opinions. The consensus features three key points, which are:

1. Prohibition against Overwhelming the Pupil

2. Treating Controversial Subjects as Controversial

3. Giving Weight to the Personal Interests of Pupils

Learning the lessons from the past, educators and political scientists pushed the importance of pure democracy into the classrooms with the goal of addressing the themes from individual standpoints, both inside the classroom as well as in the public. This is something that has not been introduced in American classrooms but should, in order to learn how to deal with confrontations and conflicts. As of right now, the consensus is the trend where politicians make decisions behind closed doors and take haste action before the public is able to be informed about it and assemble a protest. An act of cowardice and one that goes against the ideas of American democracy.

The second argument for demonstrations is they can bring out the colorful and best of people from different backgrounds, bringing them together and encouraging time together. Be it mini-concerts, mini-tournaments or even sit-ins with beer and friends, having peaceful demonstrations show solidarity and support, encouraging others to join, even if it is for a few minutes.

The yes argument, apart from fancy outfits and some DJ-ing, the craziest is when counter-demonstrators arrive to make trouble, only to be pelted with stones, bottles and other items. This happens often when protests dealing with right-wing extremists and PEGIDA members are in the vicinity, as they are against the ideals of a modern, multi-cultural Germany. While the police try to protect both sides, they end up being sandwiched by both sides, resulting in the question of whether the German Constitution should be reformed to ban violence and certain groups deeming a threat to German society. Up until now, the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe have not touched their fingers on this topic. With the violence increasing every year, perhaps they should…..

With more hot topics coming to the table and the politicians trying to address them, there will be more protests and demonstrations by the public expressing their concerns about them. Not all demonstrations are bad, as many people support measures that are beneficial to a multicultural Germany. However, some are deemed necessary to make the point clear: The public knows the history; the public wants a say in this; and the public wants the politicians to listen. Call it crazy, but thanks to Beutelsbach, combined with the awareness of the importance of keeping the country clean of potential dictators, the demonstrations have worked a great deal, because to all involved, listening and acting in the benefit of the majority does matter.

Perhaps the Americans should make note of this, especially those who engage in closed door deals without informing and listening to the public. We are not stupid, you know….

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Check out the photo gallery of the recent protest that occurred in Jena on 20 April, 2016 (click on the photo for a larger view). The demonstrations involved 200 Thugida (Thuringia version of PEGIDA) and NPD people celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday while more than three thousand condemned these demonstrations with that of their own. According to the newspaper OTZ, six cars were destroyed, 15 people were injured and over two dozen were taken into custody. While the protest was smaller than expected, local officials spoke of a new generation of violent protests. This leads to the following questions:

  1. How can society find a way to disable and eliminate such radical groups?
  2. How can society educate people about the dangers of being an extremist?
  3. What can be done to eliminate problems that spawn such protests?
  4. How can history teach society to learn and understand both sides of the story involving key events and their actors?
  5. In connection with question 4., how can the youth be taught not to be extremists?

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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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