Genre of the Week: The History of the Teddy Bear by Jon Mooallem

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To start off the Genre of the Week, here’s a question for you: How many of you have a teddy bear? What names did you give them, and how did you characterize them when playing with them? Almost every child at one time had a teddy bear in his/her lifetime and one in three adults still have that teddy bear from their childhood. More than half the children have more than three teddys in their rooms at home. And if you are like other kids, you probably have names for each of the Teddy bears you have. 🙂  In the case of my daughter, she and I had names for a dozen teddy bears she had when she was growing up; among them include Rocky (Senior and Junior) for a pair of panda bears, plus two bears who always find ways of travelling with this writer: Bam Bam and Coco, a white and brown bear duo. Their parents were included as well, including Coco’s mom, Anna Bear, as seen in the pic above.  But what do we know of the origin of the teddy bear?

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The teddy bear was developed in two different locations, almost simultaneously. In Germany, a seemstress company, founded by Margarete Steiff in 1880, a teddy bear was created by her nephew Richard in 1902, based on a real depiction of the bear. It debuted in 1903 and became so popular, that a buyer for an American toy company bought large numbers for the market. The Steiff bears eventually became teddy bears. At the same time of the first teddy bear in Germany, a very popular Amercian figure, while on a hunt, saved a life of a small bear, thus becoming a focus of a cartoon shown below:

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Drawing a Line in Mississippi by Clifford K. Barryman

Eventually, Morris and Rose Michtom took this depiction and created their first toy company that produced these adorable creatures, honoring that man, which became known as Teddy’s Bear. 🙂

But inspite of the two separate events that helped create the still most lovable toy for people of all ages, there was a motive behind making teddy bears. In a TED-Talk lecture, Jon Mooallem provides a detailed look behind the history of the teddy bear and its relationship with not only us humans, but also the environment we are living in. And as the bears become popular, the concern for protecting flora and fauna has become greater than it was in 1902.

Watch the video and have a look at the questions. Think about what he says and discuss about the role of teddy bears and the relationship between humans and the environment, something that is fragile and needs attention more than ever. The video is at the end of the article.

Questions:

  1. Who was the person that saved a bear’s life? What happened and when did it happen?
  2. Why did he save the bear’s life? What was the result of his action?
  3. What was the relationship between bears (and other wild animals) and settlers like during that time?
  4. What measures were taken to protect the settlers during that time? How were the animals affected- name one example.
  5. What does the teddy bear symbolize according to the speaker?
  6. Why did we go from portraying animals as terrifying beasts to ones that are lovable? There are two factors that are interconnected and are still a key issue in society…..
  7. The speaker mentions that nature has become so dependent on humans that it cannot survive on its own, going from almost destroying the species to saving and educating them- aka conservation reliance.
    1. What factors have led to the natural balance being off course
    2. What examples are mentioned where humans “train” animals?
    3. In your opinion, do you agree with the speaker’s statements? If so, why and what examples support your argument? If not, what examples of uncontrolled natural areas can you think of?
  8. In your opinion, does controlling nature produce a better balance with humans or does it make sense to let “the deer and the antelope play and vegetation produce flower power?” (In other words, let flora and fauna be)? What reasons support your arguments?
  9. Do you have a teddy bear? If so, what is his/her name and how would you describe your bear in terms of appearance and character?

 

Enjoy the clip below! 🙂

 

 

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Genre of the Week: Allentown by Billy Joel

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We all have been paying attention to the recent developments in the United States, especially when it comes to Donald Trump. Already he has destroyed generations-long ties with traditional neighbors, like Germany, France and the rest of Europe, plus countries in the Middle East minus Israel and Saudi Arabia and with China. He has declared to pull America out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which his predecessor Barack Obama had signed prior to leaving office in January. And to the dismay of even his fellow Americans both at home as well as abroad, he has stressed the importance of jobs over wasting money to help other poor countries fight a phenomenon, which he claims does not exist.

 

All of this for one sole purpose: clean coal!

 

While several actors, even within his own country, have declared that they will buck the trend of the president and follow the Paris protocol- with Hawaii having become the first state to sign the agreement, other states like Minnesota, New York, California and Washington set to follow even as an alliance, and even oil companies are going green with their approach to sustainable development, all directions are pointing towards an isolationist politician whose title is the President of the United States, but he is acting in the best interest of just the coal miners and those of the oil companies who are against Paris.

 

But why resort to coal, when so many arguments point towards phasing the energy source out in favor of renewable energies, such as fuel cells, wind, solar and hydroelectric? The energy is cheap, but residents and coal workers have to pay the price in terms of health. Generations of coal miners have been in the business and would like to remain there for the long term. However, the numbers are dwindling as mines close, miners get older and the job is not attractive at all.  Mining claims to be safe, but there are enough accidents to question that statement.

 

And the last claim that Trump has pointed out is that there are enough social and health benefits that will make the job an everlasting one. People can enter the field and stay there for life. And this song, entitled Allentown by Billy Joel, has several arguments debuking that claim.  Produced in 1982, the setting for the song is in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the heart of the coal and steel industry. There, the decline of the industry was taking shape after World War II, with mines and steel factories closing down, and workers suffering from the plight of unemployment and other social pathologies. By the early 1980s, over half of the factories and mines in Pennsylvania had been shut down and regions were forced to reinvent themselves. The trend would later be felt in Germany at the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, especially in the east, where the mining of brown coal, the dirtiest of coal devastated areas in Saxony including the Black Triangle region.

The lyrics behind this song has to do with the aftereffects of the closing down of the steel mills and mines. Listen to the song and ask yourself the following questions:

 

  1. Compare the war generation with the younger one. Which one had it better and why?

 

  1. Describe the life of a coal miner from the singer’s point of view. What is typical of them and the working conditions?

 

  1. When the people in Allentown are waiting for the Pennsylvania they never found, what was meant by that?

 

  1. Why is it hard for them to stay?

 

  1. In your opinion, despite Trump’s quest for reenergizing the coal industry, will it be successful in the end? Why or why not?

 

Supplemental question: Does your reason have to do with the decline in the industry and if so, why?

 

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William Martin Joel was born in 1949 and has had a singing career that has spanned over five decades. Billy Joel’s breakthrough came with Piano Man, produced in 1973. Since then, he has released 12 albums featuring both pop and classical music. Songs credited to his name include We didn’t start the fire, And so it goes, My life, Manhattan 2017, An innocent man, Leningrad, and Baby Grand (together with favorite idol, the late Ray Charles).  Allentown was one of several songs Billy Joel wrote which focuses on real themes affecting America, Russia and other parts of the world. That song received praise from the mayor of Allentown, and Joel therefore received royalities and other recognition.

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Genre of the Week: Are You Lost in the World like Me by Steve Cutts and Moby

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In the past four years, many artists have come up with creative ways to address the audience with issues that we seem to ignore. These include environmental problems, social pathologies- like metal illness and broken relationships, greed and even the development of a concrete form of dystopia, where humans are a cog of a corporation that keeps running day and night, at the expense of our own lives. We’ve seen many documentaries on fracking, the extinction of bees and the perverting of the education system to favor the elite and make the rest become cogs for the corporate machines, done by well known journalists and photographers. But we have seen a steep increase in films and animations from grassroot organizations and people, whose main purpose is to make the situation as gloomy as possible- as a way of sobering society.

Steve Cutts is one of those up-and-coming artists who has been painting the situation as realistic as possible, but through animation. Born in London, Cutts is an illustrator and animator, having produced satires that focus on the faults of modern society. His animations have a combination of very graphic details with a background resembling Mickey Mouse in the 1930s and 40s. The exception is that we are subtracting Disney’s favorite pet with characters who are either greedy, victims of the rapid changes of society or the has-beens- people who had their heyday in the 1970s and 80s but have found themselves washed-up in favor of progress.

The first animation was released in 2012 entitled MAN, which focuses on man’s behavior towards the environment. Using the themes of that plus animal rights, Cutts focuses on how humans abuse the environment for their own gain. Over 20 million views were recorded when the film was released and has been seen by 20-fold ever since. Other animations produced by Cutts can be found on his website by clicking here.

And this takes us to the genre of the week and this animation, Are You Lost. This one deals with our obsession with social networking and the Smartphone. While things are falling apart in our society today, the only comfort is with the device which has hundreds of functions, including selecting the right partner, rewinding to nostalgia, capturing tragedies and finding Pokemon in a sanitary landfill. The worst thing is how our society is decaying because of the need of a small plastic device that is replaceable over people that are not. This includes the child as the main character in the film, who is left out completely because of the people who once they have a device in their hand, there is no return…….

…..or is there? While the music, provided by Moby and the Void Pacific Choir has a gothic taste combined with techno-music, this film looks at the addiction of the Smartphone and how we have become too dependent on it instead of other people. And while other addictions, like drinking, smoking and even being inactive are easy to overcome if we are committed to the task, this one is rather difficult to near-impossible to overcome because of the need to stay connected to people and news, even though they don’t matter to us at home. It is like we care more about the device than the problems that we have to address at home; many of them Cutts addresses here and in all his other films produced up til now. It leads us to the question of whether we can get by without the device for a full day and look at what really matters to us. And if this film is not enough to wake a person up, here’s a situation worth considering:

You see a person in despair, wanting to kill him/herself- like in this film, whose animation is based on the work of Max Fleischer. You have a Smartphone in your hand and are in a deep conversation with someone a half a world away. You see the situation. Do you drop the phone and rush to the person’s aid, or do you watch from the sides and hope someone will do it for you?

It’s easy to be lost in a crowd and let the events unfold as they happen. But sometimes, just switching the phone off and doing something about it will save not just the life of that person, but in the end, your own, as well. Think about it when you watch this…..

 

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Moby (a.k.a. Richard Melville Hall) is an American musician whose specialty is producing electronic music and remixing songs produced by other artists, like Michael Jackson and the B-52s. He gained national fame in the 1990s with the release of the albums Everything is Wrong and Animal Rights, the first of a total of 13 albums that have been released since then. “The Systems Are Failing”  is the latest album to have been released in 2016 and includes the song “Are You Lost in the World, Like Me?” which includes Steve Cutts’ animation. Moby had asked Cutts to produce the film, while the Void Pacific Choir provided the vocals. Moby is a vegan, advocate of animal rights and an environmentalist and has also written essays on these topics as well. He resides in Los Angeles.

 

 

Don’t Plan for 2020; Plan for the Now and the Future

 

Dear fellow students, former students, friends and those loving a chat with an American expatriate,

 

Over the years, many of you have taken a keen interest in knowing about my country and its culture, including those who either have been in Minnesota, where I was born and raised, or are planning to go there. I had many who have spent time in Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as in New Ulm, Fargo, Worthington, Winona, Duluth  and Rochester (and the Bluffs Region). I even had a former student who was an exchange student at a high school in Waseca, located between Albert Lea and Minneapolis and is where I came into the world almost 40 years ago. Many people have been asking me what my stance is on this year’s elections and despite my voting for my candidate of choice whether I would be happy with the result.

 

I’ve decided to put this to rest before I utter a word about it to my next class- and waste a couple valuable sessions in the process, because it is a library’s worth of explaining how messed up the United States of America has become, especially since the Elections of 2001 and the infamous hanging chads.

 

Last year while preparing a presentation for a lecture with a couple colleagues, one of them had a cheek to predict the end of the world and that anything we do is fruitless at this point. At that time, we didn’t have the debates but had prominent people vying for candidacy as the next President of the US by visiting regions and communities. We didn’t have a below-the-belt style of locker talk as we had in these Elections. Despite her being a devout Christian- a Lutheran- I played down her comment as absurd and totally unrealistic.

 

I can no longer say that when I read the results and after watching the debates, while draining the keg at the same time. In fact, if the opportunity arises, I would still like to ask her whether she holds this opinion and if so, why.  In response to what I saw in the Elections, as well as everyone else, it is as follows:

The role of the President of the United States is the most unwanted, underappreciated job of any jobs in the country. To get to where you are, you have to undergo the same procedures as Homer Simpson did when he joined the Stonecutter’s Society- getting spanked with a stick and getting humiliated in the process. This is what we saw with Clinton’s e-mail scandals together with the Benghazi affair on one end, and Trump’s Aryan rhetoric during his campaign speeches, sexual harassment lawsuits and ruined businesses. Once the ass is swollen, the media exploits you like a soap opera show and turn every debate into a wrestling match regardless of gender and who is refereeing- er moderating the debate.

With every debate I’ve watched, even over a few rounds of Flensburger Flotilla and wine, the first impression I had was that any tag-team match between Velvet McIntryre and Princess Victoria vs. the Fabulous Moulah and Wendi Richter would trump the verbal spats the two candidates had. And these matches of the 1980s were real and not scripted; genuine and not choreographed, tough knuckled and not pussy-like.  And you wonder why professional wrestling of the Eighties was one of the best products broadcasted on TV.

And now what? As a new member and leader of The Stonecutter’s Society known as the President of the United States, with a swollen ass and a bruised ego, you have a country to lead, many angry people to calm down and countries to impress. My prediction is simple: you will never make it past one year. And even if you did, the United States of America will never be the same as it was before the elections took place. It was becoming a stranger during the days since 2000. With the results of the Elections and the writing on the wall, the country which I grew up, with its pride in history, culture, landscapes and even literature, with friends and family alike, has become a total stranger. It used to be an example to follow, it is now divided like Spain prior to the Civil War (1936-39), conquered by hate and segregation similar to Germany under Hitler, an anarchic state where ideas are not welcomed and selling one’s soul to Satan in order to get ahead is the norm. In four years, we could see the country as either an authoritarian state or one that is on the brink of a Nebuchadnezzar-style uprising and raid.

 

And what will become of the republic that we have followed for over 227 years?  A faded memory.

 

But it is not too late. Our votes were not fully wasted. We have a democracy but it is the one which we the people can run. While we may have voted for the lesser of two evils in the elections, it is only we who can make the changes. Why wait until the next elections in 2020 when we can make a difference now and for the future? After all, with all the hatred we expressed to our candidates and the people who supported them, it is time that we take action to handle the problems the US has on its home front, let alone with other countries. I really doubt the winner will hold to his promises, nor do I think Washington can afford to rollback policies of the Reagan era, let alone prepare for the 2020 elections. We have pressing issues to deal with. And the list is long: The environment, immigration, improving foreign relations, helping war-torn countries rebuild, rebooting health care, restructuring the education system, improving the infrastructure, and so on. No president can handle this alone in four years, if he survives it. I don’t think anybody in Washington can handle it, but bickering and bitching will be a waste of time. We’ve tried two different policies since 2000 and neither one worked. I doubt the next style of policies will be any better. Therefore it is up to us, we as an international community to handle these problems head-on.

 

Did I use the words international community?  You bet I did.

 

We are no longer the people of the United States of America. We have no association between the Republicans and Democrats. We come from different backgrounds, but have the same problems as everyone else in the world. Instead of relying on politics as a way to providing comfort, we should go out there, see how things work in other countries and regions and see if we can work them into our system and our lives. We should implement the ideas we ourselves have and ensure everyone can benefit from it. We should create agreements that will benefit everyone and not the select few. We should pray for and help those who are unloved, underappreciated, narrow-minded, helpless- strangers, friends and family alike- and open the doors for God to help and bless us whenever we and they need it. We should read the Bible, Quran and other religious works and understand why the power of work and prayer works. We should learn about the other person and include him/her in our society. If fire and war hits, we should go and help them rebuild. After all, we all have a purpose in life. It is how we handle our lives that is the hardest to do, especially if we make decisions that can alter our course for the good.

 

While the next president will make many promises and break them, it is up to us to make and carry out solutions to the problems that we are facing, for it is we who cannot afford to wait until 2020. It is we who cannot afford to watch events to unfold. It is we who cannot afford to hide behind people whose purposes are to hurt and destroy other lives for their own gain. I know that there are more than enough unloving people out there, but we need to take action to persuade these people that we the people are doing this for their good. Believe it or not, the person predicting the apocalypse at the beginning of this article, I found her such a quote some weeks later that said just that:

 

We need to love the unloving, take action to help others in need and let the world under one God decide our fate. The more good we do, the better place we’ll have for generations to come and the more pride we have in ourselves that we accomplished something our president had previously promised but never carried out.

 

The future is now, not in 2020. We have to shine now, because we are now in uncharted territory. How events will unfold will depend on our actions and not that of others. So don’t wait, act!

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I could say more but in case you want my personal opinion about the elections between Donald Trump and Hilliary Clinton, and the state the US is in, this is my honest to God truth. We can talk about how the political system works and other issues to be resolved. However, sometimes the truth can be hard to swallow and we need time to digest it before we can decide what to do next. In my opinion, I will keep teaching and talking about my culture in comparison to Germany, continue to write my column pieces, exploit the sides we don’t read and talk about, and help those who wish to have a better life. After all, that is my sole reason for being here on this planet.

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Showdown at Fehmarn

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The Beltretter Petition Drive at the Burg Market Square. Photo taken in August 2016

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Petition Drive to Stop the Construction of the Tunnel at Puttgarden in Full Gear; Discussion about the Fehmarn Bridge’s Future is on.

BURG/ FEHMARN- For the second time in three years, I had a chance to take a trip to the German Island of Fehmarn, located between Denmark and the state of Schleswig-Holstein, connected by the Migratory Route Highway connecting Copenhagen and Hamburg. Astonished by its beauty and the hospitality the people there gave us our last time, for my family and me, which also includes a friend of ours and her daughter, Fehmarn appears to be the place to go to relax, swim, run along the coast with the wind in our faces and bike to our favorite places for fish with fried potatoes Holstein style.

Yet on this trip it was totally different. Different in a way that the inhabitants of the island are divided over a mega-project that is coming to cross the island- the noise that is comparable to the noise one see along the Migratory Route, which seemed to have increased since our last visit. When visiting the state of Schleswig-Holstein, especially in the eastern part, one will see a blue X every second house along with its slogan, a Christmas light set depicting the Fehmarn Bridge at every fourth house, and this van with the Belt Retter slogan on there, lined up with hundreds of people talking to representatives of the group fighting to stop the project from happening, and signing petitions in the process.  The scene is getting brighter and bluer as the weeks come along….

…..and for a good reason!

Since my visit in 2014, I’ve been covering the events on Fehmarn, which involved not only the island’s future, but also that of the Fehmarn Bridge. To recap on the situation, the Danish Government have been cooperating with the German authorities regarding the construction of the multi-track/lane tunnel connecting Puttgarden (GER) and Rodby (DK), thus eliminating the need for ferry service. The tunnel would feature two tracks accomodating long-distance trains as well as six lanes of motorway traffic, creating a total width of one kilometer including the property acquisitions. At 20 km, it would be touted as the longest tunnel in the world that would serve automobile traffic. At the same time, German government authorities in Berlin and Kiel as well as the German Railways are working together for a new bridge on the south end, spanning the Fehmarn Sound- replacing the island’s iconic span which is the first of its kind ever built.  At the moment, transportation authorities have deemed the 1963 bridge to be functionally obsolete and at the end of its useful life. According to the latest reports from LN-News in Luebeck, planning is in the works to have a new iconic span resembling the Golden Gate Bridge to be discussed and possibly voted on. If approved, construction could start in 2018 and be finished in 10 years.

The current situation during the visit:

The Belt Retter movement has been gaining steam in the past weeks, with organizers and supporters collecting signatures and letters of petitions in much of Schleswig-Holstein- in particular, the eastern half and of course, Fehmarn Island itself. Tens of thousands of signatures have been collected online, as well as in person at the markets and other events. I was lucky to stop at the Belt Retter site at the market square in Burg during our visit to talk to the representatives there, and get some information on the latest with the Puttgarden-Rodby Tunnel (aka Belt Tunnel). The Danish government, which has been keen on moving forward with the project, had previously rejected an earlier proposal for the tunnel last year because of approximately 249 errors in the design and concept, according to officials of the organisation I talked to at the market. After reworking the project, a new proposal was submitted back in June by the coordinators of the project, LBV Luebeck and Femmern A/S, and now the clock is ticking on the part of the locals, the Belt Retter organisation and all other parties opposed to the plan, who had previously petitioned to stop the first draft and succeeded last year. Between now and August 26th, you have an opportunity to submit your petition online or through contact with the representatives of Belt Retter, who will then forward that onto a committee that will feature representatives of the tunnel project, environmental and legal experts, local, regional and state representatives and others involved with the project, who will review it and take further measures. Possible legal measures, such as lawsuits and court order injunctions are on the table should it become a necessity.

Attempts are also being made regarding ways to preserve the Fehmarn Bridge. Rehabilitating the bridge for continual use has been ruled out because of the cost intensitity, but also because it is predicted that the bridge’s lifespan would be prolonged by only 30 years. However, such rehabilitation techniques have been tried on several bridges made of steel, including the steel wiring that is also found on the Fehmarn Bridge. The findings: such rehabilitation can prolong the life of a bridge by up to a century, counting maintenance and other essentials. Already done was the Bay Bridge and (also) the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, this is also being conducted on the George Washington Bridge in New York City, built in 1938 under Swiss Engineer Othmar H. Ammann. Crying wolf over the potential failure of the bridge, as was stated by authorities of the government in Berlin and the German railways, the issues of rust, especially seen by the author while revisiting the bridge this year is only minor. Bridge rehabilitation experts would also agree that rehabilitation would be cost effective, saving taxpayer money by up to half the cost for a new bridge. In other words, and as I signed my petition against the project, I even noted, the movement to stop this mega-project with the tunnel should also include rehabilitating the Fehmarn Bridge.

Opinions are split down the middle among those who are vehemently against the project because of the negative environmental and economic impact as well as those involving tourism and culture and those who are in favor because of the need to modernize the infrastructure and bring in more tourism. It can even be found with the two different stickers at a souvenir shop at Suedstrand in Burgtiefe with the blue X and green check marks, the latter being for the project. Protests from different factors, including the Scandlines (which operates the ferry between Puttgarden and Rodby) have increased loudly in numbers, opposing the entire project. While those supporting the project say that it is a necessity and will come anyway, the Danes are becoming more and more sceptical of the tunnel concept because of the exploding costs for surveys, legal issues and the redesigning of the system. Many have joined the movement on the German side, which has increased tremendously since my last visit.  While it is expected that the construction of the tunnel is to begin in 2020 and last 10 years, should the petition become a success for the second time, it might derail the entire project, putting it on ice indefinitely.

And with that, hopefully in the eyes of locals and people attached to Fehmarn, a return to normalcy which includes accessing the island by two-lane traffic or ferry, coaxing passers-by into stopping on the island for a visit and vacation. This is something you cannot do with a mega-project that would cut the island into two if proponents have their way.

Do you want to stop the project, click here to read the information and sign the petition. Contact details are available if you need further information. The information is in German, but you can talk to someone with English or Danish knowledge if you have any questions. It takes 2-4 minutes to do and consists of multiple choice questions that are user friendly.  If you’re still not convinced that the project cannot be stopped, go to the pics below.  There, you can click on the gallery with pics of the places visited this year with some comments on my part.

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Checkout the articles written about the Fehmarn Bridge Situation including the bridge, by clicking here, here and here.

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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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The Unwinnable War

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This article goes out to the people in Paris and Beirut and the families and friends of those who were killed in the terrorist attacks of 13 Noveber, 2015, showing solidarity, love and courage in the face of the unknown evil that cannot be won unless we get to the root of the problem. The attacks happened just as the article on Civil Courage was published, and despite the question of coincidence, both this and that article should be read to get a better scope of what is going on in our society today.

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There are two important variables in life where we cannot escape, even if we tried: death and taxation. We’re all are going to die, and we are all obliged to pay our taxes to the state to keep the system and government running.

After Paris, we now have a new constant variable: war.  We live in a war every day, whether it is a classical war or a domestic war, whether we face bullies in school, backlash for murder or terrorists who try to take away our right to live in society, whether it is a war on poverty and the environmental pollution, or war against ISIS and the Taliban and their satellites. No matter how we make peace, together with when and with whom, the next war is around the corner.

But do we care about it and do something about it? Absolutely not.

We live in a world of naivety, where we try to make the difference between good and evil, spend billions of dollars in military hardware and personnel to fight the evil that we claim to see, but in all reality we do not, bomb countries and destroy lives in an attempt to destroy the terrorists, persecute those who are fleeing their homelands beset by violence for a better place. We tried that with Afghanistan and Iraq to topple the dictatorships ruling the country and harboring the terrorists. Yet what happened? Our mission, once touted by George W. Bush as being accomplished, is anything but that. The countries we bombed are still in shambles. Their people are still suffering from poverty and repression from corruptive regimes. And lastly, the terrorist regimes are sprawling, engulfing countries in their grasps.

And what have we done about this? We’ve converted our country from a democracy to a pseudo-democracy, where Big Brother is watching us, through internet, surveillance and other forms of spying to ensure that we are believed to be living in a utopian society- or any type of topian society where what we say or do may be used against us. We shift our focus away from the universal problems affecting us- global warming and the devastating effects on many regions of the world, poverty and social inequality, the degradation of our domestic programs- and focus on problems irrelevant to today’s real problems: defaming a dentist killing a lion, watching a TV show of Cops versus Afros, debating about Steve Jobs’ last words, and listening on the radio about the debate of how long Chloe Cardashian’s boyfriend will stay with her while pregnant before he leaves her and she seeks coalesce with her sister, Kim. This is in addition to our lives being watched by machines, focusing on how big of aetheists or “Jesus freaks” we are, plus exploiting things that we are private to us.  In other words, we have become a selfish society where every man is for himself but only under the loop of Big Brother, living in a topian society that is fictitious and far away from the reality that we have turned our back on- and the people who need our help badly.

The bombings of Paris is a clear sign that we are still at war. The grim reality is this war is perpetual, never-ending, closing in on apocalyptic. Our ignorance to the people in need, their homelands no longer liveable because of the disastrous effects of global warming combined with warfare sparked by the war on terrorism, has come at a price that is exorbitant, where the next generations will never be able to pay it off. We are fighting a war that we cannot win because our policies, strategies and technologies are not enough to win it. But at the same time, the war cannot be lost because our enemies (the terrorists) are suffering from the same problems we are facing- their warfare strategies and technologies are not sufficient enough to destroy our modern society. We are at a stalemate, where no matter how many lives we lose on both sides, the war is not winnable. We can tackle the problems by sending tens of thousands of troops to the ISIS regions in Syria and Iraq to eradicate the groups once and for all,  introduce Israeli-style security measures at all public events, reinforce surveillance to match that of George Orwell’s 1984 or the film, In Time, and integrate refugees into our culture. We can take measures to reverse the effects of global warming, even. However this will not solve the problem of the war that we are in.

What can help alleviate the pain is showing solidarity to the victims and their families, reach out to those in need, offer peace to our enemies and find out what they want and compare it to what we want. In other words, we can only afford to collaborate, find universal solutions to the problems causing this constant warfare, and find a peaceful co-existence, for anything else beyond that- increased security and surveillance, exclusion of people of other backgrounds, more military action and other forms of radical thinking- we have already exhausted our resources for them, and it would be a waste of time and money to reinvent the wheel.

While we cannot return to business as usual, we cannot afford to take measures deemed radical, especially in a war that we cannot win on both sides. But solidarity and collaboration may be the first steps in the right direction. Everything else that happens afterwards depends on how both sides can profit from the talks….

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As a way of showing solidarity and the need for a peaceful co-existence in the time of crisis and war, the Flensburg Files and its sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will each present their logos representing the colors of France. This will remain in effect for the rest of 2015. The Files features the French flag as a replacement of its famous sailboat avatar with a green background representing the need for peace and solutions to the universal problems that we can no longer afford to ignore. While the battle against the terrorists is one of these problems, larger ones, such as rebuilding the regions torn by war and beset by terrorists, tackling global warming and the impacts on all aspects, and evening out the gap between rich and poor have yet to be tackled from all aspects of society.