Photo Flick Nr. 60- Groundhog Day

Many of us know the legend of the groundhog and indeed Groundhog Day, which is February 2nd. In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, thousands gather on that special day to see if Phil sees his shadow or not, If so, it’s six more days of winter. If not, spring comes early. The tradition was detailed in a comedy bearing the same name, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. Yet the 1993 film offered a twist where Phil Connor (the weatherman played by Murray) lives the same day over and over again until me makes things right for himself and his producer colleague, who later turned into his love interest, Rita Hanson (played by McDowell).

Some hidden meanings behind it are even more interesting:

There is another groundhog that could fit the stereotype. It’s one located at Johannesstraße 62 in Flensburg in the city center. I guess one would like to know how that would work? Quite simple: look at his attire in the picture above and be creative. 😉 A groundhog comes out in his bathrobe and checks out the skies. If it’s blue and he sees his shadows, six more weeks of winter and with that, storms similar to the ones we experienced in 1978-9 (click here). If he doesn’t, spring is around the corner. How to make a celebration out of this artwork like in Pennsylvania would be one tall order but it would be quite an interesting celebration over a piece of artwork with traditional ties with real event in Pennsylvania.

The groundhog is one of dozens of paintings that a person can find in the streets of Flensburg’s city center. As mentioned in a previous Photo Flick entry on cats (click here), there are many animals that can be found on the streets- each one doing their creative thing. When visiting Flensburg next time, check them out- either by looking for them yourself or through a tour- especially through the narrow alleys and streets of the city center. You will not regret it.

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Thanks to Street Artist N.M. for allowing me to use the pic. Hope many people will see your groundhog’s shadow.

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Photo Flick Nr. 36- Covid Special: Time for Another, Much Stricter Lockdown

As I write this entry, Germany is about to experience a steep climb in the number of confirmed cases of CoVid-19 in the country. After having spent weeks with anywhere between 2000 and 2600 cases a day, today’s report of 4058 new cases makes it the first time the country has ever experienced cases that were over 3000 since April. And already, we’re repeating the same mistakes when it comes to containing the spread of the virus.

As you can see in the pictures, overcrowded beaches were a symbol of the government’s plan to declare certain travel destinations a high-risk area, meaning those who return from those regions must either quarantine themselves or prove that they tested negative for the virus. End result: travel within Germany and with it, hours stuck on the motorways because of traffic jams, overcrowded campgrounds and overcrowded beaches, like this one at Holnis, northeast of Flensburg. The photos were taken in August of this year during our stay at the beach.

At that point the number of new cases were hovering between 500 & 800 a day. With colder weather around the corner come the increase in the number of cases. With the high numbers come more travel restrictions, leading to fall break becoming the same as what we saw this past summer…

And with the announcement of restricting the number of hotel guests from other states and regions where there are Corona hotspots will create more restrictions in traveling and more chaos. More chaos means more irresponsibility. More irresponsibility, well…..

We are about to experience the second wave, historically known as the worst of the waves, when looking at the Spanish Flu of a century ago. The flu came in waves and it took six years until life returned to normal, thanks to the flu vaccine and the improvements in public health.

With the Covid-19 virus, it’s a totally different story because society has been trying to return to a normal that had existed before the outbreak. Vaccines are being rushed. Businesses fear being wiped out but are concerned that they could be liable for the virus. Families fear for their income but they don’t want to be infected. Children should learn in schools but they want to be careful. As long as the vaccine is not available, we will still live in fear that we could all be infected with some of us perishing in the process. We’re seeing this in the USA, India and Brazil, and we’re starting to see the second wave affect Europe as well.

While we can rush with the vaccine, we need to be realistic and expect one to come within 1-2 years. While we don’t want to wear masks, if we have to, we must wear the masks and not only save ourselves but also the lives of others. While we want to return to normal, the sad truth is we will never see that normal and it’s time to accept it.

So instead of restricting traveling, we should enforce another lockdown- a stricter one. It will save many more lives than when we try surgical measures like what we’re seeing right now. Governments should consolidate and regulate all businesses and help them through no matter how long the lockdown will last. And this lockdown should be a longer one- until the vaccine is made available. Schools and work should be from home. Events should be postponed or cancelled until it’s absolutely safe to have them- and in reasonable numbers. And no travel unless absolutely necessary. It may hinder the education system, but it will encourage children to learn practical skills from home and encourage teachers to engage in digital teaching. It may affect businesses and the economies, but it will force companies to redo the way businesses is being done and encorage home office but less global travel. It will affect the tourism industry, but it will force us to reinvent ourselves and become more environmentally conservative. Why travel to an exotic land when we can travel locally?

We haven’t learned our lessons from our first lockdown. With the second one on the way, maybe this one will be the wake-up call we need to finally make the changes necessary.

Mystery Place: Comedy Square in Harrislee

City center of Harrislee. Photos taken in August 2020

The next mystery place takes us north- way up north to the northernmost town in Germany. Located just west of Flensburg with the Westtangente Highway (Highway B-200) separating the two cities, Harrislee has a population of 11,500 inhabitants and is located right at the border with Denmark. The city includes several small villages including those along the Flensburg Fjorde: Kupfermühle, Zollsiedlung and Wassersleben. Niehuus and Karlsberg are located north of the city at the border, with the former located in the Tunneltal (Tunnel Valley) along the Krusau River which empties at the Fjorde by the Bridge of Friendship at Wassersleben.  Two vehicle border crossings at Pattburg and Krusau as well as two pedestrian border crossings at Wassersleben and Zollsiedlung are known to exist.

Sunrise at the Fjorde in Wassersleben, part of Harrislee

The architecture of Harrislee is primarily modern with many brick houses that can be found in the city, yet the city is over 700 years old. It was first mentioned in 1345 and was once part of Flensburg, yet since 1971, it has become an independent community which later became part of the district Schleswig-Flensburg in 1974. Some historic places that exist in and around Harrislee pays tribute to the German and Danish culture that has remained largely unaffected by the changes in time, including the creation of the German-Danish border and World War II, where the city escaped most of the damages caused by arial raids; its eastern neighbor Flensburg took the brunt of the bombings albeit not as destructive as the ones that destroyed Hamburg, Berlin and even Dresden.  Such places worth visiting including the German House (Bürgerhaus), the Kupfermühle Complex- now a museum, Langbetten von Harrislee, the Meilenstein Stone at the Central School, and the Danish Church.

Then there is the Market Square in Harrislee, at Süderstrasse and Am Markt.  While the number of businesses are few in comparison with Flensburg, the market square is active with many people passing through, stopping for a coffee or dinner at one of a half dozen eateries in the city. The Square hosts many local markets and its Christmas market, which offers many handcrafted goods that are typical oft he region. As spacious as the place is, it can be comparable to some of the larger market squares that host Christmas markets, be it Gedarmenmarkt in Berlin, the Striezelmarkt in Dresden or the market in the Old Town in Nuremberg. 

Yet at this Market Square we have a mystery to solve and it has to do with comedy. At the corner of Süderstrasse and Am Markt, there is a series of flags carrying the colors of Harrislee, but at the foot of the pedestal is a group of statues of figures- all of them are laughing! Regardless of their outfit or even their age and appearance, each statue, made of metal, depicts a person that is laughiing- some rather hysterically.  Each one can be interpreted differently, just by taking a look at the figure.  The question is: „What are they laughing about?“

My question is who was behind the statues, when was it created and what was the motive behind this interesting work of art?  The reason behind that is there was no plaque that explained about the statue. Furthermore, there was no information on it in the history books. Given the appearance of the market square and the houses surrounding it, it appears that they may have been placed there during the 1970s or 80s because of the age that is appearing in some of the structural elements.

Yet, I may be wrong about this and therefore, I would like to know from you how this collection made its way to Harrislee’s city center. Tell us about it, either through social media or in the comment section below. I look forward to your stories.

For now, have a look at the gallery and feel free to comment on them- interpreting their faces and lastly:

What are they laughing about?  This one I don’t know except possibly a Dinner For One show they cracked up on and the famous comment:

„The same procedure as every year.“ 😉

Photo Flick Nr. 34

This Photo Flick takes us to Flensburg and to the Museumsberg. We were at the museum complex a couple weeks ago, where one of the main exhibits that took place was the topic of Borders- in connection with the German-Danish border of 1920. And while the 100th anniversary series will appear in the Files later on this fall, I couldn’t help but look at the children’s art exhibits that dealt with borders- not just between Germany and Denmark, but also borders based on race, ethnicity, religion, social and economic backgrounds and even personalities. Borders don’t have to include the destruction of crossings and the like, as what happened to Germany at the end of World War II and during the Cold War period that followed and divided Germany up for 45 years, as we saw in the article on the Dömitz Railroad Bridge over the Elbe. Yet borders have include two classes of people and how they should be treated accordingly.

This painting, found at Museumsberg shows the problem of borders when one minority is degraded to second or third class in favor of the superior white race. It shows the mistreatment of a black person as he is violently submitted by police. This was done in connection with the current protests in the US, where Black Lives Matter has been at the absolute forefront, especially in light of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th. While racism has been systemic and systematic in the United States since the end of Civil War in 1865, it is only now that everything is at the forefront and the quest for equality has not been stressed as much as it is right now. The question is whether the US government will act to restore equality. That will have to wait until November 3rd, yet even if that happens, we may have another Civil War on our hands, given the sharp divisions the US has, going beyond the political and racial aspects.

This painting was one of many that were done by elementary school students of German and Danish backgrounds in Flensburg and neighboring Harrislee, as the schools came together to exhibit their paintings, most of which dealt with current events affecting Germany, Europe, the USA and the rest of the world. They included issues, such as racism, democracy, Trump and of course, the topic of borders- all done in German, English and Danish. They were an eye-opener to the tourists, especially those, like yours truly, who have worked with this topic in the classroom and in this column. It’s good that children get exposed to current events so they can understand the world and interpret the situation from their perspectives. By watching the news every day, listening to stories from their parents and other elders and even talking about critical topics, children will get an insight into the problems affecting us and can tackle them- developing them to their liking and to benefit others.

ACTIVITY: IN MY WORLD,……

One of the activities that should be taught in the classroom is to have children and students create a painting/drawing and/or write a story about how the world should look like from their perspectives. Starting with the sentence “In my world,…..” allow your children/students to create a world to their liking, to be presented in front of class. They should explain how the world should be created, what is allowed or banned and how people should treat their world.

An example of how a world should be created can be something like this:

In my world, we would have a green environment. All buildings must be operated with renewable energy (solar, wind, etc.) and have greens on roofs. There would be only e-cars and lots of forests and lakes. Only people who are environmentally conscious would live there, etc.

This can be used in not only Ethics and Social Studies, but also in foreign language class or any classes where civics is taught. By allowing the student to be created, you will be amazed to see what a world should look like from the eyes of the one who presents it and it would create an interesting conversation in the classroom and eventually at the dinner table if the child presents his/her own world. Who knows, if your school has a wide array of topics in conjunction with this, you could have a display like the one in Flensburg.

But even if not, similar activities like the activity or in this Photo Flick will enhance the child’s creativity and expose them to the environment and society that will get them to think, using the following important question: “What can I do better to help myself and others around me?

By answering that question and finding solutions that help, we will be on our way to making things happen, while at the same time, eliminate the barriers that keep us from achieving these goals.

This is something that I hope to see happen with our problems of racism and borders between two people of different backgrounds. We have seen this go on for almost two centuries and given the multitude of problems we have, this is one where we must work to eliminate as they will need us as much as we need them and their knowledge for support.

New Penalty Catalog in Germany: Protecting Bikes and Scooters; No Pardons for Speeders and Fishtailers; No Mercy for the Novices

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Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

FLENSBURG- If there is one adjective to describe the new Penalty Catalog (Bußgeldkatalog), in force since April 28th, it would be this: environmentally friendly. This is because the catalog provides more protection for cyclists and those who currently use the newest form of transportation, the E-scooter.  For drivers wishing to get a photo with a gatsometer, it will be more costly, especially if it includes a one month timeout for going 75 km/h in a 50 Zone in the city.  For novice drivers on probation, who are caught drinking and driving, they get more than just a speeder from a cop on duty. And those who are high on a Mickey (Finn) as a driver and endangers other road-users can face time behind bars guarded by Mickeys and possibly, lose his driver’s license.

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The new Penalty Catalog is based on a growing trend that law enforcement officials have seen on German highways within the last two years. Some were considered positive with the introduction of E-scooters and the expanded use of the bicycle. In 2018 alone, as many as 9.3% of German residents bike to work on a daily basis. Another 18.2% of people bike several days a week, and the trend is growing. With that trend comes the pursuit of new paths and additional lanes on many highways and streets to accommodate them. At the same time though, many motorists are frustrated with the fact that more cyclists and scooters are sharing the road, resulting in an increase in the number of accidents with the bike. Last year alone, the number of bike fatalities was the highest ever since 2010 with 158 deaths reported during the first half of the year, alone. Two thirds came from the involvement with the car.  The new laws that are in place are more structured to show how the car and the bike can share the road. At the same time, they will protect both the biker and the scooterist from getting hit by a motorist.

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Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

On the flip side, the new Penalty Catalog will help law enforcers rein in on Boston Driving on German highways. This includes but is not limited to: excessive speeding on the German Autobahn (motorway), unlawfully driving in or blocking the rescue lane (Rettungsgasse)- especially when stopping to photograph or film an accident- hogging up two lanes, doing the California roll with a yield sign although cross traffic has the right of way, punching red lights, fishtailing another car and lastly, driving while being too high on drugs and not focusing on the road.  According to the Department of Vehicle Registration in Flensburg, speeding has the highest rate of all traffic offenses. Yet DUIs and accidents are a primary concern, especially among those who are either under 21 years of age or have gotten their licenses for the first time. Therefore the new catalog will crack down on the above-mentioned offenses and force drivers to behave themselves by respecting the rules, road signs and other road users.

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Two examples of new signs to promote the bike and scooter. Photo: Autobild.de

To sum up on what the rules will look like, we will look at what to expect from cyclists and scooterists.  First and foremost, motorists are expected to follow the distance guidelines where they are to be 1.5 meters away from the cyclist upon passing them. In the countryside it’s 2 meters. This also applies for pedestrians, the elderly and the disabled. Already the rule has been in place for fishtailing. Motorists are expected to maintain a distance with the car in front of them at a distance that is half the speed they are driving.  A new No-Passing-Zone sign designed for banning cars from passing scooters and bikes will be introduced. While the rules and regulations regarding fishtailing a car has remained the same as in the previous catalog, those endangering either of the groups by ignoring the distance rule while passing can face up to 100 Euros and 1 point for violation.

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Photo by Bagus Pangestu on Pexels.com

Because E-scooters are considered qualified road vehicles, the rules that exist for bike users apply for scooterists, yet the requirement to have a scooter registered is the same as when registering for a car. Furthermore it is not allowed to latch onto the car or ride more than two riders abreast without risking an accident.  And lastly, both cyclists and scooterists will have their own bike zone and “Bike Autobahn” where only they can rule the road and not the car driver.

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Teddy will watch you more than ever. 

Cracking down on speeding will be the centerpiece of the new policies. Fines for going up to 20 km/h over the speed limit have doubled. Instead of 30 Euros for going 66 km/h in a 50 Zone, it’s now 60.  Yet one can face at least a one month driving ban for going more than 20 km/h over the limit, in addition to higher fines and a point on the record. For more than 40 km/h, it’s 2 points and a 2-month ban. Similar guidelines are in place for trucks and vehicles with trailers.  For parking violations, those who disregard the regulations and even the biker will have to dig deeper into their wallets than ever before, for the fines are much higher. Drivers who park on bike lanes and sidewalks can face a fine of 70 Euros and a Flensburg point. For double-parking in a parking lot, it’s at least 80 Euros and a point. Brand new is a parking ban in areas reserved for E-cars, car-sharing, and handicapped parking. Violators there can face a fine of 55 Euros.

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Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

To put the icing on the cake, the catalog also includes tougher penalties for impaired drivers. Already in place is the 500-1000-1500 Euro model for the number of DUI violations, plus 2 points per offense. Those who are caught driving while intoxicated and have a blood alcohol content of more than 1.1 per mil face up to 3 points and one year in prison. If he endangers others, it’s up to five years. There’s also a chance that he could lose his driving license permanently.  For drivers on probation, there’s an absolute zero tolerance for alcohol and drugs while driving. Violators can face a 250 Euro fine, be given a point and have their 2-year probationary period be extended by up to two years. This extension applies for other traffic violations.

The QEII Bridge at Dartford, east of London. It has extremely long approach ramps to get the roadway high enough to cross the River Thames while still leaving sufficient clearance for ships to pass underneath. This is the problem that a transporter bridge aims to solve. Photo by Nico Hogg [CC BY 2.0] via this flickr page

The new Penalty Catalog in Germany builds off of the present guidelines but it serves two purposes: 1. To encourage safety and better behavior of drivers on the highways, protecting themselves and other road users and 2. To encourage alternatives to the car, allowing an opportunity to use environmentally friendlier forms of transportation while paying attention to the road and others. It’s a firm but friendly approach to traveling in Germany, where one will have to think critically before and while taking to the road, for while the car is still a prized German good for the family, we’re seeing more two-wheels that are ruling Germany’s roads. And these are the ones we’re encouraging to use the road as often as we’re commuting by car.

 

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Mickey has two different meanings.  The Mickey (Finn) is an alcoholic drink consisting of alcohol, snuff-soaked water, tobasco sauce and a drug to put a person to sleep. The origin came from a guy named Mickey Finn who was infamous for lacing other people’s drinks using similar ingredients. You can find his biography here.  The other meaning of Mickey is an American slang that means the same as a cop or the official term, police officer. This is used mainly in big cities. The origin comes from the Disney character, Mickey Mouse.

 

Author’s Note: 

To learn more about the new penalty code for behavior on the road, click onto this link below. This will take you to the new catalog which will have all the details of the do’s and don’ts of traveling in Germany:

Link: https://www.bussgeldkatalog.org/  

A summary in English can be found here: https://www.bussgeldkatalog.org/german-driving-laws/

The Files will provide you with an update on the rules of biking in Germany as well as new rules for riding a scooter. Both of which will be in separate articles.

FlFi10

 

Winter Genre: Der große Schnee (The Big Snow)

There are several literary pieces and documentaries that focus on aspects of the Great Storm of 1978/79, and the catastrophic winter that followed, which brought the northern half of West Germany and all of East Germany to a complete standstill. The majority of the pieces have focused on the hardest hit areas of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein- in particular, the areas of Kiel and Flensburg.

Der Große Schnee (in English: The Big Snow), written by Helmuth Sethe of the Husumer Nachrichten (Husum News, part of shz, Inc.) focuses on both the Great Storm that started right before the New Year, plus the winter that followed, which included the winter storm on 13 February- a month and a half later. All of them affecting Schleswig-Holstein, but with a focus on the North Sea coastal area (Dithmarschen and greater Husum), as well as the cities of Flensburg and Kiel and the surrounding areas. It was originally written after the winter storm in February that same year, but has been edited and republished multiple times, with the last edition having been released in 2011.

There are several photos and stories that were in connection with the great winter disaster and were graphic in detail- with reports of people and animals both freezing to death while being snowed in, collapsed roofs because of the thickness of the snow, capsized boats and people treading through icy waters along flooded streets of coastal cities. Yet there were some glaring facts that are worth mentioning about this storm according to the writer. Here are the top five worth mentioning:

  1. Power outages- Many towns and villages were without power because of downed power lines due to ice. But no area was as bad as the districts of Schleswig-Flensburg and Nordfriesland. There, as many as 111 villages were without electricity for days, many of them were cut off from the rest of the world. Many had to make due with cutting up wood and creating fireplaces to keep warm.
  2. Stranded vacationers- Many vacationers were returning from Scandanavia when they were greeted by barricades at the German/Danish borders in Krusau and Ellund. Reason: The storm forced an executive order by the West German and state governments to shut down all traffic (rail and vehicular) on the German side. Traffic jams of more than 10 kilometers on the Danish side, plus stranded drivers seeking shelter were the result.
  3. Field Landing- When the state prime minister Gerhard Stoltenberg was finally informed of the current weather situation in Schleswig-Holstein (he and his family were on vacation at that time), he did not realize how bad it was until his helicopter had to land in a nearby field and he had to go by truck and sleigh to visit the hard hit regions. Reason: The snow had drifted in at the airports and with drifts as high as 6 meters, it was impossible for any aircraft to land even.
  4. The Sleigh as Transportation- With no possibilities with the car, many people had to make do with sleds, sleighs and even skis. It was not a rarity to watch people cross-country ski in the countryside during this time as the snow was thick enough to warrant it. Sleds were not only used for downhill fun, but also for shopping. It was a site to watch people pull their groceries home on an open sled.
  5. Flensburg as Little Venice- The storms produced a series of high tides (up to four meters) which flooded much of the city center and Roter Strasse, as well as everything along the Fjorde. Many people had to use boats to get by. These tides left another mess though- erosion, especially along the areas near Wassersleben near the Bridge of Friendship at the border.

There are many more examples to mention in the book, yet these five came to mind when reading this book myself. There have been countless other winter storms afterwards that crippled the region and brought with it high snow drifts, ice and flooding, including the last big snow storm in Flensburg in early 2018. But none was as glaring and captivating as the one from 40 years ago, especially when reading the accounts written by the editor. The book did bring back some memories of snow storms that I dealt with as a child growing up in Minnesota and a snowstorm of similar proportions happened shortly after this one, which left a big drift of a meter to the door of our house on a lake. Yet for those who lived through this harsh winter in northern Germany of 40 years ago, this book will bring back some memories of how one survived one of the worst of all time. So read it, share your stories, ask others about it. You’ll be amazed at the stories they will share about this event.

You can also watch some of the documentaries that were from the last entry by clicking here.

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From the Attic: Blizzard 1978/79

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December 28th of 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the Blizzard that brought the World to a total standstill. It also marked the start of the Long Winter, whose combination of blizzards and high tides created havoc in both sides of Germany. Both of which have broken records and have remained in the top ten ever since.

On 28th December, 1978, a combination of a low pressure system from the Mediterranean Sea, which brought moisture and mild temperatures, and a high pressure system from Scandinavia, which featured frigid temperatures, collided over the Baltic Sea, unleashing what was considered at that time “The Blizzard of the Century!” Winds of up to 160 kph, combined with snow drifts of up to 7 meters (20 feet) and high tides that were half the height, literally brought everything to a standstill beginning on December 28th, 1978 and ending on January 3rd, 1979. An average of 70 centimeters of snow fell in most of the affected regions while 30 centimeters of thick ice were reported! The entire northern half of West Germany and all of East Germany were affected- from Flensburg and Hamburg to Brunswick and Cologne; Rostock and Neu Brandenburg to Leipzig and Erfurt. All were affected. The island of Rügen was cut off from the rest of the world for days until help arrived. Snow blocked transport of coal from the Lausitz region to the burning plants, thus bringing blackouts in electricity to wide areas in East Germany. And motorways were littered with stranded cars from Frankfurt/Main all the way to the Danish border near Flensburg and beyond.  Hundreds of people lost their lives in that storm.

This blizzard was just the beginning of the winter that crippled everything in Germany, for another round of snow and ice of similar proportions fell later on February 18/19, 1979. The total amount of snow that fell during the entire period was over 100 centimeters, double the amount the region receives per year.

And while the government was late in response to the New Year storms and have since improved on providing emergencies in cases like these (and the numbers have increased over the last 10 years), many documentaries have been produced to describe the events in detail from eyewitness accounts. Three of which have been dug out of the attic for you to have a look, to see how powerful the storm really was. It still ranks as one of the ten worst winter storms on record since 1949.  The first documentary looks at what happened in West Germany. The second is how the storm affected the eastern half. The third one looks at the storm from a photographer’s perspective, as he did a series of aerial photos of the regions of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg after the first storm hit the region. Both West German-states, combined with the coastal areas of Mecklenburg-Pommerania (and especially the islands of Usedom and Rügen) were the hardest hit regions by this New Year’s storm.

So sit back, have some hot cocoa and popcorn ready and be prepared to watch how 1979 entered both Germanys with a lot of ice and snow. Enjoy! 🙂

Documentary 1:

Documentary 2:

Documentary 3:

Documentary 4:

And to point out, the photos presented here were from the Winter storms that pummeled Europe and the US in 2010/11, which was half as bad as what happened here. Nevertheless, especially in the top picture, you can imagine the height and thickness of the snow drifts that left many land regions looking like those under water. Just to point this out. 🙂

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Blizzard Buries Flensburg and northern Germany

 

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The Day After Tomorrow: The Roter Strasse near Nordertor after the Blizzard. Photo taken by Yasin Keremoglu

Over 30 centimeters (One foot) snow brings city and region to a standstill turning it into Little Switzerland

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FLENSBURG- For the children, it was like in Switzerland- a foot of snow that fell within 48 hours and the end result: instead of time in the classroom at school, it was time to build snowmen and go sledding. For the parents, it was a day off from work only to be spent digging out. For the grandparents, it was the reenactment of the Great Blizzard of 1978/79 that crippled the entire region while others were ringing in the New Year at Times Square in New York.

Over a foot (30 centimeters) of snow fell across much of the northern part of Germany on Thursday and Friday, featuring snow drifts as high as 2 meters, as well as blowing snow, high winds and extremely cold temperatures going as far down as -15°C!!! The hardest hit area was in and around Flensburg and the northern parts of the Frisia region, where the blizzard brought every form of life to a complete standstill. Train and bus services were shut down, thousands of people were stranded on the motorway and roads leading into and out of the region. Schools cancelled classes for the rest of the week and businesses closed down during that timespan as well. Basically everyone was snowed in and could not go anywhere unless they had sleds or could brave the cold on snowshoes.

To give you an idea how bad it was, here are a few photos and clips of the situation in Flensburg:

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The storm was in connection with an even larger system that brought over a foot of snow to Scandanavia and Britain, but also in southern European states. It also brought  extremely cold temperatures to large regions in central Europe including Germany, where regions in the Alps and Ore Mountain regions saw temperatures going no higher than -10°C during the day but dipping as far down as -30°C at night. According to the last report by Deutzsche Welle, 48 people had perished during that time as of 28 February.

The good news is this weekend, much of the system will disappear and much milder temperatures will melt most of the snow away. However it will not come without a price, as ice storms are expected for much of Germany, which will make digging out of the snow masses much more difficult. But come next week, spring will be at our doorsteps and families can plan for Easter, as it will come sooner than expected. 🙂

 

fLfI WINTER

Martin Luther and Homosexuality: The Current Trend From the Author’s Perspective

 

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Choice. If there is commodity that is underrated in today’s society, it is the ability to make decisions and live with the consequences. We all make choices in life; some based on personal experience of our past, be it childhood or a life-altering event. Sometimes one has a decision that is so pivotal that it sets the course of one’s rest of his life. No matter what the decision may be, people knowing about it need to respect one’s wish and accept that person for that decision.

In reality, however, choices we make can result in the changing in boundaries, where friends, whom we thought we can turn, to walk away; people considered strangers in the past are our closest friends; and even families are split into fighting fragments, instead of a close-knitted network where one supports and helps the other. In many cases, by making the decisions we are threatened with condemnation by our own network, be it friends, family, clubs, organizations and even the church. Sometimes are ending is violent but not just because of own exclusion, but the fear of our own “tradition” being threatened with a trend that is harmful to the organization’s existence.

Take for instance, homosexuality.  One can interpret the many scientific, social and theoretical causes of the preference of same-sex relationships, yet the bottom line is the fact that it is an act that is considered immoral to tradition yet moral to those who practice it because the choice is personal. Looking back at the time of Martin Luther, the reformist was also against homosexuality as it was considered a sodomy, sinful and the works of the devil. According to historian Ewald Plass in his book on Luther’s anthology, Luther stated:

“The vice of the Sodomites is an unparalleled enormity. It departs from the natural passion and desire, planted into nature by God, according to which the male has a passionate desire for the female. Sodomy craves what is entirely contrary to nature. Whence comes this perversion? Without a doubt it comes from the devil. After a man has once turned aside from the fear of God, the devil puts such great pressure upon his nature that he extinguishes the fire of natural desire and stirs up another, which is contrary to nature.”

But looking at the situation during that time, homosexuality and any types of sexual behavior considered unnatural and against the church were considered a sin, and those committing them were either imprisoned or put to death. Intolerance in Europe was very high during that time, and people placed homosexuality on par with other acts that were considered sinful, be it indulgence, taxing for the church, exclusion of portions of society in favor of a exclusive society, etc. Branches of the Lutheran church later adopted policies that banned homosexuality in the church, many of which go strictly along the works of the Bible itself. In fact, the book of Corinthians is one of the key sources which states that sexual sins are an act against God, with examples of such include:

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord and the Lord for the body-

1 Corinthians 6:13

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion-

1 Corinthians 7:8,9

Also the book of Hebrews has statements supporting the relationship between man and woman:

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.- Hebrews 13:4

 

Even today, many branches of the Lutheran Church, such as the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods in the US, as well as the Evangelical Free Church and the Silesian Evangelical Church in many parts of Europe still have bans on homosexual behaviors and even have counseling and therapy to “repurify” those with these tendencies.  Yet other branches, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Evangelical Church of Germany as well as other Lutheran organizations have started accepting homosexuality as the norm, while some have even allowed same-sex marriages. Several major steps in the right direction for those wishing to practice it, but at the same time, several major steps in the direction of fire, for conflicts between that and the teachings of Jesus Christ have come to a head. With President Trump’s latest decree where the elimination of the separation of church and state has led to the revolving door policy between the church, political and educational institutions, where those with strict policies banning people with different religious, cultural and sexual backgrounds may create a backlash in the strive for acceptance of people who are different. Ironically, the tables have turned over the course of 500 years, where Europe has become more tolerant and America less.

 

But what would Martin Luther would say to the current trend today?

There are two ways of looking at it: One would be his intolerance for unmarried people and especially same-sex couples. Records of his intolerances of Jews and other minorities are well documented and when looking at his statement, comparing it to today’s situation, he would side with the fundamental evangelicals who would condemn the trend as an act of sodomy. Yet it is doubtful he would be able to do anything to advocate the return to purity, and therefore, he would have to ally with politicians who share his ideas. This would put him in line with Trump and members of the right-winged populists in Europe, looking up to Frauke Petry from the party Alternative for Deutschland as a holy example of how a pure Christian society would work.

Then there is the side of the tolerance and accepting people of different backgrounds. Martin Luther championed the right to free choice for people to learn the works of the Lord and provided access to the church for the majority that had been left outside, which included the translation of the Bible to German during his time in Wartburg. When we look at Christianity today, we see many people of different colors, social and cultural backgrounds and speaking different languages, one can imagine Luther at least reluctantly accepting same-sex religions in the church as long as they don’t influence others in the process. On a train trip to Landshut recently, I had a long talk with a woman who originated from India but is working for the diocese in Regensburg. Having worked in Germany for over 20 years, she felt accepted by the Catholic Church and was well liked because of her work she does there. There is a sense of normalcy for people of different backgrounds to join the church or any organization that Luther would stare down attempts to roll back the traditions, accusing fundamentals of glorifying Jesus when they too have done harm in violating the Commandments. This would be comparable to his condemnation of the Church during his time for building “beautiful” churches at the expense of the poor and selling indulgences.

And what for? Making a choice that suits the person and his/her preference?

Taking a look at the problem of homophobia and ways to fight it, one of the most impressive I have seen are attempts to address this in many creative ways, be it with the traffic lights in Vienna, Hamburg and most recently, in Flensburg, Christopher Street Day celebrations,  and even presenting the topic of homosexuality in films, such as Brokeback Mountain. However, all of them convey the main meaning that has been addressed here, which is choice. Nothing in the Bible or other religious works explicitly states that homosexuality is a sin, just the impurities which are debatable. There are no written laws that ban homosexuality. And people who are gay or lesbian are just as human as heterosexuals, like yours truly. Yet people who choose this way do it because they wish to be themselves, wholly and unconditionally. Yet people who fear this trend are afraid that the structure of the Lutheran Church is crumbling, which in all reality is not. It’s just transforming itself to fit today’s standards. If evangelicals were to say that is the work of God to condemn these people, my comment to them would be this:

 

In light of Newt Gingrich’s wife becoming the US ambassador to the Vatican City (and even Martin Luther would agree had he been alive today), we don’t know what Jesus’ sexual preferences were or what kind of hair Mary Magdalena had (when he “courted” her), but he definitely did not have a preference for blonds. 😉

 

To sum up: We make a choice which is supported by ourselves and God. That is the easy part. Accepting it is another story. And if there is a silver lining behind all this, we have started accepting the choices of others as long as the choice is not imposed onto us or others. But still, we have a long ways to go before we have a society we all can live with- in peaceful co-existence.

 

Author’s Note: Check out the Files’ Genre of the Week, looking at Sojourns and Sayings that Martin Luther mentioned during his lifetime. Click here for details.

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Martin Luther and Homosexuality: The Current Trend from the Author’s Perspective

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Choice. If there is commodity that is underrated in today’s society, it is the ability to make decisions and live with the consequences. We all make choices in life; some based on personal experience of our past, be it childhood or a life-altering event. Sometimes one has a decision that is so pivotal that it sets the course of one’s rest of his life. No matter what the decision may be, people knowing about it need to respect one’s wish and accept that person for that decision.

 

In reality, however, choices we make can result in the changing in boundaries, where friends, whom we thought we can turn, to walk away; people considered strangers in the past are our closest friends; and even families are split into fighting fragments, instead of a close-knitted network where one supports and helps the other. In many cases, by making the decisions we are threatened with condemnation by our own network, be it friends, family, clubs, organizations and even the church. Sometimes are ending is violent but not just because of own exclusion, but the fear of our own “tradition” being threatened with a trend that is harmful to the organization’s existence.

 

Take for instance, homosexuality.  One can interpret the many scientific, social and theoretical causes of the preference of same-sex relationships, yet the bottom line is the fact that it is an act that is considered immoral to tradition yet moral to those who practice it because the choice is personal. Looking back at the time of Martin Luther, the reformist was also against homosexuality as it was considered a sodomy, sinful and the works of the devil. According to historian Ewald Plass in his book on Luther’s anthology, Luther stated:

“The vice of the Sodomites is an unparalleled enormity. It departs from the natural passion and desire, planted into nature by God, according to which the male has a passionate desire for the female. Sodomy craves what is entirely contrary to nature. Whence comes this perversion? Without a doubt it comes from the devil. After a man has once turned aside from the fear of God, the devil puts such great pressure upon his nature that he extinguishes the fire of natural desire and stirs up another, which is contrary to nature.”

 

But looking at the situation during that time, homosexuality and any types of sexual behavior considered unnatural and against the church were considered a sin, and those committing them were either imprisoned or put to death. Intolerance in Europe was very high during that time, and people placed homosexuality on par with other acts that were considered sinful, be it indulgence, taxing for the church, exclusion of portions of society in favor of a exclusive society, etc. Branches of the Lutheran church later adopted policies that banned homosexuality in the church, many of which go strictly along the works of the Bible itself. In fact, the book of Corinthians is one of the key sources which states that sexual sins are an act against God, with examples of such include:

 

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord and the Lord for the body-

1 Corinthians 6:13

 

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion-

1 Corinthians 7:8,9

 

Also the book of Hebrews has statements supporting the relationship between man and woman:

 

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.- Hebrews 13:4

 

Even today, many branches of the Lutheran Church, such as the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods in the US, as well as the Evangelical Free Church and the Silesian Evangelical Church in many parts of Europe still have bans on homosexual behaviors and even have counseling and therapy to “repurify” those with these tendencies.  Yet other branches, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Evangelical Church of Germany as well as other Lutheran organizations have started accepting homosexuality as the norm, while some have even allowed same-sex marriages. Several major steps in the right direction for those wishing to practice it, but at the same time, several major steps in the direction of fire, for conflicts between that and the teachings of Jesus Christ have come to a head. With President Trump’s latest decree where the elimination of the separation of church and state has led to the revolving door policy between the church, political and educational institutions, where those with strict policies banning people with different religious, cultural and sexual backgrounds may create a backlash in the strive for acceptance of people who are different. Ironically, the tables have turned over the course of 500 years, where Europe has become more tolerant and America less.

 

But what would Martin Luther would say to the current trend today?

 

There are two ways of looking at it: One would be his intolerance for unmarried people and especially same-sex couples. Records of his intolerances of Jews and other minorities are well documented and when looking at his statement, comparing it to today’s situation, he would side with the fundamental evangelicals who would condemn the trend as an act of sodomy. Yet it is doubtful he would be able to do anything to advocate the return to purity, and therefore, he would have to ally with politicians who share his ideas. This would put him in line with Trump and members of the right-winged populists in Europe, looking up to Frauke Petry from the party Alternative for Deutschland as a holy example of how a pure Christian society would work.

 

Then there is the side of the tolerance and accepting people of different backgrounds. Martin Luther championed the right to free choice for people to learn the works of the Lord and provided access to the church for the majority that had been left outside, which included the translation of the Bible to German during his time in Wartburg. When we look at Christianity today, we see many people of different colors, social and cultural backgrounds and speaking different languages, one can imagine Luther at least reluctantly accepting same-sex religions in the church as long as they don’t influence others in the process. On a train trip to Landshut recently, I had a long talk with a woman who originated from India but is working for the diocese in Regensburg. Having worked in Germany for over 20 years, she felt accepted by the Catholic Church and was well liked because of her work she does there. There is a sense of normalcy for people of different backgrounds to join the church or any organization that Luther would stare down attempts to roll back the traditions, accusing fundamentals of glorifying Jesus when they too have done harm in violating the Commandments. This would be comparable to his condemnation of the Church during his time for building “beautiful” churches at the expense of the poor and selling indulgences.

 

And what for? Making a choice that suits the person and his/her preference?

 

Taking a look at the problem of homophobia and ways to fight it, one of the most impressive I have seen are attempts to address this in many creative ways, be it with the traffic lights in Vienna, Hamburg and most recently, in Flensburg, Christopher Street Day celebrations,  and even presenting the topic of homosexuality in films, such as Brokeback Mountain. However, all of them convey the main meaning that has been addressed here, which is choice. Nothing in the Bible or other religious works explicitly states that homosexuality is a sin, just the impurities which are debatable. There are no written laws that ban homosexuality. And people who are gay or lesbian are just as human as heterosexuals, like yours truly. Yet people who choose this way do it because they wish to be themselves, wholly and unconditionally. Yet people who fear this trend are afraid that the structure of the Lutheran Church is crumbling, which in all reality is not. It’s just transforming itself to fit today’s standards. If evangelicals were to say that is the work of God to condemn these people, my comment to them would be this:

 

In light of Newt Gingrich’s wife becoming the US ambassador to the Vatican City (and even Martin Luther would agree had he been alive today), we don’t know what Jesus’ sexual preferences were or what kind of hair Mary Magdalena had (when he “courted” her), but he definitely did not have a preference for blonds. 😉

 

To sum up: We make a choice which is supported by ourselves and God. That is the easy part. Accepting it is another story. And if there is a silver lining behind all this, we have started accepting the choices of others as long as the choice is not imposed onto us or others. But still, we have a long ways to go before we have a society we all can live with- in peaceful co-existence.

 

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