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: Vadder, Kutter, Sohn: A Family Comedy and Drama About Reunion and Restarting Life Locally

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

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

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

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

Link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about you? What do you miss?

 

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

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Merkel Hangs On But Trouble On Horizon

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Christian Democratic Party still holds the cards despite record losses. Free Democrats (FDP) back in the Bundestag, the Right-winged Alternative for Germany (AfD) enters national politics as the third strongest party. 

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BERLIN- The German Federal Elections of 2017 will go down as one of the most controversial elections in modern history. While we have seen government coalitions being taken down because of the vote of no-confidence- the last one being in 2005- there has not been a time where the election campaign has been hotly contested, sometimes even corrupt as this one.  Before looking at the reasons behind this argument, it is best to look at the results.

Summary:

Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU remains the most powerful of the political parties in Germany, having garnered 32.9% of the votes, according to the polls. Unfortunately, that is a loss of 8.6% from the results in the 2013 Elections. Its coalition partner, the Social Democrats, barely finished second with 20%; with the loss of 5.1% of the votes, they set a new low for the number of votes. The director of the party, Martin Schulz, declared at the close of the polls that his party would no longer work together with Merkel’s party, thus forcing the chancellor to look for new partners to rule the country. A very difficult task given the fact that third place finisher, the AfD, finished with 13% of the votes. The party’s candidate, Alexander Gauland, vows to chase Merkel’s government and her policies, especially with regards to refugees and the environment. Gauland is one of many in the party who wishes to bring back policies once carried out by Adolf Hitler during his time in power, minus the holocaust. While Merkel will definitely discard the AfD and has vowed to win back the voters who have left her party for the far right during her next four years in office, she has the possibility of forming a coalition with the Greens (who won 8.9%), FDP (who returned to German parliament after a four-year absence with 10.6% of the vote) and the left-wing party Die Linke (which got 9%).  Most likely will Merkel form a Jamaika Coalition with the Greens and the FDP but according to information from German public channel ARD, all three parties would have to work together to create a joint mandate on several points. Given their hard stance on several issues, this will be rather difficult to achieve. But in order for the coalition to be realized, some compromises and sacrifices may be needed in order for the coalition to work for the next four years. Merkel will most likely face not only one but two sets of opposition. Apart from the AfD preparing to attack her policies at every possible convenience, she will have the far left in the Linke and SPD to contend with, especially with Martin Schulz, who tried to play down her policies during his campaign, but to no avail.

Critique Points:

So what exactly went wrong with the 2017 Campaign? Everything possible, but it would be difficult to point everything out without having to type until seven in the morning, so I will focus on one aspect and that is how the campaign was run.

Firstly, the campaign was very Americanized. Instead of including the parties in the debates, especially on television, it was merely a divorce battle between two coalition partners, the SPD and the CDU. Nothing from the Greens, FDP, Left, AfD and others that were running. Surely with the other parties taking part in the debates, we would have a better idea on the stances of each one plus their plan on how to tackle the problems facing Germany.

Secondly, there was only one TV debate with, as mentioned in the last point, just the two coalition parties. Normally in a multi-party elections, there would be more than one TV debate- better three: two with the main four parties and one with the remaining parties, pending on their performance in the Bundestag. Even in the past, there were at least two TV debates. And with that TV debate between Merkel and Schulz, it turned out to be the German version of the Hillary vs. Trump debate: 100% mudslinging and not getting to the point with the debate at hand. No wonder why Martin Schulz wanted a second TV debate as there were several themes not discussed during the first debate. A big plus for him.

Thirdly, the focus was for the most part on the refugee crisis and what went wrong. Merkel has been sandwiched between Schulz’s accusation of her not doing enough for them and the accusation of the AfD and even the sister party the Christian Socialists (CSU) in Bavaria for not enforcing restrictions on the number of refugees entering the country. There was almost no space for themes that are bigger than that, such as climate change, trade agreements with North America, the EU, the widening gap between rich and poor, etc.  While Merkel and Schulz were wrestling it out politically, the AfD fed off the lack of selection and frustration of the voters who eventually went for them to begin with.

Fourthly, there should have been a TV debate with the AfD, period. Following the Beutelsbach Consensus for Political Discussion in the Classroom (enacted in 1977), having Gauder, Höcke or even Petry as a spokesperson in the debate against Merkel, Schulz and other candidates would produce discussions for all to watch with the purpose of bringing out whatever they have for plans should they be elected. As chaotic as the party has been due to political struggles and controversial remarks from members of the party, this party could be a one-term party unless they have a clear platform that will win over voters, which the only platform they have up until now is to throw out the immigrants in favor of the uneducated- something that was seen 84 years ago.

Fifthly, the last argument has resonances from America’s elections last year: The election was based too much on fame and picking apart the candidates and not on the themes concerning the German and European population. We have Merkel whom many think she’s too old and naive. We have the Schulz effect which is like buying Levi’s jeans just because it is a brand. We have Petry who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We have Göring-Eckhardt, who is the brains but not the support. OK, to be blunt, we have several flavors of Dithmarscher Beer but they all taste the same! And that is what we see with our candidates, period!

What Happens Next?

It is clear that Merkel will start her fourth term and is on course to outgovern Helmut Kohl before the next elections in September 2021. It is also clear that Schulz’s declaration of the divorce from the CDU and going on the opposition is final and that Merkel has just the Greens and FDP to form a coalition. The question will be how she will manage two different oppositional groups: the AfD, who will do everything possible with its 13 representatives in parliament to make her life very difficult, and the SPD and Linke, who will use all measures possible to fight the AfD and keep Merkel in check. For the first time since 1945, we have a right-wing party in power with a potential to repeat history, but this legislative period will feature three factions fighting it out in the German parliament: the far-right, the far-left and the traditional center. This will make things very difficult for Merkel’s coalition to pass any policies agreed on that would satisfy the population.  It is certain that Merkel cannot afford to ignore the AfD and has already declared to win back voter who had left her party to join the far-right. But in order to do that, Merkel will not only have to change her mandate and appease the voters, but she will have to face the AfD directly, consistently, at every possible convenience and especially, proactively.  She will not be able to be passive to the party as she did during the elections and even before that.  She will need to present themes that are complicated for the AfD to comprehend, let alone far-left. And she will need to use all legal measures possible to ensure that there is order in Berlin. She doesn’t need to be Margaret Thatcher, but in order to succeed in the next four years, she will need to go away from her passive approach and go on the proactive to ensure that her policies get through and her oppositions are in check. Only then will she be certain to break Kohl’s record and keep her party the CDU’s reputation as the party that shaped Germany. All other approaches would have fatal consequences for Germany, Europe and Democracy, in general.

For more on the election results, please check out ARD online, which will show you the results and the predictions of what will happen in the coming months. Link:

http://www.ard.de/home/ard/ARD_Startseite/21920/index.html

 

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Wir Schaffen Das: How the Christian Democrats Have Made German History

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A couple years ago, I had a political discussion with another expatriate residing in Germany about Angela Merkel’s willingness to open the gates of Germany to refugees fleeing the regions of Syria, Iraq and North Africa- areas that were decimated by war- just so they can start a new life in a different place, where they can be peaceful and not have to worry about war. A couple days ago, after having posted my preview of the German elections, where Angela Merkel is making a quest to run for her fourth term (and break Helmut Kohl’s record in the process), that same person asked me if her policies of allowing refugees into Germany have done the country good or not, especially with the social and cultural problems that they may have, which were his reasons for opposing opening the gates. We all remember her comments in an interview with Anne Will that has carried a lot of weight around Berlin:

and this in addition to her persuasion of her counterparts to not be afraid of the refugees but to help them…..

But in order to answer that person’s questions, I’m going to take the Taylor Mali approach and give it to him with a little history- not about her or the refugees, but about her party, the Christian Democrats and their slogan “Wir schaffen es!”

Since the creation of the Bundesrepublik in 1949, the CDU has had a chancellor ruling Germany for 48 of the 68 years of its existence. Of which, if we count Merkel in the mix, three different politicians have ruled the country for 42 of the 48 years!  Before Merkel, the previous CDU chancellors had been the late Helmut Kohl, who ruled from 1982 until his defeat in the hands of Gerhardt Schroeder in 1998. The first chancellor of Germany, Konrad Adenauer, ruled what was then West Germany from 1949 until his resignation in 1963. He died four years later at the age of 91, having won the Award for eldest statesman to ever govern a country.  The secret to the successes of the CDU under these three people had been until now made their promises of “Wir schaffen das!” (translated bluntly as We Can Do This) realized through calculated risk-taking, realizing the consequences of these actions and providing a buffer zone between external factors on one hand and Berlin and the rest of the country on the other. It is like the game of chess- the situation is presented on the chessboard, and it is up to the politicians to take the risk that will produce the maximum result to their favor, while figuring in the possible consequences that could happen. Of course any foolhardy move could be fatal, as we are seeing with many far-right politicians in eastern Europe, Turkey, North Korea, the UK and even the US. But each chancellor has had their longest chess game during their time in office; each of which has its own theme. Let’s have a look at each legend’s ability of making it work and bringing Germany to fame.

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Konrad Adenauer (1949-1963) Photo courtesy of the German Archives (Bundesarchiv)

“Wir schaffen das allein!”

When Adenauer took office on 15 September 1949, Germany was still in recovery mode after having been in shambles because of World War II and was all alone with the European countries and the US all hesitant in building any relations with the country. Furthermore, Germany was already split between the democratic western half that had been occupied by the Americans, British and French and the eastern half that was controlled by the Soviets. While Germany was considered a chessboard between communism and democracy, Adenauer began to redevelop the country economically, thus making it the economic miracle and later the powerhouse of western Europe with one of the lowest unemployment rates in history (averaging around 2%). The population got jobs and could spend money on new items, including the TV and modern furniture. His policies were based on liberalism and thus showed Germany’s willingness to ally with the US, Britain and other western countries, thus making the country’s integration into the United Nations, NATO and the European Economic Community easier to achieve. His mentality of “Wir schaffen das allein” (we will do it alone) had to do with the fact that Germany’s metamorphisis from a state in shambles to an economic miracle with a modernized socio-economic infrastructure and westernized institutions with policies that are based on conservatism and no experimenting with anything that is new and foreign. Even the elections of 1957, which he won his third term in office, his campaign slogan of “No Experiments!” won overwhelming support because of three factors that led Adenauer to win the hearts and minds of the German population: 1. The reestablishment of relations with neighboring France which used to be the country’s archenemy. With that came the reintegration of the Saarland and the recognition of minorities on both sides of the border. 2. Despite having zero interest in reuniting with East Germany or even having contact with the communist regimes, Adenauer made  agreements with the Soviets to release as many as 10,000 Germans who were prisoners of war, so that they could return home.  That combined with encouraging immigration from parts of the Middle East and Asia to fill in the gaps left behind by the fallen soldiers contributed to Germany’s success as a country as a norm. And thirdly, the people followed Adenauer’s policies because they enabled them to restart their lives again and not allow for external influences and military conflicts to rule and ruin their lives again. If it meant integrating people from outside willing to work in the country- making them open-minded- make it so.  Adenauer’s idea was in order to make the country a powerhouse again, it must work to restore its identity while mending ties with and reassuring other countries that it is different than the Germany under Hitler: It was not power-greedy but a democratic country willing to cooperate for similar causes. Anything that is fattening or potentially risky- anything that does not match Adenauer’s vision of Germany- was simply left behind. This was the reason why Adenauer went with his slogan West Germany first, then we’ll talk about the East. His hard-line policies against Communism combined with his willingness to grow together with other countries made him the most influential politician of modern German history.

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Helmut Kohl (1982- 1998)           Archiv für Christlich-Demokratische Politik (ACDP)

“Wir Schaffen das Miteinander:”

If there was one description that would best fit Helmut Kohl, the chancellor who came into power after the fall of Helmut Schmidt in 1982, it would be that he was the Face of Europe, not just a Unified Germany but simply a Unified Europe. While Kohl was perceived as folksy in terms of his appearance and manner, his ability to be eye-to-eye and down-to-earth with many of his international constituents made him more of an international celebrity than that of his German counterparts in Bonn, which was the federal capital during his 16 years in office. It also helped him in terms of working together with his international colleagues for two of the most important goals on his agenda: To end the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and to reunify West Germany with its eastern counterpart.  While the former was beginning to unfold from within, thanks to the revolutions in the east that toppled the Communist leaders and quickened with the Fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November, 1989, the latter Kohl proceeded to do through cooperation with Soviet leader Mikail Gorbachev, US President George Bush Sr., British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand. Despite the hesitation that was expressed by Mitterand and the rejection that was made clearly by Margaret Thatcher, Kohl’s actions in reuniting Germany within a year between the Fall of the Wall and the date of 3 October, 1990 (which we still celebrate this date today) received full support and cooperation from Gorbachev and Bush Sr. for several reasons:

  1. Kohl acknowledged that he had no intention of expanding his country to include the Suedetenland in western Czech Repubic and areas in Poland that  had once belonged to Germany before 1945. This Oder-Neisse Agreement confirmed the eastern border and resulted in good relations with the two eastern neighbors.
  2. Kohl agreed that Germany would be a full participant in NATO and the European Economic Community (later the European Union) just like it was when it was West Germany. Furthermore, it would maintain strong economic and political ties with ist allies and be ready to play a larger role on the international stage.
  3. Kohl provided start-up funding and financial support for the former eastern states. With much of the industries in ruins, Kohl presented a program to encourage business development, modernization of the infrastructure, educational support and further education training for the unemployed and reform the retirement system- all with the purpose of bring it up to the level of the western half.  This process has been long and painful, but it has been working to the advantage of People in the East; especially the younger generations born right before the Fall of the Wall.
  4. With a reunified Germany, Gorbachev and Bush Sr. agreed that having a Cold War no longer made sense. Gorbachev wanted the eastern countries to go their own way, and Bush provided those who were trapped behind the Iron Curtain with an opportunity to have a better life without the political connections and influence from the state security police. All they needed was someone in Germany with the same point of view and they found that in Kohl.

The German Reunification and the concessions needed to make that a reality came with criticism from within the German Population and his own Party, the CDU, claiming that the process went too fast and that many displaced Germans from the east were unable to reclaim their regions back. Furthermore, the recession of  1995 as a result of the cost for Reunification resulted in the rise of unemployment. Yet when looking back at this, Kohl looked for the people who were willing to go through with the plan of reunification, taking all the risks that are involved and cementing the Germany that we know today. With that in mind, the idea of “Wir Das Miteinander ,” became “Wir Schaffen Das Zusammen” over time, for whatever the crises, Germany was able to pull through with the support of its people, the CDU and its allies from outside.

Helmut Kohl was given a European send-off at the time of his death on 16th June, 2017 at the age of 87. The procession, which was on 1 July, took place in Strausborg and Speyer, where he was interred.

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Angela Merkel (2005-present)  Photo by Armin Linnartz

“Wir Schaffen Das:”

It is very difficult to describe this theme with Angela Merkel without having to overlap on her counterpart’s slogan, but perhaps it doesn’t need a preposition to describe how she has overcomed her challenges as Chancellor and key player in the CDU. Merkel was presented with three challenges that reshaped her party, Germany and the population during her 12 years in Office. First was keeping Europe together and the Americans happy, something that for Germany as a central power in the EU it could be done by pulling on the leash of the members- in writing. Yet in the praxis, especially in the past 3-4 years, some member countries have tried to go their own way, especially in terms of the refugee policy and the deficits of some countries. The next was satisfying the Americans and finding common ground to carry out the policies that affect both countries and the rest of the world. This depended solely on who was in the Oval Office, and while she has isolated Donald Trump because of his erratic behavior (just like the other countries who have followed suit), her relations with George Bush Jr. was lukewarm at best but with Barack Obama, it was a dream team. 🙂 From an American expatriate’s point of view, Merkel achieved a lot with the right people in Washington, which has been received as a blessing, especially when it comes to the environment and the conflicts out in the Middle East, which has been ongoing for seven years now.  And while we are on the theme with environment, there is the refugee crisis and her handling of it, which makes it the third and most important point. The logic behind her policy of “Wir schaffen das” was quite simple: regions in the north and east needed workers and experienced professions because of the younger people moving to cities in the western and southern parts. The population balance in Germany has been very unequal since 1990 with the population in the north and east getting older, despite attempts to modernize the region. With this decline came the brain drain and the best way to end it is to fill in the gap with people wishing to live and work in Germany, even if it was for a limited time until they were able to return home. Learning from Adenauer’s success in bringing in immigrants and integrating them and Kohl’s success in restructuring the eastern half of the country, Merkel sent them to the regions where work was waiting for them, along with a better life. This has been met with partial success mainly because of the lack of forthcoming to accept them among residents in regions who are older, inflexible and lack the basic knowledge needed to get to know and even help them. This is one of the reasons for the creation of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), one of the main challengers that Merkel has faced and will be dealing with for years to come. However, if asked for why immigration has been successful in Germany, I can look at personal success stories of families who have taken German classes to get by, young people getting training at companies to learn a profession and even refugee children getting along with school children. Granted one doesn’t need to be best friends, but by having a peaceful co-existence and helping out when needed is something that Merkel had in mind, which has been a success if one subtracts the likes of the far-right.

Summary:

Taking a look at the three politicians in summary, one can see how Germany has been shaped. It is a country whose population has been taught to be calculated risk-takers, while at the same time, be open to not only people from different cultures and backgrounds, but also to the changes that are taking shape and affecting the Bundesrepublik. The idea of “Wir Schaffen Das,” regardless of form and circumstances has something to do with the will to try something new but doing it with insurance. That means the risks will be taken under one’s own conditions and with the assurance of a Plan B if all else fails. Many of the policies carried out by the CDU had been tried and true, learning from the successes of the forefathers and implementing them adaptedly to the situation. Germany has learned to adapt to the situation by looking at the options carefully, calculating the risks and benefits and carrying it out with some insurance protection.  Adenauer knew the risks of forming relations with other countries and rebuilding Germany and ensured that Germany wanted to be part of the international theater, by accepting the conditions imposed, bringing home the prisoners of war and encouraging immigration to repopulate the country.  Kohl knew the risks of German reunification and came up with a comprehensive plan to satisfy its neighbors and the population, especially in the East.  Merkel knew the risks of integrating the refugees and the opposition from both within the EU and its own country. Still she found ways for immigration to work in a convincing way.  Whenever there were the risks, they were calculated and carried out in an attempt to create a balance that satisfies everyone.

And this has made it difficult for candidates, like Martin Schulz (SPD), Christian Lindner (FDP), Frauke Petry (AfD) and others to overcome the German Iron Lady and the rock which has become the CDU.

Thanks to this notion of “Wir Schaffen Das,” Germany has become what it is- a nation that loves calculated risks, just as much as the people who live there- which includes the refugees, expats and other immigrants. There is still a lot of challenges ahead, but should Merkel win term number 4, it will most likely be due to the success of her in general, her party, and the forefathers who helped shape Germany to what it is today. If Merkel breaks Kohl’s record for longetivity as chancellor, then her theme will most likely be “Wir haben das geschafft.”

Better have that sherry and champaign ready for  Merkel’s fifth term on 26 September, 2021. 😉

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Interesting Facts about Germany: Teddy on the Road- the History of the Gatso

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While travelling along the highway visiting some friends in Leipzig a while back, I had a chance to listen to the German news and the traffic report, where they report accidents, speeding and even broken-down vehicles when I was taken aback from a phone call made to a radio station that, like Leipzig, is located in the same German state of Saxony. With my passenger next to me we were snickering when we heard a typical Saxon living near the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) calling in by saying the following:

“Auf der B 175 in Glauchau gibt es einen Teddy auf der Fahrbahn zwischen Jerisau und Gesau.”  (EN: On Highway 175, there is a Teddy on the road between Jerisau and Gesau in the City of Glauchau)

A Teddy? My first reaction to my passenger, who is also from the region but nearer to Stollberg was one for the ages: “A Teddy as in Teddy Bear?”

A burst of laughter followed. 🙂

Looking at the pictures very carefully, can you envision a Teddy on the highway? Regardless of size?

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It was at that time that I realized the importance of learning a foreign language because you can pick up a lot of local words that you will almost never find in a dictionary. This especially applies to Germany, for there are several regions speaking different dialects and using different words. In this case, it was Saxon German (Sächsisch Deutsch) and even more so, Erzgebirgisch.

My colleague, after a couple minutes of a good laugh, later explained that a Teddy was in reference to the Blitzer. The Blitzer, translated into English, means a simple photo radar gun/device or traffic control camera. In British, it is nicknamed the Gatso.  Can you imagine Gatso the Teddy using a radar gun to catch speeders, as this is the purpose?

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Even with the advancement of technology, where cameras are becoming smaller and easier to use, combining it with the fact that the bear is “mounted” to an electrical circuit box and the eyes are a but too small for the camera lens, this is a tall order to see such a furry creature take pictures of cars, their plates and the drivers.

However, this device can do the trick! 🙂

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For over 60 years, the German Gatso has been responsible for controlling the way people speed on streets and major highways. According to Article 3 of the German Traffic Control Laws (Strassenverkehrsordnung), the responsibility for these devices falls to the law enforcement authorities on the state and federal levels. All it takes is a yellow flash when driving too fast and a ticket from the local police with the license plate and a facial reaction which helps police identify and fine the speeder, while at the same time, make the speeder feel exceptionally embarassed by looking at not only the facial reaction at the time of the incident, but also the amount of money owed for it.

In some cases, you receive a Flensburg point for the incident (see the story behind it here.)  The first Blitzer was introduced in Essen in 1956 and since then, one can find one for every 30 kilometers on average in the country; one for every kilometer on average in the city.  One can find them everywhere: on sidewalks, hidden in trees and railings, as bins on the street or at bus stops, and sometimes as living beings as seen below:

Laser guns and squad car cameras were later introduced with Düsseldorf being the first city to use them in addition to the Blitzer in 1959. Since the 1990s, both the eastern and western halves of Germany have reported such Blitzers on the highways by having radio teams track them down and report them on air. However, other drivers exercise the right to call in if they see one. The purpose there is to inform the driver where they can take their picture- and pay a hefty price for it.

Anybody wanting to try this better have a good explanation for the judge……   😉

Traffic cameras have been used in the US and UK, but it is rarer in the former. Arguments against the use of the Gatso are the question of effectiveness in detecting the speeders- especially when radar jammers are used by speeders while those going only 2-3 miles per hour are caught. This is where the accuracy question comes in. Furthermore, debates over liability for the use of the equipment for traffic combined with the unwillingness of speeders to pay due to protest has made the Gatso very unpopular. In fact, cities that have introduced these cameras were forced to take them down after a couple years due to claims of them collecting revenue instead of providing safety for the roads. To sum up, there are no laws that enforce the use of Gatsos unless on the local levels, but these are feeble- opposite of the laws in the Bundesrepublik.

Blitzers have been used not only on German Autobahns, but also in areas of communities, where speeding and even car accidents have been reported by law enforcement authorities. They are also useful for construction areas where traffic is heavy. Blitzermarathons are also popular, for on weekends and holidays, these cameras are used extensively by the police to control the speeding on the streets, and with lots of success. Aside from vehicle inspections and pulling over traffic violators, Gatsos have generated as much revenue and reputation as law enforcement itself- to protect the drivers and encourage proper driving habits, but also to protect others on the highway affected by the driver.

And so keeping this in mind, I would like to offer this advice to all drivers in Germany and other neighboring European countries: when you hear about a Teddy, Blitzer, Gatso or camera on the highway you’re travelling, or see one in the vicinity, check your odometer, lead up from the pedal, and respect the grey bear! After all, unlike real bears, like grizzlies, blacks and polars, they can save your life. Plus they make for a great (but cheap) photo opportunity with a professional photographer- but not from the guy in the blue and white suit with a police squad car or the people from Flensburg. 😉

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Have you hugged your Teddy, lately? 😉

 

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Gatso is short for the Gastometer BV, a device that was invented by Dutch racecar driver Maurice Gasonides in 1958 but for the purpose of monitoring his speeding, not for controlling it. The first devices were introduced in the Netherlands and  British Commonwealth in the 1960s where film was used. It was later advanced to use ultra-red lighting in the 1980s. It went digital in the 1990s where data from the photos can be taken through the contral computing system at the police precinct and printed out for use. More information can be found here

 

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To the Americans who are frustrated with Donald Trump

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Dear Fellow Americans,

We understand that half of you voted for Donald Trump because you wanted change in Washington.

We understand that half of you voted for Donald Trump because you never wanted to see Hillary Clinton as President because of her own set of scandals.

We understand that half of you voted for Donald Trump even though your original wish was to vote for Bernie Sanders.

And lastly, we understand that you voted for Donald Trump because of his slogan of making American great again.

Going past the halfway point, our question to you is how do you feel?

Do you think that Donald Trump has exceeded your expectations?

Do you think that Donald Trump is unifying the country?

Do you think that Donald Trump is creating more jobs than you wanted?

Do you think that Donald Trump is the man to run the country?

 

Now be honest…………………..

 

These are rather simple questions, but they are questions that should get you to think about it for awhile. And maybe when all the answers come up with “No he hasn’t,” you can maybe do something about it.

Let us explain what the role of the President of the United States really is, so that you understand. The role of the President is:

To unify the country, regardless of ethnic, religious and social background

To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and condemn any group that tries to undermine this important document that has served this country for 230 years

To react swiftly to situations that harm the country’s population, regardless of background

To encourage people to move and live in the country, regardless of where they came from, and contribute to making America greater

To be sensitive to the feelings of the people and the issues affecting the country, including climate change and other environmental issues

To make sensible decisions that benefit everyone and not the select few, which includes issues involving health care, environment, economic growth and especially education

To foster growth for the country in not only the four aforementioned points but others as well

And lastly,

To ensure that equality is protected among the population, given to all and protected for all who live in the country.

 

The incident that occurred in Charlottesville on 12 August and the President’s reactions that happened afterwards showed the truest colors a person can ever show. It shows that:

Donald Trump has been abusing his power for his own political and business interest, not that for the American population

Donald Trump has been supporting the far right all along. It goes beyond having the likes of Jeffery Sessions, Mike Pence and Steve Bannon in the Oval Office; it includes supporting Neo-nazis and Ku Klux Klan groups who idolize Adolf Hitler and wish to reenact what would be the Fifth Reich in the US. Speaking from history, we saw how Hitler’s obsession led to war, destruction of biblical proportions and eventually the reconstruction of Europe thanks to you, France, Britain and the Soviet Union. While this took six decades, imagine taking that same road with the States, and how long that would take……

Donald Trump is bringing to the country what Hitler brought to Germany, Mussolini to Italy, Franco to Spain, Idi Amin to Uganda, Gaddafi to Lybia, Pinochet to Chile and Organia to Argentina, which is a one-person dictatorship, surrounded by family and people within his closest circle. The process of systematically dismantling the freedom of speech, especially with the media is one of many examples of Trump’s work. Another is attempts to eliminate programs that benefit the population, even those who voted for him.

Donald Trump is everything a person does not want. Unlike Obama, Trump is a sexist, bigamist, racist, egoist, fundamentalist and nationalist swine, whose greed and corruption will lead to the destruction of this country, as well as families, relationships, friendships, colleagueships, partnerships and one’s own self-identity. He made supporters naiive like sheep and he’s now slaughtering them, one by one.

And lastly, Donald Trump is the worst example of how people should behave towards one another. While fights and hatred are making the country as bloody red as possible, the role of the President is to enforce the laws and show people how to be decent to one another. If you don’t know what decency is, you might want to look at this speech by Morgan Freeman:

 

After reading all this, you are probably wondering “What the hell have I done?” We are all wondering that too.  While eliminating monuments that embody the Confederacy may be a solution, but it is only a short-term one. People distancing themselves from Trump is only a dressing to the problem and they will eventually come back to Trump after a while. If there is one solution to the problem, it’s this: impeachment followed by new elections.

Seriously!

Every constitution has a clause, let alone a history of “snap elections” (click here to read about it). We had three such elections, the last one has produced 12 years of success in Angela Merkel, who is bound to break the record of longetivy set by the late Helmut Kohl. While no such elections have happened yet in America on the federal level on the part of the Vice President being the successor, it does happen on the state level for governors, senators and even representatives.  Given the corruptiveness of the current administration (if we even can say that), perhaps it is time to write some history for your country.

How?

Contact your local senator, representative and any politician who is sick and tired of seeing Donald Trump use and abuse this precious office, which should represent the American public. Tell them that you deserve better in a leader of your own country, who also should lead the rest of the world in all other global affairs. Tell them the elections were rigged and we need someone who is not bought as president. Tell them even when Trump leaves, we will never be happy with Mike Pence or anyone else in line to take office. Snap elections are simple as 1-2-3. Trump is impeached and is gone. Pence calls for new elections for 2018. New candidates to do real campaigns. Elections to take place at the same time as the congressional ones. Very simple, even if you transcend the law.

By doing just what is described, you will have a leader who will save the country from disaster, mend the ties that are broken among families and friends and among people of different backgrounds. You will have someone who will right the country and work together with Congress and the Supreme Court while defending the rights of others. You will have someone who will be with the people, for the people and supporting the people.

It’s difficult to do, but giving someone who doesn’t need the White House a chance is no longer an option. Therefore, it’s time to write some history to get things right for once. If you’re not convinced, Jesus is by your side pushing you to do the right thing.

So just do it!

Thank you for your attention. God bless you and your blessed, beloved country.

Sincerely,

The people of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, with support from the EU, other countries in the world and lastly, your American ex-patriots.

 

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Americans and Air Conditioning: A Necessity that Nobody Understands

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

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

 

outside……. in the heat!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

And lastly,

https://youtu.be/xat1GVnl8-k

 

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

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

….with one exception!

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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