From the Attic: The Ghost Army

Photo by Art Guzman on

A few months ago, in one of my English classes, a student presented a topic that most of us probably don’t know about unless you relate it to a popular film. The topic was called the Ghost Army.

When we think of the topic Ghost Army, the first thing that comes to mind is the third film of the trilogy Lord of the Rings, where in the first of two climatic battle scenes, Aragom and his two other companions, Gimil and Legolas arrive with the Army of the Dead, ghosts from the past, to successfully defeat the Orcs, Haradims and the Witch King at the Battle of Dethenor. Here’s a clip of that scene below:


In this case, the Ghost Army that we are talking about is in relation with World War II. In 1944, a crew of the 23rd Special Headquartered Unit of the United States Army was created. With 1100 troops at their disposal, the mission was to deceive the Nazi Troops and Adolf Hitler by misleading them to remote locations, buying time for the Allies march into Germany and towards Berlin. The Ghost Army was created in Camp Pine, New York by Ralph Ingersoll and Billy Harris, and led by Colonel Harry L. Leeder. It was inspired by the British units who had used similar deception techniques in their successful operations in Operation Bertram during the battle of El Alamein in late 1942. The unit arrived in Europe in full combat in January 1944 and remained there until after the war ended in 1945.

The unit consisted of artists, actors, strategists and geniuses with a mission of misleading Hitler’s troops by creating fake military outlets and equipment, designed to make the Nazis believe that the troops were there when in all reality, they were hundreds of miles elsewhere. Even Theodor Geissel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) was one of the members of this special group. Nazi Germany had an upper hand with technology and warfare, including the Blitzkrieg, which was very successful during the early half of the war as it conquered almost all of Europe and the western parts of the Soviet Union. It was the mission of the US Army, with help of the British, to outsmart and outfox the Nazis through the use of the Ghost Army.

There are several videos that talk about the success of the Ghost Army. This one, provided by National Museum of American Jewish Military History, looks at the history of the Ghost Army from start to the end, looking at all the techniques used to twart the Nazis. They include some of the figures that played key roles in the success of the army. The video was cut up into chapters and one can play them at their convenience, let alone use them for history class on any level. Take a look at them and enjoy!

If you want a more compacted version, here is a 20-minute version that will summarize the history of the Ghost Army:

The story of the Ghost Army was kept secret for more than 50 years. In 1996, the information was finally declassified and in February 2022, members of the Ghost Army were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, for their unique and highly distinguished service. Since 1996, there have been several documentaries and interviews about the success of the Ghost Army. Originally, we knew of other war techniques that were used to defeat Nazi Germany, from Scorched Earth (practiced for centuries by Russia/ Soviet Union), to code-breaking (practiced by the Navajo Tribes), to assasins and mobs (practiced mainly by the French), to Wasps (practiced by Britain’s RAF and America’s Air Force). Yet somehow, historians have wondered what other techniques were used apart from that. The story of the Ghost Army is very new and still in its infancy. But with much of the War Generation passing on, it is important that their stories are told by the next generations in order to understand how important they were in winning the war and freeing Europe from the grasp of fascism and national socialism. The Ghost Army was one that was unknown for many decades, but it is one that for generations to come will be remembered as one of the key aspects to winning World War II.

To my student who presented this topic, on behalf of us historians and English teachers, as well as the families of the Ghost Army members who fought successfully in the name of freedom and democracy, you have our thanks! 🙂



Genre Profile: Rolltreppenmax by Bummelkasten

One of the most popular songs for children and for those learning German as a foreign language is this comedy hit. Rolltreppenmax looks at a typical day of the main character, what he does and why a roll of toilet paper has to be involved at the end of the day. The song starts with Monday and looks at what the character does on that day. It’s followed by Tuesday, Wednesday and goes all the way to the day of rest, known as Sunday.

Have a look at the video and there are some tips for teachers to use for the German classroom.


For some educational tips, one can do the following:

  1. Make a list of all the things the main character in the song does on each day in German, then translate it into English to understand what the activities mean.
  2. Answer the question of why a roll of toilet paper (D: Klopapier) is presented at each day, and especially on Sunday where piles of that stuff ends up in the office of his “best friend.”
  3. Try to create a song like this using different activities, keeping in mind that they must rhyme and fit the rhythm if possible. This one is the toughest and therefore, it should be group exercise, consisting of 3-4 students per group. More minds think alike. 😉 When you are done presenting this, then it’s your turn to present in class. 😀

Viel Spaß/ Have fun! 🙂


Bummelkasten is a one-man acapella comedy music group based in Berlin. Its main singer, Bernhard Lütke, created the group in 2012 and this song, Rolltreppenmax, became a hit among people of all ages. The song helped launched Lütke to fame as a singer and comedian. Three albums were released between 2014 and 2017 and have received rave reviews. One of the songs, “Weil ick mick so freue!” (EN: While I am so happy) received the Goldene Spatz Award for best song/ music video in 2015.

Website to the group’s homepage you can find here:

Typical of Germany: Jugendweihe

Photo by Min An on


14 years ago, you as a parent welcome a precious child into the world. That child is your own flesh and blood. The child learns how to speak; the child learns how to make friends; the child plays with toys and dreams big; the child asks you questions about life. As the child grows up, you awe in his/her development; you enjoy the entertainment he/she gives you; you are astounded at his/her talents.

Then the big 1-4 comes! And with that, Jugendweihe! What is that tradition, anyway?

This is where yours truly comes in. My daughter turned 14 a while back and most recently, she celebrated Jugendweihe at her high school (in this case in German: Gymnasium). It’s basically the celebration of entering adulthood, although for some parents, it’s a difficult process of accepting the notion that your child is growing up, “leaving” childhood and “entering” the adult stage. And this despite the fact that in American standards, he/she is still a teenager- has been since 13 and will continue to be that way until “officially” entering the adult age of 21.

Still confused at the notion of Jugendweihe and entering adulthood even though the child is 14 and hasn’t flown the nest yet? Let’s do a comparison.

Photo by the happiest face =) on


Jugendweihe vs. Confirmation

Jugendweihe is celebrated at the same time as Confirmation. Confirmation is the process where a person who is baptized of a religious faith receives the full religious rite and is a full member of the religious faith. It’s basically a sealing of the covenant of the religious faith which was started with the baptism at an early age and is completed at the age of between 13 and 15. This is practiced in all Christian faiths, especially in North and South America, but to a lesser degree, also in Europe.

Looking at America from an ex-patriate’s perspective, the process of confirmation is based on years of religious schooling, especially Sunday School and in many parts of the country, also Wednesday night classes, where students learn about the teachings of Christ. The preparation of Confirmation normally takes a couple years, which culminates in the ceremonies that take place in the 8th or 9th grade. In that ceremony itself, which takes place during the Sunday church services, students receiving confirmation are dressed in stoles, confess their faith and receive their first communion (red wine as the blood of Christ and wafer as the body of Christ), while reading the excerpt of choice from the Bible and explaining to congregation why it was very important to them. Confirmation varies among religious faiths but they are ordinarily administered when the child becomes an early adolescent, meaning their teenage years. Therefore, it may be considered a “coming of age” in the Christian faith.

Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-36672-0002 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons


History of Jugendweihe

Jugendweihe has its roots back to the 19th Century. The term was first mentioned by Eduard Baltzer in 1852 but was considered the non-religious (or sometimes the non-demoninational) form of Confirmation, for 90% of the youth were considered Christians. It blossomed during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) as it was supported by the Social Democrats and the German Communist Party, as well as the workers’ unions and even the anarchists. It was basically the initiation of early adulthood. One could say that because of the majority of children being members of the church, they celebrated both Confirmation and Jugendweihe at the same time, treating both as a firmation of faith and the coming of age.

During the Third Reich (1933-1945), Adolf Hitler eliminated all forms of Confirmation and Jugendweihe and instead created the Hitlerjugend group. There children reaching early adolescent were enlisted into that group and were trained to become Hitler’s army of men. Towards the end of World War II in May 1945, much of HItler’s troops remaining on the front consisted of those from the HItlerjugend.

After the Fall of the Third Reich and the End of WWII, Jugendweihe was reintroduced as a non-religious coming of age festival, yet because of the division between East and West Germany, the eastern half established a firm base on the ideology of Marxism and Socialism. The festivities were sanctioned by the schools and also the Freie Deutsche Jugend, and students were expected to participate in all of the festivities and events involving the East German ideology. In West Germany, the celebrations were seldom to find as much of the population were members of the church and therefore, Confirmation was generally celebrated, especially in the state of Bavaria, which is pre-dominatly Catholic.

This changed after German reunification in 1990. The organization Jugendweihe e.V. was established at that time and has several branch organizations serving all 16 German states to this day. The Jugendweihe in Germany today is run by these organizations and since 1993, participating in the rituals of the Jugendweihe have been made optional. That means adolescents between the ages of 13 and 15 in Germany have the choice between Confirmation (if they are part of a Christian religious faith), Jugendweihe (if they generally don’t belong to the faith but want to go through the traditional process) or neither of the two (if they come from a different religion, like Islam, Judaism, etc., or simply don’t have the interest.) As of present, only 25% of the population of Germany’s adolescents take part in the Jugendweihe, 40% of which from the former East German states of Thuringia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Berlin, Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Pommerania. But with the continuing decrease in the number of people attending Christian institutions in Germany, the number non-Christians participating in the Jugendweie may increase in the coming years.

A typical Jugendweihe celebration in Hannover in 2012. Source: Karsten Davideit, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons


How does Jugendweihe work?

The process of Jugendweihe in Germany is not like Confirmation, where you have to take preparation classes on becoming adults and keeping to the faith. While intensive topics dealing with current events, politics and social studies, environmental sciences and ethics are introduced in the 8th grade year, only small elements are presented. To participate in the Jugendweihe, the adolescent must participate in the Jugendweihe organization representing the state or region he/she is living in and attending school. These organizations are independent of the school and offer several events to get teens prepared for real life. This can include lectures on social topics and current events, but can also include social work activities, parties at summer camps, field trips to places, such as the state parliament, places of historic interest or even outside of Germany. These organizations are the ones that host the Jugendweihe ceremonies, which take place on a Saturday during the time span of March to June.

The Jugendweihe ceremony itself is a formal event where everyone dresses up- not only the participants of the ceremony but also their families and guests. In this case, it’s on the same level as Confirmation or even Graduation, except here, there are no stoles or graduation gowns. Participants have to wear their best attire. Like graduation, the participants walk down the aisle at the beginning of the ceremony and have an exclusive place near the front of the stage, either in the middle or on the left and right sides, pending on the size of the venue and the number of people attending.

The ceremony features music from a regionally known music group(s) that play popular music with a focus on adult themes, such as love, freedom and life. This marks a stark contrast to Confirmation where religious themes are in the musical pieces. There are speeches made by guest speakers, one or two of which represent the group participating in the Jugendweihe and one or more from an institution, such as a bank, company, public agency, etc. The speeches focus on the transition from childhood to young adulthood and all the challenges and experiences that the adolescents will face as they enter the final years of schooling. Once the speeches are finished, each partcipant comes to the stage and receives their certificate and blessing, thus formally declaring them new members of the adulthood. As a normality, each one receives a handbook which looks at the themes involving adulthood and how the adolescent can (and sometimes should) handle them. This is what a typical handbook looks like:

After the official consecretion to adulthood, the ceremony ends with some live music and the newly annointed adolescents walking off the stage, with certificate, handbook and flower in their hands. And with it, the celebrations begin, which include family and friendship photos, food and entertainment at home and/or in a restaurant, and with it, opening presents and having parties.

Having gone through the ceremony with my daughter, all I can say is Jugendweihe is like graduation but in a way that your child formally leaves childhood and starts a new life as a young adult. The difference is that the ceremony is very relaxed with some popular music which the audience can be involved with. The speeches were laden with some valuable advice for the adolescents and for us parents with one that I found the most useful:

“Your son/daughter is entering the stage where he/she wants to challenge him/herself. You as parents should be there to coach them and provide them with guidance.”

It reminded me of all the convocations we had in high school in America, where guest speakers came to tell us the value of life and how we should handle it with care. And while parenting there has changed dramatically in the almost 30 years since I left high school, this advice should be taken seriously. Let your son/daughter grow but be there to help and provide them with some valuable lessons. Be that coach and person he/she turns to for advice.

As my daughter once mentioned as probably one of the best quotes of our lifetime: “Experience is a Strict Teacher.”

Photo by Gu00fcl Iu015fu0131k on



Jugendweihe is a celebration of adulthood your child should participate in. It marks the departure of childhood and the beginning of an era where we experiment, collect experience and learn by doing. It does not mean your child is officially an adult, for he/she cannot drink until 18 years of age, nor can he/she drive until that same age. It simply means that your child is opening the door to some new opportunities that are ahead, some of which will contribute a great deal in rounding out the development of a real fine man or woman. It’s a process where after 13-15 years , you teach your child how to fly so that he/she is ready to leave the nest when the time is ripe to do so. It’s a time of finding one’s own place in life and setting the stage for when he/she starts a life of his/her own, starts a career and family, and reflects on how the parents did a proud job of raising the child. For us parents, it’s a celebration of thanks for what we did. For those like my daughter, now a young adult, it’s a celebration marking a new chapter and what is ahead. ❤ 😀



Photo Flick Nr. 99

Located at the traffic light near Rock Cafe on Schiffbrückstrasse is the Windsbraut. In English, one would translate it as Wind Bride, but nevertheless, it’s one of the forgotten wonders of Flensburg which one should photograph while visiting the city. The golden statue depicts the Germanic God of wind as she waves her sail towards the wind. The six-meter high statue was the work of Hermann Menzel (1899- 1985), who designed and built it in 1972. Much of it was built out of a combination of plastic and metal for the statue, which stood on a concrete base, which alone stood three meters high.

There are many ways to photograph this goddess but I found two ways to Rome with that. We have this angle with a view of St. Jürgen’s Church, located on the eastern side of the Flensburg Fjord. Then we have this angle:

This one is facing the city center between Flensburg’s century-old buildings which houses residents and businesses. In either fashion, one can see the wind blowing her golden hair and the sails waving at full length, as she faces the sea. As Flensburg is located right on the sea and is known for wind and storms that produce flooding on some occasions, this statue fits to the scene quite nicely. ❤ 🙂


Travel Tip: Tüchersfeld (Bavaria)

The Franconian Alps in Bavaria is one of the attractions that is a must-see when visiting Germany. Located between Bayreuth and Nuremberg, the region consists of high sandstone mountains with unique rock formations, forests and unique architecture, be it with churches and historic buildings, or in this case with Fachwerk Houses. Each town in the Franconian Alps has its own unique history, cultural identity and architecture that makes it highly recommended.

This is one of them that fellow Instagramer and photographer Martin Glas (Der_Heimatfotograf) brought to the attention of many people recently. It’s a small village of Tüchersfeld which is in the shadow of the mountainous cliffs as its backdrop. Tüchersfeld was first mentioned in the 12th Century, even though records had indicated that it had been settled 300 years earlier. According to legends and mentioned in his post by Glas, there used to be two parts of Tüchersfeld- Obertüchersfeld where a castle was erected in the 13th Century and Niedertüchersfeld, where the Jewish Court “Judenhof” was later established. The “Ober” part was part of the Catholic Church until it was abandoned by the 15th Century. The “Nieder” part is where much of the village still remains to this day, with Fachwerk houses literally “Glued” to the rocks, making Tüchersfeld a popular tourist attraction. It’s even shown on postcards and German stamps.

Apart from the rock formations, one should see the Judenhof, which was a series of Jewish settlements established in the 17th and 18th Centuries near the Lower Castle. The settlements were restored in 1982 and the Franconian Switzerland Museum is now located in one of the buildings at the Judenhof. Also noteworthy is the Synagogue and its late Baroque design, especially on the inside, which was also restored at the same time and is now open to the public. Then there is the Catholic Church, built in 1951 and features a painting by Otelia Kraszewska depicting Christ in a white robe as he turns to people of different ages. On the side altar is a painting by Anna Maria, Baroness of Oer which shows the Madonna and Child. The ceiling murals, included one of the Lamb of God and the Four Evangelists. The statues in the gallery and the Stations of the Cross are sculpted by Giovanni Bruno. All of the aforementioned artists originated from nearby Gößweinstein.

Tüchersfeld is now part of the municipality of Pottenstein and is located 25 kilometers west of Pegnitz along the Hwy. 470. It’s part of the District of Bayreuth though it is closer to Nuremberg than the Home of the Wagner Festival. Nevertheless, the village is a must-see when visiting Bavaria, or when even passing through. It’s like any town in the Franconian Alps- a town with its own history and culture, but also famous for its unique landscape. It serves as a reminder to stop for a while and stay for a few days, if you really want to explore a region. 🙂


Photo Flick Nr. 89

Another trait that has made Germany a popular place for tourists are the murals on houses and buildings. Introduced after 2000, we have been seeing them pop up from everywhere in a typical German community. Artists inspire themselves by creating a theme- a theme that makes a statement and that people can see them, think about them and in some cases, relate them to what is happening in our real world.

They are also the talk of dinner-table discussions and this provocative form of artwork is one of them. It’s located in Chemnitz in the state of Saxony and it features a girl who is squatting down somewhere in the hallway and staring at us. The expression is open and we don’t know what she is thinking or what she is doing?

What do you think she is doing? What does this mural tell us? Feel free to comment in the section below. 🙂


Photo Flick Nr. 77: The Shoe Mile


There’s an old Flensburg saying: “You don’t know Flensburg unless you know the Shoe Mile.” The Shoe Mile is a phenomenon that has many riddles that we cannot solve. Located along Norderstrasse between Nordertor and Toosbüystrasse, the Shoe Mile features rows upon rows of shoes that are hung on the lines connected by the buildings on each side of the street.

We don’t know what the exact story behind the creation of the Shoe Mile, but legend has it that the creation was the idea of a shoemaker who had a business along Norderstrasse. When he sold a new pair of shoes to a customer, he asked that person what to do with the old pair. When the customer left the old pairs at the shop, the shoemaker came up with the idea of hanging the pair on the line that connects the building on both sides of the street.

This is what most of the people have mentioned while talking about the Shoe Mile, even while touring the Old Town. We do know as a well-known fact that there are dozens of lines that are laden with shoes and these lines were indeed former suspenders of the street car lines that passed through Flensburg. The city used to have street cars, where four lines provided services to places in and around Flensburg as well as neighboring Glücksburg. This included the Line 1 which ran along the Shopping Mile (Holm/Roter Strasse/ Norderstrasse) enroute to the train station. After 66 years, the street car lines were shut down permanently in 1973 with the Line 1 being the longest serving line of the four that existed. Afterwards, the tracks were dismantled but the suspender lines that used to support the street car lines were left in place, hence the beginning of a rather peculiar but interesting tradition along Norderstrasse. 😉 The lines have increased in numbers over the past 15 years because of its popularity but also for safety reasons for too many shoes have caused some of the lines to snap. Despite plans to remove the lines and the shoes, popular support plus help from an insurance company to cover for liability have led to the lines and the shoes to populate rapidly.

The Shoe Mile has become a popular tourist attraction and was also the inspiration for the annual Flensburg Fjord Run, which takes place in May/June of each year. The Mile also has a lot of businesses that are up and coming, plus those owned by the Danish, who make up Flensburg’s 30% of the minority population, so one can pay attention to a little bit of Danish and English while walking the Shoe Mile.

The Shoe Mile has recently gained another street where one can find shoes hanging in the lines- on Angelberger Strasse. Between the Bike Store Bridge at Süderhofenden and Petersen’s Bike Shop at Hafermarkt, you will find rows of shoes hanging along the street but unlike the one at Norderstrasse, most of the businesses along Angelberger Strasse are new businesses with more to come as the city tries to revitalize the street to attract more people. Given its successes in the City Center and the increase in tourists visiting Flensburg, that should not be a problem, despite all that is affecting us now.


Life Punishes Those Who Wait: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Reason for Changing the European Stereotype- An Author’s Obituary.

Source: RIA Novosti archive, image #29280 / Yuriy Somov (photo processing: Roman Kubanskiy) / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Prior to arriving to Germany to live there for the first time, there was this stereotype that was spread around at my alma mater in Moorhead, MN which stated: If there is Germany, there are three things that go together: Beer, Bavaria and Hitler. Even my German wife, who was an exchange student at my college, received a not so pleasant stereotype when she was introduced at the student orientation: „Don’t Germans have brown hair and a mustache?“

Very nice huh? On the same level as if a person was to ask me „Don’t you Americans have long curly blond hair with a long mustache and love to slaughter dark-skinned people?“ At that point, I would have smacked that person for calling me Custer! After all, he would have been as big of a fool as George Custer’s fool-hardy attempts at wiping out the Natives at Big Horn in 1876, only to be met with his own death.

Enough with the analogy. Yes we were taught the German stereotype in high school which was over 30 years ago. That stereotype would most likely have been brought up today had it not been for the man who opened the door to the rest of the world- namely, Mikhail Gorbachev. 

When I came to Germany in 1999, I had my insights on the events of 1989 and it was my top interest in knowing about the events that happened the same time as we were saying Good-bye to a very prosperous and innovative 1980s. We had Reagan and the Berlin Wall. And contrary to my Dad’s arguments when I was a kid, there was indeed a wall that cut Germany into half. There was no other news event that was as interesting to watch as the Berlin Wall and America’s creative attempts to „Open the Gate!“ as Reagan would say it bluntly during his speech in West Berlin. But it was Gorbachev that led the way to making this happen and it was my duty to find out why. So here’s my interpretation of why he did what was necessary.


Central and Eastern Europe before Gorbachev

We have to understand the state of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe when we want to talk about Gorbachev (or what many call as his nickname Gorbi). After World War II was over and Germany was divided, communism under Stalin spread rapidly across the continent engulfing every country in its path. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic States and Yugoslavia fell when the Communist regimes took over. Germany was divided up by the Allies and the Soviet zone became East Germany by 1949. The governments put in place were conditioned to rule using the idea of Marxism and Leninism. Businesses were confiscated and nationalized. Private property was seized. Resources were exploited. The education system was laden with the idea of Communism. The lives of many were negatively impacted by a new form of fascism but with a Stalinist face. While the line was drawn by the US by supporting the ideas of democracy and capitalism with financial and military resources to defend and protect the rest of Europe, the people living behind the Iron Curtain also fought to changes and protested against the Communist governments. These were crushed and new measures were put into place to ensure that no further protests would happen, as well as any escape attempts. Hence the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the closure of the East-West Border, cutting Germany in half and creating borders between Austria and Hungary, just to name two big examples.

The scars were obvious come time of Gorbachev when he took over as President of the Soviet Union in 1985. Poland had just had its revolution put down three years earlier- for them it was their second time. Czechoslovakia was still reeling from its Prague Spring of 1968, and East Germany already had a well-established State Security Police in place, infiltrating groups of protesters and those wanting to escape over the border. Life in the East was miserable, and so was the Soviet Union which had overexploited its resources and whose economic system was wearing itself down thanks to years of government-based economics combined with nationalized industries that were running short on materials for products. The Soviet Union, for the most part, was overextended and needed reforms. Hence the two most commonly words to describe Gorbachev’s Presidency: Perestroika and Glastnost- the former for reforming the Soviet economy, the latter is openness and freedom of information. The second aforementioned policy was the fuel, the spark came when Poland voted on a new government in 1989, thus starting the process of the Revolution.


“Die Wende” 1989 and Gorbachev

Let’s look at the title of my article, “Life Punishes Those Who Wait.” These were the comments that Gorbachev made to Erich Honecker, who was governing East Germany during the time of the revolution, during the ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of East Germany on October 7th. The Revolution of 1989 was like the Great Floods. When one country starts, others follow and not even the strongest dam can hold the rushing waters with such high pressure and intensity. Gorbachev’s Glastnost policy- the policy of openness- implied that it was time to admit that things were going badly and it was time for a change. When Poland succeeded with electing a new democratic government, it allowed for other Communist governments to consider alternatives instead of its business as usual approach. With Hungary and Austria opening its borders for the first time since 1949, it provided the best escape route for many in East Germany who wanted to flee the repressive government. Despite all attempts to stop the flow on Honecker’s part, the floodwaters were starting to undermine the dam. Protests within the country followed. Honecker’s removal from power on October 17th combined with the Fall of the Wall on 9 November 1989 was the dam that finally collapsed.  Gorbachev’s policies allowed the countries to go their own way if they preferred to do so. It was like the door opening up for the first time in years and the people trapped inside saw the chance to leave right in front of them. No resistance unlike the previous Soviet regimes, but the green light to finally leave for a new life. Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Albania followed. Yet the process also marked the end of the Soviet Union, as many Soviet republics, including Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Georgia also followed. In the eyes of many Russians and those who allied with Putin, Brezhnev and all, it was a big mistake which is trying to be corrected, but with no avail. But for many countries who had been conquered and reconquered, it was a sense of freedom and renewal of their own culture identities that greeted them when Gorbachev allowed them to leave.  But his biggest achievement was yet to come and was the reason behind my change in German stereotype and interest in German history.


German Reunification

German reunification was perhaps Gorbachev’s biggest achievement as Soviet president. While it was justified that Germany was a divided country on the count of its defeat in World War II, being divided did not necessarily mean having two Germanys where families and friends were torn apart by two Walls- the one in Berlin and the one that cut Germany into two for 28 years. Gorbachev was a man of compromise when it came to Germany being reunited. He was lukewarm at the prospect of a rapid reunification, but he accepted it because of the interest among the population on both sides. He had many ideas, mainly based on the concern that a big Germany may be a threat to Europe. But he understood that the only way Germany can exist as a whole country would be if it was member of NATO and later the European Union, thus making the country one of the key contributors to the organization. Gorbachev was a man that worked with the US, Britain and France to ensure that a united Germany is something that was in the best interest of its people and the rest of Europe. He was a dealer with a plan but was also a man of compromise, keeping in mind the benefits and drawbacks to reuniting a country after 45 years of being separated.  When we think of October 3rd, we not only think about a united Germany as a federal republic, we also think of it as the one in Gorbachev’s making because of his willingness to listen to the needs of the country’s residents as well as the allies. Many people in Germany have their thanks for his policies and for paving the way to a Germany that was united.


Germany Today Thanks to Gorbachev

When we now think of Germany today, we think of the following: Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig and the Baltic Sea. This goes in addition to the earlier stereotypes I had mentioned. We also look at the other items that are typical for the country, like book fairs, Autobahn, high-speed trains, but also the mountain regions in the central and east, plus the green heart of Germany in Thuringia. All of these places would not have been mentioned had it been for the Berlin Wall and East Germany, which Honecker vowed to have standing for another century but whose life was cut short with the reunification of Germany on October 3rd, 1990. We still see a lot of relicts of the former Wall and its checkpoints and former East-West border when we travel through Germany; many of these places have been converted into museums, while a hiking trail along the former German border exists. All of them serve as a reminder of what Germany is like now compared to the time of two Germanys and two Berlins.  The one variant I find bittersweet is family. Germany values family and friends as the most important trait. It was taken away from them during World War II and afterwards the Cold War. It was brought back together thanks to Gorbachev’s efforts in allowing East and West to reunite through Glastnost. He is still a key figure and the reason why Germany exists as it is today. So when we look at his statement “Life punishes those who wait,” we look at it as symbolic as the people who were held hostage behind the Iron Curtain were allowed to flee and create their own livelihood. We also look at it as a correction to the German stereotype as there is more to Germany now than it was before 1989. Many of us have come to recognize this and have looked at Germany from different eyes. I have as well, for there is more to the country than we think. My first interest was the Berlin Wall, Gorbachev and 1989. Since my arrival in 1999, there is a lot more to see and to write about.

Vielen Dank, Gorbi. Jetzt darfst du in deinen höchstverdienten Frieden ruhen. ❤


The New Traffic Penal Code in Germany: It will cost you more for your actions!

Photo by Jos van Ouwerkerk on

In the past 10 years, we have seen an exponential increase in the number of cars and bicycles on German roads and highways. And with them, we have lawless behavior, whether it was speeding and distracted driving or it was using the rescue lane as a driving lane and hindering crews in the process. There’s also passing in a no passing zone and disregarding the handicapped and those with E-cars in parking areas. We must also not forget the profanity and lewd language from the drivers onto the police officers and/or other drivers, which has caused a lot of stress on both sides.

Since 9 November 2021, if one does one of more of the above-mentioned examples, it will cost the person dearly. The new traffic laws catalogue (Bußgeldkatalog) is now in place and if one violates the traffic laws, one has to dig much deeper to pay up. In addition to that, it will be much easier to get a point or two from the German Department of Vehicle Registration (BKA) in Flensburg for each violation and the chances of getting a ban from driving is greater. Basically, the new catalogue will cause extensive pain to the driver while at the same time, provide painful lessons for the ages with the goal of bringing driving behavior back to levels where people should drive professionally and be courteous to others.

Some examples of what the new catalogue introduces for measures for driver violations include the following:




For the most part, the fines have doubled for those who are caught speeding. For example, if you drive 10 km/h or less in town, instead of 20 Euros, the fine is 40 Euros. Between 11 and 15km/h, it’s 60 Euros and one can get a point from 16 km/h onwards. Two points are received if a person goes 26 km/h or more too fast and have to pay 235 Euros or more.  In the countryside, it’s 30 Euros for up to 10, 50 Euros for 11-15 km/h and 70 Euros for speeds up to 20 km/h. One point rule remains in effect for speeds between 21 and 30 km/h too fast but a 1-month driving ban is enforced if a driver goes 26 km/h or more too fast.  Fines for speeding can go as high as 800 Euros, up 120 Euros from the maximum fine in the old catalogue

More on the speeding catalogue here:




The sharpest increase in fines happen to be for parking violations. Instead of 15 Euros for parking in a no parking zone, the fine for this violation is now 110 Euros. One has to remember: Red ring with one slash means a three-minute stopping period but a red ring with the X means absolutely no parking or stopping. For parking in a handicapped zone as well as a reserved spaces for E-cars and car-sharing, the fine for such violations is 55 Euros, up 20 from the last catalogue.

More on the parking catalogue here:



Red Light Violation:

Regardless of how many seconds you go through the red light and which vehicle, going through the red light has become a costly factor for not only costs but also the driving bans have gone up. For the time span of up to one second the fine is 90 Euros and 1 point. When even having a close call with other drivers, one can face fines of more than 200 Euros, receive two points and be banned from driving for 1 month.  If the red light was for longer than a second, the driver could face a one month ban and 200 Euros even if he/she didn’t cause an accident or force cars to stop to avoid one.  For cyclists who commited the red light violation, regardless of how many seconds, the fine has nearly doubled to 100 Euros and 1 point. Previously, it had been 60 Euros and a point.

More on the Red Light Violation here:



Profanity and Vulgar Language:

While driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs has considerably one of the stiffest penalties, which includes the loss of license and possible jail time, the use of profanity and insulting police officers and other passers-by definitely can be considered a crime and can cost a person dearly both in the pocket books as well as in court. The least expensive penalty is 150 Euros for sticking out the tongue. However, the use of certain degrading words can range from 200 Euros for calling someone a “Girl” (Du Mädchen), to 1500 Euros for calling someone an “Idiot.” Call someone an “A**hole”, it’s 1600 Euros. If you consider a police officer an “Old sow” (Altes Sow), you can face a penalty of 2500 Euros.  Even hand gestures can cost a person in the thousands. The classic index finger to the forehead (der Vogel) can cost you 750 Euros. The hand-windschield-wider across the forehead (Scheibenwischer-Geste) can lead to a 1000 Euro fine. The middle finger is the costliest of penalties. You flip the bird, you can expect a fine of 4000 Euros!  Furthermore, a date with the judge and possible jail time for one year can be in store.  Because of the increase in insults and assaults on police officers within the past five years, such penalties are necessary and serve as notice to drivers to behave themselves in a professional manner. As one person mentioned: Money is the most painful punishment you can impose.

More on the Penalties involving Profanity, Vulgar Language and Illegal Gestures can be found here:



New, stiffer penalties also include 320 Euros fine, one month driving ban and 2 points from Flensburg for driving in and/or blocking the rescue lanes during an accident. One can get a point and a fine between 60 and 120 Euros for driving with the wrong set of tires. And for cyclists and E-scooters, using the sidewalk and pedestrian paths and getting caught means at least 55 Euros. Distracted driving, which includes texting/phoning while driving is one of a few that have remained the same. Those caught can receive 1 point and a fine of at least 100 Euros.

Photo by Mike on

While the stiffer penalties are designed to rein in driver misbehavior on German roads, there has been criticism to the plan, which includes not introducing the speed limit on German motorways. Germany is the only EU-country that has no such limit, while other countries have that in force, mostly between 120 and 140 km/h. In America, speed limits on Interstate highways are between 70 mph and 85 mph. Some experts fear that the penalties are not dependent on the income of those affected and stiff penalties could ruin one’s finances for those with lower incomes, and be treated as a tip by the “super rich.”  Nevertheless, the police unions have welcomed the new plan which clarifies how to penalize someone for exact violations. Especially for verbal and gestural behaviors are being stressed because of the treatment of police officers by those violating the rules.  While policing is a hard job, it makes it harder when someone ignores the other persons and endangers them.

If there is a slogan for the new penal catalogue that is now in place, it is this: “Behave Yourself or Lose Your Car, Your Money and even Your Freedom.”  After years of “me and me too,” it’s time to look after the other person and simply be nice.  That is the plea from all parties involved from patrolmen to politicians, to the common people.

Details of the new guide can be found here:



Genre of the Week: The Collini Case

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on

On May 24, 1968, the West German government passed a resolution calling for the partial exoneration of much of its population for their roles during the era of Adolf Hitler which lasted from 1933 until Germany surrendered to the Allies on May 7, 1945, thus ending World War II in the European theater. The Act, known as the Einführungsgesetz zum Gesetz über Ordnungswidrigkeiten (EGOWiG), called for all crimes committed against humanity to either be considered a minor offence or dismissed altogether. The argument for the EGOWiG was that these crimes happened over two decades ago and that the statue of limitations would have long since expired. The enactment of EGOWiG sparked an outrage among the population, whose wounds caused by the oppression of the Hitler Regime and the subsequent result of World War II, had not been healed.  Half of the population saw the “Verharmlosung” (playing down) of the crimes to be heinous- on par with the crimes against humanity already carried out through the Holocaust. The other half saw EGOWiG as an attempt to close the book on Germany’s dark past and to allow the people to move on with their lives, even those who had active involvement during the Third Reich and were scarred as a result. 

EGOWiG remained in force until November 30, 2007, and even though the government claimed that it was not valid for use anymore, prosecutors and activists continued pursuing the remaining living people of that time, who were involved with the atrocities. The purpose was to bring their crimes to light and help the population remember the atrocities and ensure they never happen again. The trial of a 100-year old concentration camp worker scheduled to take place this year may be the last of a string of trials and convictions which started with John Demjanjuk’s trial and guilty verdict in 2011.

EGOWiG was the focus of a combination of a novel and a film that one should see and even talk about. The Collini Case was a novel written by Ferdinand von Schirach in 2011. The plot of the story was set in Berlin, where a retired person of Italian descent, named Collini, stormed a company owned by Jean-Baptiste Meyer and shot him three times at point blank range, killing him instantly. He then turned himself in when police arrived at the crime scene. He was represented by the defense lawyer Caspar Leinen. After not being able to meet halfway even in terms of communication, Leinen, who is the protagonist in the story, goes to Collini’s hometown of Montecatini in Italy, where the lawyer finds out the horrifying truth behind the killer’s motives. Leinen gets help from his father, who researches the atrocities committed during the Nazi occupation, and a woman named Nina, who is a student of business and Italian.

It was revealed that Meyer was a Nazi commandant who stormed an Italian town seeking revenge for the murders of two of his comrades. Using the 10 to two ratio, he ordered the execution of 20 of the townsmen, including Collini’s father, which Collini himself was forced by Meyer to watch the execution. The incident was one of many committed by the Nazis during its two-year occupation of Italy, where nearly 100,000 citizens of different social and ethnic backgrounds lost their lives. Attempts to bring Meyer to court by Collini and his sister failed in 1968. Then he remained silent until his sister’s death in 2001, the year of the story setting, where he committed his act of revenge on Meyer.

The story has a lot of twists and turns which started off with some memories of Leinen, when Meyer himself took him in for adoption when he was a child. Then there were memories of him and his close friend Johanna, who was Meyer’s granddaughter, whom Meyer himself parented when she lost both her parents and brother in a car accident in 1991, yet it becomes strained when Leinen represented Collini in the court case and pushed to the breaking point when she learned of the crimes her grandfather had committed while Leinen presented the facts. What led to the exultation of the defendant was the testimony of the prosecutor, whom Leinen questioned about his involvement in the EGOWiG ruling in 1968. The prosecutor, who was close to retirement, had played the role of the antagonist and tried very hard to bring Collini to justice and keep the EGOWiG a permanent secret, something that he failed in the end.

The novel was converted to a film by written by Christian Zübert, Robert Gold, and Jens-Frederik Otto, and was directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner. Released in 2019, the film starred Elyas M’Barek, who had previously starred in the Fack ju Göthe trilogy as well as voiced the German version of Paddington Bear. Collini was played by Franco Nero. The film has been nominated for accolades in both Germany as well as in Isreal but has won just the Haugesund Filmfestival Award in 2020. Still, after watching the entire film in its entirety, it will likely receive more accolades for its work, especially as it features historic fiction with a story based on events that happened in the past.

Events like that of the EGOWiG. The film and the novel is important for much of the attempts to sweep the tragedies under the rug still exist to this day. We don’t need to look further than the incident in Washington, DC on January 6th of this year, when outgoing US President Donald Trump marched onto the Capitol demanding that the votes from the November 6th Elections be overturned, only to watch thousands of his followers storm onto the grounds and into the building in what is now called the Insurrection.  These events drew stark parallels to the burning of the Reichtstag Building in Berlin in 1932, prior to Hitler’s rise to power. But attempts on the part of Trump’s supporters to turn a blind eye at the expense of those who defended the Capitol, let alone those who want to get down to the bottom of the incident has the same pattern as when Germany tried to exonerate those involved as a Nazi during Hitler’s regime with the EGOWiG. Still, like the Collini Case shows, no matter how hard a person tries to ignore it, or even cover it up, the constant variable that always prevail is justice. The truth will always be uncovered and justice will be served, no matter how and no matter the consequences. And even when Collini was at peace when the ECOWiG was exposed in the court trial towards the end, justice did have its consequences both affecting the past as well as the present.

The question that is left from this review is what happens when such exposures like this one in the novel and film, affects the future, in terms of friendships, careers and the like. This depends on how the affected are able or even willing embrace this new discovery. As a general rule, such discoveries bring out the real characters in a person. There are those who are willing to get it over with and be at peace. There are those who are not willing to hear it and want to continue as is.  The Collini Case provides us with this food for thought: Actions impact the future of the person who committed it. What was done in the past will be uncovered in the future.