We’re Fine. It’s You We’re Worried About- Info-prying and the attempt to Make America Conform Again

Flags

In a democracy, there is no such thing as conformity. We can unite but have different opinions and ideas on how to solve problems, as long as we respect them, and especially as long as they are appropriate in today’s situation.  Democracy ends when we are forced to conform to the practices that are considered harmful to oneself and those affected.  America has never been the democratic state that it was 50 years ago, nor has it never been what it should be- a country where everyone, regardless of race, religion, socio-economic background or even now in Trump’s America, political affiliation, has the right to vote, express themselves freely, and do something for the good of others.  It has become a state of conformity, where if you do not share the opinions and feelings of the other side, even though you do not like them, then you are looked down upon, defamed and shamed in front of others.

trum's am3

Growing up in a poor family in rural Minnesota, the idea of a “conformed state” had more to do with the type of clothes a person wore, the type of car a person was driving (if the person owned a car at that time), who you were dating, whether or not you were a macho-man, what types of jobs your parents had and the religious denomination you you were associated with, if you were attending church regularly on a Sunday. America still lives in that conformed state today, despite attempts to include everyone based on race, religion, socio-economic background, opinions on the current events of today, sexual preferences and even preference for certain foods- veering away from meat products and embracing vegetarianism and veganism. But given the situation we have been working with since Trump won the elections in November 2016, we are rolling back the prejudices against these minorities and engaging in McCarthyism 2.0, namely scrutinizing the people based on political affiliation. Gone away are the political discussions that were once constructive and meaningful, we are engaging in “throat-cutting” scare-tactics, where any opinion you say about the problems in the US can be used against you with physical force, social networking force (including the use of facebook and twitter), or through naming and shaming in public.

trump's am1

Yet there is a new weapon that is being used in American society that my wife, daughter and I noticed during our road trip through the Midwest this past summer, and that is “Info-Prying.” Info-prying is the process of interrogating foreigners, especially those living in Europe, as to finding out what exactly is going on outside the US, in hopes to extract information and start a political discussion. “Info-Prying” is being done by three different parties: 1. Those who felt misinterpreted by the media because of Trump’s constant attacks and want to know the real truth, 2. Those who want a confirmation of Trump’s claims and want to pick a fight to support their claims, and 3. Those who really want a conversation about the problems facing America under Trump.  Sadly, based on the observations, the majority of Americans belong to either points 1 and 2, and there is a dwindling minority belonging to number 3.

Why is that, exactly? Think about that for a minute.

trump's am3

One of the interpretations that can be quickly explained is Trump’s conditioning of the American public into believing everything he says. However, Trump’s supporters still belong in the minority. Since having taken office in January 2017, an average of only 42% of Americans support the president and his rather ubiquitous policies, whereas 56% of the public would like to see him gone sooner than later. Still when asking around the neighborhood to find out whether or not they are safe living in peaceful co-existence between a Democrat and a Republican, most will agree that the answer to that question is “no.”  Reason: because whenever a person states an opinion with a Trump supporter, it is met with violence.  And while it is easy to “unfriend” or delete someone from a facebook network, meeting that person with physical violence and with guns can have an everlasting effect on the person stating the facts.  Families have fallen apart because of the effects of Trump’s rhetoric in pitting family members against each other. Best friends have because strangers because of their own political opinions. And one out of ten Americans have admitted leaving the country should Trump be re-elected; just as many as the rate of American expatriates, including myself, who are considering ditching their American passports, once and for all.

 

With all these facts in mind, we had to be very careful as to what we said to those who tried to “info-pry” us about the problems in Europe, for relations between the US and Europe have been frigid since Trump took over in January 2017. The information on the invasion of immigrants in Europe and how they were committing vast amounts of crime, as broadcasted by Breitbart and other right-wing networks were highly over-exaggerated. Despite the infamous attacks during the New Year’s celebrations in Cologne and Hamburg in 2015, combined with the events in Chemnitz this year and trucks being used as weapons, these incidents were only arbitrary and despite measures to curb this type of violence, which includes deporting those with a criminal record and having barriers set up to keep vehicles out of pedestrian areas, the crime rate in Europe is lower among immigrants than the natives who were born there. In fact, most of the crimes committed by the immigrants have been petty- whether they are burglaries, theft or fake IDs. We do have incidents involving those who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, but they are fewer than what was reported by Breitbart . So in other words, Europe is not as black as what the media says. It is going far right, which is a scary trend, but that is because of home-grown fears that the immigrants will dominate the scene with their own language instead of adopting the German language, let alone the lingua franca language in English and French. Politicians from the Social Democrats, to the Greens and to even the Conservative Christian Democrats know the problems and are working to integrate those who want to live in Europe, even if it’s for a while. This integration comes with the lesson of understanding cultures and social backgrounds, which Europe has long profited from, learning the lessons from World War II and the Cold War.

trump's am2

So to sum up the answer of whether Europe is going to be run over, becoming an Islamic State, as some of the info-pryers had tried to get out of us, the answer is “no.” We are doing fine. We know the problems that are facing Europe with the immigrants, but that is something we can handle.

The problem is how Americans are doing at home. That is what nine out of ten Europeans are concerned about. How can we deal with “info-pryers” who are modestly wanting answers but most of them want to pick a fight and support Trump?

Americans have a lot of issues to deal with at home, all of them are home-grown and growing every year. Yet they seem to ignore thees problems at home and try to find problems outside the country, where they are either non-existent or those where they can be solved by those who know the problem and don’t need any American advice.

Therefore, our only answers that came out to those who tried to pry open the can full of issues in Europe: “We’re doing fine. It is you guys we are worried about. We’re worried that your own problems are mounting and in the end, cannot be handled anymore.”  While one person from the group, who asked about Europe’s problems, eventually agreed to the fact that America does have a big problem- bigger than Europe’s own set, others turned a blind eye saying America is great, thanks to Trump. But little do they realize, America’s Roman Empire is crumbling every year, bit by bit, and if America is to be great again, it needs to conform to the changing trends outside its realm in order for any generation to benefit what American stood for, over a half century ago, which is democracy, openness, pursuit of happiness, and embracing change, but keeping to these principles, which has been accepted by Europe and other countries.

The America we know right now isn’t that America. It’s too materialistic, too fanatical and too invasive. Scale back and take care of yourselves first, because we are doing fine. When your house is in order and the country is with the program regarding even the three most important items facing our planet: the environment, human rights and modernizing the infrastructure, we can talk. Right now, info-pryers don’t have a place in our lives and the lives of other people we know personally.  Thank you.

 

Fl Fi USA

 

 

 

Advertisements

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

us-d

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.

bundesarchiv_b_145_bild-f078072-00042c_konrad_adenauer
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.

kas-kohl2c_helmut-bild-14701-1
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.

angela_merkel_juli_2010_-_3zu4
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. 😉

flefi-deutschland-logo

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

IMGP5251

 

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

FF new logo1

In School in Germany: Immigration

Here’s a question for all teachers in the German school system and social studies/ history  teachers in the American schools:  How much do you teach your pupils about the history of immigrants- in particular, German immigrants?  How do you approach this topic in terms of teaching method, focusing on a time period in history as well as garnering interest in the topic? And lastly, how much information do/can you provide to your group?

As you recalled a couple articles ago, I presented you with some questions about this particular topic for you to answer, to challenge yourself and learn a couple new items that you have never heard about before.  But this article is about German immigration in general and how important it is that this topic is integrated into the learning curriculum.

Many years ago, I visited Ellis Island, during my 1.5 week stay in New York City, to learn more about this topic and how Germans represented one of the majorities of the population that moved to the new world. Part of this had to do with the fact that my mother’s family is primarily German, originating from Schleswig-Holstein (and in particular, Stein near Kiel, according to genealogy research). Also important was the fact that prior to my trip, I had discovered,  in my parents’ garage, a trunk and on it, the maiden name of my mom’s ancestors that had immigrated to the United States in 1898 and eventually settled down on a farm south of Ellsworth, at  the Minnesota-Iowa border. This sparked my interest in knowing more about how Germans immigrated to the US, the reasons behind their strive towards something new and how they survived over there (and are still prospering today).

Ellis Island. Both photos taken by boat in 1997

The immigration wave of the Germans started in the 1840s before the Great Revolution of 1848. At that time, much of Europe, which featured the Habsburgs (The Austro-Hungarian Empire), Prussia, Russia and France had their own set of oligarchs who favored the church and the powerful over the common people. With violent clashes over food and poverty, plus the strive to put an end to this type of rule in favor of democracy, many of the immigrants boarded ships bound for the States and after several stops along the way, settled down in regions in today’s Rust Belt (the former steel regions extending from Illinois to Pennsylvania), as well as parts of the Midwest, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota. Much of their traditions, including their food, such as the hamburger and sauerkraut, the German language and its usage in literature and books, and even the villages were named after those from Prussia and Habsburg. Over 400 villages and towns were created with German city names, like Frankfort, Hamburg, Hannover, Berlin, and the like. Even some of the smaller towns in Germany had their names incorporated in the US, such as Flensburg, Schleswig, Lubeck, Kiel, Weimar, Jena and Trier. There was even the city of Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota that was named after Otto von Bismarck, the founding father of Germany, which was established in 1871. German culture prospered until World War I when President Wilson declared war on Germany in 1917 after a telegram was intercepted promising Mexico portions of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California if it entered World War I against the US.  For a period of three years, German culture was suppressed in a way that all traditions and even the usage of the language was prohibited.  Literary works by Schiller and Goethe were banned. The hamburger was renamed Liberty Steak; the sauerkraut, Liberty Cabbage. The Germans were perceived as evil in the eyes of many other immigrants, including the Italians, Irishmen and Russians, and conflicts broke out as a result.

After the war was over and the Versailles Treaty was signed, immigration to the US was limited because of the Red Scare- the Communist movement that had plagued Europe and parts of the US since the Bolshevist Revolution of 1917. Germans tried to escape the misery their country was facing, first through the hyperinflation during the Weimar Republic and later with the rise of Adolph Hitler but were faced with limitations both internally as well as externally. It would not be until after the second World War when the gates were reopened wide and many who wanted to leave and had the resources did.

Today, traces of German culture can be found in the US through foreign languages in public schools, the foods which have become somewhat commercialized, like the beer and hamburger, and the communities that still bear the German names. Some festivals can still be found in those communities, like the Oktoberfest in New Ulm in Minnesota.  Yet do we talk much about immigration in the schools?  Sadly, I have to say no.

Why?

We seem to have drifted away from topics like this one because of the strive to streamline education at the expense of the most important ones, like history, culture and politics. Foreign languages have also taken a hit, as schools in the United States are focusing solely on Spanish while leaving the rest behind- something that is angering the neighbors to the north, Canada, where French is the official second language behind English. While business and technology are two important elements needed to get a well-paying job, other aspects, like the ones mentioned, are just as important for they provide students with an insight to other countries and their culture and history.  Looking at it from a historian’s point of view, taking these humanity aspects seriously can enable the student to learn about him/herself and the surroundings and identify him/herself based on their own family history and how it contributed to the history of their countries.
Yet even when we discuss about humanities, like history and culture, in schools, we seem to have left out the meat of the topics for discussion. Reason for that are the limitations with regards to the subjects to be taught for certain grades- both in Germany, as well as in the USA. The time constraints regarding how and when to teach these subjects have forced many teachers to prioritize which subjects are important and which ones should be left out. Unfortunately, those that are left out are usually not taught unless in academia, if at all.

Immigration is one of those aspects that should be brought to the table at an early stage. There are many reasons for this argument, but I will mention only two, as they are the most important in my opinion. The first is immigration is like a bridge, connecting one’s old home with their new home. People who immigrated to other countries collected many impressions and stories to share with their relatives and friends back home. Many of these impressions and stories deal with comparisons between their new home and their old one, as well as suggestions as to how to improve their old region. While some of the immigrants returned to their old homelands, some remained in their new homelands forever, creating families of their own.  In the case of German immigration, it is typical to find many German families settling in clusters in either a community or region. An example of which can be found in an article written in 2010 about New Trier in Minnesota, which you can click here.

The second argument behind teaching immigration in school is because it played a key role in the development of the countries the immigrants originated from and the countries where they eventually settled down.  In the case of Germany, the emigration of Germans from Prussia and Habsburg resulted in the need to reform the countries respectively, unfortunately through the usage of violence, as was seen in the Revolution of 1848. Eventually the situation stabilized with the creation of a German state in 1871, which provided the solidarity and sound structure of a democratic state many people had envisioned two decades before but were realized by Bismarck.  In the case of German immigrants in the US, their  previous experiences before immigrating over, combined with their innovation and thinking has helped shape the US as it is today.  It is not hard to find Germans in America, who had made a difference, whether it was Henry Kissinger’s role as Secretary of State under Nixon and how the US scaled back on its mission of containment and opened their doors to relations with Russia and China, or John Roebling and his design of the wire suspension bridge, a few examples of which still exist today. Kissinger originated from Fürth (north of Nuremberg) in Bavaria, while Roebling emigrated to Pennsylvania from Mühlhausen in Thuringia and established the town of Saxonburg.

How the topic should be taught in the classroom is fully up to the teacher, but some of the small aspects mentioned here will help students know about the importance of immigration, even more so when it is discussed in the classroom in schools in Europe, and in this case, Germany.  This is where the article ends with a small anecdote: Ignore the smallest details and you will ignore the most relevant. Give them something small to think about and it will make a big difference as far as learning is concerned.

And now, some interesting Flensburg Files’ Fast Facts, which you will find in the next article…..

New Trier, Minnesota

St. Mary’s Church in New Trier- Photo taken in December 2010

Coming back to the tourism scene and the coverage on German-named towns in Minnesota, we will take a look at the next town on tour, which is located near Hastings and Faribault. Albeit a really small town with a population of roughly 120 inhabitants, it is one of the oldest existing towns in the state and has a history that is enriched with triumph and tragedy. This village is called New Trier.

Named after the city located along the Mosel River on the border to Luxembourg, the settlement of New Trier started in the mid-1850s, with records dating as far back as 1855, when immigrants from the western part of Prussia and Luxembourg found a plot in the northeastern part of present-day Dakota County. Most of them had fled the region in Europe for it was besieged by warfare between Prussia and France, including the 30-Year War and the Revolution of 1848. Some of them actually originated from Trier, which was ransacked at least a dozen times by three different empires (France, Spain, and Poland) until the French finally conquered the city during the Revolution of 1794. Prussia later recaptured the city in 1815, while chasing Napoleon’s troops over the Mosel and back into France.

Most of the settlers in New Trier had once lived in Washington County; especially in Stillwater. However after months of earning money for hard labor in the industries they worked, they eventually found plots of land and incorporated the village. The majority of families living in New Trier today have ancestors who helped incorporate the village, including Schaffer, Gores, Landsberger, Siebenaler, Kranz, Moes, Doffing, Tix, Thien, Riplinger and Schweizer, just to name a few. Some of them contributed a great deal to the community in a certain way. For example, the Gores and Siebenalers were known assisting or even leading the congregation in the church, while the Schaffer clan was known for carpentry and masonry work, which was started by John A. Schaffer in 1855, mainly because his farm was located next to the quarry. Some of the members of the Kranz family would eventually establish the present-day town of Kranzburg in eastern South Dakota. Another interesting fact worth noting about New Trier is the fact that the decision to name the village did not take place until the middle of 1856, for there was a division between those who wanted to have the village named (New) Luxemburg and those who wanted it named New Trier. Finally the decision was made in favor of New Trier on 15 May, 1856 by the first pastor of the church, George Keller. This was important for not only did the church needed to be built later that year, but the community itself needed an identity that would satisfy everyone. Surprisingly, a Luxemburg was eventually established later on as a settlement in Stearns County in central Minnesota, only 10 miles from present-day St. Cloud.  More information on its origin will appear in the column on that particular town.

The St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which is the main landmark anchoring New Trier, has been with this town almost since the time it was incorporated. The first church, built in 1856,  consisted of a log cabin. However, as the population grew, a larger church was needed, and it was subsequentially built in 1862. The third church followed in 1864 built mostly of stone brought in from the quarry. The rectory was added a year later. Both the second and third churches were in use until they were taken down in favor of a new church in 1909. Using quarry rock from the Kettle River region in northeastern Minnesota, and at a cost of $40,000, the new church was dedicated in 1912 and has been serving the community ever since. The majority of New Trier (about 90% of the population) are Catholic, which explains the fact that the  regions where their ancestors came from are predominantly Catholic; especially in Trier and Luxembourg, where the Holy Roman Empire dominated the area. The cathedrals and relicts from that period still exist in these two cities. St. Mary’s Church is the tallest building in New Trier, and one can see its steeple standing high in the sky when driving towards town on the main highway.

Despite the fact that New Trier was dependent on agriculture and it had its typical businesses, like the mercantile store and the saloons,  the biggest thorn in the city’s side was the fact that it was never serviced by a rail line during the period of railroad expansion between 1870 and 1915.  In fact, the nearest railroad lines ran east of town near Red Wing and to the west of town going past neighboring Hampton and heading towards Northfield and Faribault. The result of this was stagnation, both in population as well as commerce. Fortunately to this day, the city is served by it main highway, MN highway 50 between Red Wing and Hampton, which has helped businesses thrive in New Trier. Agriculture and commerce is still dominant in town.  It has two bar and restaurants- Trophy House and Dan’s Bar and Grill- as well as other businesses selling implements and providing services for farming.

While the population has decreased from an all-time high of about 220 in the census of 1873 to about 120 as of present, the heritage of New Trier still lives on to this day. Apart from the Catholic Church, one can see some of the relicts today, as a reminder of the town’s past. This includes a water tower built on a concrete cylinder foundation built around 1900, many houses dating as far back as the late 1800s including one just off Hwy. 50 that was built using the Schaffer quarry stone, and a small fire hall located across from the Trophy House. Some of the unique features you will find in New Trier include a dart throwing league, where the teams of the Trophy House and Dan’s Bar and Grill compete once a week with other teams from neighboring towns.  There is also the Euchre card game league, where Euchre is a rare card game but one which you can try yourself after clicking onto the link at the end of this column.  But the town also has a new tradition, which can serve as a remedy against cabin fever in the winter time, and that is the Schneetag festival. Created in 2005 by five women, the festival takes place every year in February, consisting of an outdoor softball tournament, a card tournament, and other unique events that draw a huge crowd to this one-day festival annually.

But apart from all the places and events that make New Trier unique, what especially stands out the most are the fourth and fifth generations of the original settlers and their families that still reside in and around the community and make up the majority of the population. Like their forefathers, they have maintained their traditions and contributed a great deal to the survival of New Trier, making it a unique little German town for people to visit and even live there.

This leads to the question of whether other communities originally settled by German immigrants have kept up the tradition that was either adopted from their former homeland or introduced at the time of their establishment, or if changing trends and other external influences have resulted in the loss of its original identity and its eventual integration into the American landscape.  According to research conducted by two professors at the University of Kiel (in northern Germany) back in the 1970s, it was revealed that despite the establishment of their community and their way of life as well as adopting the name from their German community they had once live in, most of these communities had lost their identities by the first half of the 20th century, resulting in the village just having the name but not having the typical resemblance.  We’ve already seen Bergen adopting to the changing environment while losing its identity despite being a farming community, but we have also seen a resistance to change and the fight to keep the identity, like with New Trier. What about the other German communities in Minnesota? Or in the USA in general?

Link to Euchre: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euchre

Additional Reading Source: Brown, Patricia  (ed.)  ” The Church of St. Mary’s  New Trier, Minnesota: 1856-2006″ Hastings, Minnesota: Graphic Publishing, 2006

One of the original houses in New Trier made of stone- Photo taken in December 2010
New Trier Fire Hall- Photo taken in December 2010
New Trier Water Tower- Photo taken in December 2010
Trophy House: One of two bar and restaurants serving New Trier- Photo taken in December 2010