While travelling along the highway visiting some friends in Leipzig a while back, I had a chance to listen to the German news and the traffic report, where they report accidents, speeding and even broken-down vehicles when I was taken aback from a phone call made to a radio station that, like Leipzig, is located in the same German state of Saxony. With my passenger next to me we were snickering when we heard a typical Saxon living near the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) calling in by saying the following:
“Auf der B 175 in Glauchau gibt es einen Teddy auf der Fahrbahn zwischen Jerisau und Gesau.” (EN: On Highway 175, there is a Teddy on the road between Jerisau and Gesau in the City of Glauchau)
A Teddy? My first reaction to my passenger, who is also from the region but nearer to Stollberg was one for the ages: “A Teddy as in Teddy Bear?”
A burst of laughter followed. 🙂
Looking at the pictures very carefully, can you envision a Teddy on the highway? Regardless of size?
It was at that time that I realized the importance of learning a foreign language because you can pick up a lot of local words that you will almost never find in a dictionary. This especially applies to Germany, for there are several regions speaking different dialects and using different words. In this case, it was Saxon German (Sächsisch Deutsch) and even more so, Erzgebirgisch.
My colleague, after a couple minutes of a good laugh, later explained that a Teddy was in reference to the Blitzer. The Blitzer, translated into English, means a simple photo radar gun/device or traffic control camera. In British, it is nicknamed the Gatso. Can you imagine Gatso the Teddy using a radar gun to catch speeders, as this is the purpose?
Even with the advancement of technology, where cameras are becoming smaller and easier to use, combining it with the fact that the bear is “mounted” to an electrical circuit box and the eyes are a but too small for the camera lens, this is a tall order to see such a furry creature take pictures of cars, their plates and the drivers.
However, this device can do the trick! 🙂
For over 60 years, the German Gatso has been responsible for controlling the way people speed on streets and major highways. According to Article 3 of the German Traffic Control Laws (Strassenverkehrsordnung), the responsibility for these devices falls to the law enforcement authorities on the state and federal levels. All it takes is a yellow flash when driving too fast and a ticket from the local police with the license plate and a facial reaction which helps police identify and fine the speeder, while at the same time, make the speeder feel exceptionally embarassed by looking at not only the facial reaction at the time of the incident, but also the amount of money owed for it.
In some cases, you receive a Flensburg point for the incident (see the story behind it here.) The first Blitzer was introduced in Essen in 1956 and since then, one can find one for every 30 kilometers on average in the country; one for every kilometer on average in the city. One can find them everywhere: on sidewalks, hidden in trees and railings, as bins on the street or at bus stops, and sometimes as living beings as seen below:
Laser guns and squad car cameras were later introduced with Düsseldorf being the first city to use them in addition to the Blitzer in 1959. Since the 1990s, both the eastern and western halves of Germany have reported such Blitzers on the highways by having radio teams track them down and report them on air. However, other drivers exercise the right to call in if they see one. The purpose there is to inform the driver where they can take their picture- and pay a hefty price for it.
Anybody wanting to try this better have a good explanation for the judge…… 😉
Traffic cameras have been used in the US and UK, but it is rarer in the former. Arguments against the use of the Gatso are the question of effectiveness in detecting the speeders- especially when radar jammers are used by speeders while those going only 2-3 miles per hour are caught. This is where the accuracy question comes in. Furthermore, debates over liability for the use of the equipment for traffic combined with the unwillingness of speeders to pay due to protest has made the Gatso very unpopular. In fact, cities that have introduced these cameras were forced to take them down after a couple years due to claims of them collecting revenue instead of providing safety for the roads. To sum up, there are no laws that enforce the use of Gatsos unless on the local levels, but these are feeble- opposite of the laws in the Bundesrepublik.
Blitzers have been used not only on German Autobahns, but also in areas of communities, where speeding and even car accidents have been reported by law enforcement authorities. They are also useful for construction areas where traffic is heavy. Blitzermarathons are also popular, for on weekends and holidays, these cameras are used extensively by the police to control the speeding on the streets, and with lots of success. Aside from vehicle inspections and pulling over traffic violators, Gatsos have generated as much revenue and reputation as law enforcement itself- to protect the drivers and encourage proper driving habits, but also to protect others on the highway affected by the driver.
And so keeping this in mind, I would like to offer this advice to all drivers in Germany and other neighboring European countries: when you hear about a Teddy, Blitzer, Gatso or camera on the highway you’re travelling, or see one in the vicinity, check your odometer, lead up from the pedal, and respect the grey bear! After all, unlike real bears, like grizzlies, blacks and polars, they can save your life. Plus they make for a great (but cheap) photo opportunity with a professional photographer- but not from the guy in the blue and white suit with a police squad car or the people from Flensburg. 😉
Have you hugged your Teddy, lately? 😉
Gatso is short for the Gastometer BV, a device that was invented by Dutch racecar driver Maurice Gasonides in 1958 but for the purpose of monitoring his speeding, not for controlling it. The first devices were introduced in the Netherlands and British Commonwealth in the 1960s where film was used. It was later advanced to use ultra-red lighting in the 1980s. It went digital in the 1990s where data from the photos can be taken through the contral computing system at the police precinct and printed out for use. More information can be found here
While Christmas is over five months away, it is the season that creeps up faster than any of the other holiday seasons of the year. It is also one that is laden with stories of presents, families, friends and lots of surprises.
Christmas also means learning about the history of how it was celebrated and this year’s Christmas Market Tour Series will focus on just that- History.
During my Christmas market tour in Saxony last year, some recurrent themes came up that sparked my interest. In particular in the former East Germany, this included having Christmas be celebrated with little or no mentioning of Jesus Christ. In addition, we should include Räuchermänner (Smoked incense men) that were a rare commodity in the former Communist state but popular in the western half of Germany and beyond, traditional celebrations with parades honoring the miners, and lastly, the Christmas tree lit with candles. Yet despite the parades along the Silver Road between Zwickau and Freiberg, a gallery of vintage incense men in a church in Glauchau, church services celebrating Christ’s birth in Erfurt, Lauscha glassware being sold in Leipzig and Chemnitz, and the like, we really don’t have an inside glimpse of how Christmas was celebrated in the former East Germany.
What foods were served at Christmas time?
What gifts were customary?
What were the customary traditions? As well as celebrations?
What did the Christmas markets look like before 1989, if they even existed at all?
How was Christ honored in church, especially in places where there were big pockets of Christians (who were also spied on by the secret service agency Stasi, by the way)?
What was the role of the government involving Christmas; especially during the days of Erich Honecker?
And some personal stories of Christmas in East Germany?
In connection with the continuation of the Christmas market tour in Saxony and parts of Thuringia this holiday season, the Flensburg Files is collecting stories, photos, postcards and the like, in connection with this theme of Christmas in East Germany from 1945 to the German Reunification in 1990, which will be posted in both the wordpress as well as the areavoices versions of the Flensburg Files. A book project on this subject, to be written in German and English is being considered, should there be sufficient information and stories, some of which will be included there as well.
Between now and 20 December, 2017, you can send the requested items to Jason Smith, using this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The stories can be submitted in German if it is your working language. It will be translated by the author into English before being posted. The focus of the Christmas stories, etc. should include not only the aforementioned states, but also in East Germany, as a whole- namely Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Berlin and Mecklenburg-Pommerania, the states that had consisted of the German Democratic Republic, which existed from 1949 until its folding into the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October, 1990.
Christmas time brings great times, memories, family, friends and stories to share. Over the past few years, I’ve heard of some stories and customs of Christmas past during my tour in the eastern part, which has spawned some curiosity in terms of how the holidays were being celebrated in comparison with other countries, including my own in the US. Oral history and artifacts are two key components to putting the pieces of the history puzzle together. While some more stories based on my tour will continue for this year and perhaps beyond, the microphone, ink and leaf, lights and stage is yours. If you have some stories to share, good or bad, we would love to hear about them. After all, digging for some facts is like digging for some gold and silver: You may never know what you come across that is worth sharing to others, especially when it comes to stories involving Chirstmas.
And so, as the miners in Saxony would say for good luck: Glück Auf! 🙂
BERLIN/ERFURT/ LUTHERSTADT-WITTENBERG- You see me, and we see you. The slogan for the 36th annual Day of Christianity (Kirchentag), which ended yesterday with an open-air church service on the field along the Elbe River in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg. Located between Leipzig and Berlin, Wittenberg was the central stage for Martin Luther, who was a professor of theology 500 years ago- a revolutionary who posted the 95 Theses on the doors of the church in the city with its present-day population of over 30,000 inhabitants. It is this city, where the two-day event commemorated the historic event, which reshaped Christianity and created the church that still bears its name. Over 400,000 visitors participated in the four-day event, which started in Berlin, but also featured regional events in cities where Luther had its strongest influence: Leipzig, Erfurt, Weimar, Jena, Eisleben, Halle and even Magdeburg had festivities from Thursday to Saturday for Christians, tourists, families and people wanting to know more about Luther and his interpretation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Wittenberg alone, roughly 120,000 visitors converged onto the field along the Elbe River and at the city center, to take part in the evening light show and open air reflections on Saturday, followed by an open-air church service on Sunday. Despite the sweltering heat, people had an opportunity to listen to the sermons as well as the discussion forum, one of which involved newly-elected German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who took over for Joachim Gauck in February this year.
In Berlin, where over 245,000 visitors took part in the festivities, especially at Brandenburg Gate, the events marked the welcoming back of former US President Barack Obama, who, together with Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized Donald Trump’s policy of isolation with his plan for building the Wall to Mexico and isolating the country from its international obligations.
And as for the regional places, according to reports by MDR, the numbers were much lower than expected. In Erfurt, Jena and Weimar alone, only 42,000 visitors attended the events from Thursday to Saturday. However, the events were overshadowed by warm, summer weather, the Handel festival that began in Halle, the relegation soccer game between Jena and Cologne, where the former won the first of two games, and lastly, the Luther events at the aforementioned places in Berlin and Wittenberg.
This was noticeable during my visit in Erfurt on Friday with my wife and daughter. There, despite having over a dozen booths, podium discussions in several churches, tours of the churchs’ chapels and steeples as well as several plays and concerts and a pilgrimage from Stotternheim to the city center, the majority of the visitors took advantage of the beautiful weather for other activities. It had nothing to do with attempts to recruit and convert people to become Lutheran on the spot. One should not interpret Luther and his teachings like this. In fact at a few sites that feature plays and musicals for children, such as Luther and Katharina as well as the Luther Express where children learned about Jesus during each of the four seasons, the layout and preparations were simple but well thought out with no glorifying features and some informative facts presented, which attracted a sizable number of people in the audience (between 50 and 60).
The lack of numbers might have to do with the fact that despite Christianity dominating Germany at 59%, only 28% consists of Lutherans in general. In the US, over 46% consists of Protestants, of which 26% are Evangelicals. 71% of the population are Christians. Given the low number of people belonging to the church, the United Lutheran Church Association of Germany (EKD) and other organizations worked together to make the Luther festival informative, attracting people from different denominations so that they know about Luther’s legacy both in Germany as well as above. It doesn’t necessarily mean that membership is obligatory. Much of the population are sceptical about the beliefs in Jesus, which is one of the reasons of why a quarter of the 41% are aethesists or agnostics. This leads to the question of why Christ is not important to them while at the same time why people in Germany elect to join the church. This question I had touched on in a conversation with one of the pastors of a local church, which will be brought up in a later article.
Nevertheless, when summarizing the events of this weekend, it was deemed a success in many ways. It provided visitors with a glimpse of Luther’s legacy, especially in Wittenberg, where his 95 Thesis was the spark that started the fire and spread to many cities in the region. It also brought together friends and strangers alike, Christian and non-Christian to remember the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Lutheran Church we know today, branches included. Exhibits on Luther can be found in Wittenberg but also at the places where Luther played a key role. For more, please click here to see where you can visit the sites.
You can also read up on the pilgrimage of six people, who marched on Lutherstadt-Wittenberg for the events by foot, bike or even boat, camping along the way. Each pair started their tour from Erfurt, Eisleben and Dessau-Rosslau, respectively. Here you can find their stories.
After getting warmed up with the Sächsisch Deutsch, as shown in Part I of the Quiz (click here to get to the page) Part II takes us to the state of Saxony itself. Having spent quite a few months there as well as having a few contacts from all over the state, I found that there is more to Saxony than meets the eye. If you ask someone who has yet to visit Germany (or even has passed through there once) the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Germany, 90% of the respondents would say Bavaria. Sure, Bavaria is home of the beer, the Oktoberfest and the sports club Bayern Munich. It would be considered the German version of Texas and would better off being on its own if the likes of Edmund Stoiber and Horst Seehofer had it their way. 😉
However, we have the German version of California in the state of Saxony- yes, that’s right, Saxony! 🙂
Saxony used to be part of the Kingdom of Saxony, which includes present-day Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony. Since 1990, it has become a free-state after having spent 40 years being part of East Germany and having been divided up into districts. With the population of 4.1 million inhabitants, Saxony is the birthplace of many products that we use everyday, both at home as well as on the road. Many personalities that have become famous and placed their names in the history books were either born in Saxony or have passed through leaving their mark. The Christmas market got its start in Saxony, most of the automobles we know started its business in Saxony because of its proximity to the mountains and its natural mineral resources. And most recently, many professional sports teams are climbing their way up the ladder in soccer, handball and even basketball!
Now that’s a lot right there about the state! :-O
But what do we know about the state? This is where Part II of the quiz comes in. Dividing it up into general information, personalities and its infrastructure (which was difficult enough as is, by the way), this guide will give you a chance to test your knowledge and do some research about the state, especially if you wish to visit the region someday. As Saxony is the where many people made their inventions, especially for the household and for the highway, a part III will be devoted to the inventors.
But for now, let’s test our knowledge and get to know the Saxe, shall we? 🙂 Good luck!
The Black Triangle, infamous for years of pollution and environmental destruction caused by strip mining, consists of three states meeting near which town in Saxony? Identify the three states and choose which city.
The three states: ______________, __________________, & ___________________
Hint: A beverage named after the region and this city, consisting of (10%) vodka, (40%) Vita Cola and (50%) Czech beer was created by the author in 2005.
Which cities are served by the ICE-train line? Which ones will be served by the InterCity line beginning in 2023?
Dresden Chemnitz Leipzig Glauchau Riesa Bad Schandau
T/F: The Leipzig-Dresden Railline, the first railroad line ever built, was completed in 1839
Mark the following cities that have a professional soccer team (1, 2 and 3rd leagues) with an X, a professional handball team (1st and 2nd leagues) with a check-mark, and check-mark the cities that have an American football team.
T/F: FC Dynamo Dresden is the only team from Saxony that has defeated FC Bayern Munich in a soccer match.
How many soccer teams does Leipzig have, including the Red Bull Team?
Information about the Christmas markets in Saxony:
The oldest Christmas market known to man can be found in which city?
a. Dresden b. Leipzig c. Bautzen d. Nuremberg e. Glauchau
The origin of the Stollen (the German fruit cake with raisins and powdered sugar) originated from which city?
a. Plauen b. Naumburg (Saale) c. Dresden d. Rochlitz e. Flöha
The shortest Christmas market in Germany can be found in this city?
a. Glauchau b. Crimmitschau c. Werdau d. Meerane e. Aue
Which region in Saxony was the birthplace of the Schwipbogen (Christmas arch)?
a. Ore Mountains b. Vogtland c. Lausitz Region d. Black Triangle
T/F: Customary of a Christmas market in Saxony is the parade of miners in the villages Ore Mountains. If true, name at least one town that does host this.
T/F: Räuchermänner were common but rare decorations during the East German Communist era.
T/F: Pulsnitzer Kekse is a cake with a jelly filling that can be found at a Christmas market in Saxony.
Which Christmas market does NOT have a castle setting?
a. Wolkenburg b. Glauchau c. Zwickau d. Crimmitschau e. Waldenburg
Who is the disco-king in this picture? Have a look in the activities below. 😉
Information on the Personalities from Saxony:
Look at the quasi-autobiography of these personalities of Saxony and guess who they are. The first and last letters of the names are given. Some research is required. Good luck! 🙂
I was born in Chemnitz, which was known at that time as ______________, and started ice skating at the age of six. I won several gold medals in the Olympics and the world championship in figure skating, while pursuing a side dish career in acting and sports commentator. I was not only the face of East Germany before the Fall of the Wall in 1989 but also one of the best models of all time. Who am I?
I was born in Dresden to a family of actors and became one myself. I also love writing and conducting musical pieces and playing golf. While I used to be one of the most outspoken opponents of Communism during the 1989 revolution, I settled down and became the well-known, politically correct, sometimes stuck-up and arrogant professor of forensic medicine in a well-known but very popular “Krimi-series” playing opposite a St. Pauli junkie of a police officer. Who am I?
J_______ – J___________F L_________________S
I was born in Leipzig but grew up in Potsdam. I started acting in 1982 and have continued this career ever since. I star in many krimi-series including a Tatort series, where the setting is my hometown of Leipzig, and I play the hot, saucy investigator who eventually dies in the arms of my detective partner in the very last episode played in 2015. Who am I?
I was born in Hohenstein-Ernstthal in 1842. While I later became a teacher in Saxony, I started a life of crime which resulted in me losing my teaching license and being jailed many times. During my time in a prison in Zwickau, I became a librarian and was interested in reading books. It was then when I started writing, having produced several works focusing on the American Wild West, many of which had the character Winnetou in it. I continued writing until I died in 1912 and am buried in a tomb in Radebeul (near Dresden). Who am I?
5. I was born in Görlitz in 1976 to a father who was a soccer player and a mother who was a swimmer. I followed my father’s footsteps and started playing soccer at the age of seven, having played for Chemnitz and Kaiserslautern before making my breakthrough with the soccer team Bayer Leverkusen in 2000. There, my aggressive play brought forth many championships with Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and even Chelsea in England. I even became the captain of the German national soccer team before retiring in 2012. Who am I?
I was born in 1873 in Dresden. Even though I was a housewife, I became famous for inventing and patenting the modern coffee filter in 1908. Six years later, I founded the coffee company which still exists today, producing coffee and filters for the coffee machine. I relocated the firm to Minden (Hesse), where I lived to be 77 years old. Who am I?
I was born in a small village in Saxony 80 years ago, but I became famous for becoming the first German astronaut to fly in space in 1978. After working for the Potsdam Institute for Physics, I later worked for the Russian Institute for Space Education and later for the European Space Agency. I was a household name in East Germany as well as in films. Who am I?
I was born in Dresden and learned the trade as a massage therapist and remedial gymnastics teacher. I hated corsets and many of my female clients always had problems with their posture and their sensitive areas. Henceforth, I learned another trade as a seamstress and invented the modern Busenhalter (BH), which is bra in English, in 1899. Because of its simplistic design for these sensitive areas and its sexy appeal, it has since been revolutionized and one can find them in different shapes, sizes and forms, including sports bras and bikinis. Because I was the one who made the bra in Saxony, who am I?
Which of these statements are true or false?
T/F: Richard Wagner, composer and founder of the annual Bayreuth Festspiel which takes place in July, originated from Saxony.
T/F: Robert and Clara Schumann, a husband-wife piano duo of the 19th Century, were both born in Zwickau, but married in Leipzig. (Mark T or F in the highlighted areas)
T/F: Frederike Caroline Neubert, born in Reichenbach, was one of the first female pioneers in acting, having done stage performances in the 1600s.
T/F: The Semper Opera House in Dresden is named after the world renowned composer, Gottfried Semper.
T/F: The Princes is a rockmusic band that was created last year in honor and memory of Prince.
T/F: Catherine of Bora, who married Martin Luther, originally came from Glauchau.
Information on the Bridges (and Bridge Builders) in Saxony:
1. When was the Dresden-Chemnitz-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate railline completed? How many viaducts in Saxony does this line have?
2. List the following railroad viaducts in Saxony based on the following (click on the highlighted names to see the pictures):
From shortest to longest
From oldest to youngest
Of which, which one(s) was built by Johann Andreas Schubert?
3. Which city in Saxony does not have/ never had a bridge builder/ bridge engineering firm?
Chemnitz Zwickau Glauchau Wüstenbrand Niesky
4. Bridge builder Johann Andreas Schubert who built the _________________________________________, was responsible for the building of Germany’s first _______________________ (multiple choice). The name of it was: S____________________A.
a. automobile b. steam locomotove c. typewriter d. steam ship
5. T/F: The Blaues Wunder Bridge in Dresden, the work of bridge engineer Claus Köpke, was built in 1893, but survived the Huns’ desperate attempt of blowing it up at the conclusion of World War I. (Mark T or F in the highlighted areas)
6. Where are these bridges located? Match the pictures with the names below.
LEIPZIG- There are two ways of looking at the new record that was set at this year’s Leipzig Book Fair (Buchmesse). According to information provided by public radio station MDR, about 208,000 visitors paid homage to the convention during the weekend of 23-27 March, which takes place at the Leipzig Messe, breaking the 200,000 mark for the first time ever. About 285,000 people attended the largest in-city book events in Europe- Leipzig Liest (Leipzig is Reading), where restaurants, libraries and other public places held reading lectures by guest authors. Over 3,400 events occurred this past weekend, which is also a new record. And even the Manga convention, where tens of thousands can dress in costumes and buy products made in Japan, saw the mark of 100,000 guests get cracked by as many as 5,000. Over 2,500 booths filled all five convention halls, ranging from publishers, teacher organizations, media firms and even the antique book stores in and around Leipzig to electronic gaming companies, food vendors selling foreign goods and even costumes shops. Over all, people took advantage of both the spring-like weather and the start of Daylight Savings Time to make a pilgrimage to the Buchmesse to check out some cool items. 🙂
There are two ways to look at the record. The first one is based on the traditional way, where the stereotype of books being part of the German culture and true and more stressed than ever before. A while back, I had written about how Germans treat their books like the Bible, having shelves full in their homes and collecting even more books to read and share with others (this article can be found here.) Regardless of age or profession, everyone took their share of opportunity at the books, picking out their favorites as well as some interesting books worth taking home with, regardless of where.
As for the second way, that has more to do with the Manga convention than the book fair itself. While Lithuania was this year’s guest at the convention, and much of the literature was found in the second convention hall, the Manga convention in the first hall featured booths laden with Japanese-style comics, fashion clothing, electronic goods and even food- all coming from Japan. A lot of events dealing with this theme, including the costume contest, were also found in the hall, which explained the reason why one in ten people dressed up as Japanese comic figures. Many scenes at the Book Fair resembled scenes in such American films, such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Space Jam. It felt like being in a Hollywood studio, either at Warner Brothers or Universal. It was……simply……awesome! 😀
Together with my wife and daughter, we hit the market on Saturday, the peak day of the convention and came away with some great books. Even some books commemorating Martin Luther’s 95 theses, whose 500th anniversary celebrations are in full swing. These books will be highlighted in the later articles. In the meantime, we wanted to give you some highlights of the events at the Buchmesse, which you can click here and it will take you to the facebook version of the Files. There, you can see what you can expect from a really great book convention in Germany and plan for the one in Frankfurt (Main) in October. The 2018 Leipzig Book Fair will take place 15-18 March. In case you want some tips on how to plan ahead,….. 🙂
While the Leipzig Messe (convention center) is easily accessible by S-bahn (light rail) especially from Leipzig Central Station, some long-distance trains also provide you with direct access. When booking for the next Leipzig Buchmesse, talk to the ticket personnel at the train station regarding some deals. However, be forewarned for the trains can get crowded in the afternoon hours.
Book a hotel as early as possible and plan an overnight stay. Especially in the months before the Buchmesse, hotel prices can skyrocket by as much as 500%. So instead of an overnight stay for 50 Euros a night, you could pay up to 450 Euros at the time of the book fair. Look for the best deal and ask a friend living in Leipzig to stay a night. It will help a great deal.
Although family rates for the book fair are really affordable (this year’s rate was 37.50 Euros), it is highly recommended to visit the Manga first- and in the mornings. The reason: In the afternoon and early evening, it can be awfully crowded- and exhausting if there is not much air inside the convention hall.
Check out the rest of Leipzig for a weekend. While the readings and lectures are good, spending time in the city as well as its parks are even better. It’s OK to buy a good book, go to Clara-Zetkin-Park and read for the rest of the afternoon, while enjoying the best in Japanese snacks. My tip for the next convention. 😉
Here is an interesting story to share with you to start off this article: At an elementary school in Bad Oldesloe (between Luebeck and Hamburg), a group of pupils during an after-school class (Schulhort) saw an elementary school clearing the bookshelves of old, used school books, to make way for newer materials to be used in the classroom. Instead of putting the old books into boxes to be given away to the needy, the teacher instead discards the books into the garbage can- right in front of other pupils. An average of 30-35 pupils attend the Schulhort to do homework, activities and other things while waiting for their parents to collect them- a concept that is non-existent in the US and other countries, where classes run from 8:00am to 3:00pm- ending two hours later than in Germany.
Fortunately that group that saw the incident fished out 10 of the books and divided them up among themselves to take home with them. And while a complaint against that teacher has been sent to the headmaster of that school, little is known what action will be taken there, if at all. But this incident conveyed the message to the pupils, whose parents and other educators would object forcefully:
It is OK to throw books away because they are waste. It is OK to kill more trees because we don’t need them. It is OK to pervert the environment more than it is already. And it is OK to waste the minds of the next generation because they are indeed cogs of the elite that believe the Earth is dead already- why not make it even deader?
I bet Betsy DeVos (America’s newly elected Educational Minister) is reading this right now and is about to kiss me for those comments, while also inviting me to dinner with Josef Stalin and all the evangelical Jesus-freaks, including Paul Ryan and Steve Bannon. 😉
But away with the sarcasm, the discarding of books in general would make a German cringe, for if there is one sin that is unforgivable, it is reading the book and then desecrating it. Germany prides itself on books, for one in three German households have an average of 1,200 books in their libraries! And while people may think only one in ten have a library or can find books in each room of the apartment or house, don’t be fooled when you check in the forbidden areas, where you can find boxes and shelves of books in the cellar, garage, some attics and underneath beds in the bedroom. I even saw a library of books in a neighbor’s basement! No matter where you go in the neighborhood of a German community, books are everywhere. This is why we have these key facts to consider:
A community has an average of two libraries; in a university city- six counting a university library. For larger cities with more than two universities, don’t be surprised if university libraries are divided up ad customized, based on subject of studies and spread out throughout the city, justifying the need to bike from one end to the other.
Each suburb of a city with 70,000 people or more has its own library full of new and used books, and these libraries have as full of capacity as the normal central libraries as well as the university ones.
Germany prides in having book stores. You will find an average of one book store franchise and one private, family owned one in a city of 50,000 or more. And both are well-visited.
Germany is the only known country to have an open library. On trains, in the park and in city centers, one can see a glass case with books for you to take. However, it comes at a cost of giving away one of your own. You can also borrow, read and put back if you wish. The open library displayed by Ana Beatriz Ribeiro at the 2016 Intercultural Blogger Conference at the Poniatowski Restaurant in Leipzig is another example, but it is one of the firsts in the country to have this in an eatery.
Most importantly, Germany prides itself in hosting two international book fairs: One in Leipzig in March and another in October in Frankfurt/Main. Both taking place at conference centers (Messe), as many as a million visitors converge on these fairs to read and even purchase books from writers and publishers from as many as 90 countries on average, including one theme country.
To summarize, Germans treat books as Americans treat the Bible- they see these as sacred gifts never to be desecrated, period. Therefore when a person is lent a book and returns it in the form deemed different than what it was before- creases in the pages and covers, plus coffee spills (even if unintentional), that person can expect to be blocked on facebook and spammed in the GMX accounts. Ruining a book can ruin a friendship. When a person throws away books deemed useless, you can expect book lovers rummaging through the paper garbage containers at night, fishing them out to save them. Believe me, I’ve done this myself as my wife and I are bookworms ourselves. And what is wrong with selling a book at a flea market (Trödelmarkt) for a buck? (One Euro) A loss in profits is a given, but at least the next person can share in the experience in reading the book as much as you did before selling it. 🙂
As a writer and teacher myself, if there is a Ten Commandments as far as books are concerned, there would be the following:
Thou shall treat the book like the Bible. Handle it like it’s the most valuable gift in the house.
Thou shall not desecrate the book in any form. Karma will kick the offender in the Gluteus Maximus for any petty misdemeanor with this.
Thou shall treat the book like a gift. Books are great gifts at any occasion and no person can deny this.
Thou shall not discard books for any reason. Even if a person dies, his books are also your valuables.
Thou shall donate unwanted books. Libraries and second-hand shops are always forthcoming in taking on books for their collection.
Thou shall ask before lending out books. When living in a flat with your partner, if you have a book to lend to a colleague, consult first before carrying it out.
Thou shall treat a borrowed book like the Bible. It is a sin to read the book and return it altered.
Thou shall visit one international book fair in thou’s lifetime. You’re not a true German if haven’t spent a whole day at a Buchmesse- better, two: one in Frankfurt and one in Leipzig. Both are experiences of a lifetime.
Thou shall cherish the memories from reading a book. Books are brain food, providing some memorable experiences when reading it and some topics for discussion.
Thou shall set examples for others when treating the book. Remember, one tree produces 5 books. One book produces memorable experiences similar to a vacation. That means paper can be recycled but not the book itself.
With a lot of writing greats coming from Germany, one should try and write a book to keep up with tradition. Not a column like this one, but a classic 200-page novel dealing with mysteries, travels, social and medical themes, business and history- the things Germans love to read. 70% of Germans prefer print media over e-media. That trend is bound to stay the same in the coming years. The smell of paper from the press is impossible to refuse, and e-books to many is just a piece of plastic that hurts the eyes. Germans have a very close and erotical relationship with books and the paper product with pages needs to be taken very seriously.
After all, as one person in a forum about Germany and books stated: Having a library full o books does not justify NOT buying more books. So if you see that in a German household next time, imagine a library full of Bibles, Quorans and Testaments, treat them with care and understand why books are to be kept as collectibles and not desecrated.
Thank you! 🙂
Disclaimer: The location and name of the school where the incident took place was changed to protect the identity of those involved.
In connection with literature and Martin Luther, we have a literary piece that I came across that one should have a look at. It is written by Uwe Steimle. Born in Dresden in 1963, Steimle studied theater at the University of Leipzig, having graduated in 1989, Steimle was a successful actor, having starred in the German mystery series Polizei 110, as well as movies like Sushi in Suhl- a film about a Japanese restaurant in the Thuringian town, which the character Rolf Anschütz created. Steimle was also a successful author, having written Meine Oma, Marx und Jesus Christus and Heimatstunde. This book of the week is his third. Published in 2016 on the eve of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther and his 95 Theses, this book is a collection of stories told by people having an association with Luther’s past in the places where the Reformer left his mark, such as Eisleben, Wittenberge and at Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, just to name a few communities.
This review was written by fellow columnist Juliane Klingler, who writes for the Heldenstadtbewohner, a column which she and her husband Alex write about life in Leipzig and things people can do there, regardless of budget. The link is available here.
While this review is written in German, it is a rather short summary which will give you a glimpse on life in the Lutherstatdt, with some comments about Martin Luther and religion. I won’t go further but ask you to continue reading from here. A link where you can find out how to purchase the book is at the end of the excerpt.
2017 ist ein Thema- ganz besonders hier in Mitteldeutschland- ständig präsent: das Reformationsjubiläum, der 500. Jahrestag des Thesenanschlags von Wittenberg. Und Martin Luther? Der ist inzwischen überall präsent: im Film, als Panometer, auf Kaffeebechern und Spielkarten, als Puppe und auf T-Shirts. Etwas ist jedoch im Laufe der Zeit verlorengegangen: die restlichen 5 Thesen. Aber: sie sind wieder da! Gefunden von Uwe Steimle!