Jena Says Adé to the ICE Train

Photo courtesy of Bahn Ansage

The last ICE high speed train leaves Jena at 9:00pm on December 9th. Regio-Trains to pass through after December 10th. Future of Long-Distance Train Service Questionable.

JENA, GERMANY-  It has been in the making for over 25 years, the same time as the introduction of the ICE Train along the Saale River Rail Line through Jena, Saalfeld and Lichtenfels connecting Munich and Berlin. Come December 10th, the new ICE Line connecting Erfurt with Bamberg will be open to traffic, and thus the completion of the multi-billion Euro project which features high-speed trains going up to 350 km/hrs. from Berlin to Munich via Leipzig, Erfurt and Coburg.

And with that, a bitter farewell to the service going through Jena. Despite protests and events designed to convince the Deutsche Bahn (DB) Rail Service to continue with the train service once the new ICE-line opens, the train service provider has decided to pull the plug on long-distance train services, which provided passengers with service to both major cities without having to change trains.

From December 2017 onwards, only regional trains will be passing through Jena on both the N-S and W-E axes, thus providing longer travel times to the nearest train stations that serve ICE-trains. To provide a pair of examples: With Regio-Service to Leipzig, it takes up to 90 minutes due to stops at every single station. With the ICE-train, it would have taken less than an hour. Going to Nuremberg, one needs three hours with the ICE. With Regio, it would be an additional two hours. Even if one takes a Regio-train to Erfurt to catch the ICE-train, one needs a half hour just to get to Erfurt.  Reports have indicated that Jena will get the worst end of the bargain in the history of the city’s rail lines and some have compared the service to that of 80 years ago.

IC trains to debut in Jena come 2019

But there is a silver lining to the deal. DB has not completely abandoned long-distance train services, and the state government under Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow is stepping in to provide support for the people in Jena affected by the new ICE rail line. There will be one ICE-train going to Berlin, which leaves at 5:30am every weekday morning and arriving back in Jena at 9:30pm. An Inter-City (IC) train connecting Leipzig with Karlsruhe will pass through Jena on a daily basis, but mainly in the afternoon. Come 2019, InterCity trains will pass through Jena, on the W-E axis, providing service to Gera (east) and Cologne via Erfurt and Kassel (west). This will be a first since 2002, the last time an IC train has passed through. By 2023, it is planned that IC-trains will pass through Jena on a two-hour basis going on the N-S axis between Leipzig and Karlsruhe.  Yet this will not be enough to soften the blow of residents who had been used to travelling with long-distance trains from Jena and need better services.

This is where Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow stepped in, during a conference in Jena on 29 November. The state will provide over 33.9 million Euros between the end of 2018 and 2024 for long-distance trains connecting Jena and Leipzig to ensure that passengers can reach their destinations faster than what is expected. In addition to that, a brand new Central Station in Jena is being planned in the southern suburb of Burgau, where all trains can stop for passengers. Alone with the second proposal came a massive amount of criticism from opponents who claim that with six train stations in Jena it was not necessary to construct another train station. Furthermore, Jena has a long-distance train station in Jena-Paradies, which was built in 2003. Work is already in the making to convert another station, Jena-Göschwitz, into a long-distance train station. Already the train station building is being renovated so that people can wait inside or pick up their food. In addition, the platforms are being rebuilt to include elevators and other handicap-accesses.

Older version of the IC, most of which are owned by Locomore

With the Bahn not committed to long-distance trains along the N-S axis before 2023 and the small number of IC-trains passing through on the W-E axis daily (three in each direction), all using the stops currently used by Regio-Express trains, Ramelow will have to look at private train providers to fulfill the promises of the residents of having long-distance trains between the end of 2018 and 2024. Already on the radar include Locomore, which is owned by Czech provider Leo Express and German bus provider Flixbus. Despite having gone through bankruptcy last year, train services are being reintroduced for lines connecting Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Berlin, competing with DB’s long distance lines in terms of pricing and services. It is very likely that Locomore could take over the former ICE line between Bamberg and Leipzig, thus providing residents in Jena and neighboring Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Naumburg rail service until 2024.

Also in the running is Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn (MRB), which has expanded services in Saxony and could even reintroduce the Inter-Regio train connecting Leipzig with Jena, with an option of going to Bamberg. The Inter-Regio was last used in 2002 and functions as an Inter-City train with a snack bar and compartments for bikes.  Unlike the IC, college students could use the train with their student ticket, which is a big plus. Currently one Regio-Express line serves the Nuremberg-Hof-Chemnitz-Dresden Magistrate, starting in Hof.

Then there is the ALEX Rail, which serves lines connecting Munich with Landau, as well as Regensburg and Hof, mostly operated using diesel trains. If extended from Nuremberg to Leipzig it would provide passengers with direct service to Nuremberg and could thus switch onto the ICE-train to Munich, Frankfurt (via Wurzburg) or Vienna.

All options are currently open, but one variable is certain, due to the adjustment period with the new ICE-line, especially with regards to the pricing and the train access, as well as construction along the N-S axis both south and north of Jena and the planned electrification of the line along the W-E axis which will connect Weimar and Jena first before heading eastward towards Gera and Glauchau, residents of Jena and areas along the N-S axis will have to face the inevitable: the DB is committed to Regio-services in the short and middle terms. Already planned is more Regio trains connecting Jena with Erfurt as well as Jena with Halle(Saale) to provide more access to the ICE-stations. In addition, Erfurt Bahn is seeking to extend its Peppermint Line to Jena, enroute to Possneck via Orlamünde. Currently, the line connects Sommerda (north of Erfurt) with Grossheringen (near Naumburg). Should the plan to realize long-distance train services be in the cards, chances are most likely Jena will have to face prospects of either hand-me-down ICs from DB or Locomores in order to accommodate services.

And this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for many who are reliant on the train services. Instead of dealing with multiple train changes and delays while waiting at small train stations with little or no services, many are thinking of investing in a set of wheels and calculating traffic jams on Germany’s Autobahn. Given Jena’s proximity to two of the busiest Autobahns (M9 between Berlin and Munich and M4 between Cologne and Dresden), this would make sense and would even fulfil the prediction once made by OTZ Newspaper Columnist Tino Zippel: In the end, DB will have invested billions for the new ICE-rail line……. and for the automobile.

On the map below, you can see the illustrations based on the information in the article.

 

Jena has six rail stations on both axes. On the N-S we have Jena-Zwätzen, Jena Saalbahnhof and Jena Paradies, the last being the ICE stop. On the W-E, we have Jena-West and Neue Schenke. Both lines cross at Jena-Göschwitz, which is currently being remodeled to become the new Jena Central Station, where all long-distance trains are scheduled to stop. Each station is heavily connected by city bus and street car services, which stops an average of every 10 minutes on a daily basis; 20 minutes on weekends.

 

A farewell ceremony to the ICE-train is scheduled for 9 December beginning at 7:00pm. A flashmob similar to people saying farewell to AirBerlin (when it ceased operations in October) will take place at 9:00pm, when the last ICE stops in Jena Paradies. Details here.

For information on the new train schedule, especially for those wishing to visit Jena can be found via DB here.

Panoramic view of Jena Paradies ICE Station. Built in 2003, this station will soon lose its ICE-stop after 9 December. Photo taken by Michael Sander

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Bitte NICHT Einsteigen!

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When traveling with the Deutsche Bahn (German Railways), there are two extreme forms of communication to keep in mind, which annoy the customer the most: There is no information and there is the decision that is made and there is no compromise.  This is especially the case when you find a train arriving for you to board, with the info-board saying the train is leaving in a half hour to your destination, and you enter the train that is unlocked, ONLY to find that you are locked in and your train leaves the platform 20 minutes earlier, enroute to the railyard for repairs!!! You are surprised when the conductor enters the train and finds a trespasser frantically waiting to get out and return to the train station to catch your real connecting train, if it hadn’t left while he found a way to shuttle you back in the meantime.

People being trapped in miscommunication with the Bahn is nothing new to passengers, for announcements and information on the trains are sometimes very patchy, causing confusion and sometimes anger among the passengers dependent on train service as the alternative to driving the car. Whether there is neither information on the info-board nor announcements on the train and it arrives without notice, the lack of communication between the Bahn and the customers is an ongoing problem, and one that cannot be ignored, along with the increasing costs of traveling by train.

Some more examples of such headaches include a person boarding an ICE train upon arrival at Frankfurt without any information on whether or not to board, only to be locked up for 20 minutes while the cleaning crew takes out the garbage and cleans the seats before allowing people to board enroute to Dresden. Then there is a train that is supposed to leave the platform on time, only to be cancelled without notice because the loc driver went on strike. Or one that is my all time favorite: while riding the CityNightLine enroute to Geneva, 15 minutes before approaching Fulda so that the train can be separated between the one going to Basel and one going to Munich and Vienna, I was trapped in the latter train without notice, as train crews locked the door of the section going to Basel- and this while in the restroom next to a restaurant!

From my own personal experience traveling with the Bahn ever since coming to Germany, one can find the miscommunication very often with long-distance trains, in particular, the ICE, for despite its biggest strength of being the fastest and most efficient,  customer service is the poorest. This includes a lack of communication between train crew and customers in terms of providing available information on connections, being impatient with customers arriving from trains that are late, providing alternative train connections that are not realistic, and lastly, being too arrogant to provide information via announcements- both in German as well as in English. When an announcer on an ICE-train upon arriving says “Alle vorgesehene Zügen werden erreicht” (All connections will be reached) and sometimes in a broken dialect in English, the first natural reaction you will find in any situation falls along the lines of : “Häh????”

After having my experience of being locked in a train two times within one month, I decided to provide you with a few tips so that you can get the information you want and not be entangled in a web of misunderstanding.

  1. When a train is waiting to leave for your destination, don’t board right away but wait until 10 minutes before departure. Chances are if a train is on the platform and you have 30 minutes to wait, it will either head to the railyard or is locked with the cleaning crew on board. Better to drink a coffee or Glühwein at the train station and enjoy some company with strangers than to have an experience of a lifetime.
  2. While on the ICE, make sure you have access to a broschure to see when you will reach your destination and what connecting trains are available. They are both in German and English. Chances are likely that you have more than one possibility to catch your connecting train in case you missed the first one.
  3. Know your train and where you should be, especially when travelling overnight. While the CityNightLine is now defunct, other trains have taken its place, such as the EuroNight, EuroCity and NachtZug (Night Train) that have arrangements  similar to what was mentioned. That means if a train separates at a railyard station, like Fulda, Hamburg, Nuremberg, etc., please be sure to be in your own carriage 20 minutes before the procedure starts so that you are not locked in the wrong one and end up going in the wrong direction.
  4. While we’re talking about back-up plans, don’t bind yourself with one connection- one train. The German Railways do have Flexi-Tickets and other options, especially if you have a BahnCard. I personally have BahnCard 25 but they have 50 and 100. Pending on how often you travel by train, it is best to look at the best options which will help you financially and in terms of your sanity.
  5. Communicate with the train crew. If in doubt, ask. If you don’t like their service, make it known. The train crew is paid to do one important thing, which is to make the customer happy. They cannot afford to be arrogant, even though there are some explanations for their lack of logic. However they are sometimes very helpful, especially in situations where the customer needs some guidance in difficult situations.
  6. Lastly, be patient. All of us are human, and many of us make mistakes. Therefore, if you are in any of the situations like the ones mentioned here, relax. There is always a way out of any bad situation. I’m reminded of the song by the Wiseguys which describes the adventures of the German Railways quite well, and one doesn’t need to learn German or English just to see the descriptions and the facial reactions of the passengers (see this Genre of the Week Article here).

And if you want my word of advice: If you are ever in doubt whether or not you should board your train and you have more than enough time to spare, please, bitte NICHT einsteigen. Even if the sign says the train is leaving at your time, it is better to wait until right before the train’s planned departure than to board too early only to be locked in at the worst possible time. Especially if the crew wants to clean the train before it leaves, it is better to have a coffee and sandwich at a restaurant and give them a token of thanks for their service than to have some frowned looks in the end.  🙂

Author’s personal note: In reference to the CityNightLine train heading to Geneva, the one I now tout as the Jodie-Foster-Express thanks to the film Flightplan, I did manage to get back into the carriage going to Basel but not before waiting 20 minutes until one of the railway workers came and led me off the Munich coach back onto the Basel coach. With my wife accompanying me to Geneva, my first response to her question of what happened was: “Don’t ask!”  😉

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Genre of the Week: Wir sind die Neuen

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Our next genre of the week looks at generational conflicts and how each one handles societal problems differently. Produced by Ralf Westhoff, Wir sind die Neuen (translated as We are the New Neighbors) features two sets of three people, each coming from two different generations. The Babyboomer generation features Annie, a biologist, Johannes, a lawyer and Eddie, a musician. Each one had their professions rise and fall and all of them are single, although Eddie reveals something far worse during the latter part of the story. Annie was evicted from her apartment and decided to create a dormitory with her two friends from college, Eddie and Johannes,  at their old apartment near campus of the university in Munich, the setting of the story. Despite their return to the days of talking about philosophy and God over a bottle of red wine, they face two conflicts: the change in personality and lifestyles over the years- which the three manage to handle in one way or another- and the centerpiece of conflicts in the story, dealing with three college students, Katharina, Thorsten and Barbara. They come from rich families, are textbook about the rules of the apartment- and thus come into conflict with the three older sixty-something inhabitants- and spend amples of time buried in the internet/laptop. Yet, they cannot grapple with the life that is outside their apartment, which includes dealing with humor, heartbreak and love, and the basics of taking care of themselves and their health. Their obsession is trying to complete their studies in law, yet being buried in books, they feel hopeless and eventually, despite their personality conflicts with Annie, Johannes and Eddie, they drop their differences and accept their offer of help. With the willingness to be open, a lot of things happen to all the characters in the story, bridging the gap between the generation that is in the twilight in their lifetimes and the generation that is blossoming and have a promising a future.

Wir sind die Neuen focuses on several aspects that can be discussed in any situation, even in the classroom. The first is dealing with the differences between the Babyboomer Generation (those born between 1945 and 1965 and were children of the parents who had served in World War II) and the Y Generation (those born from 1985 onwards) as well as the characteristics and culture values that are important to each one. This includes the music they listen to, the topics they pay attention to in the news, and their philosophical standpoint in life. Coming from the “Bridge-Generation,” known as the X-Generation (those born between 1966 and 1984), we seem to be sandwiched between the two different spheres the generations present to us. While we have created our own identities and culture, we seem to have adopted much of this from our parents as well as those who are much younger than we are.  So one aspect we can look at is what is typical of the two generations in the story and provide examples of conflicts that could potentially come between the two generations.

Another aspect worth noting is the lifestyle in Germany between the two generations and the comparison with that of another country, like the US, Britain or any European country. This includes university life, culture,  the way of thinking, etc. Many of these examples were brought up in the film.  And finally, one should have a look at how people change in life. Especially in the Baby Boomer generation, the characters among the group developed differently that there were conflicts among the group. The return to the “good old days” was an attempt to recognize their ownself, reconcile with each other for their differences and lastly, reboot their lives and try something new, or supplement their careers, as was the case with Johannes.

The film’s main theme, especially when you look at the preview is this: No matter the difference, we are all the same in one way or another. If we want to help each other succeed, we need to tear the walls down and build the bridge to bring the two together. If you are unsure how, check out the film. There are many ways of how it can be done.

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Year of the Beer Day 12:Scheyern Kloster Gold Export

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Our next beer on the marathon as we approach Day 12 takes us to Bavaria and a brewery that is definitely one for the ages. The Scheyern Brewery, located north of Munich, is considered the third oldest brewery still in operation in Germany, and one of the oldest in the world. Established by the monks in 1119, the beer produced was considered hold and was drunk with care, even though it was unknown what ingredients were in the beer prior to the Beer Purity Law of 1516. After changing hands via lease for many decades, the brewery was purchased by Tobias Huber in 2006, and after extensive renovations, the Scheyern Brewery restarted its business as a family-owned entity that same year. With seven different beers, the Scheyern is considered a High Street brand, where one can find the beer at the likes of Real, Tegut and other small beverage shops in Germany.

Of the seven types, I tried this one: the Scheyern Kloster Gold. One can look at gold beer as similar to tap beer but with a bit more alcohol content (5.4% in this case). The beer has a clear amber color but my first impression is when I first poured it was little foam, which means a potential of barley-flavored water, like the Sachsengold.  However, the stereotype was proven wrong not only by the aroma, but also the flavor while drinking it. Here’s why:

Flavor/Aroma: The aroma was quite strong when opening the bottle and pouring it, producing a smell of bread malt with earthen hops. It created a rather mild, decent smell, yet the taste of the beer proved otherwise. Apart from its full body and a slick but slightly spicy sensation when drinking it, the flavor of grain and bread malt combined with herbal malt was really strong, but not bitter, resulting in an excellent balance between sweet, herbal and bitter. The beer had a real freshness to it and how it was crafted  was really impressive. The Scheyern has a detailed diagram and explanation of how the beer is produced to show the readers it gets its high quality. Yet my questions for not only this brewery but to other kloster breweries and beer experts are the following:

  1. What is different between a Klosterbier and a Pilsner?
  2. How did the monks craft their beer before and after Martin Luther presented his thesis?

After trying the Scheyern Kloster Gold, this inquiring mind is going to find out more about the history of beer and how the monks got their hands on brewing it and worshipping it. After all, even though most likely I will try another beer type (hopefully its Christskindl kind) before the marathon is finished, this beer deserves to be blessed. 🙂

Grade: 1,3/ A

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City Institutions, Laws and Agreements: The Origin of the Flensburg Files

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Author’s Note: This article is a two-in-one deal. It’s an article in connection with Germany’s 25th anniversary, but it’s also in connection with the Files’ five years and how this column came into being. Enjoy! 🙂 

While living in Germany, one will see a unique feature that has been talked about at the dinner table: institutions, laws and agreements named after German cities. We are not talking about institutions like breweries, whose headquarters are found at their places of origin, like the Flensburger, the Berliner Weisse, the Köstritzer, the Saalfelder and the like. That topic is saved for a rainy day, unless you want to know more about German beer (in that case, there’s an article for you right here). And what is also typical are the newspapers named after cities- these are also common everywhere and heceforth will be left out here.

What is meant by institutions are the banks and insurance companies that were founded in the place or origin, and with some exceptions to the rule, still exist today. Many of these financial institutions had their roots to the time of Bismarck’s regime beginning in 1871, the time when Germany was first founded as a country. Part of that had to do with Bismarck’s introduction of the social welfare and health care systems, where every citizen was required to have insurance in case of an accident. With that came the dawn of the insurance (More on that later). The Dresdner Bank was one of these examples. Founded in 1872 Karl Freiherr von Kaskel and based in Dresden, the bank became one of largest banks in Germany and eastern Europe, surviving two World Wars and the Cold War before it folded into the Commerzbank in 2009. There is also the insurance group Alte Leipziger, located an hour west of the city in Leipzig, which provides insurance coverage, especially for burn-out syndrome and other psychological disorders. One will find such (financial institutions) in many big cities, such as Munich, Stuttgart, Hannover and Frankfurt, just to name a few.

City laws and agreements are even more unique in Germany. While in the Anglo-Saxon countries have conferences and agreements on a larger scale in terms of international relations (such as the Washington Conference of 1922, the Bonn Agreement on Afghanistan in 2001 and the Frankfurt Documents in 1948), what is meant by agreements are the creation of domestic laws and systems that people in Germany have to abide by, which were signed and enacted at the place of origin. In some cases, like the Flensburg Point System, there is even an office that specializes in this type of law. As seen in the point system, the Kraftfahrtbundesamt (the office of vehicular registration) in Flensburg is responsible for giving drivers points for violations on the road. Other agreements known to exist include:

_The Düsseldorfer Tabelle: Founded in 1962 based on a controversial ruling and its subsequent appeal, the table determines how much child support a partner has to provide at the time of the divorce. It is classified based on the amount of money that person has to pay per month until the child is 25 years of age.

_Frankfurter Tabelle: This table is used to determine how much money a traveller should receive as a refund for lack of accomodations. This is determined by another table created in Kempten. The Würzburger Tabelle has a similar scheme but for boat cruises.

These are just a handful of agreements and laws that exist, which leads us to this activity:

Identify which city has its own law and agreement that was enacted in its place of origin and describe briefly what it is and how it works. That you can do in the comment section, links are welcomed regardless of language. 🙂

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Origin of the Files:

Keeping German cities in mind, the next question that many readers, family members, friends and colleagues have been asking me is: Why Flensburg and not Frankfurt?  As Piggeldy and Frederick would say: Nichts leichter als das (Easy as this):

I visited Flensburg for the first time in May 2010, as I needed to get away from everything that had been going on in my life that was unwelcomed. Just to put it bluntly and leaving it there. I had heard of the city and its proud heritage from a pair of people who either come from there or have lived there for many years. One was a former student colleague from my days as a teacher in Bayreuth, another was my best friend and his girlfriend from my days in Thuringia. I had heard about the point system before that and the beer. But upon setting foot on Flensburg soil, and exploring the city and visiting the people, it became the city worth visiting (along with the surrounding region), because of its natural surroundings, its landscape, and especially its history, tied together with that of Germany, Denmark and on the international scene. Some articles have been written about it, other themes have yet to make the column (and will soon enough). 🙂

While my main profession is an English teacher (and I’ve been doing this for 15 years), my second profession is a writer, who has been contributing works not only to this one but also to other newspapers. One day, in response to a letter I had written to a local newspaper demanding that my hometown in Minnesota set an example of what Flensburg is doing with its historic architecture by saving the former high school building, a friend and former high school classmate of mine recommended me to the areavoices website, where I can write about my experiences as a Minnesotan living in Germany, providing some photos and food for thought. She works at the Forum Communications Company based in Fargo, North Dakota but has newspaper offices throughout the Midwest, including Worthington (Minnesota),  Mitchell (South Dakota), and those throughout North Dakota in Grand Forks, Jamestown and Williston, just to name a few.

After some thought about her offer, why not?

Together with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, the Flensburg Files made its debut in October 2010. The origin of the Files came from my will to keep the German tradition alive: my visit in Flensburg, using the German city name for the title, and the files- there is a file for every document submitted in a form of article, photos, interviews and the life. Besides, one can do a whole lot with the letter F, as you can see in the logos below.

Five years laters, the Files is running strong. Not only does the column provide some topics pertaining to German-American themes and places to visit (Christmas markets included), but it has extended to include more on culture, education (esp. for those wanting to learn English and are non natives), current events and some food for thought on the part of the author. It now has a wordpress website, which has attracted almost a thousand subscribers (and counting) plus unknown numbers of frequent visitors to the Files’ facebook pages and twitter. In other words, it has gotten bigger, attracting a large audience from all aspects of the world. Plans are in the making in the future to include a couple more social networks and provide a few more series beyond 2015, but the Files will remain the same, an online column that provides readers with an insight of German-American themes, even if it means going behind the scenes, as the author has done already.

This leads to the last question: Why Flensburg and not other cities in Germany? We have too many institutions, laws and agreements going by the names of Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg, just to name a few. Plus using names of other small cities are possible but they don’t provide the kick to a top-notch column like this one. One could rename it like the Husum Herald, St.Pauli Sentinal,  Münster Morning News, Nuremberg Newsflyer, Glauchau (Daily) Globe (here, the people in Worthington would have a say in that), Leipzig Local (again same as Glauchau as that group exists), Weimar World News, etc. But nothing can top what the Flensburg Files can offer for title. And sometimes using something local and building off of what the city offers for rum, beer, handball and its point system, in addition to its beaches, landscape and especially its heritage can give a city like Flensburg a boost, like it has in the five years it has been in business, with many more years to come. 🙂

To close this article here’s a word of advice for those wanting to start an online column like this one, or a career as a journalist. Because our world is full of lies and corruption, there is one variable that is constant, which is the truth. The truth is the most important commodity a person has to deal with. This includes being true to yourself and your future. If you are sure that you want to uncover the truth and expose it, then do it. People may laugh at you at first, and you may face failure for the first few months or even years, but in the end, if you are true to your heart, you will win the hearts and minds of true friends who will stay with you to ensure that you stay to your course to become a successful writer. It takes likes of patience, passion, perseverence and persistence- the 4 Ps. Once followed, and once you receive accolades and respect for you as a true writer, then you will reach your destiny and beyond. Aim high and let the heavens do the rest.

And now, back to the writing…… 🙂

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Its present logo (since 2014)

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Americans in Germany 2: Hometown Locals Part II

The family photo. Left to right: The Sutton Family (Andrew, Camden & Amanda), The Smith Family (Jason & Birgit), and the Krahmer Family (Kristin, Alexis and Brian). Missing from the photo was Clara. Daphne was born a year after this photo was taken.

Picking up where we left off in Part I, the Files’ Steve Schorr takes a look at the four locals from a small Minnesota town of Jackson, who found their place here in Germany. Here are some more questions and some interesting answers from the four:

Question 7a. What are the benefits of living in Germany?

Brian- Another one of the main reasons I wanted to move to Germany are the views on politics, social issues, economic and ecological issues.  I feel life is a lot more calm, safe, and time with family is encouraged.  Very few people work more than 40 hours, and I started this job with 27 days of vacation per year.

Kristin- The benefits for us of living here is quality of life. We find life to be at a more relaxed pace here. The ability to travel and explore is endless. Germany has less violence, better education, healthcare and just all around a better social system. Some people view the high taxes here as a drawback. We don’t really mind the higher taxes knowing that it benefits us directly in healthcare, retirement, education, environment, roads and etc.

Amanda- The biggest benefits that I have enjoyed are ease of travel without a car, wonderful healthcare, and excellent and affordable childcare.  There is a huge network of buses, trams, and trains all around Germany, so it is very possible to live without a car here.  Healthcare is stress free.  Of course it is paid for in our taxes, but if you are sick, you go to the doctor or have whatever medical procedure that you need and do not have to worry about how much it costs because it is either covered completely or very reasonable in cost.  You won’t go bankrupt or have to take out a loan to cover medical expenses in Germany.  Childcare is also very good and affordable.  Finally the bread, so many delicious options baked fresh daily.  Some bakeries are even open on Sunday.  Germans take their bread seriously. If we ever do have to leave, this will be something we will miss the most, after all the friends we have made of course.

Jason- The biggest benefit for me and my family is the possibilities of hiking in the nature and doing sports at places that are conveniently located. We have many bike trails and hiking paths, as well as parks where children can climb up jungle gyms made of wood, etc. There are beaches and other natural places for families to enjoy.

7b. What are the drawbacks?

Jason- My biggest drawback so far has been the job opportunities. Almost every job requires certain qualifications which through training at an accredited institution, takes 2-3 years; at the university, even longer. As Brian and Kristin both mentioned earlier, Germany  is in dire need of skilled workers in many branches, including in my case, teaching as many baby boomers are leaving for retirement in droves. The problem is having to go through the educational training, which in my case means 4-5 years of college, plus a semester practical training, plus an additional two-years of student teaching (Referendariat) and two state exams in order to become a fully licensed teacher. And this despite the very high demand for native speakers of English to teach in school.

It’s the same in other fields, including medicine, law and engineering. In the US, you need only four years and a test for teaching, up to five or six for becoming a lawyer, engineer or doctor. It has created a paradox for in many regions, the shortage is acute and severe, and there are not enough people to fill in the posts left empty by outgoing personnel because of the painful process for the younger people to fill in. While some states are laxing their guidelines, like reducing the two-year Referendariat to only one, as is being practiced in Saxony for teaching, there is still a long ways to go in order for the job market to become flexible like the US and other countries and the empty positions to be filled again.

Kristin- Drawbacks are being far away from family and friends. Learning German hasn’t been a piece of cake either.

Amanda- The drawback to childcare is it can be difficult to find a spot for a child in kindergarten.  Another challenge, more than a drawback, is learning the documentation and paperwork system.  Nearly everything needs some form of documentation and most things also need to be stamped by an authority.  Germans love to stamp documents.  We now find this more charming than a nuisance.

Question 8.- Have you done some traveling since coming to Germany? If so, which places have you visited and which ones would you recommend?

Amanda- Unfortunately we have not really done much traveling.  However, we have been fortunate in the places we have lived.  There is a lot to do and see in both Jena and Potsdam.  We miss the hills and hiking in Jena, but are enjoying the massive Parks and water around Potsdam.

Brian- Since we got here last year, we have visited 7 countries, and while most people have never even heard of Slovenia, it’s really cool and pretty special.

Jason- Since 1999, I’ve been all over the place, both on my own as well as with family and friends. I’ve visited 17 European States and a total of 13 German states, counting the city-states of Berlin and Hamburg, as well as my current home state of Thuringia. My favorite place in Germany has been Schleswig-Holstein because of its rural setting, and the people there are really open and friendly. Plus half of my mom’s ancestry originates from there (near Kiel). In particular, Flensburg (with its rum and handball team), Lübeck (with its marzipan), Kiel (with its historic ships), Fehmarn (with its diverse culture) and Friedrichstadt (with its taste of Dutch culture) are highly recommended.  But one should look at Saxony for its landscapes and Dresden for its architecture. Also recommended are the cities of Halle (Saale), Quedlinburg, Bamberg, and the Rhine Valley corridor between Cologne and Frankfurt. I’ve yet to see more of Baden Wurttemberg, Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, but I hope to do that someday.

Kristin- We’ve traveled over the years around Germany and 15 other countries in Europe. I have loved every place we’ve visited but some of my top favorites are Barcelona, Paris, Ljubljana, Bern, Innsbruck and Amsterdam. We spent some time north of Amsterdam in the spring and enjoyed the quaint country side with all it’s windmills and canals. Eastern Europe is also a wonderful place to visit. We enjoyed our time in Slovakia and Croatia. It’s like stepping back in time a little bit in those old Communist countries.

Question 9. Name one memorable and one not so memorable experience that you had since coming here.
Kristin- At the moment I am still in awe that I am actually living here so for me everything tends to be a memorable experience. I suppose the not so memorable moments have involved silly situations when the language barrier comes into play.

Brian- Test-driving cars on the Autobahn at 125mph (legally!) is pretty exhilarating.  Going 300kmh on a train while having a beer and enjoying the scenery was also pretty memorable.

Jason- I’ve had my share of memorable experiences as far as biking is concerned. But I have to agree with Brian with the driving part. I had to take my driver’s training in 2002 in order to convert my driver’s license in the States to that of Germany. There I was amazed at the amount of space I had to maneuver while driving, which is half of what it is in the States. The fun part was parking on the hill while putting on the hand brake, which I practiced many times. Yet I also learned how to cuss while driving because German drivers are very impatient and they love to complain about other people driving. In one instance, on my first day at the wheel, my driver’s trainer had to roll down his window to cuss at the taxi driver for cutting in front of me at an intersection even though I had the right of way. I still remember his comment to this day: “Er hat Vorfahrt, du Heinie!”

But one sad experience was that I had to stand trial as an eyewitness to a car-bike accident in 2005. There I learned firsthand how the judicial system in Germany works in comparison with the US: one judge, several jurors asking questions, but very few people in the court room. Discreet but better that than a frenzy of media hoarding the courtroom, as we see many times in the States.

Amanda- One of the best things that has happened here in Germany other than making new friends, was having our second child born here.  Often feeling lost and alone in the beginning is something I wish I could help others who are new here avoid.  Germany is a wonderful place to live, but the initial steep learning curve to learn the processes for getting settled in a language that was initially foreign to us was a bit overwhelming to say the least.

Question 10.      Many people are of the opinion that making friends with Germans is very difficult because of the different perception of friendship. Was that the case with you? Did you make friends with foreigners more than with Germans?

Amanda- This can be true to some extent.  I think Germans are very friendly, but it can be a case of ‘once you get to know them’ and it just depends on the individual person and circumstance.  As a mom to a young child and having just had a baby here, I’ve made friends with other parents in similar situations through the kindergarten, birth classes, and just seeing the same people around town.  I made two really good Germany mom friends, as well as another foreigner friend from my German class in Jena.  Here in Potsdam, I’m starting to make some new German friends as well.  At the moment it is other moms in similar situations.  We all have the same kinds of questions and concerns with our children.

Jason- Actually if looking at it from an American perspective, I’ve made as many friends with Germans as with foreigners, and they come from different areas of interest, which is a lot. Part of that has to do with the willingness to speak their language and exchange some interests and thoughts on things. However, the friendship process with Germans varies based on personality, age and the willingness to open up. I’ve discovered that the younger the generation, the more likely you will connect with them more quickly than with the older generation. However, there are still quite a few coconuts who are not willing to be open and flexible, which bucks the current trend. I had one instance with a student colleague, who was so stiff as a board when communicating with her, that we actually got into conflicts because of different perceptions of even working together. And this with everybody in a project we were working on, who were also German, which is not typical of the stereotype. After finishing the project, we stopped talking to her because of such an impasse, but I learned a very valuable lesson which I can give to anyone living in Germany: The Germans are the hosts, you are their guest. They will open up to you when they feel ready. If not, leave it. Either they will move on or they will open up when the coconut ripens. And while Germans are really willing to help you, even if you are a stranger, beware that you need to spend time with them before you can befriend them; that is if they are willing to befriend you. In that perspective, I’ve long since gotten accustomed to that and have made many friends with Germans and foreigners alike.

Kristin- This is one of the stereotypes of Germans I dislike. While typically Germans don’t bother with every day small talk with strangers, they are very nice and love to laugh. I have met some very wonderful German friends and a German friend is a friend for life. I have also become friends with people from all over while being in my language class. It’s taught me a lot about other cultures and also how those other cultures perceive the U.S.  I have had many laughs at how without even speaking, I have been asked if I am American. They tell me it’s because I am smiling or look happy.

Brian- While I have got to know a lot of people that I currently work with really well, none of them are from Germany.  They are from Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Austria, Russia, etc.  I think the stereotype about making friends with Germans is correct.  I don’t find Germans rude at all, but it can take a long time to make friends with them.  But what they call a friendship is much more than what Americans call friendships.  We’re talking going to the end of the earth to help a friend type of deal.

Question 11.   Are there any aspects that you miss about the US? If so, which ones?

Brian-  I miss some of the foods, cheap fuel, and my Colorado sunshine.

Kristin- What I miss most are my family and friends. I also miss certain foods a lot. I miss not being able to talk to everyone in English. I am not fluent yet so if I need to speak with someone, I must always stop and think about how to speak in German and if I make sense.

Jason- Apart from family and friends, I miss the road trips going cross-country with a good camera in the hand, and some historic bridges of iron and steel, many of them are dwindling in numbers every year. Otherwise,  there are really no good plausible reasons to even think about moving back to the US, not after all these years here.

Amanda- We miss our family and friends, as well as specific places we’ve been in the US, but otherwise things here are just as good, and sometimes better.

Question 12. Do you still follow the events in the US from Germany, both news and sports? What are your impressions compared to Germany?

Brian-  Unfortunately, I still thoroughly follow news in the US, mainly involving finance and politics.  One important thing I would note about Germany’s politics is that we have about 6 major political parties that make up our ‘congress’, and the system forces the parties to work together.  There’s no massive money involved, and it’s a lot less about popularity or beauty contests.  I really wish the people would push for massive reforms.  While middle-class wages have been flat in the US for the last 30 years, they’ve more than doubled in Germany.

Jason- I have to say, I’ve also followed the events in the US via internet and public radio, and picking up where Brian left off, I have to say that German news sources are much more neutral and thought provoking than those in the US, where networks tend to lean either to the far left or the far right. It was never like that when we grew up in the 1980s and 90s. However, since the four key networks (ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox) have been taken over by corporations in 2001, public television has been manipulated through funding by big corporations, and NPR is constantly being put on the chopping block for funding cuts and begging for money from listeners, there’s really no real news network that has taken a neutral stance. In fact you will never find this with German news media, like ARD, NDR, ZDF and others, but this is because we have to pay annual fees (the GEZ) to fund them. Although it is a pain, but better that than to have the corporations put their thick greasy hands into a well-designed wedding cake.

Kristin- I still follow U.S. news via the TV and will watch CNN. I also check in on various websites. Germany has many news stations on the TV from small area news from different states of Germany and then big network news channels such as CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and Deutsche Welle. I find American news stations to be comical and annoying at times. It’s so full of half hour opinion pieces and every little thing is blown out of proportion to make it seem news worthy.

Amanda- We do follow events in the US a bit.  Andrew reads the news and keeps up on things more than I do, but we both listen to National Public Radio (NPR) when we have the time.  I can’t really compare properly, as I listen to radio for US news and watch Deutsche Welle (DW) videos on YouTube for German news.  Both seem to do a good job for the stories that they cover.  At the moment, with an 8 week old, I can’t properly keep up with either.

And lastly, Question 13.  If you have some advice to give to someone wanting to relocate, what would you give them?

Amanda- Learn the language and documentation process, including what original documents to bring with you, before you arrive for a more seamless move.

Brian- I wish every person could choose whatever place in the world that they wanted to be.  However, if one is relocating, I highly suggest doing extensive research about every aspect, and thoroughly understand the culture before moving.  I pretty much did that, and have had nearly no surprises or bad experiences.

Jason- Apart from language and research, sometimes connections with people over there are useful. It makes the transition to a new environment go much smoother. This was the advantage that Brian, Kristin, Amanda and Andrew had with us when they moved here and I had with Birgit and her family when I first came to Germany.

Kristin- Reach that goal! It won’t be easy but it’s worth it. Life is too short for regrets! Do your research to learn as much as you can about the place and the culture. Learn the language!! Whether relocating is temporary or for the long haul it will be an experience to last a life time. You will learn so much about people and yourself.

FAZIT:

The last sentence mentioned by Kristin is what sums up this interview. How will one know himself if the person is not abroad? A chance like this is once in a lifetime. While leaving friends and family behind is tough, it is a way of life and they will all envy the person taking that step. And while having four people from Jackson, Minnesota collect their experiences for their families and friends back home (let alone the local newspaper) is an unusual phenomenon right now, as globalization continues to progress, more and more people will take that chance and spend at least a large portion of their lives abroad, exploring new worlds and learning the culture, thus making the world become one and smaller. That is why it would not be surprising if just as many people from a small German town, like Glauchau, Husum, Tängermünde, Bingen or even Heringsdorf were to explore the US and even such a small town like Jackson, Minnesota. It’s for the experience, one of which will most likely be shared with others beyond the media perspective.

Can you imagine such a scenario like the one here? 🙂

FF 25 Logo

Author’s Note: Steve Schorr is a freelance writer, working for several newspapers in northern Germany, including the ones for SHZ, based in Kiel. He was asked by the author to write this as a guest columnist for the Files’ to be granted the spotlight for one article, at least. He resides in Rostock. 

Americans in Germany 2: Hometown Locals Part I

Left to right: Jason D. Smith, Amanda (Draine) Sutton, Kristin (Svoboda) Krahmer, Brian Krahmer. Photo taken by Birgit Smith in 2014 in Jena.

There is an idiomatic expression that best describes a well-travelled and open-minded person:  Being a hometown person is good, travelling around is better, being abroad gives you the best.   During the author’s time in Germany, one of the observations that is definitely noticeable in the past decade is that the world is getting much smaller. It has nothing to do with the increase of goods from Germany that can be bought in the US and vice versa, but more to do with meeting people from your college town or even your hometown. During a trip to Flensburg in 2010, the author encountered a person, whose daughter went to high school in Windom, Minnesota as an exchange student! Located 40 km northeast of Worthington, which has an exchange program with Crailsheim, as well as 110 km west of New Ulm, a predominantly German city, it would be considered unusual to have a German visit a small town of 4500 inhabitants for a full year, a third as many as the two aforementioned communities.

However, what would be a reaction of the readers when they found out that four people from an even smaller community- namely Jackson, located 30 km south of Windom- are living in Germany. And all of them have an age difference of only four years?  This is what Jason Smith, Brian Krahmer, Kristin Krahmer (née Svoboda) and Amanda Sutton (née Draine) are doing.  Since 2014, the four people have been living in Germany, and albeit they live far apart, they have one thing in common: Germany is considered home to them. In this series on Americans living in Germany, the Files’ Steve Schorr asked the four people individually about their motives behind moving to Germany and comparing life there to that of their hometown. This will be divided up into two parts due to length and content. This is part I, with part II to follow.  Before moving to the questions, a brief profile of the four people:

Jason D. Smith-  Jason has lived in Germany the longest, having resided there since 1999. He graduated from Jackson High School in 1996. After three years at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, he came to Germany as a foreign exchange student at the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena and since graduating in 2001, has been teaching English at various institutions in and around Jena and Erfurt, with the exception of a two-year stint in Bayreuth at the university. He’s currently pursuing his teaching license to teach English, Social Studies and History at a German high school (Gymnasium) and is expected to obtain his 1st state exam in 2016 and his 2nd by 2018. Since 2010 he is also a writer and photographer of two blogs: The Flensburg Files and The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. With the exception of two years in Bayreuth and another two in Erfurt, Jason has been living in Jena with his wife Birgit and their seven year old daughter, Clara.

Brian and Kristin Krahmer- Brian and Kristin are the adventurous type when it comes to travelling, having lived in six different American states before moving to Germany in 2014. Kristin graduated from high school in 1996, Brian three years earlier. Married since 2000 (the same time as Jason and Birgit), the couple have done many jobs in the areas including some self-employment opportunities as carpenter, while Kristin acquired a profession as a massage therapist and Brian has 20+ years’ experience as a software developer. Since coming to Germany in 2014, they have lived in two different places in Bavaria: in Pegnitz (between Bayreuth and Nuremberg) and in their current town of Markt Rettenbach, located between Ulm and Munich near the city of Memmingen. They have a 10-year old daughter, Alexis.

Amanda (Draine) Sutton- Amanda graduated from high school, together with Jason and Kristin, in 1996 and since earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Health in 2007 and a Master’s in Radiological Health Sciences in 2009.  Both degrees were earned at Colorado State University.  After college, she spent one year working on the Hanford Site with Washington Closure Hanford as a Radiological Engineer in Washington state, followed by approximately two years working with SENES/ARCADIS as a Health Physicist out of their Denver office in Colorado before she started her family.  Her husband Andrew completed his PhD in Computer Science in 2011, also from Colorado State University.  Andrew has held post-docs in the Computer Science Departments at University of Adelaide, Colorado State University, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, and Hasso Plattner Institut/Universität Potsdam.  Amanda has lived in Minnesota, Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado, and Washington.  Since meeting Andrew, who grew up in New Mexico, they have also lived in Adelaide, South Australia and Jena, Germany.  They currently reside in Potsdam, Germany with their two children, Camden who will be three years old in November, and Daphne who is two months old.

And now, the questions:

Question 1: What motivated you to move to Germany?

Brian-  I had been to Germany 7 times before moving here.  I have always loved the culture, architecture, the autobahn, cars, transport system, the food, and of course, the beer!  The location makes it very easy to travel to dozens of countries as well.

Kristin- For over a decade Brian and I have wanted to live in Europe and we fell in love with Germany the most. I like the German architecture, food, lifestyle, varying landscapes and I admire how strongly Germans hold on to tradition. I feel Germany is a very progressive country when it comes to politics, the environment and education. I think our daughter will have some great options for education here in Germany. Brian and I have always loved exploring new places and Germany is a great starting point for exploring many other countries in Europe.

Jason- There are two people in my life who got me convinced that I should go to Germany: my German teacher in high school, who introduced me to German culture and the language in class, and my wife, who is originally from Germany in the state of Thuringia. Before meeting Birgit, I had thought about spending time in Germany but was hesitant because it was at the latter part of my studies at Concordia. When Birgit came to my alma mater in 1998, my attitude changed and after learning about the exchange program, I took advantage of it and “followed” her back to Germany to Jena. Actually she got me convinced that living abroad does give a person a grand opportunity to learn the language and the culture, and since coming here in 1999, she was right. Otherwise I would not be here today.

Amanda- My husband, Andrew, secured a post doc position as a Researcher in Computer Science with Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena.  We moved to Jena in March of 2014.  However the project relocated to Hasso Plattner Institut/Universität Potsdam and so we moved with in May 2015.  He is now a Researcher and Teacher in Algorithm Engineering here in Potsdam.

Question 2. How did you get a place of residency and work in Germany?

Brian-    I probably had an easier time than many, as I work in IT, where Germany has a shortage of workers.  I initially got a freelance visa for one year, and then renewed it for a 4-year Blue Card, which is a bit similar to a Green Card in the US.

Kristin- My permit falls under Brian’s Blue Card as a family reunification visa. Now that Brian has a Blue Card, I am now able to work. When we first arrived in Germany, Brian had a self-employment visa and I was not permitted to work. I did have to complete a 10 month language course to obtain a B1 certificate of German language and take an integration course.

Jason- Being married to a German made it really easy to get a residency and worker’s permit. During the first three years of marriage, I had a temporary residency visa which was converted to a permanent one in the fall of 2003. The reason for that is to avoid “green-card” marriages in Germany, which was common at that time. When I received my temporary visa, I also received my worker’s visa at the same time, enabling me to find a job anywhere.  While obtaining a permanent visa allows you to stay in Germany permanently, the catch is when you are absent from Germany for longer than six months and are either single or divorced. Then you run into a lot of problems getting back in, as many foreigners I know have gone through. The lone exception of course is when you trade in your citizenship with a German/ European one, which can be very expensive but one many expats have risked doing, especially because of tax issues from the US.

Amanda- It took us two months to find our first apartment in Jena because we had to learn both the language and rental process at the same time.  This combined with getting our bearings, figuring out how to properly apply for our residency and work permits, Andrew starting his new job, taking care of a toddler, and a tight rental market made it a challenging experience.  We had to learn very quickly all the necessary steps and hurdles of settling in Germany. Work was through my husband Andrew as mentioned.

Question 3. Was it difficult to get a residency and work permit?

Brian and Kristin- (Brian)- I didn’t find it that difficult to get a work permit or residency, but found it much harder than I expected to actually find a job.  I thought that IT would be an exception to most jobs and that I would be okay without being fluent in German.  The fact I am not keeps me out of most companies.

Author’s note: Both were of the opinion that skills shortage was (and still is) high in Germany, which explains the logic behind hiring refugees in Germany at the moment.

Amanda- Yes and no.  It was not difficult because Andrew had already secured work here, so it was just a matter of going through the process.  However, it was very challenging to understand this process and complete the necessary steps and documentation all in a language we were new to.  All the websites, documentation, and conversations were in German.  The beginning of our life in Germany was therefore quite difficult, as our German was very poor and we had little help in the beginning.  It was a very emotional time.

Jason- Not really as mentioned in the previous question. Yet learning the language is key to navigate through the bureaucratic mess like this one. I was lucky that the process went as smoothly as it did.

Question 4. What jobs have you worked since coming to Germany?

Kristin- I have not worked yet in Germany. I do plan on looking for some type of work in the near future. There are a few things that work against you as a foreigner. Germans have an obligation to fill jobs first to German natives. If they can not find a suitable candidate then they can fill that job with someone else. My career has mostly been a mix of Massage Therapy and odd jobs here and there for extra income. That is what I will most likely end up working here in Germany also. I am also looking into various options to put my English skills to work.

Brian- I’m a software engineer, currently working in the payment processing area.

Jason- Since 2001 I’ve been an English teacher, and with the exception of 2008-12 (when I worked full time), I’ve been working on a freelancer basis, teaching everyone of all ages, regardless of social and cultural background as well as language level. If there was one item that would be mentioned in a retirement party to take place when I turn 75, it would be this: I’ve been around the block, teaching at every type of educational institution, including the Volkshochschule (Institute of Continuing Education), German companies, Gemeinschaftsschule (community private school), Gymnasium (high school), private institutions (some funded by the Job Service Agency (Agentur für Arbeit)), private persons, the German military,  translation offices, and the university. I still have yet to teach the kids in a kindergarten or elementary school, but that will come soon enough. Yet as most institutions have limited contracts and I’m searching for something more permanent, I’m back at the university to fulfill that purpose.  Aside that, I’ve done editing and translating work, plus I’m a columnist for two blogs- a side gig but one I can imagine doing for a newspaper or publisher.

Amanda- Andrew is a Researcher and now also a Teacher in the Computer Science field.  He worked at Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena for just over a year and is now working with the Hasso Plattner Institut/Universität Potsdam.  His job has not changed, only the location.  As for me, I am allowed to work in Germany, but at the moment I stay home and take care of our two children, both under three years of age.  My job here is called a Hausfrau.  When I return to work I have interest in utilizing my degree in Environmental Health and/or learning more about Passive Housing and getting into this field.  I would enjoy working in Germany.

Question 5. Many Germans love to stay in one place, yet the trend has pointed to becoming more mobile. Have you stayed in one place since coming to Germany and if not, where have you lived?

Jason- With the exception of two years in Bayreuth and another two in Erfurt (both because of jobs) I have stayed put in Jena because of the small town environment and the beautiful forested hills along the Saale River. Whether we will stay longer in Jena will depend on where my teaching job will be, for regions in the north and east are desperately looking for licensed teachers to fill in the ranks at the schools.

Amanda- As mentioned, we have lived in Jena and now Potsdam.  We only moved because my husband’s job moved.  We would have loved to have stayed in Jena and we miss it.  That being said, we are starting to get settled in Potsdam and are meeting new people all the time.

Kristin- When we first came we lived in a small town called Pegnitz located between Nuremberg and Bayreuth. We chose this area because in Bayreuth there is a great international school in which our daughter to attended the 3rd grade. As parents, we worried about making our daughter’s transition into a new country as easy as possible. This school was very small and most of the teachers knew English so our daughter had support in English when she needed. Pegnitz also fell along a decent train connection for Brian to work in Nuremberg.

We have just recently moved further south to be closer to Munich where Brian is now working. Munich has many more job options for Brian so we want to live as close to Munich as we can but still be in a smaller city. Munich is a great city but we prefer the peacefulness of smaller towns. The area we now live in is closer to the German Alps as well so we are excited to get out and explore. It’s hard to say if this area is where we will plant our feet for the long haul. Anyone who knows the Krahmers knows that we tend to move around a lot.

 Brian- Adding on to what Kristin said, we would like to build a house and settle down somewhere, but land is extremely expensive over here, and you can’t build just anywhere, unlike a few wild places we’ve lived in the US.

Question 6.  In the time you’ve been living here in Germany, what similarities and differences have you seen in comparison with the US, in terms of culture, mentality and the environment?

Kristin-  Some similarities I see are the popularity of supermarkets and other big department stores. While many Germans will also stop by their local butcher or bakery for the best product, many Germans enjoy the convenience of one stop shopping which supermarkets provide. Germans love American entertainment so we hear many of the same music as in the States as well as blockbuster movies. Germany has many American television stations that such as Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Discovery and TLC. It is just translated into German. Germany has become ‘Americanized’ in a sense that many American phrases works it’s way into common every day language. Another similarity is Germans have great pride in their cars just as Americans do theirs. Germans also admire the American ‘Muscle Car’ a lot.

The differences I see are that people here know the value of fun and family time. Germans work less hours but are more efficient. They have many more vacation days and are always out enjoying themselves. Cafes, restaurants, soccer fields, bike trails and swimming pools are always full of people out spending time with friends and family. Stores being closed on Sundays was something for me to get used to and I love it. It forces everyone to just relax and recharge before the start of a new week.

Another difference is driving. Germans have much tougher drivers education and penalties for breaking driving laws are much more severe. Although they drive fast they tend to drive well. It is illegal to pass on the right so it forces people get over after passing immediately. I love the Autobahn not only because you can drive fast but because it is very efficient when everyone follows the rules.

Also housing here is different. For many Germans they will never live in or own a house their entire lives. They will instead rent or own an apartment. What may look like a normal size house to an American will actually house maybe two or three families inside, each living on a different level. Out in the countryside you still see the old barns still connected to the family home as they were hundreds of years ago. They’ve done this for several reasons. One is that their animals are easier to tend to when they are nearby. I have also heard that the heat generated by the animals helps keep their own houses warmer when attached to the barn. We live in an area with many dairy farms and we see milk trucks making daily rounds to collect the milk. Farmers here will still put bells on some of their cows and call them home with Alpenhorns just as their ancestors did.

Views on the environment I find much different. Recycling is serious business over here. We recycle just about everything and packaging is made so that it can be easily recycled. We even have a compost bin that gets picked up every other week as well. When you look out across a typical German city big or small you will see hundreds of solar panels on homes, apartments and even barns. Many people walk, bike or have a fuel efficient car here. The trend for local or organic ‘Bio’ foods is very strong here as it is in the U.S. right now.

Amanda- Culturally, it is different in many ways.  Germans have more social benefits like time off, maternity/paternity benefits, pay, healthcare, and childcare.  They therefore are able to take more holiday time, go on holiday more often, and in general I feel are able to relax more and have quality time either alone or with their families should they choose.  They take time off seriously.  Everything except restaurants and a few shops with permits are closed on Sundays, so no grocery or clothes shopping.  Some places, such as the post office and doctors offices are even closed for the lunch hour every day.  Germans also tend to keep their work life and private life separate.  As a parent however, I see many cultural similarities as well. We all want good healthcare, childcare, education, and overall quality of life for our children and all people.

Germans are very environmental.  Germans love organic foods and recycling.  Organic foods are reasonably priced and can be found everywhere.  Recycling and trash have separate bins for paper, glass, organic waste, plastics, etc., and trash.  Germans take great pride in separating their trash and in particular, glass items are either returned to the store for a cash refund or placed in bins located in the area by color.  They also often walk, ride their bikes, or take public transportation as a means of travel to work, drop the kids off at school, go grocery shopping, go to appointments, etc.  This is more of a cultural than environmental difference, but it is still wonderful for the environment.  Unfortunately, many American cities are designed primarily for auto use, making foot and bike travel sub-optimal or even dangerous.

Jason- Another factor worth mentioning is that Germans love to talk politics without having to bash or even “unfriend” someone for having an opinion. This is something that disturbs me when I encounter Americans and they try to impose their views and ways onto others. Germany has long been known for having a freedom of expression and opinion that is independent of what the media and other people have to say.

Additionally, Germans love to travel- not just to places inside Germany, but also to places within Europe or even America. It’s amazing to hear stories from other Germans of places they’ve visited and seen- not just the popular places like the Leaning Tower of Pisa or Hamburg, but also smaller places, like the Rum-Sugar Mile in Flensburg or many tall historic bridges in Saxony. Sometimes visiting smaller places can help you to have a bigger vocabulary as far as culture is concerned.

Brian-  I’ve said for quite some time now: “There’s hardly anything in Germany that’s drastically different, yet almost everything is a little bit different.”  I think that sums it up well, because I could go on for hours about the small differences.

The rest of the interview to be continued in Part II……..

five years flfi