The 26 Letters that Spell Peace

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A while back, I ran across this small piece of advice, creatively written by a teacher who has expertise in dealing with politics and society, conflicts and adversity, as well as differences and misunderstandings. This person arranged this paragraph with the word of advice, in the order of the alphabet. 26 words, all 26 letters.  Have a look at this:

Always

Be

Cool.

Don’t have

Ego with

Friends and Family.

Give-up

Hurting

Individuals.

Just

Keep

Loving

Mankind.

Never

Omit

Prayers.

Quietly

Remember God.

Speak

the Truth.

Use

Valid

Words.

Xpress

Your

Zeal.

 

All I can say is: “Respect!”  But definitely some Food for Thought. 🙂 ❤

 

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The Power of the Apple: A New Genre of the Week Series

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There is the old saying that we use in American English: An Apple a Day Helps Keep the Doctor Away. It is a it is a well-known fact that the apple is the main fruit that people enjoy eating, let using as the main ingredient for pastries, juices and salads. With its array of vitamins and minerals, the apple provides strength for the human body as well as the mind. That was probably the main reason why Johnny Appleseed during the 1820s planted and maintained hundreds of apple trees, providing new settlers with a key source of nutrients. It is a well-known fact that his motive behind his orchards was to provide unity for a young country, like the United States, as it was growing- both in size and population, but also in terms of intellect. After all, most ideas, including the creation of the Constitution and its modern form of democracy came just by having an apple ready- for consumption and for painting a prosperous future.

 

But the apple does more than just give us ideas. It strengthens the soul, providing us with inner-peace, providing us with a sense of an open-heart and mind and gives us the energy we need to love ourselves and others.

 

When you offer an apple, you offer the other a bridge to cross and a new path (and/or) idea(s) to open/improve ties and to make life better for yourself and others.

 

To offer an apple means to offer friendship

To offer an apple means to be open to new cultures, ideas and things

To offer an apple means to be open to others and their ideas and thoughts

To offer an apple also means to offer the most important lessons in life,

Such as loving your neighbor, your friends, your family and yourself,

Such as learning something new and tolerating and accepting others for their way of life

And most important showing respect and kindness towards others and most importantly,

Being decent people.

 

In the past month, as I was compiling some ideas for the Luther series in the Files, I learned that the apple can be a powerful product that can create ties and bind people together, solve problems that are complex and find solutions, and create ways to better ourselves and society.

 

While Martin Luther brought his disciples and followers together over a mug of beer- homebrewed by his faithful wife, Katharina von Bora, many authors (myself included) have found ways of using the apple for the purpose of literature, providing us with some valuable lessons that we seemed to have forgotten but are in dire need of learning about- especially in times of hardships around the globe.

Therefore, parallel to the Year of Luther and the noted works, the Files will introduce some literary works dealing with the apple and how it works wonders on society. Like in the Genre of the Week series, the works will be profiled with the main theme of how the apple is used in the context. Some like the first profile will be in a form of a book, others in the form of poems, narratives and other works. It will also include a couple from the author based on his personal experiences, one of which is tied to the works of Luther.  Between now and Christmas, you can find some works under this theme, intermingling with those of Luther and others- some of which will be posted here on the areavoices page, but for sure, you will find them on the Files’ wordpress page. It is hoped that when looking at the pieces, one will learn the morals of life, and especially how the apple symbolized unity, not just for one community or even country, but for society in general; especially with all the problems we are facing (and will be facing for years to come).

Without further ado, let’s have a look at the first piece that deals with the apple, rumors and the truth. That can be found in Mr. Peabody’s Apple, which you can click here.

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We Stand United in Peace

A while back, while visiting friends in Potsdam, I came across a piece of artwork near the city center which caught my attention. It was a sculpture featuring a circle of three friends, a girl and two boys, dancing together in the grass. The artwork dates back to the days of East Germany, but the theme holds true today: we stand united as friends, through thick and thin, through good and bad, and through rain and sun. A member of an American expatriate group in Germany asked if there was a picture that would be better than the Statue of Liberty, which can be found both in America as well as in France.  My answer: perhaps not, but in light of what happened in Paris and Beirut, this sculpture and its symbol is as strong as liberty, and freedom and justice , as shown by Lady Liberty. I don’t think anything can top that.

To show solidarity and love for our family and friends, and stand united in the face of our enemies who committed these atrocious crimes in a war that is unwinnable on both sides, here’s the picture worth mulling over. What would you title it as? And why? Think about it long and hard, and ask yourselves, who are you thankful for and who would you like to reunite, or if you harmed someone in the past, reconcile?

We stand in unity

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The Beach of Solitude

The Beach of Solitude- Photo taken by Jason D. Smith

This is a throwback article dating back to my first visit to Flensburg in May 2010 whose many wonders worth visiting, The Beach of Solitude, was mentioned in detail in October, shortly after its launch. Here’s some food for thought and a travel hint worth mentioning. 🙂 

Solitude. There are many ways to explain this word as it belongs to the category of  the most underused terms  in the English vocabulary. While the dictionaries state that solitude means having a sense and/or place of loneliness,  there is more to this word than what is presented in print.  Solitude can mean the process of finding peace within yourself; in other words, your own inner peace. Solitude can also mean having a sense of serenity in a place where silence is the norm. Solitude can also mean finding your own personal identity as you try and reflect on what happened, try and make sense out of it, and move on knowing that you are in uncharted territory known as the future, and what you did in the past is considered irrelevant in the present.

For me, solitude means everything mentioned above plus one most important ingredient: identifying yourself through your own reinvention. This means when your life is in dire straits because of a series of tragedies or a situation where you cannot bear it anymore, you seek to find solitude to find out who you really are and what you can do to make a difference and be happy from it. This can only be done when you need to get away from society- from everything and everybody- for awhile just to reflect on what happened and plan ahead for the future with a new sense of identity.

Like many of you before me, this year was the year for me to seek solitude and find out something about myself, as a lot of events happened in my life that forced me to reconsider who I was, where I come from, and what I should really be doing.  Even though I do not want to go into detail about this, as this is my own personal matter, I felt that need to flee the ever changing pace of society- the one that is no holds barred and everything goes no matter what the circumstances are- and spend some time in my own personal confinement where I can take the time and find that inner peace that was missing in my life for the longest time.

There were a lot of things about Flensburg that made me want to take a trip up there. It was not because of the beer, even though it is one of the most popular microbrews in Germany. It was not because of the rum despite the fact that it is the birthplace of rum and was once a powerhouse in the industry. It was not because of the clippers, which have been dominating the seas for over 400 years. All of those characteristics will be mentioned at a later time. What makes this city special is the fact that it is the city of peace and harmony, where people are open to each other. It is also the place where if you needed some serenity and solitude, all you need is a few minutes by bike on either side of the Flensburger Fjord, and you hit the nature and that place of confinement where you can spend as much time to yourself as possible, while trying to find a way to clean up a life full of disaster and disappointment, heartbreak and hatred, sadness and strife.  On the west end of the fjord, you meander your way past beaches that are kilometers long, crossing the Bridge of Friendship at Wassersleben at the Danish border before trekking into the forest and beyond. On the east end, you run across some gentle rolling hills and ponds, where between the suburb of Twedt and the town of Holnis, you feel like you are doing a cross country ski run. But there is one place in the city that definitely lives up to the name it carries. Located on the east side of the fjord, you will never figure out the reason why it deserves its christened name until you end up outside the city and you feel like someone pulled the plug on life as you know it. The name of the place I’m  referring to is Der Strand der Solitüde.  In other words, the Beach of Solitude.

Located just off the bike trail to the north of Mürwik, the Beach of Solitude is one that presents two different faces. On the one hand, it is a magnet for families with children who just want to take a dip into the icy cold Fjord or bake in the sun for a couple hours, while having the winds from the sea act as a giant air conditioner.  There is a restaurant nearby, where you can sit on the terrace and enjoy one of the specialties of Flensburg, made of salmon, flounder, or other types of fish, and watch the sun set over the city’s skyline and landscape. However, the other face of Solitude is something you don’t expect.

When there are no people around, it can present you with a silence that you can only find in a vacant apartment, after everything is put away in boxes and loaded up into the moving trucks to ship somewhere else. With the skies changing color between blue, grey, and white and a gentle sea water breeze fanning your face and creating some really small waves on the beach, I found myself alone on this very sandy-colored but yet to a certain degree, rocky beach, where small narrow cone-shaped peninsulas made of rocks and sand extend into the fjord, creating shapes resembling the crescent moon. I found myself in a new dimension, where I was touching the air that was heavy of salt and mist. I was looking around to see if there were other people there- to the east where the woods, ponds, and the bike trail were facing my back; to the west, where there was nothing but water with a piece of land far, far in the background- and still there was no one who came by. It was an eerie feeling that I had when I was at the beach. It felt like I was in some sort of purgatory and I was forced to reflect on my actions in my past life before the judgment was made, whether I would be in Adam and Eve’s Paradise or Dante’s Inferno, and part of this process was being alone in a place like this where no one is around where I could go back into the past to see the things I did or should have done differently.

While the last part holds true, I don’t think the Beach of Solitude is a purgatory of some sort. No place with that much beauty should be considered a place of punishment. I consider the place something where silence and reflection in response to the hardships faced (or to be faced) should be respected and reinvention of oneself is the norm. It makes you look at things from all angles of life, interpret them, try and make sense of them. It makes you go into the deepest self to look at the flaws and find ways to fix them; or handle them if they cannot be fixed. It makes you ask and answer the most difficult philosophical questions that have been burning inside of you for a long time; like for example, why am I here on this planet, or why can I not get the girl I want, or in my case, why life can be so wonderful the one minute and then cruel the next. I had a lot of questions that needed answers and no one was able to get the job done. Therefore other alternatives to answering the questions needed to be found so that I can find my way to myself and take care of the business that needs to be done.

Purgatory or Paradise- Photo taken by Jason D. Smith

After the longest time, where I scrounged round, raking my way up and down along the beach, reaching every tip of the rocky peninsula, taking a dip into the salient but shivering cold sea, and at times, just sitting down on the rocks, filling in the next pages of my journal, a young couple with two dogs- a Labrador and a black terrier came onto the scene, each looking for a sense of silence and relaxation as the dogs were feisty and wanting some fun in the water. Afterwards, a couple children kicking their soccer ball and imitating David Beckham and Miroslav Klose took to the scene, wanting to answer the call of being a profi player someday. This was my call to leave this place of silence, to eventually move onto a place where I too can eat a delicacy of Flensburg’s and enjoy the sunset, putting a close to a day of reflection and preparing another day, this time for redemption, as I return to what is known as reality, learning from my days in exile, not looking back at my past and looking forward to what is ahead.  After all, that is what solitude is all about, and the Beach of Solitude is one of many factors which makes Flensburg famous, a city which I nicknamed The City of Solitude.

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Look, Listen, and Learn

Author’s Note: As the Files turns five in a couple months, some throwbacks will be featured for readers to enjoy and think about. This is one of the first articles published in 2010, dealing with friendship over feindschaft, interculture over ignorance, peace and love over hate and war. This also ties in with my very first visit to Flensburg and the region that year. Enjoy! 🙂 

Biking on a trail going along the Baltic Sea Coast, I had to put away my thoughts and fears that were affecting my everyday life and embrace the unknown. I had never been up to the Baltic Sea for a long time, and the area I was visiting- Flensburg, Sondernburg, northern Germany, and southern Denmark- was untouched until I got off the train at the station and explored the region that I hadn’t seen before. The first thing I did was get to know the people up there, the culture, and the surroundings. I looked, I listened, and I learned. It started with a trip down the beaten and rutted trail that snaked its way through the forest, after crossing the wooden bridge into Denmark north of Wassersleben. The various jumps up and down the hill, the sound the wind breezing in from the sea, and the multiple shades of green and brown are all that occupies me opens up new doors to the things I’ve never heard and seen before. However, the dangers have to be figured into the equation: The trail was rutted, rocky, and really run down. It had pine trees placed in and along the road, and the down hill ride was filled with the unknown. I looked, I listened, and I learned.  By the time I ended up in Sondernhafen (Danish is Sondernhav) enjoying Europe’s finest hotdog and Danish ice cream at Anne’s Hot Dog stand, I had mastered 15 km of rugged terrain and gathered some images that were worth taking with me. I tried some Danish delicatessen, listened to the good humor of the Danes and learned about the long-standing relationship that they had with the Germans, that consisting of love and hate, trials and tribulations, toil and tears, and division and unity. Both sides had their differences that had to be settled through military conflict- among other things the war of 1864 between the then Prussians and the Danish kingdom which included a lop-sided Prussian victory at Dubel (near Sondernburg). There was of course the battle over Flensburg and who possesses it as both sides laid claim to it until 1951 when it was considered a border town for both the Danes and the Germans. This was in addition to World War II and Hitler’s quest for breathing room. But today- they live in peaceful co-existence for one reason and one reason only: because they looked, they listened, and they learned. They looked at the benefits of coexistence, they listened to each other, and they listened to each other.

Leaving that as is for another time, I took this experience with me and re-entered reality- a reality that is filled with multicultural diversity but it is the target of xenophobia, cleansing, and pure hatred. This multicultural diversity does not necessarily have to do with the place of origin or ethnical, religious, or cultural backgrounds. It can also focus on family tradition, socio-economical backgrounds, and even the preference of a certain group disregarding politics, themes worth talking about, or even sexuality.  Each of us has its own set of values, thinking, and ideal world that we feel comfortable with. The problem with that is we are being sounded out, played down, browned off by factors that don’t want us to be who we are, let alone share our views with others. Through the actions of these factors, consisting of harassment, intimidation, and even verbal or physical assaults on our identities,  we are vulnerable to a change that is against our nature mainly because the factors don’t look at us, listen to us, and learn from us. It is no wonder why so many people take their own lives and those with them- because they feel that they don’t belong to society and need to express their frustration to the rest of society.

When I read about an 18 year old taking his own life because he was gay and therefore was cyber-bullied, or a 17 year old storming a school to pelt others with bullets before providing his own head with one, it makes me ask myself, why are these people doing this. Like us, they had a right to live and share their experiences with others without being ashamed of it. But the people who bullied them to a point of suicide did this because they were afraid of seeing them in their world. These are the people who are careless because they don’t look at the people for who they are, listen to them and how their lives developed the way they were, and learn from that experience and perhaps can relate to them. By being wreckless, ignorant and fearful, what happens to the victim actually comes back to haunt them. It’s like travelling along that rutted path through the forest, that I mentioned earlier- the careless and faster you bike, the more likely that you will create a very nasty fall that will cause injuries (some serious pending on the degree).  If you look at the incidents that has happened over the past decade: Littleton in 1999, Erfurt in 2002, Cold Springs in 2005, Red Lake Falls in 2007, Virginia Tech in 2008, Ansbach and Winnenden in 2009, and now a slew of suicides that has been happening over the last six months, including the aforementioned cyberbullying that resulted in a suicide in Massachusetts, they all follow the same pattern.

So why don’t we all be careful with what we say or do with other people? Is it necessary to be wreckless and take action without thinking of the consequences? And what is wrong with embracing other people and cultures? It’s free and priceless. You learn more about them and make yourself a better person at the same time. You become more popular to the community because of your openess, tolerance, and acceptance of other people and their views on life. And the most valuable experience from all this is you may end up befriending the person whom you wanted to bully to begin with.  It’s very easy to do. One just has to look, listen, and learn.

I would like to close with some food for thought, looking at this topic from a historian’s point of view. If you look at the picture at the end of this entry, you’ll see a fort that was built at Dubel in 1864 as a fortress to fend off the advancing Prussians and protect neighboring Sondernburg. While the defense was not successful and the Danes lost the war, both sides 87 years later realized that there was no point in wasting lives and resources not only in fighting each other but also erecting memorials comemorating the battles, so they took the cheapest and easiest way out and built a bridge connecting the two cultures and embraced each other. They didn’t care about their backgrounds or their differences, and it’s understandable why. We spend more money, resources, and nerves on conflicts and the memorials commemorating them than we do when we spend the few precious free minutes of our lives to say hi to another person and get to know him/her. And the benefits of just a few minutes to learn from the person far outweigh that of ignoring or even bullyiing them. So instead of spending that money on defending ourselves against people who don’t fit in society why not build a bridge for them and do what we should be doing in the first place- look, listen, and learn.

And the file closes with the pics worth taking with you. Until next time, happy trails until we meet again.

Photo taken by Jason Smith in May, 2010

Fort Dubel near Sondernburg- the source of the conflict between the Danes and the Germans in 1864 and the symbol of division and the fear.

SOLUTION: BUILD A BRIDGE AND OPEN UP!

Photo taken by Jason Smith in May, 2010

FAQ: This bridge, built in 1926 did serve as a symbol of unity between Germany and Denmark. Up until the Schengen Agreement in 1995, the bridge was guarded by the patrolmen on both sides, who maintained peace free of conflict, and people had to present their passports before crossing. Since then people can bike across freely and the patrolmen’s house on the Danish side is all that remains.

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A Tribute to Günter Grass

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This week’s Genre of the Week, presented by the Files that is in connection with English and life in Germany, had to take a moment of pause- and for a good reason. Germany lost a literary great yesterday (13 April, 2015)- a controversial one but one of the key pillars representing literature in modern German history after 1945, and one who will have his place in the top 20 of all German writing greats. In its place, the Files would like to pay homage to this particular writer, who passed away peacefully in Lübeck at the age of 87.

Günter Grass was one of the very first literary greats I was introduced to in my college German classes at my alma mater, Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, when I studied German in the late 1990s. At that time I was taken aback because I had expected the teachers to introduce more popular German literary greats that we could associate ourselves with German culture and history, such as Erich Kästner, the Grimm brothers, and Wolfgang Goethe. But on hindsight, the decision of bringing him in the limelight was perhaps the best ones the teachers ever made, for Mr. Grass represented one of the children rising from the ashes of the fallen National Socialist Reich, one of many who engineered the reinvention of the Bundesrepublik through his writing and participation in discussions on the political and literary platforms, and one of many who through his experiences in his youth during the Nazi era and subsequentially, World War II, as well as a young man who was part of the reconstruction process in Germany, brought forth many lessons from Germany’s past that we, as the majority of a fast-moving society- have remembered some but forgotten the rest.

This includes the establishment and reestablishment of a nation and its effects on its people, as he described in his Danzig Trilogy, a set of novels built from 1959 to 1963 and whose book Tin Drum was converted into a film in 1979. Danzig was his place of birth and childhood, and Grass’ books looked at how the rise and fall of the Third Reich and Hitler’s tyranny brought out the worst among his people, splitting families into two (pro-Nazi vs pro-Slavic) and persecuting the minority, thus producing the scar of guilt that still lingers today, years after he wrote his works. Grass himself was initially opposed to German reunification fearing that a unified country would dominate the European landscape, thus rekindling German fears that he had experienced while growing up in Danzig.

Yet when talking about the reestablishment of the country, it does not come with obstacles that the people faced during this phase, as Grass wrote about in his books on My Century and Crabwalk. There, he described the persecutions that happened to the Germans after World War II as the country was being rebuilt. The historic fiction written in the two books were based on Grass’ experience and spurned discussions on the German question, where people were split up between those wanting to leave Germany behind and those who want to rebuild Germany and reinvent the country’s image, walking away from the nightmares of the past that happened during the Third Reich. This platform on the reinvention and recreation of Germany was later used in several films whose plot took place after 1945. Among them include  a German film released in 2013 entitled Schicksaljahre, a story about a family torn apart by The Third Reich and World War II, and was forced to rebuild after the war ended.

But despite all the stories he wrote about Germany, especially after the war, Grass left us with an important question worth considering: How can we cope with the past while ensuring that the mistakes we made in life will never happen again- both from the same individual as well as by passing it on to others to repeat them? This is a question that will never be answered in its entirety for our lives are based on our raw talents and abilities. We keep making changes in order to make something as perfect as possible, only to find that once the finished product is completed, it still contains the imperfections that will surface and never change. Being raw has its advantages, where we find a way to create and make perfect but we never reach this perfection. This was something Grass mentions about in his interview conducted in 2013 (which you can see below as well), as he talks about how his literary works were considered raw and how he rigorously made changes, big and small, even when the manuscript was about to go to the press. The same mentality applied to his artwork, for he was a painter and produced many paintings and drawings on the side, some of which received many accolades for the work.

In the end, despite the controversies he had, especially with regards to his role as a Nazi soldier in his youth and his frigid relations with Israel, Günter Grass was considered a protocol of his time, showing the readers life in Germany during the darkest times and afterwards, but also showing them that Germany was anything but a savage state, as many people considered the country after the war and for many years prior to 1989. Germany, in his view, was a country like any other country- a raw state going through the developments after the war in order for it to be like the other states. At the same time, he saw that even though Germans affected by the tyranny of Hitler and the affects of the war felt the guilt of their country and what happened during the war and with the Holocaust, they had a chance to rebuild from the ground up and over time, walked away and embraced the future. Germany’s past will not be forgotten, but its development into the state it is today is still being remembered and admired by many. And with that I must say, Grass will be missed as one of the founding fathers of modern German literature, with a Nobel Peace Prize in his hand and definitely a standing ovation from the other literary greats awaiting him above. That is after getting honored by many who knew him through his works here.

In honoring Günter Grass, the Files has a collection of videos for you to watch, many of which are in German, except the interview has English subtitles. The interview includes his views on social networking versus talking to people, which is worth interesting to watch and think about. The aforementioned example films Der Blechtrommel (read by the author) and Schicksaljahre (starring Maria Furtwängler) are included as well:

Interview in 2013:

 

 

Der Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) Listening (in German)

English Version:

Günter Grass and his Distaste towards Facebook and Technology:

Schicksaljahre  (EN: The Years of Mystery)

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