Genre of the Week: Really, Really Big Questions About Faith by Julian Baggini

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As we come up on the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses posted by Martin Luther, which created the Lutheran Church, the next articles will focus on Martin Luther, his relationship with Christ and how it affects Christians today.  Apart from some activities to come, some books and videos will be included here.

This includes this book which provides a question about God, religion and how He influences society- if He influences society as a whole.

Written by British philosopher  Julian Baggini and translated into German by Michael Schmidt with the Title Thinking about Mr. God,  this book provides an overview on religion and focuses on key questions about why we have religion, how has religion helped or hindered us (as a society) and about the existence of God, biblical events and if we even have a soul.

Baggini categorizes the questions into the aforementioned topics plus the question on the right to choose religion.  Each question features a summary with some key facts that are thought-provoking for all ages, yet also can be presentable in the classroom. These questions include the existence of God, such as:

What does God look like?

If we have God, why don’t we see him?

Can God be female or is He really male?

Is God fearful or to be feared?

Does God heal us, let alone speak with us?

Do we help others in need when we believe in God?

 

Then we have questions about religion, which includes why we have many religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and others. Then we have others like:

Does religion cause war? Peace?

Does religion make us better people

Does religion make us equal in terms of gender, sexuality, social class, animals, etc.?

Do we have a choice in religion? If so, which one is the best?

These are questions that are provocative and require a lot of deep thinking before one can come up with a truthful answer, just as truthful as it was during Martin Luther’s time.  Before his 95 Theses, he took his walk from his home in Mansfield to Erfurt on 17 July, 1505 when he was caught in a thunderstorm near Stotternheim. Fearing for his life, Luther prayed to St. Anne and promised her to become a monk, which he took his vows in 1506 and was ordained in 1507. It was during that time that he studied and prayed to God, but also questioned the Church about their beliefs in Christ and the way they handled people- providing indulgences to some and excluding others. Luther believed that religion was supposed to be open to those who want to believe Christ. The 95 Theses was based on the critical questions he had. However, even after the creation of the Lutheran Church, other followers had their questions about their faith and decided to create their branches of the Lutheran Church, hundreds of which still exist because they each offer a special aspect of Luther that people wishing to answer the questions about God can choose and fulfill their faith.

If we were to look at this book and compare it to Luther’s question of faith, they are parallel for like Luther, the author of the book provides us with a chance to question ourselves about our faith and whether our religion fulfills our expectations. If not, and if the church cannot change because of their ways, then the question is how we believe in God and if we have the right faith or if we should look for the answers to our deep questions elsewhere. The book is not just open for people looking for a religion but also for people who have just as deep questions about faith and religion as we do- you and me.

In my case, my question would be why we are here at this specific time and what is my mission here? That has yet to be answer despite my successes as a writer and teacher.

 

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Julian Baggini received his PhD in Philosophy at University College in London in 1996 after writing a thesis about the philosophy of personal indentification. He founded the Philosopher’s Magazine in 1997 and has a website dealing with microphilosophy (click here for details). He has written over 30 works and numerous essays dealing with philosophy, religion and people and their roles on Earth, just to name a few. He has also done TED Talks including this one below, which he talks about the real you. He still resides in London.

 

 

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Genre Tip: The Boy and His Puppy: An Inseparable Love Affair by Unknown Author

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Author’s Note: This story has been circulated around for many years, and the first time I heard this story was when I was in high school, and the story was part of a sermon at a church in my hometown in Minnesota- over 23 years ago. It was a story about love between a boy and animals, but also love based on understanding and common experience between two entities. It was a story of how love can produce an everlasting bond which cannot be broken.  I came across this story most recently because of some experiences that I and many others witnessed, where people and even plants, who are unloved and neglected, are taken in by those of us who are willing to give them a chance at life, no matter the circumstances. I will not go into detail for privacy reasons, but our willingness to open the door to those in need and adopt the ones most neglected fosters openness and love in ways we could never imagine it before.

When the story came out, no one knew who wrote it, nor was there a title to it. It just read please share. I’m doing this honor but leaving credit at the end to the person who wrote this (unknown author) because this story is as touching today as it was over two decades ago. It’s still giving us something to think about. 

 

A farmer had some puppies he needed to sell. He painted a sign advertising the 4 pups, and set about nailing it to a post on the edge of his yard.

As he was driving the last nail into the post, he felt tug on his overalls.

He looked down into the eyes of a little boy.

“Mister,” he said, “I want to buy one of your puppies.”

“Well,” said the farmer, as he rubbed the sweat of the back of his neck, “these puppies come from fine parents and cost a good deal of money.”

The boy dropped his head for a moment. Then reaching deep into his pocket,
he pulled out a handful of change and held it up to the farmer. “I’ve
got thirty-nine cents. Is that enough to take a look?”

“Sure,” said the farmer. And with that he let out a whistle. “Here Dolly!” he called.

Out from the doghouse and down ramp ran Dolly followed by four little balls of fur.

The little boy pressed his face against the chain link fence. His eyes danced with delight.

As the dogs made their way to the fence, the little boy noticed
something else stirring inside the doghouse.

Slowly another little ball appeared, this one noticeably smaller.

Down the ramp it slid. Then in a awkward manner, the little pup began hobbling toward the others, doing its best to catch up….

“I want that one,” the little boy said, pointing to the runt.

The farmer knelt down at the boy’s side and said, “Son, you don’t want that puppy. He will never be able to run and play with you like these other dogs would.”

With that the little boy stepped back from the fence, reached down, and began rolling up one leg of his trousers. In doing so he revealed a steel brace running down both sides of his leg attaching itself to a specially made shoe.

Looking back up at the farmer, he said, “You see sir, I don’t run too well myself, and he will need someone who understands.”

With tears in his eyes, the farmer reached down and picked up the little pup. Holding it carefully he handed it to the little boy.

“How much?” asked the little boy.

“No charge,” answered the farmer, “There’s no charge for love.”
Read more at http://www.reshareworthy.com/boy-surprises-farmer/#4AEqeZJj4LOhI33U.99

and Man Told A Boy Not To Get The Disabled Puppy But Is Surprised By The Boy’s Response

 

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Genre of the Week: Sojourns and Sayings of Martin Luther by Heinz Stade

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The art of music is the best food for one who is troubled, for through it the heart is contented, inspired and refreshed.

 

Sometimes even the best writers, teachers, priests, and people working in the field of law need music to produce ideas and ease their souls, to reflect on the situations that went wrong and look ahead to the future with a plan. Even as I write this, I listen to classical rock music and think about the ways to address Luther and the problems we face today, not to mention how we look at Luther from our own eyes. Literature is one of the aspects to look at, as it shows us how Luther lived and conveyed his message to his followers, let alone how his teachings have affected the Church to this day.  Sometimes even having a collection of quotes gives a person an insight into his experiences and how he can share them with others. After all, quotes and sayings produced from one’s mouth can speak more volumes than any lecture, speech or talk because it is based on one’s own achievements. This is why I usually write and keep a set of my own quotes for my own use because of my experiences that can help others having similar experiences like I did.

 

Several books have a collection of quotes written or told by Martin Luther, pending on the sources. I will present two of them I found during my recent visit to Wartburg in Eisenach. The first one is a collection of sojourns and sayings of Martin Luther, a collection of quotes put together by Heinz Stade but based on a German work by Susan Kubitz, released in 2015 by Rhino Press.

 

Available in English, French and Spanish, Sojourns and Sayings is divided up into cities where Martin Luther’s influences were at his best and where most of his written works are found and recorded into history, from the parents’ home in Möhra (Thuringia) and Mansfield (Saxony-Anhalt) to his place of birth and death in Eisleben, to his days as a student in Erfurt and as a reformer there and in Wittenberg. There was even quotes from the city of Torgau, where protestant history was written, and Luther’s wife, Katharina von Bora died in 1552. His quotes are not only categorized based on his stay but also in categories, such as family, pursuit of knowledge, Christian people, work and idleness and on God and the world for each of the respective aforementioned towns. The quotes book is so small, one can carry it with in his backpack and read the quotes while travelling, let alone use it for insurance coverage (that topic will come later).

 

But how useful are the quotes from the book? I took a few excerpts out and categorized them myself to show how Luther interpreted them, connecting them with the current scenery, which from Luther’s perspective would be justified to remind society of how our gifts should be handled with care, the fruits of this world should not be abused, and lastly, how we should respect and love our own neighbors regardless of their social, cultural and other backgrounds, unconditionally and wholly.

 

So without further ado:

 Love, Marriage and Relationships:

 

This one needs no explanation because of a lengthy column I wrote about on this topic (click here to read). But to sum up, Luther was against impure relationships for it would otherwise hurt the natural settings, which to a certain degree is justified, but in today’s standards, the choice of who to love lies solely on the person.  But here are a few worth mulling. The third one is so true, which led to my wife and daughter, the latter we are teaching the fruits of life so she can carry it on for future generations.

 

If anyone is about to marry, let him not ask after the woman’s father but let him ask in what odor the mother is held. Why is this? Because the ale is as good as the barrel smells.

 

Bedding and being bedded- that comes easy, even out of wedlock. But the best of all ways to plight your troth is by children, for they are the finest wool from the sheep.

 

The world cannot do without its women, even if men were to bear the children alone.

 

 

Growing up:

 

For parents who try to force their children to doing things they don’t want to do just because they made mistakes in their lives: Don’t do that. Let them grow to become who they themselves want to be. This is Luther’s reason why:

 

Youth is like the juice of freshly pressed fruit. It will not keep. It has to ferment and brim over.

 

 Judging other people:

 

In this category, I have a nice quote for those who claim to love their neighbors but act differently, which questions otherwise: How can you love your neighbor but judge them too prematurely and not even be there when help is needed? There are a few people on my list who I hope will read this.  Luther has some ways of handling people who are different in some aspects but in the end, they are like us- humans who have just as much right to live here as the people during Luther’s time. Here are his quotes:

 

No man or woman is so evil that in them there is nothing praiseworthy at all.

 

Man is a creature made up of life and death, pleasure and grief, desire and satiety, love and hatred, understanding and folly.

 

Take this as your guide- not to defame your neighbor elsewhere by talking about him, but to warn him in secret, so that he may change for the better.

 

 Education:

 

Education is one commodity which is becoming underappreciated by the year, as institutions are charging more for access, hiring teachers who are not open to different cultures and learning styles, and lastly, becoming so chaotic that even the bottom line slogan for it is clouded. Furthermore, when looking at Betsy DeVos, minister for education in the US, having someone who undermines the basic foundations of the country’s education system in favor of education for the privileged contradicts what Martin Luther had preached for in his 95 Theses: religion, education and the Bible for all and not for the elite. Here are some quotes that support educating the general public, which includes the importance of learning the language:

 

The task and duty of the teacher is this, not only to teach what he knows but also to disprove the teaching of opponents.

 

Without the language we shall never keep the gospel. Languages are the sheath: the gospel, the sword of the spirit, is held in them (….)  If we fail (which God forbid!) in this, paying no heed to the common speech, we shall not only lose the gospel but we shall end by being able to speak and read neither Latin nor German.

 

 Hard Work:

 

Hard Work seems to be another commodity of today’s society that is clouded. Hard work does not constitute 10 days in a sweat shop or manufacturing facility just to earn money and gain physical strength. The psychological aspect has to be included, which means jobs in the administrative section, such as teaching, journalism, etc. can also be included. Man is born to work but also to be proud of his work, as Luther quoted:

 

Hard work makes you healthy and strong

 

There shall be no toleration for feasting day in day out, for dressing in luxury or for lecherous excesses.

 

God wants no lazy idlers, but each should work hard and faithfully, following his calling and fulfilling his office, that God give him blessing and cause him to thrive. Man is born to labor as the birds are born to fly.

 

 

Being Yourself and Succeeding:

 

And lastly, one cannot be onesself with loving onesself for his own work, bringing up matters of concern to the forefront and initiating change to satisfy onesself and others surrounding him. This was the slogan for Martin Luther as he fought to preserve and foster the personal identity of others instead of following the beliefs blindly like a herd of sheep:

 

It is always customary to make out of a little spark a big fire.

 

What is at the end of all laws is love.

 

Be refreshing! Be clear! Be brief!

 

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Genre of the Week: Jack and Diane by John Mellencamp

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This genre of the week looks at a customary that celebrates the initiation of children becoming adults. In Germany, we have what is called Jugendweihe. First established in 1852 by Eduard Balzen, Jugendweihe is mainly a non-Christian event where a child is officially initiated into adulthood come the age of 14 years. Prior to that, the youth can participate in events that focus on history, culture, politics, work, sexuality and independent living, just to name a few. By the time a child reaches the age of 14, celebrations take place, marking the initiation into adulthood; some organized by the Humanist Association of Germany and the Association of Worker Welfare, others by the schools and families. The youth has a first-hand experience at what adult life is like. The only exception is of course, driving. That happens 5-8 years later- much later than the youth in the United States. There, having a driving license and a car at the age of 16 marks the beginning of the stage to adulthood, which ends by drinking legally, five years later.

I kid you not on this one, especially as I’m an American expat! 😉

Jugendweihe runs parallel to its Christian form, known as confirmation. For church-goers in the United States and in some pockets of Germany, confirmation also marks a stage going into adulthood. Yet with confirmation, regardless of which religion, it is the third and final stage in being united with Jesus Christ as well as being part of the religious denomination, after baptism and the first holy communion. It is the first of two graduation ceremonies in America’s schools, where the names are announced and the blessings and sacraments are given. The second is of course, high school graduation, where the diplomas are received and the graduates proceed to move into a new chapter in their lives.

While confirmation usually occurs at a fixed date by the churches of different denominations, Jugendweihe usually occurs at different times between March and June. The dates vary based on the projects and schedules issued by the schools, the aforementioned associations and lastly, the families of the child who is going through the initiation. Still, as a general rule, the age of 14 is the magic number signaling the departure of childhood into adulthood. It is the third most important phase in a child’s life after Zuckertüten Fest and the Graduation from Elementary School going into one of the three forms of high school in Germany.

A while back, I was asked by my students if there is an English equivalent to Jugendweihe. We do but in Christian terms but really, without a name. That is unless you listen to John Mellencamp. 😉

Jack and Diane was produced by the rock singer in 1982, and it focuses on the two main characters growing up in a rural community in America. While they develop differently going from boy and girl to a man and woman, they fight to stay young as long as they can, yet they soon realize that they are becoming adults and pursue their dreams together. The scenes in this video are typical of American culture during that time, yet you can find similar ones in Germany as well, with the discotheks, soccer, hanging out in shopping centers and even biking down trails and bikeways. In either case, this Genre of the Week looks at Jugendweihe from a musician’s point of view. One could go as far as proclaiming Jugendweihe as Jack and Diane Day in English! 😀

Still, I don’t think it would go down that well because of its age and the cultural differences. 😉

Or would it?

You decide as we dedicate this song to the 14-year olds that have celebrated or are about to celebrate Jack and Diane Day.  Enjoy! 😀

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Born in Seymour, Indiana in 1951, John Mellencamp has been coined as one of the 10 best singers/ musicians of all time in the US by many critics and colleagues. Jack and Diane made it to the top and stayed nr. 1 for four weeks in 1982. That and Hurt So Good came from the American Fool soundtrack, which is considered the best of his 23 albums he’s released since 1976. He still resides in Indiana but in Bloomington. You can find him online by clicking here as well as through World Cafe. An interview on how he’s opened up on music and arts with Forbes Magazine can be found here.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Germany at 25: Einkaufsoffener Sonntag- Shopping on the Day of Rest

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It all started at the beginning- 1945. Germany laid in shambles. Houses and apartments were destroyed. The people, walking around in tathered clothing, were looking for one scrap of food to survive. They were homeless and helpless, just as helpless as they were during the Third Reich and the Great War. The Allies, victors over the National Socialists who led Germany to ruin, decided, let there be new homes, grocery stores and clothing stores so that the people can buy food for the table, books and paper for school and clothes to keep warm. And so, amid the ruins rose small stores and shops for people to purchase their goods and money flowed in so that they can spend it on whatever was needed.

And that was the introduction of the modern store. And life was good.

11 years later in 1956, Germany was on the road to becoming  the Wunderkind, producing the strongest economic growth on the European continent by 1961. The stores were open, selling name-brand clothing and food either homegrown or imported. Conflicts arose between consumers and store owners over when to have the stores open. This is mainly in part because of the importance of spending time with family and in the church. Henceforth, the German government in Bonn introduced a law, requiring all stores to be open from 7:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the evening. Exception was with restaurants, pharmacies/chemists and petrol stations. Saturdays are opening hours from 7:00am until 2:00pm.

And that was the introduction of opening hours for all stores. And life was good.

Fast forward 33 years later to 1989, and the trend is going towards consumption and longer hours. The government introduced the long Thursday hours, where stores are allowed to serve customers until 8:30pm. This is in addition to having opening hours on one Saturday a month and on the Saturdays before Advent until 6:00pm.  It was then followed by a new law, passed in 1996, where stores are allowed to open from 6:00am until 8:00pm Mondays through Fridays and from 7:00am until 4:00pm on Saturdays.

And that was the extension of opening hours for all stores. And life was good.

Fast forward 10 years later, and we see the introduction of Einkaufsoffener Sonntag. Prior to the law passed in 2006, no stores were allowed open on Sundays, holidays and Christmas Eve after 2:00pm. Exceptions were the kiosks, small stores at the airports and train stations, petrol stations and restaurants. One Sunday a month, stores are open after church services from 1:00pm until 6:00pm. On this day and the day before that, people storm the stores, buying last minute items and creating lines going all the way to the back of the store. Tensions rise and violence sometimes happens because of the lack of patience and the need to buy the last items as if the world is coming to an end. Even more so when stores are closed on a holiday- on Saturdays! Profits rise, but also the amount of stuff and tension from buying it rise as well.

And that was the introduction of Sunday hours in stores. And life was……

UNBEGREIFLICH! Incomprehensible. In the 16+ years living in Germany, no trend has been as controversial as the opening hours on the Day of Rest. Looking at 1999, when first coming to Germany, I witnessed long lines at stores and small shops on Fridays and Saturdays, where people stocked up on goods for the weekend, as if they will be out before Sunday. Sunday was a sacred holiday- as sacred as books and the Bible.  Looking at the current situation with Einkaufsoffener Sonntag, the trend stays the same: long lines with people fighting to get the last item. The difference, more families are spending time in stores and not in parks, churches or visiting family and friends. Could this trend erode the fabric of family and friendships? Hardly, for we have technologies keeping people in contact and we still find time for people instead of goods.  However, with the need for even more flexible hours, we are starting to see Germany look like the USA, where we have stores open 24 hours a day, even on holidays. And even though stores in the US are beginning to cut back, starting with the elimination of hours on Thanksgiving and Black Friday (see article here), Germany is going with the trend that the Americans had had ten years ago.

The good news is despite general approval for opening hours up until 9:00pm on weeknight, the majority still disapprove having shops open on Sundays except for the Advent period. If this trend continues, in the long term, we could see stores returning to their original hours as enacted in 1996. And perhaps it is a good thing too, for we consumers need to learn to live more with less items and not waste time in line. If we cannot get what we want, we wait. We look for alternatives. We find ways to avoid such maddness in lines and devote our time with four main characters in life: our children and loved ones, our families, our friends and Christ.

And this applies to work as well, which is why I’m quitting right now….. 🙂

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frage für das forum

Which is better: a huge supermarket with a wide array of goods, like you see in the pictures above or a small shop with just the bare minumum?

What is your view on opening hours on Sundays: Would you rather see stores open on these days or should they be closed on this day of rest with the exception of Advent? Why?

Situation: You are at the butcher’s wanting beef for your stew but you are in line with people wanting the same product. Do you:

a. Budge in front of them  b. Negotiate with them  c. Choose another butcher or store d. Elect to become a vegetarian or vegan?

Place your comments here and/or the Files’ facebook pages. Looking forward to your thoughts on this. 🙂

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Germany at 25: The Berliner and the Carnevale: An Unlikely Combination

Photo taken in February 2013

Author’s Note: This is a Throwback Article dating back to February 2013, where the author wrote about another typical German food a person should try: The Pfannkuchen (a.k.a. The Berliner). This article is being reintroduced as part of the series on Germany at 25. If you haven’t tried a Berliner before, here are some reasons why you should…. 🙂

Carneval Monday (Rosenmontag) in a typical German town- in the midst of Carnevale, all is going on during the 5-6 day long celebration that starts on the weekend. People are dressed up in various costumes, dancing to traditional German music near the cathedral, and some parading down the streets of big cities. This is the time when we indulge in our sins containing fat, sugar and alcohol before we start the fasting period, on Ash Wednesday. One will find Carneval celebrations everywhere, whether it is in Halle (Saale) or Erfurt in the eastern half of Germany, or in the traditional cities, like Mainz, Duesseldorf or Cologne, where hundreds of thousands of people attend the more popular festivals in Germany, including one at the Cathedral in Cologne, the site of the very first Carvenale celebration in 1823.

Cologne Cathedral: site of the largest Carnevale celebration. Photo taken in February 2010

While there are many specialties that are common during the Carnevale season, there is one particular one that stands out and has indirectly become a symbol of the festival- the German Pfannkuchen. During the Carnevale celebrations bakeries load up shelves upon shelves of these pastries that are covered in sugar but have marmalade on the inside. There are many names to call this pastry- most common is the Berliner, many regions have considered the Pfannkuchen, Krappen, Krapfen, Schmalzknudel, Little Carneval Cakes (in North Rhein-Westphalia and Rheinland Palatinate), Fastnachtskiechel (in the Sauerland region), Bismarcks (in Canada and northern USA), Creme pies and jelly-filled donuts (in the USA). Ironically, despite John F. Kennedy’s declaration of him being a Berliner, many Berliners still associate him with the pastry to this day, but would refer the pastry as Pfannkuchen.  As a foreigner, one should be aware that Pfannkuchen can also refer to Eierkuchen, which means pancakes, another pastry that’s found its way into Germany’s kitchen as well. In either case, Pfannkuchen (as I will call them) is one of the first things people will see when visiting Germany and one that will always stick to the country’s stereotypes, together with Christmas Markets, Bratwursts, Beer, and the Volkswagen Beetle. One will find many with different fillings and coverings. Typical is the one covered in sugar and filled with strawberry marmalade, there are some with chocolate or vanilla coating with various forms of filling made of milk chocolate, apricot filling or even vanilla creme.

But why Pfannkuchen and its connection with the Carnevale? This is a question that will bother many people when staying in Germany, for although Pfannkuchen can be found year round, it is during the time between the Thursday before Lent and Ash Wednesday that they are exclusively popular, regardless of how they are decorated.  Legend has it that a very unhappy bakeress dropped a lump of pastry dough into oil, and after a certain time, it formed on its own, thus creating the pastry that is popular to this day. Yet history has it that the Pfannkuchen was popular in the Roman Empire, where pastries were deep fat fried and covered with honey. In the Medieval Period, other toppings were used, and with that there were many names for the pastry. But in modern times, the Pfannkuchen is treated like any pastry that is served at Christmas time. Tradition has it that the Thursday before Lent starts the Carneval period, commemorating various rebellions and events in the 1800s. At that time, most Pfannkuchen are baked and ready for eating on the Sunday before Lent and the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. It is possible that because they are still deep fat fried and covered in various toppings, like sugar, chocolate, and other creme toppings, that they are in connection with the “fat eating” indulgence one can see during the Carnevale period. However if legend did hold true, the Pfannkuchen is the sign of love and happiness with the unhappy bakeress (un)knowingly providing this with a small pastry that anyone can eat, even children.   Religion, happiness, indulgence, no matter how a person can turn the story and pick apart the legend, the Pfannkuchen has made it way to being a popular figure to be eaten during the Carnevale period.

But if the Pfannkuchen is the sign of indulgence and happiness, then one should finish reading this article and go out and  try one, especially at this particular period of celebrating before Lent. It is ok to imitate Garfield the orange cat, who loves jelly-filled donuts and will stop at nothing to eat the entire lot at a bakery. After all, the Carnevale period is the time of celebrating and sinning before the fasting period (and the regrets of sinning) arrive. However, even when the Carnevale period is over, one can still find the Pfannkuchen at the bakeries to try out, whether if it’s for the first time ever or if it’s for tea time (in German Kafeetrinken). In either case, the Pfannkuchen is one of the most popular pastries in Germany’s bakeries and one that makes a true friendship if shared with others. So without further ado, enjoy! Guten Appetit!

Photo taken in February 2013

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