New ICE-Line and ICE City Erfurt Opens

ICE-T train stopping at Erfurt Central Station. Photo taken in March 2017

New High-Speed Line Opens after 25 Years of Planning and Construction. Erfurt and Leipzig to become ICE Cities. 80 ICE trains expected in Erfurt daily.

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BERLIN/ MUNICH/LEIPZIG/ERFURT/COBURG/JENA- It took the signing of former (now late) German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s signature to allow for the project to begin- 25 years ago. That in itself was as historic as US President Dwight D. Eisenhowers signature in 1956 to launch the US Interstate Highway System. It took 25 years, from the time of its signature until the time of its completion, costing over 12 billion Euros, and resulting in 37 bridges- including the 8.6 kilometer long Elster-Saale Viaduct near Halle (the longest in Germany)- two dozen tunnels and the complete makeover of five different stations- the main ones of which are in Erfurt and Leipzig.

And now, Frankenstein has come to life!  🙂 The new ICE line between Berlin and Munich has opened. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Richard Lutz (CEO of the Deutsche Bahn), German Transportation Minister Christian Schmidt as well as the primeministers of the states of Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia plus many celebrities were on hand to open the ICE-Line as a pair of ICE-3 trains passed through the new stops of Nuremberg, Erfurt, and Leipzig-Halle as they started from Munich and ended in Berlin. The ceremony happened today with the grand ceremony taking place at Berlin Central Station.

With that new line, not only will the cities of Leipzig and Halle will profit from the long-distance trains stopping there on a daily basis, but also the ICE City Erfurt in central Thuringia, where as many as 80 ICE-trains will stop to board people on a daily basis travelling on the N-S axis between Berlin and Munich via Nuremberg, as well as between Dresden and Frankfurt via Leipzig on the W-E axis.  Along the N-S axis, one can travel between the German and Bavarian capitals in just over four hours, two less than its current travel. Between Dresden and Frankfurt, it is expected that trains passing through Erfurt will need only three hours instead of the normal five.  Planned is the new ICE-Sprinter connecting Berlin with Munich with a stop only in Erfurt. That stretch will take only under four hours.  Another is planned for Halle-Munich and Nuremberg-Berlin, each of which will take less than three hours.

Prior to the opening of the new ICE line, a person needed over six hours along the line that went through Naumburg, Jena, Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Bamberg. That line will be relegated to Regio-trains which will be a total inconvenience to people living in Jena and points to the east. With that will mark the end of long-distance service for the first time in over 115 years. The state of Thuringia is working with the Deutsche Bahn to provide better access, which includes a new long-distance InterCity station in Jena to be opened in 2024.  (More on that here).  The ICE line will mean more development for Erfurt, as the ICE-City plans to build a new convention center and series of hotels and restaurants around the station to better accommodate customers and visitors to Erfurt.

ICE-4. Photo by Martin Lechler

The new line will mark the debut of the newest ICE train, the ICE 4, which will travel alongside the ICE 3 from Munich to Berlin. The ICE-T will continue to serve between Dresden and Leipzig (for more on the train types, click here).  At the same time, the older two models will be phased out bit-by-bit after having travelled tens of thousands of kilometers for over 25 years. The newest models can travel over 300 km/h and has compartments for bikes, available upon reservation.

While the new line, scheduled to be part of the train plan come 10 December, will compete with the airlines and automobile in terms of travel time, there is a catch that many people do not like: From Berlin to Munich, one will have to pay at least 125 Euros one-way, 40 Euros more than with the present route. Despite having more Regio-trains providing access to Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle from Jena and elsewhere, it will become an inconvenience when it comes to changing trains and having to rush to the nearest ICE train with very little time left.

Still it is up to the Bahn to decide how to adjust to the situation as it plans to allow for time for people to adjust and get used to the new line. After a year or so, it will make some adjustments to better serve customers who are out of reach of the new line. By then, one will find out whether the billions spent on this project was worth its salt.

Video on the VDE8 Project- the ICE Line Berlin-Erfurt-Munich:

And a map of the new line:

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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

Christmas Market Tour 2017: Hof (Bavaria)

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Little is known about the first stop on the Christmas market tour of 2017. Hof is located in Bavaria near the Franconian Forest and the Fichtel Mountains. The city of 47,500 inhabitants is located along the Saxon Saale River near the border of both the Czech Republic to the east and the German state of Saxony to the north. In fact, the city is 13 kilometers west of the former Communist Triangle at Trojmezí (CZ). Hof was the symbol of freedom as tens of thousands of East Germans entered Bavaria by train in 1989. It was followed by the opening of the gates and and tens of thousands of Trabants and Wartburg cars entering Hof when the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November of the same year. All of those fleeing the country wanted nothing more but either freedom to move and live, or the removal of the communist regime led by Erich Honnecker or even both. They eventually got their wish and then some with the German reunification. Almost 30 years later, the borders and fencing have all but disappeared with the exception of a section of a preserved watchman’s tower and fencing north of Hof near Mödlareuth. Hof is now situated at the three-state corner with Bavaria meeting Saxony and Thuringia both former states of East Germany.

When looking at Hof more closely, one can see the historic town center and many antique houses and buildings in other suburbs in one piece. Hof survived almost unscath by the air raids during World War II and has prospered since then, thanks to tourism, agriculture and small industry. The city center is 150-200 meters above the river, anchored by a combination of shopping and religion- the later featuring the twin finial towers of the St. Marion Catholic Church. The shopping mile at Altstadt connects Post Street with Lorenz Church and street via the Catholic Church- a span of over one kilometer.

And this shopping mile is the focus of the Christmas Market at Hof’s Altstadt. Getting to the market by car, let alone by foot is difficult- perhaps the one of the most difficult of the Christmas markets to date. It has nothing to do with the maze in getting to the market, as was the case with the Christmas market in Chemnitz, when I wrote about it in 2015. While the street plans are mainly gridded- similar to a typical American town- the main problem was finding a place to park in Hof, for the parking lot and places along the streets were filled to the brim. When they were not occupied by cars, they were reserved for the handicapped, delivery trucks and bikes. This was compounded by speeding cars, traffic lights and even traffic jams. These are typical scenes of a typical southern German town as the region is the fastest growing in the country in terms of people, houses, and even transportation.  When finding a place to park, it is highly recommended to take your time, find the right spot to park without getting ticketed and impounded, and expect to walk to the Altstadt from your parked car.

This was the case during my visit, but despite this, the walk to the market was well worth it.  🙂

The market itself was really small, stretching from the Catholic Church to Post Street along the upper end of the shopping mile going past the Gallerie Kaufhof. Its aesthetic features include Christmas trees (some decorated) wrapped around street lamps along the shopping mile, LED lighting illuminating the sidewalks with Christmas slogans and light brown pinewood Christmas huts with gabled roofing and decorated with natural pine nbeedle garland and Christmas figures, such as the snowman, Santa Claus (or Weihnachtsman in German) and reindeers. The main attraction is a nine meter high Christmas pyramid, with angelic figures, whose dark brown color with white paintings resemble a gingerbread cake. Yet it is not like in Hansel and Gretel because it holds the largest of the Glühwein (mulled wine) stands at the market.  The backdrop of the market is both the church as well as the historic buildings, minus the rather modern Kaufhof. Still the market is a great stop for a drink and food after a long day of Christmas shopping.

Approximately 40 huts lined up and down the shopping mile as well as the pyramid and neighboring carousel on one end, but gallery of fairy tales and a Children’s train station on the opposite end.  The stands sold many handcrafted goods originating from the region, including the lighted Christmas arch from the Fichtel Mountains, ceramic manger sets that include a real lantern hung over the crib where baby Jesus was born and woolen clothing made in time for skiing. 🙂

But inspite this, one should pay attention to the food and drink available at the market because they are either local or multicultural. Local in this case means, in terms of food, the hot pot Schnitz and the Hofer Bratwurst (the thin version of the well acclaimed Bratwurst whose taste reminds a person of the Nuremberg Bratwurst); for the beverages, there is the local Glühwein from the nearby wineries in and around the Franconian region. Most importantly, one should try the Franconian Punch: an alcoholic drink that features orangesrum and other spices. Some include red wine and are thus renamed orange Frankenwald wine, yet just punch with the rum alone makes it the real thing worth drinking. 🙂

Yet multicultural food and drink mean that stands originating from several different country serving their own form of homemade local delicacies can be found at the Christmas market. From my own observations, stands with goodies from six different countries are worth trying while in Hof. They include those from Mexico, Belgium, Czech Republic, Turkey, Italy and Syria. Ironically, these specialties come from three of the countries that US President Trump detests (both officially and behind closed doors), one of these three is a royal pain in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s neck. I’ll allow you to figure out which three countries I’m referring to. 😉

While I never had a chance to try all of the delicious delicacies from those stands, I tried the Gözlem (a Turkish Yufka tortilla that is filled with feta (sheep) cheese and spinach) and several small bars that contain pistachio, a nut most commonly found in Syria. The Syrians baker at that stand had a wide selection of pistachio bars, rolls, spaghetti-style bars, etc., that contained lots of these nuts plus sugar, eggs and other sweet spices. It tasted really good- enough to take it home to try with the family, especially my daughter, who is friends with a Syrian in school. 🙂 Syrians, who fled the region because of war and famine and have made their homes here in Europe, are one of the most overlooked groups when it comes to their heritage. From mainstream media, they fled to find a new life but struggle to establish their existence because of hate crimes and fake news from neo-conservative, far-right “news” sources, such as Britain First and Breitbart (US). Yet inspite of attempts of instilling fear and forcing others to turn away and against them, the majority of the public believe that the refugees have as much right to live in Germany as the Germans themselves, let alone other expatriates, like yours truly, who have escaped their home countries and found a better life.  And when looking at them even closer, one can see their special talents and food specialties, the latter of which brought out the Mr Food in me because of their secret ingredient of pistachio and its “Ooh, it’s so good!” comment.

Given the situation they are in, we have to put ourselves in our place and ask ourselves, what would we have done if we were in the crossfires? What talents and special characteristics can we take with so that we can use it for others? After all, every country has been in a war in one way or another. Germany’s last war ended 72 years ago. America’s home turf soil happened 152 years ago, focusing on slavery of the minority.  Both cultures are still alive and stronger than ever before. For refugees, like the Syrians, Turks, Kurds, Iranians and others affected by the war, they too have a right to live and shine for others and therefore, we must respect their rights and talents like we have for our own. We can learn from each other through our actions. 🙂

Summing up the Hof Christmas market, the first in Bavaria since starting my Christmas market series in 2010, I found that despite the problems with traffic, that the Christmas market in the old town was a cool place to visit. Accessible by going up the hill to the church and turning left, the market has a small hometown setting that is appealing to locals and regionals alike. One can try all the local and multi-cultural specialties and talk to people from different regions, while listening to music played or sung on stage (located at the entrance to the mall passage). And while Hof and Bayreuth have some equal characteristics in terms of having a university and similar population size, the arrangement and offer of the Christmas market falls clearly in favor of Hof this time, although admittedly, perhaps Bayreuth has changed since my visit seven years ago.

In either case, as you can see in the pics below and here per link, Hof is one city worth a visit, especially during the holiday season. One can learn culture, history and heritage for one day and come away with a small town feeling, learning a bit and enjoying that Christmas feeling.

 

 

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Mr. Food, going by the name of Art Ginsburg, started a short TV show bearing his nickname in 1975 and continued to run it until his death in 2012 due to cancer. Howard Rosenthal now runs the show bearing the name.

 

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Martin Luther and the Apple Tree

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This Food for Thought Commentary ties in the series on Martin Luther and the Apple to look at one important aspect in society today, which is people and proof of power versus praxis.

I would like to start my commentary with a story about the German word, Mogelpackung. Known in English as the sham packaging, in the literal sense of the word, it implies a product that is half-full and whose contents have the worst quality imaginable, but is fully packaged in bright shiny bags, thus making a person buy it because of its appearance.

It happened at a time when I was 13 and living with my parents at a university town in Minnesota, known as Marshall. My father was professor for technology at the university there, and every time he was teaching, I would hang out with my aunt and her (now ex) husband in the art department, where the latter was producing world-class paintings and offering classes, such as modeling, painting, sculpting and the like. And for the record, I was his “guinea pig” for one session of modelling, having to earn money to pay for film after using my mother’s camera for taking pictures. 😉

 

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But given the size of the campus, I would usually roam around every department and come across vending machines that were in each building. One day, I happened to find a vending machine and with 50 cents in my pocket, I bought a small bag of Ruffles potato chips, only to find that upon opening the bag, the contents were not even half full. Worse was when eating them, it tasted like it had been in the machine for YEARS!!! They were stale, dressed in salt!!!

When I mentioned this to my aunt upon returning to the art studio, she explained the concept of sham packaging and how companies try successfully to take that extra quarter out of the pockets of the innocent  just to earn that little money for their machine- a half-full package that is vacuum-packed but dressed in aluminum covering to make it look glamorous.

Companies can be really sneaky, can’t they?

But when looking at our society today, we not only see sham packaging everywhere but going beyond vending machines and shopping malls and mega-retailers. People can be shams too. One in three people on average are considered narcissists- people who take advantage of others for the purpose of personal gain.  It is unknown how a person can become a narcissist except to say that environmental factors, such as personal experience and trauma, external influence from others, the strive for new trends, craving attention and sometimes personal revenge are factors that can contribute to having a narccist personality, aside from a childhood upbringing where abuse, neglect and being controlled by parents and other family members. Sometimes the use of technology, like social networks, or a strict religious upbringing can play a role.  In either case, when a person promises the world and gives you a gagging grin are the people whom you want to avoid at any cost, for narcissists are capable of getting their way at the expense of others and enjoy watching others suffer from their defeat. These people can be best compared to sham packaging as I mentioned at the beginning- glamoring and god-like on the outside, but evil and incompetent on the inside- both in terms of hard skills as well as soft skills.

 

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The serpeant was a complete sham when it offered Adam and Eve an apple from the Apple of Wisdom, according to the readings of Genesis. End result- God expels them from the Garden of Eden. But can an apple be a sham package?  Absolutely not; they have their own natural color, each one representing its own flavor- and to a certain degree, one’s reaction upon tasting it.  😉  Yet the apple can be a symbol of strength and wisdom, learning about life and the people who live in it, contributing for the better or worse. If we were to eliminate the apple from our own diets in both these aspects, we would become barbarians battling for the best using all forms of measures to submit our prey before going in for the kill.

 

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This is where Martin Luther comes in. When he created the 95 Theses 500 years ago, he was planting the seeds for the apple tree that would later become the Lutheran Church. The purpose behind the separation from the Catholic Church was simple: The Church was also greedy and not paying attention to the needs of the people, but to the privileged, whose lives were spent in a glass ball, whose wall was thick enough to block out all the pleas and blind out the plight of poor. Yet one very perplexing comment that was extracted from Luther is making us think about how sharing or shamful the prophet was:

 

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree!

 

One has to look at the circumstances that led to his comment. After the theses were posted a rebellion  broke out among the peasants who felt cheated by the church. The Peasants War broke out in 1524-25 resulting in the casualties of more than 100,000 people. The revolt failed as the peasants were put down by armies supported by the aristocrats in the kingdoms of Saxony, Bavaria, Thuringia and Alsace.  Churches were looted and burned. Priests were murdered. And already many of Luther’s followers were interpreting the 500 theses in their own way, setting the stage for fragments of the Lutheran Churc. This included the conflict between Luther himself (who favored a middle approach between the aristocrats and the peasants) and Thomas Müntzer, who favored justice for the peasants. The conflict resulted in a fallout between the two and an everlasting feud which lasted until Luther’s death.  Luther’s establishment of the church was meant to bring the people together, just as the apple trees were planted to bring people together. Yet it seemed that what he actually did, by supporting both sides,  was instigate violence, thus making him look like a sham, as well as the others. While the uprisings did stop in 1525,  the theses brought out those who believed in change and it was badly needed, yet it brought out those who used the changes for the purpose of the gain of power. The theses criticized the Church for its practices but never made suggestions of how to change it, resulting in Luther being ostracized by many in his circle of friends of family. Yet these critical points allowed for other followers to establish their branches of the church.

 

If Luther was considered a sham, then most likely because of the ideas that were as thoughtful as the package of potato chips, yet when looking down at them, they were unappealing to the Church, resulting in its bitter taste, and salty because of the people who used his thesis for their own set of religions, some of which that still exist today are too strict and the themes too controversial.  But Luther was not a sham in reality. He saw the suffering of the people and ignoring the pleas of the shams wishing to undermine his work for their gain, he planted the apple trees for them, by opening the doors of the church to them so they can learn the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. His comment would best be interpreted as the modern terms of “If I had turned back the clock, I would still do it,” yet his comments, although considered sham by critics, indicate that he would still continue to plant the apple trees for the people to ensure that they had their share of wisdom and strength, instead of the sham packaging that the Catholic Church had offered at that time.

 

To sum up this lengthy discussion on sham packaging and the apple tree by Martin Luther, one has to connect the half-full package of potato chips from the vending machines with the apples, planted and harvested by Luther and compare it to the events of 500 years ago with that of today.  While it is easy to turn down the potato chips in favor of the apple because of its nutrients and all the other advantages it has, looking at it from the standpoint of Christ, it is much easier to decide how to believe as long as the religion is open to all and loving to all. Looking back 500 years, the people didn’t have the luxury of potato chips but saw the packaging of the Church and decided for the alternative. And therefore, it was much easier for them to choose the apple that opened the door to Jesus.

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The Use of Time Markers in English Part II: Present Simple versus Present Continuous

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After taking a tour through the world of time markers for the past verb tenses- namely simple versus perfect, our next article looks at time markers in the present. And what more fun it is than to examine two different forms of the present verb tense, while looking at a typical commmodity one should neither live without nor leave Germany without it- pottery! When one looks at pottery, three main features come to mind, which we will look at in our exercises: Different types of clay and rock used for pottery, Pottery markets (in German: Töpfermarkt), and Polterabend-a rare, textbook style event that occurs before an important event in the lives of a loving couple. 🙂

The Files created a quiz based on this topic, which you can try. Click here.

Before we look at time markers however, let’s have a look at the difference between present simple and present continuous and which time markers belong to which verb tense.

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Present simple is a verb tense that deal with things that are done on a regular basis. In other words, no matter how it is treated- as a statement, a schedule, a habit or a future form, the key word to describe present simple verbs is routine. Here are some examples:

The pottery markets in Thuringia take place between July and September. 

Here, the phrasal verb take place, and in particular, take, is the present simple term describing when the markets take place in many cities in Thuringia. It is written in future tense based on an annual schedule.

The pottery market in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg is considered, by many in the industry, the largest market in Germany. 

Written in passive voice as a statement, the present simple form is consider because many dealers and pottery-makers believe that the market is Germany’s largest.

Apart from its use to make a statement and focus on schedules that are routine or etched in stone, the present simple tense can be used for headlines in newspapers but also for sports commentaries when an event just occurred, such as:

He shoots! He scores!!! And the ball game is over!!!!

Check out this excerpt below, when Michigan was upended by Michigan State in American college football, with only a few seconds left in the game in 2015. Can you identify the sentences in the clip?

BTW: Michigan State won 27-23, despite losing their hero, Jalen Watts-Jackson to a season-ending hip injury on that heroic return to save the team from its first losing game of the season.

The sentence construction of present simple is easy:

subject+ verb+ object?- Statement

To do+ subject+ verb+ object?-  Question with yes/no

Wh+ to do+ subject+ verb?- Questions with Wh

Interestingly enough, this form of present simple is closely related to the perfect form in this context, as the latter also functions for events occurring just now as well as for events that occurred but without a given date of when it started.

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Present continuous has several functions but they all follow the grammatical construction:

 to be+ (verb+ -ing).- Statement

to be+ subject+ (verb+ -ing) + object? – Question with Yes/No

Wh+ to be + subject+ (verb+ -ing)? Question with Wh

The verb tense is used for an event that is occurring either instantly or at the present time despite the length of the time frame. Here are a couple examples:

Mary: What is he doing?

Jon: He is putting wood chips into the kiln.

Mary: But isn’t it hot enough as is?

Jon: He needs more heat as he’s burning our ceramic pot. 

To sum up the conversation, the first deals with what the potter is doing right now, the second is the process of heating up the kiln with wood, and the last sentence has to do with what he is about to do. Also keep in mind the question forms that Mary uses and the difference between the two in terms of construction and how they are answered. The first is a W-question, explaining what the person is doing. The second is a question requiring a yes/ no answer, which Jon indirectly answers no in the last sentence.

Present continuous also functions as a future tense, yet that section is to be discussed further in Part III. Present continuous also focuses on the development and progress of a project a person is involved with or an event in a person’s life which he is going through stages from point A to point B. Take for instance this example:

Several football players are recovering from their season-ending injuries and are becoming more active.

In reference to the Michigan State football team, apart from Watts-Jackson, several key players, who suffered from season-ending injuries during the 2015 football season, are progressing in their recovery efforts that they are in shape and ready for the 2016 football season. This one is true as you can see in the article here.

TIME MARKERS:

While we see a difference in the way present simple and present continuous function, the key factor that makes the two verb tenses different is the usage of time markers. While the prepositional phrases of at, in and on in the sense of time are the same, and both sets feature mostly adverbial phrases, the difference between the two sets of time markers have to do with the frequency (which is found in present simple) versus those dealing with time frames and anything that has to do with instant progress. In other words, most of the time markers deal with frequency versus progress.

For the time markers in present simple, we have the following we use most often:

always, mostly, mainly, often, never, sometime, occasionally, (un-)usually, normally, traditionally, frequently, seldom, rarely, hardly (ever), certain days, weeks,, months and years, each/every (day, week, month, year,….), daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, annually, bi-annually, regularly, and the numerical frequency (once, twice, three times, etc.)

For present continuous, we mainly see the following time markers:

(right) now, currently, at the moment, momentarily, these days, nowadays, at present/ at the present time/ presently, today, this (week, month, year), in this era/period….

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Activity 1: Identify the time marker in the following ten sentences and determine whether they are present simple or present continuous:

  1. Helen and Martin are planning their Polterabend event at this moment.
  2. Polterabend always takes place the night before the wedding.
  3. Traditionally, friends, neighbors and some relatives come to their place, eat food and drink a good beer.
  4. They often bring old ceramic plates, pots and statues to break, whose shards bring good luck.
  5. These days, Polterabend is not as popular as they were 40 years ago.
  6. Even Martin rarely knows people in his circle of friends who have celebrated Polterabend.
  7. Right now, Helen and her family are planning the event because it is strong in their family tradition.
  8. At the moment, they are inviting all of her friends and relatives, but Martin has a better idea.
  9. Martin is currently planning a Bachelor’s party, which is not typical of German wedding traditions.
  10. But Martin is never a traditionalist. He always loves events that are non-conventional.

Activity 2: Complete each sentence using the correct verb tense. Please pay attention to the time markers and note that some of them have to be constructed in passive voice as indicated)

  1. Pottery markets ___________ (hold- passive) annually in the eastern half of Germany.
  2. In the past, only a handful of cities in Germany hosted these markets, nowadays dozens of cities ___________ (sell) pottery at these markets
  3. Usually, ceramics ___________(make-passive) with limestone and sandstone clay.
  4. Hardly anyone ____________ (produce) pottery with quartzite.
  5. Currently, ceramic glasses ___________ (buy-passive) by many people.
  6. While kilns ___________(use- passive) traditionally, these days, potters ________(heat) their ceramics with furnaces.
  7. We _________ (visit) the ceramic market in Bürgel today.
  8. Tens of thousands __________ (attend) the Bürgel market east of Jena annually.
  9. People always ____________ (color) their pots with navy blue with beige dots.
  10. At the moment, I __________(look) for a gift for my grandma for her collection.

Activity 3: Correct the following sentences. Each one has one error.

  1. Right now, the Michigan State football team always prepare for their upcoming football season.
  2. Despite a rough season in 2015, each and every player are rarely shaping up to face some tough teams.
  3. Each week they are practicing on the football field from dawn to dusk.  (Hint: they always do)
  4. Presently they shop for ceramics for their girlfriends. They always are ordering from Meissen Ceramics. (Hint: Think Christmas)
  5. They usually are getting their pep talk from their coach, but today they date their girlfriends and book their post-Bowl game flights to Europe.

Author’s Confession: OK, OK, so not all of the activities deal with ceramics and German traditions, but I bet some Michigan State football players are eyeing for some pottery, even if they go through the exercise and a dose of tradition that is outside their football stadium in East Lansing. 😉  In either case, the purpose of this section is to give you a brief description of the difference between present simple and present continuous through the use of time markers. This is important because some of the time markers and the functions of the two verb tenses apply for the future time form, which is a bit more complicated than what has been taught so far.

If you are still not convinced, you can check out another article written about the Christmas markets in Germany. There you have additional activities you can use to better understand present continuous and how it is different from present simple. This includes a quiz and a group project, all in connection with a German past time. Click here for details. 🙂

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Mystery Building Nr. 5: A Silo or An NSA Complex?

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Photo taken in July 2016

In the run-up to the next quiz series on Thuringia and Saxony, I came across a phenomenon that will spark a discussion regarding what this structure really is. Located between the towns of Altenburg and Gössnitz on the Thuringian-Saxony border, this building is located smack in the middle of corn and wheat fields with a few trees surrounding it. It is difficult to tell how high or wide this building is. We do know that despite it sitting on the drifting hills which includes the valley of the Pleisse River and its tributaries, the building is high enough to be seen high above the trees from the train travelling on the line connecting Gera and Gössnitz, like in the picture below:

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Ibid.

It is also tall enough that a person can photograph it from a distance of over 25 kilometers, as seen in the photo at the beginning of this article.  That was taken near the Thomas Müntzer Siedlung, located south of Hauensdorf and east of Lehndorf.  Keeping this in mind, let’s estimate the height to be at least 30 meters.

It appearance is rather spooky as the base features a cylindrical shape, but the top quarter has a spherical appearance with pentagonal patterns. Separating the two shapes, both of whom have a grayish green color, is an observation deck which a person can access with a flight of stairs zig-zagging its way to the ground. A housing complex is located just to the north of the tower.

This leads to one of three theories:

  1. Central Intelligence Tower: The tower is part of the central intelligence complex, which collects information for use. The design would make the most sense, given the fact that spying has been part of the livelihood of the people living in the region. Altenburg was part of the former East Germany, and the Honnecker Regime cooperated with the Soviets regarding collecting information from the western half of Europe as part of the plan to protect its borders from a nuclear attack. With the events involving the Berlin Wall, Prague Spring and the NATO Weapons stationed in West Germany before Reagan, having a tower in the middle of nowhere served as a out-of-sight complex protecting the East Germans. To keep them from fleeing to the West, it was probably used as a spy tool to keep them in tact and within their borders.  Since Germany and America’s NSA have an agreement on data-collecting, the tower probably has been used since 1989 for that purpose- especially now because of the potential threat from Russia and the terrorists, something that many people on both sides don’t agree with. Privacy has become more and more tabu these days because of the willingness of Berlin and Washington to pry open the activities of their normal citizens…..
  2. Water Tower: The tower is nothing more than a water tower, collecting and storing water for the towns along the Pleisse and its tributaries. Logistically speaking, this would make the best sense as the region is surrounded by farmland, and water is needed to foster crop-growth. Perhaps despite its unusual design, the water tower was conceived out of the “spy tower” after 1989 after it was rendered useless. As many water towers have different shapes, especially after a lengthy discussion about the water tower in Glauchau (see article for more), this idea may not be far from the truth.
  3. Communal Silo: The same applies for the silo concept, where crops are stored there. What would support the argument here is the housing surrounding it, resembling a farmstead. What would make this argument redundant is the fact that silos are rare in numbers in Germany. Unlike in rural America, where one in two farmsteads have at least one silo, in rural Germany, it is most likely one in 10,000 because of the population density, combined with limited space for farming. If a silo exists, then most likely as a communal one owned by the city of Altenburg.

There could be other opinions to this, like an army complex, power plant, grain elevator, etc., but having an unusual shape makes these arguments questionable. This leads to the question of what exactly this tower is, when it was built and for what purpose, and lastly, is it still in use.

Any ideas? Feel free to comment…… 🙂

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In School in Germany: Bilingual Teaching from the School’s perspective: An interview

Author’s Note: This article is the throwback to one that was produced in connection with the series on schooling in Germany. This time, we look back at and re-stress the importance of bilingual education in German schools, based on the experience of teachers having done this, as mentioned here in this interview dated 23 July, 2014.

In the last entry on bilingual teaching  in Germany, the author discussed the benefits and drawbacks of teaching a subject in a foreign language from his own experience, as well as tips for teachers willing to and planning on teaching a bilingual class in the future. To summarize briefly, bilingual teaching can be beneficial if teachers are willing to devote the extra time needed to prepare the materials and teaching methods for each session and if students are able and willing to communicate and learn the vocabulary in a foreign language. It does not mean that it is not doable, for a subject in a foreign language has its advantages, which includes looking at aspects from another point of view and implementing the language in other fields to encourage learning through Context Language and Integrated Learning (CLIL). It just means that one needs to be creative with lesson-planning, working with the restrictions of time per session (each one has 45 minutes unless it is a block session as mentioned here), and the language competence on the part of the students.

But what about from the view of the other teachers who taught the bilingual module: what do they think of bilingual teaching in the school?  This question was one of two that I and two other colleagues at the Gymnasium (where I’m doing my Praxissemester), and one from another Gymnasium 25 kilometers away, pursued in a project we did for the university on bilingual teaching in the English language. This consisted of observing the bilingual classes in English, such as History, Geography and Music, both as a teacher (like I did in history), as well as an observer. Then the interview was conducted with the teachers to gain an insight on what they think of teaching a subject in a different language- namely in English instead of their native German language.

The interview comprised of ten questions, featuring three closed (multiple choice), one hybrid and six open-ended questions. The open-ended questions were categorized and ranked based on how often the answers came about in one way or another.  Seven teachers from the two Gymnasien participated in the interview- five from my Gymnasium and two from the other Gymnasium where my colleague did hers. Of which, four teachers were interviewed directly, whereas the remaining three completed the interview questions in writing for time and logistic reasons. None of the participants were native speakers of English, but came from the fields of history(1), sports(1), geography (1), foreign languages(1)  natural science (1) and music (2).

After tallying the data and categorizing the answers, we came to the following results, which will be summarized briefly here.

1. College Degree, Further Qualifications and Interest

While bilingual education in the English language is best suited for those whose Lehramt degree includes the lingua franca, only five of those asked actually received a degree in English; the other two did not but took additional classes to improve their English skills  for the class.  As a supplemental question, despite bilingual modules being obligatory, all but two of those asked volunteered to teach the class in English with most viewing bilingual teaching as either for the purpose of interest in learning the language and the culture of Anglo-Saxon countries or a chance to improve on their career chances, or both.

2. Preparation and Teaching Bilingual Classes

As a general rule, one spends twice as much time learning a subject in a foreign language than it is in his native tongue. There was no exception to the rule with regards to preparing for a bilingual class in the English language. When asked how much time it took to prepare the module in comparison to the regular classes, all seven respondants mentioned that it took much longer than normal to prepare for a class in the foreign language. Factors influencing this included what had been mentioned in the previous article: lack of education materials already published, resulting in finding alternatives to teaching the subject to the students. This included using audio/visual aid in the form of films, YouTube videos and the internet to enhance listening skills and foster discussion, as well as creating self-made materials, such as worksheets and other activities to enhance vocabulary and reading skills. Two of the respondants even required students to do presentations in English.  This promoted the variance of the teaching styles used in class- namely frontal teaching, individual and group work and demonstrations, which encouraged students to learn more on their own than having the teachers present their topic in frontal form, which is the most traditional, but sometimes one of the most boring, if students are not encouraged to participate in the discussions.

3. Results

This question requires some clarity in itself. Both schools offer foreign language classes that students are required to take in order to graduate. Prior to the introduction of the module by the state in 2009, they were the only two that offered bilingual classes in English and other languages, a tradition that has been around for almost 50 years and is still strong to this day. Like on the university level, students focus on skills pertaining to reading, listening, writing, grammar, oral communication, presentation and real-life situations, all of whom are tested regularily. An article on the different tests and their degree of difficulties students face will be presented in the Files soon.  These skills are implemented in the different subjects through the bilingual module with another one being developed- the ability to acquire specific vocabulary from certain subjects- a process known as Content Language and Integrated Learning (CLIL).

The question about the results for the teachers to answer featured an overall ranking of whether and how students improved their skills through the bilingual module and the grading scale in terms of the above-mentioned skills, minus presentations and real-life situations. On the scale of one to six (one being outstanding and six being worse), the overall grade average for both schools was between 2,9 and 3- equivalent to the grade of C in American standards. While grammar skills were rarely covered in the bilingual module, according to the interviews, the reading and listening skills were the strongest, while the writing skills were the weakest. Communication in English varied from group to group, making it difficult to determine how well the speaking skills were in comparision with the rest. In either case, despite having several outlyers on each end, the performance of the students in the bilingual module is the same as in a foreign language class, according to the accounts stated by the interviewees. This leads to the question of how to improve the curriculum in terms of quality so that the students and teachers can benefit more from it than what has been practiced so far after the first year of initiating the modules.

4. Suggestions for Improvement 

The final observations of the English bilingual modules can be found in the question of whether it makes sense to continue with the scheme and if so, what improvements could be made. While it is clear that the module program was introduced in Thuringia, and many schools are introducing them into their curriculum, if imagined that the program is not compulsory but only optional, all but one of the six respondents replied with yes, with one being omitted for technical reasons. Reasons for continuing with the bilingual educational module in the classroom include the opportunity to improve communication in English, learn new vocabulary, be flexible with teaching methods and materials, and combine the English language and the subject into one.

Yet in its current shape and form, vast improvements need to be made, according to all seven respondents. The majority (five) of the seven respondents would like to see some more English classes being offered to them so they can improve their language and communication skills before entering the classroom to teach the subject in the English language. This coincides with the observations made by the author while sitting in the classroom on several occasions and helping them improve on some aspects of the language outside of class. While some classes are available through external institutions, like the Volkshochschule (Institute of Continuing Education), more funding for programs to encourage teachers to enhance their language skills are needed in order for the bilingual module to work. The same applies to CLIL training to determine how the subject matter should be taught in the foreign language and what teaching methods are suitable for use in the classroom.  Not far behind in the suggestions include more materials that coincide with the curriculum, including worksheets and books, something that was observed from the author himself after teaching history in the English language. While teachers have the ability to be creative and produce their own worksheets, many are of the opinion that in the foreign language, more preparation time is needed for that, something that was mentioned in the interview by a couple respondents.

5. Fazit

After a year of teaching the module, the teachers of both schools find the bilingual classes in the English language to be worth the time and investment, for despite the fact that their handicap is not being a native speaker of English and having some difficulties in communicating in the language, thus causing some misunderstanding between the teacher and the students at times, they see the module as a win-win situation. Students in their opinion can obtain the vocabulary and other skills needed from their respective fields and implement them in future classes, or even for the exams they need to take in the 10th grade year. For them, they see the bilingual module as an opportunity for them to gather some experience and confidence in the communication in English. Yet, more support is needed in order for them to become even more successful and the students to profit from their teaching in a foreign language. This is something that was observed from my personal experience teaching the module, communicating as a native speaker of  English.  This leads to the question of whether the students have the same opinion about this as the teachers do. This will be presented in the next installment.  However……

6. Suggestion and support needed….

Thuringia is not the only state that offers the bilingual modules in a foreign language. Many states in Germany have already introduced bilingual education in their school curriculum, either as a whole (like in North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria) or through individual schools- both private or public.  How are the subjects taught bilingually? Do you have any modules or are the classes offered in English for the whole school year? What teachers do you have for bilingual education in the school: are they native speakers, Lehramt students, etc.? And what suggestions do you have for improving the bilingual curriculum if your school has tried the bilingual curriculum for the first time, as was the case in Thuringia?

Leave your comments here or on the pages entitled The Flensburg Files or Germany! You can also contact the author of the Files, using the contact details under About the Files. Your opinions do matter for the teachers who are planning on teaching bilingual classes in a foreign language in the future.

The author would like to thank the participants for your useful input in the interview, as well as three assistants for helping out in the interview and questionnaires. You have been a great help.