To start off the Genre of the Week, here’s a question for you: How many of you have a teddy bear? What names did you give them, and how did you characterize them when playing with them? Almost every child at one time had a teddy bear in his/her lifetime and one in three adults still have that teddy bear from their childhood. More than half the children have more than three teddys in their rooms at home. And if you are like other kids, you probably have names for each of the Teddy bears you have. 🙂 In the case of my daughter, she and I had names for a dozen teddy bears she had when she was growing up; among them include Rocky (Senior and Junior) for a pair of panda bears, plus two bears who always find ways of travelling with this writer: Bam Bam and Coco, a white and brown bear duo. Their parents were included as well, including Coco’s mom, Anna Bear, as seen in the pic above. But what do we know of the origin of the teddy bear?
The teddy bear was developed in two different locations, almost simultaneously. In Germany, a seemstress company, founded by Margarete Steiff in 1880, a teddy bear was created by her nephew Richard in 1902, based on a real depiction of the bear. It debuted in 1903 and became so popular, that a buyer for an American toy company bought large numbers for the market. The Steiff bears eventually became teddy bears. At the same time of the first teddy bear in Germany, a very popular Amercian figure, while on a hunt, saved a life of a small bear, thus becoming a focus of a cartoon shown below:
Eventually, Morris and Rose Michtom took this depiction and created their first toy company that produced these adorable creatures, honoring that man, which became known as Teddy’s Bear. 🙂
But inspite of the two separate events that helped create the still most lovable toy for people of all ages, there was a motive behind making teddy bears. In a TED-Talk lecture, Jon Mooallem provides a detailed look behind the history of the teddy bear and its relationship with not only us humans, but also the environment we are living in. And as the bears become popular, the concern for protecting flora and fauna has become greater than it was in 1902.
Watch the video and have a look at the questions. Think about what he says and discuss about the role of teddy bears and the relationship between humans and the environment, something that is fragile and needs attention more than ever. The video is at the end of the article.
Who was the person that saved a bear’s life? What happened and when did it happen?
Why did he save the bear’s life? What was the result of his action?
What was the relationship between bears (and other wild animals) and settlers like during that time?
What measures were taken to protect the settlers during that time? How were the animals affected- name one example.
What does the teddy bear symbolize according to the speaker?
Why did we go from portraying animals as terrifying beasts to ones that are lovable? There are two factors that are interconnected and are still a key issue in society…..
The speaker mentions that nature has become so dependent on humans that it cannot survive on its own, going from almost destroying the species to saving and educating them- aka conservation reliance.
What factors have led to the natural balance being off course
What examples are mentioned where humans “train” animals?
In your opinion, do you agree with the speaker’s statements? If so, why and what examples support your argument? If not, what examples of uncontrolled natural areas can you think of?
In your opinion, does controlling nature produce a better balance with humans or does it make sense to let “the deer and the antelope play and vegetation produce flower power?” (In other words, let flora and fauna be)? What reasons support your arguments?
Do you have a teddy bear? If so, what is his/her name and how would you describe your bear in terms of appearance and character?
A couple years ago, I had a political discussion with another expatriate residing in Germany about Angela Merkel’s willingness to open the gates of Germany to refugees fleeing the regions of Syria, Iraq and North Africa- areas that were decimated by war- just so they can start a new life in a different place, where they can be peaceful and not have to worry about war. A couple days ago, after having posted my preview of the German elections, where Angela Merkel is making a quest to run for her fourth term (and break Helmut Kohl’s record in the process), that same person asked me if her policies of allowing refugees into Germany have done the country good or not, especially with the social and cultural problems that they may have, which were his reasons for opposing opening the gates. We all remember her comments in an interview with Anne Will that has carried a lot of weight around Berlin:
and this in addition to her persuasion of her counterparts to not be afraid of the refugees but to help them…..
But in order to answer that person’s questions, I’m going to take the Taylor Mali approach and give it to him with a little history- not about her or the refugees, but about her party, the Christian Democrats and their slogan “Wir schaffen es!”
Since the creation of the Bundesrepublik in 1949, the CDU has had a chancellor ruling Germany for 48 of the 68 years of its existence. Of which, if we count Merkel in the mix, three different politicians have ruled the country for 42 of the 48 years! Before Merkel, the previous CDU chancellors had been the late Helmut Kohl, who ruled from 1982 until his defeat in the hands of Gerhardt Schroeder in 1998. The first chancellor of Germany, Konrad Adenauer, ruled what was then West Germany from 1949 until his resignation in 1963. He died four years later at the age of 91, having won the Award for eldest statesman to ever govern a country. The secret to the successes of the CDU under these three people had been until now made their promises of “Wir schaffen das!” (translated bluntly as We Can Do This) realized through calculated risk-taking, realizing the consequences of these actions and providing a buffer zone between external factors on one hand and Berlin and the rest of the country on the other. It is like the game of chess- the situation is presented on the chessboard, and it is up to the politicians to take the risk that will produce the maximum result to their favor, while figuring in the possible consequences that could happen. Of course any foolhardy move could be fatal, as we are seeing with many far-right politicians in eastern Europe, Turkey, North Korea, the UK and even the US. But each chancellor has had their longest chess game during their time in office; each of which has its own theme. Let’s have a look at each legend’s ability of making it work and bringing Germany to fame.
“Wir schaffen das allein!”
When Adenauer took office on 15 September 1949, Germany was still in recovery mode after having been in shambles because of World War II and was all alone with the European countries and the US all hesitant in building any relations with the country. Furthermore, Germany was already split between the democratic western half that had been occupied by the Americans, British and French and the eastern half that was controlled by the Soviets. While Germany was considered a chessboard between communism and democracy, Adenauer began to redevelop the country economically, thus making it the economic miracle and later the powerhouse of western Europe with one of the lowest unemployment rates in history (averaging around 2%). The population got jobs and could spend money on new items, including the TV and modern furniture. His policies were based on liberalism and thus showed Germany’s willingness to ally with the US, Britain and other western countries, thus making the country’s integration into the United Nations, NATO and the European Economic Community easier to achieve. His mentality of “Wir schaffen das allein” (we will do it alone) had to do with the fact that Germany’s metamorphisis from a state in shambles to an economic miracle with a modernized socio-economic infrastructure and westernized institutions with policies that are based on conservatism and no experimenting with anything that is new and foreign. Even the elections of 1957, which he won his third term in office, his campaign slogan of “No Experiments!” won overwhelming support because of three factors that led Adenauer to win the hearts and minds of the German population: 1. The reestablishment of relations with neighboring France which used to be the country’s archenemy. With that came the reintegration of the Saarland and the recognition of minorities on both sides of the border. 2. Despite having zero interest in reuniting with East Germany or even having contact with the communist regimes, Adenauer made agreements with the Soviets to release as many as 10,000 Germans who were prisoners of war, so that they could return home. That combined with encouraging immigration from parts of the Middle East and Asia to fill in the gaps left behind by the fallen soldiers contributed to Germany’s success as a country as a norm. And thirdly, the people followed Adenauer’s policies because they enabled them to restart their lives again and not allow for external influences and military conflicts to rule and ruin their lives again. If it meant integrating people from outside willing to work in the country- making them open-minded- make it so. Adenauer’s idea was in order to make the country a powerhouse again, it must work to restore its identity while mending ties with and reassuring other countries that it is different than the Germany under Hitler: It was not power-greedy but a democratic country willing to cooperate for similar causes. Anything that is fattening or potentially risky- anything that does not match Adenauer’s vision of Germany- was simply left behind. This was the reason why Adenauer went with his slogan West Germany first, then we’ll talk about the East. His hard-line policies against Communism combined with his willingness to grow together with other countries made him the most influential politician of modern German history.
“Wir Schaffen das Miteinander:”
If there was one description that would best fit Helmut Kohl, the chancellor who came into power after the fall of Helmut Schmidt in 1982, it would be that he was the Face of Europe, not just a Unified Germany but simply a Unified Europe. While Kohl was perceived as folksy in terms of his appearance and manner, his ability to be eye-to-eye and down-to-earth with many of his international constituents made him more of an international celebrity than that of his German counterparts in Bonn, which was the federal capital during his 16 years in office. It also helped him in terms of working together with his international colleagues for two of the most important goals on his agenda: To end the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and to reunify West Germany with its eastern counterpart. While the former was beginning to unfold from within, thanks to the revolutions in the east that toppled the Communist leaders and quickened with the Fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November, 1989, the latter Kohl proceeded to do through cooperation with Soviet leader Mikail Gorbachev, US President George Bush Sr., British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand. Despite the hesitation that was expressed by Mitterand and the rejection that was made clearly by Margaret Thatcher, Kohl’s actions in reuniting Germany within a year between the Fall of the Wall and the date of 3 October, 1990 (which we still celebrate this date today) received full support and cooperation from Gorbachev and Bush Sr. for several reasons:
Kohl acknowledged that he had no intention of expanding his country to include the Suedetenland in western Czech Repubic and areas in Poland that had once belonged to Germany before 1945. This Oder-Neisse Agreement confirmed the eastern border and resulted in good relations with the two eastern neighbors.
Kohl agreed that Germany would be a full participant in NATO and the European Economic Community (later the European Union) just like it was when it was West Germany. Furthermore, it would maintain strong economic and political ties with ist allies and be ready to play a larger role on the international stage.
Kohl provided start-up funding and financial support for the former eastern states. With much of the industries in ruins, Kohl presented a program to encourage business development, modernization of the infrastructure, educational support and further education training for the unemployed and reform the retirement system- all with the purpose of bring it up to the level of the western half. This process has been long and painful, but it has been working to the advantage of People in the East; especially the younger generations born right before the Fall of the Wall.
With a reunified Germany, Gorbachev and Bush Sr. agreed that having a Cold War no longer made sense. Gorbachev wanted the eastern countries to go their own way, and Bush provided those who were trapped behind the Iron Curtain with an opportunity to have a better life without the political connections and influence from the state security police. All they needed was someone in Germany with the same point of view and they found that in Kohl.
The German Reunification and the concessions needed to make that a reality came with criticism from within the German Population and his own Party, the CDU, claiming that the process went too fast and that many displaced Germans from the east were unable to reclaim their regions back. Furthermore, the recession of 1995 as a result of the cost for Reunification resulted in the rise of unemployment. Yet when looking back at this, Kohl looked for the people who were willing to go through with the plan of reunification, taking all the risks that are involved and cementing the Germany that we know today. With that in mind, the idea of “Wir Das Miteinander ,” became “Wir Schaffen Das Zusammen” over time, for whatever the crises, Germany was able to pull through with the support of its people, the CDU and its allies from outside.
Helmut Kohl was given a European send-off at the time of his death on 16th June, 2017 at the age of 87. The procession, which was on 1 July, took place in Strausborg and Speyer, where he was interred.
“Wir Schaffen Das:”
It is very difficult to describe this theme with Angela Merkel without having to overlap on her counterpart’s slogan, but perhaps it doesn’t need a preposition to describe how she has overcomed her challenges as Chancellor and key player in the CDU. Merkel was presented with three challenges that reshaped her party, Germany and the population during her 12 years in Office. First was keeping Europe together and the Americans happy, something that for Germany as a central power in the EU it could be done by pulling on the leash of the members- in writing. Yet in the praxis, especially in the past 3-4 years, some member countries have tried to go their own way, especially in terms of the refugee policy and the deficits of some countries. The next was satisfying the Americans and finding common ground to carry out the policies that affect both countries and the rest of the world. This depended solely on who was in the Oval Office, and while she has isolated Donald Trump because of his erratic behavior (just like the other countries who have followed suit), her relations with George Bush Jr. was lukewarm at best but with Barack Obama, it was a dream team. 🙂 From an American expatriate’s point of view, Merkel achieved a lot with the right people in Washington, which has been received as a blessing, especially when it comes to the environment and the conflicts out in the Middle East, which has been ongoing for seven years now. And while we are on the theme with environment, there is the refugee crisis and her handling of it, which makes it the third and most important point. The logic behind her policy of “Wir schaffen das” was quite simple: regions in the north and east needed workers and experienced professions because of the younger people moving to cities in the western and southern parts. The population balance in Germany has been very unequal since 1990 with the population in the north and east getting older, despite attempts to modernize the region. With this decline came the brain drain and the best way to end it is to fill in the gap with people wishing to live and work in Germany, even if it was for a limited time until they were able to return home. Learning from Adenauer’s success in bringing in immigrants and integrating them and Kohl’s success in restructuring the eastern half of the country, Merkel sent them to the regions where work was waiting for them, along with a better life. This has been met with partial success mainly because of the lack of forthcoming to accept them among residents in regions who are older, inflexible and lack the basic knowledge needed to get to know and even help them. This is one of the reasons for the creation of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), one of the main challengers that Merkel has faced and will be dealing with for years to come. However, if asked for why immigration has been successful in Germany, I can look at personal success stories of families who have taken German classes to get by, young people getting training at companies to learn a profession and even refugee children getting along with school children. Granted one doesn’t need to be best friends, but by having a peaceful co-existence and helping out when needed is something that Merkel had in mind, which has been a success if one subtracts the likes of the far-right.
Taking a look at the three politicians in summary, one can see how Germany has been shaped. It is a country whose population has been taught to be calculated risk-takers, while at the same time, be open to not only people from different cultures and backgrounds, but also to the changes that are taking shape and affecting the Bundesrepublik. The idea of “Wir Schaffen Das,” regardless of form and circumstances has something to do with the will to try something new but doing it with insurance. That means the risks will be taken under one’s own conditions and with the assurance of a Plan B if all else fails. Many of the policies carried out by the CDU had been tried and true, learning from the successes of the forefathers and implementing them adaptedly to the situation. Germany has learned to adapt to the situation by looking at the options carefully, calculating the risks and benefits and carrying it out with some insurance protection. Adenauer knew the risks of forming relations with other countries and rebuilding Germany and ensured that Germany wanted to be part of the international theater, by accepting the conditions imposed, bringing home the prisoners of war and encouraging immigration to repopulate the country. Kohl knew the risks of German reunification and came up with a comprehensive plan to satisfy its neighbors and the population, especially in the East. Merkel knew the risks of integrating the refugees and the opposition from both within the EU and its own country. Still she found ways for immigration to work in a convincing way. Whenever there were the risks, they were calculated and carried out in an attempt to create a balance that satisfies everyone.
And this has made it difficult for candidates, like Martin Schulz (SPD), Christian Lindner (FDP), Frauke Petry (AfD) and others to overcome the German Iron Lady and the rock which has become the CDU.
Thanks to this notion of “Wir Schaffen Das,” Germany has become what it is- a nation that loves calculated risks, just as much as the people who live there- which includes the refugees, expats and other immigrants. There is still a lot of challenges ahead, but should Merkel win term number 4, it will most likely be due to the success of her in general, her party, and the forefathers who helped shape Germany to what it is today. If Merkel breaks Kohl’s record for longetivity as chancellor, then her theme will most likely be “Wir haben das geschafft.”
Better have that sherry and champaign ready for Merkel’s fifth term on 26 September, 2021. 😉
Germans go to the polls on 24 September to elect their new Chancellor- A lot of questions still exists
After the US, Dutch and French elections, the German elections, which will take place on 24 September 2017, will be the decisive factor on how Germany will be governed for the next four years. Yet like the Presidential Elections that brought Donald Trump to power, this election will decide the fate of the European Union as well as the rest of the world, going forward, as there are several factors that will influence the voters’ decision on which party should rule the Bundestag in Berlin. Furthermore, given Germany’s economic, social and political leverage on Brussels as well as the United Nations, people are praying that whoever is elected Chancellor will be the one that will shape the country and take it into the direction that is the most desirable both nationally as well as globally. Factors influencing the political decision among the voters include:
Germany’s role in terms of environmental policy– among other things, renewable energy, climate change and protecting flora and fauna
Germany’s role in terms of refugee policy, which includes integration of those qualified to live in the country and quick deportation of the unqualified and criminals
Germany’s role in international relations, especially within the EU and with the US. While President Trump would rather have Frauke Petry of the AfD (even though she is now on maternity leave) instead of the incumbent Angela Merkel of the CDU, Germany is trying to shore up relations with countries still loyal with the EU, while fighting fires caused by the far right governments of Poland, Turkey and Hungary, as well as Great Britain’s Teresa May.
Germany’s role in domestic policiesand how it can close the ever continuing widening gap between the rich and the poor, as well as improve on the country’s education system
Even more important are some thought provoking questions that are on the minds of all Germans, Americans living in Germany (including yours truly) and other foreigners living in Germany, for whoever rules the country for the next four years will have an impact on the lives of others, for each party has its own agenda that is different than that of the policies of Chancellor Merkel up until now. For some parties, this election could be make or break because of their struggle to win support. Here are some questions that are of concern as we bite our nails and worry about 24 September:
Will Angela Merkel win her fourth term, thus be on the path to break the longest power streak of serving 16 years, set by the late Helmut Kohl (1982-1998; he died in June of this year)?
Will the Martin Schulz Effect save the Social Democrats (SPD) or mark the beginning of the end of the centralist party?
Will the Free Democratic Party return to the Bundestag after breaking the 5% barrier?
Are too many windmills too much for the Greens?
Will the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) continue its winning streak and roll into parliament? If so could it even overrun the CDU and even govern Berlin?
Will the Leftist Party (Linke) serve as the counterpunch to the AfD or will it need help?
Will this election mark the last for the Nationalist Party of Germany (NPD)?
These questions will be answered through my observations of the election, which will be after the tallies are counted and we know which parties will form a coalition and elect our next leader. We need to keep in mind that the German elections are different than the American ones as we elect two parties- one primary and one as second vote, and the new Chancellor is elected after a coalition is formed between two or more parties. Currently, we have the Grand Coalition, which features Merkel’s CDU and the SPD. Yet we have seen coalitions with other smaller parties. A party can have the absolute majority if more than 50% of the votes are in their favor.
To better understand the multi-party system, there are a pair of useful links you can click onto, which will provide you with an insight on the German election system. Both are useful for children, and both are in German, which makes it useful to learn the language.
While I cannot vote on the count of my American citizenship (though ideas of switching sides have lingered since Trump’s elections) like other American expats, I can only stress the importance of going to the polls on the 24th. Your vote counts because we are at the crossroads. Can we do it, like Merkel said with taking on the refugees in 2015? Or can we afford to experiment and if so at what price? Only your vote will make a difference. So go out there and vote. And allow me to comment once there is a new Chancellor, be it another four years of Merkel (and the flirt with Kohl’s record) or with someone else……
While travelling along the highway visiting some friends in Leipzig a while back, I had a chance to listen to the German news and the traffic report, where they report accidents, speeding and even broken-down vehicles when I was taken aback from a phone call made to a radio station that, like Leipzig, is located in the same German state of Saxony. With my passenger next to me we were snickering when we heard a typical Saxon living near the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) calling in by saying the following:
“Auf der B 175 in Glauchau gibt es einen Teddy auf der Fahrbahn zwischen Jerisau und Gesau.” (EN: On Highway 175, there is a Teddy on the road between Jerisau and Gesau in the City of Glauchau)
A Teddy? My first reaction to my passenger, who is also from the region but nearer to Stollberg was one for the ages: “A Teddy as in Teddy Bear?”
A burst of laughter followed. 🙂
Looking at the pictures very carefully, can you envision a Teddy on the highway? Regardless of size?
It was at that time that I realized the importance of learning a foreign language because you can pick up a lot of local words that you will almost never find in a dictionary. This especially applies to Germany, for there are several regions speaking different dialects and using different words. In this case, it was Saxon German (Sächsisch Deutsch) and even more so, Erzgebirgisch.
My colleague, after a couple minutes of a good laugh, later explained that a Teddy was in reference to the Blitzer. The Blitzer, translated into English, means a simple photo radar gun/device or traffic control camera. In British, it is nicknamed the Gatso. Can you imagine Gatso the Teddy using a radar gun to catch speeders, as this is the purpose?
Even with the advancement of technology, where cameras are becoming smaller and easier to use, combining it with the fact that the bear is “mounted” to an electrical circuit box and the eyes are a but too small for the camera lens, this is a tall order to see such a furry creature take pictures of cars, their plates and the drivers.
However, this device can do the trick! 🙂
For over 60 years, the German Gatso has been responsible for controlling the way people speed on streets and major highways. According to Article 3 of the German Traffic Control Laws (Strassenverkehrsordnung), the responsibility for these devices falls to the law enforcement authorities on the state and federal levels. All it takes is a yellow flash when driving too fast and a ticket from the local police with the license plate and a facial reaction which helps police identify and fine the speeder, while at the same time, make the speeder feel exceptionally embarassed by looking at not only the facial reaction at the time of the incident, but also the amount of money owed for it.
In some cases, you receive a Flensburg point for the incident (see the story behind it here.) The first Blitzer was introduced in Essen in 1956 and since then, one can find one for every 30 kilometers on average in the country; one for every kilometer on average in the city. One can find them everywhere: on sidewalks, hidden in trees and railings, as bins on the street or at bus stops, and sometimes as living beings as seen below:
Laser guns and squad car cameras were later introduced with Düsseldorf being the first city to use them in addition to the Blitzer in 1959. Since the 1990s, both the eastern and western halves of Germany have reported such Blitzers on the highways by having radio teams track them down and report them on air. However, other drivers exercise the right to call in if they see one. The purpose there is to inform the driver where they can take their picture- and pay a hefty price for it.
Anybody wanting to try this better have a good explanation for the judge…… 😉
Traffic cameras have been used in the US and UK, but it is rarer in the former. Arguments against the use of the Gatso are the question of effectiveness in detecting the speeders- especially when radar jammers are used by speeders while those going only 2-3 miles per hour are caught. This is where the accuracy question comes in. Furthermore, debates over liability for the use of the equipment for traffic combined with the unwillingness of speeders to pay due to protest has made the Gatso very unpopular. In fact, cities that have introduced these cameras were forced to take them down after a couple years due to claims of them collecting revenue instead of providing safety for the roads. To sum up, there are no laws that enforce the use of Gatsos unless on the local levels, but these are feeble- opposite of the laws in the Bundesrepublik.
Blitzers have been used not only on German Autobahns, but also in areas of communities, where speeding and even car accidents have been reported by law enforcement authorities. They are also useful for construction areas where traffic is heavy. Blitzermarathons are also popular, for on weekends and holidays, these cameras are used extensively by the police to control the speeding on the streets, and with lots of success. Aside from vehicle inspections and pulling over traffic violators, Gatsos have generated as much revenue and reputation as law enforcement itself- to protect the drivers and encourage proper driving habits, but also to protect others on the highway affected by the driver.
And so keeping this in mind, I would like to offer this advice to all drivers in Germany and other neighboring European countries: when you hear about a Teddy, Blitzer, Gatso or camera on the highway you’re travelling, or see one in the vicinity, check your odometer, lead up from the pedal, and respect the grey bear! After all, unlike real bears, like grizzlies, blacks and polars, they can save your life. Plus they make for a great (but cheap) photo opportunity with a professional photographer- but not from the guy in the blue and white suit with a police squad car or the people from Flensburg. 😉
Have you hugged your Teddy, lately? 😉
Gatso is short for the Gastometer BV, a device that was invented by Dutch racecar driver Maurice Gasonides in 1958 but for the purpose of monitoring his speeding, not for controlling it. The first devices were introduced in the Netherlands and British Commonwealth in the 1960s where film was used. It was later advanced to use ultra-red lighting in the 1980s. It went digital in the 1990s where data from the photos can be taken through the contral computing system at the police precinct and printed out for use. More information can be found here
Summer: The best time of the year.
It’s a time to travel to meet family and friends living far away. It’s a time for bike tours and fishing, while amusing ourselves with entertainment from the county fair and amusement park. It’s a time for baseball and golf, but also the best place for grill fests where we feast on steak, fries, corn and a good beer.
Having grown up in southern Minnesota and being not far from the Iowa Lakes Region, where Okoboji was the main tourist trap for four months in the year, the best thing about the summer months is being next to the water, where a tour along West Lake Okoboji on the cruise ship Queen II was as obligatory as going to church- but with a lot of entertainment and facts about the lake. It also meant an annual visit from my two cousins in California, where we clowned around on Big Spirit Lake in inner tubes, while playing card games and making my great aunt laugh- she was a great host as she had a cottage on the north end for over 50 years. 🙂 It also meant golf and jetskiing with friends from high school, while keeping the neighborhood in Loon Lake awake with parties until 2am in the morning! 😉
But there is more to summer than just water and wheels. To this author, summer means listening to nature and watching the trees change colors as it provides fresh air and shade. Even if we switch off the air conditioning for a night, we can listening to the sounds of crickets chirping, secadas sawing in the trees and a herd of deer galloping about. And this with the hum of other air conditioners and cars passing by.
This poem was one of many that local historian Evelyn Halverson wrote for the newsletters of the Lyon County Historical Society in Rock Rapids, Iowa. Halverson always opened the newsletter with a poem about one of the four seasons- after all, the newsletter was published four times a year at each season. From 1985 until 2007 she was the writer that inspired others to read up on history and become writers as well, as the newsletter was laden with facts that tied local, national and international history together, be it locals having fought in World War II and sharing stories about their experiences in Germany or Japan, or about the Bonnie Doon Railroad, which cut Lyon County into two (a bridge along the route was profiled recently, click here). In either case, the newsletters were fun to read and the lady was a great poet. A collection of poems were put together in a book, published in 2008, two years before her death.
One of these poems I wish to share with you in this genre of the week, which fits the summer mood for the reader and the author. Enjoy!
Pause to catch the wonders of summer
See the cornstalks stretching toward the sky
As a symphony of bird songs greet each dawn
And gentle breezes stir the tree leaves with a sigh.
The roadsides are colorful with wildflowers.
The apple trees flaunt red apples, crisp and sweet.
Thunder and lightning announce a sudden shower,
All a pettern of summer’s annual treat.
Listen to the crickets serenade at night time
As the locust chorus buzzes through the day.
The monarch butterflies glisten in the sunshine,
Catch the wonders of summer before it passes away!
I would like to start off my article with a bizarre story that took place while teaching. The company where I was teaching English had a small air conditioning unit installed in one of the rooms in a small container, above the windows. The windows were facing the south side, meaning that in the afternoons during the summer, the temperatures are hot enough to make the 12 x 12 meter room look feel a sauna. It was in the middle of the afternoon with temperatures in the upper 30s Celsius (between 95 and 100° F), and I had the AC unit on, set at 25° C (room temperature of around 72° F). The clients were mostly blue-collar workers who needed the language for correspondence with their distributors, but we had a couple administrators as well who needed English for the office. During the session, one of the administrators decided it was way too cold to sit in the classroom and decided to warm up-
outside……. in the heat!
Think about this for a second and ask, why go into such a sauna outside when the AC was running at room temperature?
If there was a list of the top ten cultural conflicts we have between Germans and Americans, the issue of air conditioning during the summer time would definitely be right up there. Growing up in Minnesota where we were blessed with extreme cold and extreme hot, the latter of which justifies AC for most of the season, it would even be in the top three for it is a constant discussion in our household. This led me to doing a question for the forum, asking people living in Germany and America about the importance of air conditioning in the household, to find out whether my AC mentality was an American one only.
Despite a few comments that said otherwise, the majority said “Mr. Smith, you’re too American.”
So why are we obsessed with air conditioning? Plain and simple. There were many reasons when I read the responses, but for length purposes, I condensed the reasons down to the top five:
To regulate our body temperature. This argument is a no-brainer. People who are opposed to the AC also need to understand that our body temperature has an average of 98.6° F (ca. 37° C) and too much exposure to heat on hot days can lead to heat stroke. While we have a function as a thermostat and try to regulate it so that the body has a balance between hot and cold, being exposed to the heat for long periods of time can be life-threatening.
It helps enhance our concentration. When a room is completely hot, we end up losing our ability to think clearly, and learning something for a test, or even preparing for a meeting or class, can be a torture. When we really want to achieve something and/or meet a deadline, we would rather eat an ice cream cone than sit in such a heated room. With the AC, the problem is solved, enough said!
The cool breeze creates a soothing mood and great conversations with others. Having lived in a house next to a lake and having a sweet relative have a cottage in the Lakes Region south of the Minnesota-Iowa border, I was accustomed to cool breezes over the summer both while swimming outside in the heat, but also while sitting inside an air conditioned home. With the AC comes good times and great laughter under a company of friends.
While we’re on that topic, the cool breeze and the noise from the AC make for a great sleeping environment. Some of the respondents claimed that sleeping in silence, even with the windows open can be quite spooky- especially when there is noise coming from the wildlife refuge in the middle of the night. The sound of the AC running serves as a sort of therapy, where if switched on, you will switch yourself off into dreamland within a couple of minutes. Very easy to do!
Having the AC unit reduces the risks of unwelcomed odors. If there is one pet peeve that is worse than not having an AC unit, it is when you are in an anti-AC environment and you have a whiff of different odors from sources you don’t want to know about. Even if we clean ourselves from top to bottom, heat produces sweat and sweat produces unwelcoming odor. Even petroleum has its own unwelcoming stench, when spewing out of a derrick in Texas at 120° F!
Now it is understandable that people living in Germany do not wish to have an air conditioner in their households or sometimes at work. Several arguments I’ve read and heard from residents over here include the following:
It is a waste of money to install it, let alone operate it- given the environmentally conscious and financially conservative mentality many Germans and residents have, that argument not only fits into both stereotypes but also justified.
It only gets hot once or twice a year- This is pending on where you are living. It would definitely not make sense to have an air conditioning unit along the coastal areas, let alone in areas heavily forested areas, like in Hesse, Baden-Wurttemberg, Thuringia, and parts of Saxony and Bavaria. However in rural regions, like in Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Pommerania as well as in big cities, where temperatures can climb above 30°C for at least half the summer months, it would be worth the investment.
People can get sick from breathing cold air- this depends on how often you clean the unit. This argument is justified because of the increased risk of Legionnaire’s Disease, but that is usually caused by breathing in air that contains dust and bacteria caused by not cleaning the ventilators, the coolant units and the coolant pipes. To avoid that, take the hour or so and clean it out before you install and operate it for the first time in the season, thank you!
Especially when only the fan is on, I’ve had this argument: Air and dust is just kicked around and it’s just a dressing and ectasy used to create the mood for cooling off, when it does anything but that– Do not ask me who commented on this, but that is more than debateable, just as much as the next two arguments below…. 😉
We don’t want our apartment to look like a Frozen Kingdom! This depends on how you set the AC unit. This story has been read and heard many times and it goes back to argument 3. People have their preferences as to how cold the AC setting should be. However, one has to consider that other people have to suffer too- even more so if you forget to switch off the AC when leaving the house to go on vacation! Believe me, speaking from experience, you don’t want to enter an icebox after being away for a couple weeks, with all your furniture having a frosty covering on there! 😉
Sweating is the most natural and healthy way for you to produce your own cooling system! This argument reminds me of the song produced in 1999 by the Bloodhound Gang entitled Bad Touch. While many people prefer to sweat it out, by doing so, it does produce body fragrances that no one wants, even if masked with deoderant.
Now granted there are alternatives to sitting in a hot and sweaty room, such as meeting outside (in the shade), going through a cold sprinkler to cool off, drinking iced tea, eating ice cream and other cold foods, and even soaking your feet in cold water. Some institutions have “Hitzfreie Tage,” which means people can go home and not worry about the heat. Good and effective suggestions they are,….
….with one exception!
Given the increase in average temperatures (and with that, the number of heat waves) combined with the increase in the average age of the population (including a spike in the number of elderly people), some of these cool ideas can only work for a short time. In addition, the increase in heat has taken its toll on the human body, where the incidence of heat stroke and cardiovascular diseases have increased over the past 20 years. While Germany lives in a Mediterranean climate, sandwiched by two different seas plus receiving air flow from the Mediterranean, we have been blessed with relatively mild temperatures year round, in comparison with many regions in the US, including the Midwest, with its continental climate- laden with extreme temperatures combined with extreme moisture during certain parts of the year, droughts in other parts! This has played a considerable role in our decision to buy and install air conditioning.
But as climate change is taking shape and our temperatures are rising, it is becoming difficult to play energy conservative when we desperately want to cool off and better concentrate on our work and/or learning. For the elderly heat waves are even more dangerous to their health as they can be prone to heat stroke, dehydration and other ailments. This leads us to a question of when it is time to really fork over the 300 Euros of one-time payment and get a unit for our workplace or even our own home.
In the last 10 years, the number of venues with air conditioning units in Germany has increased, mostly in regions where the population is dense, like in the southern and central portions, as well as in big cities. The trend is increasing unless you are living along the coastal areas. If you are one of those people, you can afford to stick to the stereotype with the AC being expendable. However, for those who are suffering, maybe the time is ripe to get that unit, and there are enough AC units with the best energy values (A+++) that will benefit your pocket. How you want to cool down the house depends on your preference. But it will pay in the end. 🙂
To close my pet-peeve story of ACs and our American obsession- er- advice to the Germans out there, I would like to refer back to my story of the lady walking out of the classroom because it was cold. I responded by switching off the AC unit, only to find it was my unintelligent wrong-doing. Faced with a blind-less window facing the sun, the temperatures increased by 5°C within a matter of 10 minutes! And with that, the unwanted odors, tempers and sweat! Needless to say, the AC was switched back on and remained that way for the rest of class, much to the satisfaction of the students.
This should tell you something about the benefits of investing in an air conditioner. 🙂
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. 😉
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.
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.
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.