Bridgehunter’s Chronicles Newsflyer 17 April, 2014

Columbus Junction Bridge, spanning Iowa River on former Tyson Line. Photo taken by John Marvig in 2013

Bridgehunter’s Chronicles back online after shutdown; Abandoned Iowa Railroad Bridge to be removed this year.

The publication of the articles under sister column The Flensburg Files will only occur once. After determining the cause of the shutdown, which was an overzealous spam filter that has been spamming many (high quality) online columns belonging to the Area Voices family, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles is now back online. Readers can now access the Chronicles and the articles from here on out, while the Files will resume its duties with German-American topics, including places to visit and special projects, including the current one on schooling in Germany in comparison with the USA. However, this may not be the only time that the Chronicles will operate under the Files. The spam filter may cause havoc again which will justify correcting the problem. In addition, the Chronicles may be upgrading to a website in general in the future, which will result in some detours along the way. The Chronicles will inform you of the changes as soon as they come about.

A sad note with this newsflyer is the fact that one of the bridges in the US is coming down soon. The Columbus Junction Railroad Bridge, spanning the Iowa River in Louisa County, features three Parker through truss spans and wooden trestle spans, all built in 1894 and serving the spur line to the Tyson Turkey plant north of Columbus Junction until 2008. There, flooding washed out the approach spans, leaving the truss spans left standing. Rails were removed three years later, thus abandoning the line.  Formerly part of the Iowa Chicago and Eastern Railroad system, the bridge is now being scheduled for removal beginning this year. An agreement was made between Iowa’s State Historic Preservation Office and the US Army Corps. of Engineer to allow for SHPO to document the bridge, while the ACE lets out a contract to a construction company to remove the bridge.  When exactly this will take place this year is unknown. But given the high number of historic bridges being abandoned for long periods of time, many agencies on the state and national levels are not taking any chances because of liability concerns.  While this topic will be brought up in the Chronicles as there are many bridges that have been or will be removed after sitting abandoned for years, the Columbus Junction Bridge will be missed because of its unique design and its historic significance in relation with the rail line that joined others at Columbus Junction.

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The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles SPAMMED!

Shutdown occurs without notice. Investigation and Attempts to Restore the Online Column Underway. Chronicles temporarily running under the Flensburg Files until further notice.
It is a webmaster’s worst nightmare. Many years of work informing people about a topic of concern is flushed down the toilet because of the evil electronic ego by the name of Spam, invades the website and/or blog and is shut down. Or someone had the cutest idea of revenge by reporting the website as spam, just to get the online platform to shut it down without consenting the website administrator.  This has nothing to do with the British version of Spam.

But realistically, this is what happened to sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. The online column has been spammed by WordPress without notice, thus shutting down the online column and denying access to the site laden with valuable information on historic bridges, preservation and tours, just to name a few. The shutdown was discovered by its founder, Jason D. Smith this morning, who has sent a request to restore the website to the online platform. It is unknown whether the contents posted, including photos, articles and the like, can be retrieved or if the website will need to be rebuilt.  If the latter is the case, then it will be a time consuming effort, as articles regarding bridge tours dating back to the 2011 tour in Magdeburg, updates on current preservation projects, book reviews and Mystery Bridges dating back to 2012, interviews, and other important items dating back to 2012 will need to be retrieved and reposted, either through the author or through other readers who may have kept the articles on their computers for future use.
Until further notice, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will be operating under the name The Flensburg Files. Readers receiving RSS should change to that blog and remain there until further notice. It will not affect the Chronicles’ facebook and Twitter pages, as articles coming from the Files will go directly to the Chronicles page, to ensure that followers can continue reading up on the latest from the Chronicles. While the Files will continue its series on schooling in Germany, all articles pertaining to this topic as well as other German-American topics will continue to be posted here on this blog as well, but also to its facebook and Twitter pages as well, as the Files has its own pages.
The Files will keep you informed on the developments involving the Chronicles. Already a complaint has been sent to WordPress and AreaVoices (the latter owns the Chronicles and Files) with hopes that the Chronicles can be restored post haste.  Consideration is being made regarding either upgrading the blog to a site or a normal website, like Should this be the case, then construction season will be a joyride for the Chronicles this year.
Those who have articles dating back to 2012 and are willing to submit a copy, and those willing to help with the reconstruction efforts of the Chronicles blog are asked to contact Jason Smith at

Categories: News from Across the Pond | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

In School in Germany: Experimenting with Flowers

There is a saying worth mentioning as the starting point to this article: Every form of Flora has its multiple uses for the better of human kind.  George Washington Carver found over 110 uses of the peanut during his lifetime.  Before his time, native Americans had found multiple uses with corn and sweet potatoes, many of which we still use today. But what about other plants, in particular, flowers and even herbs?

The dandelion is one of those plants that many people do not like having on their lawns. When they see a yellow blanket of these pesky weeds on their lawns, they are compelled to take the lawn mower and cut them down to size to make it look pretty.  Little do they realize is that these yellow things are much more valuable than they can possibly imagine.  Dandelions are edible- can be used in a salad, or eaten as is. It’s especially good for bunnies as they eat both the leaves as well as the yellow head.  They are the source of pollen and food for bees as they produce honey for the rest of the population. They are an excellent remedy against colds, if used for tea or medicine. Make-up with these flowers has been used. And when converted into the puffball version, one can collect the pollen, replant it in a pot and watch it grow on the window sill.

There are many more uses of these unbeatable weeds in the eyes of perfectionist home owners and invincible flowers in the eyes of naturalists, like yours truly. A good portion of these can be found in a recent version of the children’s TV show Löwenzahn with Fritz Fuchs (played by Guido Hammerstein) and his companion, Keks (a St. Bernard). This includes the Caucasian Dandelion, the largest of the breed of flowers that can be found in central and eastern Europe. Have a look at the link below. :-)

Link to the Löwenzahn episode about “The Unbeatable Dandelions” (In German)

Watching this episode gave me an idea to pass along to teachers, students and those wanting to try this experiment. If there are so many uses of the dandelion, what about other flowers and plants, like the orchids, daisies, daffodils or even the thistle? After all, these plants may be the ticket to saving many lives if the inventions used are beneficial to others. If Carver can find over 100 uses for the peanut, why can we not find many uses with other plants that we don’t know about?  As mentioned at the beginning, every form of Flora has its multiple uses for the better of human kind.

Try the experiment during your next break. Pick a flower, plant, weed or any type of flora and try making some uses out of them. You will be amazed at the results when trying one experiment after another. If you find any uses, or know of any plants that have as many uses as the dandelion, post your comments here or on the Files’ facebook page. Recipes are also welcome. ;-)

By the way, the author will be trying the experiment with the dandelion as an indoor plant again and will post some pictures in the near future, should the plant bear fruit. :-)


Categories: Education, Food for thought, Strange but interesting facts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guessing Quiz Answers and some other interesting facts

In connection with the previous articles about the Guessing Quiz and Immigration, here are the answers and some interesting facts you need to know about Germans and their travels to America. First the Guessing Quiz:
1. What was the deciding factor that led to the US’s entry into the war in 1917?
Answer: The interception of the Zimmermann Telegram.  German Defense Secretary Arthur Zimmermann sent a telegram to the Mexican government promising them the return of lands lost to the US as a result of the wars between 1838 and 1845. British intelligence officials intercepted it enroute and informed President Woodrow Wilson about it. Wilson, already fed up with the Germans for sinking the Lusitania two years earlier, formally declared war against Germany on 6th April, 1917, thus breaking his promise to keep the Americans out of war as he stated in his 1916 Presidential Elections campaign.
Fact-finder: Which states in the US were once part of Mexico but were taken away by the Americans? 
Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Nevada

2. German immigrants in America were treated especially badly by the Americans during the war. How were they discriminated? 


Eliminating German from the school curriculum

Renaming the Hamburger Liberty Steak

Renaming Sauerkraut Liberty Cabbage

Banning German literature

Banning German-speaking newspapers


 True or False:

Germany was the last country to surrender to the Entente (the US, England and France) on the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1919.    False:  11 November, 1918 at 11:11am

Armistice Day marked the end of World War I.  True

Veteran’s Day originated from the above-mentioned day and has been celebrated in the US ever since.  Yes and no. Veteran’s Day originated from this holiday but it was observed officially beginning in 1954


America was involved in the treaty to punish the Austro-Hungarians and Germans (losers of the war) through annexation of certain regions to the Entente.  False. The German Empire was the sole responsible country that had to pay reparations and therefore lost portions of the country, including the Ruhr area, lands belonging to Poland, lands in the Flensburg and Sonderburg area that went to Denmark, and Basel and Strassbourg, which went to France, plus all the lands they occupied in western Africa. 


Woodrow Wilson was heavily involved in the negotiations regarding the Versailles Treaty. How did he do that? Choose two of them.

    1. He worked on a reparation plan for Germany
    2. He proposed the League of Nations
    3. He created the 14-Point Plan
    4. He agreed to the proposals laid out by France and England to force Germany to cede (give up) portions of its territory
And now the interesting facts about German-named villages, some of which have been or will be mentioned in the Files:
Over 200 towns in the US still carry a German name today. Here they are and where they can be found

Berlin (East coast and New England states)                                 Lubeck (Maine)

Hamburg (Midwest, and eastern part of the country)    Kiel (Wisconsin)

Cologne (Midwest, including Minnesota)                         Ulm (Minnesota)

Munich (Minnesota)                                                           Luxemburg (Midwest)

Trier (Minnesota)                                                                Rhinelander (Wisconsin)

Frankfurt (Illinois and Kentucky)                            Wausau (Wisconsin)

Jena (Louisiana)                                                                   Altona (Iowa, Ohio and PA)

Weimar (Texas)                                                                    Brunswick (Georgia)

Dresden (Ohio)                                                                    Bremen (Georgia)

Hanover (Midwest and eastern US)                        Wolfsburg (PA)

Schleswig (Iowa)                                                                  Munster (Indiana)

Holstein (Iowa)                                                                    Karlsruhe (North Dakota)

Bergen (Minnesota and eastern parts of US)                   Leipzig (North Dakota)

Flensburg (Minnesota)                                                        New Germany  (Minnesota)

Nuremberg (Pennsylvania (PA))                                        Saxonburg (PA)

Minden (Ohio, Missouri and other states)


These are only a few examples of villages and towns that are known to exist in the US. They do not count those that have yet to be identified, as well as those that had once existed but have long since disappeared. If you know of other villages that carry the German name, please mention them here or on the Files’ facebook page.



Categories: Culture, Education, Schooling in Germany | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

In School in Germany: Immigration

Here’s a question for all teachers in the German school system and social studies/ history  teachers in the American schools:  How much do you teach your pupils about the history of immigrants- in particular, German immigrants?  How do you approach this topic in terms of teaching method, focusing on a time period in history as well as garnering interest in the topic? And lastly, how much information do/can you provide to your group?

As you recalled a couple articles ago, I presented you with some questions about this particular topic for you to answer, to challenge yourself and learn a couple new items that you have never heard about before.  But this article is about German immigration in general and how important it is that this topic is integrated into the learning curriculum.

Many years ago, I visited Ellis Island, during my 1.5 week stay in New York City, to learn more about this topic and how Germans represented one of the majorities of the population that moved to the new world. Part of this had to do with the fact that my mother’s family is primarily German, originating from Schleswig-Holstein (and in particular, Stein near Kiel, according to genealogy research). Also important was the fact that prior to my trip, I had discovered,  in my parents’ garage, a trunk and on it, the maiden name of my mom’s ancestors that had immigrated to the United States in 1898 and eventually settled down on a farm south of Ellsworth, at  the Minnesota-Iowa border. This sparked my interest in knowing more about how Germans immigrated to the US, the reasons behind their strive towards something new and how they survived over there (and are still prospering today).

Ellis Island. Both photos taken by boat in 1997

The immigration wave of the Germans started in the 1840s before the Great Revolution of 1848. At that time, much of Europe, which featured the Habsburgs (The Austro-Hungarian Empire), Prussia, Russia and France had their own set of oligarchs who favored the church and the powerful over the common people. With violent clashes over food and poverty, plus the strive to put an end to this type of rule in favor of democracy, many of the immigrants boarded ships bound for the States and after several stops along the way, settled down in regions in today’s Rust Belt (the former steel regions extending from Illinois to Pennsylvania), as well as parts of the Midwest, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota. Much of their traditions, including their food, such as the hamburger and sauerkraut, the German language and its usage in literature and books, and even the villages were named after those from Prussia and Habsburg. Over 400 villages and towns were created with German city names, like Frankfort, Hamburg, Hannover, Berlin, and the like. Even some of the smaller towns in Germany had their names incorporated in the US, such as Flensburg, Schleswig, Lubeck, Kiel, Weimar, Jena and Trier. There was even the city of Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota that was named after Otto von Bismarck, the founding father of Germany, which was established in 1871. German culture prospered until World War I when President Wilson declared war on Germany in 1917 after a telegram was intercepted promising Mexico portions of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California if it entered World War I against the US.  For a period of three years, German culture was suppressed in a way that all traditions and even the usage of the language was prohibited.  Literary works by Schiller and Goethe were banned. The hamburger was renamed Liberty Steak; the sauerkraut, Liberty Cabbage. The Germans were perceived as evil in the eyes of many other immigrants, including the Italians, Irishmen and Russians, and conflicts broke out as a result.

After the war was over and the Versailles Treaty was signed, immigration to the US was limited because of the Red Scare- the Communist movement that had plagued Europe and parts of the US since the Bolshevist Revolution of 1917. Germans tried to escape the misery their country was facing, first through the hyperinflation during the Weimar Republic and later with the rise of Adolph Hitler but were faced with limitations both internally as well as externally. It would not be until after the second World War when the gates were reopened wide and many who wanted to leave and had the resources did.

Today, traces of German culture can be found in the US through foreign languages in public schools, the foods which have become somewhat commercialized, like the beer and hamburger, and the communities that still bear the German names. Some festivals can still be found in those communities, like the Oktoberfest in New Ulm in Minnesota.  Yet do we talk much about immigration in the schools?  Sadly, I have to say no.


We seem to have drifted away from topics like this one because of the strive to streamline education at the expense of the most important ones, like history, culture and politics. Foreign languages have also taken a hit, as schools in the United States are focusing solely on Spanish while leaving the rest behind- something that is angering the neighbors to the north, Canada, where French is the official second language behind English. While business and technology are two important elements needed to get a well-paying job, other aspects, like the ones mentioned, are just as important for they provide students with an insight to other countries and their culture and history.  Looking at it from a historian’s point of view, taking these humanity aspects seriously can enable the student to learn about him/herself and the surroundings and identify him/herself based on their own family history and how it contributed to the history of their countries.
Yet even when we discuss about humanities, like history and culture, in schools, we seem to have left out the meat of the topics for discussion. Reason for that are the limitations with regards to the subjects to be taught for certain grades- both in Germany, as well as in the USA. The time constraints regarding how and when to teach these subjects have forced many teachers to prioritize which subjects are important and which ones should be left out. Unfortunately, those that are left out are usually not taught unless in academia, if at all.

Immigration is one of those aspects that should be brought to the table at an early stage. There are many reasons for this argument, but I will mention only two, as they are the most important in my opinion. The first is immigration is like a bridge, connecting one’s old home with their new home. People who immigrated to other countries collected many impressions and stories to share with their relatives and friends back home. Many of these impressions and stories deal with comparisons between their new home and their old one, as well as suggestions as to how to improve their old region. While some of the immigrants returned to their old homelands, some remained in their new homelands forever, creating families of their own.  In the case of German immigration, it is typical to find many German families settling in clusters in either a community or region. An example of which can be found in an article written in 2010 about New Trier in Minnesota, which you can click here.

The second argument behind teaching immigration in school is because it played a key role in the development of the countries the immigrants originated from and the countries where they eventually settled down.  In the case of Germany, the emigration of Germans from Prussia and Habsburg resulted in the need to reform the countries respectively, unfortunately through the usage of violence, as was seen in the Revolution of 1848. Eventually the situation stabilized with the creation of a German state in 1871, which provided the solidarity and sound structure of a democratic state many people had envisioned two decades before but were realized by Bismarck.  In the case of German immigrants in the US, their  previous experiences before immigrating over, combined with their innovation and thinking has helped shape the US as it is today.  It is not hard to find Germans in America, who had made a difference, whether it was Henry Kissinger’s role as Secretary of State under Nixon and how the US scaled back on its mission of containment and opened their doors to relations with Russia and China, or John Roebling and his design of the wire suspension bridge, a few examples of which still exist today. Kissinger originated from Fürth (north of Nuremberg) in Bavaria, while Roebling emigrated to Pennsylvania from Mühlhausen in Thuringia and established the town of Saxonburg.

How the topic should be taught in the classroom is fully up to the teacher, but some of the small aspects mentioned here will help students know about the importance of immigration, even more so when it is discussed in the classroom in schools in Europe, and in this case, Germany.  This is where the article ends with a small anecdote: Ignore the smallest details and you will ignore the most relevant. Give them something small to think about and it will make a big difference as far as learning is concerned.

And now, some interesting Flensburg Files’ Fast Facts, which you will find in the next article…..

Categories: Culture, Education, Food for thought, Germany/ Europe, Schooling in Germany, Schooling in the US, Universities in Germany, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In School in Germany: Teaching Infrastructure History in School


Article written for sister Column 

History- a subject that goes beyond borders and looks at things that we never knew about, getting us to think about them, putting them in the context of our own lives and the environment we are living in. It goes beyond the borders of geography and how the countries were developed. It goes beyond arena of sports events and looks at the development of each kind and how the men and women contributed to it. It digs deeper into how the country was mapped out in terms of landscape, networks of infrastructure and the social aspects which led to revolution and redesign by reformists and those who wanted to make their place better than before.  In other words, one has to dig deeper to find the truth and challenge what had been written in the past but was now rebuked because of new evidence.

In school, especially on the secondary level, history is a must, and it is important that students know about the history of their country and the rest of the world for two reasons:

1. To help them become acquainted with their own region and country and discover who they are and where they came from and

2. To encourage them to find out more about themselves and where they live, by looking and exploiting the aspects that are seldom mentioned.

As there are certain requirements written by law and because of certain time constraints, only a peck of the history that exists is even taught in the schools, and when it is taught, it is with the traditional social form of teaching: the book and frontal teaching (German: Frontal Unterricht). It is not surprising that the interest in history among youngsters up to 18 is near the bottom of the food chain, in both countries- more so in the US than in Germany because of the strive of educators to have the students achieve high results in the international tests for math, reading and sciences. But as we see in the PISA studies, and which will be discussed in the Files’ article about Frontal Teaching, sometimes student involvement and allowing them to discover something new can encourage a positive education result, even better than the recent studies.

But even with these constraints, the teacher can make some space for some new things that cannot be found in books themselves- at least not yet, that is. And when students are encouraged to do some work on their own, whether it is analysing a text and writing a review about it or presenting about it, then they will benefit from it in a way that they can add the knowledge to what was taught in the past and have fun doing it. This is where the topic of Industrialization and Infrastructure enters the picture.

During my internship at a Gymnasium in Germany, I had an opportunity to dig deeper into the history of the development of Germany in the 1800s by looking at aspects like the creation of democracy, Otto von Bismarck’s creation of the German state in 1871 and how Germany became a super power and remained so until the end of World War I. At the present time the students are talking about Germany, Europe and the age of industrialization between 1871 and 1914, where several aspects, such as imperialism, socialism, worker’s union and environment are being introduced. Even the expansion of the transportation infrastructure and the landscape made of steel will be mentioned. Believe it or not, this is the topic the author of the Chronicles and Files is about to do.

Talking about the infrastructure and comparing it between Germany and the US does produce their similarities in terms of inventions and the development of materials for the construction of buildings, railroads and bridges, yet how does a teacher present these aspects to the students without boring them.  Let’s look at the topic of bridges, for example. There are two different arguments for and against presenting this topic. The contra part would be the simple fact that a bridge is a bridge, crossing a ravine connecting point A and point B. If it fails or is too old, then it is replaced. The pro part to this topic feature the arguments about unique bridge designs, bridge builders that were common, including those who immigrated to the States from Germany, like Ralph Mojeski, Lawrence Johnson, Albert Fink, and Gustav Lindenthal, to name a few. Then there is the switch from iron to steel mainly because of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and lastly the consolidation of 28 bridge builders into the American Bridge Company in 1901 and its competition from other bridge builders in the west, as well as outside the country.

Nathan Holth once presented this topic as a whole during his time as a student teacher (his PPT presentation can be seen here). Some of the unique features, include the builder’s plaque, portal bracing of the truss bridge and ornamental features can enable historians to determine how the development of bridges came about in the US between 1871 and 1914. As I will be the second pontist to present this in a couple weeks time, the topic will be on a wider scale as Germany and US have some similarities with regard to bridge construction. The difference is with regards to the fact that the German concentration seems to be more on canals and railways than with highways, like in the US. Also the full establishment of steel companies, like Thuyssen-Krupp before 1871 enabled Germany to expand the steel-building landscape, constructing bridges and high-rise buildings in large cities, like Berlin and Hamburg, in addition to its fleet of ships.

The question is if one wants to present bridge building in connection with the industrialization- be it in the US, Germany, Europe or when comparing between two countries, what aspects are important and should be presented to the students, keeping in mind that the topic is industrialization, and the time frame is betweenthe 1870s and 1914, the time of World War I?  Which aspects should the students research on in their own spare time? And lastly how should it be taught in high school in comparison to college?

Put your comments here or on the Files’ or Chronicles’ facebook pages as to how you would approach an exotic topic like this, while keeping the topic of Industrialization in mind.  The results of the session, which will be in a couple weeks, will be presented in the Files and sister column the Chronicles.



Categories: Education, Schooling in Germany, Schooling in the US | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In School in Germany: The Guessing Quiz

Have you ever tried introducing an exotic topic to your group and wondered how they can learn something new without making them bored by your topic? There are many ways of getting your students involved in a topic that you are an expert in but they have next to no clue about. The most important point is to ensure that they learn something from the topic you are talking about.

One of the methods to teach them is through individual work, where they learn something about the topic through their own research.  In some cases, some guesswork is needed before the teacher can explain the answer in detail so that the student can better understand the topic. For the latter part, that is when the Guessing Quiz comes in.

The Guessing Quiz was developed during my early days of teaching English in 2001 for the sole purpose of providing the students with some insight on American culture and history, as well as some terms in the English language that may be useful in the long run. The goal of this guessing quiz is to encourage students to guess at and learn from some of the facts that they had not known about in the previous lessons. As a general rule, there is no right or wrong answer, as long as they learn something new in the end. This sort of mentality of learning something new on a regular basis was what led the late Peter Jennings to become the news anchor of World News Tonight for over two decades in the US and a reporter for the CBC in Canada. Jennings’ career as a journalist lasted over four decades until his death in 2005.


Some tips on how to make the Guessing Quiz simple and enjoyable are the following:


1. Keep the questions short and simple. It will be difficult enough to introduce them to a new topic they may have little or no knowledge about, which includes new words, etc. Yet questions and information have to be given in bite-sizes in order for them to get into the topic.


2. Be prepared to explain every question in detail and explain to them why the answer is what it is.  To challenge them with a question is one obstacle, yet as a teacher, you have to be an expert in your topic and fit enough to explain your argument supporting your answer.


3. Format your questions in a way that it is user-friendly.  Best variant is the multiple choice questions, as you have a chance to explain the right answers in comparison with the wrong ones. This is useful when teaching classes involving history, politics and culture, as many new terms and themes are introduced and require some explanations.  Second best are open questions, allowing for discussion, thus fostering the possibility of students to state their opinions. This option is especially useful for foreign language teaching, as students learning a second or third language are expected to communicate orally.  Not preferred are the fill-in gaps unless you provide hints next to them, as it will discourage students from guessing if they keep on guessing the wrong answers to the first question after 20 minutes.


 4. Make the Guessing Quiz an enjoyable experience. Add some fun into your questions or discussion. Yet if your discussions in class may take too long, give them some additional handouts and/or links  that will allow them to read more about it in their spare time. And remember to tell them at the beginning that the quiz is not a matter of life or death. It is a learning process where you learn about the answers through the teacher and discussion with your fellow students.


The Guessing Quiz can be used in any class and on any level. The most useful is in a foreign language class that deals with cultural themes, but one can also use it in history, social studies, political science, ethics, religion and other classes that deal with humanities. More difficult is when used in a science class unless you are introducing a scientist and his theory of XYZ. The same applies to music, unless teaching theory and history. Next to impossible is in mathematics, for you as a teacher are introducing numbers and figures, and there are really no possibilities to introduce the Guessing Quiz here, unless you as the reader, care to differ.

Here is a sample of what a Guessing Quiz looks like, by using one that was produced in connection with History and the Topic of World War I. This part deals with the worsening relations between the US and Germany. Try the Quiz out and share your answers with others. The answers will appear in the article in the next week.


World War I and the US’s war on Germany


  1. What was the deciding factor that led to the US’s entry into the war in 1917?
    1. The sinking of the Lusitania
    2. The interception of the Zimmermann Telegraph
    3. Mexico’s declaration of war on the US
    4. The inner-political strife among the immigrants

Fact-finder: Which states in the US were once part of Mexico but were taken away by the Americans?  When did this happen?


  1. German immigrants in America were treated especially badly by the Americans during the war. How were they discriminated? Choose the following examples that you think did apply.


Eliminating German from the school curriculum

Rounding them up and placing them onto reservations with the Native Americans

Renaming the Hamburger Liberty Steak

Renaming German villages (for example, Frankfort to Kentucky City, Fulda to North Worthington, New Ulm to Ramsey, and Weimar to Crockettown)

Renaming Sauerkraut Liberty Cabbage

Banning German literature

Banning German-speaking newspapers


Over 200 towns in the US still carry a German name today. Apart from the ones mentioned (Weimar (Texas), Frankfurt (Kentucky and Illinois), New Ulm and Fulda (both in Minnesota) List at least 3 German cities whose names can be found in the American communities today.





  1. True or False:
    1. Germany was the last country to surrender to the Entente (the US, England and France) on the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1919.
    2. Armistice Day marked the end of World War I.
    3. Veteran’s Day originated from the above-mentioned day and has been celebrated in the US ever since.
    4. America was involved in the treaty to punish the Austro-Hungarians and Germans (losers of the war) through annexation of certain regions to the Entente.


  1. Woodrow Wilson was heavily involved in the negotiations regarding the Versailles Treaty. How did he do that? Choose two of them.
    1. He worked on a reparation plan for Germany
    2. He proposed the League of Nations
    3. He created the 14-Point Plan
    4. He agreed to the proposals laid out by France and England to force Germany to cede (give up) portions of its territory.



Categories: Education, Schooling in Germany, Schooling in the US, Universities in Germany | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In School In Germany: Bilingual Education- overview

Teaching History in the English Language: Teacher’s Task


If you were to go back to the days of  high school- be it 20 or 30 years back- what are some things you wish the school system should have offered and why?

Growing up in rural Minnesota, there were not many options available for elective classes, apart from the ones that are bare essential and are necessary. Many high schools offered two foreign languages (in my case, German and Spanish, although I had spent my freshman year at another high school that had offered French and Spanish). Many offer graphic arts and anything related to the highschool yearbook and newspaper, while almost everyone offers courses related to agriculture. You cannot be a farmer without having knowledge about growing crops,  the stockyards and the value of livestock. ;-)

But seriously, if there had been a chance to change something 20 years back, it would be to introduce bilingual classes. The reasons are two-fold: 1. The increase of immigrants from Mexico and South America and 2. The chance to learn a foreign language other than English so that one can get by in a foreign country.  While bilingual education was introduced at that time in the southern part of the US, including New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and California, the top half of the country was (and sadly, still is) monolingual, being dependent solely on English for survival and showing no interest in other foreign languages.

Here in Europe, many people pride themselves on foreign languages, which explains the reason for learning multiple languages, including English, Russian, Spanish, Dutch and even Latin, just to name a few. Schools offer these classes as a way to immerse the pupils into the language and get them prepared for the real world. But some schools are taking it one step further, by introducing bilingual classes.

This includes those in Germany, which requires pupils to learn foreign languages beginning in the 3rd grade.

Since 2009, schools are required to include a foreign language module into the curriculum, so that classes can be taught in a foreign language other than German. This includes classes dealing with humanities, social and behavioral sciences and natural sciences. And while the target language is mainly English or French, it serves as a form of shock therapy to force the students to learn other subjects while immersed in another language.

Already as I prepare to teach history in my native tongue, I have been collecting some benefits and drawbacks, some of which will be tested to determine whether the arguments are justified, and if so how.  A big plus for pupils is that if they have a sufficient background in a foreign language, then they will take advantage of learning new vocabulary in a topic they are required to learn before completing their Abitur (graduate exam). If a native is teaching the class, or someone with enough language knowledge , it could also serve as an advantage for pupils to listen to the person and pick up listening skills.  And to kill two flies with a swatter, pupils can improve their skills in the areas of reading, writing and oral skills, pending on how the teacher prepares his curriculum and carries it out in class.

The drawbacks however are just as big. The largest problem schools have in Germany- and in particular, the states of the former East Germany- is that there are fewer teachers with sufficient knowledge of the foreign language to carry out the task. That means if non-native teachers present the course in a language where improvements are necessary, then there is a danger of making grave errors in pronunciation and grammar, which would carry over onto the pupils. Another problem mentioned is the priority of foreign languages in the schools. That means some schools offer more bilingual classes in one language which is to many students the second foreign language than they do in a language that is considered the first. This creates a danger where pupils will have problems processing the information if taking a class  in the second foreign language, instead of the first, unless they excel in both. And lastly, as seen in many foreign language classes, the language level of the pupil is the biggest unknown factor. One can have a group with good enough English to spurn a conversation, but if there is a group that lacks the skills or even confidence, the teacher is forced to revert to the native language.

In order for the bilingual class to be a success, it must be conducted in bite sizes, using the foreign language 75% of the time and the native language 25%. Yet the experiment is doable as it has been done before, and if conducted the right way, both the teacher and the class will benefit. While there will be some follow-ups on this part of the series on bilingual education, as I embark on this mission teaching history in English in the classroom at the Gymnasium, I would like to encourage everyone to post their experiences of teaching a bilingual class in the Comment section, as well as some advice on how to make bilingual classes a success.

How successful is bilingual education in the school, how important is it and how can we benefit from this? Would love to hear your comments about it! :-)

Categories: Education, Foreign Languages, From the Classroom, Schooling in Germany | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

In School In Germany: Strange American Accent


Friday afternoon in an English Fachdidaktik (English subject teaching) Course at the university. Our first meeting of the semester brought forth a lot of impressions of our first two weeks in class. Yet while there were some positive experiences shared in class, there were some students who did not have some spectacular moments while observing some English classes.

One of those came from a student colleague, who was in an English class at a Gymnasium (high school), where a pupil was asked to respond to a question in British English instead of American English, even though he had previously spent time in the States. When he answered using an American English accent, he was told to repeat it with a British accent.  Not a nice thing to do to a pupil who is learning the language in the first place.
Yet this story opened a large wound on the part of moi here, for despite coming from the US, I too was criticized for using an American accent in my English class, being asked to speak Oxford English. More insulting is when laid off from a university (together with another American colleague) and being replaced with a British colleague was the excuse of being let go was I spoke with “a strange American accent that is not understandable.” This sour taste still remains to this day, especially as the arguments were unsubstantiated and one would always assume that American English is more understandable, recognizable and even clearer, right?
Yet the story and the memories that came along with that brought up three key points that I want to address in this blog entry:


1. English is Universal in the Classroom: There is no such thing as British and American English differences in the classroom.
2.There is no such thing as an American English accent that is understandable unless you come from the Deep South and….
3. Even if you come from that region, any American can teach English to non-natives without having any difficulties in understanding.


There is always a hidden preference in an educational institution as to how to teach English, as I had just mentioned with my experience teaching English as that particular university. Some universities in Germany prefer American English over others, and vice versa. Part of it has to do with the historical aspect, where the northwestern and southern parts of West Germany were occupied by Brits and Americans respectively during the Cold War, whereas British English was preferred by East Germany as the Soviets were at war with the US. Traces of Americanism and British culture remained after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the influence prevailed everywhere, including academia.  When moving to Germany in 1999- ten years later- the preferences for one over the other was still there, but a new trend was taking shape- a form of universal English where there is no difference between British and American accents, just the vocabulary and how the words are stressed.
Fast-forwarding to the present, we are starting to see an unusual trend where the distinction of American and British English is disappearing faster than we think.  Over a billion people speak this universal form that is now considered international English, which has no direct distinction regarding accent and vocabulary. Instead words originating from the native language are being integrated into the structure and the people who speak it, have a accent that is typical of the native language they come from. That means in the case of Africa, Asia and parts of Europe, English is the second language for many people whose native tongue is rarely spoken outside their country of origin, like in the Czech Republic, Uganda, Kenya, India, Bangladesh and other countries for example. The trend is increasing, compared to the nearly 400 million native speakers of English in the US, UK, Australia, Canada and countries of the former British Commonwealth, which is holding steady but likely to decrease over the next 80 years. As this trend continues, we will more likely see non-native speakers of English roaming the streets of Berlin, London and Paris, with many of them speaking perfect English and teaching the language in the classroom. These people may still have their own native accent, but more likely will not adopt the American or British one, making it easier for students to understand the language in the classroom and learn the grammatical structure exactly the way it has been taught by native speakers.
The difference in British and American English brings me up to the second point, where one has to define what exactly is an American and a British accent, for the difference in communicating in both lies clearly in the region where the people originate from. There are some dialects of English that are even difficult for native speakers to understand, such as Scottish, Welsh, South London and Cornwall. Yet most Brits prefer the standard London dialect as the primary language of teaching.
In the US, there are many regions whose distinction lies clearly on the accent and dialect. Speaking from a northerner’s point of view, it is much more difficult to understand someone with a southern dialect originating from an area like Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia than one from the New England and East Coast states. Yet it does not mean that they cannot teach English in the classroom of a school in a foreign country.  Many American teachers abroad have chosen what I call the Chicago dialect, which is the primary language of the northern half of the country because it is clear and understandable, despite some over-usage of strong accents, like the words with R, E and/or A, for example . In other words, it is important for us to be a Chicagoan than a Texan if we use American English in the classroom.  Some examples of both British and American dialects can be found in the videos below:

Still, many non-native speakers of English have problems understanding the American form for several reasons. Apart from the dialect difference, we love to roll our Rs and Es, while talking fast and continually like hives of bees. And this can turn off many participants in the classroom right away, even if we are as loud and boisterous as the typical American stereotype.  Speaking from experience, a teacher cannot expect the students to keep up with the pace without them having to ask him/her to slow down. Henceforth, there are some tips for all American teachers to ensure that the experience teaching English in the classroom is an enjoyable one, instead of a nightmare.
Mr. Smith’s Teaching Tips for Communicating in the Classroom:
Speak slowly and clearly. If you need to, over-enunciate some words. It is very important that you speak at a pace where the students can understand you but you feel comfortable with the tempo. It will be difficult enough for them to pick up everything you say. Pending on the learning level, you may need to speak extra slow if their English knowledge is limited.

IDEA: Should you have problems keeping the tempo, or even enunciating the words, try speaking with a partner or group of people prior to your entrance into the classroom and allow them to give you some tips. Having some constructive criticism helps you to learn how to maintain your tempo.  Also useful is speaking with a wine cork in your mouth, placed between your teeth. A quirky exercise, but after a few sessions, it will help you speak more slowly and clearly.
If you have a regional dialect that is difficult to understand, try speaking with the universal accent that is known. America has its Chicago dialect. Britain its London. Germany has its Hamburg and Frankfurt dialects. Switzerland: Bernese for German, Genevan for French and Locarno for Italian.  You don’t need to be perfect in those, but using them as reference can help you better speak with a dialect that is understandable with your students.  Remember though, you don’t need to live in these regions in order to adopt it. It takes 10 years to do that, and by the time you’ve mastered it, you will most likely move onto another region with a different dialect.


Make sure you ask your students if they understand everything or have any questions. Asking is free and both students and teacher will benefit from it, whether it is for clarifying something that is confusing or elaborating further on a theme that is difficult to understand. As a rule of thumb, explain your concepts and the like as if you’re explaining it to a child- this quote should ring a bell, if you are a Denzel Washington fan.


And most importantly, never assume everyone will understand everything. Lower your expectations and plan according to their learning knowledge. Assumptions, speculations and guessing are costly to the teacher and his reputation towards the students, as well as the students  who will perceive him as arrogant and thinking too much of himself.


By following these simple tips, teachers will be able to have an enjoyable class with students who will benefit from a little learning. After a long day, students expect some relaxing entertainment from the teacher when learning English, and if the teacher can make it fun for them, the students will come away learning some new things about the language every day, be it vocabulary, grammar or anything pertaining to culture.
With that I would like to leave with a simple note. If someone tells you, as a teacher, that you need professional help because you speak too fast or have a strange dialect or accent that if not understandable to others, even if it is an American one, don’t take it seriously. That person probably hates you because you wanted to take her job away, which is not what teaching foreign languages is about. And perhaps it’s a sign to look for another teaching job in a friendlier environment. Upon consulting with a teacher of speech communication at a German university (whose name I will not elaborate because of privacy purposes), speech therapists only work with people with issues pertaining to lisps, malformed or even malfunctioning Adam’s Apples and accents in one’s native tongue that are caused by physical ailments or psychological issues.  Most problems in the world are treatable by working on it on your own and not through that of a therapist. Save the therapist for issues that you cannot control, yet if in doubt and people really have problems understanding you (not just a couple but numerous others), talk to a friend, trusting colleague or family member about it. Nine times out of ten you can take care of it yourself just by making a few minor adjustments or even practicing.

Categories: Education, Foreign Languages, From the Classroom, Schooling in Germany, Schooling in the US, Universities in Germany | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

FC Bayern Munich Wins 24th Bundesliga Soccer Title



Newsflyer:  3:1 Victory over Hertha BSC Berlin secures team Bundesliga Title in Record Time

BERLIN-  At the start of this season , questions were made as to how to stop the 2013 Triple Crown Winners of the German Bundesliga, the German Cup and the Champions League, FC Bayern Munich, let alone who to stop them.
That question will have to wait until next season, after Berlin became the latest team to fall to the red, white and blue.  Thanks to goals from Mario Goetze, Toni Kroos and Franck Ribery,  last night’s 3:1 victory at Olympia Stadium guaranteed FC Bayern its 24th Bundesliga title. Yet its pace to win the title in 24 games was the earliest ever recorded, even breaking their own record set in April last year. Normally, the title is decided in late May. Yet, because of its record and the points garnered in the standings, Bayern Munich became the first soccer team to win the title in March, the month where March Madness in the form of college basketball tournaments in the USA take place.
Apparently the sentencing of former FC Bayern manager Uli Hoeness to 3.5 years in prison for tax evasion two weeks ago did not phase the soccer team, as many of the players claimed that the title was for him. While other newspapers and agencies have jumped on the bandwagon, others claimed that the team was better off without him, and that he was a distraction anyway. Nevertheless, the title will provide them with enough motivation to do the following: strive for a repeat of the triple crown, set a record for the number of points in the standings (100), and become the only team to finish the season undefeated.  With elite talent, like Ribery, Goetze and Bastian Schweinsteiger on the team, the chances of not achieving any of these are next to nil.
And as for the next season, teams in the hunt for spots in the European Cup (4th-6th place) and Champions League (2nd and 3rd places) as well as those trying to survive the rest of the season without finishing in the bottom three and ending up in the second tier of the Bundesliga will be finding ways to take revenge on the team that has destroyed them in competition for two straight seasons now. Apart from Berlin, this includes Leverkusen, Dortmund and Schalke 04. That opportunity may take shape as the affects of Hoeness’ downfall and prison term have not sunk in just yet. In simpler languages, the fans of FC Bayern Munich should enjoy this season while it lasts, as the quest for a three-peat will be even tougher than imagined.
The Flensburg Files would like to congratulate the team from FC Bayern Munich for winning the Bundesliga Title and wishing them best of luck in reaching their next goals.

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