Flensburg Files News Flyer 29 November, 2011

It’s Christmas time and with that come the Christmas Markets, the Glühwein, the Presents, and lots of events that have been going on the last few days, which warrants the Flensburg Files News Flyer- designed to provide the readers with a chance to find out more on what is going on in Germany that is not normally seen in the media mainstream. Themes like this one may be of some interest to you:


Yes to Stuttgart 21

After five years of protests, legal action and campaigns which involved virtually everyone on all levels of government, the citizens of Stuttgart made their point clear at the polls on Sunday: they would like to finally go forward with Stuttgart 21 once and for all.  According to the final polls, over 48.2% of the people voted for the project, while 41.8% were against the project. That means the German Railways can proceed with the construction project, consisting of 20km of underground rail line with an underground central railway station located underneath the present-day railway station located above ground. When completed in 2021, the old railroad station, which currently sees 240,000 passengers going through every day, will be converted into residential areas, and thus will help ease the housing crisis the city has been seeing in the last decade. The project started in 2002, but was met with delays due to protests because of increasing costs of the project combined with concerns that the environmental surroundings combined with much of the city’s historic buildings would be destroyed in the process. The project has involved not only the local and state governments but even the federal government in Berlin, whose majority of the politicians favor the underground station. The prime minister of Baden-Wurttemberg Winfried Kretschmann was even against the project but favored a public referendum. While he has accepted the decision, it does not come with no strings attached- the costs for the project must be capped at 4.5 bn Euros ($5.1 bn).

Links: http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/stuttgarteinundzwanzig100.html;






Guttenberg pardoned for plagiarism; eyes comeback in 2013

In a decision which has raised eyebrows of many who question its legitimacy and morality, the prosecution has decided not to press charges against the former defense minister, Karl Theodore zu Guttenberg. While the University of Bayreuth stripped him of his doctorate title in March of this year because of the 23 passages he did not cite in his dissertation, the prosecution considered these counts a misdemeanor. That combined with his donation of 20,000 Euros (more than $26,000) to a charitable organization led to the decision of not starting the legal proceedings against him. Guttenberg is currently residing in the USA with his family, but is eyeing a political comeback in 2013, the same year as the federal elections in Germany. Whether it will help Angela Merkel in her bid to be reelected as German chancellor remains to be seen. But the public seems divided on his decision to return to politics; especially as many of his fellow colleagues from his own party, the Christian Socialist Union have been pursued for similar charges. More on this story will follow.

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl-Theodor_zu_Guttenberg;



Dynamo Dresden Mistreated by the German Soccer Federation for Hooligan Incident

Soccer coaches, sports experts and even directors of regional soccer leagues have been heatedly criticizing the DFB, the soccer federation in charge of the top three leagues in German soccer, for harshly punishing the soccer team that is currently playing in the second highest league (Zweitliga). The  federation recently sanctioned the team located in eastern Saxony by banning them from next year’s DFB soccer playoffs for allowing hooligans to be out of control during the playoff game against Borussia Dortmund, the game which the team lost. In addition, the team was also fined in the tens of thousands of Euros.  Many experts consider the punishment too harsh, yet problems involving hooligans and their actions during the soccer game; especially in the eastern part of Germany has resulted in harsher measures in an attempt to crack down and teach the teams a lesson on sportsmanship among players and fans. While fines and barring fans from attending games have been effective, this sanction, harsh or not, may be one of many measures that could be the norm in the future should the problem with hooligans persist, together with subtracting points off the standings board in soccer and possibly forcing the team to be relegated a league down, the latter of which has not happened just yet.

Link: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15506337,00.html






Jena proving its reputation of being a cosmopolitan city

Located east of Erfurt and Weimar in eastern Thuringia, Jena is not only known for its optical industry (for it is home to Jenoptik and Carl Zeiss) but to the eyes of many foreigners (Americans included) the city of 120,000 inhabitants (20,000 being students) is known as the black hole- once you visit the city tucked away in the Saale River Valley, you do not want to leave. However according to the German public TV station ZDF in a recent documentary, the city is home to right-wing extremists; especially four terrorists who are in custody for 10 counts of murder of several foreigners and a police officer. In an interview with an author from Munich, who wrote a book on this topic, it was concluded that the university city is part of the fear zone, which has plagued the eastern half of the country, and a spawning point for potential neo-Nazis. This reportage has angered the city so much that a petition is being carried out demanding that ZDF retract its comments about Jena and apologize to the city or it is done for them by the German government, which owns the channel together with ARD. Furthermore, a concert to help the city fight right-wing extremism is taking place this Friday with many celebrities taking part, including Peter Maffay and Udo Lindenberg, where tens of thousands are expected to attend. The Flensburg Files will cover the topic of right-wing extremism in 2012 to determine which part of Germany is worse regarding neo-Nazis: the western or eastern parts of the country. While the eastern part of the country has seen its share of attacks committed by neo-Nazis, reports of the rise of neo-Nazis and attacks and parties have been reported in Bavaria and northern parts of the country in the past 2 years. Furthermore from the author’s experience living in Jena, the city has been more open to foreigners than in other cities its size in the eastern part of Germany and has zero tolerance to right-wing extremism. It even chased the neo-Nazis out of the city many times for trying to host the Festival of the People (Dt.: Fest der Völker), at least three times until the decision was made to host the event elsewhere in 2007.  And contrary to the pictures shown by the media, there are some bright spots to Jena that others do not see, some of which will be presented in photos when the Flensburg Files does a tour of the Christmas markets this year.

Links to the story: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15563635,00.html;







Sebastian Vettel wins Formula 1

For the second year in a row, we have a German champion in Formula One car racing. Sebastian Vettel took the crown despite his second place finish in the last race of the season in Brazil. Born in Heppenheim (near Frankfurt/Main), Vettel started his career early in 2007, having won his first championship last year, the first German to do that since Michael Schumacher won his last championship in 2001. This year, Vettel smashed many records, among them, having started at pole position 15 times, one greater than Nigel Mansell in 1992, and winning eleven out of 15 in 16 races this season. He also recorded an unprecidented 122 points, putting the competition in the dust.  Congratulations to Vettel and may you start another long streak of championships like your former counterpart did.

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sebastian_Vettel


Neuner considers early retirement

It is very rare to see a sportsman retire in the mid to late 20s to even early 30s unless you are Randy Moss, the wide receiver who played for five American football teams, including the Minnesota Vikings and the New England Patriots. Perhaps Magdalena Neuner can learn from his example of when to say when, as the biathlete from Garmisch-Partenkirchen (located in the Alps south of Munich) is considering retirement after the 2011-12 season. The reason for this decision is her will to pursue other interests. While the decision is not yet final, the 24-year old, like Randy Moss, has won several championships on the national and international levels, including 24 World-Cup gold medals, finishing in the top three 45 times and won two Gold medals in last year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Yet health issues combined with interest in doing other things in life has gotten her to consider her future beyond this season. Should Neuner decide to call it quits after this season, then it would definitely be on a high note as one of the most successful biathletes in the history of winter sports. Best of luck to you no matter what your decision will be.






Note from the Author: The Christmas Markets have started already throughout all of Germany, and this means a tour of some of the finest towns with the best markets with the goal of attracting many tourist-wannabes to the region the next time they consider a flight to Germany. The Flensburg Files has a couple in mind that are worth visiting and will post Jason’s Pics during the month of September. Where exactly? It’s being kept a secret for now, but you’ll see once they are out in the public open. Stay tuned….

Black Friday: A Sign of Tradition, A Sign of the Times, or A Sign of Tyranny?

Photo taken in December 2010

As I write this column entry, people in the USA as well as American expatriates residing in Europe, Australia, Asia and elsewhere are celebrating Thanksgiving. The holiday, which occurs every fourth Thursday in November, is a special time for everyone, as it is a day for giving thanks to who we have and what we have got in our lives- family, a nice home, a decent job, and friends who keep in touch with us and are there when we need them; even in times when we lose a close family member. It is the time when we feast on a stuffed turkey, sweet potatoes, pies, rolls, and everything in between. It is a time to watch the Thanksgiving parade in many US cities as well as football games, play cards, talk about events of the past, and plan for the future…..
……especially as far as the holiday shopping season is concerned.
Thanksgiving also marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, which starts at 12:00am on this particular evening, or the morning known as Black Friday. Now who would be silly enough to do that, when in all reality people just want sit and relax and visit family and friends? Many retailers are doing just that, and many people are very angry at that notion, for that is more stress than everything. Kohls, Target, Macy’s, Wal-mart, you name it, they are doing it. But contrary to the belief that it would make the customers happy so that they can start early on the shopping- the old rule that the customer is king and should be accommodated to their needs- the underlying reason for this tactic is solely for profit.
2011 has been a very rough year for the retail industry as customers are tightening their belts and retailers are struggling to stay in the black. And this is only part of the problem that the US (and Europe) have been facing, as the economies are teetering on the edge of another recession due to high unemployment, exorbitant deficits that not even the toughest austerity measures to the government programs can cut it down to edible bites, and there is no real leadership to tackle this problem. The saddest part will be that 2012 will be the breaking point for all those affected by this problem. That means less economic growth resulting in our eventual dive into another recession and less consumption. Instead, we could see something resembling 1968 and 1848 when the public tones out the pleas to consume and holds the same governments and businesses hostage demanding a top-down reform of a system that has lost its breaks and going down a steep hill out of control and determined to slam into (…..).
The retailers are only a fraction of the problem society is facing but are still the ones that should look at the real picture regarding what the customers really want. It is not effective to have stores open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week so that the customers can go there at their own convenience. It produces meager profits and if one counts the employees’ salaries that are taken out of the profits, the end result is breaking even combined with disgruntled employees, who have to sacrifice their holidays just to earn minimum salary.
Black Friday is one of those fine examples where it was really not necessary to have stores open right at midnight, or even the evening of Thanksgiving. 25 years ago most stores opened their holiday shopping season at the absolute earliest, 7:00am; most of them at 9:00am. Sure there were huge lines, and many people did camp out on the parking lots as early as 5:00am just to be the first ones in the store. Now, people are either sacrificing their Thanksgiving or even pushing it back to Wednesdays, just so they can keep the tradition alive and satisfy the retailers’ needs, whose employees are more than furious at the notion of working on a holiday, where they want to spend time with family and the turkey. From an outsiders’ point of view, this is packing on more stress on the person than necessary, and after this season, retailers should reconsider their policies towards the holiday shopping season, so that the customers can have a healthy balance between work and life as well as food and gifts. Sometimes reverting to the good-old days where Thanksgiving is considered a national holiday where all stores are to be closed until 8:00am Friday morning and strict policies prohibiting squatting on the parking lots in front of retailers before 7:00am is the best remedy to reduce the stress on the employees and make the customers consider the true meaning of Thanksgiving, let alone Christmas.
If both holidays mean just consumption, gifts, and Santa Claus, then they are not considered holidays. We should look at the two holidays with different perspectives, and see what they really mean. The Pilgrims gave thanks for all the help they received by the Native Americans after enduring their first winter in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. They never had to worry about jewelry and fashion-named clothing, for they worried about how to survive on their own and recapturing their own identity, which was lost in the Old World (England). And Jesus Christ never liked being commercialized and glorified by the media- let alone compete with Santa. Christmas is his birthday and one should never forget why He came and how He was and still is influential in our lives. Perhaps one should take a minute to look at the true meaning of the two holidays and then think about when and how to shop for the right gift. Some will still keep to the tradition, but others will look at when it is the best time to do some Christmas shopping, but not at the expense of time for the family; esp. on a day like Thanksgiving.

More Personell for the Customers, Please!


Typical at a station like the one in Flensburg: Empty ticket counter not in use (left) and ticket machines with a 50% functionality rate (right) Photo taken in May 2010

It is a nightmare of every passenger travelling by train; especially those who commute between towns on a daily basis: A person rushes to the train to catch it, for he has an important meeting with clients at his company- catching it in the last second before the doors close- and not having the time to pick up a ticket at the train station. It is a regio-train and the German railways (a.k.a. Die Bahn or DB) had just installed ticket machines to ensure that everyone is obliged to buy a ticket- only to find that the ticket machine does not work. He panics as he sees the ticket controller come by to check and stamp tickets. As a general rule, ticket controllers also have the right to sell tickets to passengers unable to buy tickets at the station or in the ticket machines, right?

Not this one! The person asks for a ticket only to be asked: “Personal ID, right now!” Why? “You travelled without a ticket and that means 40 Euros for being a stowaway!” You react objectively by saying “Wait a minute! The ticket machine is kaput! How the h*** am I supposed to buy a ticket on this train if the machine does not work?” Then the responses that followed justified that 40 Euros was a necessity to “teach everyone a lesson”- to buy a ticket before boarding the train; whether it is “You ran past me and said ‘s***!’ in the process,” or “You should have bought a ticket at another station,” or my favorite excuse “You should have smelled that you were going to be late and waited for another train, so that you can buy a ticket!” (This is a very raw translation of “Sie hätten es riechen sollen, Ihren Zug zu verpassen und auf den nächsten zu warten!”) Now how is someone supposed to assume that he/she is going to be late and plan ahead of time, let alone explain to the boss why the person is late because of the trains?

One will think that these excuses are made up, but sadly, these are real-life scenarios that I and other passengers have been dealing with ever since the German Railways introduced the concept of having ticket machines do the work for the passengers instead of the personnel themselves in 2008.  7 in 10 passengers have complained about the ticket machines not working and the ticket personnel being snarky at those unfortunate not to buy a ticket before or wanting to buy one shortly after boarding the regio-trains. Before I elaborate further, the regio-trains refer to not only the RB trains which stops at every single train station and stop, even in Timbuktu, whereas the RE (Regio-Express) stops at cities with 10,000 or more inhabitants, whose stations are the main points to get on. Even worse is the fact that one arbitrarily finds a ticket machine on the train. It is not customary to have a ticket machine in a Regio-Express train for it provides cramped space and some areas where they should be installed are reserved for bicycles and baby carriages only. And even then, these spaces are limited. While ticket machines can be found in one out of three Regio-trains (99% in diesel trains), there is only one per train and the functions are questionable. That means, the process of obtaining a ticket is too bureaucratic and the machines are choosy at accepting certain forms of payment. 3 in 4 reject debit cards, leaving many passengers scrambling to muster up the remaining lunch money they have to buy a ticket for their destination.

One would think that if these problems persist and there are more people travelling by train than by car that the DB would think about dollars and sense and hire more personnel to improve its quality of service. After all, the customer is king and their wishes should be respected. But unfortunately, the DB, like many companies, is trying to work for profit and efficiency and not for the benefit of the customer. This includes shortening the time needed to travel from one point to another- including the time needed for passengers to get on and off the trains, focusing on the profitable lines and abandoning the others that might get passengers to their destinations more quickly, having porters and ticket agents on the train to assist in luggage and selling tickets, providing more space for bikes, baby carriages and EVEN ticket machines, and lastly not having enough people with computer knowledge to maintain these machines. While the information age is making service faster and more efficient, there seems to be a loss of attention to the customers and their needs. While the Occupy Wall Street protests have spread to many financial institutions and the governments because of their corruptive ways of doing business with clients and the public, it would not be surprising if many disgruntled passengers decide to take their frustration out on DB and occupy their headquarters in Berlin and other important offices in Frankfurt, Munich and Hamburg, just to name a few. It is just a question of one incident that will cause passengers to snap and the German networks of ARD and ZDF will be broadcasting the protests as early as January of next year.

More personell for the station and the trains, please! Stations like the one in Flensburg could use it, as with the trains. Photo taken in April 2011

It is time that the DB starts rethinking the way they do business with the customers. The easiest and most viable solution is to have more personnel in the trains, not just to check on the tickets, but also to sell them to those who could not buy them at the station because the ticket machines do not work or are full of passengers wanting to reach their destinations. The fine system should remain in place for those who refuse to buy a ticket and board the train as a stowaway, but should be more objective- not subjective and for the purpose of milking more away from those who can barely afford to buy a ticket. If the board of directors of DB insist that the ticket machines are the most effective way of providing passengers with tickets, then there should be more people with IT experience to ensure that the problems are fixed and the machines are back in service as quickly as possible. We are seeing more and more people studying IT at various universities and technical colleges who are looking for a job after graduation and therefore, that source should be tapped so that they have some experience with computers. Yet having train station personnel at the functioning train stations working in shifts can also improve service and make travelling by train less complicated, even for the commuter dependent on daily train travel.

But until reforms to improve customer service do take place, we will still see passengers disgruntled because of malfunctioning ticket machines and ticket personnel treating them as criminals when in all reality, it is not their fault. Even more alarming is the fact that passengers who use the bike to travel to work from the station may be forced to pay daily fees to have their bikes transported by Regio. The argument is one that I’ll remember a ticket personnel at Flensburg Station saying when I bought a ticket (and was forced to by one for the bike as well) for a day trip to Kiel this past April: “We don’t like bikes on trains! They’re unprofitable!” The Bavarians already introduced that two years ago; it is becoming a norm in the southern part of the country. It could be a reality in a couple years in all of Germany and will force people, like me to reconsider other forms of transportation; especially if the work place is far away.

As for travelling without a ticket, it would not be surprising if the DB, which is partially owned by the German government, will introduce the Flensburg Point System, to use against stowaways, regardless if it was their fault or not. After all, when caught, it is obligatory to show the personnel your driver’s license and ID to report the incident. Why not penalize them with 1-2 Flensburg Points? But before that happens, unless they recently took bribes by the DB and other lobbyists, the judges at the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe will most likely shoot that proposal down as unconstitutional. If that happens, then perhaps they should remind the DB to respect the people’s rights to be treated fairly, as stated in the Basic Laws of the Federal Republic of Germany. It would be one step in the right direction of improving service, at least….

Mural and clock at Flensburg Station. Photo taken in May 2010

First you walk, then we talk!

Like many of us, I had my favorite teams to cheer for when I grew up in rural Minnesota. In the summer, there were the Twins in baseball; the winter time consisted of split shifts between the Timberwolves in basketball and the North Stars and later the Wild in ice hockey; and in between, we had the Minnesota Vikings in American football. We had great seasons, cheering for our favorite players and demonizing the rivals, taunting them while they were chased out of the Metrodome and Target Center. We had dismal seasons where we demanded coaching and player changes so that we had a better season the next time around. And nine times out of ten, one losing season was followed by consecutive winning records and playoff appearances.

That was until just recently when greed, the strive for bigger stadiums and losing records combined with indifference among the players and ownership caused me to lose my appetite for one of the teams from Minnesota, the Vikings.

Since 1995, there have been calls for a new stadium with a retractable roof to replace the Metrodome, which was built in 1981 and has housed the Vikings since the 1982 season. Yet with every plea for public money to fund the project, it gets blown in the face with either other more desperate pleas to spend money for other projects, losing records and big disappointments, threats of  relocating, or all three, the third variant being the most poisonous as it results in the loss of fans and respect for the team.

The latest round of backfires involves these three variants and this one could doom the team and force its relocation to Los Angeles. The current owners, the Wilf family, are threatening to move the organization to the City of Angels as the city of 10 million has been in demand of a new professional football team since the mid-90s and has every facility at its disposal. The state is trying to find ways to keep the team in the state but is faced with opposition from those refusing to pay higher taxes for a new stadium- especially when measures are passed without a referendum, as was attempted in Ramsey County, and attempts to keep the team in Minneapolis in neighboring Hennepin County have fallen on deaf ears to date. And its latest marketing campaign to round up support from state representatives blew up in their face this past Monday when Green Bay pasted the team 45-7 sending them to a 2-7 record in a season where the record of three wins out of 16 set in 1984 is in serious danger of being broken because the team has overpaid and overrated players who cannot protect a rookie quarterback who is the only one actually playing- not learning the lessons of last season when they finished last at 6-10, six games fewer than the season before that!!!

So what is the next move now? Faced with a chronic recession consisting of 9% unemployment and one in three families struggling to make ends meet, the last thing everyone needs now are higher taxes to fund a team that is in limbo and dysfunctional and its overpriced stadium. Keeping silent for too long, I have one word of advice to the organization: “Shut up and play some ball! Then we can talk!”

Looking at the teams in every level of sport, each one has received support for a new venue when they had successful seasons- comprising of winning records, playoff appearances and even championships. For one soccer team in the German Bundesliga, 1899 Hoffenheim, a club located in the extreme southern part of Hesse between Mannheim and Stuttgart, it has been because of yearly marches through the lower leagues and all the way up to its current place in the premier league. A small town of 3,400 inhabitants, its rise to fame started in 2000 when it won the Verbandsliga, the then fifth lowest league in the German soccer ladder, and every year up to 2008, its ascension was annual, raising the eyebrows of many who watched them, and with that came more fans and investments until the team reached the top. Then it received a new stadium, not just because of their success, but because their own venue was too small to host so many people. The end result of these two reasons was investment from mostly the private sector and from the German soccer organization. To this day, the recipe of success is being repeated in places like Leipzig (where it has been missing a top league team for over 20 years). As for the team itself, Hoffenheim has been a real pain to many of the traditional teams from Munich, Cologne, Hamburg, and Berlin, for every team in the Bundesliga has lost at least one game to this new powerhouse. That is just as amazing a feat as its ascension from a small league consisting of villages trying to establish their own team and place in the world of its most beloved sport.

Even some teams in other sports who have had constant success but problems with venues will eventually receive a new one because the support from the public is strong. This applies for the handball team, SG Flensburg-Handewitt in the German Handball Premier League. While Campus Halle sports complex, located on the campus of the University of Flensburg has been their home since 2003, a change of ownership combined with too high expectations in rent and other fees and other issues with transparency could result in the team severing their contract and looking for a new home. And given their success being in the top 6 combined with a pair of championships and success on the international level, FH has enough support from their fans and the city of rum for a new venue.

While the Vikings had their share of success with two winning seasons, including a 12-4 finish in 2009-10 and a run to the NFC Championship, it is not enough to convince the state of Minnesota that money is needed for a new stadium; especially given the hardship the people in the state and the country are still facing since the 2008 economic meltdown. And 2012 could be a repeat of 1968 in terms of turmoil from the public with political and economic implications on the country and the world being sky high. The Minnesota Vikings picked the worst possible timing to be demanding for a new stadium or leaving town, and with two straight seasons of losing records (combined with more to come) has resulted in many like me to be indifferent, saying “Take your team and go to LA, but never come back here to Minnesota ever again!” It is really sad that sports today have become more of a money factor than one where we see real athletes do their work on the field, and many of us are really fed up with that. This goes beyond the embarrassment that the Vikings faced Monday night against the Packers in what was supposed to be the battle of cross-state rivals.

It is obvious that the Vikings will hit rock bottom after this season and a complete makeover is inevitable, beginning with the players and ending with sacking the head coach. But perhaps these changes should also include the ownership, as the current ones are threatening to move the organization to L.A. without even thinking about what Minnesota needs in reality. Proposals for public ownership of the team and the Wilfs receiving the minority have already been presented, and it may be the only remedy to force the family to see reality and take a few steps back on the stadium issue, or put the team up for sale, which would be a blessing to many who want to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, its home for 51 years.

While it is inevitable that a new stadium is needed in the future, given the current situation with the team and the state, now is not the time to act on the stadium bill. It can only be implemented if the economic conditions have improved over time, and the same applies for the team and their performance. It does not necessarily mean the Vikings should follow the same recipe as Hoffenheim, Flensburg or even some of the teams in the state- like the Minnesota Twins in baseball. But realistically, if the team can pull off at least three consecutive seasons with winning records with playoff appearances- two of which must include victories- then we can discuss the need for a new stadium. Until that happens, the team is in dire need of a complete makeover with a new objective, new principles, and new personnel. And this can only happen when the 2012-13 season starts, which is as soon as the last seconds of the fourth quarter of the last game of the 2011-12 season run out, regardless if they break the 1984 record for the least number of wins in a single season or not.

Links: http://www.sg-flensburg-handewitt.de/de/aktuelles/aktuelles/news-anzeigen/article/hallensituation-stellungnahme-der-vereinsfuehrung-der-sg-flensburg-handewitt.html





English Roundtable at the Irish Pub

The Venue of the English Roundtable: Irish Pub on a cold foggy night. Photo taken in November 2011


7:30pm and after a long day in the classroom, what wonderful opportunity does a teacher have but to meet with the most dedicated students at a beloved bar in town, to practice some English in terms of small talk and to hear about their private lives, both as students as well as people. The English Roundtable (in German it would be called the Englisch Stammtisch) at an Irish Pub, like the Dubliner just minutes from the old town was just the place gather just for that occasion.

I never understand why teachers never have such events for students. After all there are many advantages that bring students together to have small talk with the native speaker of English. First and foremost, there are not many opportunities to practice English except in the classroom, but that is rather pathetic if you only have the opportunity to do that for 90 minutes once a week. Contrary to the beliefs of those who think that it is not necessary, there are a select few who want extra lessons from someone who can be reached easily for help, but cannot because of- well lack of opportunity to do it due to time and other commitments.  Having a Roundtable like this also creates a bond among the students and with the teacher, guaranteeing them that whenever there is a problem, they can turn to each other for help. It makes a distinction between who is your real friend and who is not. It provides a student with a wide array of topics worth talking about, whether they are culturally related, in connection with current events, or anything that is on one’s mind and is worth talking about, which is food for thought for those who may be interested in this. And last but not least, it produces some events that are worth remembering, whether they are funny or embarrassing, and whether they are in connection with rituals started or anything that is just out of the ordinary.

It is a Tuesday night and I am drinking a pint of Snake Bite at the Irish Pub. The night was horrible as one feels like walking through pea stew while at the same time, freezing to a point where one could turn into an ice cube in minutes!. There is a soccer match going on between Barcelona and Pilsen with the former cutting the latter into pieces. But I could not think but the memories that I had with this place and how it reinforces the idea of having more of the English Roundtables in places where universities are numerous and English is needed, for many businesses communicate in this lingua franca language.  I remember the reunion with some of my former students, three of which gave me the nickname of “Headband” as I wore it to class and pronounced it like “Head bäääääännnddd!” as one mispronounced it as “Headbahnd.” Another three and I went on a Glühwein drinking spree at a Christmas market, trying every sort of the spiced wine with all kinds of flavors, such as pear liquor and tequila (the latter really packed a punch and gave me the hangover of the century the next morning), and then rooting for the home team in a basketball game. They lost a heartbreaker thanks to a last second basket, but it was fun to cheer them on while intoxicated. Then we had another heartbreaker of the game we all watched here at the Irish Pub, where we were crying over the Pittsburgh Steelers losing by only a few points to the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl- dressed up in Steelers jerseys and staying up until the wee hours of the next morning, despite having to write the exam the next day- and me having to administer it! Then we had the women waitresses serving us and many male students staring at them because of their looks, and me rolling my eyes and wondering when they will finally get it done and date one for Christ’s sake.

Each of us had their own purpose for coming to the English Roundtable- to get help with getting a job or internship in America, to ask for ways on how to convince a non-native speaker of English to teach English the proper way, to learn more about American culture and the differences between them and us (the Germans), or just to sit, relax, enjoy a Guiness and do some small talk in English. Mine was and still is to help the students learn and send them on their way, no matter what endeavor they are pursuing. I have my regular customers and those who come and go at their convenience, yet still each one leaves their mark when they leave the Roundtable, whether it is in spirit or in writing. For mine it is almost always the latter, as each time we meet, we would take a post card, sign our names on the back and write down the topics we discuss before stashing it into the drawers of the tables for the waitresses and guests to see and awe in amazement what we discussed.

One makes me wonder why there should not be more of these Roundtables. If it is because of family commitments, I balk at it as the argument is considered null and void; especially since I have a wife and daughter who do not mind me having one as long as I stay out of trouble (that’s what spouses and children are there for). If it is because of having enough English in class, let me tell you that one can never have enough of a foreign language as it takes time and efforts. If it is because of the fear of closer student-teacher relationships, firstly a Roundtable is a meeting place for all who are interested and there are better places to meet to get to know someone further. Besides, almost all teachers (say 99.5%) over here fall into the category of married with children or have a relationship, so there is no fear of being paranoid. All the excuses that are made against a Roundtable are considered politics and counterproductive to the goal of teaching students the importance of a foreign language and how it gets them from point A to point B. The organization may be difficult and not many students will come in the beginning. But as the semester goes along and the word gets around, more will come and in the end, it will be a double victory for the teacher- for collecting valuable experience to share with future employers and with the family and for making a difference in the lives of the students.  One should give it a shot and see how it blossoms into a really popular group for all students to attend.

As I finish my last drink, I decided to look ahead to the next Roundtable for me in Erfurt. It was too foggy for the students to go to the meeting and many were just too busy to come. But looking at the Christmas market, which is about to start in a couple weeks, I can tell that many will take advantage of the opportunity and come to the next Roundtable as we will have some wonderful experiences there, in English and over spiced wine. And while most of my students from last year have left for future endeavors, there are new students who will benefit from some additional English and laughter, meeting new people and learning a little bit every day. That is what a Roundtable should be.