Joachim Gauck is President of Germany. Who is Mr. Gauck?

Discussions about Gauck at supper time.

 

We all have our political discussions at the dinner table this evening. In the US, many families are talking about the elections of 2012 and the direction the country is going regardless of the outcome. In the Middle East, many families are talking about creating a new government after overthrowing the dictators in the Jasmine-Spring of last year. Here in Germany, our latest discussion is about Joachim Gauck. Apart from the fact that he was officially elected as the 11th President of Germany (Bundespräsident) thanks to the majority vote of 991 to 237 at the Federal Convention on 18 March, and that he originated from Rostock in Mecklenburg-Pommerania, there is very little information that we know about him right now. Even when I sent a questionnaire around on facebook a couple days ago, the response was blank, assuming that no one knows much about the man at all.

Therefore, I decided to do some research about Mr. Gauck and set my own predictions about how he will run the country and support Chancellor Angela Merkel. The results were amazing. Here are some fast facts that one needs to know about Joachim Gauck:

 

Flensburg Files Fact File- Joachim Gauck:

 

1. He was born on 24 January, 1940 in Rostock. His family consisted of sailors, one of whom was his father, who was a distinguished naval officer and ship’s captain. However, his father was taken away to Siberia by the Soviet troops when he was 11 and was never seen again afterwards.

2. While he grew up behind the Iron Curtain, he opposed the East German government and the ideas of socialism to a point where he refused to join the Free German Youth (FDJ) and joined groups that opposed anti-communism. Even the state security police (Stasi) considered him a natural-born opponent and had mentioned his actions in their reports. A good part of that had to do with what had happened to his father.

3. Because he was considered by the Stasi an “incorrigible anti-communist,” Gauck was denied entrance to his studies in German and Journalism and instead studied theology at the University of Rostock and became a pastor at a church in Mecklenburg-Pommerania. At that time, the East German government looked down upon Christianity and had the Stasi spy and harass the church. Gauck was no exception to the rule.

4. At the time of the revolution in 1989, Gauck joined the New Forum, which was a democratic opposition party to the socialist party. He was very active in the organisation, later becoming spokesperson and in March 1990, being elected to the People’s Chamber. It merged with two other democratic parties to form the Alliance 90 party,  and upon his departure from the party in 1990, he was elected Special Representative of the Stasi Archives. Since 1990, he has had no affiliations with any of the political parties in Germany.  The Alliance 90 party eventually folded into the Green Party in 1993.

5.  Gauck worked as Federal Commissioner of the Stasi Archives from 1990 (as Special Representative) to 2000. During his time at the archives, he uncovered thousands of people, mostly in the eastern part of the country, who had worked for the Stasi and exposed the activities of the opposition. Many of the people who had worked for the Stasi lost their jobs in the public sector as a result. In addition, he advocated for human rights and stressed the importance of ensuring that the history of communism in central and Eastern Europe is not overshadowed by the era of the Third Reich and remembering that both National Socialism and Communism were equally bad and thus the history of the two should not be forgotten. He has written about communism which included a chapter in The Black Book of Communism (published in 1998) and was one of the signatory fathers of two key declarations: of both the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism (2008) and the Declaration on Crimes of Communism (2010). On his 70th birthday, Chancellor Angela Merkel commended him for his tireless work of advocating the education about and elimination of communism and other forms of totalitarianism.

6. Gauck was narrowly defeated by Christian Wulff in the Presidential elections to replace Horst Köhler in 2010. Yet Wulff’s scandals resulted in his falling out of favor with the government and the people and subsequentially had to step down from his post. However, many people believe that because of his honesty and tolerance to and acceptance of other people regardless of background, he was touted by many as the “better president.”

 

Keeping these facts in mind, the next question will be what impact will he have for Germany and the rest of the world? For Germany alone, he will bring the country into calmer waters and provide a fresh start for a government marred by a series of scandals that has resulted in the loss of credibility from the public over the last two years. One of his goals will be to win the hearts and souls of the public and ensure them that Germany is a country that prides itself on high quality, honesty, and transparency. This is something that is rarely seen these days as many countries are paralysed by politicians who are hypocritical and defer responsibility onto others instead of taking them. While Gauck may not be Harry Truman and his policy of “The Buck Stops Here”- where he bore the responsibility of the policies that were burdened by Congress during his administration (1945-53), given his religious background, combined with his past during the communist times, Gauck will ensure that the best way for the country is to be honest, help others in need and have tolerance.

Gauck will definitely provide the government with some much-needed weight with regards to cracking down on right-wing extremism, which includes eliminating the NPD by declaring the party unconstitutional. However, despite years of attempts to make the party unlawful according to German law, Gauck may want to consider rewriting a section of constitution which calls for eliminating any political parties that focuses on any sort of national socialism, socialism/communism, and xenophobia, while at the same time, try to reach out to the youth who are exposed to the right-wing influence, by discouraging that type of behavior.

His last goal will be to improve on international relations with other countries including the US, something that was almost non-existent during Wulff’s short term. He will have the advantage of being an independent and thus having strong relations with the other political parties supporting him, including Merkel’s CDU and the opposing Social Democrats, and even having an influence on their work as he will not have to worry about being influenced by one party or another (like it would have been the case had he been a member). A president who influences the government instead of the government (and in particular, the political parties) influencing the president is something that I hope we see in the US once the elections are completed in November of this year and perhaps if Gauck does a grand of a job in his first six months in office, the presidential candidates and the incumbent, President Obama, should look to him for reference and see what a person can do if he is independent of all the external influences, like it is the case in Washington.

While Gauck may be considered a grandpa by many, after looking at his past through research, I do believe that he is the right man for the job. If he can remain independent and work together on achieving the three primary goals mentioned here, he may end up becoming one of the best presidents in modern German history. But success can only be dependent on two important variables, the ability to take action independently and the ability to lead rationally and responsibly. We have seen the likes of Wulff ignoring the two and paying the price for that, but perhaps Gauck can change that and set an example for other politicians to follow, both in Germany and beyond.

 

Deutsche Welle also has an analysis on what Gauck will do for Germany and the rest of the world and you can see the report by clicking here.

Never buy a combi-lock! Always use one with a key!

Combination locks are not preferred!

 

Normally, I do not advocate for things on this column for reasons that I usually keep my thoughts and stories as neutral and interesting as possible. But this column should force many of us to think of which lock one should buy if we want to protect our property from theft or vandalism.

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I were moving from one end of town to another, and I had the dubious task of moving boxes upon boxes of our personal belongings rarely needed for the apartment from our old basement to the new one. I had bought a Burg and Waechter combination lock a couple weeks earlier- one similar to the picture above, with four digits where you can set your own combination to open the padlock. It had worked for several times until one Saturday, when I went down to open the lock, only to find that despite lining up the combination numbers on the line to open it, the padlock would not open.  I tried to open it up several times only to end up doing it in vain. The same applied when my wife and a couple other guests helping out with the move tried.

After about an hour working on the lock, we decided to give up and investigate the underlying causes of this problem. We started with access to the internet and the keyword Burg and Waechter combination locks and found our answer- our combi- lock was picked, when we were not even around! While there is a one in 10,000 chance of matching the combination set by the proprietor of the padlock, by clicking in the links above, one will see how easy picking a Burg and Waechter combi-lock really is and how frustrating it is, for once a person sets the combination in place, it is nearly impossible to reset it after it was picked!

This led to me being curious about the other combination locks that are out there, for we had had a Master combination lock for the basement of our old apartment, the typical three- number combination set lock where it requires turning to the right for the first number, left for the second number and right for the third and final number before unlocking it- all between 0 and 39.

 

Master-lock: more effective, but.......

 

While the the lock was very effective and there were no attempts of theft or vandalism of our belongings in the basement that we knew about, Master locks are also not safe for use, for there is a one in 64,000 chance that the combination would be figured out and the goods kept in a safe place would disappear before the police can intercept the thief. There are two ways of getting the combination from the proprietor- over the shoulder or by cracking it. Looking over the shoulder is effective if the person owning the lock is dumb enough to give the combination away! While one would be insane enough to just say the combination, all it would take is a person NOT putting the hand over the combination and thus having someone look over the shoulder or even record it on the iPhone or any cell phone to do the trick.  But even if people do put their hand over the padlock to keep the combination under wraps, there is the intelligent way of cracking the code, which could be done in 10-15 minutes and requires some mathematics. If the person is not up to numbers and equations, there is always a shim to use if the lock is to be opened in less time. Just insert it into the shackle, wiggle, and whalaa! While shims can be a blessing and a curse all on a silver platter, pending on if one is a thief or the owner of the padlock, I learned that Master locks are perhaps the most vulnerable of the padlocks in the market, as they can be easily picked by anyone regardless of their expertise in breaking into one’s property.

So what is the alternative? The last one is the padlock with a key. There are many brands of padlocks that can be chosen from. While Master also offers these assortments, Medeco offers fancy locks with keys, even though they are perhaps the most expensive of the locks in general. Also popular internationally is Abus, which offers all sorts of locks with keys- not just padlocks but also those for bicycles. The last one is based here in Germany in Wetter (Ruhr), located near Hagen in North Rhine Westphalia. But like the aforementioned padlocks, these types are also vulnerable to being picked, despite the security features on them. For an Abus lock, all it takes is a wave-jiggler or even a thin piece of metal to stick in and turn the lock. Even the Medeco locks are prone to being picked, despite its high security features. One needs a little bit of time and dedication in order to get the job done.

Abus locks made in Germany

In the end, despite all of the benefits and drawbacks, the decision was made to forego the combination locks in favor of the padlock with the key, and with the Abus logo on there. Even though the danger is there to pick it with the necessary tools, we saw that other lots in the basement also had the same locks on there, and for a good reason. When an apartment block has a lot of teenagers living there, they can get into a lot of mischief, as a group of kids did, by changing the combination on the Burg Waechter lock as a practical joke. That was definitely not a laughing matter, for if caught, legal action can be taken by those affected by the (attempted) burglary.

This brings me to the closing of the column on padlocks with a series of advices that should be taken when it comes to padlocks and protecting personal items from theft and vandalism, regardless of whether you are storing items at a train station during a short stay in a town or if you are walking the halls of the university enroute to your classes or even if you have a house with a basement.  Some are reminders but others should be an enlightenment for you:

 

1. Never keep your valuables in a place requiring a lock. Always keep them with you so you know where they are at at all times. That means do not leave your books and other items that you use often in a basement, but find a place in the apartment for them where you can see them at all times.

 

2. If you are at the university, always take your laptop and today’s materials with you that you will DEFINITELY use at all times. Do not check out library books and leave them in a locker, but do that before going home. Home is the best place for your items, whereas the lockers are meant for your jackets and hats only- but even then, they are not safe either….

 

3. If an institution has lockers, please check what type of lockers are available. Many places have lockers where you just need to deposit a coin or two and you can store your belongings and lock them with the key provided. They are perhaps one of the safest lockers to have. Always keep your key with you until you leave the place.

 

4. The basement should be used for storing items that you do not need that often, like holiday things, etc. The reason for that is the basement is the most vulnerable room in the apartment or house. If a thief wants to break into the basement, he would do it because of something valuable he wants. You do not want that; you want to discourage him from doing that, so keep something that is worthless down there, so that in the end, you can “mothball” him and force him to look for another place to break in.

 

5. When choosing a lock, ALWAYS find the safest one to use (and of course the most practical to suit your needs). It is better to spend more for a safe lock than to spend on lost personal items taken in a burglary.

 

6. If you have a lot in the basement of an apartment complex, check who else is living there and the locks they are using. Always conform to the locks used as there is a reason for locks being picked in the first place.

 

7. Make sure you know the policies of the place where you are storing your belongings and know who to contact in case your items are stolen. Normally there are regulations as to how long you can store your belongings, while at the same time take the best course of action in case something happens to your belongings, however,….

 

8. You are responsible for your items that you store in places requiring locks. Many places are not liable for lost items so please be very careful as to what items to store and how you store them.

 

9. Always have a padlock breaker with you or any device (like a shim) you can use to break open the lock in case if it is picked. Locksmiths can be very spendy and based on our experience, it is cheaper to invest in something to break open yourself and keep the tools with you for future use.

 

10. Always have a support group to ensure that nothing happens to you and your belongings and that of others. Neighborhood watch groups are very common in the US and in some places in Germany where the population is very dense and are highly affected by crime. And lastly, report any stolen items to the police right away and know what exactly was taken.

 

By taking these important measures, you will feel safer and your belongings will be better protected against theft and vandalism, as there are a lot of people who want to exert his/her pleasure in doing harm to others. Stealing one’s important goods or destroying property are two classic examples of doing just that, hurting others. Even if changing the combination on the padlock was a prank, like it was the case with our padlock, it is not funny. Therefore we must take measures to ensure that we feel safe as well as our personal belongings that we value the most. The last thing that can happen to a person is to have is to have one’s padlock picked, to have the items stolen and to throw the whole schedule of the day into limbo.

As the apartment complex has no electronic locks where we are issued a combination for use, let alone inform the police of a possible break-in (like we have in the US), we now know which padlock is the best against any pickers. And apart from knowing which items to be stored in the basement, we do have a back-up plan should another picking attempt take place while we are away, even though we hope it will not come down to this…..

 

Lockbreaker with the locks

March Madness regarding Moving

Back in the late 1970s when basketball was predominantly a men’s sport, sports columnist Brent Musberger coined the terminology March Madness,  which pertained to the NCAA college basketball tournament that took place every year in March. 64 teams took part in the no-holds barred basketball tournament where the men were separated from the boys, where most college basketball coaches compete to see who can grow grays in their hair the most and the quickest and who can see who can retain their voices before winning the basketball title. Over time, the women joined the fray with their own tournaments and the result is as many as 200 million viewers in the USA and abroad watching at least one basketball tournament in its entirety and betting for their own team to win it all, in both the men’s bracket as well as the women’s.
We do have another form of March Madness in Germany, but not in the form of basketball or any sports for that matter. It is with the moving.  Normally in Germany, the majority of the population is not inclined to move much. If one is born in a region, it is expected that the person stays in that region for life because of friends, family and permanent employment (which is hard to find nowadays). While that trend is leaning towards the American attitude of moving, which is “Mobility and Flexibility is Everything,” that is mostly for people in their early 20s and 30s, who are single or have a partner and have nothing that could anchor them in one particular location. This is because when one gets older, one settles down and takes whatever is offered to them and is thankful for the job.  But when the move takes place, it is more hassle than it is worth in the short term. In the long term however, it was worth every cent if one stays in one spot for a long time.
If there is one month where most of the moving takes place in my experiences as an expatriate living in Germany, it is in March. Why?  It is during the time where the need for greener pastures, more space and a new beginning in one’s life converge into one. It may be because of new job opportunities or the need of a new place in general. It may be because the summer time is solely kept free for vacationing in various places in Europe or North America (for example). For students, it is because the winter semester is much shorter than the summer semester. There is an average of 1-2 months free during the winter break and 3-4 during the summer break. While there is no spring break at German Universities, where students go to exotic places for booze and babes, like many American students often do, many German students take advantage of the free time in March to move to a new location.
Even now as I write this, many streets in the cities are partially corralled off to make way for the movers to arrive with ladders to bring down and load the furniture and other belongings from the top floor of a five-story apartment into the vans to be relocated to another destination. Much of the furniture has to be disassembled before loading and reassembled in the new apartment. One has clutter to sort through and throw out, as well as books to pack in boxes seven layers high- high enough to reach the ceiling. When there is a child in the midst, one has to try and keep him/her occupied and out of trouble.  And often if there is no help, then you are on your own and it becomes even more difficult to get things done especially because of a tight work schedule you have to deal with , resulting in packing until the wee hours of the morning every day.  And at last when all of the belongings are in the new apartment , one has to please the tenants of the old apartment by tearing down the wall paper, re-wallpapering the rooms and making it spic and span. Many people mop the floors before the movers arrive, which does not make any sense because they would be trampled on anyway and is therefore considered a waste of time.
But when all this is done, during the madness of March, it is no wonder why many people just simply stay put and take whatever job may be available to them but does not fit to their own career portfolio. It is a big difference whether a person travels light with as little as possible just to chase after their careers in places like Buxtehude, Stuttgart, Passau, Rostock, Weimar, Dresden,….. or if a person decides to ditch his career and does something different in order to create a permanent home- a nest where the children can grow up and graduate from school in one city and where one can do his/her time at a company or agency for 35 years until retiring with a nice juicy pension to live from.   The move may be a lot of hassle, but we have our purposes for a bigger and nicer home, which in the end, after spending tens of thousands of dollars and Euros in expenditures for renovation, new furniture and moving, it will definitely pay off and we can live happily ever after.