End of the Line: Donald Sterling

There is an old saying that my former high school math teacher told me once: “Your mouth and your actions determines your destiny.”  Sometimes when a person takes actions, both verbally and physically, that are against the will of others, and does it for a long period of time, eventually it comes back to haunt him.  Donald Sterling, the now-former owner of the American basketball team the Los Angeles Clippers is one of those who took his actions to the limits, and is now receiving the receipt.  After a taped conversation where he told his girlfriend not to post photos of her and some African Americans on Instagram and allow them to attend basketball games, it was the last drop in the already-filled coffee cup that finally spilled over.  David Stern, former commissioner of the basketball league NBA, had watched Sterling discriminate people of color and background for years, since purchasing the Clippers in 1981. He had also watched Sterling turn the team into a laughing stock of professional sports during the 1980s and 90s before finally having its first winning season and playoff appearance in the 1991/92 and later from the 2005/06 season onwards. Yet he ignored Sterling’s racial behavior and turned a blind eye, all the way up to his retirement at the end of last year.  Adam Silver took over the reigns and did things totally differently, as you can see in the video clip below:


Sterling’s latest racist remarks recorded on audio were his last. He’s now facing a lifetime ban, the loss of his franchise, and the loss of his face.  A punishment that is so severe- one of the worst ever on record- but one that was long overdue. Discrimination has no place in society, yet there are people out there who strive for perfection at any cost, which includes selecting people based on certain figures. Yet as we strive for inclusion of people of different backgrounds and interest in society- sports teams, clubs, businesses (including boards), educational institutions, and the like, we also know about the people who still segregate others as they see fit and have been trying our best to force them aside.  Rumors had it that many Americans were not ready for an African American President in 2008. Even one of my students at a Bavarian university I taught at that time, had experienced that sentimental feeling while staying abroad as an exchange student in the Midwest. We still have him as President, and he has been doing a great job in office, in spite of the circumstances that he faced when he won the elections. Many Americans in the 1940s and 50s thought that by integrating Native Americans into a White society, they would be free of their ways. Their ways of life still exist in culture and language, and have been highly regarded by many Americans today and tourists alike. Sterling’s institutional racism may have been deemed as normal to him and his closest, but to his players and the league, it was more than preposterous- it was barbaric and has stained America’s image as a multi-cultural country, where people have the right to be free and live their dream while living in harmony, regardless of background. His ban from professional basketball may not solve all problems with racism, but it is a big step in the right direction, a step towards the multi-cultural America that should be what it is today.

To close my End of the Line Commentary about this man, there is a proverb that should be considered: Perfection leads to Loneliness whereas Imperfection leads to Multiculturalism. There is no such thing as Segregation and Utopia. Not in today’s society, and not in light of a multicultural society that we have become globally. I’m hoping Sterling will think long and hard of his actions to his team, the league and America. But I’m also hoping that after the ruling, people will finally reconcile and come together, as there is a lot to do, and we need everybody and their different traits to help get it done.


In School in Germany: History and Literature DO Mix.


Historic Fiction- a term that many people should know about when becoming teachers. This type of genre features a fictitious story with characters that do not exist in real life, but whose background and setting exists in reality. Tens of thousands of such literary works, published in the past 15 years, can be found on the shelves of libraries and book stores, waiting for people to purchase them. One of which is the focus of this article: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Published in 1925, the Great Gatsby features four main characters and three other characters that have supporting roles:  Nick Caraway (the bonds salesman and narrator), Tom and Daisy Buchanan (Nick’s college friend and cousin respectively) and Jay Gatsby (Nick’s neighbor who has a love affair with Daisy) are the main four; Jordan Baker (Daisy’s friend and Nick’s love interest), and George and Myrtle Wilson (the former,  a gas station owner, the latter, his wife who has an affair with Tom) as supporting characters.  These fictional characters find themselves on Long Island with Tom and Daisy living in a mansion at East Egg, the rest are at West Egg. The story presents the two polar sides of the Roaring 20s that made the era rather gilded. There was the rather rich and extravagant side of society, featuring parties, flappers and utter carelessness. There was also the poor and desperate side of society, where people struggling to survive would do anything just to make a buck.  The book was converted into a Hollywood film twice, and regardless of which version of Gatsby you watched or like (I prefer the Robert Redford 1974 version clearly over the DiCaprio version), we all know what happens when rich and poor collide in the story.
But Gatsby is only a fraction of the point that I’m getting to, which is the fact that one can use literature in history class as a way of providing the students with an inside look at certain periods of time and what society looked like. Part of the reason for such literature has to do with what the author himself experienced in his life. Fitzgerald himself was involved in the scene during his visit on Long Island prior to his book and saw some of the things that were typical of that time, both good and bad. Another part has to do with author’s observing the immorals and even talking to people about them, then writing about it in a different form. In either case, one could consider both of them a form of muckraking. By looking at the literature, one can actually get into the story and try and understand the situation in relation to the historical events of the period from one’s own point of view. By doing so, students will have an opportunity to share their views in class, pending on how the teacher poses the questions in connection with the literature and its historic context.

There are two ways of handling literature in connection with history. One would be to go through the book, chapter by chapter, providing questions and exercises along the way. Traditional and good for those with a good command of the language, yet if the language level is lower because the working language is foreign, some rewriting and adaptation may be needed, or one can go further by taking out some excerpts and integrating them into the theme.

The other is using the film based on the book, but choosing the scenes that are appropriate to the theme presented in class. This was the approach I chose while discussing about the Roaring 20s and including the scenes at the beginning of The Great Gatsby: East Egg and its richness in the literal sense and West Egg, where Nick’s small hut and the run down gas station are overshadowed by Gatsby’s Mansion.  Can you tell the difference in the following clips? And do they fit the image of the Roaring 20s?



When choosing this approach, one has to carefully choose the film that best fits the theme to be discussed in history. The 1974 version of Gatsby best fits the image of the 1920s and is not as overdone as the remade version of last year. But more importantly is the fact that one has to choose the scenes that best fits the topic and where you can ask the students some questions. This one will require more time as you will need to watch the film and pick the scenes that best fit. Painstaking it is, but it is worth it, especially if you have family members who are willing to play along. 😉

How you use literature in history or even social studies classes depends on the group you are teaching. Students in grades 9-12 as well as college students will more likely read the novel you choose than those from grade 8 down. But it also depends on their learning level, their language skills (especially if you teach a bilingual class), and their willingness to learn new things but in a way that it does not require the traditional form of Frontalunterricht (frontal teaching where the teacher is the center of attention and the blackboard is used almost exclusively).  It is a question of how you, as the teacher, prepare your class and how you try and integrate the literature, let alone the film based on the literary piece.  If you feel the students are up to the challenge, try it. You will be amazed with the results. This was the case with my experiment, and if you have the right calculations, like I did, you can have a really productive session with discussion and fun.


Author’s Note: Many German universities are introducing interdisciplinary studies where literature, politics, culture and history are mixed together and offered to students, who are interested in such studies. Over 20 universities are offering North American studies (or similar), and counting. What a student can do with such a degree will be discussed later in the Files.





Guessing Quiz: Industrial History and Infrastructure

Rendsburg High Bridge in Rendsburg, Germany. Spanning the Baltic-North Sea Canal. Photo taken in April 2011

This is a joint article with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles in connection with the article on Pocket Guide to Industrial History and Infrastructure between 1871 and 1914. For more information on this teaching experience, please click here for details. The Guessing Quiz is in connection with the article.


To close off the topic on Industrialization and Infrastructure in Germany and the USA, I decided to provide you with the Files’ Fact-Finder Guessing Quiz Questions for you to research and find answers. The answers will come after May Day in the Files.


1.  In the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, structures made of iron melted like lava, which contributed to the destruction of hundreds of buildings made of iron and wood.  True or False?

2. The Chicago School of Architecture was developed shortly after the Great Fire featuring which architects? Name three and how they contributed to architecture.

3. Who created the first automobile in the world: Ransom Olds, Carl Benz or Henry Ford?

4. The Diesel Motor was created in ______ and is named after this German inventor?

5. List the following canals that were built between 1871 and 1915 in chronological order.

Panama Canal      Dortmund-Ems Canal    Danube Canal    Erie Canal   Elbe-Lübeck Canal   Baltic-North Sea Canal                            Berlin-Havelland Canal


6. Prairie Homes consisted of 1-2 story homes made of geometric shapes resembling circles and triangles.  True or False? Who invented the Prairie Homes (Hint: he was part of the Chicago School of Architecture).


7. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1878, yet Berlin received its first set of electrical lighting in this year?


8.  Which of the following bridge engineers did NOT immigrate to the US?

Seth Hewett, Lawrence Johnson, Gustav Lindenthal, John Roebling, Friedrich Voss, Wendel Bollmann


9. The Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders emerged in the 1890s and later became a counterpart to the American Bridge Company conglomerate after the consolidation of _____ bridge builders in 1901. This School featured which family of bridge builders?

Hewett, Johnson, Bayne, Jones

Hewett, Fink, King, Bayne

Voss, King, Jones, Humboldt

Hewett, Maillard, Lindenthal, Steinmann


10. The Rendsburg High Bridge was the first bridge in the world that used the loop trestly approach. True or False? If false, when and where was the first loop trestle approach used? (See video here)


Happy Guessing! 🙂



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.

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 WordPress.org site or a normal website, like bridgehunter.com. 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 flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.