Genre of the Week: The Arctic by Ludovico Einauldi

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The Arctic Ocean, one of the last untouched natural habitats in the world. Enriched with fish minerals, it is being eyed by many countries and private companies with their own interest. Despite the advantages of exploration, the Arctic Ocean is a key player in the process of global warming, for sheets of ice have been melting at rates faster than what scientists have predicted in the past decade. This has raised water levels, caused destruction by super storms and flooding and have destroyed the livelihoods of animals and humans alike.

In an attempt to address this issue, the non-governmental organization Greenpeace has been campaigning to ensure that at least a portion of the Arctic is protected against the threat of exploration and overfishing. This included organizing a summit on the island of Tenerife most recently, which bore no fruit. In a statement presented by the organization, they claimed that a conference here in this circle would have been much more effective than on a sunny island laden with tourists. 

But perhaps this short concert by world-renowned pianist Ludovico Einauldi might bring the world to take a look at the landscape and see what can be done about it. Born in Turin, Italy, Einauldi has been a concert pianist for over 35 years, producing dozens of his own works and albums, as well as soundtracks for several international films, including   This is England in all three parts, Dr. Zhivago, Black Swan, and J. Edgar.  When taking a look at the video and listening to his music and the sounds of the sheets of ice falling off the coast of Norway, think about what this piece, the Files’ Genre of the Week, means to you and what you can do to help. Information on how can be found here.

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In School in Germany: Teaching Beowulf and Old English- Introduction

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Viking Ship at the Museum in Oslo. Source: Wikipedia (Hifi0006)

Old English: one of the main origins of our language. Consisting of the languages of the Anglo-Saxons, Old English was first spoken by the Germanic tribes and consisted of words most commonly found in today’s German, English and some Scandanavian language. With the Norman Conquest of 1066, Old English transformed itself into Middle English while adopting words and phrases from the Norman language. Eventually all of the historic elements, as seen in the clip below, made up today’s language, which has its common, fixed structure in terms of grammar and sentence construction, but is constantly evolving because of the language’s adaptation to the changing environments, including the development of technology which is influencing the way English is being used.

And this takes us to the story of Beowulf. Written between the 10th and 11th Century, before the Norman Conquest, Beowulf is the oldest known literary work that was conceived in Old English. Although the work has been translated into today’s English, with the most recent work written and edited by Seamus Heaney, it is unknown who wrote the folklore, consisting of a poem with 3182 lines. The work has however been adapted into film, TV series and even children’s stories.

But who is Beowulf and why is it important to teach that in class?

To summarize, Beowulf was a warrior of Scandanavian descent who ruled the Geat kingdom. His strength is equal to 30 men, and he can battle with sword and hand-to-hand combat. He helps the king of Danes, Hrothgar, in defeating a monster named Grendel, who had invaded the dining hall, killing some Danish soldiers. Grendel loses his arm in the battle with Beowulf, runs home to the mother and dies at the end. The mother becomes angry and invades the hall again. Beowulf chases her down and kills her in the end as well. The warrior receives many rewards and eventually expanded his kingdom in the end. Fifty years have passed, and Beowulf, in his 70s, faces another challenge in a form of a dragon. Accompanied by his nephew, he battles the dragon and defeats it, but not before he is mortally wounded. He is honored in his funeral, where as a custom, he is burned on a boat but others give him something as a sacrifice to remember.  Many adaptations exist but a couple shorter animations shows how the story takes place:

Because the poem was written in Old English, Beowulf presents an insight of how English was used during that time, especially as some of the words originated from that period. Furthermore it is important to learn about history after the Fall of the western half of the Roman Empire, especially as far as the creation of the Anglo-Saxon and Scandanavian regions are concerned. Much of that is taught in history classes in schools in Germany, especially in the sixth and seventh grades, but some elements are even being presented in English classes, including the culture of the kingdoms in the regions during that time. While some elements of European history is introduced in American schools, it is important to learn about this, for the Vikings, who explored North America in the 9th Century, the time of the release of Beowulf, came from the regions in Scandanavia, including Denmark, and had been known for invading the Anglo-Saxon kingdom (especially in present-day England) several times before the Conquest of 1066.

The question is how to teach Beowulf to students in school without having to bore them. As mentioned before, over 3200 lines were written and translated, yet the time limit is a factor, as well as determining how it fits in the curriculum for either English or history. One can reduce the content to the most important aspects, but doing so creates a risk of leaving out some elements that may become important later on. Reading it straight out would be as brutally difficult as reading Chaucer, even on the high school level.

But one can create their own adaption of Beowulf. This includes adapting Beowulf to a modern version, such as Beowulf 2.0, Beowulf on Twitter, etc. It also includes activities to fill in the lost years, video games, and the like. It is a matter of presenting a summary of the story, while introducing the details, including Beowulf’s family, childhood, kingdom and even the culture of the Geats, Anglo-Saxon, Danish and Scandanavian regions, which one may need a two sessions for, pending on the time alloted per session. After that, students have a chance to create their own versions of Beowulf.

In July, some examples of how Beowulf can be taught will be presented to give teachers and students some ideas for their own project as well as possibilities to teach it in class. These were done by fellow college students at a university in central Germany. More on that will come then. In the meantime, what are some ideas you would have to teach students the importance of Beowulf? What projects did you try doing? Place your stories in the comment section below.

Stay tuned! More on Beowulf will come in July. 🙂

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The Six-Year Rule: Why a Job in German Academia Is Fatal for Your Teaching Career

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Wiley Campus of Hochschule Neu-Ulm in Bavaria. Photo taken in 2015

Starting off this article there is a word of advice to anyone wishing to start their career in teaching English as a foreign language, let alone in general as a professor: German Academia is the place where teachers’ careers end- after six years, that is!  If one wishes to continue as a teacher, one has to take the mentality that a person goes where the jobs are, even if it means working as a freelancer until retirement. This mentality goes along the lines of a quote by the late Paul Gruchow: “You go where the good people go. We raise our best so that they can develop a sense of home and eventually come back.”

Teachers in Germany are the highest in demand, especially in the area of foreign languages, yet barriers are standing high and tall in the path to a prosperous career that many of them decide to call it a career and find another profession. This applies not only to German laws for recognizing education degrees for schools from other countries, but this one: The Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (known in English as the Limited Contract Laws for Academics in Germany or LAG for short). Enacted in 1999, the LAG aims at limiting contracts for those wishing to work at a German university in an attempt to reduce the number of employees, including professors, receiving permanent posts and encourage competition by hiring new people every 2-3 years, pending on which German state you live in and which “Hochschule” (German university or college) you wish to work for. In a nutshell, people wishing to work at a Hochschule are given a limited contract, most of the time two years, and are allowed to work a total of six years without pursuing a doctorate. With a doctorate (PhD), one receives another six years, totaling 12 years of work. For those studying medicine, the rule is nine years before and six years after getting a PhD, thus totaling 15 years.  Once the time runs out, there is the “Berufsverbot,” which means you are not allowed to work at a German university anymore for the rest of your life.

Yet there are some exceptions to the rule which could help manuever around LAG and prolong your stay in academia. Some of which I learned most recently during an interview at a university in the state of Hesse.  The first involves having children while working at a German university. If one has a child, then the limit of the number of years allowed to work full time is extended by two years per child- a major benefit since Germany has one of the lowest birthrates of all industrialized countries in the world.  Another way of extending your life at academia is through Drittmittel- German for funding from the private sector. According to news reports from the newspaper Die Zeit, more and more academics are applying for this type of funding as a way of prolonging their careers at the German university. Basically, the funding applied for and received is what the academics have to live off from. Most of the time, the funding is barely enough to make ends meet, limited to 2-3 years- meaning another limited contract- and it comes with strings attached, which means one has to work on a project in addition to teaching. Project-hopping is another concept that is practiced at German universities, where people hop from one project to another in an attempt to stay at one university.  Then there is the Publish-or-Perish mentality, where people working at academia are expected to contribute to the university by publishing as many works as possible, while getting a meager amount of money in return. A way of staying on, yet at the cost of your teaching career because most of the time is spent on writing instead of interacting and helping students.  Getting a professorship is possible in Germany, but one needs at least 10 years to complete that, and there are several titles one needs to go through, such as PD, Junior Professor, Professor Doctor, Professor Doctor Doctor, Professor Doctor Doctor Doctor……. (You get the hint 😉  ). If one is not quick enough to obtain such a professorship, let alone follow the publish or perish mentality, then one can call it a career well before the retirement age.

All these options are doable, but in comparison with American universities and colleges, where they provide tenure tracks for those wishing to pursue a permanent form of employment (both as a professor as well as an employee), the hurdles are numerous and high- high enough for a person to a point where if one wants to race the 300 meter hurdles in track and field, it is required to practice triple jump and high jump in order to “jump the hurdles” without stumbling and eventually finish the race a winner.  In fact, only 14% of all positions at an American university have limited contracts. In Germany, the rate is 68%, one of the highest in the world! The trend is ongoing and increasing and for a good reason: budget cuts from the state, which is the main source of financing, combined with less funding possibilities from Drittmittel, is forcing institutions to lay off personnel and cut certain programs deemed as “not financially suitable for students.” Protests have taken place in many German states calling for more state and federal involvement in financing for academia but with partial success. Those who stay on have to deal with funding that is barely enough for even a single person to survive. Others, especially those fearing for their career, opt for places outside Germany, including the US, Canada and Great Britain, as working conditions and better, and  more permanent contracts are guaranteed.

But all is not so bad these day. Some universities in Germany are laxing their regulations by either providing permanent employment right away or after a limited contract. In a couple cases in Bavaria, the tenure track has been introduced to allow people to stay on beyond the permanent contract. Yet as it is always the case when dealing with bureaucracy in Germany, it comes with strings attached. Requirements of a degree in the respective field, like a language degree at a university for a job at a language institute is becoming the norm and not the exception. This includes Master’s degrees but also Lehramt (teaching degrees), which includes 7-8 years of studies, student teaching and two state exams (see an article posted here). Even then, the pressure to stay on when hired is enormous and one needs a lot of luck and aggression, let alone some great connections to stay on beyond the contract- preferably permanently.  But even then, when you have established these connections and a great career, chances are likely that you are shown the door when the contract is up.

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This was what happened to yours truly in Bayreuth. I worked at the University’s Language Institute teaching English for two years, from 2008 until 2010. Prior to me being hired, I was told that I would be allowed to work there for two years with no further contract, then I would be banned from teaching in Bavaria. This was customary at that time.  In fact, three of my colleagues had left when I arrived; two more left after the first semester alone, and two more were offered two-year contracts under the same conditions during my time there, but they declined as the move from North-Rhine Westphalia to Bayreuth for two years was not worth the move. While the regulations, in place since 2007,  have somewhat laxed because of successful attempts to keep at least some of the teachers on (many of them had worked there for over a decade before I came), they came after I left, leaving a mark in the classroom and many positive stories and experiences to share among my student colleagues, many of whom I’m still in contact with (and are probably following this column). Despite Bayreuth’s attempts, other Bavarian universities are having a hard time copying their successful attempts so that their staff members can stay on with a permanent contract. But realizing the mentality that not everyone is that mobile and would like to settle down, the winds of change will eventually come to them and the rest of Germany as well.  For me, after another two-year contract at another Hochschule, I decided to pursue my teaching degree for the German Gymnasium, for teaching in schools are more guaranteed than in academia, yet the workload is more than in adacemia- the only caveat. 😉

To end this article, I have a word of advice to those wishing to teach in Germany: If teaching is what you want, you have to cross seven bridges to get there. Many of them are old and rickety, but they are worth crossing. Yet make sure a plan B is in place if you decide to leave it behind. After all, we have more than one talent in our lives to share with others and be successful in. 🙂

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Interesting Facts about Germany: Asparagus

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Before reading this article, think of the top five foods you will find and most likely eat while visiting Germany.

Many of us will associate Germany with sauerkraut (made from cabbage), bratwursts, various sorts of steaks (like the Sauerbraten and the Kasseler), various kinds of potato dishes and for desert, marzipan (an almond paste you find in many pastries). One can include roasted wild boar, venecin (deer meat), fish entrées (mostly in northern Germany) and even chocolate (like nougat).

But what about asparagus?

When I was first introduced to asparagus, I was only eight years old and my grandmother had a small field with green asparagus, located in the middle of a four acre pasture that was mostly occupied with horses. It was not cultivated as in the videos below, but was fenced off so that it could grow on its own. When riped, it was peeled and served boiled- most of the time with butter or cheese, and it was perfect for a typical family cookout in the United States. 🙂

Yet, especially when watching the videos above, when traveling in Europe, one will embrace the Spargelzeit and with that, many colorful kinds of asparagus, stemming from purple and black to white- the latter is a German past time. I had an opportunity to try white asparagus for the first time while staying in Interlaken, Switzerland in 1999, in a form of a “cold plate entrée.” Right away, when comparing the white with the green, the difference was clear- a bit bitter, but watery for the white. Nevertheless, it was delicious. 🙂  Trying the standard German entrée, with Hollandaise sauce for the first time a year later, and one needs no introduction except to say, you will be committing a sin if you elect a Big Mac over boiled asparagus with butter sauce- especially during this time!

Between April and the end of June, asparagus is harvested and available in stores for people to eat. Recipes, including a couple from the Guardian (here),  are in scores, and people will find asparagus in every single meal, whether it is a soup, in a pizza, or in various salads, like the one I tried in Switzerland. Every year, Germans treat asparagus as Catholics treat Lent- You have to have it at least once a year, because they are pure, healthy and just plain delicious. It’s just like with fish, which is eaten during the time of Lent as the only source of meat.  Yet as hundreds of thousands of tons are eaten every year, more are planted and cultivated, which is a time-consuming and sometimes a painstaking task to complete. The videos can provide you with an overview of how asparagus is planted, harvested, packaged and sold for the dinner table. And this minus the peeling and boiling of them which we have to do ourselves.

In the end, all that work is well worth the consumption. It is safe to say that asparagus is the food of champions for those who toil in the fields to bring them home for us to appreciate, bless, and in the end, eat it. 😉  <3

So for all our tourist friends visiting Germany next time, especially around springtime, take this advice: eat the Spargel and leave the rest of the food for later. When you try a German asparagus, you will never resort to meat again. 😉

To finish my patronizing of the asparagus, here’s a bonus from the German mystery series Tatort with Thiel and Boerne, whose case to be solved takes us to teh asparagus fields and the reason why asparagus is an important food for Germany, especially in the spring time.

Enjoy! 😀

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Genre of the Week: For What It’s Worth

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This week’s genre of the week is a rather somber one, if one has been paying attention to the latest reports on the worst massacre in United States history since Wounded Knee in 1890. It happened in the morning of 12 June, 2016 where a gunman opened fire on a crowd of people at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 49 people were killed, more than 50 were injured. The motive seems to focus on terrorism and hatred towards homosexuals, which constituted for most of the people being at the nightclub at the time of the shooting. Since the shooting, heated discussions on how the US should react to the shootings have ballooned in the social network with massive amounts of mudslinging and name-calling on people whose suggestions might even save their lives. The hint is gun control- having people purchasing guns for the first time go through psychometric tests while at the same time have their guns registered and coded to ensure they remain in the right hands. The hints mentioned by opponents consist of stopping Muslims from entering the US; some jeered that the victims were homosexuals and that their choice was like signing a pact with the devil. These suggestions are way too far fetched and can result in the US becoming isolated from its European neighbors.

And while this massacre will result in significant changes in one way or another, the question is how can we do this. One suggestion is shot down by another, people pointing fingers at others, and lots of mudslinging have overshadowed the problems that are affecting American society for years, which includes integrating people of all aspects, tackling social problems which is causing violence and lastly, learning to accept people of different backgrounds. As a former CIA agent mentions in an interview, our problem is we don’t listen to others, but think about ourselves. This selfishness wreaps its own awards and our results are what we see right now.

Instead, why not listen to others and look at the real situation instead of believing in the gossip? This is where this song comes into mind. “For What It’s Worth” was produced in 1966 by the band Buffalo Springfield. Featuring Stephen Stills (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Dewey Martin (drums, vocals), Bruce Palmer (electric bass), Richie Furay (guitar, vocals), and Neil Young (guitar, harmonica, piano, vocals), the band released the song in response to the police riots and protests against Vietnam War. The song received the gold record and other accolades before the members broke off to pursue their own careers. Neil Young, although having a great solo career, joined Stephen Stills and two other musicians to form Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, where their accapella and folk music, developed from Buffalo Springfield, was carried on and many songs became successful during the 1970s and 80s. After 48 years, the band broke up recently, citing age and conflicts within the group. But nevertheless, Buffalo Springfield’s song should serve as a reminder that our decisions do produce consequences, and that problems that have been ignored for years have gotten bigger. And unless we do something about it, let alone before we don something about the problems at hand we have to…..

The Flensburg Files and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to dedicate this to the family and friends of as well as the victims of the Orlando massacre. Your lives matter, no matter what you do in life. We matter because we want you to be happy. And when we fall victim to hatred and engage in savagery, then we need to look at why and find a solution that is constructive, safe and harmonious. We don’t care about your preferences or backgrounds. We only care about you because we love you for who you are. That is why openess is bliss and ignorance is nothing but piss.

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