Christmas and Holidays, where Peace and Goodwill Meet

Christmas and the Holidays: where peace and goodwill meet. Where differences are put aisde and family and friends reunite to talk about memories and the future. There have been some concerns recently that Christmas was becoming more based on consumption and profits, thus making some people don their Ebenezer Scrooge outfits, while the Robert Cratchits increase in numbers. One of the examples is stores opening their doors on Thanksgiving, a holiday that is considered as sacred as Christmas, instead of doing that on Black Friday at 9:00am.

And while some department stores are bucking this new trend, as seen with Nordstroms, The Home Depot, Marshalls, and Ace Hardware, there’s one store chain, located outside the US, that is taking Christmas to a more personal level. Sainsbury’s in Great Britain, in commemoration with the 100th anniversary of World War I, produced a rather heart-throbbing commercial to kick off the holiday shopping season. Here’s the video clip for you to watch:

 

And even when Britain and Germany was at war with each other, both sides took the time to put aside their differences and exchange stories and gifts, play soccer, and even learn each other’s language. Don’t you think you can do this as well? Since that time, we’ve found ways to forgive each other, break down barriers, and even help each other when in need. But we have also not forgotten what war and ignorance can do to another person. I remember a poster on one of the streets in a German community that says it all: Looking at the poor with houses destroyed through war and empty baskets with no food with the slogan- the biggest catastrophe is ignorance.

So this Christmas and this holiday season, take a few minutes of your time and do something that you’ve been meaning to do for a long time but could not because of barriers that kept you from doing so. Donate blood and/or food to those who need it. Contact someone you fell out years before but would like to make amends. Visit those whom you haven’t seen in a long time, family or friend alike. Put aside your differences and find the similarities that bring you together. Open up and learn something new from others.  Do something that others will benefit from. Only then, will you not only build bridges and break down the barriers. You and those affected will benefit a great deal.  As seen with the Fall of the Berlin Wall, both sides wanted it: the easterners because they wanted to be free, and the westerners because they wanted one Germany instead of two.  We have a lot to do but it just takes a little bit of your time to do it.

So away with the shopping carts. Go to the kitchen and prepare a great meal for those in need. They’ll thank you for that. :-)

BTW: Sainsbury might have stolen all the awards for this advert. Well done, indeed!

 

25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall Highlights

BERLIN; ERFURT-  More than 2.5 million people (or 70% of the city’s population) converged on Berlin over the weekend to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall. The biggest highlight of the event was on Sunday, where over a million people were on hand during the course of the day and evening as speeches were held to honor those who risked their lives escaping from East to West Berlin, as well as the hundreds of thousands of people who pressured the East German government to open the borders- the demand that Guenter Schabowski, the spokesman for East Germany’s Central Committee granted on 9 November, 1989.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel and many prominent politicians spoke at the ceremony at the Bernauer Strasse Memorial. She was greeted by Michail Gorbachev, the former leader of the Soviet Union whose policies of non-intervention and openness led to countries like East Germany to overthrow their communist leaders and break away from the communist bloc. He spoke at the symposium in front of Brandenburg Gate. Concerts took place throughout the evening by many singers and music groups. Among those performing at the Brandenburg Gate were former East German singer Udo Lindenburg, British pop star Peter Gabriel and German techno artist Paul Kalkbrenner. The events culminated with the releasing of 8,000 balloons along the former border dividing East and West Berlin. The led-lit balloons were established along the border where the Berlin Wall once stood, indicating where and how the wall had divided Berliners for 28 years.

Some highlights of the 25th Anniversary events can be seen in the videos below. Readers wanting to know more about the Wall and the celebrations of its downfall can be seen in the Flensburg Files’ facebook page (click here for direct access). There you can find videos, photos and articles in both German and English of the events. Like to follow as the Files will provide some articles and interesting facts pertaining to the events leading to the reunification of Germany.

The Releasing of the Balloons

Paul Kalkbrenner at Brandenburg Gate

Michail Gorbachev at the Celebrations

 

 

But Berlin was not the only place where the 25th anniversary celebrations took place. Many places along the former East and West German borders, from Lübeck to Marienhof to Modlareuth to Hof commemorated the symbolic event of 9 November 1989 in various ways. Some brief examples can be seen below:

HOF:  As many as 250 East German automobiles, among them the Trabant and the Wartburg, and their owners and passengers made a pilgrimage from Plauen in Saxony to Hof in Bavaria. There, people had an opportunity to reenact history of the event, where residents on the western side greeted those on the eastern side with sweets, champaign and the like. In order for the reenactment to be played in full, organizers reconstructed make-shift borders and inspection buildings resembling those that had existed before being torn down shortly after the borders opened. Hundreds of people took part in the event and had an opportunity to see the display of the cars typical for East Germany but are becoming a rare breed. A video of the event is below for you to look at.

Fast fact: Trabant produced its cars in Zwickau in western Saxony. The company closed in 1997. Wartburg produced its cars in Eisenach in western Thuringia. It was bought by Opel after the border opened and is still in business today.

Trabi Caravan from Plauen to Hof

 

MODLAREUTH: A caravan of Trabants and some local celebrations in the village of 60 people commemorated the opening of the border. Located on the border to Thuringia and Bavaria, Modlareuth was divided by the border as East German soldiers forced many residents to move to higher ground, while they tore down houses along the creek that flows through the village to erect the barbed-wire fence and border towers. For 28 years, this village became known as Little Berlin because of the Wall. Yet despite still being divided in terms of jurisdiction, the people consider Modlareuth one home and one village. Celebrations commemorating the opening of the gate included a tour of a portion of the border and control tower, which was given to the German-German Museum and has been preserved for visitors to see.

 

VACHA:  State ministers Christine Lieberknecht (Thuringia) and Volker Bouffier (Hesse) were at the Vacha Bridge, spanning the Werra River between the Thuringian village and Philipsthal in Hesse, laying a wreath at the center of the span and honoring those who tried to flee to the western part of Germany during the Cold War. Severely damaged and impassable because of World War II, the bridge was closed to all people when the borders were put up in 1961 and remained so until 1989. The bridge was later rebuilt. “November 9th was a lucky day,” said Lieberknecht in her speech to hundreds of people at the bridge. “The strive for freedom and democracy defeated socialism and a state-controlled economy.” More on the speech here.

 

For those who could not attend any of the events, there were plenty of opportunities to watch the events on TV, let alone the facts about the East-West Border and the Berlin Wall. This included the children’s TV series “Die Sendung mit der Maus,” which featured a special on the border between then and right now, based on the travels of one of the moderators. A link is available for you to watch and listen to the stories behind the border crossings chosen for the trip:

Summer Tour along the Former East-West Border with the Maus:

http://spezial.wdrmaus.de/sommerreise-2014

 

The rest of the programs can be found in the Flensburg Files’ facebook page. There you can access the programs in either language and learn about the Fall of the Wall and the celebrations that followed then as well as yesterday.

 

9 November, 1989: Taking You Back to the Fall of the Wall

November 9th 1989: The day that changed the world. Growing up in the 1980s, many of us were used to news coverage on the Cold War, the conflict between the USA and the Soviet Union, using Germany as their chess board. And it was no wonder: Germany was divided, along with its capital, Berlin. However, the Fall of the Wall on this day 25 years ago changed that. We became curious about the other side of the world that was once closed off for many years. When the East German Government announced the opening of the gate, the news reached the airwaves almost instantly. I had an opportunity to collect some news stories of the events to be posted on this day. And no matter the news coverage, the pictures were clear: The borders must go and the two Germanys must reunite. Have a look at the clips and see for yourself:

 

This leads to the question of where you were when the word of the Berlin Wall  coming down came about? What were your first-hand reactions? And how do you see Germany today in comparison to then? In the past 25 years, Germany has transformed itself from being two states under different controls to a powerhouse that has attracted millions. Instead of being that chessboard of 25 years ago, the country today controls its destiny, and the rest of Europe are looking to that country that has veered away from its painful past and has written its own history for many people to read about. The Wall was a symbol of repression, but its Fall became the symbol of justice and freedom, something we should remember to this day, as Germany took the lead and helped create the modern world that we still live in today- the world of peace and prosperity, the world of multi-culture and globalization and the world where we can express ourselves and make a difference without being taken to jail for it.

How do you perceive Germany today in comparison to 25 years ago? Share your stories about your reactions to the Fall of the Wall and how Germany has fared from your point of view. Place your stories and thoughts in the comment section below.

 

 

 

 

German Railways on strike- again!

An empty Flensburg Railway Station. No train driver, no trains, but many infuriated passengers, even if none are seen here.

Third union strike in two months. Longest strike in the history of Die Bahn. Court decision on the legality of the strike.

Travellers heading to Berlin for this weekend’s 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall may have to look at alternatives to train travel. Since this yesterday at 4:00pm, the train engineers are on strike, which has put most of the train service at a standstill in all of Germany. This strike is unique for two reasons: 1. This is the third strike in two months and 2. This strike is expected to last five days total (four days for passenger service), which is the longest in the history of the German Railways (a.k.a. Die Bahn).  The cause: The arbitration talks between the worker’s union GDL and Die Bahn broke down after the latter rejected demands of the former calling for a wage hike of five percent and a reduction of working hours a week to 37 hours.

The strike has reduced train travel throughout Germany to an average of 30%. This does not include the private railroad providers that are not affected by the strike. Yet this unprecedented strike has caused widespread anger among passengers, industry leaders and even politicians in Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel has demanded that both sides hold talks to end the strike as quickly as possible. It is already having a rippling affect on the economy, already predicted to stagnate come 2015 because of problems throughout the European Union. Analysts are predicting a loss of over 100 million Euros a day, while gas companies are predicting fuel shortages as early as Sunday as many motorists hit the roads to either celebrate in Berlin or in the case of school children  in Bremen and Lower Saxony, return home from vacation.  An injunction is being sought by Die Bahn to end the strikes, with the decision by the Labor Court in Frankfurt/Main to be made this afternoon German time.

Even if the strike ends on Monday at 2:00am, should the Court in Frankfurt rule in favor of GDL, it will eventually force Die Bahn create tougher measures to make striking more difficult to even impossible, it will most likely start a debate in Berlin on the possibility of reforming the strike laws so that they are not used excessively, as is the case with GDL. While the concept is widely known in the US, the idea of Strikebreakers- people who work despite the strikes- will most likely be considered to ensure that train service runs. In either case, with two thirds of the German population being dependent on train travel for holiday travel or commuting to work, this strike will serve as a wake-up call for all parties involved, including those working in Frankfurt and Berlin, that changes in policies regarding employee and employer relations are long overdue. Especially for even if a compromise is reached or the GDL has it their way, the Bahn may have to shed more rail lines to private rail firms, such as Abiello, Cantus, ODEG or even Metronome in order to break even financially. This is something that Die Bahn cannot afford.

Please refer to ARD and Deutsche Welle for more on the Strike. Articles on the Strike can also be found on the Files’ facebook pages.

 

In School in Germany: Talking about the Berlin Wall

November 9th 2014 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. 25 years ago on that date in 1989, after several weeks of protests, combined with the exodus of thousands of East Germans to West Germany and  changing of the guard from Erich Honecker to Egon Krenz, the announcement was made to open the gates of the Berlin Wall to allow East Germans to flee to West Berlin. At the same time, the borders separating East and West Germanys also opened for others to pass.  Tens of thousands of people who fled to the western part embraced in the western culture that was once forbidden. Many of them did not return nor decided to not talk about  life in East Germany prior to 1989.

To this day, these people still refuse to talk about it, going by the monkey mentality of “See no good of the GDR, Hear no good of the GDR and Speak no good of the GDR.” By doing so in this day and age is dangerous, for the people born in the years 1985 and up are missing out on the truth behind the Berlin Wall and the two Germanys that had existed. In the days teaching English at a university in Bavaria, no one knew about the Vita Cola, the East German version of Coca-Cola until I introduced that in one of my sessions. Very few knew about Sandman, the character that starred on East German television every night at 6:50pm, and still does to this day. Even the well acclaimed traffic lights were unknown in the eastern part and many were used to the generic traffic lights that are simply European. But by the same token, the emergence of “Ostalgia,” the mentality that East Germany was not as bad as it once was, is becoming very common thus increasing the danger glorifying the former times and degrading the western part of Germany because of  different mentalities and conflicts of interest.

During my time in the gymnasium, the topic of the Berlin Wall was brought forward to students in history, for we needed to know how good or how bad the GDR really was. The students were asked to interview their parents and grandparents to collect whatever stories they have on life in the past and compare them with their lives, in terms of childhood, culture, family and anything that would be useful for the topic. The results were surprising. The responses were short and to the point, but there were little details about the former times. If they were short, then it was the fact that the country did have some good points and that was it.  But the question is: was life in the GDR really that bad or that good to begin with?

Growing up in a large family in Minnesota, I became accustomed to storytelling, done by my grandma and her children, including my father. Many of them were detailed and enlightening and provided some morals for us to learn by. This included stories of how my grandparents survived the Great Depression and being separated because of World War II. Many of these stories I can still remember to this day. Yet the younger generations don’t seem to care much about their own history, thus putting the teachers of history, social studies and culture (including foreign languages) in a position where they have to dig up their own history and ideas to share with the students. We are facing a neglect in history, not knowing the key facts and the stories behind them, and the consequences will be fatal in 25 years time. No matter how painful or joyful, one needs a storytelling session about certain events in time from the older generations so that one understands the gravity of the events and think about them on one’s own.

And this is where we return to our subject of the Berlin Wall and how it divided Germany into two in a physical sense for 28 painful years. Nobody wanted the border but it happened. Yet life was not as bad as it seemed, as long as the Stasi did not spy on you and you faced hours of torture, examples of which can be seen in the TV series Weissensee. But nevertheless, if one wants to know more about the Wall, the divided Germany and how people came together to tear it down and bring the two countries together, one needs to find the facts. The best facts are not in the books, but through oral history.

So for all teachers talking about the Divided Germany and the Wall, challenge your students to collect facts from relatives and friends who have lived in both regions, witnessed the Wall and tried to jump it, took part in the Leipzig Demos as well as took turns with others to tear the Wall down. Interview them, ask them any questions that come across your minds- even if they are most painful. Then share them with your teachers, student colleagues and friends (here and abroad), to ensure them that the Wall was the biggest deal and despite having a decent lifestyle in both countries, it was much better with one Germany and not two. Then make sure that future generations know about it to better understand life between 1945 and 1990 and how it has shaped today’s world, in one way or another.  By doing so, we will preserve our history and better understand Germany and its role from the eyes of others.

BTW: In case you were wondering where the author was at the time of the Fall of the Wall, he was watching the coverage from home in Minnesota, writing a short summary about it for a 6th grade social studies class. Little did I realize at that time, that the Wall was one of many factors that lured me here, aside from the most obvious reason. But with the advancement of technology these days have produced recordings of the events of the Fall of the Wall. Some examples to follow soon. :-)

From the Berlin Wall to German Reunification: 9 November 1989

 

One of the former borders separating East and West Germany at Lauenstein (Bavaria). Photo taken in 2010

25 years ago, there were two Germanys- the German Democratic Republic (better known to many as East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (better known as West Germany). It was a Germany that for 44 years was the chessboard for international conflict between two heavyweights- the United States on the western side and the Soviet Union on the eastern side. It was a Germany that should have been a whole country, but wasn’t  because of the Berlin Wall (erected in 1961) and the weapons that were stationed on both sides, waiting to be used. It was the divided Germany that tore families and friendships apart. And for a long time, it was a divided Germany whose citizens were restrained from reuniting with family members and friends on the opposite end. It would have remained that way- until 9 November 1989.

This Sunday, all of Germany will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and throughout the rest of the year and well into next year, celebrations commemorating the Revolution of 1989 and German Reunification of 1990 will take place, giving residents and tourists in Germany and Europe a chance to learn more about how 1989 set the stage for the end of the Cold War, the reestablishment of one Germany and the establishment of a New World Order for international politics both in Europe and beyond.  The hottest spot for the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Fall of the Wall will take place in Berlin, and here’s why:

A row of lights have been erected along the border of what used to be the Berlin Wall, which had surrounded the western part of Berlin for 28 years until its fall in 1989. These lights (encased in balloons) will line the borders and will be released into the skies on the evening of November 9th with millions of people including prominent people on hand.  In addition, information pavillions will be available at the former key crossings, such as Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery,  Potsdamer Platz and Brandenburg Gate to provide visitors with a chance to learn about the history of the Wall. A pair of concerts will take place both at Brandenburg Gate and the Philoharmonie Hall that evening, and a permanent exhibit will be commemorated at the Bernauer Strasse former border crossing. More on the events can be found here.  

In addition, four museums in Berlin and six museums located along the former East and West German borders will be open for with exhibits commemorating the opening of the borders. This includes Checkpoint Bravo and Marienfelde in Berlin as well as museums in Mödlareuth, Point Alpha, Eichsfeld and Kühlungsborn. More information here

In Leipzig, two photo exhibits looking at the peaceful revolution of 1989 and the disarmament of the East German State Secret Police (Stasi) are taking place between now and December, The former can be found  at the Deutsches Photomuseum in Markkleeberg through 28 December (more here) while the latter will be on display until 31 December at the former Stasi Building at Dittrichring 24 in Leipzig (see here for details) Leipzig was the starting point of the Revolution of 1989, which saw its largest showing on October 9th, triggering the downfall of Erich Honecker and setting off the sequence that culminated with the fall of the Wall.

You can also find more information on other events and places of interested in connection with 1989 here: http://www.germany.info/fallofthewall

 

Between now and 3 October of next year, the Flensburg Files will look at the factors that led to east and west becoming a whole Germany. There are many reasons that made Germany is what it is today, most of which will be mentioned here. This will include some Q&A with people who contributed to the remaking Germany, as well as some items that are typical of today’s Germany in comparison with what it was before 1989. Some books and other works will be featured here.  If you have some items that are typical of Germany and would like to see posted here, let the author know at: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.  The Files also welcomes photos of the November 9th events as well as places along the former border for people to look at and/or guess at where they are located.

It has been 25 years since the Revolution, and a lot has changed over time. But the events of 9 November and the factors leading to German Reunification are events that one must never forget, regardless if one lives here in Germany or elsewhere. This leads to the  final question for the forum:

Look at the pictures below:  Where do you think it was located? Hint: Lauenstein in Bavaria is one of the villages where the border once stood. But what was the purpose of the house and the memorial in the form of a wave? You can place your answers in the comment section.

State Reforms: How Many German States Should We Have?

Priwall Beach, located west of the former East and West German border at Travemunde. Photo taken in October 2013

Since 3rd October, 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany has been in existence, featuring the states of the former West Germany and those of East Germany (or better known as the German Democratic Republic). This includes the largest state, Bavaria, which is as big as the entire state of Iowa but is also the richest of the 16 states. We also have Baden-Wurttemberg and Hesse, two of the most populous states and known as the hot spots for jobs. Then we have the former East German States of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Brandenburg, and Mecklenburg-Pommerania. And lastly, we have the city-states of Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin, the third of which is the nation’s capital. Then we have Saarland, one of the poorest states in the union and the source of the recent proposal brought forth by Minister Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Her proposal: to reduce the number of states to six to eight instead of the original 16 states. The source: The Solidarity Pact, which runs out in less than five years.

To summarize: the Solidarity Pact, signed into law in 1990, required that the rich states, namely in case, Bavaria, Hesse and Baden-Wurttemberg to provide financial support to the other German states, to ensure that the states can be provided with enough capital to survive and avoid a financial disaster, similar to what we saw with the Great Crisis six years ago in the US and the EU. Yet Hesse and Bavaria do not want to carry the burden of these states anymore and with Saarland having the highest debt of any state in Germany, it is not surprising that Kramp-Karrenbauer is proposing such measures, one that is deemed radical and absurd among conservatives, especially in Bavaria, but given the trend in the European Union with states giving up more of their autonomy for a rather transparent one, it is not a surprise. This is especially given the attempts of states to cooperate together to consolidate their resources.

Let’s look at the former East Germany, for example. Since 2004, consolidation in the private sector as well as cooperation within public sector has been under development. This includes the merger of the health care insurance provider AOK in Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, as well as cooperation and consolidation attempts among academic institutions at the universities in these three states. Furthermore, cooperation between Berlin and the state of Brandenburg in the private and public sectors have resulted in ideas and ways to integrate the capital into Brandenburg. Even a referendum was put up to a vote, which was rejected by Berliners and Brandenburgers alike.  In both examples, it is clear that because of the substantial demographic changes that have been witnessed since German Reunification in 1990, combined with poor job market possibilities that the long-term goal is to consolidate the states into one entity. That means Berlin would belong to Brandenburg and thus lose its city-state status, yet it would still be the national and state capital, a double-task that is not welcomed by many in both areas. As for the other states, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia would become Mitteldeutschland, with either Leipzig or Dresden being the capital and the other “former” state capitals becoming the seats of the districts. This concept is also not welcomed by many in these regions because of the potential to lose thousands of jobs in the consolidation process, combined with the closing of several institutions in the public sector. Attempts have already been tried with the university system in these three states, which were met with protests in the tens of thousands.

But the problems do not lie just in the Berlin-Brandenburg area, let alone the Mitteldeutschland area. The attractiveness of the states of Bavaria, Baden-Wurrtemberg and Hesse has resulted in a shift in population and businesses to these regions from areas in northern and eastern Germany, thus causing a strain in the social resources available in both areas. Northern states are battling high unemployment and social problems, whereas southern states are struggling to keep up the demand for housing.  While the Solidarity Pact has had its advantages, especially in the eastern part of Germany, where cities like Halle (Saale), Leipzig, Dresden, Erfurt and Berlin have undergone a major transformation from becoming run-down Communist cities to modern cities with historic nostalgia (reliving the days before Hitler took power and brought Germany to a blazing inferno known as World War II), there is still work to be done in terms of dealing with problems of unemployment, influx of immigration and the struggles to accommodate people, attracting jobs for all and improving education standards in school as well as in the university. The solidarity pact was a good project, but with states on both sides of the former Cold War border struggling to relieve the burden of debt and social problems, Kramp-Karrenbauer’s plan just might be that remedy Germany really needs. With less autonomy because of its interwoven policies of the European Union, there is really no need for all 16 states to function individually, receiving money from the rich states in order to survive.

This leads to the question of how to consolidate the German states. As it would be absurd to give up its city-state status, Berlin should remain an individual entity, receiving its funding from all the German states, but being ruled by the federal government- not the city government itself. It has been done in Washington, DC, as well as Monaco and Singapore. Losing its city-state status would be as preposterous as Washington becoming part of either Maryland or Virginia. James Madison and his forefathers would rise from their graves and make sure that proposal would never happen. So, as Germans would say it: “Finger weg vom Berlin!” As for Hamburg and Bremen, their financial and social woes have put a strain on their resources in general. Hence a merger with another German state would be both inevitable and beneficial.

But how to consolidate the other states is very difficult because the financial resources lie in the south and west of Germany. Henceforth it is impossible to anchor the rich states with the poor ones, with the possible exceptions of Bavaria merging with Saxony and Thuringia, Hesse merging with North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony and Baden Wurttemberg merging with Saarland and Rhineland Palatinate.  That would still leave the problem with Schleswig-Holstein, the three German city-states, and the remaining states that had once been part of East Germany because no financial beneficiaries would be found to govern the region. Therefore anchoring the rich with the poor is out of the question.  Also out of the question would be the old historic borders, where we have one large state of Saxony (instead of Upper, Lower and Anhalt Saxony), Thuringia becomes part of Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia takes over Rhineland Palatinate and Saarland, and Baden Wurrtemberg takes Hesse. Financially, the equilibrium would point clearly to the fourth region proposed here, thus putting the others at a mere disadvantage.  Ideally would be to combine geography and finances so that the equilibrium is firmly established and everyone would benefit from it. That means, instead of having 16 states, one could see three giant German states and Berlin having its own district.  While this proposal would be even more radical than that of Kramp-Karrenbauer’s, given the current situation in Germany, this alignment may be inevitable as financial and domestic problems as a result of lack of resources come to a head in 20 years at the most.

Here’s one of the proposal that should be considered:

Süddeutschland: Consisting of Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Brandenburg. Capital would have to be in the central part of the new state, such as Erfurt, Leipzig or Nuremberg. Munich would have its own city-state status.

Norddeutschland: Consisting of Hesse, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Pommerania, Hamburg and Bremen. Capital should be located in Hamburg, Hannover or Lübeck. Frankfurt would keep its financial headquarters in tact.

Westdeutschland: Consisting of Baden-Wurttemberg the states along the Rhine, including Saarland. Capital would be in Cologne. Stuttgart would be one of the district capitals along with Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, Freiburg im Breisgau, Coblence and Saarbrücken.

One can go with Kramp-Karrenbauer’s proposal of 6-8 states, but it should be noted that if two states consolidate, one should be the stronger one supporting the weaker one(s) but as long as the resources are pooled and the people will benefit from the merger. The last option would be to abolish all 16 states and have one Germany which has control over the entire country. This may be too communistic for the taste of many people, and some people may compare this to the period of the Third Reich. But with Germany being more and more part of the European Union, that option may also be brought onto the table in German Parliament.

But to sum up, the idea of having less German states is the most viable option in order for the German states to remain healthy. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s idea may sound absurd, but it may become inevitable as Germany becomes more integrated into the EU, which may be more of a blessing than a curse. The question is how to redraw the bounderies. What do you think? Should Germany be reduced in half? Perhaps in three giant states? How would you redraw the boundaries of the Bundesrepublik? Share your thoughts here as well as in the Files’ facebook pages and help Kramp-Karrenbauer push her agenda to the politicians in Berlin keeping in mind the risks and benefits the proposals may bring.

Flensburg-Bridgehunter Merchandise on Sale through Café Press

If you are looking for the best gift for your loved one and are not sure what to get them, or know someone who loves bridges, photography, landscapes or the like, or you want to surprise them with something you don’t find on the shelves of any supermarket, then perhaps you can try the Flensburg-Bridgehunter Online Shop. Powered by Café Press, this year’s items include new calendars from the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, featuring the historic truss bridges of Iowa as well as the bridges of Minnesota, which are selling like hotcakes even as this goes to the press. In addition, merchandise carrying the Chronicle’ new logo are also for sale, including wall clocks and coffee cups. Some of them feature historic bridges that are the focus of preservation efforts.  The Flensburg Files has a second installment of the Night Travel series for 2015, in addition to part I that was produced in 2012 but is available in the 2015 version. This in addition to a new set of photos and journals to keep track of your travels and thoughts. Sometimes journal entries are best with a cup of coffee with the Files’ logo on there.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the products provided by the Chronicles and the Files, click here. This will take you directly to the store. Hope you find what you are looking for and thank you for shopping.

Tribute to Friedrich Streich, creator of the Orange Mouse

Statue of the Maus (right) and the Elephant at Anger, Erfurt’s city center. Photo taken in 2011

 

In the US we had our forefathers who created Bugs Bunny and all of his friends as part of the Looney Tunes gang- namely Tex Avery, Fritz Freling and Chuck Jones, with Mel Blanc doing the voice of all the characters. We had Charles M. Schulz who penned Charlie Brown and Snoopy with various kids taking turns doing voices of the characters. And we had a husband-wife team that created, animated and voiced Woody Woodpecker (Walter and Gracie Lantz (née Stafford)).

In Germany, every Sunday morning on TV, we would be greeted by the Mouse and the Elephant with a series of short clips to go along with stories to laugh and learn- the German title is “Lach- & Sachgeschichte.” While there were no one doing voices of the Mouse, Elephant, Yellow Duck and the Pink Bunny, the animations resembled the modern version of silent films with background piano music and some sound effects. These were the works of Friedirch Streich, who for over 40 years, penned more then 330 short animations for the audience to enjoy, both kids as well as adults. Born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1934, Streich had already garnered fame as a cartoonist for the Zurcher Zeitung (Zurich) and the Süddeutsche and Abendzeitungen newspapers (in Munich), an actor and even a director before starting the cartoon series with the Mouse and Elephant in March, 1971. At the time of its debut, the orange mouse was the main attraction. Streich added his sidekick, the Blue Elephant, four years later, whom he touted as “the smallest elephant in the world,” according to German public channel, WDR. They became the dynamic duo and have been making people laugh ever since. The Yellow Duck was added in 1987 and appeared in one of the three 30-second cartoon strips per episode of “Lach- & Sachgeschichte.” The blue elephant would later have his daily kids show in the morning with the pink bunny entitled “Elephantastisch.”  Streich’s signature for every animation with the Mouse and the Elephant was finding a solution for every problem the Mouse and/or the Elephant would face, no matter how out of the ordinary it may be. There are too numerous examples worth mentioning, but this link features the top 17 clips of the tandem. Funny and silly as the scenes were, the main slogan was “When there is a will, there is a way.” Streich did it his way, which is why his legacy will be remembered.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-BGepjoNJE

On 3 October of this year, Friedrich Streich passed away peacefully at his home in Munich. He was 80 years old. His death coincided with the 24th anniversary of the German Reunification, and while it may have overshadowed some of the events that took place across the country, Streich belongs to the list of people that made the new Germany, showing visitors (including those with children) that the Mouse, the Elephant and their friends are typical of German culture. Because they are still one of the key anchors in German television, the show must go on. In the hearts of Germans and those who know and like them, there will always be the Mouse, the Elephant and their friends. Forever and all time to come. Streich will forever keep us laughing no matter where he is at.

To honor Friedrich Streich, WDR has a tribute that was produced on 12 October, featuring the making of the Mouse and the best hits. Although in German, you will have a chance to learn how the characters came to life, apart from learning the language. The link:

http://www.wdrmaus.de/maus_wall/friedrich_streich.php5

And from the Flensburg Files, we just like to say thanks for all the memories and making us laugh. Your legacy with the Mouse and Elephant will go on in the hearts of kids and adults alike.

 

 

 

At Home or Homesick? The Challenges of Living Abroad

As I was preparing an article on schooling in Germany, I happened to stumble across a question for the forum in a group consisting of American expatriates living in Germany dealing with feeling at home in Germany in comparison to living in the USA. The question was whether the expats regret living in Germany and if so, why. Within an hour of its posting, dozens of responses from members of the group came in, and the results were porous. The majority of respondents were of the opinion if there was a opportunity to return to the US, they would, in a heartbeat!

Now why would so many people want to say that about a country like Germany, which prides itself on its social security and health care network, as well as education, culture, sports, landscapes and the like?  Factors, such as difference in mentalities, difficulties making friends, xenophobia bureaucracy, job opportunities and even language barriers were mentioned, as well as missing some of the things that they were used to back home.

In the 15 years that I’ve been living in Germany, I’ve seen the good and bad sides of Germany, some of the latter that would technically scare off people wanting to live in the country, such as the lack of flexibility in the job market (my biggest pet peeve, since I’m an English teacher and blogger), the politicians trying to cut programs that are beneficial to the people, encounters with Skinheads, aggressive drivers and superficial relationships- where you are only friends with your colleagues if you have something to do with a project. But if compared to the US, some of the problems mentioned are also well known over there.

But perhaps the dissatisfaction may have to do with the decline in good relations between Berlin and Washington, which has become imminent thanks to the Spygate scandal earlier this year involving the NSA. Since the activities of the NSA were brought to light, many Americans living abroad have been put at a disadvantage thanks to additional policies by the US to put them more on a leash and Germans have even distanced themselves from the Americans abroad. This includes the latest proposal by the American tax agency IRS, which has triggered many Americans to trade in their US citizenship for one in their country of residency (click here for more details).

Despite all this, the question for the forum has gotten me to ask the forum the following:

  1. What are some things that you like about Germany that keeps you living there? The same applies to other countries abroad.
  2. What are some things you miss about the US that you can NOT get abroad?
  3. What improvements would you like to see in the place you’re living?
  4. And for those seriously thinking about moving back to the US, what factors would influence your decision about returning home?

In the 15 years living abroad, I still haven’t found anything that would convince me to return home, for there are many things that are keeping me here. Interestingly enough, more people I know are even thinking about moving abroad because Germany has more to offer than what they have at home. To give you a classic example, in a southern Minnesota town with 3,500 inhabitants, I am one of four people who are living here in Germany, two of them happen to be in the same graduating class as I am! After being the only one from the community living in Germany for 15 years, I received company from the other three, who moved to Germany with their families this year. Despite this,  we all have our reasons for living here.  Yet we have collected our share of experiences both good and bad. Many of them I’ve mentioned here in the Files. More will come in the Files as many themes will come to light that will be talked about.

But seriously, what keeps you here in Germany (or abroad) and what would you like to see changed? Put your thoughts and discussion either in the Comment section or in the Files’ facebook page and let’s get a discussion going on this theme, shall we? After all, many of us have enough experience to share, much of which will appear in the Files soon.

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