Will Speed for Free Food!

hi score

Photo courtesy of the Clearwater (Kansas) Police Department

FF new logo

If you enjoy speeding and disregarding signs, let alone give the police and the Kraftfahrtbundesamt (Driver’s Office) in Flensburg (Germany) a headache, then this article is for you. Regardless of whether you are in Germany or the US, people love to speed and will stop at nothing to ensure that they are at least 20 km/h over the limit. In Germany, we have the blitzer machines, where drivers and their car license plates are photographed, and after a brief process of determining how many Flensburg Points  one receives and how much money one has to pay, the driver gets the check in the mail. Many people have found creative ways of manipulating these blitzer machines, like this one below:


Well, not quite. :-) But people destesting these machines have done a fabulous job manipulating them, which includes putting recycling cans over them:


In the US, we do not have such devices- although having them would solve all our infrastructural woes and fix our deficit in an instant- but we do have radar devices, which tracks the speed of drivers especially when going through communities, and this story shows that even some drivers love to pull a good joke. In Clearwater, Kansas, located 10 miles southwest of Wichita, police officials, in particular Chief Garcia, received a laugh of the century, as one of the drivers placed a makeshift sign next to the radar device, challenging the drivers to speed as fast as possible in order to win a prize, as shown in the picture at the beginning! :-) The police is looking for someone who gave the chief the biggest laugh in his career so that the driver can be “rewarded” with a free meal.

Can you imagine someone seeing this in Germany? Or Europe?

It is known that Germans have a dry sense of humor with most of them taking this as way too seriously- pending on which part of Germany you’re living in. However, aside the humor behind this picture that even some of the people at the Flensburg office would take when seeing this, the true purpose behind this radar device is the same as the German blitzer: to save lives and keep the roads safe for others to use.  Therefore, even though some of us may take this as a dose of laughter to start off the day on the road, even in Germany, the word to the wise is “Don’t, unless you want to set a new record for the highest number of Flensburg points you receive when getting caught!”

In other words, enjoy the laugh but drive carefully. ;-)

For those wanting to know about Germany’s Flensburg Point system, the author wrote about this theme a few years ago as it was undergoing some reforms. More on that here.


Here’s a question for those who love driving:

What were some other acts drivers have done in order to get away with breaking the rules of the road, regardless of whether it was in the US, Germany or Europe? We love to hear them. Put your stories here in the comment section, or in the Flensburg Files’ facebook page, which you can access here


Special thanks to the Clearwater Police Department of Clearwater, Kansas for allowing use of this photo. It did provide a good laugh over here and when others read this, they will have a great start while on the road travelling to work. ;-)

Blue Elephant Turns 40!

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

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

FF new logoBlue happens to be my favorite color. It reminds me of a lake in Iowa, where I went swimming as a kid. It reminds me of the blue skies and how it was decorated with cotton candy cloud, while I was dreaming of the future. It reminds me of a blue elephant that is making kids laugh.

A blue elephant?

Yes, in German TV, we do have a blue elephant, and yes, he has his own TV show. And believe it or not, the Blue Elephant is going to be 40!

On this day on 23 January, 1975, the Blue Elephant made his first appearance as a sidekick to the orange mouse in the German cartoon series, Die Sendung mit der Maus. (EN: The Show with the Mouse). After three years, the creators of the show- Gert Munterfering,  Monika Paetow and Armin Maiwald, who turned 75 a month ago- decided that one was a very lonely number, and the Mouse needed some company to keep him and the audience entertained. Therefore, the Blue Elephant came into the limelight and did just that. He gave the mouse some laughs, some tricks with his trunk, but most importantly, a friendship which has lasted up until today.  Add the duck and the pink bunny (the latter as part of his own debut of Die Sendung mit dem Elephant in 2007), and it is safe to say that the crowd has been the core that has made the show, produced by German TV station WDR and can be watched by children and adults alike every Sunday, one of the top five shows that should be watched at least once when visiting and/or living in Germany (soccer, Tatort/mystery series, Löwenzahn and travel documentaries are the other four).

It is very difficult to pick the creme de la creme of the short clips featuring the blue elephant and his friends (including the mouse), but the Files have compiled a gallery which you can click to watch and you can decide for yourself which one is the best. Highlights of the elephant’s 40th birthday can be found via link here.





For not only providing the Mouse with back-up and entertainment and for making us laugh and getting us going on a rather quiet and lazy Sunday morning, the Files would like to thank the Blue Elephant for 40 years of the best. Happy Birthday and may you provide us with 40 more years of the best. You and the mouse are the reason why we devote 30 minutes of our time every Sunday in the blue sky watching you on TV.

And for yours truly, being a non-German American expat, another reason to appreciate the color of blue. :-)

38: The Magic Number

Food for thought:

For this article I would like to start off with a small quote dealing with this magic number:

Each of us go through phases in life,

Each of us has to change,

Each of us develops physically,

Each of us has to do that mentally,

Each of us has challenges in life to be overcome,

 Each of us finds a way to achieve that no matter the cost, and finally,

Each of us knows when to say when,

Each of us knows when a change is going to come, and with that,

Each of us knows that it is up to us or them to make that change.


We have many milestones in our lives which we have to adapt to before it is done for us. We become teens at 13, start drinking at 14 (or if you’re an American, 21), start dating at 18, become adults at 21, have a career before 25, have a family before 35 and retire at the age of 65.  Many people claim that there are magic numbers of 39 or 50, where many of us drop dead early, a concept I do not believe at all, for how long we live depends on how we maintain our physical and psychological being.

But what about the magic number of 38? What’s so important about this age?

Just hitting that milestone a couple weeks ago, I had a chance to take a look at that particular age, for the age of 38 represents the crossroads, the point where the last phases of changes in a person’s appearance and character are undertaken, the point where one needs to examine himself and decide once and for all if he is who he wants to be or if a change of environment is warranted. It is the age where one should have everything in place and be happy with them- a healthy family, an enjoyable job and/or career, an excellent network of friends (not just facebook friends but those whom you meet in person frequently) and lastly, some hobbies that you enjoy.  It is that age where one looks back once and for all to see what is missing but also looks forward to see how these missing pieces of the puzzle can be put into place. In other words, it is make or break- you make the changes before it is done for you- and most likely not to your best advantage.

Having a conversation with my father on the phone most recently I mentioned about this awkward age and some of the symptoms mentioned here- in my case, the need to do something different in life instead of the same old, same old. His advice on this matter is that “….no matter where you go and what to do in life, remember what you have done in the past and how it shaped your life.” Perhaps I should annex that comment and say “….and the lives of others too,” because one’s actions set off a chain reaction that affects others in one way or another.  Facing some difficult decisions at that particular age, sometimes it does not hurt to have a look at the past to see what has been achieved but also what can be done from that point on before taking that step forward.  It does not necessarily refer to career changes or something like that. It can also have to do with correcting mistakes of the past, rebuilding ties with people whom you lost contact with for many years, or if one is not happy in a relationship, one can make some changes for the good. In either case, 38 is the best time to make these changes before the big 4-0 hits and with that, the mid-life crisis. I think of it as the last opportunity to start anew.

So if you are like me- 38 and not sure how to proceed from there, try this trick:  Make two lists- one consisting of accomplishments made up until now, both professionally and personally, and one consisting of a wish list- and compare. If your wish list is longer than your accomplishments, ask yourself why and decide the best course of action to make the changes necessary to your advantage. After all, what you do will be beneficial to yourself and to others as well. And even if it is the other way around, if there are a couple items you wish to do so badly, ask yourself why and decide if and how to fulfill it.  Once you have your plan in place, you will be able to enter the 40s with a positive aspect and not facing a crisis that could have been avoidable.

Looking at my mental lists, I found that there are still some unfinished business to take care, some of which I have already done, but more are left to do. It is a start and once a decision is made, there is no turning back. Sometimes a new setting and a new path goes a long way, especially when hitting 38. My philosophy goes a bit further than that. Life is like facing an interchange facing three different freeways: The best highway to take is the one unmarked- the one that will make history with your name on it.

My two cents on this topic.

In School in Germany: No Tailored Exams, Please!

Empty study corner at one of the German Hochschulen. Could tailored exams have something to do with that?

If there is a word of advice I could give to the teachers on the school and university level, speaking from my own experience as an English teacher, I would give them this one: Exams are no free tickets to success. Students have to pay for their ticket in order to pass. Exams are designed by the teacher with the goal of not only testing the students’ knowledge on a topic, but also to determine which areas the students need to improve on. From my standpoint, an exam is used to challenge the students- to get them to think outside the box and use the acquired knowledge in other ways and in their own words.

Sadly, looking at the exams today from a teacher’s point of view, as well as that of the students’, I see their value sliding down the mountain in a violent avalanche. And here’s a question and story to share with you as the reader:


First the question (and it is ok to post in the comment section and remain anonymous):

What was the weirdest exam you have ever taken in school or college? How was it structured? What about the content- was it relevant to what you learned? How were the questions formulated and how difficult were they?


While there were a couple instances where I formulated an exam where some sections were difficult to a point where I in the end had to throw the sections out and give the students some extra points (for the former students I taught English at the University of Bayreuth, you should have an idea what I’m referring to), as a student pursuing a teaching degree, I encountered an exam that was so bizarre, that even as a teacher would lose face if this was given in a lecture. This was known as the Tailored Exam.


The object of the tailored exam: a week before the exam, students get to choose a selected amount of questions to be inserted into the exam. These exam questions are based on the questions provided during the semester, sometimes in the PowerPoint presentations.  As soon as the questions are chosen, the students choose the point value for each question. This type of exam resembles ordering a meal deal at a fast food restaurant where you choose the burger as well as the size of French fries and soft drink you want.  And while this tailored exam does help the students narrow down the content needed to be studied before the exam (because the questions are already given, directing the students to the topics where they need to concentrate on), there are several drawbacks to this type of exam.


First of all, students have the tendency to select the easiest questions and reformulate them to their liking, thus leaving out the most relevant information needed for their studies, let alone their careers. This is similar to an exam for students of medicine, where a question on the different blood types outweighs the procedure to remove an inflamed appendix. Both are important, but if you don’t know how to conduct an appendectomy the proper way…… Taking the easiest way out through easy questions is delaying the inevitable, which is the real-time praxis. And if a person cannot handle the problems facing them in their profession, this shortcut will come back to haunt them.

Secondly, tailoring the exams to their needs will allow for a debate among the students as to which questions should be in and which ones are to be omitted- an argument that is a waste of time, especially if they need the time possible to prepare for the exam. And as for the teacher’s credibility….

Last but not least, while the teacher may find it easy to correct the exams, his/her credibility would vanish like water vaporizing from a pot at 200° Celsius, for students would dictate how the exam should be structured, and by allowing them to do this with the teacher’s consent, the authority to control the students’ wishes would be gone. And no matter how a teacher redeems him/herself (by adding trick questions or reformulating them to make them difficult for students to answer), his/her reputation would be lost for good. As a chain reaction, word about the tailored exam would spread, and the population of the student body would be divided up into those going to the teacher for an easy grade and those complaining about the fairness of the exam provided by the teacher and the institute he/she is employed at.  Not a way to end a working relationship between the university and the teacher should he/she decide to move on to another academic institution after two years or even retire.

In the 14+ years I have been teaching English, including seven at three different universities, I have found that the best way to win the hearts and minds of the students is to challenge their thinking but also be honest and fair to them. After all, as I have witnessed, students will best remember you for these characteristics in addition to your humor and creative ways to get them to listen. In the case of one of the universities I taught, I accumulated a vast number of student veterans- those visiting my classes semester after semester- as a result of this quality of teaching.  By having the students make the exam for the teacher, that teacher is diluting this quality of teaching that is badly needed in today’s schools and academic institutions. The end result is the teacher losing all the respect from the students and a career becoming short-lived.

There are many other variants of exams to give to the students, such as multiple choice, fill-in the blanks, short answer questions, essays and even the hybrid forms- the last of which I prefer. These plus a list of subjects students should expect to see in the exams will encourage them to go through the materials thoroughly and know the essentials. But tailored exams- the ones made (or should I say dictated by the students) is a no-go, unless you are a teacher wanting a quick exit from your career. But even then, there are other ways of getting out of it that are more honorable. It is also more honorable to challenge the brains of your students and get them to learn the most important things for their future careers.

So from the heart of this teacher to the hearts and creative minds of other teachers out there: No tailored exams, please! You will do yourself and your students a big favor and give education a better reputation.


Thank you and best of luck formulating your next exam, keeping this in mind.

Mr. Smith


Note: If you have some stories of exams that you wrote that were unorthodox but are considered useful for other teachers to use, or if you have some tips on how to create an exam that both the students as well as the teacher can benefit from, put your suggestions here in the comment section or send them to Jason Smith at the Files at: Flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. These ideas will be forwarded on in a different article as the Files continues to look at education in Germany vs. the US, based on the author’s experience as well as other factors influencing the educational landscape.  Thanks and looking forward to your ideas and thoughts. 

2014 Christmas Market Tour Nr. 2: Amana Colonies, Iowa

Old Mill Race, located across from the Mill Race Brewery in Middle Amana, Photos taken in December, 2014

After a long and relaxing three weeks of Christmas vacation, followed by a rude greeting of the flu upon arrival back in Germany and finally, finishing some work regarding sorting out thousands of photos taken and finishing some business with the Ammann Awards for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, we will return to the Christmas market tour for 2014. As mentioned in the tour of Jena, the Files was going a different route with regards to the Christmas market tour, tying together travel with regional culture and family. Our tour continues on to the United States and the Christmas markets that not only exist, but have increased in numbers in the past three years. While Christmas markets have established their foundations in cities, like Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and New York, other cities, like Austin (Texas), Philadelphia and even Minneapolis have recently introduced their version of the Christmas (or even holiday) market, catching on with the German trend. Even some of the smaller towns, like Kiel, Wisconsin  and villages in Indiana have looked up to Germany and its five-plus centuries of tradition which has presented a holiday appeal.

But it is not necessary to copy the plans of a Christmas market by having the huts clustered in a market square and each one offering candies and crafts that can be found in Europe. Some of the Christmas markets seen so far on tour offer commercialized items and little local goods, thus making them not so appealing for the tourist but more of a gathering place to eat and drink mulled wine (Glühwein). As in the case of our next candidate, the Amana Colonies in eastern Iowa, one can mix Christmas with their own customs and traditions, and the community can stand out among the rest at Christmas time. For the Colonies, the Christmas tradition is spread out among not only one, but seven communities.

Consisting of High Amana, Middle Amana, Homestead, Lower Amana, South Amana, East Amana and Main Amana, the villages were established in 1854 by the German Pietists, a local Lutheran group group formed 300 years ago in the German state of Hesse that stressed the importance of religious freedom and creativity. Persecuted in their homeland, the  settlers of the Community of True Inspiration, as it was first coined, immigrated to the United States, where they first settled in West Seneca (near Buffalo) before resettling in the rich fertile lands along the Iowa River, 25 miles (45 km) west of presnet day Iowa City. There, they lived a communal life for over 80 years, where self-sufficiency and isolation on the one hand and religious freedom to practice their own beliefs on the other hand were practiced. The communal cluster discontinued its function in 1934, in response to the Great Depression, and created a for-profit organization named Amana Society. The Amana Corproation was established at the same time, which created electrical appliances, including refrigerators and air conditioners. That company, located in Middle Amana, is now owned by Whirlpool.

When visiting Amana Colonies, one can see traces of self-sufficiency at its best, as many local eateries and beverage companies have their own products people can try year round. The majority of them can be found in Main Amana, like the Ackermann Winery, which produces one of the best wines in the state of Iowa (such as the dandelion-flavored- highly recommended), and the Mill Stream Brewery, which produces one of the best micro-brews in Iowa (such as the chocolate-flavored, dark ale, and the pilsner). Many shops offer homegrown fudge bars and coffee with different flavors one will not see even here in Germany. The Ronneburg Restaurant offers the best German entrées for visitors to try in an environment similar to a typical Gastätte in western Germany. There is also the Amana Woolen Mill, where after 160 years,  clothing is still being produced even today, using homegrown wool. Then there are many arts and crafts shops, each one having their own theme. Highly recommended is the  Good Quilt, where handmade quilts and lawn ornaments made of steel can be seen even in the front yard.

While many towns in the US have their holiday events centered on Christmas lights and concerts, the Amana Colonies focuses their holiday tradition on their cultural heritage. After all, self-sufficiency sometimes has its rewards when after many generations, the people still continue produce local hand-made goods and practice some of their holiday traditions brought over from Germany. The main holiday event takes place during the time of St. Nicholas Day (the first weekend of December), named Prelude to Christmas. There, thousands of visitors have an opportunity to see the displays of goods locally produced, while at the same time, meet new people while embracing the events, such as the Amana Cookie Walk, caroling throughout the area, storytelling and singing at the Heritage Museum, watching a theatrical or madrigal at the Old Creamery Theater, and lastly, meeting Santa and his reindeer (yes- live reindeer).  A video on the event below shows you an overview of the event:

But apart from finding the best local goods, as we did during our stay, or even seeing the villages lit up at night during the holidays, it would be a sin if one does NOT visit the Tannenbaum Forest. Located at the Festhalle Barn next to the Visitor’s Information Center in Amana, the Tannenbaum Forest showcases a wide display of Christmas trees, each one donated by a private business or organization in the Colonies and each one displays a different theme. Expect to spend at half hour to an hour in awe, looking at trees with themes, such as the pink flamingo, or from the films, like Frozen and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (the latter celebrated its 50th anniversary this Christmas), as well as ones traditional of their heritage both here as well as in Germany. Beware that you see everything inside, even the Christmas Pyramid, a German household for Christmas where lit candles allows for the blades of a fan to move and figures to move around like a merry-go-round. You’ll find this as you are finished looking at the display of trees and make your exit for the nearest cafe for fudge-flavored coffee or apple cider. :-)  The Tannenbaum Forest lasts from Thanksgiving until shortly before Christmas. If one misses the Prelude to Christmas, one should see this main showcase for Christmas as you stay for a few days to embrace the culture the Colonies have to offer.

Overall, in comparison to the Christmas markets seen so far, the Amana Colonies remains to this day as the jewel to be discovered. While many cities and villages showcase their display of lights and holiday events attracting thousands of locals and other communities have their set of Christmas tents in the market square to attract many people, the Christmas venture (as I call it because it is not really a market in German standards), with its row of small shops selling local goods and its main attraction with the Tannenbaum Forest, attracts a fair share of tourists, both during the Prelude festival as well as during the holiday season, but it is for the most part, rather quiet and peaceful, with streets lined with wooden and brick houses dating back to the 1800s all decorated with Christmas lights and other decorations typical of Christmas time for them. It allows for people to visit the places without having to fight through the crowds or trample on items belonging to the shops, as seen at many Christmas markets. When walking along the streets at night, you do not have to worry about people picking fights or stalking, which makes seeing the houses on display a more enjoyable experience. The Amana Colonies, especially at Christmas time, presents a warm feeling of home and family, where you can chat with locals over coffee and fudge bars and have a great time. The Colonies seem to be one of those places resembling the black home- you visit the place once, you are bound to do it again, many times until you finally decide to move there. This was the feeling we had during our visit. If it is like that for you, when visiting the Amana Colonies (or any community you visit), then look at it and take advantage of it.  If anything, if it does not work, visiting Amana Colonies, especially before Christmas, will provide you with a prelude to the holiday season where the feeling of home will stick with you- right up until you can share the experience with your family. This was our experience, at least.


Fast Facts: The Amana Colonies celebrated the Year of the Four this past year. The religious movement that later resulted in the establishment of the Colonies was formed 300 years ago by Eberhard L. Gruber and Johann F. Rock. Middle Amana was built 160 years ago. Amana Corporation was formed 80 years ago, as with the Amana Society as a for-profit organization. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Colonies’ enlistment on the National Register of Historic Places.


To learn more about the history of the Amana Colonies, click here for details. Information on other events at the Colonies can be found on their main website, which you can click here for more details. There, you can find out the best deals for lodging and food. Have enough cash with you as it can be expensive.

The author has a collection of photos of Christmas at the Amana Colonies, which can be found on the Flensburg Files’ facebook page. Type it in or click here for more photos.

Our next stop on the tour takes us to a pair of Dutch clusters in Iowa. One of them has a very well-esteemed reputation, while the other has ghosts. In either case, lat’s have a look at them, shall we? :-)


Odds and Ends for Christmas

With two weeks left before Christmas, many of us are scrambling to find the right gift for the right person, let alone find the right time and the right place to celebrate the holidays, let alone find the right time to do the right things at the right place. Most of us are trying to make things right for the holiday season so that the mood is right for everyone.  But if you are in a rut regarding finding the right gift or the right activity for people to do, or planning on finding the right place to meet for Glühwein and all, the Flensburg Files and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles are here to help.

Online Store:  Check out the latest items including those for Christmas at the Flensburg-Bridgehunter Online Shop. They include the newest calendars coming out for 2015, such as Night Travels and the Bridges of Minnesota and Iowa, which are selling like hotcakes even as the article goes to the press. All of which are courtesy of Cafe Press. Ask them about any holiday deals that are going on before Christmas, as well as shipping options available. You can click here to go to the shop: http://www.cafepress.com/flensburgbridgehunteronlineshop

2014 Ammann Awards: For the fifth year in a row, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles are hosting the Othmar H. Ammann Awards, given to bridges deserving recognition in four categories, as well as people deserving recognition for preserving historic bridges and providing the best photography. The voting process started a week ago and unlike in the past, a polling system was introduced where after reading up on the candidate and looking at the photo, you can click onto the link to Poll Daddy, choose the nominated candidate in each of the categories and and send. You can also view the results if you wish.  A link to the Ammann Awards Voting Process is below. You have until January 6th to vote with the winners to be announced on the 7th.

Link: http://thebridgehunter.areavoices.com/2014/12/04/2014-ammann-awards-voting-now-underway/

And lastly, the Files is on tour of the Christmas markets for the fifth year in a row. As you can see from the first stop on the tour, there will be some different themes for this year’s market tour, some of which will be posted in the coming days and weeks. If you are still looking for a place to visit with your family and friends, a link to the places visited on the tour as well as a guide of the markets in Germany and Switzerland are enclosed below. Note that most of the markets will close after December 23rd, with a handful of them remaining open through the New Year.

Flensburg Files Christmas Tour:   http://flensburgerfiles.areavoices.com/tourism-guide/

German Christmas Market Guide:  http://www.germany-christmas-market.org.uk/

These are some of the things you can do to make your Christmas the best holiday season for you and your family. And even if it is impossible to do these things this year- in particular, visiting the Christmas market, it will give you some ideas for next year as well.

And for that, I’m closing with a quote that has a true meaning of Christmas in itself: Sometimes you don’t need the perfect present, Sometimes you don’t need the perfect place, Sometimes you don’t need the perfect food, Sometimes you don’t need the perfect music, Sometimes you don’t need the perfect Christmas tree and sometimes you don’t need the perfect weather to celebrate a perfect Christmas. You just need the people that love you and make you the perfect man you are to celebrate your perfect Christmas.

The Files and Chronicles would like to wish you safe travels and a wonderful holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy 2015 and stay tuned- more articles to come. :-D


Christmas Market Tour 2014: Jena (Thuringia)- Redux

Photos taken in December 2014

Four years ago, when the Files was in its infancy, the author did a small segment on the Christmas market in Jena, in eastern Thuringia. Since the time it was written (which you can click here for details and photos) and the present, things have changed to a point where a re-write is justified. Here’s why:


What constitutes a good Christmas market from your perspective? Or if you want to be specific, what elements should be in a Christmas market in order to make it a really attractive one? On my fifth year of writing reviews of the Christmas markets in Germany, I’ve created my own set of requirements in order for a Christmas market to be attractive. From my point of view, a Christmas market:

  1. Should have a background that is appealing to the tourists, whether it is a church or two, like the Christmas market in Halle (Saale), or the historic truss houses like the market in Quedlinburg
  2. Should have local specialties that you cannot find at any other Christmas market, like the Pulschnitzer Gingerbread Cookies at the market in Dresden or the Domino Steine at the market in Erfurt,
  3. Should have some tours showing people the history of the town and its Christmas market, as seen in Rothenburg ob der Tauber,
  4. Should be spread out with sections representing different themes, as seen with Dresden (once again)
  5. And should not be too commercial and crowded, as seen with the markets in Nuremberg and Magdeburg.

Jena has been one of the regular stops on the Christmas market tour because of its layout and small town atmosphere that people can see. Yet the reason for this stop and tour is because of this question: Is Jena the Christmas market to visit, sticking out in front of the aforementioned Christmas markets in Germany, PLUS the ones in Birmingham (the UK), Paris and Zurich?  According to Buzz Feed, a tourism website that promotes places of interest, it is. However, if it really is the hot spot of 2014, on what grounds is it attractive? I decided to check it out.

Historic Jena City Hall at Am Markt

Jena has changed a great deal in the last four years, for the Christmas market has grown in size and color. Plus the people have put plenty of effort into this year’s market, in the face of proposed changed by the Jena City Council, which was put down unanimously earlier this year. More on that later.

Jena’s Christmas market has four different places that are worth visiting, especially if you have children.  The main attraction can be found at the market square, Am Markt. There, one can try the local specialties, ranging from Thuringian bratwurst to sautéed mushrooms, as well as Heisser Met, Snowflake, Egg nog and organic mulled wine (Glühwein). You can purchase some ceramic ware from the local dealers, LED glass lamps, and paper stars in various colors. If you want entertainment, there is the grandstand where local musicians and dancers can entertain the audience throughout the day and weekend, while enjoying the backdrop of well-restored historic houses. The last of the historic houses was restored last year as part of the project to reconstruct the Sonnenhof complex, located north of the tram stop Löbdegraben. There, a constellation of modern black and white buildings and the restoration of the Medieval building facing Am Markt not only provides people with a sensational view of the city center in general, but also direct access from the tram stop to the market square through a wide corridor filled with local businesses. One should also not forget the brass musical group playing traditional Christmas songs at 5:00pm every evening during the time of the Christmas market. Like the cuckoo clock, these people come out of the windows of City Hall and the adjacent City Museum with their brass instruments to impress the audience with some Jingle Bells. If you want to be in a Christmas mood but have to worry about the crowds at the grandstand, then this is the place and time to do that, for 20 minutes of brass always makes a person feel rather Christmassy. It is also in the same City Hall, where children have an opportunity to do some artwork, visit Santa Claus or even enjoy some Christmas entertainment in the reception hall. This year is the first time that the weekend events are taking place there, for the city government and mayor’s office relocated to new, modern complexes at Am Anger, located northeast of the market square, thus leaving the historic 13th century City Hall, one of the oldest in Germany, open for other venues.

If one is interested in amusement, head 100 meters up the street to Eichplatz, with the tallest building in the city, the Intershop Tower (now known as Jentower), as its backdrop. There, one will have an opportunity to try out the rides and the 15 varieties of Glühwein, while challenging others in bumper car racing and other activities. Eichplatz itself has a unique history that is tied to the tower. During the era of Erich Honnecker, the Intershop tower was constructed at this location in the 1970s. Originally in the planning were twin towers with a skyway connecting them that would resemble binoculars because of the city’s traditional optical industry, lack of money and resources, combined with the revolution 25 years ago that led to German Reunification, resulted in the city having only one tower. For many years, the Friedrich Schiller University had classes and other facilities in that building before dispersing to various locations in the early 1990s, leaving the building vacant. Yet the tower and facilities were remodeled in 2003 and now, a shopping area and several offices now occupy the facility, while the tower has an observation platform, which provides a panoramic view of the city and its hilly landscape.

The open space, where the second tower was supposed to be built, has a double role as a parking area and place where markets would take place. Yet that area came under threat with a proposal to build housing and other “green” sites, thus having the parking area be placed underground. Despite the year-long campaign, which featured prominent figures backing the proposal, almost 70% of the population of Jena voted against it this past May, making it clear that the parking lot and green facilities are fine. This mainly had to do with Jena’s problem of freely spending money on facilities that are not needed, such as the already approved modernization of the sports complex and soccer stadium, and not paying attention to the needs of the community, such as a new high school, two new elementary schools, a renovated swimming pool and an improved infrastructure to make the city more accessible. In either case, the plan was scrapped and there has been no talk on reusing Eichplatz since then- a clear and positive signal that the amusement section of the market will remain for many years to come. Judging by the observation at Eichplatz, many people roaming around the area in a holly mood is a clear sign that they like their space instead of having many houses there, eventually forcing the venue to be relocated to the Inselplatz parking area near the university- 500 meters from the market square!

Closer to Ernst Abbe Platz is the newest of the Christmas market- the medieval market at Johannestor (St. John’s Gate). Established in 2012, the market features food, goods and entertainment pertaining to the medieval period, using the remains of the western wall between Johannestor and Pulverturm as its backdrop. That section was restored in 2010 and now houses a museum. Originally, Jena was a walled city, first mentioned in the 11th century. Yet all but four sections were destroyed in World War II. The remains were either rebuilt or restored, including this section. The market is quite small in comparison to the one at Am Markt, yet it provides people with a reenactment of what the medieval times looked like. One can see the entire market from the wall to see how impressive it is. Yet because of its growth in popularity, it is most likely that that market will expand to include the corridor between Johannestor and Abbe Platz in the near future. But for now, one should enjoy the entertainment in that small pocket of history as it is.

Shopping possibilities are big here in Jena. The Goethe Gallery shopping center at Abbe Platz is the main attraction for food and presents. While there are a few Christmas huts on the ground floor and the area is most crowded, the shopping area is covered with various colors of gold and silver, thus making it a very attractive spot. New this year is the Christmas Calendar, were people can participate and open the calendar to see what he/she gets. This usually happens in the evening when people are done with work. Entertainment in the form of concerts and comedy can be found in the basement section next to the supermarket Tegut.

Keeping the overview in mind, we come back to the question imposed earlier on whether Jena deserves the number one spot, let alone even be listed in the international ratings. The city has improved its image a great deal in the past four years with new faces on the scene and a more colorful and diverse Christmas market, as mentioned here. The Christmas market attracts many people from many countries, in addition to the city’s locals and the German tourists. Yet as some people pointed out, there are other Christmas markets that are more attractive than that of Jena’s, including the ones mentioned previously, as well as those in Leipzig, Erfurt, Hamburg, and along the Rhine corridor between Frankfurt and Cologne.  Even though it is unclear how the Christmas markets are rated according to Buzz Feed, it is imaginable that on a small to medium size scale Jena would be in the top five for sure. Granted that a lot of improvements have been made over the years, putting Jena at the top is a bit too far given the competition and some shortcomings the city still has to deal with- among them, space, parking and selection.  But it is agreeable that the city is worth mentioning in the guide. And even more so, if one wants a small town market instead of dealing with overcrowding at the Christmas market in big cities, then one should try the Christmas market in Jena. Everything is close and it is diverse, no matter where you go. And it is open to everyone young and old, as well as those who have never seen a Christmas market in Germany before.

Closing this first stop on the Christmas market tour for 2014 by revisiting Jena, here are a couple questions to ask you:

  1. What is typical of a German Christmas market in your terms? What would you like to see in a Christmas market?
  2. Do you think Jena deserves the top spot? If not, which Christmas market should take the top spot and why?
  3. And lastly, what are Heisser Met and Snow Flake (Schneeflocken)? They’re both hot alcoholic beverages but what are made of?

Please place your comments either here in the comment section below or in the Files’ facebook page. Looking forward to your comments.

A gallery of photos of Jena’s Christmas market can be found in the Flensburg Files’ facebook, which you can access here.

The Flensburg Files will be doing its 2014 Christmas market tour a bit differently this year. How will this be carried out and why will be explained in future articles. In either case, like the Files on facebook and follow on twitter to receive some information on this year’s Christmas market tour.

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:



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.





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