Parting Ways With Garrison Keillor

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Sinclair Lewis’ Place of Birth in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. Photo taken in 2009

When I was a child spending time with my grandmother in a rural Minnesota community, I would spend my time in her basement, building and enacting a small community called Warnerville. Fictitiously located between San Bernardino and Los Angeles, the town of 22,000 inhabitants was an oasis surrounded by mountains and desert, located next to a lake and priding itself on professional sports. While everything was built together and up, using old boxes, metal rods and wooden boards, I brought it to life with a weekly newspaper, depicting scenes one would find in Minnesota, not California. That means, the model town was a deadman’s town, similar to my recent visit to the German town of Glauchau, in western Saxony, but its stories were typical of the ones that could be found in a local Minnesota newspaper, such as pen and plow-style gossip, crops and weather, local racing on the streets of downtown and a creative mentality that makes a traditionalist share the laughing and crying pillows!  🙂 While my grandma made sure her entire basement was not an urban sprawl (my town took up half her basement floor) and my dad dreamt up concoctions of the town being destroyed by natural disasters and toxic waste spills, my idea of the town and its stories came from my aunt, whose third husband was an art teacher at a small city college in Minnesota (specifically, Marshall), and up until their divorce in 1996, were passionate about listening to public radio, and in particular- A Prairie Home Companion. 🙂

Before diving into this topic, here’s a question for the readers out there, including those residing outside the US:  Have any of you heard of A Prairie Home Companion?

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A Prairie Home Companion was started as a morning show in 1974, being broadcast live from a theater at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was later relocated to the Fitzgerald Theater in 1978, where it has been its home ever since. The show’s structure originally followed that of several shows in Germany, in particular, the NDR Comedy Club (now known as Comedy Contest): live performance with acting and music combined with a little taste of home. While NDR’s show originates from the north of Germany, A Prairie Home Companion has a taste of Minnesota, with the likes of Guy Noir- Private Eye, The Lives of the Cowboys, News from Lake Wobegon, and all kinds of performances, capped off by the piece “Tishomingo Blues“, composed by Spencer Williams but the lyrics were added by the creator of the show himself, Garrison Keillor.

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If there is a general rule for Americans, especially Minnesotans residing overseas or in Canada, you never know what American culture really is unless you listen to two hours of Garrison Keillor’s show and Lake Wobegon stories every weekend. Since being connected to internet at our home in Germany in 2009, my wife, daughter and I have been listening to a Prairie Home Companion on Sundays in the evenings at supper time, listening to fiddlers on the roof, people with Minnesota accents talk philosophy in the corn fields, celebrities impressing the audience with their solo performances, and Keillor advertising fictitious products, such as Powdermilk Biscuits, Guy’s Shoes and the Barn Machè Beauty Salon, all in beautiful Lake Wobegon.  If one is wondering, Lake Wobegon is a fictitious town on a lake in central Minnesota between Sauk Centre and St. Cloud in Stearns County, even though Keillor in his show names it Mist County. A story behind the creation of Lake Wobegon can be found here. The show in general shows American culture, especially in the Midwest, that has been rarely shown in the classroom but should. The theatricals are scripted on one hand, but looks so real to the audience that after watching a live performance, the people become attached to American life from the eyes of the creator. All scenes are lively and the performers are really relaxed and into the scenes, sometimes intermingling with the audience. It is a combination of theater and madrigals into one, with some special guests making the show even more enjoyable to watch. Sometimes, the show gives the expats a sense of home that they miss but also have in their home country.

To give you an idea of what you are missing, here are some examples:

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Despite all this, 2 July, 2016 will be remembered as the day people leave Lake Wobegon forever. Its creator Garrison Keillor is retiring from the show after 42 years. Born and raised in Anoka, Minnesota in 1942, Keillor is both a writer and a broadcaster, having graduated with a Bachelor’s in English at the University of Minnesota and starting his broadcasting during his time as a student for a campus radio station, known today as Radio K. After graduating from college, he started his career at Minnesota Educational Radio (now known as Minnesota Public Radio- MPR) in 1969, where he hosted a few programs, including the forerunner to the popular show, A Prairie Home Entertainment, which featured music that veered away from the classical music MPR had played  before. The show was later changed to A Prairie Home Companion in 1971 and it remained a radio show until it was launched as a show with live musicians three years later. Keillor was the host….

…..and the rest was history.

Minus a two-year hiatus, Keillor was a host for 40 years, and omitting the four years in New York City, all of the shows have taken place in Minnesota, which he has called home. And it is good that way as when one calls a place home, it is the place where the person does his best. This was the signature of A Prairie Home Companion and even more so as a writer. Keillor has 21 novels to his credit, ten of which come from the Lake Wobegon series, which started with the first one published in 1985. A Guy Noir novel was produced in 2012. Three poetry anthologies and three poems are included in the mix.  He also created The Writer’s Almanac, a daily post by Minnesota Public Radio which features a poem by a famous author, combined with some interesting facts about famous people, including writers, politicians, inventors and historians, just to name a few.  Keillor intends to continue writing and producing for A Prairie Home Companion, yet come this fall, the show will become the care of another host, who will carry the torch and create his new version of Lake Wobegon. But even if the host, Chris Thile,  has large shoes to fill and the show will be different, his previous experience with the show when Keillor was hosting will help him bridge the gap between the patrons who came to love Keillor over the years and those who listen to MPR and have heard of Keillor’s work, but are looking forward to a new chapter in A Prairie Home Companion.

For Keillor, there is this:  Lake Wobegon brought the Minnesotan in this author, listening to his show and following the Writer’s Almanac from Germany. Like the works of Sinclair Lewis, including his famed literary work,  Main Street USA, Lake Wobegon allows a person to close his eyes for a couple hours, head to a rural Minnesota town and enjoy the company of some interesting but friendly local people, while giving the author some ideas of what to write about in terms of articles, pieces for newspapers and even novels. And while I’m doing the first two, his ideas and stories from the shows are contributing to a concoction of events for a novel which I will get to soon. If published, I owe you a copy with a round of thanks, for bringing the two homes together for two hours on a Sunday night.  🙂

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Before doing this send off, I asked some readers if they knew about A Prairie Home Companion and what they remembered about Garrison Keillor and a lot of ideas came about. I decided as a way of closing to provide the top Garrison Keillor Greatest Hits for you to watch and listen. Most of the Prairie Home Companion shows can be found on youtube, while you can subscribe to A Prairie Home Companion and  The Writer’s Almanac via the Files’ Educational and Cultural Links (scroll down to the end and on the left).

Greatest Hits:

This four-part series is the oldest to be found to date on youtube, dating back to 1987, shortly before Garrison Keillor took a brief hiatus. Strangely enough, during his hiatus, two shows bore out of A Prairie Home Companion, one of which is All Things Considered, which is still being broadcasted on MPR today. (Click here)

A friend of mine (from Minnesota) once mentioned that he was involved in a concert featuring Keillor and the theme on Halloween. This one’s for him, even though this is an earlier version and he was in the concert with his choir about five years ago.

Holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas were Keillor’s main targets for themes in his shows but also when he is live and in person at several venues, like this one.

It’s no secret that Keillor is a lefty in terms of politics. Still he enjoys adding some humor to all the political themes, some of which would never be discussed at the dinner table these days. On his last day of performance on 2 July, 2016, he received a congratulations and best wishes by President Obama, whom he supported during the elections and his presidency. Obama was a regular listener of A Prairie Home Companion and enjoyed Keillor’s Lake Wobegon stories while dealing with political issues at the White House.

Keillor has not kept one handicap back in his career, which is his highly functioning form of autism, which he was diagnosed a few years ago. He was never a person who looked at another person straight in the eye, and was a loner. Yet, he still enjoyed the company of many people from different backgrounds. From an author’s point of view, it never shows. And as a secret ingredient: the best people, and especially story tellers of fiction happen to be the most gifted. 🙂

Guest stars have been welcomed for over a decade, including frequent visitors, such as the Civil Wars duet, who stopped by Lake Wobegon for a dinner and entertainment in 2011.

Keillor could not escape the parody of the Simpsons, like in this episode (he was played by another actor, by the way). Just wished that Homer would take in the entertainment from a different perspective. He will before the TV series finally signs off.

An excerpt from a typical Prairie Home Companion show with The Lives of the Cowboys.

And Keillor’s final News from Lake Wobegon on July 2nd at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Over 18,000 people attended his final performance and an additional 10+ million listeners honed in on his final performance of his 42-year career.

Long Live Lake Wobegon  <3   🙂

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Question Tag

question tag

Dialog- a concept where two or more persons converse over topics that are of interest. It does not necessarily have to do with trying to find solutions to conflicts that are bothersome to both parties. It does not have to do with cheering or booing teams. It has more to do with having a discussion to find and expand interests, views and other personal traits that the parties have in common with a goal of establishing friendships (or in some cases, relationships) and exchanging ideas for the good.  Hans Küng stressed using a dialog as a tool for finding common values among religions when he initiated the Global Ethics project in the 1990s, much to the dismay of priests of his own Catholic Faith. Samuel P. Huntington in his last book Who We Are, argues for compromise through dialog in order for the United States to come to terms with the influx of immigrants, especially from the south. Francis Fukuyama claimed in his thesis The End of History that the new era offers a chance for mankind to develop a universal form of civilization which includes the quest of similar values and compromise via dialog.

But dialogs do not necessarily have to concentrate on politics, religion and personal views alone. It has more to do with breaking down barriers that confines us and keeps us from reaching out. This can include language barriers, cultural and religious differences, and even personal differences, all of which are avoidable if we have the will to find a medium ground to start off with. 🙂

And this is where this activity comes to mind. It’s called Question Tag. Useful in not only foreign language classes, but also in general classes in school as well as in other education institutions, Question Tag (short, QT) offers students and/or parties an opportunity to break the ice right away and start a conversation by asking the other person a question of interest before eventually spreading it around. The main goal of this game is threefold, speaking from experience:

  1. For foreign language education, QT offers the students an opportunity to show their language skills, including vocabulary and skills involving asking questions, while at the same time, acquire additional vocabulary and other skills by listening and involving themselves in the conversation.
  2. For other topics, QT can enable a thought-provoking discussion to find out the views of others, while generating other questions and thoughts that may be useful and fruitful for the discussion. This includes specific topics, like the refugee crisis, or the US Presidential Elections, but also general topics, such as involvement in clubs and associations, interest in technology and even sports.
  3. Students can benefit from QT by getting to know the other one and his/her interests. This is especially useful if one or two members in the group are exceptionally shy and not forthcoming in the conversation. And as dumb as it may be, it is useful for group projects that involve people of different backgrounds and personalities, regardless of whether the project is related to work or the university.

The object of the game is simple: Each participant receives five index cards (Karteikarten in German), regardless of size, and a pen. The participant must then write down five questions that he/she has, then turn them over so that no one else can see. It’s like a poker game but more discreet. 😉

Please note that the questions must not be too personal and not too biased. So questions involving sex life and dating, as well as views on xenophobia (as examples) should be refrained altogether. But questions involving hobbies, childhood memories, first crush on a person, favorite pet are ok, if formulated appropriately.

Once the questions are written down, place them in the center of the table face down and mix them up. Then, one person chooses a card and the target person, and asks the question. After the target person answers the question, others can join to share their answers and views based on the question.

Nothing to it. 🙂

The game is open as a one-to-one but you can include as many people as you see fit. The beauty of this game is that anyone can play and it can be played in various languages. That means even people seeking refuge in Europe can play this to learn a new language, as well as those hosting them, who are interested in learning their language, like Persian and Arabic. 🙂

Question Tag serves as a starter to breaking down barriers that keep two people or parties apart. The worst a person can do is either strengthen the barrier or try breaking through to impose ideas and rules onto the other. This is where conflicts have prevailed regardless of which level. It is even more painful, if the conflict deals with language differences or even differences in culture and the way of life. Conflicts can be avoided if a middle path is found and the parties can have a peaceful co-existence. That is why dialogs are important and with that, asking about one’s interest and the way of handling people. Sometimes a question is free and can get a person somewhere- to establishing a good working relationship or even friendship. Blocking someone out is not the answer, a dialog is. And this game is one that can get a dialog going. And eventually, with a dialog, barriers can fall and a middle ground can be found and the misunderstandings can be eliminated. If you have a problem with a person or group, perhaps you can try this someday. After all, all conflicts have a solution that involves a dialog instead of a blockade, right?

That’s what I thought. 😉

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Genre of the Week: Planet Germany: Eine Expedition in die Heimat des Hawaii-Toasts

Author’s Note: This Genre of the Week has been pushed up a couple days due to important commitments. This is the first review that has been done by a guest columnist. And for a good reason….. 🙂

When we look at Germans, we look at high quality and how they strive to achieve perfection, priding on the likes of BMW, Nutella, soccer, universities and a good beer. However, when asking a German whether they are proud of their culture or how they perceive us Americans and our way of looking at things, we see and hear another story.  In this book review, Planet Germany: An Expedition into the country that is home to Hawaiian toasts (this is the English equivalent to the original title), Eric T. Hansen takes a look at the old question of German identity and how the Germans look at their own culture, from a humorous point of view. This review was done by Ann Marie Ackermann, an American expatriate living in Germany and working as a lawyer, translator and a writer. Here’s a look at the reason why a person should think about reading this book:

A case of a lost cultural identity

Can it be that the Germans really don’t know themselves? And that they need an American to hold up a mirror and show them why the rest of the world holds its arms open to the German culture?

One American who’s been living in Germany since 1983 seems to think so. Eric T. Hansen’s book, Planet Germany, dissects the German psyche. His scalpel is his rare sense of humor, and he cuts through layers of poor national self-esteem to find the ingenuity that created Hawaii toast. I say “rare” because Hansen manages to elicit laughs from both Americans and Germans. Any American expat in Germany will appreciate the book, not only for the insights into the collective mind of the German folk, but for Hansen’s satire.

The world admires the Germans, but the Germans don’t know it

It was in a shopping mall in Magdeburg, Germany that Hansen discovered Germans don’t know who they are. The author, a journalist, was writing an article about exports, and asked shoppers what German products and personalities they thought would be popular in America.

“Nothing,” said the shoppers. One German man said he couldn’t imagine Americans would be interested in anything from Germany.

Frustrated, Hansen spouted a number of possibilities. “What about Mercedes? Volkswagen? BMW? Are there any German cars that aren’t famous in America?” His list went on:  Braun, Bosch, and Siemens? Gummi bears and “Nutella”? Lowenbräu? Blaupunkt and Grundig? Claudia Schiffer and Heidi Klum? Das Boot, Lola rennt, and the Brother Grimm fairy tales? Wolfgang Petersen and Roland Emmerich? Kraftwerk, Nena, Rammstein, and the Scorpions?

But it’s not easy to impress a German. “That might be,” said the man. “But nothing else.”

Americanization of Germany or Germanization of America?

We – the American expat community in Germany – have all heard it before. At some point a German has sat down with us in a café and started complaining about how the Americans are taking over the German culture.

The first time I heard it, I was incensed. Every individual German votes with his or her wallet by selecting products. Collectively, the country has chosen the culture it has now. Why blame the Americans? But on a deeper level, does a country really lose its culture by purchasing foreign merchandise like Coca-cola, jeans, and pop music? In the United States, we eat tacos and sushi, sing French and German Christmas carols, and listen to Jamaican rhythms. But we call that enriching our culture.

Oh no, says Hansen. That’s not what the Germans really mean. “Americanization” for them really means “modernization.” Alas, the Germans are just mourning the loss of the culture they knew as children.

Hansen puts the complaint under a microscope and finds a better case for the Germanization of America. At the time he wrote his book (2007), the value of German exports to the United States was almost one third more than the other way around. That’s not bad for a country half the size of Texas.

But the Germans better watch out. There is another country that’s done a lot more to infiltrate their country: Sweden. Germans read Astrid Lindgren as children and buy clothing at H&M. They listen to Abba and buy their first furniture from Ikea. They read mysteries by Henning Mankell and watch movies with Ingrid Bergman. And if that’s enough, says Hansen, the Swedes have to go out and flood Germany with Knäckebrot.  But nobody in Germany talks about “Swedenization.”

Germans as World Champion Complainers

Hansen’s satire shines most brightly in his chapter on why Germans believe complaining is a sign of higher intelligence. It’s sort of an unofficial German IQ test. Whoever does the best job of spontaneous criticism is the smartest. A comparison of the headlines in Spiegel and Time Magazine proves this, says Hansen: The American magazine offers information, and the German one critique. Even my German grandfather noticed this tendency. “When a German and an American both buy a new house,” he used to say, “the American guests come over and talk about everything they like about the house, and the Germans come over and find everything wrong with it.”

And here Germans are the Weltmeister. Just as Arabic has more words for “camel” than any other language in the world, Hansen points out, German has more words for criticism. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, because public, grassroots criticism plays an important role in democracy. Heck, Germans even have a holiday for political criticism. Have you ever watched German television during Fasching?

To anchor the importance of complaining in the German culture, Hansen applied for a job as professor at twenty German universities. He asked the universities to establish a chair for the esthetics of complaining (Nörgeleiästhetik) and offered a curriculum. Hansen includes his application in the book, and you can find the answers of three of the universities in the appendix. And don’t tell me the Germans have no sense of humor. When I read the appendix, I always have to pull out my Taschentücher because I start crying so hard.

About the book:

Eric T. Hansen, Planet Germany (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Verlag, 2007); 289 pages, in German. Eric T. Hansen is a journalist living in Berlin.

Author’s Fazit:

The book did provide the author with an idea for an activity that students in both Germany and elsewhere can try at home. Click onto this interview about Germany and what to expect. Make a list and ask yourselves whether there is more to Germany than what is mentioned here, and share it with your classmates and teacher. You’ll be amazed at the various answers brought up, especially if you as the teacher is a non-native German. Good luck with that! 🙂

Note: The video was produced by Jason Smith, Marc Schueler and Dan Wogawa in 2013 and powered by GoAnimate.

About the writer and critic:

Ann Marie Ackermann (small)

Ann Marie Ackermann was a prosecutor in the United States before relocating to Germany, where she worked for 15 years as a legal and medical translator. Ann Marie now researches and writes historical true crime. Her first book, Death of an Assassin, will appear with Kent State University Press in 2017. It tells the true story of a German assassin who fled to the United States and became the first soldier to die under the American Civil War hero Robert E. Lee. You can visit Ann Marie’s website at http://www.annmarieackermann.com.

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Respect

Over the weekend, as I was working on a piece for my column, a thought came across my mind as to how to define the word Respect. Respect is a term that seems to be undervalued and misunderstood more often than not, especially when you deal with different environments, such as schools, on business trips, in social gatherings and even in relationships.  Many people are of the opinion that respect has to be earned, meaning a person has to sacrifice certain things that are valuable to him/her and embrace that of others.  Yet that is not the real definition of Respect. Respect has two meanings that are different yet they seem to be related to each other.

The first meaning of respect is winning the hearts and souls of others by being successful in a certain realm, whether it is as a teacher in school, a CEO at a company or even a student in academia. It does not take much to win respect from others, and it can be easily won in no time, just as much as you lose it, if you lose your face because of scandal or a series of mishaps that degrades you in one way or another. Therefore trying to win respect from others does not necessarily define respect. Respect can be one that is earned, but it is one that is a given right, therefore the second definition:

The second meaning of respect is acknowledging and liking a person for who he/she is and what he/she does. That person whom you may try and either mock or change may come from a different background where traditions, customs and mentalities are far different than yours. Therefore it is important that these people are respected for who they are and what they do, and that changing their ways can only be possible if that person sees the need to do it. This type of respect is a given right because of the comfort zone the person is in and how he/she handles things differently. This given right unfortunately has been undermined because of external forces that are changing the way we think about our values.

Of course some changes are necessary so that we have a more harmonious environment, as we deal with issues like discrimination, environmental problems, globalization and culture identity, and politics that seem to have become sour. However, how much change is necessary in order to gain respect from others without losing one’s own identity?  I’m afraid to say that when looking at people in the hallways in school or at the university, as well as on the streets today, many of them seem to have lost their own identities as they drown in their Smartphones, streamline education to become human calculators and herds of cattle heading to the business world, and striving to earn the respect of the “society” consisting of mono-culture led by the select few. We seem to have lost the given right of respect and replaced it with the earned respect that is never to be earned without making sacrifices that will make us pay dearly in the future.

So as a little food for thought, ask yourselves this question: How do you value yourself as a person? Are you being respected by others just by the respect that is being earned or are you being respected based on who you are as a person and what you have done to make yourself  happy? Chances are one in two of us are ignoring the respect as a given right and are trying to earn respect from those who either could care less or would love to see you put away somewhere out of sight and out of mind. If you are one of them, write down a list of things are characteristic of you, followed by what the people like about you. Then ask yourself how you have changed over the past few years and whether they were for the best of worst. If the latter, then it is time to make the changes that will make you feel like yourself again.

Remember: Respect is a given right. Only when you are happy about yourself will you make others happy. And in return, the people will respect you for who you are and not by how you earn it.

My two cents on this topic.

In School in Germany: Immigration

Here’s a question for all teachers in the German school system and social studies/ history  teachers in the American schools:  How much do you teach your pupils about the history of immigrants- in particular, German immigrants?  How do you approach this topic in terms of teaching method, focusing on a time period in history as well as garnering interest in the topic? And lastly, how much information do/can you provide to your group?

As you recalled a couple articles ago, I presented you with some questions about this particular topic for you to answer, to challenge yourself and learn a couple new items that you have never heard about before.  But this article is about German immigration in general and how important it is that this topic is integrated into the learning curriculum.

Many years ago, I visited Ellis Island, during my 1.5 week stay in New York City, to learn more about this topic and how Germans represented one of the majorities of the population that moved to the new world. Part of this had to do with the fact that my mother’s family is primarily German, originating from Schleswig-Holstein (and in particular, Stein near Kiel, according to genealogy research). Also important was the fact that prior to my trip, I had discovered,  in my parents’ garage, a trunk and on it, the maiden name of my mom’s ancestors that had immigrated to the United States in 1898 and eventually settled down on a farm south of Ellsworth, at  the Minnesota-Iowa border. This sparked my interest in knowing more about how Germans immigrated to the US, the reasons behind their strive towards something new and how they survived over there (and are still prospering today).

Ellis Island. Both photos taken by boat in 1997

The immigration wave of the Germans started in the 1840s before the Great Revolution of 1848. At that time, much of Europe, which featured the Habsburgs (The Austro-Hungarian Empire), Prussia, Russia and France had their own set of oligarchs who favored the church and the powerful over the common people. With violent clashes over food and poverty, plus the strive to put an end to this type of rule in favor of democracy, many of the immigrants boarded ships bound for the States and after several stops along the way, settled down in regions in today’s Rust Belt (the former steel regions extending from Illinois to Pennsylvania), as well as parts of the Midwest, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota. Much of their traditions, including their food, such as the hamburger and sauerkraut, the German language and its usage in literature and books, and even the villages were named after those from Prussia and Habsburg. Over 400 villages and towns were created with German city names, like Frankfort, Hamburg, Hannover, Berlin, and the like. Even some of the smaller towns in Germany had their names incorporated in the US, such as Flensburg, Schleswig, Lubeck, Kiel, Weimar, Jena and Trier. There was even the city of Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota that was named after Otto von Bismarck, the founding father of Germany, which was established in 1871. German culture prospered until World War I when President Wilson declared war on Germany in 1917 after a telegram was intercepted promising Mexico portions of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California if it entered World War I against the US.  For a period of three years, German culture was suppressed in a way that all traditions and even the usage of the language was prohibited.  Literary works by Schiller and Goethe were banned. The hamburger was renamed Liberty Steak; the sauerkraut, Liberty Cabbage. The Germans were perceived as evil in the eyes of many other immigrants, including the Italians, Irishmen and Russians, and conflicts broke out as a result.

After the war was over and the Versailles Treaty was signed, immigration to the US was limited because of the Red Scare- the Communist movement that had plagued Europe and parts of the US since the Bolshevist Revolution of 1917. Germans tried to escape the misery their country was facing, first through the hyperinflation during the Weimar Republic and later with the rise of Adolph Hitler but were faced with limitations both internally as well as externally. It would not be until after the second World War when the gates were reopened wide and many who wanted to leave and had the resources did.

Today, traces of German culture can be found in the US through foreign languages in public schools, the foods which have become somewhat commercialized, like the beer and hamburger, and the communities that still bear the German names. Some festivals can still be found in those communities, like the Oktoberfest in New Ulm in Minnesota.  Yet do we talk much about immigration in the schools?  Sadly, I have to say no.

Why?

We seem to have drifted away from topics like this one because of the strive to streamline education at the expense of the most important ones, like history, culture and politics. Foreign languages have also taken a hit, as schools in the United States are focusing solely on Spanish while leaving the rest behind- something that is angering the neighbors to the north, Canada, where French is the official second language behind English. While business and technology are two important elements needed to get a well-paying job, other aspects, like the ones mentioned, are just as important for they provide students with an insight to other countries and their culture and history.  Looking at it from a historian’s point of view, taking these humanity aspects seriously can enable the student to learn about him/herself and the surroundings and identify him/herself based on their own family history and how it contributed to the history of their countries.
Yet even when we discuss about humanities, like history and culture, in schools, we seem to have left out the meat of the topics for discussion. Reason for that are the limitations with regards to the subjects to be taught for certain grades- both in Germany, as well as in the USA. The time constraints regarding how and when to teach these subjects have forced many teachers to prioritize which subjects are important and which ones should be left out. Unfortunately, those that are left out are usually not taught unless in academia, if at all.

Immigration is one of those aspects that should be brought to the table at an early stage. There are many reasons for this argument, but I will mention only two, as they are the most important in my opinion. The first is immigration is like a bridge, connecting one’s old home with their new home. People who immigrated to other countries collected many impressions and stories to share with their relatives and friends back home. Many of these impressions and stories deal with comparisons between their new home and their old one, as well as suggestions as to how to improve their old region. While some of the immigrants returned to their old homelands, some remained in their new homelands forever, creating families of their own.  In the case of German immigration, it is typical to find many German families settling in clusters in either a community or region. An example of which can be found in an article written in 2010 about New Trier in Minnesota, which you can click here.

The second argument behind teaching immigration in school is because it played a key role in the development of the countries the immigrants originated from and the countries where they eventually settled down.  In the case of Germany, the emigration of Germans from Prussia and Habsburg resulted in the need to reform the countries respectively, unfortunately through the usage of violence, as was seen in the Revolution of 1848. Eventually the situation stabilized with the creation of a German state in 1871, which provided the solidarity and sound structure of a democratic state many people had envisioned two decades before but were realized by Bismarck.  In the case of German immigrants in the US, their  previous experiences before immigrating over, combined with their innovation and thinking has helped shape the US as it is today.  It is not hard to find Germans in America, who had made a difference, whether it was Henry Kissinger’s role as Secretary of State under Nixon and how the US scaled back on its mission of containment and opened their doors to relations with Russia and China, or John Roebling and his design of the wire suspension bridge, a few examples of which still exist today. Kissinger originated from Fürth (north of Nuremberg) in Bavaria, while Roebling emigrated to Pennsylvania from Mühlhausen in Thuringia and established the town of Saxonburg.

How the topic should be taught in the classroom is fully up to the teacher, but some of the small aspects mentioned here will help students know about the importance of immigration, even more so when it is discussed in the classroom in schools in Europe, and in this case, Germany.  This is where the article ends with a small anecdote: Ignore the smallest details and you will ignore the most relevant. Give them something small to think about and it will make a big difference as far as learning is concerned.

And now, some interesting Flensburg Files’ Fast Facts, which you will find in the next article…..