Interesting Facts About Germany: Books and the Ten Commandments

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Here is an interesting story to share with you to start off this article: At an elementary school in Bad Oldesloe (between Luebeck and Hamburg), a group of pupils during an after-school class (Schulhort) saw an elementary school clearing the bookshelves of old, used school books, to make way for newer materials to be used in the classroom. Instead of putting the old books into boxes to be given away to the needy, the teacher instead discards the books into the garbage can- right in front of other pupils. An average of 30-35 pupils attend the Schulhort to do homework, activities and other things while waiting for their parents to collect them- a concept that is non-existent in the US and other countries, where classes run from 8:00am to 3:00pm- ending two hours later than in Germany.

Fortunately that group that saw the incident fished out 10 of the books and divided them up among themselves to take home with them. And while a complaint against that teacher has been sent to the headmaster of that school, little is known what action will be taken there, if at all.  But this incident conveyed the message to the pupils, whose parents and other educators would object forcefully:

 

 It is OK to throw books away because they are waste. It is OK to kill more trees because we don’t need them. It is OK to pervert the environment more than it is already.  And it is OK to waste the minds of the next generation because they are indeed cogs of the elite that believe the Earth is dead already- why not make it even deader?

 

I bet Betsy DeVos (America’s newly elected Educational Minister) is reading this right now and is about to kiss me for those comments, while also inviting me to dinner with Josef Stalin and all the evangelical Jesus-freaks, including Paul Ryan and Steve Bannon. 😉

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Ana Beatriz Ribeiro introducing the new open library at the Poniatowski Restaurant in Leipzig during last year’s Intercultural Blogger Conference. Ana is the founder and columnist of the Leipzig Glocal

 

But away with the sarcasm, the discarding of books in general would make a German cringe, for if there is one sin that is unforgivable, it is reading the book and then desecrating it. Germany prides itself on books, for one in three German households have an average of 1,200 books in their libraries! And while people may think only one in ten have a library or can find books in each room of the apartment or house, don’t be fooled when you check in the forbidden areas, where you can find boxes and shelves of books in the cellar, garage, some attics and underneath beds in the bedroom. I even saw a library of books in a neighbor’s basement! No matter where you go in the neighborhood of a German community, books are everywhere. This is why we have these key facts to consider:

 

  1. A community has an average of two libraries; in a university city- six counting a university library. For larger cities with more than two universities, don’t be surprised if university libraries are divided up ad customized, based on subject of studies and spread out throughout the city, justifying the need to bike from one end to the other.

 

  1. Each suburb of a city with 70,000 people or more has its own library full of new and used books, and these libraries have as full of capacity as the normal central libraries as well as the university ones.

 

  1. Germany prides in having book stores. You will find an average of one book store franchise and one private, family owned one in a city of 50,000 or more. And both are well-visited.

 

  1. Germany is the only known country to have an open library. On trains, in the park and in city centers, one can see a glass case with books for you to take. However, it comes at a cost of giving away one of your own. You can also borrow, read and put back if you wish. The open library displayed by Ana Beatriz Ribeiro at the 2016 Intercultural Blogger Conference at the Poniatowski Restaurant in Leipzig is another example, but it is one of the firsts in the country to have this in an eatery.

 

  1. Most importantly, Germany prides itself in hosting two international book fairs: One in Leipzig in March and another in October in Frankfurt/Main. Both taking place at conference centers (Messe), as many as a million visitors converge on these fairs to read and even purchase books from writers and publishers from as many as 90 countries on average, including one theme country.

 

To summarize, Germans treat books as Americans treat the Bible- they see these as sacred gifts never to be desecrated, period. Therefore when a person is lent a book and returns it in the form deemed different than what it was before- creases in the pages and covers, plus coffee spills (even if unintentional), that person can expect to be blocked on facebook and spammed in the GMX accounts. Ruining a book can ruin a friendship. When a person throws away books deemed useless, you can expect book lovers rummaging through the paper garbage containers at night, fishing them out to save them. Believe me, I’ve done this myself as my wife and I are bookworms ourselves.  And what is wrong with selling a book at a flea market (Trödelmarkt) for a buck? (One Euro) A loss in profits is a given, but at least the next person can share in the experience in reading the book as much as you did before selling it. 🙂

 

As a writer and teacher myself, if there is a Ten Commandments as far as books are concerned, there would be the following:

 

  1. Thou shall treat the book like the Bible. Handle it like it’s the most valuable gift in the house.
  2. Thou shall not desecrate the book in any form. Karma will kick the offender in the Gluteus Maximus for any petty misdemeanor with this.
  3. Thou shall treat the book like a gift. Books are great gifts at any occasion and no person can deny this.
  4. Thou shall not discard books for any reason. Even if a person dies, his books are also your valuables.
  5. Thou shall donate unwanted books. Libraries and second-hand shops are always forthcoming in taking on books for their collection.
  6. Thou shall ask before lending out books. When living in a flat with your partner, if you have a book to lend to a colleague, consult first before carrying it out.
  7. Thou shall treat a borrowed book like the Bible. It is a sin to read the book and return it altered.
  8. Thou shall visit one international book fair in thou’s lifetime. You’re not a true German if haven’t spent a whole day at a Buchmesse- better, two: one in Frankfurt and one in Leipzig. Both are experiences of a lifetime.
  9. Thou shall cherish the memories from reading a book. Books are brain food, providing some memorable experiences when reading it and some topics for discussion.
  10. Thou shall set examples for others when treating the book. Remember, one tree produces 5 books. One book produces memorable experiences similar to a vacation. That means paper can be recycled but not the book itself.

 

With a lot of writing greats coming from Germany, one should try and write a book to keep up with tradition. Not a column like this one, but a classic 200-page novel dealing with mysteries, travels, social and medical themes, business and history- the things Germans love to read. 70% of Germans prefer print media over e-media. That trend is bound to stay the same in the coming years. The smell of paper from the press is impossible to refuse, and e-books to many is just a piece of plastic that hurts the eyes. Germans have a very close and erotical relationship with books and the paper product with pages needs to be taken very seriously.

After all, as one person in a forum about Germany and books stated: Having a library full o books does not justify NOT buying more books. So if you see that in a German household next time, imagine a library full of Bibles, Quorans and Testaments, treat them with care and understand why books are to be kept as collectibles and not desecrated.

Thank you! 🙂

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Disclaimer: The location and name of the school where the incident took place was changed to protect the identity of those involved. 

In School in Germany: The Black Box

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The Black Box– a secret device hid inside an aircraft to record the flight from start to finish. The box is used to determine how the flight went, but also in worst case scenario, how it crashed. The black box is top secret and can only be opened when deemed necessary.

Each of us has our own black box in our heads, kept locked away and containing the secrets and desires that the majority of the public does not want to hear or see- that is unless there is someone who is willing to open it up and accept our dark sides. 🙂

But the black box does not necessarily have to be full of secrets that can destroy one person. It can also serve as something to share with others where all can learn from it and the person who has the secret can benefit from it; especially when it comes to learning a foreign language or other subjects.

Most recently, I developed a Black Box exercise which can be utilized wherever needed, pending on which subject you are teaching which topic you wish to discuss. Good for all ages and regardless of whether it’s for 1-1 training or a classroom setting, it is a two-part exercise that requires work on both the teacher’s and the students’ parts, but in the end, will bear fruit as far as discussion and learning is concerned. What you need for materials are the following:

For each student and the teacher, you need one sheet of black paper and another sheet of a colored paper of choice.

Use the black sheet of paper, fold it along horizontal lines in half and afterwards, fold the halves into half again, thus having a sheet folded into quarters, as seen in the picture below.

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The next step is to fold the horizontal portion of the sheet into two halves then again into quarters, thus creating a origami with eight rectangular shapes. Please ensure that the sheet is closed in half horizontally, as seen in the pictures below.

Fold the vertical portion in half....
Fold the vertical portion in half….
....and the halves into quarters to create eight rectangular shapes, like an origami.
….and the halves into quarters to create eight rectangular shapes, like an origami.
Closed-book format like this....
Closed-book format like this….

The next step many people may fall for (and I have many times myself). Here you need to fold the outer corners of the folded sheet of paper. What is meant by outer corner is the folded sheet and not the single sheet, as some people have done. Please see the pics below to see how the corners should be folded. Normally, the corners folded should have a 45° angle touching the folded crease in each corner with a tab sticking out down the middle on both sides.

This is not the way to fold it!
This is not the way to fold it!
This is how you should fold the corners- the finished product after this step is taken.
This is how you should fold the corners- the finished product after this step is taken.

Fold these tabs outwards so that they cover the outer corners. Then place your fingers in the opening and sandwich the long ends, so that in the end, a half a box is revealed. It should look like this in the end…..

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Pull out the walls and sandwich the vertical ends inwards....
Pull out the walls and sandwich the vertical ends inwards….
Top portion of the box finished! :-) Now the bottom portion needs to be done.....
Top portion of the box finished! 🙂 Now the bottom portion needs to be done…..

Repeat the steps with the other half of the box and you have yourself the finished product, as seen below:

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Once you have completed your black box, you can do many activities with them, where students can cut into pieces and place various colors of paper into the box, pending on what topic you are talking about in class. These multi-colored cards are then picked out by random, either by the teacher walking by and picking one from each student’s black box or by asking them to submit a card of a certain color into the teacher’s own black box and then, the teacher chooses one. Black boxes are very useful for foreign language teaching as they serve the following purposes:

  1. They can be used to break the ice and start a conversation in class,

  2. They can be used for introducing new vocabulary and cultural themes a student or teacher picked up while encountering media or visiting an event and a wants to share,

and 3. They can be used for conversational purposes based on a topic previously discussed in class. This is especially useful when teaching a subject in a non-native language, such as bilingual history, social studies, religion, and music in either English, French, Spanish, Russian or other languages.

In one case, students can ask the teacher a question about a topic of interest. This is especially useful if the teacher is a native speaker of a language being taught in the classroom. In other words, Ask the Ami a question about American Culture. 😉

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I have tried (and am still trying) to introduce this in the general English where one colored card has a question pertaining to the topics learned in the workbook, another for questions on vocabulary, another for questions for discussion, and the last one for questions for the American. However, this can be done with other subjects and topics, yet one has to be aware of the audience and their knowledge of both the topic and the language.

Another concern is that some students (especially in a large classroom setting) may find a creative way of ruining such an activity by posing questions and providing vocabulary words that are inappropriate, personally attacking other students or even the teacher with a question or comment, or playing Devil’s Advocate on a topic deemed controversial and not suitable for the classroom. Here the teacher will need to set guidelines for such an activity to avoid any conflicts in the classroom that might have a negative impact on the teaching environment or even the teacher’s career. While the Black Box is suitable for all ages, students need to be aware of the questions and vocabulary words they are asking which may be difficult for them to understand if they are either too young or the language level is too low. That means an A-level student should not be asking philosophical questions about Socrates if his/her level is suitable for small talk and telephone conversations.

Nevertheless, the Black Box function similarily like the device on the airplane: it brings out the most thought-provoking questions to the students in class, who will benefit from learning from the “secrets” kept locked away until now, while thinking about and utilizing the knowledge learned in the classroom in a positive manner. A wiser man once said to the author: Never judge a person by his looks or actions, but by his inner thoughts and backgrounds. It applies to not only future partners in relationships but also people you encounter along the way. After all, the most interesting aspects come from the most unusual people. 🙂

Enjoy the exercise and one confession: Yellow is my color because my devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team, in case you are wondering. It is also the favorite color of my daughter’s whose homemade box idea inspired this activity. 🙂 <3

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In School in Germany: Teaching Environmental Sciences

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It’s a day like no other: a simple walk in the woods on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the spring time. The leaves on the trees are budding, the moss and the pine needles are getting greener, and the skies are blue with a few clouds in the air. Mushrooms are growing on the trees and the lake is as blue as the reflections in the sky. One used to go swimmimg there in the past, but not anymore. Why? Too much run-off has produced algae that is occupying most of the lake, suffocating the life out of the fish and marine life that once thrived there.

Then there is a walk along the beach in the US. Going barefoot, one person steps on a ripped tin can and cuts herself deep. The can was buried 3/4 of the way in the sand. Plus there were bags and other non-perishables nearby. Not far from there, we see a river that has not seen a drop of rain for months since its one-time torrential downpour with the consequences being as dire as in this picture below:

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One should also not forget the infestation of grasshoppers and locusts thanks to the drought that also resulted in nearby forest fires that destroyed a once-popular tourist attraction….envir2

These are just the classic examples of how unaware society has been with regards to the environment around us. With the recent events unfolding in front of our eyes: the illegal killing of the lion in Zimbabwe, governments signing leases to oil companies to explore for oil in very sensitive natural preserves, rain forests being decimated in square kilometers per day, to even the German and Danish governments pushing to have a megatron-style expressway and high speed rail line run through a small but vulnerable island, one has to ask himself: are we aware of what we are doing to our flora and fauna?  Some people think it is the work of God and even one person mentioned recently that we are already facing Armageddon. But even God is the one who is displeased with how His world, which He created in seven days, according to the book of Genesis. Yet do we want to face Armaggedon by continuing to be greedy and ignorant?

There is a saying that is worth noting: The best time to educate is when the baby is in his diapers. If there was one class in school that should be introduced at all costs, it is environmental sciences. And when? As soon as the kid enters school. And how long? If kept as a core requirement, like reading, writing and math, all the way through high school.

But how do we introduce this to the class? And what should we teach them that is relevant to this topic?

Children should be gradually introduced to this topic by showing them the importance of our environment: the trees, flora and fauna, water and especially, food. They should be taught the importance of reusing and recycling goods rendered useless, planting trees and taking care of the vegetation, eating healthy organic foods, not buying goods coming from sensitive environmental areas, like the rain forest, or derived from endangered animals and lastly, learning how important the Earth is to them and the next generation. As they later become an adolescent, themes, such as pollution, climate change and destruction of habitat, can be introduced so that they can implement their knowledge and talk about these topics- even more so when they are current events. Very important is taking a look at the measures already in place to help our environment, whether it is the use of renewable resources, like bio-gas, wind, water and sun, saving energy or even using alternative forms of transportation instead of the car, like the train.  Some factors, like anthropology, sociology and natural sciences could be mixed in there to ensure that when graduating from school, they would have a sufficient amount of knowledge and common sense to take action to stop the global warming process, which is progressing faster than expected.

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Example of a renewable energy source: converting compost and manuer into energy: bio-gas, as seen on a farm in central Thuringia

At the moment, no laws exist regarding the requirements of this class, let alone incorporating it into the core curriculum. Reasons are pretty standard: not enough funding and support, too much focus on the testing requirements, too much opposition from the lobbyists and even politicians, and lastly, falsified information from the media, claiming that global warming is a natural process. (and if you are one of those believers, you better quit reading this right now and start praying!)

Yet there are some factors that a recent article published (click here) that should provide enough incentive for lawmakers and educators to at least consider bringing this matter to the table:

2015 is the hottest year on record with record-setting forest fires and destructive flooding causing trillions of dollars in damages to property. Every year means a new record for temperatures and the like. The number of species has dwindled by up to 80% over the last 30 years. Migration has put a strain on social resources in developed countries. Germany alone expects to receive a record 800,000 immigrants by year’s end, and the country is already having problems finding homes for them, let alone people willing to accept them. And lastly, our natural resources are dwindling, despite claims of them being around forever. If we look at fracking in the United States and the poisoning, earthquakes and destruction of the flora and fauna for the sake of oil, none of the facts are in dispute.  Yet if one still believes that global warming is a natural process and a class on environmental sciences is needed, then perhaps watching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and in particular, the destabilizing and eventual destruction of Genesis (esp. after the Enterprise is imploded through self-destruction) might convince you otherwise.

In either case, the facts remain clear in our society: mankind does not know what to do to stop global warming and we need to educate ourselves in order to find ways to stop the process and ensure that our planet is livable for generations to come. The best solution is to educate ourselves and our children to ensure that in the end, instead of having a planet that is dried up and not livable that we have a planet like this:

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or this:

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If you want that, then please, write to your politicians, lobby your teachers and principals (or headmasters), start a demonstration, and advocate the need to learn about Mother Nature as a full class and core requirement. Think about your future and that of the next generations. Only then, when we educate ourselves properly will we have a future like this and not what we’re seeing in the western two thirds of the US right now, which really resembles the destruction of Genesis in the Star Trek film.

Thank you for your support.

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In School in Germany: Is President Obama too American?

Frage für das Forum:  Is President Barack Obama too American or too International?

Two years left until he finishes his second and final term as President of the United States and soon, we will be looking at the legacy of President Barack Obama. Once loved by many Americans and Europeans alike because he was a symbol of hope in the midst of the second worst economic crisis in the history of the US, he is now a target of criticism from the same people who voted him into office.

Here’s a latest example which will provide room for discussion at home over the Fourth of July weekend and latest when social studies teachers talk about his legacy in the classroom:

During the final exam at the Gymnasium where I’m doing my practical training, also known as the Abitur Exam, as it is the key exam needed for entrance to college, one of the students took part in the oral portion of the exam (consisting of both written and oral parts) in the subject of English, and was asked about how she thought of Barack Obama and his presidency. After mentioning the positive aspects, such as health care, employment programs and stricter environmental policies, the negative aspect she pointed out was the fact that Obama was too “American” because of his support of the NSA activities- Spygate- which has damaged relations between the country and Europe.

Too American?  And on the US side, he is considered too much of a socialists, something that is common even on the international scale, if we look at some of the countries that have socialist-like governments, like France, Greece, etc.

In the past five years, President Obama has tried to bring the US and Europe closer together, which includes trade policies, adopting health care and environmental policies, and the like. This has made many Americans feel that he is too international and demand that the US return to the policy of Exceptionalism- every man for himself, no matter the circumstances. Yet from the European perspective, American is trying to exert its influence on the European front, which goes beyond the NSA-Spygate scandal. One of the hottest issues at the moment is the American’s attempts of importing genetically modified foods, which is banned by the EU and rejected by Europeans who have been used to eating organic foods. In other words, the Europeans do not mind what America does as long as they are not forced to do what they want them to do.

This leads to the question worth considering and even talking about: Is President Obama a true American or an Internationalist? Or even better if one wants to criticize his policies and the effects on US-European relations: Is Obama too American or too European, and what are your reasons? Speaking from an expatriate’s point of view, there are enough arguments supporting both criticisms although Obama should keep focusing on the policies at home, as they are still in need of being addressed. This includes the policies involving education, environment, food, and even health care, for the policies passed so far still need some improvement.

But seriously, if you want to judge his legacy and criticize him, which side would you take? Is he too American or too European? Maybe he is just a one-man show? What do you think?  Think about this and consider this question for your next meeting or even social studies class. You’ll be amazed at the different opinions you’ll get.

The Flensburg Files and sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to wish the Americans both at home and abroad a Happy Fourth of July. Enjoy the fireworks and the celebrations honoring the declaration of independence and the creation of a new nation, which took 13 years of blood, toil and tears to make.

In School in Germany: Teaching Infrastructure History in School

 

Article written for sister Column 

History- a subject that goes beyond borders and looks at things that we never knew about, getting us to think about them, putting them in the context of our own lives and the environment we are living in. It goes beyond the borders of geography and how the countries were developed. It goes beyond arena of sports events and looks at the development of each kind and how the men and women contributed to it. It digs deeper into how the country was mapped out in terms of landscape, networks of infrastructure and the social aspects which led to revolution and redesign by reformists and those who wanted to make their place better than before.  In other words, one has to dig deeper to find the truth and challenge what had been written in the past but was now rebuked because of new evidence.

In school, especially on the secondary level, history is a must, and it is important that students know about the history of their country and the rest of the world for two reasons:

1. To help them become acquainted with their own region and country and discover who they are and where they came from and

2. To encourage them to find out more about themselves and where they live, by looking and exploiting the aspects that are seldom mentioned.

As there are certain requirements written by law and because of certain time constraints, only a peck of the history that exists is even taught in the schools, and when it is taught, it is with the traditional social form of teaching: the book and frontal teaching (German: Frontal Unterricht). It is not surprising that the interest in history among youngsters up to 18 is near the bottom of the food chain, in both countries- more so in the US than in Germany because of the strive of educators to have the students achieve high results in the international tests for math, reading and sciences. But as we see in the PISA studies, and which will be discussed in the Files’ article about Frontal Teaching, sometimes student involvement and allowing them to discover something new can encourage a positive education result, even better than the recent studies.

But even with these constraints, the teacher can make some space for some new things that cannot be found in books themselves- at least not yet, that is. And when students are encouraged to do some work on their own, whether it is analysing a text and writing a review about it or presenting about it, then they will benefit from it in a way that they can add the knowledge to what was taught in the past and have fun doing it. This is where the topic of Industrialization and Infrastructure enters the picture.

During my internship at a Gymnasium in Germany, I had an opportunity to dig deeper into the history of the development of Germany in the 1800s by looking at aspects like the creation of democracy, Otto von Bismarck’s creation of the German state in 1871 and how Germany became a super power and remained so until the end of World War I. At the present time the students are talking about Germany, Europe and the age of industrialization between 1871 and 1914, where several aspects, such as imperialism, socialism, worker’s union and environment are being introduced. Even the expansion of the transportation infrastructure and the landscape made of steel will be mentioned. Believe it or not, this is the topic the author of the Chronicles and Files is about to do.

Talking about the infrastructure and comparing it between Germany and the US does produce their similarities in terms of inventions and the development of materials for the construction of buildings, railroads and bridges, yet how does a teacher present these aspects to the students without boring them.  Let’s look at the topic of bridges, for example. There are two different arguments for and against presenting this topic. The contra part would be the simple fact that a bridge is a bridge, crossing a ravine connecting point A and point B. If it fails or is too old, then it is replaced. The pro part to this topic feature the arguments about unique bridge designs, bridge builders that were common, including those who immigrated to the States from Germany, like Ralph Mojeski, Lawrence Johnson, Albert Fink, and Gustav Lindenthal, to name a few. Then there is the switch from iron to steel mainly because of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and lastly the consolidation of 28 bridge builders into the American Bridge Company in 1901 and its competition from other bridge builders in the west, as well as outside the country.

Nathan Holth once presented this topic as a whole during his time as a student teacher (his PPT presentation can be seen here). Some of the unique features, include the builder’s plaque, portal bracing of the truss bridge and ornamental features can enable historians to determine how the development of bridges came about in the US between 1871 and 1914. As I will be the second pontist to present this in a couple weeks time, the topic will be on a wider scale as Germany and US have some similarities with regard to bridge construction. The difference is with regards to the fact that the German concentration seems to be more on canals and railways than with highways, like in the US. Also the full establishment of steel companies, like Thuyssen-Krupp before 1871 enabled Germany to expand the steel-building landscape, constructing bridges and high-rise buildings in large cities, like Berlin and Hamburg, in addition to its fleet of ships.

The question is if one wants to present bridge building in connection with the industrialization- be it in the US, Germany, Europe or when comparing between two countries, what aspects are important and should be presented to the students, keeping in mind that the topic is industrialization, and the time frame is betweenthe 1870s and 1914, the time of World War I?  Which aspects should the students research on in their own spare time? And lastly how should it be taught in high school in comparison to college?

Put your comments here or on the Files’ or Chronicles’ facebook pages as to how you would approach an exotic topic like this, while keeping the topic of Industrialization in mind.  The results of the session, which will be in a couple weeks, will be presented in the Files and sister column the Chronicles.