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. 

Germany Quiz Nr. 6: What you need to know about Brandenburg

View of the city of Brandenburg from above. Photo courtesy of Nancy Grimm
View of the city of Brandenburg from above. Photo courtesy of Nancy Grimm

After a brief hiatus, the Files takes you back to the Quiz series on the 16 German States and to the next candidate: the state of Brandenburg. Located in the eastern part of Germany, where Potsdam and Berlin are located, Brandenburg is perhaps one of the greenest states in Germany, joining the ranks of Mecklenburg Pommerania, Hesse, Thuringia and Saxony. This is in part because of the combination of forests, natural landscapes and wildlife that cover about half the state, mostly in the northern and western parts. The state also has the largest mass of water in the country, with over 33,000 kilometers of river and canals plus 3000 bodies of water, including 860 lakes. Both account for almost a fourth of the number of lakes found in Minnesota, the author’s homestate, where 11,800 lakes and over 111,000 km of rivers and streams exist. Yet while Minnesota can pride itself with its Winter Palace, the state of Brandenburg can also pride itself with its share of palaces and churches . Yet there is more to the state than just that, especially as it is the main attraction of this year’s German Garden and Horticulture Show (short: BUGA). For those wanting to visit Brandenburg for that purpose or for a vacation, perhaps a small Guessing Quiz will both test your knowledge of the state as of now, but also get you more interested and acquainted with the state. Without further ado, here is the challenge for you to take:

1. Which city is the capital of Brandenburg?

a. Potsdam    b. Burg      c. Brandenburg/Havel     d. Neubrandenburg    e. Frankfurt

2. Rank the following cities from most populated to least populated. 

Bernau     Rathenow   Prenzlau   Neuruppin   Frankfurt   Cottbus   Werder    Senftenberg    Brandenburg/Havel     Eberswald   Falkensee   Potsdam   Görlitz   Oranienburg     Schwedt

3. Apart from German, which language is also spoken in Brandenburg? (Hint: Cottbus is known as Chosébuz; Lausitz means Luzyca)

a. Czech     b. Polish     c. Hungarian     d. Danish     e. Sorbian    f. Slovakian

4. Which states border Brandenburg? Mark all that apply.

Lower Saxony      Mecklenburg-Pommerania     Thuringia    Saxony    Hesse      Saxony-Anhalt    Schleswig-Holstein    Berlin     Hamburg

5. How many districts and independent cities exist in Brandenburg?

6. Which rivers are NOT found in Brandenburg? Mark all that apply.

Elbe    Elster    Spree   Havel    Saale    Ucker     Trave     Oder     Neisse

7. Before 1947, the state of Brandenburg was once known as the Margraviate, going by the name of   ___________ Brandenburg.

a. Marge    b. Jim    c. Marcus    d. Ulla    e. Mark    f. Maik   g. Mork   h. Paul

8. In reference to this Margraviate, the kingdom goes as far back as which century?

a. 10th   b. 12th   c. 16th   d. 18th   e. 19th

9. Berlin is part of the state of Brandenburg. True or False?

10. A German women’s soccer team is the only team from Brandenburg that is in the premier league of a sport. True or False?

11. The origin of Frankfurt is Vrankenforde and applies to this city on the Oder River as well as the city on the River Main in Hesse. True or false?

12. Jim Brandenburg, a world-renowned nature photographer from Minnesota, once visited and photographed the flora and fauna in the state of Brandenburg. True or false?

13. The German motion picture studios, where most of the films are made, can be found in Brandenburg. True or false? Name the city where you will find most of the action.

14. The annual Festival of Lights, where the castle and the grounds are lit up and musical concerts draw in a crowd of 40,000 visitors, is held at the Sanssouci Palace, which is located in this city?

15. The Brandenburger Klostersommer festival, which takes place every June and July, features music, art exhibits and other events taking place in which churches in Brandenburg? Name two of them.

16. Which of the local beers will you find in Brandenburg?

a. Beck’s     b. Wusterhausen    c. Kneipe Pur   d. Potsdamer Weise   e. Red Elephant

17. Brandenburg is famous for its pickles, which can be found in this region? (Hint, this region has been declared a biosphere and listed by UNESCO since 1990).

18. During the days of Communism, Brandenburg was dependent on two key commodities, one of which is still in use today.  Choose from the list below:

Mining   Tobacco   Agriculture   Fishing   Nuclear Power   Tourism

19. Which of the lakes in Brandenburg is the largest and where is it located?

20. There are 82 castles and palaces in the state of Brandenburg. Identify the following below:

a. Altogether (2 of them)

b. Potsdam (3 of them but NOT counting Sanssouci)

c. Spreewald (1)

d. Elbe/Elster District (2 of them)

21. How many churches will you find in Brandenburg with the exception of Potsdam and Cottbus?  Estimate your numbers in tens. 

22. Which bridge in Brandenburg is famous for its spy exchange during the Cold War? (Note: It is one of many that existed along the Berlin Wall before 1989 and is still in use today).

23. Which city has the highest number of bridges?

a. Potsdam  b. Brandenburg  c. Cottbus   d. Frankfurt   e. Görlitz   f. Prenzlau

24. The Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam and the Seegarten Bridge in Brandenburg/Havel are the only two cantilever bridges left in the state that carry the same truss design. True or False?

25. Name two existing bridges along the Oder that are older than 75 years.

Have fun taking the challenge. An answer sheet with some interesting facts will follow. Good luck! 🙂

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Germany at 25: The ICE-Train

ICE- Diesel stopping at Schleswig south of Flensburg. Photo taken in 2012
ICE- Diesel stopping at Schleswig south of Flensburg. Photo taken in 2012

“Ding-Dong!  Gleis eins, Einfahrt ICE 737 nach Hamburg Hauptbahnhof über Neumünster. Abfahrt 13:25. Vorsicht bei der Einfahrt!”  Seconds later, a white worm with black and white stripes approaches the platform of Schleswig, south of Flensburg, where a half dozen passengers board the train heading to Hamburg and all places to the south of there. As the train departs the platform, it takes off at high speed, as it heads to its next station.

Speeds of up to 350 km/ph (218 mph), with comfort seats, a children’s compartment, a rather formal Bord Restaurant and lastly, enjoying the company of other passengers while checking the train schedule via broschure or even computer. At the same time, one can see the landscape fly by with a wink of an eye. These are the characteristics of the Inter City Express trains (short: ICE-trains), the flagship of the German Railways (The Bahn). Since the introduction of the Experimental in 1985 and the ICE-1 in 1991, the ICE-trains have become the most beloved for its service and quickness yet the most scrutinized by others for their delays and air conditioning units going awry (as you probably heard through the song by Wiseguys in the last entry).  But little do the readers realize is that the making of the fast train goes back many years, and it took efforts by many people and organizations to make it happen. In this 25th Anniversary of Germany special, we will look at why the ICE-Train has become an integral part of German culture since 1990 and why other countries are looking up to the Bahn and its trains for guidance in constructing their train lines and locs. Furthermore, we will look at the future of the ICE-Trains as the Bahn is entering its next chapter in its storied history.

The Experimental as it travelled towards Munich in 1986. Source:
The Experimental as it travelled towards Munich in 1986. Source: Marco Voss; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A410001MKF_Zug_1152.jpg

The First Train: The ICE Experimental

There is an analogy that best describes the development of the ICE-Train, comparing that with the one from the film “Chicken Run”: You cannot have the egg without the chicken- or was it the other way around? Click here to learn more. The same can be applied with the development of the first ICE Train: do you start with the train first or the rail line? The idea of the InterCity trains, which go as fast as 200 km/ph (124 mph) had been realized and put into service since the 1960s, providing services to cities with at least 25,000 inhabitants, yet the Bahn (which was known as the Reichsbahn at that time) was thinking bigger, bolder, and faster. And for a good reason: much of Germany has rugged hills and winding rivers, which made it difficult for trains to achieve speeds higher than 140 km/ph (87 mph). If one combines the amount of regional trains clogging up the rail lines, then it is a foregone conclusion that trains arrived at their destination- eventually!

Henceforth in the 1970s, the German Ministry of Transportation (which was based in Bonn at that time) started an initiative to construct the main artery lines, which would serve fast train services in the future. This included the lines from Mannheim to Hanover via Frankfurt and Fulda, Würzburg to Frankfurt, Hanover to Berlin, Mannheim to Stuttgart, Ingolstadt to Nuremberg and Frankfurt to Cologne. Authorities had envisioned trains travelling along these lines at 300+ km/ph (186 mph) with little or no delays. At the same time, the government (which still owns the Bahn today) contracted to companies like Siemens, to construct the first fast train that was supposed to travel these lines. The end result, after many attempts, was the introduction of the ICE Experimental in 1985. It featured two locomotive heads on each end plus 2-3 coaches. The purpose of the Experimental was to test the maximum speed of the train in hopes to further develop the train for passenger use. The Experimental broke several records, including one on 1 May 1988 at a speed of 406.9 km/ph and topping the French Rail Service’s TGV’s record twice in May 1990: 510.6 km/ph (317.2 mph) on the 9th and 515.3 km/ph (320 mph) on the 18th. All of this was along the completed stretch of the line between Mannheim and Hanover, Würzburg and Frankfurt and Mannheim to Stuttgart.  Although passenger use was restricted, the Experimental took the then Soviet President Michail Gorbachev to Dortmund in June 1989 to meet with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, introducing him to the advancement in train technology.  Although the Reichsbahn set a speed limit of up to 300 km/ph for fast train services for safety reasons, developments involving the ICE continued, culminating in the introduction of the first of seven types that are still in use today.

ICE-1 Train. Source:
ICE-1 Train. Source: S. Terfloth; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AICE1_Schellenberg.jpg

ICE-1: 

After several successful test runs, contracts were let out between the Bahn and German companies, like AEG, Siemens, Thyssen-Henschel, Krupp, etc.) to design the first of seven ICE class trains that are still in use. This class is not only the oldest in service today, but also the longest, as it features (minus the two loc heads) at least 15 coaches- one of which is a Bord Restaurant that resembles a double-decker but in reality, it provides a skylight view while dining.  2-3 coaches are reserved for first class. A computer information system was also included in the trains to provide travellers with information on the train connections- this was later included in future ICE trains. Unlike the InterCity trains, where passengers had to use steps to get on board, the ICE-1 became the first class to make boarding much easier, especially for those who need special assistance. And lastly, the train was climate-controlled, which made travelling a convenience year round.

The ICE-1s made their debuts along the main artery route connecting Basel and Hamburg in 1991 with the first 41 trains being put into service. However, as the lines were expanded to include the Berlin-Hanover, Berlin-Leipzig-Nuremberg-Munich, Munich-Würzburg-Mannheim-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Erfurt-Leipzig-Dresden, and the Frankfurt-Cologne-Rhein Region lines, plus the extensions to Brussels, Amsterdam, Zurich and Berne, more ICE-1 trains were manufactured and put into use.

Ironically, the ICE-1 trains were introduced in the USA in 1993 to serve the coastal route- specifically, between Boston and Washington via New York City as well as as a demo route between Boston and Portland . Neither bore fruit because of the lack of interest in train travel and were later taken out of service. Yet despite the mentality that train service is for hauling freight, the thought of having high-speed train service has not escaped the minds of many Americans, especially because of environmental reasons, and many cities have been trying to copy the successes of Germany, albeit in snail’s pace.

Despite the successful debut of the ICE-1, the only caveat is because of its length, the maximum speed of this train was 280 km/ph (174 mph). On some of the stretches, the train’s pace around the curves were on par with that of the InterCity trains, which raised questions about the effectiveness of the trains and the need to shorten the trains when designing the next class of trains. This includes the introduction of the ICE-2 Train which made its debut shortly after the ICE-1’s introduction.

ICE-2 Train between Ingolstadt and Nuremberg Photo courtesy of Sebastian Terfloth via source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AICE2_Hilpodrom.jpg

ICE-2: 

Introduced in 1996, the ICE-2 featured a similar design to its forefather the ICE-1, but it had two most noteworthy exceptions. The first is that the trains were shorter in length- eight coaches and two loc-heads, which includes the Bord Restaurant and 1-2 first class coaches. The second is that the train was the first to feature a coupling which can attach to another ICE-2 train, thus making it longer. A demonstration on how this concept works can be found below:

The danger of this mechanism is the potential of the train to derail due to crosswind during storms and headwind from oncoming trains. The end result: a speed limit of 200 km/ph (124 mph) and its use on lesser-used lines that use ICE-1 trains seldomly. Therefore, one can find ICE-2 trains on lines connecting Berlin, Hanover and the Rhein-Ruhr region, as well as between Hamburg and Cologne (later extending to Kiel), Bremen and Hamburg (extending to Berlin), as well as between Frankfurt and Cologne via Coblence. They are also used as a substitute for the next class of trains to be discussed, the ICE-T, should it be deemed necessary. Despite the train’s shortcomings, they have gained popularity in other European countries as they were implemented and/or mimicked in Belgium, Spain, Italy and France, just to name a few.

 

ICE-T Train crossing a bridge at Grossheringen in Thuringia along the Berlin-Leipzig-Nuremberg-Munich Line. Photo taken in 2011

ICE-T: 

The next class of ICE-Trains to make its debut was the ICE-T. Not to be mistaken with the American rapper turned actor ICE-T, this train has one unique feature that makes it one of the most versatile of the ICE-trains: its tilting technology. A demonstration on how it works is below:

That, plus its ability to reach speeds of up to 250 km/ph and its coupling technology made it useful on rail-lines that normally use InterCity lines. Therefore when it was introduced in 1999, it was put into service along the line connecting Berlin and Munich via Leipzig, Jena, Bamberg and Nuremberg as well as the line between Frankfurt and Dresden via Fulda, Erfurt, Weimar and Leipzig. They were later used on lines connecting Switzerland with Stuttgart and Munich, respectively, Frankfurt and Vienna, as well as between Berlin and Rostock and Hamburg, respectively (even though its terminus had been in Kiel at one time).  The trains have two different types: one featuring 10 coaches and one with 7 coaches. This include the end coaches as the motors of the trains are found in the bottom part of the train.  It was also the first to introduce the Bord Bistro, a sandwich/snackbar which normally would be found on InterCity trains, as well as a play area, which has been a focus of several critiques from parents, one of which was written by the Files in 2011.

The ICE-T became a forefront of another class of ICE-Train which became one’s loss and one’s gain, the ICE-TD.

ICE-TD:

As seen in the picture above, the train stopping at Schleswig is an example of a train class that is still being used despite its shortcomings, the diesel-version of the ICE-T. Introduced in 2001, the ICE-TD was similar to its sister but ran on diesel. It operated along the Vogtland route between Dresden and Nuremberg (extending to Munich) via Hof and Bayreuth as well as between Munich and Zurich. These lines were not electrified but the high number of passengers boarding along these routes justified the use of these trains. Yet technical problems combined with an increase in diesel taxes to be paid by the Bahn made its service shortlived. While the trains were decommissioned in 2004, they were recommissioned two years later to provide extra service for those going to the World Cup Soccer tournaments taking place in Germany. Subsequentially, all 20 train units were bought by the Danish Rail Services (DSB) a year later and have since been serving the northern half of Germany: one line between Berlin and Aarhus via Hamburg, Flensburg and Kolding and one between Berlin and Copenhagen via Hamburg, Lübeck, Fehmarn and Ringsted. A happy ending for a class of trains that was one the black sheep of the Bahn but has become the darlings for the Danes.

ICE 3 near Ingolstadt. Photo by Sebastian Terfloth Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AICE_3_Fahlenbach.jpg

ICE-3:

At the same time as the ICE-T, the ICE-3 made its debut for the Bahn. Featuring eight coaches including the end coaches, the trains up until most recently had been the fastest of the ICE-Trains in service, reaching maximum speeds of up to 330 km/ph (205 mph), making them suitable for the main artery tracks that do not require the twists and turns of the ICE-2 and ICE-T trains. Introduced for the World Expo in Hanover in 2000, the trains have since served the lines connecting Frankfurt-Basel, Frankfurt-Amsterdam via Cologne, Frankfurt-Brussels via Cologne and Frankfurt-Paris via Strassburg.

ICE 3V- the newest version of the ICE 3. Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Innotrans_407.jpg

ICE-3V: 

The Velaro version of the ICE-3 train is the newest version of the ICE train, and perhaps one that will dominate the European continent if the Bahn has it their way. The concept was first conceived in 2009 and since 2014, the first trains have taken over some of the important lines, namely between Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich. This may change in the next year as more of these trains, looking sleeker than the original ICE-3 but going just as fast as its predecessor, are set to take over some of the main artery lines, including the new line between Berlin and Nuremberg via Erfurt. In addition, with its successful test run through the Euro-Tunnel, the Bahn is looking at commissioning these trains to serve the line to London via Paris and/or Brussels. As the time to travel to Frankfurt from London takes six hours instead of 18-20 with normal trains, the use of these trains for this purpose, if successful, could take the Bahn to newer levels, causing other countries to look at Germany as an example of how passenger rail service can be developed. Sadly though, the introduction of the ICE-3V will come at the cost of two train classes: The ICE-1 and ICE-2, despite their recent renovations, will be decomissioned, bit by bit, beginning in 2020 and 2025, respectively. While the newer versions will change the image of the Bahn, many people will miss the older versions that have made rail travel faster but comfortable.

The ICx Train Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/ICX_Mock-UP_01.JPG

ICx:

Finally, the latest advancement in train technology that will take rail travel further beyond 2020 is the ICx. The concept has been worked on by several companies in the private sectors but the trains will feature both this version, a cross between the ICE-2 and the ICE-3 with 12 coaches, as well as a double-decker version. The designs have not yet been finalized, but two factors are certain: They will be slower than the ICE-trains with speeds, maxing out at 200 km/ph (124 mph), plus they will replace the existing InterCity trains that are over 35 years old and are meeting the end of their useful lives. Already planned is the commissioning of the lines in the eastern half of Germany beginning in 2020, the lines one which InterCity and former ICE trains once travelled will have these trains in use by 2030, including areas in Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg and parts of northern Germany.

Prognosis:

In the past 40 years, we have seen the advancement in passenger train technology in Germany and beyond, starting with the construction of new high-speed lines and the development of high speed trains, followed by the advancement of train technology to make trains faster but safer for use, the expansion and modernization of existing rail lines to attract more passengers, and the extension of rail services to as far away as the UK and Russia. The railroad landscape is currently undergoing a transformation where, with the introduction and commissioning of new trains, many lines are being designated for certain trains. While this may come at the dismay of residents of cities, like Wolfsburg, Jena, Weimar and other smaller communities, who will see their ICE train services be replaced with ICx, in the end, rail travel in Germany will still remain a lasting experience. This applies to those who never had never gotten the luxury to travel by train before because of the lack of availability, but have recently tried it and would do anything to use the train again on the next trip. A friend of mine from North Dakota had that experience during her last visit to Germany and has that on her list of things to do again on the next European trip. 🙂 But for those who think that train travel restricts the freedom to travel wherever they want to, here’s a little food for thought worth mulling as this long article comes to a close:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness- Mark Twain

If one wishes to try something new, as an alternative to traveling by car (or sometimes by plane), one has to open up to the options that are in front of us, and look at all the benefits involved. This is what makes Germany a special place. We have the bus, the boats,  the bike, and despite all the bickering, the Bahn. 😉

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In School In Germany: Strange American Accent

 

Friday afternoon in an English Fachdidaktik (English subject teaching) Course at the university. Our first meeting of the semester brought forth a lot of impressions of our first two weeks in class. Yet while there were some positive experiences shared in class, there were some students who did not have some spectacular moments while observing some English classes.

One of those came from a student colleague, who was in an English class at a Gymnasium (high school), where a pupil was asked to respond to a question in British English instead of American English, even though he had previously spent time in the States. When he answered using an American English accent, he was told to repeat it with a British accent.  Not a nice thing to do to a pupil who is learning the language in the first place.
Yet this story opened a large wound on the part of moi here, for despite coming from the US, I too was criticized for using an American accent in my English class, being asked to speak Oxford English. More insulting is when laid off from a university (together with another American colleague) and being replaced with a British colleague was the excuse of being let go was I spoke with “a strange American accent that is not understandable.” This sour taste still remains to this day, especially as the arguments were unsubstantiated and one would always assume that American English is more understandable, recognizable and even clearer, right?
Yet the story and the memories that came along with that brought up three key points that I want to address in this blog entry:

 

1. English is Universal in the Classroom: There is no such thing as British and American English differences in the classroom.
2.There is no such thing as an American English accent that is understandable unless you come from the Deep South and….
3. Even if you come from that region, any American can teach English to non-natives without having any difficulties in understanding.

 

There is always a hidden preference in an educational institution as to how to teach English, as I had just mentioned with my experience teaching English as that particular university. Some universities in Germany prefer American English over others, and vice versa. Part of it has to do with the historical aspect, where the northwestern and southern parts of West Germany were occupied by Brits and Americans respectively during the Cold War, whereas British English was preferred by East Germany as the Soviets were at war with the US. Traces of Americanism and British culture remained after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the influence prevailed everywhere, including academia.  When moving to Germany in 1999- ten years later- the preferences for one over the other was still there, but a new trend was taking shape- a form of universal English where there is no difference between British and American accents, just the vocabulary and how the words are stressed.
Fast-forwarding to the present, we are starting to see an unusual trend where the distinction of American and British English is disappearing faster than we think.  Over a billion people speak this universal form that is now considered international English, which has no direct distinction regarding accent and vocabulary. Instead words originating from the native language are being integrated into the structure and the people who speak it, have a accent that is typical of the native language they come from. That means in the case of Africa, Asia and parts of Europe, English is the second language for many people whose native tongue is rarely spoken outside their country of origin, like in the Czech Republic, Uganda, Kenya, India, Bangladesh and other countries for example. The trend is increasing, compared to the nearly 400 million native speakers of English in the US, UK, Australia, Canada and countries of the former British Commonwealth, which is holding steady but likely to decrease over the next 80 years. As this trend continues, we will more likely see non-native speakers of English roaming the streets of Berlin, London and Paris, with many of them speaking perfect English and teaching the language in the classroom. These people may still have their own native accent, but more likely will not adopt the American or British one, making it easier for students to understand the language in the classroom and learn the grammatical structure exactly the way it has been taught by native speakers.
The difference in British and American English brings me up to the second point, where one has to define what exactly is an American and a British accent, for the difference in communicating in both lies clearly in the region where the people originate from. There are some dialects of English that are even difficult for native speakers to understand, such as Scottish, Welsh, South London and Cornwall. Yet most Brits prefer the standard London dialect as the primary language of teaching.
In the US, there are many regions whose distinction lies clearly on the accent and dialect. Speaking from a northerner’s point of view, it is much more difficult to understand someone with a southern dialect originating from an area like Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia than one from the New England and East Coast states. Yet it does not mean that they cannot teach English in the classroom of a school in a foreign country.  Many American teachers abroad have chosen what I call the Chicago dialect, which is the primary language of the northern half of the country because it is clear and understandable, despite some over-usage of strong accents, like the words with R, E and/or A, for example . In other words, it is important for us to be a Chicagoan than a Texan if we use American English in the classroom.  Some examples of both British and American dialects can be found in the videos below:

Still, many non-native speakers of English have problems understanding the American form for several reasons. Apart from the dialect difference, we love to roll our Rs and Es, while talking fast and continually like hives of bees. And this can turn off many participants in the classroom right away, even if we are as loud and boisterous as the typical American stereotype.  Speaking from experience, a teacher cannot expect the students to keep up with the pace without them having to ask him/her to slow down. Henceforth, there are some tips for all American teachers to ensure that the experience teaching English in the classroom is an enjoyable one, instead of a nightmare.
Mr. Smith’s Teaching Tips for Communicating in the Classroom:
Speak slowly and clearly. If you need to, over-enunciate some words. It is very important that you speak at a pace where the students can understand you but you feel comfortable with the tempo. It will be difficult enough for them to pick up everything you say. Pending on the learning level, you may need to speak extra slow if their English knowledge is limited.

IDEA: Should you have problems keeping the tempo, or even enunciating the words, try speaking with a partner or group of people prior to your entrance into the classroom and allow them to give you some tips. Having some constructive criticism helps you to learn how to maintain your tempo.  Also useful is speaking with a wine cork in your mouth, placed between your teeth. A quirky exercise, but after a few sessions, it will help you speak more slowly and clearly.
If you have a regional dialect that is difficult to understand, try speaking with the universal accent that is known. America has its Chicago dialect. Britain its London. Germany has its Hamburg and Frankfurt dialects. Switzerland: Bernese for German, Genevan for French and Locarno for Italian.  You don’t need to be perfect in those, but using them as reference can help you better speak with a dialect that is understandable with your students.  Remember though, you don’t need to live in these regions in order to adopt it. It takes 10 years to do that, and by the time you’ve mastered it, you will most likely move onto another region with a different dialect.

 

Make sure you ask your students if they understand everything or have any questions. Asking is free and both students and teacher will benefit from it, whether it is for clarifying something that is confusing or elaborating further on a theme that is difficult to understand. As a rule of thumb, explain your concepts and the like as if you’re explaining it to a child- this quote should ring a bell, if you are a Denzel Washington fan.

 

And most importantly, never assume everyone will understand everything. Lower your expectations and plan according to their learning knowledge. Assumptions, speculations and guessing are costly to the teacher and his reputation towards the students, as well as the students  who will perceive him as arrogant and thinking too much of himself.

 

By following these simple tips, teachers will be able to have an enjoyable class with students who will benefit from a little learning. After a long day, students expect some relaxing entertainment from the teacher when learning English, and if the teacher can make it fun for them, the students will come away learning some new things about the language every day, be it vocabulary, grammar or anything pertaining to culture.
With that I would like to leave with a simple note. If someone tells you, as a teacher, that you need professional help because you speak too fast or have a strange dialect or accent that if not understandable to others, even if it is an American one, don’t take it seriously. That person probably hates you because you wanted to take her job away, which is not what teaching foreign languages is about. And perhaps it’s a sign to look for another teaching job in a friendlier environment. Upon consulting with a teacher of speech communication at a German university (whose name I will not elaborate because of privacy purposes), speech therapists only work with people with issues pertaining to lisps, malformed or even malfunctioning Adam’s Apples and accents in one’s native tongue that are caused by physical ailments or psychological issues.  Most problems in the world are treatable by working on it on your own and not through that of a therapist. Save the therapist for issues that you cannot control, yet if in doubt and people really have problems understanding you (not just a couple but numerous others), talk to a friend, trusting colleague or family member about it. Nine times out of ten you can take care of it yourself just by making a few minor adjustments or even practicing.

The Problem with Soccer in Germany Part 2: Fan Behavior- How the German Soccer Leagues should crack down on fan violence

Could basketball and handball surpass soccer as the most favorite sport to watch in Germany? It may be the case, after watching this basketball game between Bayreuth and Oldenbourg in the German Basketball Premier League in Dec. 2010. Bayreuth lost a heartbreaker on its home court 85-84.

Going to a soccer game on a Saturday at a German soccer stadium is a ritual for at least 10 million fans. For 90 minutes they enjoy the company of their friends and family, cheering for their favorite team, booing at the referees for making a wrong call, singing and supporting their team with slogans and fan waving, and when their favorite team scores the winning goal, they race to the entrance of the locker room, cheering and congratulating the team on a job well done.
Yet looking at soccer in Germany this year, the scene presents a rather different story. Instead of cheering for their team, fans are taunting them even if they lose, throwing firecrackers and smoke bombs in the stands and on the field. Fights are breaking out between the fans of both teams, while some are chasing the fan bus, throwing stones at the windows and harassing the driver. And the most climatic event to signal the end of Premier League Play was on 16 May in the relegation play between Hertha BSC Berlin and Fortuna Duesseldorf, when thousands of fans stormed the soccer field to celebrate Duesseldorf’s promotion to the top flight league and Berlin’s relegation to the second tier league- but with two minutes left in regulation! It took 20 minutes to bring the fans back to their seats before the game could continue, which had contain so much chaos, and as a consequence, involved the German government afterwards. While the team from Hertha filed a complaint and demanded that the game be replayed, it fell on deaf ears on the part of the German Soccer Federation (DFB) and the DFB Supreme Court. Still, it is a cause for alarm in Germany as the problem with fans, the team and even the law enforcement has reached a point where tougher measures will have to be made before the start of the 2012/13 season.
Normally one will see such fan behavior in American sports, as millions of viewers have seen some events that have led to questions about the role of fans and athletes. The best example can be found in the event on 19 November, 2004 at a basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, where a brawl among the players gave a fan an incentive to throw an object at Ron Artest, who raced into the stands to beat him up. Other fans and players jumped in and a minute later, the court was loaded with people throwing punches and kicking each other. The game was called off with less than a minute left. Artest and at least 10 other players other received suspensions of up to a year; the fan instigating the attack was banned from attending any professional basketball games at the place where the brawl took place- Detroit-for life.
In Germany, many people take pride in the country’s sports, whether it is handball or basketball. While watching a game in each sport in the last two years- a basketball game in Bayreuth (Bavaria) and a handball game in Flensburg, the mood of the fans was spectacular, as there was cheering and jeering, people meeting new people, and there were no firecrackers thrown in the sporting complexes, let alone fans running onto the court to hinder a game. Even the cheerleaders and the DJs managed to involve the fans and provide them with a spectacular show, to make the trip to the game worthwhile. An example of such sportsmanship between the fans and the players, were found in a game between SG Flensburg-Handewitt and Gummersbach on 27 April, 2011, a game which Flensburg won in a seesaw match 29-25.

Yet the fan problem in German soccer has become so dire that the DFB, German soccer leagues, the federal government, police and its labor unions, and other parties are coming together this summer to discuss ways to crack down on fan violence. Already conclusive is the fact that fines and sanctions against teams, whose fans instigated the violence, have had very little effect on curbing the violence. Banning fans from attending any soccer games, as has been stressed by German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich after the disastrous  game between Duesseldorf and Berlin may not be the most effective as fans can find creative ways of entering the soccer stadium masquerading as someone else and causing trouble there as well. The police and its union have strongly recommended that each of the 54 top flight teams and the DFB provide security fees and take points off the standings for teams instigating the violence. Yet many teams may not afford high fees for security, and for some who are cutting costs in order to compete, security is one of those aspects that has been on the chopping block.
The most viable solution to the increase in fan violence is to combine all the variants and add a five-year ban from competing on the national and international level, leaving them stuck in the Regionalliga (the fourth league) to set an example for other teams to clean up their act and be square with their fans, while at the same time, demand that each team entering the top three leagues to have strict security measures in place for every game and tournament. This includes taking finger prints and facial scans from each fan entering a sports stadium and having a database for them so that they can be tracked, scanning them for all forms of firecrackers and any materials that could potentially cause a fire, and even involving the German military at places where violence is the norm at the soccer games. In the case of the 2012 season so far, that would mean cities like Frankfurt and the surrounding areas, Cologne, Berlin, Dresden and Karlsruhe, where reports of violence have been recorded the most, would have military presence.  A record of the violence during the 2011/12 soccer season can be found here. The last part is a common practice in regions prone to violence, like the Middle East and Africa, yet it seems like the trend has arrived here, which makes more law enforcement through the police and army a necessary and not a luxury.  Should teams not afford strict security measures, they would not be allowed to compete in the top three leagues.
In the event that violence breaks out during or even after the soccer game, a “Three Strikes and You’re Out” rule should be enforced on all teams, keeping track of the record of violence committed by fans of the teams as well as scrutinizing the teams that are unable to control them. First strike means fines in the six digits and three points taken off, second strike means doubling of fines and six points taken off and the third strike means automatic relegation one league lower. If the event happens the fourth time, a five-year ban should be imposed. This rule is based on a law in the US dealing with drunk driving that was passed in the 1990s, which exists in most of the states- first strike meaning heavy fines, second strike meaning revoking the driving license and the third strike meaning jail time, in some cases, permanently. Yet its origins come from America’s favorite past time sport, baseball.  A ban from attending any soccer game for those committing the violence should be enforced, but the responsibility of keeping order at a soccer game lies solely with the two teams competing with each other. Therefore, one should consider the punishment for each insubordination a punishment for all involved.  While these measures are probably the harshest and it may contrabate the Constitutional Laws, resulting in the involvement of the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe on many occasions, but given the sophistication of the violence committed at German Soccer games, if even the German government is stepping up pressure for action, then the situation is at the point where inaction is no longer an option.
If there is a silver lining to all the violence, especially at the end of the season, it is fortunate that there have been no deaths or severe injuries reported. But it takes a tragedy to change that. It may not be the one similar to the infamous soccer stadium fire at Bradford City (in the UK) 0n 11 May, 1985, but one death will change the way we think about the game of soccer in Germany. We have already seen that in other places, as one can see with the violence at a soccer game at Port Said in Egypt on 1 February of this year, where over 70 people were killed. Unfortunately, Germany has taken one step closer to the danger zone and should the violence persist by the time the whistle blows to start the next season, we could see our first casualty recorded, regardless of which league game it is. When that happens, it will change the face of German soccer forever to a point where if there is a soccer game, the only way we will see it is on TV…….. as a virtual computer game!

 

 

Flensburg Files Fast Fact

Thestadium fire at Bradford City was (supposedly) caused by someone dropping a cigarette into the wooden bleachers full of rubbish, causing a fire that engulfed the stadium in less than five minutes. 56 people died in the fire and over 260 were injured. The fortunate part was the fact that no barriers to the soccer field were in place, like it is in today’s soccer stadiums in general, which allowed most of the fans to escape through the soccer field. It was a tragic end to the team’s promotion to the second tier of the British Premier League. The stadium was rebuilt in several phases (finishing in 2001), including replacing the wooden bleachers with steel and concrete. Since the fire, a ban of wooden bleachers have been enforced both in Britain as well as the rest of Europe.

 

Flensburg Files’ Fragen Forum:

After reading this article and watching the clips, here are a couple questions for you to mull over and discuss with other readers:

1. How would you approach the problem of fan violence in soccer stadium? Which measures are the most effective in your opinion: fines and other sanctions against teams, finger print scanning and keeping a database of the fans, point reduction in the football standings, banning teams with fan trouble from competing in certain leagues, or a combination of some of the measures? If none of the suggestions work, what would you suggest?

2. Do you think handball and basketball will surpass soccer in Germany in terms of popularity? Or will soccer remain a household name, like America has its household name sports of American football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey?

3. Do you think fan violence is a universal problem in sports or is it focused on selective sports?

 

Please submit your answers in the Comment section, which is here after this article.  Thanks and looking forward to hearing from you readers!