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. 

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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The City of Lights

St. Jürgen’s Cathedral taken from the west end of the harbor. Photo taken in April, 2011

 

 

Revisiting the town for the first time since Pentecost, I’ve already found a few nicknames that makes this city a unique place to visit, let alone live there, if the opportunity knocks. Apart from it being a border town, as it borders Denmark and is next to its neighboring city of Padborg, the city is the birthplace of rum and still is a powerhouse in that area, despite its loss of significance in the past two decades. An American counterpart exists in Minnesota, which a commentary will be written about it at a different time. It is a very popular place for clippers and sailboats, as they cruise along the Fjord and provide some impressions from many who are fascinated by them. When I was there last year, I considered Flensburg as a City of Solitude, where people go to find their inner piece and reflect on themselves. One can also add that it is a City of Solidarity, where friends meet and prosperity exists no matter where you go. Part of that was due to its coexistence of Germans, Danes, and other foreigners alike. In other words, it is truly multicultural where you witness several languages and cultures, and experience the history that makes the city of nearly 90,000 special.

The author on his latest visit over Easter found a brand new nickname that makes Flensburg what it is: The City of Lights!  While the city may look like any other city when you enter it, with all of shopping areas and freeways tangenting its way around the city. However, when you drive in the direction of the city center, past those areas, past the very large but vacant EXE Center, which hosts many events including outdoor concerts and flea markets, and head down the hill towards the harbor, you will know what I’m talking about. Both sides of the harbor are well lit that it not only presents passersby with some unqiue attractions worth stopping to visit, but also (especially with the areas along Roter Strasse and right on the harbor’s edge), it resembles Flensburg as a place where everyone goes out on the town until the wee hours in the morning. It may not be like the bigger cities, like Berlin, Leipzig, or Frankfurt (Main), but the town never sleeps at night, unlike some of the towns its size, including Bayreuth or Eisenach.  No matter where you go at night, there is always something going on at the harbor area.

Flensburg’s skyline at night- it is just as active as its looks. Photo taken in April, 2011

 

 

While it is impossible to describe every aspect of Flensburg at night, as it would take up a library’s worth of the column, the author decided to choose the most important pics worth seeing (with a few notes) to show how attractive the City of Lights is and how lively it is, no matter where you go. So without ado, here it goes:

1. St. Jürgen’s Cathedral: This is one of the first sites you will see when entering the city center and harbor area, as it overlooks the area from the east end of the harbor on the hill. The second tallest building behind the city hall (built in the 1960s), one can be awed in its beauty from a distance, regardless of the time of day. However, up close and personal, you can see why people flock to this unique historic place of interest.

All photos here were taken in April 2011

 

 

2. Roter Strasse/ Norderstrasse: The 2 kilometer stretch beginning at the Nordertor and ending at the Sudermarkt provides the tourist with a shopping mall-like atmosphere at night regardless if all the shops are open or not. A lot of the places along this stretch show their true colors at night that it would be a sin not to photograph them. This includes the former sugar factories and rum distilleries along the Rum and Sugar Mile, the Nordermarkt, Marienkirche, and Alte Post, located between the bus depot and Sudermarkt

Roter Strasse

 

Nordermarkt
Marienkirche next to Nordermarkt
Altes Post Building- a former post office now converted into a bank. Photo taken in May 2010

 

 

3. The Harbor Front. Between the Roter Strasse and the harbor front on the west end is bustling with activity at night, as a dozen restaurants, bars and eateries attract a huge crowd through the wee hours of the morning. Most notable include Hansen’s Restaurant and Brewery, Piet Henningsen, and a pair of Irish Pubs located in the vicinity of the bus depot. This is a complement to the other activities that can only be done in the daytime, such as boating, swimming and and city tours. The only time of the day in which the city lies empty in this section is early in the morning between 4 and 6am, except on the days of rest, where in this case, many people elect to sleep in a couple hours more.

East side of the harbor with the Goethe School in the background
West end of the harbor with the Marienkirche sticking out.
Hansen’s Brewery and Restaurant- one of Flensburg’s finest local diners located on the western edge of the harbor.

 

 

 

4. Goethe, Christian-Paulsen-Skole and Altes Gymnasium Schools.  The first is located not far from the St. Jürgen’s Cathedral; the other two are on the west end, with the second one being a Danish School. All have recently been in the limelight; especially at night, where one can see all three of them from the tip of the harbor or from the north end near Murwik. All of them have one thing in common and that is its pride in educating the city’s population.

Goethe School- taken from the hill near the Catholic Church
Altes Gymnasium High School
The Paulsen Danish School

 

 

 

Then there are some other night pics that are worth mentioning even though they don’t fall into the four categories. There is a reason for these shots, as they will be explained in each pics.

Goldene Lillie near Sudermarkt
The St. Nicolas Church
Former Matz Distillery now a police station and hotel.

 

 

 

While Flensburg may be a really attractive place at anytime of the year, one wonders if the city really stands out as a tourist attraction and place to party at night, then the question is what would the city look like when the Christmas markets come to town at the end of the November and stays there until right before Santa Claus comes to town… We’ll find out eventually. In the meantime, let’s do some window shopping along the Rum-Sugar Mile, shall we?