The Power of the Apple: A New Genre of the Week Series

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There is the old saying that we use in American English: An Apple a Day Helps Keep the Doctor Away. It is a it is a well-known fact that the apple is the main fruit that people enjoy eating, let using as the main ingredient for pastries, juices and salads. With its array of vitamins and minerals, the apple provides strength for the human body as well as the mind. That was probably the main reason why Johnny Appleseed during the 1820s planted and maintained hundreds of apple trees, providing new settlers with a key source of nutrients. It is a well-known fact that his motive behind his orchards was to provide unity for a young country, like the United States, as it was growing- both in size and population, but also in terms of intellect. After all, most ideas, including the creation of the Constitution and its modern form of democracy came just by having an apple ready- for consumption and for painting a prosperous future.

 

But the apple does more than just give us ideas. It strengthens the soul, providing us with inner-peace, providing us with a sense of an open-heart and mind and gives us the energy we need to love ourselves and others.

 

When you offer an apple, you offer the other a bridge to cross and a new path (and/or) idea(s) to open/improve ties and to make life better for yourself and others.

 

To offer an apple means to offer friendship

To offer an apple means to be open to new cultures, ideas and things

To offer an apple means to be open to others and their ideas and thoughts

To offer an apple also means to offer the most important lessons in life,

Such as loving your neighbor, your friends, your family and yourself,

Such as learning something new and tolerating and accepting others for their way of life

And most important showing respect and kindness towards others and most importantly,

Being decent people.

 

In the past month, as I was compiling some ideas for the Luther series in the Files, I learned that the apple can be a powerful product that can create ties and bind people together, solve problems that are complex and find solutions, and create ways to better ourselves and society.

 

While Martin Luther brought his disciples and followers together over a mug of beer- homebrewed by his faithful wife, Katharina von Bora, many authors (myself included) have found ways of using the apple for the purpose of literature, providing us with some valuable lessons that we seemed to have forgotten but are in dire need of learning about- especially in times of hardships around the globe.

Therefore, parallel to the Year of Luther and the noted works, the Files will introduce some literary works dealing with the apple and how it works wonders on society. Like in the Genre of the Week series, the works will be profiled with the main theme of how the apple is used in the context. Some like the first profile will be in a form of a book, others in the form of poems, narratives and other works. It will also include a couple from the author based on his personal experiences, one of which is tied to the works of Luther.  Between now and Christmas, you can find some works under this theme, intermingling with those of Luther and others- some of which will be posted here on the areavoices page, but for sure, you will find them on the Files’ wordpress page. It is hoped that when looking at the pieces, one will learn the morals of life, and especially how the apple symbolized unity, not just for one community or even country, but for society in general; especially with all the problems we are facing (and will be facing for years to come).

Without further ado, let’s have a look at the first piece that deals with the apple, rumors and the truth. That can be found in Mr. Peabody’s Apple, which you can click here.

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Genre of the Week: The Beauty of What We’ll Never Know by Pico Iyer

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Take a few moments and ask yourselves these questions:

  1. What is beauty in your own terms? Is it what you look like, what you see, what you hear or feel, or is it based on a personal experience that you’ve encountered?
  2. What moment in your life was considered the most life-altering and how did this experience change you in a positive sense?
  3. What place (or person) would you like to see before you die? What about an activity or event?

These questions may be simple from the outside but have an important meaning when looking at them and ourselves more closely. We live in a society where we have a choice between two paths: one where we settle down, have a family, job, house and a set of friends to hang out with, talking about politics and sports and contributing to the good of the community. There is the other path, where you explore new places and experience new things that help you think about the beauty of the world and what it has to offer.

One can jump to conclusions and assume that Germans are wanderers of the world, travelling four or five times a year and exploring new areas, and Americans love to stay put and enjoy the local scenery- especially when looking at the younger generations starting with the ones born in the mid-1970s. However, when speaking from experience, I would go as far as saying that each of us have the urge of being a wandering family- having a partner and a child or two, while exploring both new places as well as our own surroundings.  It doesn’t matter what previous knowledge we have- if we have the urge to do something, we do it for a reason- for trying something new, experiencing the unexpected and lastly, being open about it.

And this is why we are looking at this Genre of the Week, entitled The Beauty We’ll Never Know, a TED Summit talk by Pico Iyer. Born of parents of Indian origin, who were both scholars of their time, Iyer was a Buddhist, born in Oxford, England in 1957,  and after having studied literature at the colleges of Eton, Oxford and Harvard, he started his career as a journalist at Time Magazine in 1982, before moving to Japan in 1992, having been married to a Japanese wife, Hiroko and settled down there, writing full time about life and his travels, while teaching on the side. He has written several British essays as well as those about Indian life, but has written several novels, including the famed Video Night in Khatmandu. He has done a lot of TED talks in the past five years about life and how we should take it for granted, as society has changed to a point where knowledge alone will not help in us understanding the process.

In this talk, he doesn’t talk about his experiences in Japan per se. That is only a side-dish. However, his theme of the talk deals with the way we should take in life and not worry about settling down and letting things happen, for after all, we learn something new every day, including all of the tiniest aspects that we don’t understand as a mainstream societal audience. Furthermore, there is beauty in everything we see, even if we don’t see it right away.   So have a look at the talk and think about the following aspects:

  1. Look at the environment around you and see it from outside the box. How beautiful is it? What aspects do you love about it? What would you like to do to make the environment even better?
  2. What things in life would you like to explore before you die? Could be things, people, places or the like.
  3. What holds you back from going out there boldly and learning something new?

Remember: The best knowledge is what we DON’T know.

For more on his work, please check out his webpage with details on his life as a British author of Indian descent, living in Japan and making the most of life. Pico has spoken many times at TED summits on many subjects. You can find this and other talks here.

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Genre of the Week: The Twelve Dancing Princesses (Ger.: Die zertanzten Schuhe)

Amanda and her 11 sisters after being discovered dancing. Photo taken during the MDR film produced in 2011. Courtesy of Nik Konietzny and MDR. Used with permission

Love: How far can a man go to win the love of the woman of his dreams? Even more so when the woman is not in love with him at the beginning? Sometimes it takes courage to even make the attempts to capture a woman’s heart. In many cases these attempts take time, patience and in the case of this week’s genre profile, a lot of curiosity to get inside a woman’s inner self, find that secret that is revealed, and in the end, the key that will open the gates of love and live happily after after.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses was one of over 300 works of literature written by the Grimm Brothers. Between 1812 and 1857, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected and wrote many German folklore tales, most of which have either been adapted to film, used in the classroom or found in many book collections found at a book store or library. One will never get an appreciation of literature, regardless of language, without reading at least three works by Grimm. Some of them were most likely read aloud by the parents without the child knowing who wrote it (click here to see the list).

The Twelve Dancing Princesses was one of the first tales written in 1815 and has since been produced in different variants, all of which are structured around the 12 dancing daughters of the king, the soldier who wins the love of the oldest, and Amanda (or Azalea) the oldest of the 12 daughters. The plot is as follows: The king has 12 daughters who have a secret that leaves him perplexed. Each of them has a new pair of shining shoes which mysteriously have holes in them the next morning, The King offers his kingdom and the hand in marriage to the eldest daughter, Amanda, to the person who can discover the secret within three days. A soldier returning from war takes up the king’s offer and is well received. His role varies from variation to variation of the book and film. In the MDR-film version produced in 2011, he was a puppeteer and an actor. In either case, he is offered a glass of wine various times by the eldest, Amanda, which he rejects indirectly by pouring it out when she left. The wine was meant to put him to a deep sleep while the girls go dancing in the night.  He later pretended to sleep in order to find out the secret of the 12 princesses. which when he does, he’s due for a surprise that is unexpected.  The explanations will not go on further as one should watch the versions below to find out how the story ended. The German versions feature both the shortened cartoon version as well as the longer version produced by MDR. There is an English version featuring Barbie, yet they are rarer to find than in the German version. In either case, enjoy the films but don’t forget to scroll down to the commentary at the end. 🙂

Die zertanzte Schuhe (Shortened version)

Die zertanzte Schuhe (lange Version) Produced by MDR in 2011

The Twelve Princesses (English Version)

The theme of the 12 Princesses is love and ways to win it, no matter what the cost and the number of rejections the pursuer faces. This was a topic of a recent discussion I had with some students at a private firm, especially as one of them had taken an interest in a student colleague of his during a project- a rather religious girl in her mid-20s living in the eastern part of Germany. When he said that she was not interested in him at all despite his attempts of even befriending her, my response was to give it time, for the worst thing a person can do is to rush into a relationship, only to find that neither partner would be happy in the end. Put love on cruise control  and let things unfold. Sometimes women can be coconuts: they need time to soften before they can be opened.   I hope he takes this advice seriously, as it appears that the person  fits the description of the eldest daughter- not interested in someone lower than her because of differences in personality, and other items unknown. Sometimes by letting things fall into place, love will blossom in more colorful ways than in a shotgun relationship. This was my experience meeting my wife during my days in college in the US, almost 20 years ago.  Sometimes it’s better off to leave it and find someone else. And sometimes, maybe that person would rather be a friend than a partner. I had those experiences and it’s also ok. It shows interest but not all the way. Sometimes if you really want to love that person  of your dreams and you refuse to give up, you might have to have to play her game in order to find her secret and what you are looking for. In either case, the main character in the story found his way to her heart by revealing more than he thought, but it came at a price, which is what you can expect from love. So in other words, be careful with who you are pursuing to love. As shown in this Grimm piece, you may end up receiving more than you expected. Sometimes the unexpected can be an everlasting one. 🙂

Love was one of the main themes that the Grimm brothers wrote about in their 40+ years of collaboration together. There are other themes that they covered, but these will be discussed later, for more of their work will be profiled in the Files in the near future. In the meantime, have a look at the film and think about the following questions:

Was/Is there a person who you are/were truly interested, yet that person was/is not interested? If so, what attempts did you make to win her love/attention? Were they successful? What could you have done differently?

Think about it and discuss it with others. Perhaps others may have some advice for you. 🙂 <3

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Author’s Note: The photo was taken during the filming of The 12 Dancing Princesses by MDR in 2011. The author would like to thank Nik Konietzny and the public TV station for its use in the article. MDR stands for Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk and is based in Leipzig/Halle, serving east central Germany.

A Tribute to Günter Grass

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This week’s Genre of the Week, presented by the Files that is in connection with English and life in Germany, had to take a moment of pause- and for a good reason. Germany lost a literary great yesterday (13 April, 2015)- a controversial one but one of the key pillars representing literature in modern German history after 1945, and one who will have his place in the top 20 of all German writing greats. In its place, the Files would like to pay homage to this particular writer, who passed away peacefully in Lübeck at the age of 87.

Günter Grass was one of the very first literary greats I was introduced to in my college German classes at my alma mater, Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, when I studied German in the late 1990s. At that time I was taken aback because I had expected the teachers to introduce more popular German literary greats that we could associate ourselves with German culture and history, such as Erich Kästner, the Grimm brothers, and Wolfgang Goethe. But on hindsight, the decision of bringing him in the limelight was perhaps the best ones the teachers ever made, for Mr. Grass represented one of the children rising from the ashes of the fallen National Socialist Reich, one of many who engineered the reinvention of the Bundesrepublik through his writing and participation in discussions on the political and literary platforms, and one of many who through his experiences in his youth during the Nazi era and subsequentially, World War II, as well as a young man who was part of the reconstruction process in Germany, brought forth many lessons from Germany’s past that we, as the majority of a fast-moving society- have remembered some but forgotten the rest.

This includes the establishment and reestablishment of a nation and its effects on its people, as he described in his Danzig Trilogy, a set of novels built from 1959 to 1963 and whose book Tin Drum was converted into a film in 1979. Danzig was his place of birth and childhood, and Grass’ books looked at how the rise and fall of the Third Reich and Hitler’s tyranny brought out the worst among his people, splitting families into two (pro-Nazi vs pro-Slavic) and persecuting the minority, thus producing the scar of guilt that still lingers today, years after he wrote his works. Grass himself was initially opposed to German reunification fearing that a unified country would dominate the European landscape, thus rekindling German fears that he had experienced while growing up in Danzig.

Yet when talking about the reestablishment of the country, it does not come with obstacles that the people faced during this phase, as Grass wrote about in his books on My Century and Crabwalk. There, he described the persecutions that happened to the Germans after World War II as the country was being rebuilt. The historic fiction written in the two books were based on Grass’ experience and spurned discussions on the German question, where people were split up between those wanting to leave Germany behind and those who want to rebuild Germany and reinvent the country’s image, walking away from the nightmares of the past that happened during the Third Reich. This platform on the reinvention and recreation of Germany was later used in several films whose plot took place after 1945. Among them include  a German film released in 2013 entitled Schicksaljahre, a story about a family torn apart by The Third Reich and World War II, and was forced to rebuild after the war ended.

But despite all the stories he wrote about Germany, especially after the war, Grass left us with an important question worth considering: How can we cope with the past while ensuring that the mistakes we made in life will never happen again- both from the same individual as well as by passing it on to others to repeat them? This is a question that will never be answered in its entirety for our lives are based on our raw talents and abilities. We keep making changes in order to make something as perfect as possible, only to find that once the finished product is completed, it still contains the imperfections that will surface and never change. Being raw has its advantages, where we find a way to create and make perfect but we never reach this perfection. This was something Grass mentions about in his interview conducted in 2013 (which you can see below as well), as he talks about how his literary works were considered raw and how he rigorously made changes, big and small, even when the manuscript was about to go to the press. The same mentality applied to his artwork, for he was a painter and produced many paintings and drawings on the side, some of which received many accolades for the work.

In the end, despite the controversies he had, especially with regards to his role as a Nazi soldier in his youth and his frigid relations with Israel, Günter Grass was considered a protocol of his time, showing the readers life in Germany during the darkest times and afterwards, but also showing them that Germany was anything but a savage state, as many people considered the country after the war and for many years prior to 1989. Germany, in his view, was a country like any other country- a raw state going through the developments after the war in order for it to be like the other states. At the same time, he saw that even though Germans affected by the tyranny of Hitler and the affects of the war felt the guilt of their country and what happened during the war and with the Holocaust, they had a chance to rebuild from the ground up and over time, walked away and embraced the future. Germany’s past will not be forgotten, but its development into the state it is today is still being remembered and admired by many. And with that I must say, Grass will be missed as one of the founding fathers of modern German literature, with a Nobel Peace Prize in his hand and definitely a standing ovation from the other literary greats awaiting him above. That is after getting honored by many who knew him through his works here.

In honoring Günter Grass, the Files has a collection of videos for you to watch, many of which are in German, except the interview has English subtitles. The interview includes his views on social networking versus talking to people, which is worth interesting to watch and think about. The aforementioned example films Der Blechtrommel (read by the author) and Schicksaljahre (starring Maria Furtwängler) are included as well:

Interview in 2013:

 

 

Der Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) Listening (in German)

English Version:

Günter Grass and his Distaste towards Facebook and Technology:

Schicksaljahre  (EN: The Years of Mystery)

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In School in Germany: History and Literature DO Mix.

 

Historic Fiction- a term that many people should know about when becoming teachers. This type of genre features a fictitious story with characters that do not exist in real life, but whose background and setting exists in reality. Tens of thousands of such literary works, published in the past 15 years, can be found on the shelves of libraries and book stores, waiting for people to purchase them. One of which is the focus of this article: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Published in 1925, the Great Gatsby features four main characters and three other characters that have supporting roles:  Nick Caraway (the bonds salesman and narrator), Tom and Daisy Buchanan (Nick’s college friend and cousin respectively) and Jay Gatsby (Nick’s neighbor who has a love affair with Daisy) are the main four; Jordan Baker (Daisy’s friend and Nick’s love interest), and George and Myrtle Wilson (the former,  a gas station owner, the latter, his wife who has an affair with Tom) as supporting characters.  These fictional characters find themselves on Long Island with Tom and Daisy living in a mansion at East Egg, the rest are at West Egg. The story presents the two polar sides of the Roaring 20s that made the era rather gilded. There was the rather rich and extravagant side of society, featuring parties, flappers and utter carelessness. There was also the poor and desperate side of society, where people struggling to survive would do anything just to make a buck.  The book was converted into a Hollywood film twice, and regardless of which version of Gatsby you watched or like (I prefer the Robert Redford 1974 version clearly over the DiCaprio version), we all know what happens when rich and poor collide in the story.
But Gatsby is only a fraction of the point that I’m getting to, which is the fact that one can use literature in history class as a way of providing the students with an inside look at certain periods of time and what society looked like. Part of the reason for such literature has to do with what the author himself experienced in his life. Fitzgerald himself was involved in the scene during his visit on Long Island prior to his book and saw some of the things that were typical of that time, both good and bad. Another part has to do with author’s observing the immorals and even talking to people about them, then writing about it in a different form. In either case, one could consider both of them a form of muckraking. By looking at the literature, one can actually get into the story and try and understand the situation in relation to the historical events of the period from one’s own point of view. By doing so, students will have an opportunity to share their views in class, pending on how the teacher poses the questions in connection with the literature and its historic context.

There are two ways of handling literature in connection with history. One would be to go through the book, chapter by chapter, providing questions and exercises along the way. Traditional and good for those with a good command of the language, yet if the language level is lower because the working language is foreign, some rewriting and adaptation may be needed, or one can go further by taking out some excerpts and integrating them into the theme.

The other is using the film based on the book, but choosing the scenes that are appropriate to the theme presented in class. This was the approach I chose while discussing about the Roaring 20s and including the scenes at the beginning of The Great Gatsby: East Egg and its richness in the literal sense and West Egg, where Nick’s small hut and the run down gas station are overshadowed by Gatsby’s Mansion.  Can you tell the difference in the following clips? And do they fit the image of the Roaring 20s?

 

 

When choosing this approach, one has to carefully choose the film that best fits the theme to be discussed in history. The 1974 version of Gatsby best fits the image of the 1920s and is not as overdone as the remade version of last year. But more importantly is the fact that one has to choose the scenes that best fits the topic and where you can ask the students some questions. This one will require more time as you will need to watch the film and pick the scenes that best fit. Painstaking it is, but it is worth it, especially if you have family members who are willing to play along. 😉

How you use literature in history or even social studies classes depends on the group you are teaching. Students in grades 9-12 as well as college students will more likely read the novel you choose than those from grade 8 down. But it also depends on their learning level, their language skills (especially if you teach a bilingual class), and their willingness to learn new things but in a way that it does not require the traditional form of Frontalunterricht (frontal teaching where the teacher is the center of attention and the blackboard is used almost exclusively).  It is a question of how you, as the teacher, prepare your class and how you try and integrate the literature, let alone the film based on the literary piece.  If you feel the students are up to the challenge, try it. You will be amazed with the results. This was the case with my experiment, and if you have the right calculations, like I did, you can have a really productive session with discussion and fun.

 

Author’s Note: Many German universities are introducing interdisciplinary studies where literature, politics, culture and history are mixed together and offered to students, who are interested in such studies. Over 20 universities are offering North American studies (or similar), and counting. What a student can do with such a degree will be discussed later in the Files.