Leipzig Book Convention 2018: No Record but Lots of Suspense

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LEIPZIG-  If there is one theme that would sum up the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention this past weekend, it would be suspense. While members of the committee had expected another record year with a possible 300,000 visitors, that mark was missed by a long shot and for the first time in six years, the number of visitors at this year’s convention had decreased. 271,000 visitors went to the convention that took place from 15th to 18th March, a decrease of 14,000 from last year’s number of 285,000.  But despite the decrease, there was a lot of suspense in this year’s convention, which goes beyond the theme of Romania as the guest country. Here are some examples based on the author’s annual visit together with family members:

Snow and Cold- The decrease in numbers had a lot to do with Old Man Winter’s last grasp. Snow and blowing snow, combined with extreme cold temperatures brought vast parts of central and northern Germany to a near standstill, with parts of Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia taking the brunt of the storm.  Frozen overhead lines and crossing points were additional factors that led to the shut down of the main railway stations in Leipzig and Halle (Saale) and the cancellation of train services spanning seven German states and points to the east. This led to overfilled streetcars and buses to the Messe Convention. Adding traffic jams on the major highways also because of blowing and drifting snow and many who wanted to go to the book convention decided to stay home- at least until the sunniest day of the convention, which was the last day (Sunday). But even then, the one critique point that seems to be the problem in Germany is snow removal, where much of the parking lots were still unplowed when guests arrived on Sunday, undoubtedly the peak of the four-day long convention.

Fighting the Right- Another factor affecting the numbers is the increase in the number and influence of the far-right media. Several publishing companies producing such propaganda in newspapers and books were present, mostly in Hall 3. This included Compact and Neue Stimmen, a pair of most prominent magazines that have ties with the far right groups including the Pegida, National Party (NPD) and Alternative for Germany (AfD), the third of which is currently in the German Federal Parliament as an opposition to the newly created Grand Coalition with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats.  Especially on Friday and Saturdays clashes broke out between the far right and far left, resulting in police involvement and arrests. As they wanted to avoid massive conflicts like it happened at the 2017 Book Convention in Frankfurt/Main, it was met with partial success for despite measures to prevent violent outbreaks, the far right, with its anti-democratic and anti-European policies kept many away because of their strive to commit strife. On the flip side, several prominent authors who have written about right-wing terrorism and its threat to democracy were on hand. One of them, Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad, won the European book prize for her work on Anders Breivik, a far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in two separate attacks in 2011. People like Seierstad believe that right-wing extremism has been on the rise since then, including her home country.

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Peaceful Co-existence- While the snowstorm and the far-right made waves in the media, one aspect that was seldom touched was religion. In Hall 3 there was a section where Christianity and Islam were in peaceful co-existence of each other. At least four booths with publications and newspapers on Islam and another seven on Christianity were found clumped together with people gathering to both sides of the aisle. Interesting was how the two religions attracted the people. On the side of Islam, people came in droves because of their interest in the religion and the literature that pertained to it. This is disregarding how it was written- which was either German or Arabic with a couple English examples.  This included the Islam Newspaper in German, which judging by my observations, has a lot of culture and history, but go along the mentality of the Native Americans as described by historian Dee Brown: “We are still here.” Why? Because of attempts to suppress their culture by the domination of Christianity and the western way of life, one can see that Islam still exists and the impression is that they are open to anyone wishing to learn at least a bit of the religion. There had been fears that the religion would dominate the European landscape. That is not true. The people of Islam wish to have a sort of peaceful co-existence that has not existed for a long time, for many since the time before the Arab Spring of 2011 which led to millions fleeing the war-torn areas. On the other side, Christianity was presented in a marketing fashion. While on the way to the main entrance of the convention, we were greeted by hippie-style Christians who gave us a free coupon to one of the booths that was giving away books dealing with stories involving Christ, philosophy and the existence of God. Another booth was continuing the Martin Luther celebrations of 500 years ago by illustrating the printing press used to produce the 500 Theses written by Luther. And then there was Christianity in the form of music and schools that offer both. Target language was both German and English and they attracted a fair number of people. Yet despite the moderate increase of younger people joining Christ, the numbers have decreased on a global scale thanks to corruption, sex abuse scandals and attempts to associate Christianity with far-right figures, such as US President Trump. One can see the desperate attempts to convince people to join by giving away books upon leaving the Buch Messe- and seeing tons being discarded in garbage cans in the parking lot. It does appear that if Christianity was to regain its original form, it may need to separate itself from politics and reinvent itself by adapting to the needs of today’s generations, a step that has been taken in some aspects, like homosexuality, but in others- like tolerance- it’s having problems doing.

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Blocks at the Manga-  While the Manga exhibition, located in Hall 5, attracted its typical individuals, which included superheroes, waitresses in short skirts, aliens, and people dressed up in outfits dating back 125 years ago, one has to look more carefully at the trends that a person can find. While the theme from last year  was lighting in Japan, this year’s theme seemed to be boxes and its several shapes, designs and sizes. No matter whether they were lunch boxes, jewelry boxes or even mini-storage boxes or even designer boxes  found at booths like the Sega games, it was a real treat just to see these boxes while looking at the products typical of Japan, which include stuffed animals, sweets, games, books and even dishware, just to name a few.

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Thinking Scandanavia- To round off our tour of the Buchmesse, we have some literature recommendations worth noting. One of the unique aspects of the convention was found at the international book section in Hall 4 and in Scandanavia. Consisting of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finnland, the themes most commonly written by authors in the region  consists of mysteries, tourism, mental well-being and lastly photography. Two books that represent fine examples of such works is a Danish work by Meik Wilking entitled The Little Book of Lykke: The Path to being the Happiest People in the World, which focuses on the Danish secret to being the happiest society in the world. This includes the way of life, physical and mental well-being, mentality towards materialist items and money as well as the power of the bicycle.  Another is a collection of night-time and sometimes underwater photography by Finnish author Petri Juntunen entitled “At the Heart of It All,” where he brings the new meaning of photography to light, as he focuses on relicts and other non-life forms that are shone down by a ray of light, showing the interest from above.

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To sum up the visit and the highlights, the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention may have not set any records this year, yet judging from the news and my own observations, one could not get enough of the suspense that was presented, both positively as well as negatively. Still, as themes, such as religion, extremism, social and cultural issues and current affairs (such as environment and climate change) become the everyday norm, such book conventions like in Leipzig and also in Frankfurt/Main will need to adapt in a way that these issues are addressed and people understand them and take action. This action should also include putting an end to hate and violence, a commodity that has always been a burden to society but one that seems to become a universal problem on all fronts, especially since the end of 2015. It is only hoped that the next book convention will bring about constructive themes and discussion instead of propagizing hatred and inequality based on things we don’t like.

The next Leipzig Buchmesse will take place  from 21st to 24th March 2019. To see more photos of the Buchmesse, please click here as it will take you to the Files’ facebook page and its photo album. Please feel free to add your photos and impressions of the Buchmesse. We love to see them. 🙂

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Don’t Plan for 2020; Plan for the Now and the Future

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Dear fellow students, former students, friends and those loving a chat with an American expatriate,

Over the years, many of you have taken a keen interest in knowing about my country and its culture, including those who either have been in Minnesota, where I was born and raised, or are planning to go there. I had many who have spent time in Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as in New Ulm, Fargo, Worthington, Winona, Duluth  and Rochester (and the Bluffs Region). I even had a former student who was an exchange student at a high school in Waseca, located between Albert Lea and Minneapolis and is where I came into the world almost 40 years ago. Many people have been asking me what my stance is on this year’s elections and despite my voting for my candidate of choice whether I would be happy with the result.

I’ve decided to put this to rest before I utter a word about it to my next class- and waste a couple valuable sessions in the process, because it is a library’s worth of explaining how messed up the United States of America has become, especially since the Elections of 2001 and the infamous hanging chads.

Last year while preparing a presentation for a lecture with a couple colleagues, one of them had a cheek to predict the end of the world and that anything we do is fruitless at this point. At that time, we didn’t have the debates but had prominent people vying for candidacy as the next President of the US by visiting regions and communities. We didn’t have a below-the-belt style of locker talk as we had in these Elections. Despite her being a devout Christian- a Lutheran- I played down her comment as absurd and totally unrealistic.

I can no longer say that when I read the results and after watching the debates, while draining the keg at the same time. In fact, if the opportunity arises, I would still like to ask her whether she holds this opinion and if so, why.  In response to what I saw in the Elections, as well as everyone else, it is as follows:

The role of the President of the United States is the most unwanted, underappreciated job of any jobs in the country. To get to where you are, you have to undergo the same procedures as Homer Simpson did when he joined the Stonecutter’s Society- getting spanked with a stick and getting humiliated in the process. This is what we saw with Clinton’s e-mail scandals together with the Benghazi affair on one end, and Trump’s Aryan rhetoric during his campaign speeches, sexual harassment lawsuits and ruined businesses. Once the ass is swollen, the media exploits you like a soap opera show and turn every debate into a wrestling match regardless of gender and who is refereeing- er moderating the debate.

With every debate I’ve watched, even over a few rounds of Flensburger Flotilla and wine, the first impression I had was any tag-team match between Velvet McIntryre and Princess Victoria vs. the Fabulous Moulah and Wendi Richter would trump the verbal spats the two candidates had. And these matches of the 1980s were real and not scripted, genuine and not choreographed, tough knuckled and not pussy-like.  And you wonder why professional wrestling of the Eighties was one of the best products produced on TV.

And now what? As a new member and leader of The Stonecutter’s Society known as the President of the United States, with a swollen ass and a bruised ego, you have a country to lead, many angry people to calm down and countries to impress. My prediction is simple: you will never make it past one year. And even if you did, the United States of America will never be the same as it was before the elections took place. It was becoming a stranger during the days since 2000. With the results of the Elections and the writing on the wall, the country where I grew up, with its pride in history, culture, landscapes and even literature, with friends and family alike, has become a total stranger. It used to be an example to follow, it is now divided like Spain prior to the Civil War (1936-39), conquered by hate and segregation similar to Germany under Hitler, an anarchic state where ideas are not welcome and selling one’s soul to Satan in order to get ahead is the norm. In four years, we could see the country as either an authoritarian state or one that is on the brink of a Nebuchadnezzar-style uprising and raid.

And what will become of the republic that we have followed for over 227 years?  A faded memory.

But it is not too late. Our votes were not fully wasted. We have a democracy but it is the one which we the people can run. While we may have voted for the lesser of two evils in the elections, it is only we who can make the changes. Why wait until the next elections in 2020 when we can make a difference? After all, with all the hatred we expressed to our candidates and the people who supported them, it is time that we take action to handle the problems the US has on its home front, let alone with other countries. I really doubt the winner will hold to his promises, nor do I think Washington can afford to rollback policies of the Reagan era, let alone prepare for the 2020 elections. We have pressing issues to deal with. And the list is long: The environment, immigration, improving foreign relations, helping war-torn countries rebuild, rebooting health care, restructuring the education system, improving the infrastructure, and so on. No president can handle this alone in four years, if he survives it. I don’t think anybody in Washington can handle it, but bickering and bitching will be a waste of time. We’ve tried two different policies since 2000 and neither one worked. I doubt the next style of policies will be any better. Therefore it is up to us, we as an international community to handle these problems head-on.

Did I use the words international community?  You bet I did.

We are no longer the people of the United States of America. We have no association between the Republicans and Democrats. We come from different backgrounds, but have the same problems as everyone else in the world. Instead of relying on politics as a way to providing comfort, we should go out there, see how things work in other countries and regions and see if we can work them into our system and our lives. We should implement the ideas we ourselves have and ensure everyone can benefit from it. We should create agreements that will benefit everyone and not the select few. We should pray for and help those who are unloved, underappreciated, narrow-minded, helpless- strangers, friends and family alike- and open the doors for God to help and bless us whenever we and they need it. We should read the Bible, Quran and other religious works and understand why the power of work and prayer works. We should learn about the other person and include him/her in our society. If fire and war hits, we should go and help them rebuild. After all, we all have a purpose in life. It is how we handle our lives that is the hardest to do, especially if we make decisions that can alter our course for the good.

While the next president will make many promises and break them, it is up to us to make and carry out solutions to the problems that we are facing, for it is we who cannot afford to wait until 2020. It is we who cannot afford to watch events to unfold. It is we who cannot afford to hide behind people whose purposes are to hurt and destroy other lives for their own gain. I know that there are more than enough unloving people out there, but we need to take action to persuade these people that we the people are doing this for their good. Believe it or not, the person predicting the apocalypse at the beginning of this article, I found her such a quote some weeks later that said just that:

We need to love the unloving, take action to help others in need and let the world under one God decide our fate. The more good we do, the better place we’ll have for generations to come and the more pride we have in ourselves that we accomplished something our president had previously promised but never carried out.

The future is now, not in 2020. We have to shine now, because we are now in uncharted territory. How events will unfold will depend on our actions and not that of others. So don’t wait, act!

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I could say more but in case you want my personal opinion about the elections between Donald Trump and Hilliary Clinton, and the state the US is in, this is my honest to God truth. We can talk about how the political system works and other issues to be resolved. However, sometimes the truth can be hard to swallow and we need time to digest it before we can decide what to do next. In my opinion, I will keep teaching and talking about my culture in comparison to Germany, continue to write my column pieces, exploit the sides we don’t read and talk about, and help those who wish to have a better life. After all, that is my sole reason for being here on this planet.

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Genre of the Week: Alternative Für Deutschland by Jennifer Rostock

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Source: Pistenwof/Festival of Summer/Wikimedia  Link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJennifer_Rostock-7.jpg

Founded in 2007, the band Jennifer Rostock has its origins that are considered unique. It features Jennifer Weist and Joe Walter, both natives of Usedom, located in the German state of Mecklenburg-Pommerania, who were childhood friends and gifted musicians. They later met fellow members Alex Voigt, Baku Kohl and Chris Deckert in Berlin and Werner Krumme while at a music workshop in Rostock. Their style of music consists of a combination of punk, electro-pop and Berlin-rock and since their founding, they have become popular on the German rock music scene, having released seven albums and toured in the German-speaking countries so far; that despite having songs released in German and English.

However, despite their punk lifestyle, they also have a world view on politics and have been engaged recently as more and more people are leaving the traditional German parties of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Christian Democrats (CDU) and joining the far-right party the AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland), whose policies consists of tax relief for the rich, less money for social and health care and banning Muslims and other groups from living in Germany- including stopping the influx of refugees entering Germany. With local elections to take place in Mecklenburg-Pommerania and Brandenburg this fall and on the eve of the federal elections next year, this band has taken an unusual approach to their music style by combining political propaganda and piano and producing a sing provoking the people to think before voting and/or even joining the AfD. Check out this video that was released recently:

Being short and to the point, each statement about the AfD and their policies are presented in an advertised form but with Weist having the confrontational gesture indicating that unless a person wants a brawl, and has the mentality of a Nazi that they should join the AfD, unless they have some time to think about it first and look for other party alternatives. The song is similar to all the campaigns that are going on in the United States, especially between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Speaking from an American expat’s point of view, such a provokative song would go great for people seriously thinking about voting for Donald Trump, whose policies are exactly the same as that of the party led by Frauke Petry- no immigration, expulsion of minorities out of the US, the return to isolation (which would be a first since the 1920s), and having a wall along the Mexican and Canadian border. This in addition to controlling the media and the freedom of speech among the American people. It makes me wonder how Weist and Co. would craft their song in English and address it to the public similar to that what she is doing for her people in the north of Germany. Music is powerful and controls the mind and hearts of those who listen to it, influencing them on what they think and sometimes do. It can be peaceful, but it can present a type of music that is classical but whose lyrics make it unusual and stunning. The AfD song by Jennifer Rostock may be considered a propaganda song supporting the party, but it has the typical German warning that you see in pharmaceutical commercials:

Zum Risiko und Nebenwirkung, lesen Sie die Packungsbeilage und Fragen Sie Ihren Artz oder Apotheke (Talk to your doctor or pharmacy about the risks and side effects of taking this medication)

For this song, which has won the Genre of the Week Awards, the first international Award by the Files, the slogan behind the song about the Alternative for Germany party goes along the following lines (something that voters in Meck-Pomm, Brandenburg and the rest of Germany should consider before going to the polls:

Zum Risiko und Nebenwirkung, lesen Sie über die politische Partei und ihre Agenda und fragen Sie die Experten. (Talk to the experts and read about the political party you are voting for).

Or in American English: Thinking about voting for the AfD? You better know what you’re getting into.

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Should Jennifer Rostock decide to write and sing about Donald Trump, what should go in there? It should be similar to what she sang about the AfD. Go to her website (here) and offer your suggestions. 🙂

 

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Don’t Swaggartize Our Facebook Posts With Your Politics!

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To begin my commentary, I would like to start off with an excerpt from the book of Proverbs 28:25-6:

A greedy man stirs up dissention, but he who trusts in the Lord will prosper. He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.

 

One should perhaps add in the book of Proverbs that one who blindly follows a liar with a potential of interrupting conversations for political promotion is more of a fool than those who are self-righteous and believes not in Jesus but his own tuition.  Since the nominations of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for US president (even though Jill Stein and Gary Johnson should also be added to the mix), the era of poli-bashing has taken hold on the American landscape. At the family table, fathers and sons are fighting from different political poles, putting others in the middle, like it happened during the Cold War with a divided Germany. Locals in different countries are asking us American expatriates what we think of Donald Trump (which many of us have compared him to Adolf Hitler). Friends are unfriending or even blocking others on facebook because of political opinions, which I think is pathetic and shows me what the late Günter Grass once stated: “If you have 500 friends on facebook, you really have no friends.”

 

Point taken!

 

But there is another trend in social networking which has become an annoying trend: A friend posts a comment about an event on facebook only to have a person on his/her friends list market politics and bash the candidate with his own post, when the story posted on facebook is anything BUT relevant.  Take this example that I experienced  most recently:

 

I post a commentary about me switching bike dealers after they overpriced us (family and me) for bike repairs and inspections, which included overcharging for the repairs on my end but not charging for the inspection on my daughter’s bike when we ordered a part, but giving us the “Oh by the way, you have to pay for the part AND the inspection.” treatment, when the part arrived- in other words, withholding information without informing the customer in advance!   This is in addition to bad service we (as a family) had been receiving prior to that. We basically posted by saying “Have a nice life, your competitor is around the corner!”

 

In response, one of the people in my network had the cheek to market politics by saying:

 

And that’s how capitalism works!! The customers decide who survives and who fails. Now imagine it was a government entity that treated you like that. What is your recourse, especially if you have no other option than to deal with them (i.e. DMV). I’m sure your complaints about one or more government union employees would be handled in a timely and efficient manner… 

 

 

Furious, I had to reply in a fashion similar to Walter Sobjeck in the Big Lebowski which went along these lines:

 

 

You’re a child who loves to enter a cinema in the middle of a religious film, not knowing which actors are playing Jesus Christ, Pontius Pilate, Joseph, Mary and the Three Wise Men, let alone when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead!

 

In response, another conservative replied with this comment:

 

The government is ALWAYS the issue….they set the prices for everything….you should have gotten into healthcare a few years ago….the money is already spent.

 

And my response:

 

 The government is NOT the issue here. We’re talking about the Geoff Schaffer approach to customer service, which is always making the customer happy (no matter what) and if so, they will come back. This bike shop was a family owned business until they expanded in 2010. Since then, they’ve thrown away the concept of honesty and family friendliest and have started doing the Trump approach which is customer selection- a blow to winning any customers.

 

(The name Geoff Schaffer was used as a replacement of the manager of a restaurant in Iowa whom I worked for during the summer breaks from college,  because of privacy reasons, by the way.)

 

Not to worry though, many people in my network have dealt with similar issues, regardless of which political side they are on. But the point is that the intrusion of personal posts for political gain to provoke a political argument can be best compared to the preaching of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, whose religious commercialization influenced the lives of many Americans and Evangelicals during the 1970s and 80s. In fact, as a child growing up in Minnesota, I can remember his TV shows and commercials dominating the airwaves, even though we had four key channels, including public television, with every fourth household having cable TV.  His preaching from that bygone era can be seen today, like in this video below:

 

 

Many people loved him, yet there were many who thought he was as annoying as the people who have intruded on people’s privacy on facebook, to a point where his defamation flocking would await him, like in this infamous “I’ve sinned….” sermon:

 

His confession revealed two things that are worth noting in this article:

 

  1. The value of the sermon or lecture spoken unto by one person has to equal one’s actions. One cannot have a double standard like Mr. Swaggart has, but also one’s lecture or sermon has to include hands-on experiences.

 

  1. If one enforces onto others, then one has a problem in life which cannot be dealt with alone but through help.

 

The second one has nothing to do with politics and who is at fault but one where a person’s life is not what it should. Sometimes these people are hanging on to the nostalgia that had existed 30-40 years ago and cannot adapt to the changes that we are facing even as we speak. There are some who have missed one train too many in their lives and are struggling to salvage what is left of their lives. This includes pivotal years where decisions made can have an impact on a person’s life (that is a separate article for next time).  And there are some people whose children have disappointed them in their development- some justified and some not. Their attempts of molding them into their liking fails and they become the black sheep in the family. The same applies to friends and peers, whom they knew in high school but have become strangers since then.

 

All of them have one thing in mind, they have at one time in their lives listened or watch a Jimmy Swaggart sermon and learned a great deal about getting involved in other people’s lives by invading them and impose their ideas . And even though Swaggart has produced some great sermons, the people are following the directions the wrong way.

 

Yes, people like you!

 

I could point my fingers at Swaggart for his religious “morals”, but it would be the same as deferring responsibility for all the personal problems in life onto Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  But Swaggart’s rhetoric and tactics have given some people the wrong idea of getting others involved- preach on the outside while hiding from the real problems on the inside.  Sometimes too much of a good thing is not good at all, especially when infringing on topics with their own political agenda, almost all of which are irrelevant.

 

So knock it off! Think before posting your political comments on other’s facebook posts. Because one day, you may receive a comment by saying:

 

You’re out of your element!

 

 

And if Jimmy Swaggart is still preaching these days, let us hope he preaches about respecting people’s rights and preferences over politics before the US Presidential Elections. After all he has taught us on how to swaggartize others, he owes us that sermon at least. Only then will he be forgiven of all his sins.

 

Amen!

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Weimar Rendezvous 2015

Engelsberg Bookstore in Weimar's city center, one of the main events for the Rendezvous. Here is where the podium discussions and lectures took place. Photos taken in November 2015
Eckermann Bookstore in Weimar’s city center, one of the main events for the Rendezvous. Here is where the podium discussions and lectures took place. Photos taken in November 2015

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WEIMAR- In your opinion, do you think we are living in a society that is utopian? Does democracy and utopia co-exist, or is it dystopian or even an illusion? How does our environment affect our society and the way it is run? How many forms of topia exist or were invented? These were the questions that were addressed at this year’s Weimar Rendezvous. Every year since 2009, an average of over 1000 people, including students, intellects and interested people have attended the four-day event, consisting of presentations, podium discussions, films, exhibits and music festivals with a focus on a theme that is politically and historically relevant to today’s society.  This year’s event looks at the topic on “Utopia,” where presenters (consisting of historians, professors, politicians and members of civil society organizations) took a look at this topic, how it was developed and how it plays a role in our current society. This year’s event was overshadowed by the terrorist attacks in Paris (see the article in the Files by clicking here), but it did not stop visitors from listening to the topics and integrating the events in France into the theme of the weekend.

The Weimar Rendezvous was established in 2009, based on a similar event that has been taking place annually since 1998 in the French town of Blois. As Weimar is not only the place of multiculture and various forms of architecture (including Bauhaus), but it is the platform where democracy and literature came into frutition and blossomed. Goethe and Schiller met in the city and some of the works were based on their stay in Weimar. The Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was conceived in Weimar. Many greats of fine arts stayed in Weimar and used their experience as a platform for their careers. And with the Rendezvous, Weimar has been the platform for history and politics, as many current topics, laden with theory, science, architecture and especially history, have attracted many intellects, teachers, professors and students, in addition to others interested in history. Weimar is part of the Weimarer Dreiecks, where most of the themes are focused on the three European countries: Germany, Poland and France.

As a teacher of English, social studies and history, the Weimar Rendezvous is an excellent place to gather information on and deepen the topics of interest, thus providing some ideas for the next class session. Especially for the topic on utopia versus dystopia, for the latter was completed in 9th grade social studies class, where the group watched the film “In Time,” which depicts dystopia in the future tense. Here we compared dystopia with utopia in a theoretical sense, then compared them with how they were used in reality, using the examples of democracy and dictatorships that existed in history, and garnering some ideas to create the main idea of the meaning of democracy vs. dictatorship. Little do we realize is that utopia and its various forms have their roots dating back to the 1500s. Over the next 300 years, the concept branched out in several directions like a tree, each one shaping the way society is running in both a positive as well as a negative sense. Traces of the -topia can be seen today, as they have played a role in shaping our country and how their relationship with other countries. This includes the role of religion and the environment, two hot topics discussed during the Sunday sessions, as well as the African-American movement and its history and development in the United States from 1865 to the present.

Some highlights of the event from the author’s perspective include the following:

  1. According to the podium discussion on the history of Utopia, we found that Thomas Morus produced a book bearing the title in 1516. With his envision of utopia, which was a perfectionistic society with equality and uniformity, this was the seed that was planted which later bloomed into a tree with various forms of (u)topia.
  2. In another podium discussion on religion and utopia, the word apocalypse and its argumentive definitions, was used by the founders of the Churches to describe the replacement of a corrupt society in biblical proportions in favor of a utopian society. It was stressed more so by Martin Luther when he introduced his demands for reforms in the 1500s and later by his followers.
  3. During a podium discussion on the environment, there came a consensus by the speakers, when asked about the role of the media in influencing society’s thinking, which was as long as the public believes that the United States has less sunlight than Germany, as stated by Fox News, a staunch opponent of solar energy, no change will happen until it is too late.
  4. In a podium discussion on Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, never seen before photos of Rosa Park’s arrest and jail custody for sitting in the white zone of a transit bus, King’s speech and many Nazi propaganda posters against Barack Obama were displayed with a clear-cut message: America is (and will never be) ready for a non-Caucasian President, especially in light of the racial profiling and violence dominating the American landscape.
  5. In an evening podium discussion on architecture and utopia, the concept of modern architecture and futurama originated from the 1930s but was advanced further in the 1950s in Europe.

 

A book with a summary of the speeches from this year’s event will be published in the near future. However, highlights and photos of the events can be found in the Weimar Rendezvous website, which you can click here for more information on the event. A facebook page with photos of the event, courtesy of Juliane Fox Schwabenbauer, can be found here. The Files also has photos of the events the author attended, which you will find here.

A separate article on how to teach dystopia in the classroom is in the making and will be posted in the Files’ WordPress internet site.

Silhouette of the Statue of Goethe and Schiller in front of the Weimar National Theater. Photo taken by the author in Nov. 2015
Silhouette of the Statue of Goethe and Schiller in front of the Weimar National Theater. Photo taken by the author in Nov. 2015

 

The statues and the National Theater with flowers on memory of the victims of the terror attacks in Paris.
The statues and the National Theater with flowers on memory of the victims of the terror attacks in Paris.

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