Genre of the Week: Allentown by Billy Joel

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We all have been paying attention to the recent developments in the United States, especially when it comes to Donald Trump. Already he has destroyed generations-long ties with traditional neighbors, like Germany, France and the rest of Europe, plus countries in the Middle East minus Israel and Saudi Arabia and with China. He has declared to pull America out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which his predecessor Barack Obama had signed prior to leaving office in January. And to the dismay of even his fellow Americans both at home as well as abroad, he has stressed the importance of jobs over wasting money to help other poor countries fight a phenomenon, which he claims does not exist.

 

All of this for one sole purpose: clean coal!

 

While several actors, even within his own country, have declared that they will buck the trend of the president and follow the Paris protocol- with Hawaii having become the first state to sign the agreement, other states like Minnesota, New York, California and Washington set to follow even as an alliance, and even oil companies are going green with their approach to sustainable development, all directions are pointing towards an isolationist politician whose title is the President of the United States, but he is acting in the best interest of just the coal miners and those of the oil companies who are against Paris.

 

But why resort to coal, when so many arguments point towards phasing the energy source out in favor of renewable energies, such as fuel cells, wind, solar and hydroelectric? The energy is cheap, but residents and coal workers have to pay the price in terms of health. Generations of coal miners have been in the business and would like to remain there for the long term. However, the numbers are dwindling as mines close, miners get older and the job is not attractive at all.  Mining claims to be safe, but there are enough accidents to question that statement.

 

And the last claim that Trump has pointed out is that there are enough social and health benefits that will make the job an everlasting one. People can enter the field and stay there for life. And this song, entitled Allentown by Billy Joel, has several arguments debuking that claim.  Produced in 1982, the setting for the song is in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the heart of the coal and steel industry. There, the decline of the industry was taking shape after World War II, with mines and steel factories closing down, and workers suffering from the plight of unemployment and other social pathologies. By the early 1980s, over half of the factories and mines in Pennsylvania had been shut down and regions were forced to reinvent themselves. The trend would later be felt in Germany at the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, especially in the east, where the mining of brown coal, the dirtiest of coal devastated areas in Saxony including the Black Triangle region.

The lyrics behind this song has to do with the aftereffects of the closing down of the steel mills and mines. Listen to the song and ask yourself the following questions:

 

  1. Compare the war generation with the younger one. Which one had it better and why?

 

  1. Describe the life of a coal miner from the singer’s point of view. What is typical of them and the working conditions?

 

  1. When the people in Allentown are waiting for the Pennsylvania they never found, what was meant by that?

 

  1. Why is it hard for them to stay?

 

  1. In your opinion, despite Trump’s quest for reenergizing the coal industry, will it be successful in the end? Why or why not?

 

Supplemental question: Does your reason have to do with the decline in the industry and if so, why?

 

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William Martin Joel was born in 1949 and has had a singing career that has spanned over five decades. Billy Joel’s breakthrough came with Piano Man, produced in 1973. Since then, he has released 12 albums featuring both pop and classical music. Songs credited to his name include We didn’t start the fire, And so it goes, My life, Manhattan 2017, An innocent man, Leningrad, and Baby Grand (together with favorite idol, the late Ray Charles).  Allentown was one of several songs Billy Joel wrote which focuses on real themes affecting America, Russia and other parts of the world. That song received praise from the mayor of Allentown, and Joel therefore received royalities and other recognition.

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Raddeln Unterwegs Mit Dem Radler

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Sunday afternoon on a bike trail going through the Black Forest. You and a group of campers carrying backpacks are on the trail with their bikes, each one with an Alsterwasser (EN: lemon sherry)  in his hand, all are quatsching about black bears purging their campgrounds with one of them carrying away a Coleman cooler full of beer with the handle in his mouth, another making his home in a kiddie pool cooling off, and another one chasing the campers on their bikes out of the forest- and through the windows of a liquour store- all underage and their bikes banged up in the end! All of the sudden, as one of the campers was talking about how the bear threw his bike over the fence and onto the property owned by a steel thief (who snatches the bike and tries selling the parts for the price of scrap metal),  you ask him if he is insured. The answer is no, but the response comes as follows: “You better because we have a beer on the trail!”   Looking ahead, anticipating that it was a case of the best Lammsbräu Radler, they see a great big black bear in the middle of the trail! And he is indeed guarding the Lammsbräu, wanting to try it because of its sweetness.

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By Diginatur (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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As an annoyed native speaker of English, on the run for your life as the bear chases you and the campers, your response: “That is not a beer, you idiot! That was a BEAR!!! Bear as in Bae- AAA- ERRRR!”

As a baffled camper, he responds with (______________).

While the campers are on the run with a bear on their tails, their only true insurance is the fact that they are on their bikes and can cycle as fast as they can. Otherwise they would have to climb up a tree. But while the bear story reminds the non-native speaker of English (esp. the German-speaking people) that there is a difference between bear and beer, both phonetically speaking as well as semantic-wise, our topic for this article is cycling in Germany and ways to keep your bike safe from even the craziest of thieves.

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As I wrote last year in the Files, the bicycle is the second most common form of transportation in Germany behind public transport. Over 72 million residents in Germany own a bike, whereas 40.2% of bikers use this precious form of transportation on a daily basis. 49.5% of users take the bike at least once a week.  Like the Danes who bike in Copenhagen and other cities, the bike is, to the Germans, also like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bread is just not good enough with butter. Peanut butter is OK if you want to offer the conductor of the Deutsche Bahn that as a peace-offering for not having a train ticket in your possession (because the ticket machine at the station you left is kaputt). But with jelly, it’s sweet. Biking is almost free, you are independent and can get from point A to point B. You can see the rarest places on the narrow streets of Flensburg, bike along the Baltic-North Sea Canal from coast to coast and see ships and bridges galore. You can take your family camping just by crossing the Fehmarn Bridge from Bad Oldesloe and Oldenburg and camp at one of the island’s several campgrounds, while biking from the bridge to the ferry at Puttgarden in a matter of a half hour. In other words, biking is healthy, easy and fun.

Yet speaking from experience, when something happens to your bike, whether it is theft or vandalism, it takes away the fun from the form of transport, like a person switching your peanut butter and jelly sandwich with one with just butter or peanut butter. It’s simply not good.  A while back, I had a chance to ask some bike experts and other bike enthusiasts about how they can keep their bikes safe, I had a few answers that will surprise you. Here are some facts that will help you keep your bike safe and in use for many years to come.

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Typical of a used bike. This one I had while living in Bayreuth in 2009.

Buy a used bike while in a city- This fact is the norm if living in a big city, like Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt or even the Ruhr Area. Bike thefts are more common as the population increases. Therefore it is unwise to present yourself with a brand new Stevens bike when commuting to work in a big city unless you have extra protection. Used bikes are inexpensive and if you know how to repair it properly, it can last a long time.

Learn to fix your bike yourself- While there are some parts, such as a tire rim, gear system or even the lighting system where you need professional experts to fix, sometimes incremental fixes, such as replacing a tire, oiling the chains, replacing the headlight and odometer can save a trip to the bike shop. If you are a novice, a repair book or even some advice from a friend who fixes bikes can help.

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Tune your bike regularily- If you bike long distances- be it commuting or going on bike tours- it is important to have your bike inspected to ensure that any problems detected can be solved right away. Pending on how often you bike, inspections are best done 3-4 times a year, especially if you bike in the winter time. Trust me, people bike in the snow to work in the winter time. I’ve done this myself.

Insure your bike- Germany is not like Switzerland when it comes to insurance. While that country obliges you to have the Vignette, Germany may end up using the Swiss example in the near future, for even though insurance is not obligatory unless you have Haftpflicht to protect your bike from theft at home, it is wise to have it just in case. This includes the ARAG and DEVK, which has a complete coverage of bike insurance, covering you from theft and accidents. Other insurances have this as part of their main insurance plan. You should check this out when you have a bike and are often on the trail with it.

Keep your proof of evidence- For reasons stated in the next tip, when buying your bike, make sure you keep your proof of purchase and all information pertaining to it. In case anything happens to the bike, you may need it. Sometimes the bike store where you purchased it may have that information in their databank in case you don’t have it on hand.

Code your bike- Steel and rubber are becoming the commodity that thieves and desperados are taking advantage of, both shamelessly as well as professionally. That’s why the police encourage  you to code your bike so that the information is registered in the files and in case your bike gets stolen, they can track it down in a hurry.  They are effective, and a person can get his/her bike back without having to worry about buying a new one, as seen in the clip. The only caveat to this is by the time the bike is found, all that is left is the frame as the rest are taken for the purpose of (….). If a person is desperate to steal a rubber handle of a bike horn, he/she is willing to do everything. But being safe than sorry, coding means security against such theft. The police and other authorities have coding sessions on a regular basis, so ask if you are interested.

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Know your bike- Most victims of bike theft don’t know their bike is stolen until it’s too late. One second the bike is in the bike stand, the next second it is stolen. If this happens and you report it to the police right away (which you should), make sure you know your bike and its description to the finest detail. This includes providing a photo of your bike, however, it also includes what your bike has for features, such as the brand, color, features but also other items, such as dirt, scratches, stickers, etc. A few months back, my bike was stolen, forcing me to report it to the police. I was amazed at the number of features I could remember on my bike, as seen in the picture above- can you identify some unusual features my bike has? …..

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Know your neighbors and contact them- Your neighbors are a primary commodity, especially when they see you cycling and know what bike you have. Therefore, in case something happens to your bike, inform them right away. They will keep their eyes out and ensure that your bike is safe and sound. Most of the time, they are willing to cooperate with the police and other authorities should the theft be reported and that be a necessity.  I was fortunate that one of my neighbors in the apartment block, who had been informed of someone stealing the bike, found it a few blocks away while I was reporting the incident. However not all stories have happy endings. Therefore, take good care of your bike and….

Lock your bike if not in use- It takes a second for your bike to disappear. It is stupid to have your bike stolen- stupider when you don’t lock it beforehand. Two seconds with a key saves a whole day at the police station reporting it, period.

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Flensburg Points apply to the bike- Like the car, the bike is a vehicle and therefore, the rules of the road apply to the cyclists, even if they are on the bike-autobahn and other bike trails. Obey and you won’t have to pay for a Flensburg point.

Use your head, wear a helmet!- While some people believe helmets can be harmful than helpful, here’s one story a professor mentioned to his students at the beginning of a lecture, a while back: On his way to his lecture, he was involved in an accident with a car. He suffered a concussion after the impact but survived thanks to the helmet he wore. Can you imagine what would have happened had he NOT worn a helmet? If you are a fool, try it. But if your life as well as your family and friends matter, then maybe you should think and wear it! 80 Euros for a helmet is better than 80,000 Euros for funeral costs.

Biking can be a lot of fun for yourself as well as the family. Already it is the second main form of transportation behind public transportation, regardless of purpose. It is just a matter of following a few points regarding taking care of the bike, and the vehicle can be your friend for life. Bikes deserve to be treated just like a horse. They can get you from point A to point B, but they deserve the treatment as any pet- or car. If the bike fails and you are tired of it, give it to someone else, or do like I did to a used one: tie it to a light post and allow someone to take it for his own. It was a custom I invented when leaving a university for another job offer elsewhere in Germany- not just as a way of leaving a mark for what I did there, but for someone willing to take my used bike for his/her purpose, while purchased my current bike, a black Diamant with the name of Galloping Gertie, which has not failed me since then. Sometimes, a good brand name plus good maintenance goes a long way, especially after the thousands of kilometers she has accumulated in such a short time. You can do the same too. 🙂

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Guessing Quiz Answers: Architectural History

Schoneman Park Bridge in Luverne, Minnesota. One of many bridges built by the Hewett Family. This lone Waddell truss bridge was built in 1908 by William S. Hewett

                                             Co-produced with Sister Column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles

A few months ago, the Flensburg Files and sister column the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles produced a two-article series on architectural and infrastructural history and their place in the educational curriculum, which included a Guessing Quiz for people to try out. While you can still try the quiz (click here), here are the answers you should have:

 

1.  In the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, structures made of iron melted like lava, which contributed to the destruction of hundreds of buildings made of iron and wood.  True or False?  False. Most of the houses and buildings that had existed prior to the fire were made of wood and iron. Iron had a low melting temperature which contributed to thousands of buildings to collapse in the heat of the blazing inferno that killed over 300 residents. Ironically, the city’s water tower survived the Great Fire, but the 100-foot tall structure was made of stone. It still remains today as the lone structure that had survived the fire

 

2. The Chicago School of Architecture was developed shortly after the Great Fire featuring which architects? Name three and how they contributed to architecture.  There were over a dozen well-known architects from this school, including William LeBaron Jenney (who invented the skyscraper), Louis Sullivan (who spearheaded the modernist architecture) and Frank Lloyd Wright (who invented the prairie home). A link with more architects and their contributions can be found here

3. Who created the first automobile in the world: Ransom Olds, Carl Benz or Henry Ford?

Carl Benz was the first person who created the first automobile in 1885; Ransom Olds created the first automobile dependent on gasoline in 1896; Henry Ford was the first to create the assembly line plant to create their automobile in masses in 1908. 

4. The Diesel Motor was created in ______ and is named after this German inventor?

The diesel motor was invented by Rudolf Diesel in 1893

 

5. List the following canals that were built between 1871 and 1915 in chronological order.

Panama Canal      Dortmund-Ems Canal    Danube Canal    Erie Canal   Elbe-Lübeck Canal   Baltic-North Sea Canal                            Berlin-Havelland Canal

Baltic-North Sea Canal (1887-95); Elbe-Lübeck Canal (1895- 1921); Dortmund-Ems Canal (1899); Panama Canal (1914); Erie Canal- new (1908-18); The Danube and Berlin Canals were built in the 1950s

 

6. Prairie Homes consisted of 1-2 story homes made of geometric shapes resembling circles and triangles.  True or False? Who invented the Prairie Homes (Hint: he was part of the Chicago School of Architecture).

False, rectangular and cube-shaped architecture were the features of the Prairie Homes invented by Frank Lloyd Wright.

 

7. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1878, yet Berlin received its first set of electrical lighting in this year?

Berlin received its first electrical lighting in 1884

 

8.  Which of the following bridge engineers did NOT immigrate to the US?

Seth Hewett, Lawrence Johnson, Gustav Lindenthal, John Roebling, Friedrich Voss, Wendel Bollmann

Seth Hewett and the rest of the Hewett family were born in Minnesota. William Hewett originated from Maine.

 

9. The Minneapolis School of Bridge Builders emerged in the 1890s and later became a counterpart to the American Bridge Company conglomerate after the consolidation of _____ bridge builders in 1901. This School featured which family of bridge builders?

Hewett, Johnson, Bayne, Jones                      The Hewett Clan,  Alexander Bayne, Commodore Jones and Lawrence Johnson made up the Minneapolis School of Bridge Building, where over a dozen bridge building firms were located in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Hewett, Fink, King, Bayne

Voss, King, Jones, Humboldt

Hewett, Maillard, Lindenthal, Steinmann

 

10. The Rendsburg High Bridge was the first bridge in the world that used the loop trestly approach. True or False? If false, when and where was the first loop trestle approach used? (See video here)

 False. The Hastings Spiral Bridge in Hastings, Minnesota, built in 1895 by the Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works Company was the first structure that introduced the pigtail approach, located on the Hastings side. The bridge was replaced by Big Blue in 1951, which in turn was dismantled after Big Red opened last year.  

 

It is hoped that an extended version of the Guessing Quiz would be available for use in the classroom. That plan is still in the works and will be made available through an external source in the near future. Once it’s finished and posted, you will be informed here in the Files as well as in the Chronicles. Stay tuned.

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