Germany at 25: TÜV


All photos courtesy of TÜV SÜD, used with permission

Lake Crystal, Minnesota. May 7th, 2014. A 58-year old woman was travelling home in a thunder storm after a long day in the massage business, taking care of customers located away from her office in Fairmont. She was heading westbound on a major highway connecting Mankato with Windom and was just passing Lake Crystal when the scare of her life happened! Lightning struck her SUV, a Chevy Blazer, disabling the vehicle and with it, the automatic lock system set in the lock position! As she called for help on her mobile phone, lightning struck again, setting the vehicle on fire!! She was trapped and tried frantically to set herself free! At the same time, a police officer and a driver nearby, saw the blaze and ran as quickly as possible to the burning car, with the officer breaking the window on the passenger side and both men pulling her out of the car! And just in time too, as the vehicle exploded just as they were getting to the squad car! A video of the event can be found here:

While the driver survived with only scratches and bruises, the vehicle was a total loss, but it lead to some questions, which included the main one: How could this happened and could this have been avoided?

In Germany, such an incident is very rare to find, namely because of its tough regulations for the vehicles. In particular, the TÜV.  Known as the Technischer Überwachungsverein, this organization was founded in 1866 in Mannheim under the name Gesellschaft zur Ueberwachung und Versicherung von Dampfkesseln (or The Association for the Inspection and Safety of Steam Engines and Boilers) in response to the numerous steam engine explosions in  what is now Bavaria, Thuringia and the Ruhr Area in North Rhine-Westphalia. Its success in five years time in reducing the number of accidents prompted the conversion from a private organization to a state-run entity in 1871, the same year Germany was established, with several key members like Walther Kyssing overseeing the organization.  Starting with 43 TÜVs, the numbers have been reduced through consolidation to five: TÜV South, TÜV North, TÜV Thuringia, TÜV Rhineland and TÜV Saarland, with one located in Turkey, France and Austria.


TÜV has regulations for all engines and appliances to ensure that they work properly and the consumers are not harmed with potental defaults. This also applies with automobiles as well, as federal and European laws require that all cars are inspected accordingly so that they are operating according to regulations.

“It applies to automatic locks in cars,” says Vicenzo Luca, Head of Corporate Communications at TÜV South, located in Munich. The agency is the largest in Germany, with 19,000 employees and serving Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg. “While automatic locks are allowed in Europe, they are inspected to ensure they function properly.”  One has to be careful with the role of TÜV for they are not the ones with the regulations outright. “The  law-giving authority is the European Commission and in Germany the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA) in Flensburg, and not the TÜV organisiations,” Luca states in an interview with the Files.  This leads to the question of how TÜV works in today’s Germany. If asked how TÜV works, using the South organization as an example, it would be explained like this, according to the interviewee:

“TÜV SÜD is a global technical services company made up of the INDUSTRY, MOBILITY and CERTIFICATION Segments. Its service portfolio comprises the areas of testing, inspection, auditing, certification and training. TÜV SÜD brings people, technology and the environment together – ensuring lasting, sustainable results and adding value.

Founded in 1866 as a steam boiler inspection association, TÜV SÜD has evolved into a global, future-oriented enterprise. Over 22,000 staff continually improve technology, systems and expertise at over 800 locations in over 50 countries. By increasing safety and certainty, they add economic value, strengthening the competitiveness of their clients throughout the world.

In the INDUSTRY Segment, TÜV SÜD’s suite of services spans support for the safe and reliable operation of industrial plants, services for infrastructure and the real-estate industry and the testing of rolling stock, signalling systems and rail infrastructure. In the MOBILITY Segment, TÜV SÜD’s experts carry out periodict technical inspection of vehicles and emission tests and support automotive manufacturers in the design, development and international approval of new models and components. The CERTIFICATION Segment covers services aimed at ensuring the marketability of consumer, medical and industrial products and the certification of processes and management systems across all industries.”

In other words, no certificate is a no-go. When owning a car in Germany,  “…..German law regulates that cars have to be inspected the first time after 36 months after initial registration, added Luca. “The Subsequent inspections are every 24 months.”  

After the first three years, the car has to be inspected- afterwards, every two years. If there is a reason behind the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with their cars, it is not only because they should look nice, it is because they should function and given the TÜV approval according to law.  But apart from locks, the TÜV inspects the following car parts:

  •     Brakes
  •     Wheels/tyres
  •     Frame/body
  •     Exhaust system
  •     Steering
  •      Lighting/electrical systems
  •      Windows/mirrors
  •      Accessories
  •      Pedals, seats, seat belts
  •      Electronic safety systems


During the inspection, when flaws are discovered in the car, car owners are required to fix these flaws or risk losing the vehicle altogether while paying hefty fines. According to Luca, ” Flaws have to be fixed within a four-weeks-time and then the car has to be re-inspected. The fine for driving without valid inspection varies by the time the inspection is overdue. From 2 to  4 months, 40 Euro. From 4 to 8 months, 60 Euro. More than 8 months 75 Euro. If the car is a serious danger for road safety, the police can withdraw it immediately from circulation.”

If looking at the cars on America’s freeways today, looking at the appearance of them alone, three out of four would be removed from the highway, for having bumbers attached to the car via duct tape or black-colored exhaust fumes from the tail pipe are not allowed. Owners of half of the remaining 25% of the cars would be forced to fix the cars or face fines and comfiscation by the police. This leads to the question of how important it is to have the cars inspected. According to Luca, it is important to have the cars inspected through TÜV because, “The third-party-inspection adds substantial value to road-safety in Germany, as conflicts of interest are avoided. As the inspecting organisations do not draw any financial benefit from a possible reparation of a car, the owner can rely on a neutral judgement.  On the other hand garage owners can proove to critical car owners that a reparation is required.”  Yet, while regulations are universal in Europe, each state has its own set of inspections that fulfill the guidelines. “Within the EC periodical technical inspections are part of the road safety program, says Luca. “The inspections  and the periods vary from state to state, but basically the have the same goal.”

TÜV regulations apply for all vehicles with a cubic capacity of more than 50 ccm, meaning trucks, trekkers, motorcycles and trailers, according to Luca. Yet no inspection guidelines apply for bicycles, although from the author’s point of view, it would not hurt as some of the components, including gears, bike chains and lighting should work properly if bikers commute on a daily basis, like the author does. But perhaps in a few years, a TÜV guideline will be enforced and the bike shops will profit from new customers needing their bikes inspected and fixed to fulfill guidelines. A similar guideline already exists in Switzerland, together with a vignette, insurance to protect the bikes from damage or theft.


Bike inspections don’t belong to the TÜV but with all the daily commutes, bikers may have to consider this option

With more vehicles on the road than 10 years ago, the importance of inspections is increasing not only for the safety of the driver but of others on the road as well. And while such an inspection is costly, it will benefit the driver and the car. Especially when the driver wants to avoid an incident like it happened in Lake Crystal last year. While it is unknown who is at fault for the technical defect which almost took the life of the driver, it is almost certain that with inspections like what is being done with TÜV, chances of such a freak incident will decrease. This was the mentality that Germans had when creating the inspection organization for steam engines and boilers 140 years ago, and it is the mentality that exists today, which justifies high quality products, especially when it comes to cars, a prized good for a German household. :-) <3

Flensburg Files logo France 15

The author would like to thank Vicenzo Luca for his help and photos for this article. 

Germany at 25: Civil Courage

The German Order of Merit Cross (Bundesverdienstkreuz) awarded to Vaclav Havel in 2007. Photo taken by the Národní museum in Prague. Link:

Civil Courage: derived from the Latin word civilis and the French word courage and meaning the courage of the people to do something what is deemed right. In German, it is known as Zivilcourage and has been one of the most talked about topics in the past two decades. Politicians, civic leaders and organizations in civil society have called upon Germans to show civil courage and help others when help is needed. But why is that when civil courage is a natural trait you see in other countries, including the US?

Especially when it comes to the problem with right-winged extremists has civil courage been heavily discussed for reasons of fear: fear that the laws in the books may be used against them, but also fear of retaliation on the part of people involved wanting to help them. It also presents a conflict of interest between instinct- knowing that there is someone there to help- and the protection of privacy and one’s own private sphere, as mentioned by Prof. Veronika  Brandstätter of the University of Zurich in an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel. According to the professor of psychology, specializing in motivation psychology, Civil Courage is a question of value in terms of democracy and humanity, examining the issues of solidarity, tolerance and the readiness to help.  In other words, how far can you go to help someone? What resources are at your disposal and whether additional help is necessary in some cases. While he points out rescuing someone trapped on thin ice as one of the obvious signs where one stops his activities immediately to help, the issue involving right-wing extremism has been an ongoing theme since 1990, which seems to have climbed to the top three in terms of problems Germany is facing at present- refugees and the widening of social classes are the other two, with the Volkswagon scandal not far behind.

Examining the situation 25 years ago, especially in the eastern half of Germany, there were only very few traces of solidarity towards those in need for two reasons:

  1. The traumatic effects of National Socialism in the 1930s and 40s, counting the devastation Germany faced in World War II, combined with Germany being a battlefield during the Cold War as Communism and Capitalism locked horns along the East-West borders including Berlin.  Here, we had two major poles: those who still believed in the German race and those who were afraid of being arrested by one of the two Superpowers. For the former, a classic example of how right-winged nationalism was strong was the riots in Rostock in 1992, where residents and neo-Nazis attacked apartments occupied by Vietnamese immigrants, setting them on fire and chasing the occupants away. The Police were poorly equipped to handle the protests. Further attacks on foreigners followed where bystanders stepped aside to avoid any confrontation by the extremists who dubbed them as helpers.

For the latter, it had to do with the sphere of influence the two superpowers had on the divided Germany: the US for the western half and the Soviet Union for the eastern half. Both were of the opinion that Germany should be rebuilt and grow but on a controlled basis, for fearing of another rise in power. This resulted in the post-war generations growing up being influenced by two different powers that reshaped their way of thinking. It did not mean that the country of free-thinkers was a puppet. It meant that in order for the country to achieve its independence, the Germans had to abide by the regulations from the outside, which disappeared bit by bit as the country bought itself back its independence, only to have that achieved with German Reunification in 1990. And even then, the people growing up during the Cold War era had the extra caution mentality, where help is only given when it is deemed safe to do so.

The second reason behind the lack of solidarity is the mentality of letting the people “swim in cold water” and fend for themselves. This meant that there was an expectation that people coming to Germany (or at least a region in Germany) were to have learned the language, customs and way of life, and there was no need to assist them, even if asked. Even the idea of saying “Schönen Tag wünsche ich Ihnen/Dir!” (Have a nice day) 15 years ago seemed preposterous in the eyes of many who prefer to concentrate on their own affairs and not that of others. Again, this applies to the older generations who may had never dealt with situations with refugees and foreign residents as we are working with today. When first arriving in 1999, the first negative impression per se was the customer service in many stores and offices, where the atmosphere was either monotonous, unfriendly or both. The exception was at the university and offices that deal with foreign students.

Let’s fast forward to the present, and how Germany has cleaned its image a great deal. The meaning of civil courage has become a household name in the country for three major reasons:

  1. People and organizations are being recognized for their services of helping those in need, regardless of circumstances and what background they have. Every year the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Cross of Merit) is given out to outstanding people for their extraordinary service, regardless of which level (local, state or national). First introduced in 1951 by German President Theodor Heuss, there are eight different classes awarded pending on the degree of service. Even cities have introduced their own awards to people for their service to the community. While this had gone almost unnoticed before 1990, it has taken center stage since then, especially as politicians have strongly encouraged people to show solidarity and help the people who are in need, including the current German president Joachim Gaucke in his televised speeches.

The second reason behind the importance of civil courage is the rise of the next generations (those born from 1970 onwards) and their awareness of problems on the global front. These people usually have university degrees, speak at least two foreign languages, have travelled to foreign countries, encountered people from different cultures and are more aware of the problems Germany is facing in comparison with other countries in the world than the baby boomers, many of whom fought for their rights on their own soil and not in a foreign country. The more experiences they gathered and the more aware of the situation they are, the more likely they will help others out, especially those wanting to settle down in Germany for an uncertain period of time.

And finally, the people in Germany have become more aware of the problems facing them as far as domestic issues and immigration are concerned. This is caused in part due to the information they receive in the news as well as the experience they have gathered and shared with others. Even if certain stereotypes of those in need (especially the refugees and immigrants) are held by some based on rumors, having experienced it on hand or through others sometimes helps them reshape the way of thinking and reconsider their actions towards others in a positive manner.

It still does not mean that the country is perfect. There are still attacks on foreigners, especially in light of the large influx of refugees from Syria, and parts of Africa. Refugees and immigrants are looking for new homes and a new life. The gap between rich and poor is widening, especially when it comes to children who live in poverty. And we still have problems with pollution and other environmental issues. But we are seeing the gravity of the situation, and we have more people ready and willing to help, regardless of what the consequences are and how they are recognized in the end for their work. In the 15+ years living here, one can find this variable that is recognizable and much appreciated: openness and kindness. There was not much there at first when I came, but one will find it often nowadays, no matter where a person goes. And this is something that does not go unnoticed while traveling through or living in Germany.

frage für das forum

To finish this article, here is an exercise designed to test your knowledge about how civil courage should be implemented. Look at the situations below and ask yourself what you would do in a situation. Remember, what you do for action may be different for others and can lead to a discussion.

  1. You drive on the motorway and see a person seeking a ride to the nearest petrol station. This is just after passing a car with a flat.
  2. There is a family of refugees entering your community with nothing except what they wear, no money and little knowledge of the language. They are looking for a place to live and work.
  3. A friend prepares a party for another friend visiting from another country but is overwhelmed and needs some help.
  4. Two people fight over how they should work together on a project with one wanting to work alone and another wanting to work together.
  5. You see a group of neo-Nazis harassing someone from Africa, spitting on them and pushing them around, while riding a tram.
  6. You’re at a dance with some friends only to find someone sitting in the corner, all alone.
  7. While jogging, you encounter a dog who has lost his owner and follows you around. The animal carries a tag.
  8. A woman at work receives unwanted attention by someone with interest and does not seem to leave her alone.
  9. You break off contact with a colleague because of a fallout only to meet the person again in a different work setting months later.
  10. You witness an accident involving a car and a bike while biking to a party.

Note: Feel free to comment to any of the situations above by placing your comments below or in the Fles’ facebook pages.  :-)

FF 25 Logo

Frage für das Forum: Can we make it?

Bridge of Friendship at the German-Danish border north of Flensburg. Photo taken in 2011

Bridge of Friendship at the German-Danish border north of Flensburg. Photo taken in 2011


FlFi Newsflyer Logo new


 &  frage für das forum

Can we make it? This is a question that has been on the minds of Germans and Europeans alike, as we try to cope with the problem with the influx of refugees entering the continent. There have been many discussions and even demonstrations for and against the policies of Angela Merkel, which calls for welcoming refugees who wish to stay there for at least a short period of time. Some of the discussions have even made it to the classroom, where the attitudes of  the students have, for the most part, been mixed.  From the observations of the author, who experimented this topic with a group of 8th graders recently, the opinions have been equal between yes, no and I don’t care. Many think that the refugee crisis eclipses the other news stories that are “more important.”

Picking up where it was left off in the previous article (click here), we decided to have a look at the arguments recently stated by Horst Seehofer, who calls for Germany to halt the inflow of refugees entering the country and German chancellor Angela Merkel, who favors welcoming the refugees as she sees this as a chance for the country and Europe to grow. The comparison of arguments are shown through a speech made by the former and an interview a talk show host had with the latter. For teachers wishing to present this to students in a social studies or German as a Foreign Language class, most of Merkel’s arguments are found in the first 15 minutes, while Seehofer’s speech is over six minutes. In either case, one can write down and compare the arguments between the two.

For those who don’t understand the situation and the potential that  immigrants have when coming to Europe, before looking at the arguments of the two actors, one should have a look at the summary of the refugee crisis via video below as well as link (by clicking here).


After taking a look at the pictures and the video, let’s have a look at the two videos at hand. In the first video, we have Bavarian minister Horst Seehofer who is an advocate of closing Germany to immigrants. Under Merkel’s plan, 800,000 would enter Germany, which Seehofer claims to be fatal, for the social system would be overwhelmed, there would not be many places for them to live, conflicts between the refugees and residents would arise, and lastly more money for refugees would mean less money for domestic policies, such as social welfare, education and infrastructure. He calls for halting the influx of refugees straight away and change course on policies like Hungary and other southern European nations. Have a look at his arguments and ask yourself these questions:

  1. What examples does he bring regarding the overload of social welfare in Bavaria?
  2. How would he like to bring an end to the influx?
  3. Do you think his arguments are justified and why?


The argument of Horst Seehofer:


In the second video, we have an interview between Anne Will and Chancellor Angela Merkel, where Merkel adopts the quote from US President Obama: “Yes, we can,” with her words: “Wir schaffen das.” (We can make it.) Merkel proposes to bring in 800,000 refugees but also calls on other European countries to help out as well. She sees many advantages of refugees living in Germany for the job market as well as the social and health care systems, despite claims that most of them will stay only temporarily before returning home after the war is over. She even balks at this idea (done by Hungary).

Listen and answer the following questions:

  1. Describe in detail how Angela Merkel wants to integrate the refugees into German life.
  1. What idea did Hungary carry out that Merkel is against and why?

  2. What advantages does Merkel see in the refugees in Germany?

  3. Why does she claim that many refugees will stay temporarily and then return to their home countries and what could be done to end the war and rebuild the country?


The argument of Angela Merkel during the interview:

In your opinion, who is in the right on this?

This one we don’t know yet, but the coming months will determine the results. While many plan to move further north- across the bridge in Flensburg to Denmark and Scandanavia, others see Germany as a place of refuge, and a place to start over. Judging by the pics and the first video in this article, the reasons behind their escape are logical. But even if border controls were reintroduced at places like the one down below next to the Bridge of Friendship, one thing is certain: many will find new homes eventually, be it here or the US, or elsewhere. Thanks to the factors that have driven many people to flee: war, drought, terrorism, all will stop at nothing to ensure that a new life is ahead for them. It is more of the question of whether it is only for a short time or permanent. But until we can answer that question, we should help them now as winter is right around the corner…..


Danish border controls. Passports were checked until 1995. Since that time, border controls were performed only once, which was 2011.

Danish border controls. Passports were checked until 1995. Since that time, border controls were performed only once, which was 2011.

FF new logo

German Reunification: An Author’s Perspective

Alexanderplatz Station, the entrance point of the Christmas Market Photos taken in December 2013

“The nation will continue to be a central pole of identification, even if more and more nations come to share common economic and political forms of organization.”- Francis Fukuyama

25 years ago today, Germany became one country- the first since the fall of Adolf Hitler and the end of Nazism in 1945.  No longer was the country divided up into two Germanys, nor was it a chessboard between the Americans and the Soviets. Despite fears of a possible fourth Reich as well as Margaret Thatcher’s resignation in protest of this reunification, Germany’s run for a unified country was one that was indeed, an earned effort.  And it was one where many countries have since looked at for reference, because of how this work from being a divided country to a superpower was undertaken successfully. From an author’s perspective, the reunification was well-deserved and one that had been in the making for four decades, but one that would have been inevitable whether it was on 3 October, 1990 or 3 October 2000, or even 3 October of this year. It has long since been known that Germany was the land of writers and engineers, of inventors and athletes. And it’s known for its politics and women.

But looking at it differently, German Reunification represented the turning point in the world landscape. It represented the end of history as Fukuyama stated, but as far as the superpowers are concerned, let alone the traditional conflict between good and evil.  Germany represents a new generation of countries that were tired of living in the shadows of two superpowers trying to grasp power at the expense of their sovereignity and identityn but have since 1990 become a big influence in world politics today. As mentioned in a Genre of the Week article on the US no longer being the superpower it once was, the two “former” superpowers are still trying to prop up the identity of the 1980s, while the other countries have moved forward. A new and reunified Germany has set an example of how world politics should be today: democratic, pluralist and open-minded; not based on a two-party system that is controlled by money and power, and not based on a system controlled by one person alone. If people still think Germany is too powerful today, comparing it to the Third Reich, look at the videos below and see the reasons why people wanted to be Ein Volk and not Das Volk, as seen after the Wall fell. And Ein Volk nowadays has gone beyond the borders of Germany. We are united but have brought the rest of the world together to become one. :-)

frage für das forum




Ask yourselves these three questions:

  1. Where were you when Germany was reunified on this special day and what was your first-hand reaction?
  2. How do you perceive Germany these days in comparison with 1990?
  3. How much influence does the country have today compared to 25 years ago, and apart from the political scene?



The Flensburg Files and sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to wish the Bundesrepublik a happy 25th anniversary. You have a lot to be proud of in the 25 years since East and West became one and a new era in history has started. This is your day to celebrate. Party hard! 😀   More articles on 25 years of Germany still to come! 😀

FF 25 Logo


Americans in Germany 2: Hometown Locals

Left to right: Jason D. Smith, Amanda (Draine) Sutton, Kristin (Svoboda) Krahmer, Brian Krahmer. Photo taken by Birgit Smith in 2014 in Jena.

There is an idiomatic expression that best describes a well-travelled and open-minded person:  Being a hometown person is good, travelling around is better, being abroad gives you the best.   During the author’s time in Germany, one of the observations that is definitely noticeable in the past decade is that the world is getting much smaller. It has nothing to do with the increase of goods from Germany that can be bought in the US and vice versa, but more to do with meeting people from your college town or even your hometown. During a trip to Flensburg in 2010, the author encountered a person, whose daughter went to high school in Windom, Minnesota as an exchange student! Located 40 km northeast of Worthington, which has an exchange program with Crailsheim, as well as 110 km west of New Ulm, a predominantly German city, it would be considered unusual to have a German visit a small town of 4500 inhabitants for a full year, a third as many as the two aforementioned communities.

However, what would be a reaction of the readers when they found out that four people from an even smaller community- namely Jackson, located 30 km south of Windom- are living in Germany. And all of them have an age difference of only four years?  This is what Jason Smith, Brian Krahmer, Kristin Krahmer (née Svoboda) and Amanda Sutton (née Draine) are doing.  Since 2014, the four people have been living in Germany, and albeit they live far apart, they have one thing in common: Germany is considered home to them. In this series on Americans living in Germany, the Files’ Steve Schorr asked the four people individually about their motives behind moving to Germany and comparing life there to that of their hometown. This will be divided up into two parts due to length and content. This is part I, with part II to follow.  Before moving to the questions, a brief profile of the four people:

Jason D. Smith-  Jason has lived in Germany the longest, having resided there since 1999. He graduated from Jackson High School in 1996. After three years at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, he came to Germany as a foreign exchange student at the Friedrich-Schiller-University in Jena and since graduating in 2001, has been teaching English at various institutions in and around Jena and Erfurt, with the exception of a two-year stint in Bayreuth at the university. He’s currently pursuing his teaching license to teach English, Social Studies and History at a German high school (Gymnasium) and is expected to obtain his 1st state exam in 2016 and his 2nd by 2018. Since 2010 he is also a writer and photographer of two blogs: The Flensburg Files and The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. With the exception of two years in Bayreuth and another two in Erfurt, Jason has been living in Jena with his wife Birgit and their seven year old daughter, Clara.

Brian and Kristin Krahmer- Brian and Kristin are the adventurous type when it comes to travelling, having lived in six different American states before moving to Germany in 2014. Kristin graduated from high school in 1996, Brian three years earlier. Married since 2000 (the same time as Jason and Birgit), the couple have done many jobs in the areas including some self-employment opportunities as carpenter, while Kristin acquired a profession as a massage therapist and Brian has 20+ years’ experience as a software developer. Since coming to Germany in 2014, they have lived in two different places in Bavaria: in Pegnitz (between Bayreuth and Nuremberg) and in their current town of Markt Rettenbach, located between Ulm and Munich near the city of Memmingen. They have a 10-year old daughter, Alexis.

Amanda (Draine) Sutton- Amanda graduated from high school, together with Jason and Kristin, in 1996 and since earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Health in 2007 and a Master’s in Radiological Health Sciences in 2009.  Both degrees were earned at Colorado State University.  After college, she spent one year working on the Hanford Site with Washington Closure Hanford as a Radiological Engineer in Washington state, followed by approximately two years working with SENES/ARCADIS as a Health Physicist out of their Denver office in Colorado before she started her family.  Her husband Andrew completed his PhD in Computer Science in 2011, also from Colorado State University.  Andrew has held post-docs in the Computer Science Departments at University of Adelaide, Colorado State University, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, and Hasso Plattner Institut/Universität Potsdam.  Amanda has lived in Minnesota, Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado, and Washington.  Since meeting Andrew, who grew up in New Mexico, they have also lived in Adelaide, South Australia and Jena, Germany.  They currently reside in Potsdam, Germany with their two children, Camden who will be three years old in November, and Daphne who is two months old.



FF new logo


Bloodmoon in Germany

Photo taken on the morning of 28 September, 2015

Photo taken on the morning of 28 September, 2015

FlFi Newsflyer Logo newBERLIN- Millions of people in Europe and the US took advantage of a once in a lifetime event this morning, as the moon became the Earth’s shadow for one and a half hours. From 4:11am to 5:27am Berlin time, the moon went from its usual white color to several shades of red, resembling the planet Mars, but many tout this as the Bloodmoon. For Germany, this total lunar eclipse was the first in 33 years. Furthermore, the moon orbited as close to Earth as never before- 30,000 kilometers- making it bigger than usual. The last time this happened without the eclipse, was in Spring 2011. Lastly at 6:00pm Sunday evening, the moon rose presenting its fall color of yellow and orange, touting it as the Harvest Moon (Erntemond in German).  Astronomers, photographers and many interested people took advantage of this opportunity to see the moon in its unusual form. The author did the same himself, and pictures of the event can be seen here through the Files’ facebook page.  Expect to see this phenomenon happen again in the year 2574. By that time, we’ll have soldiers of the Battlestar Galactica and spaceships being part of our lives, instead of autos and trams. 😉

For Germany and Europe, this year can be considered the year of the eclipse. Back in May, people witnessed the total solar eclipse (photos of that are also in the Files’ facebook page). With this total lunar eclipse, this marks a once in a lifetime event that will happen again much later than 2574. However, if you are like the author, who photographed the moon up close on those two occasions, then you just got yourselves two wishes to make that will change your lives forever, at least that is what the old saying goes. So if you kissed the moon, start wishing. Yet be careful of what you wish for- you may get it sooner than you think. 😉

Note: People wishing to add photos to the Files’ facebook page are free to do so. Just post your photo here, including your name and where this was taken.

FF new logo

Refugee Crisis in Europe: A Chance or a Hindrance for Society?

Blue Mound 4

FlFi Newsflyer Logo new

Refugees in Europe: a topic that has become the centerpiece of all discussions at home and in public. It’s a topic that we have tried to ignore for so long, but we can no longer do. It’s a topic where many of us have become ignorant of the feelings of those who came to Europe for a reason- to escape poverty and war. Instead we end up indulging in hate: hate towards them, those who help them and even the journalists who write or even talk about them. A famous example of how a journalist took the hit and fired back was a commentary by Anja Rescke of the German public TV station NDR recently:

In response to her comment, I as a columnist have to quote about about this situation: Many of us come to Europe because we are tired of the social and economic pathologies that we had grown up with and tolerated for most of our lives. This include political debates that tear families apart, racial violence that rips the fabric of society, widening gaps in between the rich and poor, and the exponential increase in paranoia because of a misdemeanor in school that is blown out of proportion and considered a felony in the eyes of police and the principal. If you have read about a child’s homemade clock that was brought to school and was considered a bomb, you would understand my reasoning there. 😉 We have tried so hard to tame society to follow the leader like blind naive lambs being lead to the slaughter house. End result: we have been deprived our right to freedom of speech, expression, movement and action.

And this is speaking from a point of view of an American who has been living in Germany for 16 years now.  Sad, isn’t it? :-(

The situation with the refugees in Europe is no different: their homelands are in shambles, terror groups are taking over the countries, starting a holy war and suppressing the population in a brutal way, and all hope is lost, despite intervention by the US and its allies which has been meagre at best. These people are fleeing to Europe not for the sake of imposing their ways on others or making lives of their residents difficult, but they want to make a living like the ones who move there from Asia, the Americas and Australia, just to name a few.

Unfortunately, the largest influx of refugees in European history has caused a strain in the social infrastructure, let alone violence from right-winged groups. Even pressure is being applied to politicians to put a cap on the refugees coming in. A video shown below, where German chancellor Angela Merkel breaks the heart of a refugee wanting to live in Germany, is a testament showing that not everyone can live and work in a country as they please, despite the need to integrate them into society and have them fill in the gaps in many areas of industry, left behind by many either retiring or emigrating Germany:

Germany is one of a few destinations for the refugees, and with over 800,000 coming in- the highest in German history. Whether this is a blessing or a curse remains to be determined, but one thing is for sure: The majority of the German population, as informed and open as they are, would rather have them in their society than the right-winged radicals who still believe Hitler was the greatest, when in all reality he was anything BUT that. Germany has lots to offer, speaking from personal experience, and the population understands that well. Hence the embracing of people so that they can start over. It’s a well understandable explanation. However….

frage für das forum

Why choose Germany instead of the USA or other countries in Europe. This is for you to answer. Here’s a few questions that you can discuss, even with your students in class. They include:

  1. What are the benefits Germany has to offer in comparison with other European countries?
  2. What drawbacks could the refugees imagine having when living in Germany, APART from the language barrier?
  3. Imagine this situation: A family of refugees decide to move into your village or town. How would you help them get integrated into society? Would you be open to their culture and way of life?
  4. (Continuing from Nr. 3) Would you take a class in a language of the regions where the refugees are coming from (Russian, Arabic, Persian)?
  5. Would you embrace their religion or keep your faith? Why?
  6. In your opinion, if the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan were to end and the areas would be rebuilt, would you help in the efforts? Do you think the refugees would return and why?
  7. In connection with the author’s quote below, imagine this situation: Do you think this refugee crisis would have been hindered had it not been for the anti-Terror policies of George W. Bush, which included wars in two countries where most of the refugees are coming from? Why or why not?

To end this article I would like to present a grim reality to George W. Bush- the man who started the war in Iraq to ouster Saddam Hussein in an attempt to finish the job started by Bush Sr. This is aside the campaign to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan, which was supposed to be short and sweet.   It was not necessary to start the war in the first place, and we really do not know if the arguments for justifying the war was relevant with the attacks of 11 September 2001. But we do know this: The mission has not been accomplished, as seen in the picture on board the USS Abraham Lincoln. Not even close. Because if it had been accomplished, Iraq would have been completely rebuilt, as much as when Germany was rebuilt after World War II. We would not have terrorists chasing people out of their homes nor would we have this refugee crisis right now. In fact, we would not be drowning in hatred towards these innocent people looking for a better life than what they had. This war in Iraq, which thanks to ISIS, has spread into Syria,  is the longest war in the American history books so far, and one that has yet to be ended. Unfortunately, it is up to the other countries- not the US- to finish the job. My question to W. and those who still claim the Iraqi war was justified is this: Was this really necessary and why?

five years flfi

Genre of the Week: Downtown


Music videos- a commodity that has become one of the mediums being used for the classroom today. Ever since the TV channel MTV made its debut in 1981 with the song “Video Killed the Radio Star,” music videos are being used more frequently as either a substitute or a supplement to printed media, such as novels, short stories and the like. Advantages of using such music videos include helping students better understand the language, enhance their listening comprehension and learn about the culture of the country where the music video comes from. The drawbacks to the music video include graphic images that are not suitable for certain (age) groups, profanity, and some scenes may be offensive to certain groups, regardless of religious, ethnic and social background.

This Genre of the Week takes a look at American culture from a rapper’s point of view. Downtown was released at the end of August 2015 by Macklemore. Known as Ben Haggerty, the musician made his debut in 2000 and together with Ryan Lewis, has become successful, garnering awards for his songs “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us,” as well as the album “The Heist”, released in 2012. Each of the music videos feature a background resembling American society today with Macklemore leading a parade of dancers, perfecting their choreography and bringing in the people to play along.

Downtown is no different as the scene depicts a typical American business district, run-down but somewhat multicultural in terms of various shops and the people who live there. For more on that, have a look at the video below:

One can do a whole lot with this video in terms of activities, especially when teaching English as a foreign language in a school outside the US. My idea of such an exercise would be a Sandwich Approach, where at the beginning, the class would be divided into two groups and a mindmap exercise would be introduced. There, each group would be given a word- downtown (USA) and city center (Europe)- and they would make a list of words associated with the two terminologies, with the goal of finding similarities and differences between the two. After the activity is finished, the next task is to play the first minute of the music video and guess the following: where and when it took place, what the rapper is doing, and what the environment looks like in terms of scenery and the people. After the discussion, the whole video is played (preferably twice because of the tempo of the rapper’s communication), which is followed by some comprehension questions. Vocabulary words taken out of the text should also be introduced for better understanding.

In the end one should have a better understanding of what life is like for a business district in America and compare it to what it is like in a European city center, looking at the social, cultural and economic background. Although songs with choreography are typical for America, as one can find it in music videos and even TV shows (like the Simpsons), one cannot expect this to be the norm for American culture for there are many other aspects that need to be considered- this includes the types of music that originate from the country and are still being played today, but it also includes multicultural aspects, such as the popularity of Native American music in comparison with Indie or even Asian music, for example.  Downtown represents a rather positive setting of an American business district, where everyone of different cultures and from different groups come together and play along on the streets of a large city. It’s a good song to get into the dancing groove, even if it is for a swing choir competition. :-) Yet the song is not the full remedy for the social ills that is still haunting the US, Germany and other countries, but more of the song of incentive, to get us to take part in helping people live in harmony. That in itself can take even longer than what Macklemore took when he produced the piece.

With that, here are a few questions for you readers to consider:

frage für das forum:

1. Compare the scene in the music video by Macklemore to that of Main Street USA in general and/or the city center in your town? What is different and what is the same?

2. In which time period is the setting for this song? What factors influenced your argument?

3. What is your impression of the song?  Does it relate to the real life situations you face today?

4. (For teachers): Would you play this song in the classroom? If so, how would you teach the students? Would you try the aforementioned approach or would you try something different and why?

While it’s not necessary to comment on it, you can if you wish to start a conversation. Otherwise, experiment with this and see what your students think of this song and society in general.

five years flfi

Glamorous German Cup Highlights?

Stadium woes


FlFi Newsflyer Logo new

The 2015/16 soccer season in Germany is not more than a couple weeks in its infancy, yet there has been a lot of action going on off the field, which has kept the German Soccer Federation really busy, and the fans slapping their hands across their foreheads in disbelief. Despite some tougher sanctions put in place to control the rowdiness after four soccer matches in the German Bundesliga resulted in the use of brute force by the police, even tougher measures are being considered after some cheap shots from fans that are making soccer a not so fun game to watch. It also leads to some questions of what measures that exist, had such unsportsmanship by fans existed in other sports, such as American football, basketball, baseball, etc. Naturally, it is clear that thou shall not forget the infamous NBA basketball brawl from 2004 and the consequences that happened to both players and fans in the form of fines, lifetime bans and other sanctions.

So I came up with some highlights from three soccer events with some questions for you to discuss, in hopes that some solutions are found in these cases. As for one of the cases, the idea of earning an important necessity through a victory went to extremes but as one person pointed in a discussion recently, the women’s professional soccer team could do better than the men’s team. So here are the highlights:

RB Leipzig vs. VFL Osnabrück: Game called because of official getting hit by a lighter.

The first controversial event in this Newsflyer article comes from Leipzig during the first round of the German Cup (D: DFB Pokal). Second League team and host RB Leipzig was trailing third League visiting team VfL Osnabrück (in Lower Saxony) 1-0 in the second half of the game. In the 71st minute, the game had to be called off because of this incident (note the main official or referee of the game is dressed in red):


After getting hit with a lighter from one of the fans, the game had to be called off, and the official had to leave to be treated for head injuries. While sanctions and fines in the tens of thousands of Euros are pending, both teams are filing a petition to the German Soccer Federation, calling for the score to be nullified and the game to be repeated, this despite a possible consideration of having the game be forfeited in favor of Leipzig. They both have apologized for this unfortunate incident that was beyond their control.

Here’s the question for discussion:  Should the game be repeated and if not, what other alternatives would you consider to show that this incident is not to be tolerated?  If caught, should the fan be banned from attending soccer games for life?


Latest reports revealed that a fan from Osnabrück, living in Bielefeld is being investigated for the incident. But as of now, unless there is a full confession, it is unknown who stopped the game, let alone ruined it for the other fans and players…..




Local Soccer Team to be Expelled from League for being a Nazi-group?

Here’s a question for you soccer fans: Imagine you coach a local soccer team and you face a team like the one in the film clip below, that is notorious for cheap brutal hits on the soccer field, Hitler greetings (which are banned by German law), racial slurs and having right-wing extremists as soccer players. Would you take the field against this team, or would you forfeit the game out of protest, risking a fine for the incident?

In the Jerichow Land district, located in northern Saxony-Anhalt near Stendal, the FC Ostelbien Dornburg is the target of a possible expulsion from the state soccer league for the above-mentioned reasons. A notion has been filed to the league office in Magdeburg with the decision to be made before the start of the season on 31 August. Already the opponent teams are protesting against taking the field against this team, and 59 out of 65 referees are refusing the officiate any games that deal with this troubled club. Furthermore, civil action and other legal measures for violating civil rights laws are pending. If in favor, the team will be shut down and not be allowed to participate in the league during the season. The team plans to appeal if it comes to that.


Lights for Stadium are earned, not given?  How FC Carl Zeiss Jena earned its lights after a lights-out party against Hamburg SV

What does it take to have a new stadium with a new set of lighting? How about a David versus Goliath victory, as seen in this game between the Regionalliga (fourth league) host FC Carl Zeiss Jena and Premere League visitor Hamburg SV, when the host lit up the Ernst Abbe Football Stadium and Sports Complex by upending the dinosaur, 3-2 in overtime.  Hamburg, which saved itself from being demoted to the Second League for three seasons in the row, appeared to be no match against a young, feisty team that is hungry to return to the national level after a three season absence, as seen on the highlights below:

Jena, which has been fighting for a new stadium for eight years, lost its beloved stadium lights to flooding in 2013 and almost had to build a new stadium in the souther suburb of Lobeda near the motorway. Yet support for a centrally-located stadium is extremely high, which has kept the city busy. More so, the city has been hemming and hawing about the stadium lights as they should be integrated into the new stadium itself. But with a low number of fans in the last three seasons, there was no rush, with even some people commenting about its team becoming a memory, like FC Saxony Leipzig (which folded in 2012). This victory, the first in the history of the German Cup, not only takes Jena to the second round, where they will play at the end of October, but it has prompted the city to scramble for new lighting and a new stadium.  This has led to the question of the difference between a necessity and a luxury and some exercises for the readers below:

1. What constitutes a necessity for a football stadium and which ones are a luxury? Choose the words below and put them into the two categories:

bleachers      scoreboard     hotel       conference center       stadium lighting      heating for soccer field   food court     beer stand     ticket building      VIP box     press box


2. Should the city of Jena have pursued the stadium lighting right away or was it justified to wait until either the money was available or  the Regionalliga threatened to demote the team to the Oberliga (fifth league) and why?


3. Jena advanced to the Final Four of the German Cup during the 2007/08 season, when it was in the Second League. Do you think they will advance that far again?


4. Is the embarassing knock-out of Hamburg SV from the German Cup the beginning of the end of its tenure in the Premere League in this season, or will it rebound once the regular season begins?


Think about these questions and place your comments for one, two or all of the themes in the Comment section below. You can also post your comments on the Files’ facebook page and/or group page. The Files will keep you posted on the latest regarding these stories and perhaps some more interesting items coming out of this seasons soccer season in the Bundesliga.


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

FF new logo1

Next Page »

%d bloggers like this: