FLENSBURG- Traffic Lights, especially in the sense of pedestrian signal lights, are one of the key elements one will find in Germany. Especially in the eastern half of Germany, where traffic lights resembling a man in the hat walking (when green) and halting (when red), that tradition can be found in almost every city and community. And even in cities, like Erfurt, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin, designers have come up with their own concoction to amuse the pedestrians and bikers having to wait for cars to pass. Thanks to its 55+ year history, the pedestrian figure has become a household name, that cities in the western half are replacing their “Denkmal” style standardized lights. Even a shop in Weimar and Berlin sell these “Ampelmännchen” as merchandise.
This trend is also happening in Flensburg but in a rather unique fashion.
Just recently, city officials replaced their “Denkmal” lights with those representing a unique form of solidarity- that of two figures of the same sex. When walking along Holm to the intersection with Große Strasse (Rathausstrasse), one will find two homosexual couples holding hands with a heart above it. Red represents the lesbians stopping for traffic, green represents the gay men walking across. An interesting design that has caught the attention of several pedestrians and bikers, young and old alike.
But why such a light?
In connection with the International Day against Homophobia, city officials and organizations representing homosexuals are making a statement in showing solidarity for the same-sex couples who are often discriminated based on their sexual preferences. In the United States alone, according to statistics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 20% of crimes that occurred in 2013 had been motivated by sexual preferences and that homosexual couples are twice as likely to be attacked than people of different color or religion. The massacre at a homosexual disco hall in Orlando, Florida in June of last year, where 51 people were killed, brought the issue of discrimination of homosexuals to the forefront. Especially during the Presidential race in 2016, vulgar language against homosexuals were used by Donald Trump, which provided more fuel for the hate machine.
But in Flensburg, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Germany with 110,000 people, the largest Danish minority in the country and one of the largest number of refugees as well, people are making a statement. “The traffic light is a persistent symbol for respect we demand,” says Simone Lange, mayor of Flensburg. She pointed out that the crime rate against homosexuals has quadrupled over the last year. In an interview with the Flensburg Tagesblatt, “It is more serious than we think and people really need to talk about this.”
One of the people spearheading the efforts is Nicolas Jähring, who is chair of the organization Schwusos and one of the members of the German Social Democrats representing the city. His advocacy for having the traffic lights installed in the city center was met with failure last year, only to have it approved by the state ministry of transportation this year under special circumstances. To him, it is a symbol but there is more meaning to it. “It fosters reflexion and we would welcome people who accept this.”
Flensburg is the third German city to have at least one homosexual traffic light in operation. Hamburg has had them since 2015, and Munich only temporary for the Christopher Street Day celebrations. Yet its forefather is in Vienna, where since its introduction, the number of homosexual traffic lights are blooming. While it is unlikely that more traffic lights like this one will pop up in the rest of Flensburg, it will indeed serve as a symbol of solidarity for couples who choose the non-conventional form of relationships. Even if many people consider this permanent installment just a traffic light, it will serve as an example for other cities to follow- not just in Berlin, Leipzig, Frankfurt or even Dresden, but also in cities in the United States, where support for homosexual couples are at an all time high, despite attempts by the current Trump administration, as well as fundamental evangelicals and hate groups to either cleanse them of “their unnatural behavior” or eliminate them altogether.
It is hoped that it is not the case, and people are taking this seriously, as we see in the interview conducted by the Danish newspaper Flensborg Avis.
It’s no secret that Donald Trump is touted as the most disliked President of the United States and his policies have isolated many of the country’s (even long time allies), as well as the rest of the American people. After all, the only people that are benefitting from his policies are the under-educated and the rural communities, which explains the reason behind him winning the US Elections in terms of the electoral vote despite losing by a landslide by the popular vote.
Yet given the current trend in his presidency, especially as he enters his third month in office, it’s becoming clear that his policy-making and executive orders are for his own interest instead of his own, and that more and more opposition is accruing at an alarming rate. With scandals and investigations looming and many people afraid of their lives and their futures, it is high time that measures are taken to remove him from office without delay and call for re-elections, finding a real candidate that is able to address the problems affecting the country and the rest of the world. Among other things include health care, infrastructure and the environment/ climate change.
This flyer has been circulating throughout the social network that calls for that, plus shooting down pleas of people to give Trump a chance for that particular reason. Read the post, and if you agree, sign it in the comment section, and spread the word through other social networks, including (and especially) twitter, so that the President knows that he is not welcomed in Washington, DC and he’s better off taking his business elsewhere. Whether it is on his own will or by legal force, Donald J. Trump must go and we deserve a chance for a President who can tackle the real issues:
This is where I stand. The 45th President, his power hungry cronies taking positions of authority in his Cabinet and administration, and the majority of Republicans in Congress are a real and active threat to me, my way of life, and all or most of the people I love.
Some people are saying that we should give Trump a chance, that we should “work together” with him because he won the election and he is “everyone’s president.”
This is my response:
•I will not forget how badly he and so many others treated former President Barack Obama for 8 years…Lies about his legitimacy and hatred for his principles and his attempts to work within the system.
•I will not support the degradation of women.
•I will not “work together” to privatize Medicare, cut Social Security and Medicaid.
•I will not “work together” to build a wall.
•I will not “work together” to persecute Muslims.
•I will not “work together” to shut out refugees from other countries.
•I will not “work together” to lower taxes on the 1% and increase taxes on the middle class and poor.
•I will not “work together” to help Trump use the Presidency to line his pockets and those of his family and cronies.
•I will not “work together” to weaken and demolish environmental protection.
•I will not “work together” to sell American lands, especially National Parks, to companies which then despoil those lands.
•I will not “work together” to enable the killing of whole species of animals just because they are predators, or inconvenient for a few, or because some people want to get their thrills killing them.
•I will not “work together” to remove civil rights from anyone.
•I will not “work together” to alienate countries that have been our allies for as long as I have been alive.
•I will not “work together” to slash funding for education.
•I will not “work together” to take basic assistance from people who are at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.
•I will not “work together” to get rid of common sense regulations on guns.
•I will not “work together” to eliminate the minimum wage.
•I will not “work together” to support so-called “Right To Work” laws, or undermine, weaken or destroy Unions in any way.
•I will not “work together” to suppress scientific research, be it on climate change, fracking, or any other issue where a majority of scientists agree that Trump and his supporters are wrong on the facts.
•I will not “work together” to criminalize abortion or restrict health care for women.
•I will not “work together” to increase the number of nations that have nuclear weapons.
•I will not “work together” to put even more “big money” into politics.
•I will not “work together” to violate the Geneva Convention.
•I will not “work together” to give the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazi Party and white supremacists a seat at the table, or to normalize their hatred.
•I will not “work together” to deny health care to people who need it.
•I will not “work together” to deny medical coverage to people on the basis of a “pre-existing condition.”
•I will not “work together” to increase voter suppression.
•I will not “work together” to normalize tyranny.
I will not “work together” to eliminate or reduce ethical oversight at any level of government.
•I will not “work together” with anyone who is, or admires, tyrants and dictators.
•I will not support anyone that thinks it’s OK to put a pipeline to transport oil on Sacred Ground for Native Americans. And, it would run under the Missouri River, which provides drinking water for millions of people. An accident waiting to happen.
I will not “work together” to legitimize racism, sexism, and authoritarianism.
This is my line, and I am drawing it.
•I WILL stand for honesty, love, respect for all living beings, and for the beating heart that is the center of Life itself.
•I WILL use my voice and my hands, to reach out to the uninformed, and to anyone who will LISTEN:
That “winning”, “being great again”, “rich” or even “beautiful” is nothing… When others are sacrificed to glorify its existence.
Sign your name in the comment section and where you are locate and share with others, so that they get the word. Use all weapons available to make it happen.
Here is an interesting story to share with you to start off this article: At an elementary school in Bad Oldesloe (between Luebeck and Hamburg), a group of pupils during an after-school class (Schulhort) saw an elementary school clearing the bookshelves of old, used school books, to make way for newer materials to be used in the classroom. Instead of putting the old books into boxes to be given away to the needy, the teacher instead discards the books into the garbage can- right in front of other pupils. An average of 30-35 pupils attend the Schulhort to do homework, activities and other things while waiting for their parents to collect them- a concept that is non-existent in the US and other countries, where classes run from 8:00am to 3:00pm- ending two hours later than in Germany.
Fortunately that group that saw the incident fished out 10 of the books and divided them up among themselves to take home with them. And while a complaint against that teacher has been sent to the headmaster of that school, little is known what action will be taken there, if at all. But this incident conveyed the message to the pupils, whose parents and other educators would object forcefully:
It is OK to throw books away because they are waste. It is OK to kill more trees because we don’t need them. It is OK to pervert the environment more than it is already. And it is OK to waste the minds of the next generation because they are indeed cogs of the elite that believe the Earth is dead already- why not make it even deader?
I bet Betsy DeVos (America’s newly elected Educational Minister) is reading this right now and is about to kiss me for those comments, while also inviting me to dinner with Josef Stalin and all the evangelical Jesus-freaks, including Paul Ryan and Steve Bannon. 😉
But away with the sarcasm, the discarding of books in general would make a German cringe, for if there is one sin that is unforgivable, it is reading the book and then desecrating it. Germany prides itself on books, for one in three German households have an average of 1,200 books in their libraries! And while people may think only one in ten have a library or can find books in each room of the apartment or house, don’t be fooled when you check in the forbidden areas, where you can find boxes and shelves of books in the cellar, garage, some attics and underneath beds in the bedroom. I even saw a library of books in a neighbor’s basement! No matter where you go in the neighborhood of a German community, books are everywhere. This is why we have these key facts to consider:
A community has an average of two libraries; in a university city- six counting a university library. For larger cities with more than two universities, don’t be surprised if university libraries are divided up ad customized, based on subject of studies and spread out throughout the city, justifying the need to bike from one end to the other.
Each suburb of a city with 70,000 people or more has its own library full of new and used books, and these libraries have as full of capacity as the normal central libraries as well as the university ones.
Germany prides in having book stores. You will find an average of one book store franchise and one private, family owned one in a city of 50,000 or more. And both are well-visited.
Germany is the only known country to have an open library. On trains, in the park and in city centers, one can see a glass case with books for you to take. However, it comes at a cost of giving away one of your own. You can also borrow, read and put back if you wish. The open library displayed by Ana Beatriz Ribeiro at the 2016 Intercultural Blogger Conference at the Poniatowski Restaurant in Leipzig is another example, but it is one of the firsts in the country to have this in an eatery.
Most importantly, Germany prides itself in hosting two international book fairs: One in Leipzig in March and another in October in Frankfurt/Main. Both taking place at conference centers (Messe), as many as a million visitors converge on these fairs to read and even purchase books from writers and publishers from as many as 90 countries on average, including one theme country.
To summarize, Germans treat books as Americans treat the Bible- they see these as sacred gifts never to be desecrated, period. Therefore when a person is lent a book and returns it in the form deemed different than what it was before- creases in the pages and covers, plus coffee spills (even if unintentional), that person can expect to be blocked on facebook and spammed in the GMX accounts. Ruining a book can ruin a friendship. When a person throws away books deemed useless, you can expect book lovers rummaging through the paper garbage containers at night, fishing them out to save them. Believe me, I’ve done this myself as my wife and I are bookworms ourselves. And what is wrong with selling a book at a flea market (Trödelmarkt) for a buck? (One Euro) A loss in profits is a given, but at least the next person can share in the experience in reading the book as much as you did before selling it. 🙂
As a writer and teacher myself, if there is a Ten Commandments as far as books are concerned, there would be the following:
Thou shall treat the book like the Bible. Handle it like it’s the most valuable gift in the house.
Thou shall not desecrate the book in any form. Karma will kick the offender in the Gluteus Maximus for any petty misdemeanor with this.
Thou shall treat the book like a gift. Books are great gifts at any occasion and no person can deny this.
Thou shall not discard books for any reason. Even if a person dies, his books are also your valuables.
Thou shall donate unwanted books. Libraries and second-hand shops are always forthcoming in taking on books for their collection.
Thou shall ask before lending out books. When living in a flat with your partner, if you have a book to lend to a colleague, consult first before carrying it out.
Thou shall treat a borrowed book like the Bible. It is a sin to read the book and return it altered.
Thou shall visit one international book fair in thou’s lifetime. You’re not a true German if haven’t spent a whole day at a Buchmesse- better, two: one in Frankfurt and one in Leipzig. Both are experiences of a lifetime.
Thou shall cherish the memories from reading a book. Books are brain food, providing some memorable experiences when reading it and some topics for discussion.
Thou shall set examples for others when treating the book. Remember, one tree produces 5 books. One book produces memorable experiences similar to a vacation. That means paper can be recycled but not the book itself.
With a lot of writing greats coming from Germany, one should try and write a book to keep up with tradition. Not a column like this one, but a classic 200-page novel dealing with mysteries, travels, social and medical themes, business and history- the things Germans love to read. 70% of Germans prefer print media over e-media. That trend is bound to stay the same in the coming years. The smell of paper from the press is impossible to refuse, and e-books to many is just a piece of plastic that hurts the eyes. Germans have a very close and erotical relationship with books and the paper product with pages needs to be taken very seriously.
After all, as one person in a forum about Germany and books stated: Having a library full o books does not justify NOT buying more books. So if you see that in a German household next time, imagine a library full of Bibles, Quorans and Testaments, treat them with care and understand why books are to be kept as collectibles and not desecrated.
Thank you! 🙂
Disclaimer: The location and name of the school where the incident took place was changed to protect the identity of those involved.
German Christmas markets are one of a kind. They feature unique architecture in the form of Christmas huts, the Christmas pyramid, lighted arches (Lichterbogen), some historic buildings as a backdrop (like the city hall, stores and even churches), murals, a giant Christmas tree and a stage for performances. The theme of the Christmas markets depend on the planning by local governments and residents, although most Christmas markets follow the models presented by the ones in Nuremberg and Dresden.
Yet despite large cities in Germany (and parts of Europe) and the US having the Christmas markets going on during the Advent period, the question that many smaller towns and villages have is can a person create a Christmas market in their community? When looking at the German-named villages in Minnesota alone, not one of them exists. Not even in New Ulm, which is the most German of these communities. Yet New Ulm’s population, topography and size is comparable to the Christmas market I visited in Glauchau (Saxony), which justifies the need for a Christmas market to complement the German businesses that exist in the town of 14,000 inhabitants, such as Schell’s Brewery, Veigel’s Kaiserhoff and Domeier’s German Store.
Then again, when looking at a village like Heilsberg in Thuringia, which is only a fraction of the population size of Glauchau and New Ulm, one can see that it is possible to have a Christmas market, if members of the community are willing to cooperate and sell typical items while using the money collected for a good purpose.
Located 13 kilometers north of Rudostadt and 25 kilometers east of Stadtilm in the Thuringian Forest, Heilsberg has only 200 inhabitants and has belonged to the community cluster of Remda-Teichel since 1997. However, its existence dates back to the 820s AD, when the city was first mentioned in the record books. The lone attraction of Heilsberg is the St. Boniface’s Church, which was built in 1718, with extensions in 1764. Despite thorough renovations during the 1990s, the church still holds service for the congregation, most of whom are from the village.
Since 2011, the village has hosted the Christmas Market, which is held on one Saturday during the holiday season. From three in the afternoon until ten at night, residents of the town, including family members and guests would gather, drink a spiced wine, try a local, family specialty and listen to carols from the church choir. The set-up of the market is rather simple, especially when everyone helps. The venue of the Christmas market is usually the bus stop, which consists of a loop-like parking lot that is not only enough for busses and cars to park but also for adding a half dozen huts, a stage and some entertainment.
The arrangement of the Christmas market is very simple: On the morning of the market, a team of volunteers would arrange the market, where the bus stop is converted into a combination of a stage for performances and a bar which sells spiced wine (Glühwein) and mead (Heisser Met). Next to the bus stop (on the right for this year’s market) would be the Christmas tree, consisting of a pine tree cut down in the nearby forest and hauled into the village, a day or two before. In the middle of the bus stop in front of the tree and stage would be the fire pits, where wood and charcoal are burned in steel barrels and people can warm-up in the evening. Next to them are the picnic areas, where people can sit, eat and converse. And surrounding them and the fire pits are the booths, where eateries and goods are sold. Arranging them in a horseshoe format, a total of eight booths were arranged, each of which were built from scratch or improvised out of trailers and/or parts of trucks. Each of them is equipped with electricity which is provided through generators and extension cords from nearby houses. The lone exception is a ninth booth, which is the blacksmith. His is located behind the picnic area opposite the stage and Christmas tree and is also equipped with two fire pits of his own- one of which is of course for the metalwork, making swords, shields, necklaces and figures out of steel.
But the production of metal goods is not the only homemade items one can find in a local Christmas market. Each booth has its own set of products to sell, but it has to be agreed upon between the coordinator and the rest of the community that is involved in setting up the market to avoid any overlapping and competition. Apart from the booth selling hot drinks, there is one that sells meat products- namely bratwursts, steaks, kabobs and burgers. Another one sells homemade Eierlikör (in English, Advocaat) with original, chocolate and chili flavors. Another booth sells Bratapfel (baked apples with or without stuffing), again homemade and available with almond paste, chocolate, cookie and nuts, as well as with spices. The same applies to another booth that sells Christmas cookies and other candies. There is a booth that sells potatoes in a form of baked, fried in chips or fried French style- homemade and served with mustard, ketchup or even mayonaise. There is one that sells fish products- raw, baked, pulled (like Flammlachs) or smoked. Then there are two booths- one selling used goods and one selling handcrafted items, such as windlights made of glass bottles. There is one selling crepes, which is the French version of pancakes, and lastly, the market is not complete without a booth selling beer and other beverages. In Heilsberg’s case, there was no handcrafted beer, yet with this hobby becoming the norm in American households, one should put that into consideration if the beer crafted in the past has been embraced by those who enjoy a mug or two. Products are sold at a relatively affordable price, and proceeds go to the cause of choice. While in the case of Heilsberg, the money collected goes to their church for the renovation of the church bell (which is expected to be completed by the end of next year), other Christmas markets in nearby villages have donated money to charity helping the children in need, school or church programs that foster the child’s growth, local sports teams for new equipment. In one case, a nearby village collects money for a children’s hospice care facility in the north of Thuringia in Nordhausen, located west of Leipzig.
And while markets like the one in Glauchau feature a pair of modern pyramids, an Adventskalendar, an ice skating rink, some lighted arches (Lichterbogen) for sale or decoration pending on the size and preference, and Räuchermänner, they are not really a necessity if one compensates these with musical performances from local groups. In the case of Heilsberg, a local church choir singing carols is enough because of its population size. Even a little Christmas comedy and story-telling about the birth of Jesus and miracles at Christmas time are enough to bring in crowds from both inside as well as from surrounding areas. This is what makes a local Christmas market like this one really special. 🙂 Just don’t forget to invite Santa Claus. 😉
After all the drinking, eating, singing and conversing, the market is taken down the next morning, most likely after the church service, with the Christmas tree being taken to the church for use during the Christmas masses on Christmas Eve and the 1st Day of Christmas. In Germany, we have three days of Christmas from the 24th to the 26th, in comparison to only two in many countries like America. The tree remains there until the Day of Epiphany, when it is taken down. As for the booths, they are converted back to their original uses, the leftovers eaten up or given away to the poor, the unsold goods donated, and the ideas back to the drawing table to see how they can better the market for this time next year.
As small as the Christmas market is in Heilsberg, a day for a few hours will do. However the bigger the community the more likely it is necessary to extend the market by a day, another weekend or even more. It depends on how seriously a community takes its Christmas markets. As mentioned in my column about my last Christmas market in Glauchau, as big as the city is and with as much history as it has (read more about it here), one Advent weekend is not enough, especially because of its predominance of Lutheranism. But there may be some reasons behind that. Werdau, located 10 kilometers west of Glauchau, has a three-hour Christmas market that takes place on one Sunday and that’s it. Too short to German standards, but one that best attracts people to this community of 18,000. Having a Christmas market takes a lot of planning, which includes where to have the venue, when to host it, who is ready to sell goods, how many people will come and esp. what will the money collected from the sales be used for. That alone is the core of the market.
While only a few Christmas markets can be found in the US- namely in large cities, like Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Atlanta, as well as areas strong in German heritage, such as in Wisconsin and Ohio, plus Amana Colonies in Iowa, it doesn’t mean it is impossible to host one in your community. Especially in the German-named villages, like the ones in Minnesota, people will profit from having one, even if it is on a weekend. All it takes is looking at this success story of Heilsberg, look at the recipes for the products typically sold at the markets below, collaborate as to where to have it- be it in the business district, at a park or church, put some booths together, and make it as typically European as possible. With the last one, one might want to look to German communities as references- not necessarily Nuremberg or Dresden, but others that have held these markets for many years in smaller communities to collect some ideas before starting this adventure. There are enough examples to go around, especially when looking at the markets visited and profiled by the Files since 2010. Then it is off to the races.
Can you imagine a market in front of a church or at a bar and grill restaurant in Bergen? Or what about Marktplatz in New Ulm? In front of the Catholic Church overlooking the lake in Fulda would be a traditional smash hit. Or at a ski resort near Luxembourg, in front of Heimey’s Bar and Grill in New Germany, in the parking lot of Flensburg’s Bar and Grill- all one hot spots. Add this to New Trier’s Snow Days and that would really attract a crowd. But then again, other non-German named communities should try the concept as well. All is possible. It’s just a matter of interest, planning and making it happen.
All photos and the map are courtesy of Michael Fox, who also provided some information on the Christmas market in Heilsberg. A special thanks for his work and the homemade advocaat that will be tasted over Christmas. A guide on the Christmas markets including the ones visited this year (so far) is available here. It also has a list of German-named villages in Minnesota worth visiting.
The US Presidential Elections is one of the most complicated forms of democratic elections in the western world. Since the signing of the US Constitution, which led to the country’s establishment in 1787, the President is elected based on a system that fosters equality among states, known as the Electoral Vote. There, the voters elect their president through a set of electoral votes, a process that is much different than the popular vote, which is the more universally chosen approach to electing the leader of a country. Even the election of the political parties to rule the country- either solo or with a coalition- a practice that has been used to elect their chancellor in Germany since 1949, is considered a popular vote as the people vote for which party should rule the country.
However, people in the United States are pushing for the abolishment of the electoral vote and replacing it with a popular vote system for several reasons. Two of which include its antiquity and the change in demographics. Originally designed to favor smaller states, the shift in population towards metropolises along the coastal regions and the Great Lakes Region has made the system quite ineffective, especially when dealing with swing states- states that alternate votes between a Republican and a Democrat pending on voter preference. Furthermore, with a candidate winning the electoral vote but not the popular vote, the system seems to be unfairly favoring regions with a minority population that are sometimes ill-informed of how the system works.
This was the case with the latest elections in 2016, when Donald Trump won solely by electoral vote but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, as seen in the map below. Even interesting is the fact that even though the elections in November have passed, there is one more hurdle for Mr. Trump to jump through, which is to occur in December, according to law.
Confusing isn’t it? 🙂
The Electoral College is a complicated system which is best served with a quiz. Have a look at the following questions below- all of which are true and false- and decide what you think. Click on the results once you have completed the quiz and if you are still not so sure about it, check out the links below. You’ll be surprised at how the system works. This quiz is for all involved- from people learning about American culture and politics to those who deny the fact that there is no other process other than the Presidential Elections. There are enough people in both camps to go around. 😉
In either case, enjoy and feel free to use it in your class or in any discussion to learn more about this unique system America has to elect its leader of the country.