New Ulm, Minnesota

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What constitutes a German town in the United States? What architectural features should it have, in order for the town to be “German”? How much of the German language should the town possess? Does the town have to be settled by German immigrants in order for it to be typically German, or does it take one or more persons from a non-German country to take a German name and adopt it? How does heritage play a role in creating a community- what German festivals exists or used to exist in a community? And can a German town survive the changes occuring inside American society by keeping its identity or must the town shed its culture in order to integrate into the melting pot that is predominantly British, Irish, Italian and eastern European (at least in the regions of the Midwest and east of the Mississippi River)?

In my visit to the German villages in Minnesota, I learned that despite the establishments of villages named after German towns, like the usual likes of Hamburg, Cologne, New Munich and Fulda, there is not much German heritage left, for they even disappeared before 1920 because of either the campaign to eliminate German-American culture thanks to American involvement in World War I, the poor logistical locations- many of them didn’t even have a railroad line or had one that had existed for only a short period- or there were either a few German settlers who left for better job possibilities, only for the village to be taken over by settlers of other origins. One can see this with the typical American street and architectural settings, especially in the business district, as seen with New Germany for example:

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While most towns are built on street grids, what is expected from a German community in America is architecture and artistry created by local people either originating from Germany or whose first generation were immigrants. They should have cultural events that are typical of their German heritage, and lastly, there should be traces of German language and literature in schools, at public events and even at home. Even having German classes in school classifies as an example of efforts being undertaken to keep the German heritage in the community. :-)

And this is why we are looking at the city of New Ulm in the southern part of Minnesota. A little history to go along with the city of 13,300 inhabitants that also is the county seat of Brown County (County is the same as Landkreis, which makes county seat the Kreisstadt in German):

In 1851, a treaty at Traverse des Sioux was signed between the Sioux Indians and the white settlers, allowing the lands south and west of the Minnesota River to be given to the white settlers, and the native Americans were given plots of land north of the Minnesota to live. Three years later, a group of scouts from the Chicago Land Society explored and claimed the region where the Minnesota and Cottonwood Rivers met, and considered the area home. These were German settlers, consisting of Alois Palmer, Frank Massopust, Frederick Beinhorn, Athanesius Henle and Christian Ludwig Meyer. On October 7th, 1854, the name New Ulm was given to the land. The name was decided upon because many settlers who (later) followed the scouts to the region were from the cities of Ulm and Neu-Ulm in Baden Wurttemberg and Bavaria, respectively. Among the numbers of settlers coming to New Ulm were members of the liberal political group, the Turner Society, who were banished from Europe after the Revolution of 1848. By 1860, over 600 people had settled in New Ulm- almost all of them along the area north of the Cottonwood River and west of the Minnesota River.

TO READ MORE ON NEW ULM, CLICK HERE! A QUIZ ON NEW ULM CAN BE FOUND HERE AND THE ANSWERS HERE! 

 

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Author’s note: The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles released two articles on the bridges of New Ulm and Ulm. Click on the names and have a look at their history. Both of them are candidates of the 2015 Ammann Awards, which are being voted on now. 

Christmas Market Tour 2015: Pella, Iowa

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Author’s Note: This stop was taken last year during the tour through the United States. Due to illness on the part of the author upon his return to Germany, the decision was made to include it into this year’s tour.  Sincere apologies for the inconvenience. 

The next stop on the Christmas tour in the US is Pella, in south central Iowa. Located 45 miles southeast of Des Moines, the city with 10,400 inhabitants was established in 1847, when 800 settlers, led by dominee Henry Scholte moved to the area to make a living. The name Pella was derived from the village Perea, where Christians found refuge during the Roman-Jewish War of 70 A.D.  Today, Pella maintains its Dutch heritage in many ways than one. One can see that with the architecture, when driving past the town square and its Dutch-style facade and its double-leaf bascule bridge spanning an artificial canal. The Vermeer Mill is the largest Dutch-style windmill in North America. The Dutch “S”, a pastry with marzipan filling that is typical in the Netherlands, can be found at the Vander Ploeg Bakery, along with other Dutch-style pastries. And when visiting the city’s two meat markets (Ulrich and Veld), one can find imported cheese and meat products from the Benelux Region (Benelux consists of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg).

And while the city is located north of Red Rock Lake, an artificial lake created in 1969 that is laden with recreational activities all year round, Pella has two important holidays that the people celerbate: Tulip Days in May and Christmas. Tulip Festival is a typical Dutch festival where tens of thousands convene for a weekend of celebrations and the crowning of the Tulip Queen.  Christmas in a Dutch setting, like Pella, on the other hand, is typically American- Christmas lights display in the city center as well as the countryside, as well as a display of Christmas trees in one house. There’s no Sinterklaas coming into the harbor by ship- how could they if the ship meets the Red Rock Dam and he has to take a truck up the road past Wal-mart and into the city? Even with his Black Peters as his helpers? 😉  A look at how Sinterklaas is celebrated (naturally on the day before St. Nicholas Day in Germany) can be found via link (here) and in the video below:

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But just because the Christmas season is more or less Americanized and makes Pella un-Dutch, does not mean a person should stay away from the city because it is not European enough nor has some European flair in the holiday season. There are many reasons to spend a few hours in this Dutch community which is anchored by three different Dutch institutes- Vermeer Manufacturing, Pella Windows and Central College, along with other Dutch-style stores. The Files has the top five places to visit during the holiday season that are worth visiting:

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  1. Vermeer Mill: Built by the Vermeer Corporation in 2002, the Vermeer Mill is the largest functioning flour mill in North America. Tours of the mill and demonstrations on how the mill works are available, but this place is a keeper for one can see how the mill works. Furthermore, as you can see in the picture above, the mill has a viewing platform where you can see all of Pella’s city center, including its famous Market Square. The Mill is part of the Museum Complex, which also features a miniature display of towns in a Dutch setting in the Interpretive Center section of the Mill. The model has existed for over 30 years, and one needs an hour to look at the details of the display.
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Grinding geers in the mill

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Winter scenery at the Interpretive Section of the Vermeer Mill

2. Historic Village: Inside the Museum Complex is a must-see attraction in the Historic Village. The Village consists of 24 buildings, many of them have existed since the founding of Pella in 1848, including the church, blacksmith shop and shoemaker. Others, such as the log cabin, one of the first built in Marion County, were brought in and restored. Even the street lamps at the complex originates from the bygone ear. Most likely gas-powered, the bulbs displayed are from the 1930s.

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One of the first log cabins in Marion County

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Vintage street light with 30s era light bulbs

Each building features a display or a demonstration, pending on which building has what. For instance, the shoemaker shop produces and displays wooden shoes, which are typical of Dutch culture. Examples and displays of these shoes, including a jumbo pair at the museum shop, can be see everywhere. Some places have displays with mannequins dressed in their Dutch apparel. The bakery offers a display and a plate full of cookies to try. And even a gallery with the displays of all the Tulip Festival dresses and a hall of fame of all the queens are a treat to see. We were welcomed with Christmas trees in the majority of the houses and buildings on display

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Dutch-style shoes after being wood-carved

3. Scholte House and Gardens: Located on Washington Street, the house is the first in Pella, being built by Hendrik Scholte in 1848 for his wife. One can see the rooms and exhibits pertaining to their lives and the history of Pella. While the house and the gardens are best seen in the spring time during the Tulip Festival as well as during the summer, the house itself has a wide display of 15 Christmas trees to see, each one has its own taste and history. While we saw the house but not the display because it was closed, a columnist visiting the house at Christmas time found the displays very impressive. Yet with the holiday season one should look at expanding their opening hours to include weekends and 2-3 more days in the week instead of only one day a week. But in either case, the house has maintained its original form and is impressive even from the business district.

4. Jaarsma Bakery and Smokey Row Café: Both located along Franklin Street, the shops are literally a block apart, but each one serves the finest pastries, bars and coffee products. The Jaarsma Bakery, located across the street from the Public Gardens, offers a wide variety of Dutch pastries, including the Dutch apple cake, almond bars and the Dutch “S”. They are excellent to take home for the holidays to share with family and friends, as we did just that.  The Smokey Row Café provides travellers and tourists alike with a wide selection of coffee with pastries to eat in a historic coffeehouse setting, as you can see in the pic below. The café is also a great meeting place for the young and old alike and has a family setting that makes a person stop there again and again.

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5. Market Square: Behind the Jaarsma Bakery is the Market Square, one of the most modern places in Iowa and one that mimics a Dutch setting, with its famous red brick buildings and Dutch facade . The square is the central point of entertainment, as the Opera House, the Cinnema, The Amsterdam Hotel and Conference Center and the Pella Showroom are all located in one block, divided by a man-made canal that is crossed by a double-leaf bascule bridge, typical of the bridges in the Netherlands. While the square is laden with flowers and other floral decorations, it would be a perfect place for a Christmas market, if city officials are willing to at least experiment with it. As Christmas markets are popular in Germany, France and the Netherlands, the city can benefit from having one at least for a couple week(end)s during the holiday season.

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After a few hours in Pella, it was time for us to move on, but not before collecting some thoughts and recollections on the city and its settings around Christmas time. Although Pella does have a lot to offer for Christmas events and places to visit during the holiday season, it is clear that the Dutch community is more focused on the Tulip Festival and other events in the summer months, which means the holiday events are like the ones in an American town: light festivals, music concerts in churches and shopping. But can you imagine what Pella would look like if they had a Christmas market in the Market Square and Public Gardens and events similar to what the Dutch have at home in the Netherlands? Could you imagine how Pella would stand out among the rest of the communities in Iowa during the holiday season? And can you imagine how it would be a big of a magnet for tourists?

Check out the photos and think about it. :-) <3

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Author’s Note:  Sister column the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles did a series on the historic bridges in Marion County, including the bascule bridge in Pella, as well as historic bridges that existed over the Des Moines River before the Red Rock Lake was created in the 1960s. More on the bridges here:

Horn’s Ferry Bridge

Bridges at Red Rock Lake

Old Hwy. 14 Bridge near Cordova State Park

Pella Bascule Bridge

Fast Fact:  Pella was the birthplace of Wyatt Earp, famous US marshal. All his brothers except Virgil were  raised near Pella.

For Kurt Masur

Link: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/Kurt_masur.jpg

….with many thanks for what you have done.  There’s one less light in the city of Leipzig tonight but one more light in the skies, one that is singing songs of praise, freedom, joy and love, one that is leading the stars to a better hope for us down here on Earth. Going from doing an doing work for your father as an electrician to a musician and a revolutionary, you provided us with a sense of hope when the people were suffering from repression by the East German regime. You may have collected many years of experience conducting orchestras in Halle (Saale) and Erfurt, but your heart and soul remained in Leipzig, where you studied music at the academy, took over the Gewandhaus Leipzig Orchestra in 1970 and made it famous, and even taught music at the Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy College of Music and became honorable professor at the University of Leipzig. Yet despite all the honors and accolades you received by the city and the East German government, your biggest award was the love and respect you received by the people in Leipzig, by being the first to lead the non-violence protests at St. Nicholas Church on 9 October, 1989, keeping the security police force at bay and allowing people to demonstrate peacefully. 100,000 people were on hand demanding change, all done peacefully. Peace leads to progress, and oppression to openness, as we saw with the Fall of the Wall on 9 November, 1989 and subsequentially, the Reunification of West and East Germany on 3 October, 1990. It was through your merit that you were honored by the City of Leipzig by being the first person to receive the Order of Merit on 27 December, 1989.  After 26 years conducting the Leipzig Orchestra, you leave for bigger challenges in New York, Paris and London, taking with you your diligence, courage and creativity along with the memories of your days in Leipzig, yet your heart still remains with us.  And now, we mourn you but also honor you, as you take your place in the heavens, conducting the pieces of Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt and Mendelssohn  in front of the audience consisting of the likes of Vaclav Havel, Alexander Dubcek, Lech Walesa and all those who undertook efforts to free the countries of the Communist Bloc but left us too soon.  We will be listening to the likes of the following below…..

 

 

 

…..and in the end, with all that you have done, we thank you for your contributions not just as a musician, but also one of the revolutionaries who set us free from the grasp of totalitarianism. Leipzig, Germany and the rest of the world are saluting you tonight, but will also miss you.

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Kurt Masur passed away today in Greenwich, Connecticut after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was 88. There are many obituaries going out in his honor and memory. But the City of Leipzig has one depicting his career and contribution, which can be found here.

 

The House of One in Berlin: Three Religions, One Dialog

Site of the construction of the House of One. Photo taken by Molgreen and available through WikiCommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20150917_xl_P1030026_Berlin-Mitte_Petriplatz_an_der_Gertraudenstrasse_The_House_of_One.JPG

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BERLIN-  In light of the plight of the refugees and the terrorist attacks that occurred in Beiruit, Paris and the latest in San Bernardino, California, our short term reaction would be to follow Donald Trump’s unrealistic advice by banning the Muslims and do what Adolf Hitler did during the days of the Third Reich- which is get rid of them. Both ideas have been shot down by the majority of the public as absurd, barbaric, even cowardly. Even historian Dee Brown would tout the comments “We are still here,” in reference to the Native Americans keeping their culture despite years of repression on the reservation and failed attempts to integrate into American society.

In Germany, a new concept is being built on the ruins of history that will change that. As a sign that Germany is the posterboy for multiculture and acceptance of people from different countries, three religious leaders: a pastor, a rabbi and an imam are creating a religious institution where people of all three religions can come to worship.  The House in One brings Christians, Jews and Muslims together for one dialog and one convention with God, bringing different traditions and friends interested together. It will house a church, synagogue and moschee in one building located on the ruins of five churches, the last one being the St. Peter’s Church, which sustained substantial damage during World War II and was subsequentially removed in 1964 to make space for a parking lot. Rabbi Tovia Ben-Chorin,  Pastor Gregor Hohberg  and Imam Kadir Sanchi developed the concept in 2011, with the goal of expanding the concept on a global level in the future. A brief explanation can be found in the video at the end of the article. Berlin was chosen because of not only its cosmopolitan setting, but it was a place where all three religions once thrived but were suppressed by dictatorship over the course of two centuries, including the Jews during the Third Reich and Christians during the era of Erich Honecker. With a starting sum of 10 million Euros, construction of the new building began, with a donation program being launched in 2014. As of right now, over 1 million Euros of the 43.5 million Euros needed has been collected, including a lion’s sum by the German Government.

With dialog and peace being the only remedies to stop the conflicts that have been ocurring and end the attempts of fulfilling certain prophecies, could a person imagine having a place of worship for Christians, Muslims and Jews, maybe even adding other religions, like Buddhism, Taoists, or even some Native American religions? For people like Donald Trump, it is unimaginable, however their hate comes from the lack of information about religions and the real situation in society today. Inspite of the protests against taking on refugees, even in the United States (which could house 10 times as many refugees as Germany has been doing), perhaps a house of worship for many religions can serve as a place of peace and dialog. For the House of One in Berlin, the first of its kind in the world once it is open in 2016, the three founders are creating the platform for others to follow, and perhaps a remedy for all the religious conflicts going on today. If you are interested in donating for the House of One, click here for more details and watch the video for more information. Together, we can make it happen. :-)

God Bless, no matter what religion you come from.

 

The ruins of St. Peter’s Church at Petriplatz in Berlin. Photo taken in 1951, courtesy of the German Federal Archives

 

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The Mystery Christmas Piece: The Three Candles

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The Schwibbogen, one of the landmarks a person will see while visiting Germany at Christmas time. Consisting of an arch with holders for candles, the Bogen is more commonly known as the Lichterbogen, and has its traditions going back to the 18th Century. The first known Bogen was made in Johanngeorgenstadt in the Ore Mountain region in Saxony, in 1740. It was made of black metal, which is the color of the ore found in the mountain range, was made out of a forged metal piece, and was later painted with a series of colors, adding to the piece 11 candles. This is still the standard number for a normal Bogen, but the number of candles is dependent on the size. The smaller the Bogen, the fewer the candles. Paula Jordan, in 1937, provided the design of the Bogen, by carving a scene. At first, it featured 2 miners, 1 wood carver, a bobbin lace maker, a Christmas Tree, 2 miner’s hammers, 2 crossed swords, and an angel. The light shining in represented the light the miners went without for months as they mined the mountain. However, since World War II, the scenes have varied. Nowadays, one can see scenes depicting the trip to Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth, a historic Christmas village, and nature scenes, just to name a few.  Here’s a classical example of a Bogen one will find in a window sill of a German home:

 

Photo courtesy of Oliver Merkel.

Photo courtesy of Oliver Merkel.

One will also find Schwibbogen at the Christmas markets, including the Striezelmarkt in Dresden and the largest Schwibbogen in the world at its place of origin in Johanngeorgenstadt, which was erected in 2012 and has remained a place to see ever since! :-)

Going from the Ore Mountains, 7,400 kilometers to the west, one will see another form of the Schwibbogen, but in the state of Iowa. During the Christmas trip through Van Buren County, Iowa, and in particular, Bentonsport, several houses were shining with candles of their own. But these are totall different than the Schwibbogen we see in German households and Christmas markets. Each window had three candles, with one in the middle that is taller than the two outer ones. This is similar to the very top picture in the article, even though it is a mimic of what was seen at the village. When attempting to photograph the houses, the author was met with this:

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Even though there is not much to see from there, it shows how the candles are arranged in front of the window, closed with a curtain. Van Buren County was predominantly Dutch (more on that will come when looking at the Christmas villages), but it is unknown what the meaning behind the three candles are, let alone who was behind the concept and why. Could it be that the Dutch were simply mimicking the Schwibbogen from Saxony but just simply using three candles instead of eleven and subtracting the designed arch holder? And what does the design of the three candles stand for?

Any ideas are more than welcomed. Just add your comments or use the contact form to inform the author what the difference between the three candles and the Schwibbogen are in terms of origin and meaning. The information will be provided once the answers are collected and when looking at the Christmas villages in the county. They are small, but each one has its own culture which has been kept by its residents. The three candles are one of these that can be seen today at Christmas time, even while passing by the houses travelling along the Des Moines River, heading northwest to Des Moines.  Looking forward to the info on this phenomenon. :-)

 

Author’s Note: Check out the Flensburg Files’ wordpress page, as a pair of genres dealing with Christmas have been posted recently. They are film ads produced by a German and a British retailer, respectively. Both are dealing with the dark sides of Christmas, as the German one looks at loneliness without family (click here) and ways to get them home for the holidays (even though the technique presented is controversial), and the British one deals with a girl meeting a man far far away (click here), who is lonely and wants company, which is given in the end.  Both have powerful messages, so have your tissues out. :-)

 

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Flensburg Files’ 2015 Christmas Market Tour Preview

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Well, it is that time of year again- finding Christmas presents, looking for the right Christmas tree, stringing (and restringing) the lights, pouring a cup of mulled wine (Glühwein), practicing the songs for the caroling and concerts, and lastly, visiting the Christmas markets with family and friends, enjoying some company and trying out new things.

In its sixth year, the Flensburg Files will be taking a look at the Christmas markets in Germany, with some surprises in store for the reader. We’ll look at some leftovers from last year’s USA market tour, which started with Amana Colonies and was supposed to continue on but the author was downed with a flu virus during his stay in Chicago, which lasted several days, even into January. Yet some places visited are fresh and highly recommended, which means they will appear in the coming articles. Also new to the Files are some typical items you will find in German (and some American) homes and their origins. This includes the Adventskranz (EN: Advent wreath), the Candle-holding Angel and the Pyramid, just to name a few. We will also sneak in some German-named villages in Minnesota that the author visited one Christmas as a bonus. Which ones? We’ll let him do the work.

And for the traditional Christmas markets in the German cities? Check out the wordpress version of the Files as there will be some to be posted, adding to the long list that has been produced already.

Note: If you want some tips on which Christmas markets to visit and what the author recommends? Here’s a quick guide of the ever-growing list. If you want to add one to the list as a guest writer, please let him know using the contact details below.

Link:

https://flensburgerfiles.wordpress.com/tourism-guide/

 

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Germany at 25: TÜV

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:German_order_merit_with_special_sash.jpg

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.

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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.  :-)

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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

 

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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.

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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. :-)

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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! 😀

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