Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Fall of the Wall — 30. Anniversary

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall - an important date in German history. But while this year's focus is on the events leading to Germany’s reunification, let's not forget how everything began.

During this month in 1961, the GDR established the border that kept Germany divided for years to come. Between 1949 and 1961, 2.7 million people had fled the GDR and moved to the west, ignoring emigration restrictions. The dividing line between East and West Berlin was a border-crossing hotspot. In the year 1960 alone, 200,000 East Germans defected, leaving behind their old lives for new ones in the west.

GDR authorities panicked over the mass emigration and sought to put an end to it. On the eve of August 12, 1961, the East German communist government closed the German border, and on August 13, construction of the Berlin Wall began. Families and friends were separated as GDR authorities tore up roads and sealed the border with barbed wire fencing and concrete blocks. It wasn't long before a 12-foot concrete wall stood as a barrier between the east and the west.

To defend their actions, GDR authorities called the barrier the “Antifaschistischer Schutzwall” ("Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart") and claimed that it served to keep fascists away from East Germany.

"No one should think we are in love with the Wall; that is by no means the case... The anti-fascist protective rampart was necessary to stand up to the military adventurers," East German leader Walter Ulbrecht said in a speech shortly after the wall's erection.

But instead, West Germans were able to travel freely across the border, while East Germans were, in most cases, prohibited from leaving. East Germans remained trapped behind the wall for 28 years until it finally fell on November 9, 1989 – one of the most important dates in German history.

It's difficult to imagine what East Germans felt on the day that the wall came crumbling down. But this year, as we celebrate an important anniversary, we are reflecting not just on the fall of the wall, but on how it all came together in the first place. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing Berlin Wall stories from some of our colleagues here at the German Embassy to give you a glimpse into that historic time period. Be sure to check out our new YouTube series “Wall Stories” and subscribe to our channel @germanyinusa to stay up to date when we release new videos.

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Wagner in Bayreuth and Leipzig

One of Germany’s most famous composers is Richard Wagner (1813-1883), who is especially famous for his operas. In fact, Wagner even built his very own opera house, called the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which was dedicated to his own works.

And to this day, we celebrate the life and works of Wagner with an annual music festival held in Bayreuth, Germany. Wagner fans from all over the world travel to the Festspielhaus to attend the annual event—including Chancellor Angela Merkel.

This week, the Chancellor and Bavarian CSU Leader Markus Söder attended the music festival, despite sweltering hot temperatures in Germany. Merkel is a long-time Wagner fan, and has attended the annual event several times.

Since its launch in 1876, the Bayreuth Festival has been a socio-cultural phenomenon, with notable guests including Kaiser Wilhelm, Dom Pedro II of Brazil, King Ludwig, Friedrich Nietzsche and countless other fans of Wagner’s compositions. The Bayreuther Festspiele kicked off on July 25 and will continue until August 28.

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Wagner was born in Leipzig, Germany's secret cultural capital, in the house below, Am Brühl, a major city street. Read more about it in our book Leipzig! One Thousand Years of German History. Also as an ebook.

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Working Like a Dog!

School’s out, the sun is shining and summer has arrived! That means many German families are preparing their long-awaited vacations.

For those of you who have worked in Germany, you may know that Germans strive to have a good work life balance – and that means taking well deserved vacations. In Germany, each worker is entitled to a minimum of 20 vacation days per year, but 25 to 30 days is common practice.

According to an OECD study, Germans worked 1,363 hours per year, which is overall less than most other countries. However, German productivity was higher than in many countries. The average GDP per head, divided by the hours worked, was valued at $105.70 in Germany, which is $4 more than in the US. Meanwhile, Americans worked 400 hours more than Germans each year, according to the same study.

So what does this mean? Maybe it’s time to pack your bags and spend a few days in the sunshine so you can come back more creative and more productive.

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Damsels and Dragons

BookExpo America, the BEA, is the largest book fair in the US. It usually takes place at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, a convention hall from the eighties on the west side of Manhattan near a new, very expensive subway station ($2.8bn, to be exact). This is also where it took place this year. The Javits Center has a large central area and all sorts of side rooms; a hall with a big stage, more than a dozen seminar rooms, and there was another stage hall in an area now under construction.

Compared to the Frankfurt Book Fair and its four (or is it five?) large halls, all with two or three levels, all full of books, the BEA is tiny. Even the Leipzig Book Fair is now filling four halls, not counting the one for manga. The BEA fills only one. That is astonishing, because America is the largest book market in the world. And the BEA is shrinking. Each year. When I first visited the Javits Center, fifteen years ago, the publishers filled forty rows. Today they take half as many. Only the Big Five—Macmillan, Penguin RandomHouse, Simon & Schuster, Hachette and Harper Collins—are still holding down the fort. Girls are handing out galleys for reviewers ... am I imagining things or are they all girls’ books? Women are in every aisle as well. Even the opening panel is occupied by four female publishers. The BEA is female.

A small handful of medium-sized publishers are also present. Half of the university prsses are missing, the mini-publishers have shrunk to half a row, the New York Review of Books is not here, many industry magazines are not present. Not even Kindle Direct Publishing, the Amazon subsidiary for print-on-demand books, has a booth. But there is a new indie stage, not for indie publishing companies actually, but for self-published books. Those books are pitched to booksellers—or more specifically, female booksellers. The International Rights Fair is also at the Javits Center this year; many countries are offering book rights. Mostly European countries, but India is also here. Foreign books in the US are usually reduced to a virtually shadowy existence, but now they have their own stage.

The 2019 BEA is astoningishly apolitical. New political releases such as Mike Wolff's book about Donald Trump, Siege, don't seem to exist. Kathryn Sullivan signs poster in the middle of the aisle. Sullivan was the first woman in space. A few steps further, George Takei is sitting at a booth. The Japanese-American actor, known for his role as Sulu in Star Trek, was also—sort of—in space.  Rumor has it that Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the Democratic superstar, is at the BEA, but it’s not true.  But Rachel Madoff appears, the leftist television presenter who has climbed to the top of TV ratings, due to Donald Trump. All strong women.

In recent years, islands in the ocean of books have emerged where Startups presented new ideas; automated e-bookmarks, revolutionary sales platforms, link building for digital books, books on thumb drives; all the young men are now gone. This year, one-third of the hall is occupied with gift booths; not even book gifts, but organic chocolate, ceramic mugs with cats, and Game of Thrones scarves. Daenerys and her dragon, Sansa and her gray wolf, Arya and her dagger. The price policy for booths has deterred many publishers, but not the toy manufacturers.

For visitors, the emptiness is actually pleasant. You meet acquaintances faster since you don’t have to maneuver through a crowd first. Because everything is close to each other and the publishers have hung large banners over their stands, you don’t have to write down where everyone is, or waste time searching through the aisles. In the evening it is easy to get from one reception to another. There is sparkling wine at Macmillan and real champagne in the large seminar room, where a Chinese delegation hosts an event.

The star of the BEA is LA James, the author of Fifty Shades of Gray. James, for those who have forgotten, is the author of the self-published novels very loosely based on the hit series Twilight. They made the big breakthrough; she has sold millions and is now under contract with Penguin RandomHouse. Her new book is called The Mister. It is set in the time of English nobility, which make sense since James is English. She is a very lovely and unpretentious woman, by the way. The book could not be farther away from American reality.

There are posters in the lobby for upcoming releases by Michael Crichton and other bestselling authors, all male, whose books we will see in Frankfurt in the fall. In the exhibition, women and foreigners and foreign women are more or less among themselves. I'd like to be happy to have replaced the white American male in charge, but deep inside, I feel like it's not a good sign for the stability of the book industry when they are sending child soldiers to the front. But at least I got a free tote.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Angela Merkel in Harvard

This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered the 368th commencement speech at Harvard University, inspiring graduates with her stories and experiences, encouraging them to take risks, make thoughtful decisions and hold onto their core values.

Surrounded by the Class of 2019, Merkel told her own story of growing up behind the Berlin Wall. As a young scientist in the GDR, Merkel‘s opportunities were limited. She did, however, become involved in politics after the fall of the wall - and against all odds, rise through the ranks to become Germany’s first female chancellor.

“The Berlin Wall limited my opportunities,” she told the graduates. “It quite literally stood in my way. However, there was one thing which this wall couldn’t do through all those years: It couldn’t impose limits on my inner thoughts, my personality, my imagination, my dreams and desires.”
Merkel encouraged graduates that they can all make a difference in the world, no matter how difficult it might seem. “Anything that seems to be set in stone and unalterable, can be changed,” she said. “Every change begins in the mind.”

In today’s world, there are “walls in people’s minds, walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness,” she said, encouraging graduates to go out into the world and “tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is.”

Ahead of her commencement address, Chancellor Merkel was awarded an honorary degree from Harvard University. Harvard President Larry Bacow called the German leader one of the most “influential statespeople of our time.”

Chancellor Merkel is the fourth German leader to give a commencement speech, following Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1955), President Richard Weizsäcker (1987) and Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1990). Be sure to check out our top stories in TWIG to watch Chancellor Merkel’s full speech and read more about her visit to Harvard.

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Germans in Texas

Many of you know that the US has a strong military presence in Germany. But did you know that Germany also has a military presence in the US?  More than 1,000 German service members are currently stationed in the US – and a large number of them are in El Paso, Texas.

Eleven years after the end of World War II, the first German soldiers arrived in El Paso in 1956 and started air-defense training with the US Army in Fort Bliss. In just over 60 years, more than 60,000 German students have been trained in El Paso in a variety of weapon systems. El Paso is home to the German Air Force Air Defense Center at Fort Bliss, where trainees can learn every aspect of the PATRIOT air defense system. At its peak in the 1980s, the Air Defense Center had about 2,000 German soldiers, civilians and students. Today, the German Air Force has approximately 80 soldiers stationed in El Paso.

“Most of them have fallen in love with El Paso and some of them found their love in El Paso, got married and founded families. And some even stayed and enjoy their retirement here,” Ingo Scharschmidt, Lieutenant Colonel and Commander of the German Air Force Air Defense Center says in a statement. “The feeling of being an integral part of the El Paso community is priceless. This becomes particularly clear when my soldiers or I are approached and told: ‘Thank you for your service.’”

The German-American friendship is strong in El Paso, and this week, we celebrated this friendship at a Chihuahuas baseball game at the Southwest University Ballpark. Make sure to check out this week’s TWIG articles to see how we are Wunderbar Together – not just in Washington, but beyond!

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Dresden Music Festival

This week marks the launch of the Dresden Music Festival, one of the most prestigious festivals for classical music in Europe. From May 16 to June 10, more than 60 concerts will take place at famous venues around the city, including the Frauenkirche, the summer palace and grounds of the Großer Garten and Semperoper opera house. By bringing music to the city’s most renowned sites, the festival comes directly to its audience, according to festival director Jan Vogler. “The open air concert is a gift to the audience that is not only invited to enjoy music in front of the historic city center of Dresden, but also to join the performance by participating in the concert,” he states.

The Dresden Music Festival is a cultural event that attracts not only Germans, but people from around the world. The festival was first held in 1978 as a result of a government decree. Back then, the city was part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). After reunification, the event continued to be held, but it encompassed a broader range of music and continues to expand every year.
This year, two of the headliners include guitar legend Eric Clapton and singer Rene Pape, a native of Dresden. The theme of this year’s festival is the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus art movement.

Speaking of music, did you know that Germany is the largest music market in Europe and the third-largest in the world? Some of the most recognized German music are classical compositions by notable composers such as Bach, Händel, Beethoven and Wagner – but Germany is also home to countless rock festivals and a notable electro and techno scene. So if you’re heading to Germany this year, be sure to check out one of the country’s many music festivals – we’re sure there’s something for you!

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Friday, April 26, 2019

Castles in Germany

Many travelers who come to Germany choose to visit the country's many majestic castles and palaces. But even those who don't go out of their way to visit one may stumble across the ruins of a medieval castle: Germany has over 20,000 castles, some of which are well-known tourist attractions and others that lay isolated in the countryside.

The most famous castle is, of course, Schloss Neuschwanstein, which was built in the Bavarian hillside in the late 1800s. Walt Disney's castle was inspired by Neuschwanstein, and the site is known worldwide for its magical appearance. It is Germany's most-visited castle, bringing in over 1.3 million tourists per year.

Another well-known castle is the Burg Eltz, which looks as if it came straight out of a fairytale. This magical medieval castle lies on a hill near the River Rhine. It has belonged to the same family for over 800 years. Near Frankfurt, Frankenstein's Castle may attract those are fascinated by scary stories. The fortress was once the home to mad scientists John Konrad Dippel, who was known to conduct freaky experiments on corpses. Some believe that the author of the Frankenstein story was inspired by his work.

Further south, the picturesque Heidelberg Castle overlooks the town below it, making you feel like you're living in a fairytale. The romantic ruins of the castle loom over the town, attracting many artists, poets and writers seeking Inspiration.

The famous Hohenzollern Castle, located on a mountain in the Swabian Alps, is currently celebrating a milestone: this year marks 165 years since construction began and 150 years since its completion.
"This castle was built to show the unification of the German peoples after the revolution in 1848 - 1849. But it was never the home for the Prince of Prussia. It was not built as a residence but rather as a cultural memorial. Today it is protected by the German memorial protection," Anja Hoppe, manager of Hohenzollern Castle, told CCTV.

These are among the most well-known castles in Germany, but there are plenty more hidden and nameless castles that you've probably never heard about. So if you're considering a trip to Germany, make sure to put a few castle visits on your to-do list.

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Friday, March 29, 2019

Cherry Blossoms and Japan in Hamburg

You might have seen images of the cherry blossom trees that blanket Washington, D.C. every spring. The 3,000 trees around the Tidal Basin were a gift from Japan to the United States in 1912, symbolizing the friendship between the two countries. Once the trees begin to bloom, the city is filled with festivals, celebratory events and a parade marking the occasion.

Although the District has an abundance of cherry blossom trees, Japan has gifted its prized sakura trees to several other countries, including Brazil, China, Turkey and Germany. And in Germany, the blossoming trees have been growing in popularity.

In Germany, the trees typically bloom a few weeks later than in the US, but nevertheless come with their own celebrations. Since 1968, the city of Hamburg - which is home to about 2,000 Japanese residents and 100 Japanese companies - has hosted an annual cherry blossom festival, complete with fireworks, a Japanese Kulturtag ("day of culture") and a bi-yearly pageant for a cherry blossom princess. In the 1960s, Hamburg received approximately 5,000 cherry blossom trees from Japan, which were planted along the city's riverbanks.

But even hundreds of years ago, Hamburg residents would flock across the Elbe River to the so-called “Altes Land” (“old land”) in the spring to admire the countless cherry blossom trees that blanketed the region. The Altes Land, which is the largest contiguous fruit-producing region in Northern Europe, has had cherry blossom trees for centuries before they were planted along the Hamburg’s riverbanks.

Other German cities host smaller cherry blossom festivals of their own. And in Bonn, the cherry blossoms have become a major tourist attraction in recent years. In the mid-1980s, the city decided to plant cherry blossom trees all throughout Bonn's Altstadt ("old town") in order to make it a nicer place to live. The plan worked: Bonn's Heerstraße is now one of the most attractive springtime destinations. Photographs depicting Bonn's tunnel of pink have become an internet sensation, bringing tourists from around the world to visit the city during peak bloom. Japan's gifts have brought beauty to cities across the world, including Germany!

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Friday, March 15, 2019

St. Patrick in Germany

Many of you might be celebrating St. Patrick's Day by wearing green on Sunday - an Irish Tradition that is common in the United States. But even in Germany, St. Patrick's Day has become a widely celebrated event. While not all  of us would consider a stout a real beer, we’re happy to join the Irish in their beer-drinking celebrations on the biggest Irish party of the year!

The city of Munich hosts the largest annual St. Patrick's Day parade in continental Europe. Often times, 30,000 people or more show up for the parade at Odeonsplatz, which often includes the mayor. The parade includes bagpipe performances, Irish dances and performers in costume. Approximately 1,464 people in 63 different performance groups will participate in this year’s parade.

Irish people and St. Patrick's Day enthusiasts have been gathering for the Munich parade since 1996. And festivities are not limited to the parade: over the course of two days, there is also an Irish mass, an Irish cultural evening and gatherings involving Irish beer.

"So many Irish people live here in Munich and we Bavarians are always up for a party," Anthropologist Sandra Meinas told the Irish Times. But even further north, Germans celebrate the Irish holiday, with Berlin hosting a smaller parade and festival of its own.

Germany is home to a large Irish community; one estimate from 2013 claims there are around 11,000 Irish citizens who have declared German residency. So whether you are in the US or Germany this weekend, we're sure you will encounter more green than usual!

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Fasching and Fastnach

Germany is celebrating its so-called Fünfte Jahreszeit ("Fifth Season"), which is a reference to Carnival! The Fifth Season officially began on November 11 at 11:11 a.m., but in actuality, Carnival's events take place during one week in February with highlights including Fat Thursday and Rose Monday.

On February 28, Germans celebrated Weiberfastnacht (Fat Thursday), which marks the last Thursday before Lent. In the Rhineland - which is where Carnival is celebrated most intensely – work often ends before noon and people wear costumes out on the streets and in local bars.

But men who wear ties on Weiberfastnacht need to be prepared: one of Germany's unique Carnival traditions is that women cut off men's ties with scissors on Fat Thursday, leaving them with nothing but a stump. After all, Weiberfastnactht means "women's carnival night", and this ritual allows them to symbolically strip men of their statuses. Even at the German Embassy in Washington, some of our colleagues had to say goodbye to their ties on Thursday. Be sure to check out the video in TWIG to see what happened!

But the biggest celebration of Carnival is still to come next week on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) - a day marked with large parades and street parties. An estimated 1.5 million people watch the Rosenmontag parade in Cologne each year. Although Rose Monday celebrations take place in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium, the region with the heaviest celebrations is the Rhineland, particularly in the major cities along the Rhine. The southern part of the Rhineland, however, has its own unique tradition called "Fastnacht", which comes with its own unique customs. Be sure to read about the history of Carnival in this week's edition of TWIG!

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Germans and Humor

You might have heard the stereotype: Germans have no sense of humor. A 2007 survey of 30,000 people ranked Germany as the country with the worst sense of humor. We are not amused!

But perhaps German humor is simply misunderstood. Many German words - especially compound word constructions - are lost in translation, simply because there is no equivalent in other languages. Our "Word of the Week" series should help you understand words as complex as Backpfeifengesicht ("a face in need of slapping"), Honigkuchenpferd ("honey cake horse") and Kabelsalat ("cable salad"). The more you understand Germany's strangest and most unusual words, the more humor you will find in the language!

British comedian Stewart Lee agrees. In an op-ed he wrote for The Guardian, he said it took him a while to understand German humor - but once he did, he couldn't stop laughing. Much of English-language humor, he said, stems from words that have double or triple meanings, thereby creating humor that thrives on confusion. Since the German language has so many compound words and specificity, "it provides fully functional clarity".

As a result, Lee writes, the German "sense of humor is built on blunt, seemingly serious statements, which became funny simply because of their context."

He writes:

"I looked back over the time I had spent in Hannover and suddenly found situations that had seemed inexplicable, even offensive at the time, hilarious in retrospect. On my first night in Hannover I had gone out drinking with some young German actors. 'You will notice there are no old buildings in Hannover,' one of them said. 'That is because you bombed them all.' At the time I found this shocking and embarrassing. Now it seems like the funniest thing you could possibly say to a nervous English visitor."

But despite the differences between English and German humor, there are plenty of German stand-up comedians, some of which perform their acts in English! Notable German comedians include classics Loriot and Karl Valentin and modern comedians Dieter Nuhr, Anke Engelke, Eckart von Hirschhausen, Oliver Welke and Tom Gerhardt.

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Friday, February 8, 2019

Kickoff of the Berlinale

The 69th Berlin International Film Festival (known as the „Berlinale“) kicked off this week, beginning an 11-day program that will include hundreds of films and film screenings. As one of the largest public film festivals in the world, the Berlinale attracts tens of thousands of visitors from all around the world, including many celebrities.
This year, there are 17 films competing for the famous Golden and Silver Bear awards, 16 of which are world premieres.  This year’s spotlight will be on female directors; in fact, 40 percent of all its competing films were directed by women, setting an unprecedented record for such a major film festival. And this year’s Berlinale jury president is also a woman: Oscar-winning French actress Juliette Binoche  will head the 69th Berlin International Jury, which will decide who receives the Golden and Silver Bears. This weekend, Dieter Kosslick, the festival’s director, will sign a pledge that “calls festivals to commit to gender parity in its management and requires data transparency surrounding film submissions and programming committees,” Deutsche Welle reports. At a time when Germany is celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage, this festival is a welcome showcase of female accomplishments in the creative arts.
The Berlinale was founded in West Berlin in 1951 – at the beginning of the Cold War – as a “showcase of the free world”, according to the event organizers. The very first festival was opened with Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Rebecca, which was a romantic psychological thriller that has won two Academy Awards. While the Berlinale often showcases highly anticipated films and A-list celebrities, it also brings new talent to the stage, sometimes kickstarting the careers of young filmmakers.
This year’s festival runs from February 7 to 17.
Nicole Glass
Editor, The Week in Germany


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