Saturday, December 21, 2019

On this day: Remembering Kurt Tucholsky

This day today in 1935, Kurt Tucholsky killed himself in Swedish exile. The famed writer, journalist, poet, and satirist, an early warner of the Nazis, took an overdose of sleeping pills in December 212, 1935. He was convinced the Nazis would rule Germany for some time to come; they had cut off his income by burning and outlawing his books; the Swedish government did not him a permanent visa, and he was also chronically ill. This is the last letter he wrote to his estranged (ex)-wife; Mary Tucholsky (whom he called Mala or Meli), documented by his biographer Harold L. Poor in Kurt Tucholsky. The Short Fat Berliner Who Tried to Stop A Catastrophe With A Typewriter. Tucholsky called himself Nungo in his letters to Mary. The letter was translated by Harry Zohn and re-translated for the new edition of this book by Kemery Dunn. I will add a picture of Tucholsky as a child.

Want to take His hand for the last time and ask Him for forgiveness for what has once done to Him. Had a lump of gold and fished for pennies; did not understand and did stupid things—did not betray, but deceived and did not understand.
I know that He is not vengeful. What He has endured on the return trip to Berlin; what took place later: I have richly atoned for it. In the end, it was clear to me—as clear as the reflection in a polished mirror. Now, everything comes back, images, words… and how I let Him go—now that it’s all is over, I know: I bear the whole, complete guilt.
… And now it is almost seven years to the day since gone away, no—since let go away. And now the memories are splashing down, all of them together. I know what I complain to Him and about Him—our unlived life.
If the times were normal (and if I were also), we would have a child of, say, twelve years—and what’s more, we would have the unity of our memories.
Did not dare to call Him anymore. Hopes that He has followed my plea on the envelope—the alternative would not be good. I may assume that when He reads this, I’m not disrupting a happiness I myself was not able to earn.
No, not dared to call Him anymore. For reasons easy to understand, I have never made any kind of “inquiries”: If He were married, I would have heard—but not anything else. And above all did not dare because had no right to tear Him a second time from work and everything—: am sick and can defend me no longer—much less someone else. I lack nothing important or grave—it is a series of small disturbances that make it impossible for me to work. I could not call Him into sure misery—quite aside from the fact that I never hoped He would come.
Still. Knew.
If He had come, He would not have found another person, but a transformed, matured one. I never published a line about what happens in Germany now—in spite of all requests to do so. It is no longer my concern. It is not cowardice—what’s the big deal to write for the exile press!
But I’m au dessus de la mêlée, it is no longer my concern. I’m done with it.
And now so much has been freed, now—now I know—but now it’s of no use. Was stupid in the beginning—the usual coup de foudre for 2.50 francs, half important things and I had good friendships. But I still see myself after His departure, sitting in Parc Monceau where I began my Paris. I was “free”—and I was sad and empty and not at all happy. And that’s how it remained.
His loving patience to participate in this madness—the unrest, the patience to live next to a man who was as if always hunted; who always had fear—no, anxiety. The anxiety that has no basis and could not name one reason—today, it would no longer be necessary. Today, I know. If love is what turns you upside down, which maddens every fiber of your being—then such can be felt anytime and anywhere. But when it comes to real love, which lasts, which returns over and over again:—then I loved only once in my life.
… Had imagined a ridiculous “freedom” on the other side—whereas such a thing truly does not exist. Lived more and more quietly—and now washed up on the shore—the vehicle is stuck—can’t keep going.
I only want to ask Him for forgiveness.
I was once a writer and I learned from S.J. the joy of quotation. If He wants to know how it sounds in the classics, He should read the parting letter by Heinrich von Kleist to his sister in Wannsee, 1811. And perhaps also look through a few pages of Peer Gynt; I don’t know if we saw the play together, it is not really performable. Toward the end, the hero rushes around the forest and happens upon a hut in which this chocolate image, Solveig, sits and sings something syrupy. But then the lines: “He arose—deadly pale.” Then he speaks four more lines. These are the ones I mean.
“Oh, Angst,” ... not because of the end. I don’t care about that, like everything which happens around me and to which I no longer have a connection. The reason to struggle, the bridge, the inner force, the raison d’ etre is gone. I did not understand.
Wish Him everything—everything good—
and please forgive.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Christmas in Germany

If you've ever been to Germany in December, you are likely familiar with the Christmas markets that decorate almost every city. Christmas markets can be found in many countries today, but they originated in the German-speaking part of the Roman Empire and remain a big part of German culture today.

German-style Christmas markets date back to the Middle Ages, when townspeople held winter markets as an opportunity to stock up on food and supplies to get them through the colder months. These open-air markets were usually only open for a day or a few days - just enough time to allow people to buy what they needed. A famous example of this is Vienna's Dezembermarkt (December market), which was first held between 1294 and 1296 and sold goods for the winter.

Over time, the wintertime markets began to evolve. Craftsmen began to set up stands selling products such as toys and woodcarvings, which people bought as gifts for Christmas and New Year's. It is believed that some of the oldest Christmas markets were first held in Dresden in 1434, in Bautzen in 1384, in Frankfurt in 1393 and in Munich in 1310, although some of these may have had more of a resemblance to wintertime markets.

The Protestant Reformation also had an impact on the markets. When the markets first came into being, they were often associated with Saint Nicholas (Munich’s first market was called the “Nikolausdult”). After the Protestant Reformation, the markets gradually became associated with the “Christkindl” (“Christ child”) instead – and in 1805 Munich changed the name of its market to the “Christkindlmarkt”. Parents started to tell their children that the “Christkindl” would deliver gifts on Christmas. As time passed, all of Germany’s winter markets evolved into Christmas markets.

Today, there are so many Christmas markets in Germany that it is almost impossible not to stumble upon one if you're there during the Advent season. And even the United States has countless Christmas markets of its own. If you haven’t already, take a look at our list of German-style Christmas markets in the US!

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

The picture is the Castle Church in Wittenberg, from Martin Luther's Travel Guide

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Our West-Berlin — A New Book

West-Berlin was an island surrounded by the Wall, a very special half-city, not really part of anything, with its own way of life. It was a place where bars were open all night so the locals could plot the revolution. Where beer was cheap and sausage on a roll was considered dinner. Where the tenements still bore bullet holes from World War II and the military draft did not exist. Where the city government regularly fell over some real estate scandal and the Communist-controlled S-Bahn train did not run. Where old-timers, Turks, and students lived side-by-side but barely talked to each other. It came to life in 1949, and really after the Wall was built in 1961 and faded away in 1989

Now Berlinica has a new book out devoted to West-Berlin, Unser West-Berlin. It contains 25 stories by two dozen authors and journalists, among them Wladimir Kaminer, Harald Martenstein, Paul Hockenos, Rosa von Praunheim, Gretchen Dutschke, Michael Sontheimer, and Tanja Dückers. With a cover design by Gerhard Seyfried. The book is for both native-born and later arrivals, for those who remember, and those who wish they did.

The book is in German, and we want to make it available to everybody in America who reads German. It is sold on Amazon and, soon, also on And we hope to get an English version out before Christmas 2020.

Unser West-Berlin
Language: German
Format: 6'' x 9'' cm
ISBN 978-3-96026-013-4
Suggested Retail: $20  

Saturday, November 9, 2019

A Wall to Remember

On this day thirty years ago, I was in my apartment in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg, near Chamissoplatz — in West-Berlin— and watched Die Abendschau, a local news show. At the end of the Abendschau, they were picking up the feed of a previously-aired press conference with Günther Schabowski, a member of the Politbureau of the SED, the governing Communist party of East Germany. Schabowski explained in a somewhat befuddled way that there would be legislation to allow East Germans to leave the GDR. And when? Why, like, right now!

I went to a friend across the street and said to him, if things keep going like this, the first East Germans will appear on our door in a few weeks. I was joking, of course, because we believed that this would never happen.  Well, most of us did. In the summer of 1989, I had met a guy in our favorite hangout, the Heidelberger Krug, who had traveled the Soviet Union. "The whole thing will come crashing down within months," he told us. "Russia is in total disarray, there are people everywhere selling the last possessions." Well, he was right. Of course, at that time Hungary had opened the border already, so that should have given everybody a clue. And with the Russians gone, everything would be gone.

I went home and later that evening, a friend called me from a phone booth, Paul Duwe, then a reporter for the long-deceased Spandauer Volksblatt and he himself a former Easterner. He was at Bornholmer Strasse, totally excited. "The Wall has opened", he said. "People are coming into West-Berlin by the thousands. This is incredible. Just come." At that point, it was 11pm and raining and, to my great embarrassment, I did not.

The next morning, still regretting my mistake, I went to the Brandenburg Gate. Here, the Wall was a bit lower and broader, so you could stand on it. It goes without saying that this was severely forbidden. Now, everybody was standing on the Wall; the Wall was completely crowded, and people were pulling each other up. I could see into the East, see border guards, not sure what they should do, but definitely not shoot us, and Berliners preparing to cross into the West.

Many things happened that seemed unbelievable a few weeks earlier. East-Berliners who were not sure if the Wall would come up again came to the West by the droves, leaving fully-furnished apartments behind. Refugee camps like Marienfelde had to be reopened. The city governments started to cooperate and then, reunite. And West-Berliners discovered their surroundings.

There was a push by the Old Left to give Socialism another try, culminating in a huge rally at Alexanderplatz (for which everybody got the day off and the train ticked paid), but that faded into obscurity real soon. In the 1990 election, three-quarters of East Germans voted for parties who wanted a quick reunification. And they got it. And some on the Left have never forgiven them for this,

Nowadays, some East Germans also remember the hardships of the aftermath. A lot of people lost their jobs, manufacturers closed, and the public sector had to slim down substantially. There are still economic problems — not surprising since the GDR never had a chance to really recover from World War II — but what most people remember are the good sides of Socialism, like cheap housing, but not so much the bad sides, like, that you were on a waiting list for an apartment for many years, and that the apartments often had coal heating and no warm water from the faucet.

So, what happened to the Wall? It was taken down, mostly by people just taking parts and then, companies, but a few pieces here and there were left standing. Read more in The Berlin Wall Today, a book by Michael Cramer, available in English and in German. And take the rest of the day off.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Frankenstein Castle

With Halloween and the colder months just around the corner, let's take a look at one of Germany's creepiest places: Frankenstein Castle.

Frankenstein Castle sits on a hilltop overlooking the city of Darmstadt. It was constructed sometime before the year 1250 by Lord Conrad II Reiz of Breuberg, who founded the free imperial Barony of Frankenstein. Over the coming centuries, the castle was home to various different families and witnessed several territorial conflicts. In 1673, Johann Conrad Dippel - who later became an alchemist - was born in the castle. The structure fell into ruins in the 18th century and was restored in the mid-19th century.

The most famous story is, of course, that of the alchemist who worked in the castle in the 17th century. He was known to experiment with strange potions. He supposedly created an animal oil (which he named "Dippel's Oil") that was a so-called "elixir of life". There are also rumors that the man studied anatomy and conducted experiments on cadavers, some of which he dug up himself from graves. There is no evidence that proves

It is believed that this historic castle and the story of the alchemist inspired Mary Shelley's 1818 novel "Frankenstein." There is evidence that the author traveled to the region before writing her book. And it's no wonder that the castle served as an inspiration for her spooky ideas: the structure is surrounded by thick, dark forests shrouded in mystery, legends, and folklore. There is a place in the forest where compasses do not work properly. The castle grounds were allegedly also home to a dragon in the early 1800s and a fountain of youth that continues to attract women during a full moon.

When a group of American Airmen from the 435th Transportation Squadron heard these stories in 1978, they had an idea: they would start an annual Halloween festival at this creepy castle. Today, the Halloween festival at Frankenstein Castle is one of the largest in Europe. If you're in Germany this Halloween and would like to find a place to celebrate this spooky American holiday, head over to Frankenstein Castle - you'll be sure to get a good scare!

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Monday, October 14, 2019

Trabis and the Wall

 When you think of East German cars, you probably visualize the colorful but cheaply-made Trabants ("Trabis"), which is what most people drove in the German Democratic Republic. But the GDR also had its very own race car: the Wartburg Melkus, also known as the "Ferrari of the East".

While the West German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz generally dominated the Formula One World Championship, East Germany participated in many of the races with its Melkus cars and had a surprisingly high level of success: Heinz Melkus, race car driver and founder of the company, was the 1958 German champion in Formula 3 and the 1960 East German champion in Formula Junior. Overall, he won 80 of the 200 races he competed in throughout Europe.

But producing the race cars was not easy, since the Dresden-based manufacturer was only permitted to use materials from East Germany. About 90 percent of the Melkus' parts came from Wartburg cars and some of its parts came from the Trabants. Still, Melkus was determined to see his vehicle on the streets of East Germany. Alongside his race cars, he also produced sports cars for everyday use,

known as the Melkus RS1000. These sleek and stylish cars could reach speeds of about 112 miles per hour. But they never gained the popularity of the Trabants or the Wartburgs, and the company stopped producing its Melkus cars in 1986.

As we remember the 30th anniversary of the fall of the wall, we like to look back at the things that differentiated East and West Germany, as well as the things that united them. The Trabi is a symbol of the East, but the Melkus was one of the GDR's prized creations: a race car that was made in a region with very few resources.

To reflect further upon the fall of the wall, we also have a series of videos in which colleagues tell us about their experiences in the weeks leading up to November 9, 1989. Be sure to check out two new videos in today's TWIG!

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

... and here are two Trabis from our book The Berlin Wall Today!

Friday, September 20, 2019

Come to The Steuben Parade!

Fall is always our busiest season at the Embassy - a time of year filled with celebrations and anniversaries. One such celebration is the Steuben Parade, one of the largest gatherings of German Americans in the world! Since 1957, German immigrants and German-Americans have marched through Manhattan on the third Saturday of every September, bringing German music, food and culture to the heart of the metropolis.

The parade is named after Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a Prussian-born military officer who served as inspector general and major general of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Steuben's influence in the US is unquestionable, but there are many more Germans who called the US their home. For many, New York and Ellis Island served as the gateway into the country. In the 19th century, one neighborhood on the Lower East Side was even called “Kleindeutschland”, which means "little Germany." Although “Kleindeutschland” no longer exists, there are still plenty of German-Americans in the Big Apple, and they come together each year at this parade.

Marching bands, floats, dancers and German-American organizations walk in the parade, often wearing traditional German costumes, such as the Bavarian Dirndl and Lederhosen. This year, the Steuben Parade will be attended by German Ambassador Emily Haber, who has been chosen as the Grand Marshal of the parade.

If you're in New York, make sure to check out the parade for a taste of German cultureIt is on Saturday, September 21, at noon, on Fifth Avenue!

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

An Evening with Kurt Tucholsky

Berlinica will present Harold Poor's landmark book, "Kurt Tucholsky. The Short Fat Berliner Who Tried to Stop A Catastrophe With A Typewriter" at the Leo Baeck Institute in New York next Monday, September 16, at 6.30pm. This is part of the commemoration of the Weimar Republic that was founded hundred years ago in November 1919.

I myself will be on the podium and talk about Kurt Tucholsky, as will Atina Grossmann from the Cooper Union, who will also comment on how Harold Poor's work fits in the historiography of Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when a fascination with the cultural and intellectual life of the Weimar Republic occurred, also in America. And Mark Anderson, Professor at Columbia German Department will speak about Weimar literature.

Harold Poor was a beloved professor at the History Department of Rutgers University; his biography of the iconic German Jewish author, journalist, satirist, playwright, and poet is still the most important and thorough work on Kurt Tucholsky in the English-speaking world; a labor of love by the Rutgers history professor that is still unmatched. For this book, Poor has not only spent years of research in American Universities, he also visited Tucholsky’s widow Mary Gerold in her home in Rottach-Egern, Germany, his family in tow, and unearthed material, letters, and pictures previously unknown.

This book is a well-written gem that has finally been rediscovered, with a new introduction by Rutgers-professor Belinda Davis and a preface by Chris Poor, Harold Poor's son. After the panel, there will be an opportunity for a Q&A and also a cookie-and-wine reception.

Your publisher, Eva C. Schweitzer

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Steuben in New York: See You in September

The annual Steuben Parade is just around the corner!  On September 21, we will be participating in the parade along New York City’s Fifth Avenue. And it’s one we definitely can’t miss: the Steuben Parade is one of the largest gatherings of German- Americans in the world!

Thousands of participants and spectators attend the annual parade, and we can’t wait to be among them! Let's take a look at who this large event is named after:

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730-1794) has long been a symbol of German-American friendship. The Prussian-born military officer fought in two major wars, but is best known for his contributions on American soil. His experience gained during the Seven Years' War equipped him with a wealth of military knowledge that helped the young man rise in the ranks. When he was in his thirties, he found himself in debt, and hoped to find employment in a foreign army to gather funds. In 1777, the young baron was introduced to General George Washington by means of a letter. Soon thereafter, he was on his way to the United States, where he offered to volunteer his services without pay. Arrangements were made so that Steuben would be paid for his services after the war, based on his contributions.

And he did not fail to impress: Von Steuben became inspector general and major general of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and he is often credited as being one of the founders of the Continental Army. In the final years of the war, the Prussian-born military officer even served as General Washington's chief of staff. Finally, in 1784, he became an American citizen.

Today, there are celebrations throughout the US that are named after Von Steuben, including the German-American Steuben Parades in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. There is also a Steuben Society, an educational and fraternal organization that was founded in 1919 to help organize the German-American community. We even have a statue of Von Steuben at the German Embassy in Washington!

As we celebrate German-American friendship, culture and heritage, Von Steuben is a name that we will always remember.

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

Friday, August 30, 2019

Revolution in Leipzig

When people think of the fall of the wall, Berlin usually comes to mind. But one of the most important triggers of change occurred in the East German city of Leipzig - home of the Monday demonstrations, a series of peaceful protests that called for fundamental human rights and the freedom to travel between East and West Germany. The Monday of September 4, 1989 marked the first such demonstration, beginning a transitional period that Germans call “Die Wende” ("The Change"). Next week marks the 30th anniversary of these protests.

The demonstrations began in the 800-year-old old St. Nicholas Church (the Nikolaikirche) where several German dissidents regularly met to discuss religion and politics under the leadership of Pastor Christian Führer. The weekly meetings took place every Monday and soon grew in size as more people expressed their dissatisfaction with the GDR.

The first demonstration was held after the weekly prayer for peace on September 4. Protesters gathered outside the church, chanting "We want out!" and demanded a new government. In the weeks that followed, the protests grew from about 1,200 to more than 300,000 people - despite threats of violence from GDR authorities. But fear was not enough to curb the demonstrations, and hundreds of thousands of people continued to march peacefully in Leipzig until the fall of the Berlin Wall - and even several months thereafter.

"Wir sind das Volk!" ("We are the people") became the widely-recognized motto of the Monday demonstrations.

The fall of the Berlin Wall has largely overshadowed the Monday demonstrations in history books, but the effect of these protests is undeniable. The demonstrations put immense pressure on the GDR government, ultimately leading to the fall of the wall on November 9, 1989.

"It was a self-liberation," Pastor Führer told Der Spiegel years after the demonstrations. "We did it without the dollar or the DAX, without the U.S. or Soviet armies. It was the people here who did it."

As we approach the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we'll make sure to keep you informed about some of the most significant events related to a formerly-divided Germany and its reunification. Check out this week's TWIG to learn about our Word of the Week - Stacheldrahtsonntag ("Barbed Wire Sunday").

Nicole Glass, Editor, The Week in Germany

The lights in the ground around Nikolaikirche in Leipzig memorizes where the demonstrators gathered. Read about it in our book Leipzig! One Thousand Years of German History

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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