Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Times Story and Germany

The New York Times did a piece today.....on the German worker, his income, and how a stalled pay scale is disrupting Europe's economy itself today.

What they say....is generally correct. For an entire decade....2000 to 2010....the after-taxation income was stagnant.....a grand total for ten years of a 1.4 percent gain.  That's NOT yearly.....that's for the entire decade.

From 1990 to 2000?  Well, it just barely gets any better, with a 7.5 percent gain, for the entire decade.  Again, that's NOT yearly.....that's for a ten-year period.

What the Times piece tries to do....is make the case that German workers should have been taking one to two percent gains every year or two.....like French or Italian or Spanish workers.  The slanted story suggests that if middle-income Germans just made more....they'd spend more.  They'd buy French wine, Greek summer vacations, Spanish washers and dryers, Italian sports cars, etc.

It's a nice suggestion, and perhaps a topic worth discussion.

Some faults are found in this logic though.  For hundreds of years....Germans have been working on this personal habit of practical management of income.  Debits and credits are balanced.  No one spends money they don't have.  If they made more money....it doesn't really mean they'd spend more money.

When you sit back and examine the past decade.....Germans across the country saved money.  Even with the crappy 2008-era with bad US banking situations and some Germans losing savings....the Germans simply didn't fall the way that the US or it's European neighbors fell.

When Greece fell into the pit and asked the EU for serious help, and the EU kinda said it wasn't going to be guaranteed thing....especially with Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland in trouble.  Who did have money?  Germany.  Yeah, the guys who took less pay.....the guys who made it a life decision to run balanced checkbooks.....the guys who skimped and saved on home renovations by often doing the work themselves or hiring Polish under-the-table workers.

Yeah.....somehow, those Germans had cash still in their hand....when everyone else didn't.

Stagnant employment situation?  No.  Germany is actually accepting workers from Greece, Spain and a number of European countries.  By the time you figure benefits and leave.....no one really complains that much.  Maybe it is less pay.....but you consider roughly five weeks of vacation, a pension program that is stable (for the moment), and almost no company downsizing.....there's a success story here.

How does the logic go with the Times article?  It's hard to say.  Somehow, I'm supposed to believe that less German-worker pay hurt Europe.  Yet, their companies are surviving.....no one is Greece is complaining about ample German cash reserves and savings (yeah, they complain about Nazi history but that's another story).

Germans satisfied?  Now.  Just this week in my village....another round of the bus-driver strike is affecting me.  No bus service into Wiesbaden tomorrow.  And there's the chances of another day of strike next week.  Strikes are becoming commonplace as workers sit and demand a 1.5 to 2.5 percent raise.

I'm not sure what the Times was trying to tell in the story.  Maybe some slant belief item from the commerce or state department?  Maybe.  A foundation goofball with a Nobel Prize for Economics chatting up to a Times reporter over theory?  Maybe.  It's just another case where you really have to read through the stuff printed as news today and ask stupid questions.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Explaining the German Spa Concept (Historically)

The Greeks and the Romans played up this concept of water water springs.  There were medicinal benefits tied to usage, and if you were of a better status in life.....you tended to use the springs more than the regular guy on the street.

When the Romans came north into Germany and did their element of conquering around 12 BC.  Control by the Romans over the Wiesbaden area?  There's some discussion over the date....but most side that around 120 AD....the Romans had some type of control over the local region.  What most will say is that the warm springs of the local area drew the Romans, and it was the magnet for regional development of the baths.

All of this came to some evolution of sorts when the regional tribes did a partnership with the Romans....to help them eliminate any threat...coming around the year 370.  For around 120 years....this partnership survived, and was eventually defeated by the Franks.

You can eliminate Roman control over the spa business in 496, and with the Franks....came the curious episode of making Wiesbaden a capital city of the Franks.

For the next thousand years....the Catholic church plays some part in role of Wiesbaden, and it's spa business.

Around the early 1800s....there's stability....and medicinal advice being given by 'experts' over the benefits of warm water bathing.  There's minor tourist industry developing.

By the 1850s....between the spa operations, the casino, and the grand hotels....Wiesbaden became a thriving spa resort.

If you were a major hotel in town.....you had bathing rooms for the guests to reserve.  The average room was around 15 feet by 30 feet, with a fairly good sized tub in the back of the room.  A window was typically in each room, with nicer grades of tile on the floor.  The local geothermal waters were pumped in, and a guy would sit for approximately forty-five minutes (one hour periods were the norm, but the bath lady always had to clean it and prepare for the next guest).  So you paid for the water treatment, and did that several times in a week as your "kur".

You would have the bathing room set for you as you enter....the bathing lady would leave.  You'd undress and lay in a tub with greatly heated water.  Maybe later....you'd swim in a local pool, and talk London or Paris gossip with the guys in the sauna. That night, you'd sit around the Casino....gamble a little, and talk politics.  Maybe on a warm afternoon.....you'd have some ice cream or cold beer to replenish your liquids. You relaxed.....you talked business.....you took a holiday from life.

The Hotel Zais and the Hotel of the Four Seasons....ran combined bath house deal with forty-four bathing rooms (they were opposite of the casino).

The Eagle Hotel had around seventy-five bathing rooms.

The Nassauer Hof had thirty-six bathing rooms.

The Rose Hotel ran fifty-one bathing rooms.

After those five hotels.....there were structures simply for bathing and had nothing to do with the resort hotel operations.  All total?  Around twenty-three business fronts operating as spa centers, with around five hundred bathing rooms.

Between the upper-class hotels, the four-star establishments, and the slightly lesser hotels.....the entire town was bustling on bathing water "sales".

What came out of this period was periodic journals or magazines....in Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, the US, England, and Russia.....about the robust health aspects of laying in warming waters, with the right content of natural elements.  Doctor "so-v-so" would talk up the magical numbers of potash, sulphur, and Silicic Acid.  All of these cured body ailments, muscle pains, and restored youth.

Added to the list of bathing cures......Wiesbaden had an ample number of doctors in the area which treated your special problems (cysts, blood circulation in your legs, back pain, and graying hair).  You pick it.....they were willing to help fix your problem....for a price.

All of this was a resort magnet, and naturally brought the rich and wealthy from across Europe to Wiesbaden....almost yearly.  A guy would pack up his wife in London....take a ship over, and travel by boat or train down to Frankfurt.....then over to Wiesbaden by the Taunus Railway.   If you could afford the upper-scale hotels, great.  If you needed less.....there were ample accommodations in town to handle just about every category of spender.

In a sense....for roughly seventy-odd years.....it was a status symbol to say you were a banker out of London, and spent three weeks in Wiesbaden every summer for your health issues and stress.  Maybe between the walks in the city park....the fine food and wine.....the bathing waters....and just the quiet nature of the city.....you got better.  Or at least you believed that.

In the summer of 1914.....that resort spa status ended.  Except for Germans.....for the next forty-odd years....no one came back.  By the 1960s.....Wiesbaden had some resort tourism going on, but the health spa status?  It's mostly gone.

Without WW I/WW II.....Wiesbaden becomes an interesting topic of discussion.  The resort status would have grown.  The population of the city would likely be double what it is today (281,000).  And the city would be consumed over health, bathing, fine foods, and eliminating stress in every conceivable way.

World Cup Games A Coming

We are roughly fifty days away now.....from the World Cup.

For an American....what the heck does this mean?  Well....it's the soccer championship that occurs every four years.  It rotates around and this time....it's down in Brazil. For German folks....it's like the Fourth of July, Christmas, and the second coming of Christ.  Well....it's pretty dramatic, and around forty percent of German society will be frustrated, talkative, and stressed-out during this month long period.

Some details that matter?  First, in this bracket deal....there's three games that matter for the Germans.  There's the Portugal game on the 16th of June....starting at 1PM Brazil time, meaning a prime-time event for Germans as they sit and watch the game in comfort and with an ample supply of beer and brats.  PLEASE do not call your German male associate during the game hours.  It would be very displeasing.

I should note.....Germany is expected to have a tough game, but by some miracle....will beat Portugal.  If they lose....it'll be a fairly dramatic moment, and frustrations will be shown the next day at work.

Game two?    21st of June....against Ghana at 4PM Brazil time.  This means an awful late game to watch in Germany, with Germans likely up to 1AM and awful tired as they stroll into work the next day.  The odds on beating Ghana?  Well....Ghana usually shows up with one five-star player and gives everyone this brief moment that he might be enough to beat standard soccer teams.  It's a German win.....with the experts already calling it that way.

Game three?  26th of June, at 1PM, against the US.  This will mean a prime-time TV event, and enough sleep rest for Germans to typically recover by the next day.  As for beating the US?  It's not likely to occur unless two or three of the big names on the German squad get into red-card episodes (thus disqualified from this game) with Ghana.  Throwing a couple of prime but lesser subs onto the field against the US....might go heavily against Germany.  Expectation?  A German win.

After this series.....the first and second place winners go into a new pool, with new participants, and the games start to go later for Brazil prime-time.  This means a midnight start-time here in Germany.  This has suddenly gotten to the union bosses across Germany, with most now demanding some type of schedule change for major industries....on the mornings after such games.

Companies will tell you that they will cooperate to some degree, but they aren't happy about it, and it will reflect in some minor trade-off later with the unions.

So you....as the typical American living around Germans....will come to wake up around 1AM and realize that there's sixteen apartments around with the houselights still on.  It'll seem odd and you stand on the balcony to hear a singular TV audio coming from all the apartments.  The secondary series will lead onto the semi finals, and then the finals.

The odds of the Germans going all the way to the finals?  I wouldn't want to speculate.....but the Italians always tend to be one of the final four in this business.

For four brief weeks....simply prepare for soccer discussions, and tired Germans on the day after games.  Then, it'll be over and we can all get back to reality.  Oh, and I should note.....only ten percent of the German female population has any interest in the outcome of the games, and most will be a bit hostile over this lengthy and odd behavior from German men.

Natascha Kampusch in 2014

Back in 2006, I sat here in Germany and watched the Natascha Kampusch episode unfold in Austria.

Natascha had been grabbed off the street as a kid....kidnapped....and held for eight years by a guy in a simple neighborhood....pretending to be sane and normal, and just desiring some prisoner of sorts. In 2006, she finally escaped, and the guy committed suicide a few hours after the escape.

What she laid out was this lifestyle of containment as a kid.  Books and magazines were read.  Hours were spent listening to the radio.  From every aspect.....she was a prisoner.

What happened since 2006?  The London Daily Mail did a short update story this weekend over Natascha.  Basically.....she tried to get into an educational phase, and has kinda lost interest.  No real explanations but I would imagine she's not the type that really desires to sit in a room with twenty to forty students....listening to some lecture.

The driving class to get a license?  Well....the pressure and stress of an instructor is a bit too much for her there.  Here in Germany.....you only get the license after you've gone through twenty-odd hours of hands-on driving with some instructor sitting beside you and continually correcting your behavior, your mistakes, and your attitude.  I doubt if she has the stamina to sit there and allow some instructor into that type of confined area of a car for an hour.

Contact issues?  The London Daily Mail hints that she doesn't do contact with people that well.  She's an intensely private person.....by my reading of their account.  People ask questions.....people want to know how she feels....people try to put themselves into her position and discuss the matter....none of this really matters within the defined world of Natascha.

At the age of twenty-six....it's hard to say where this story goes.  Career work?  Ninety-eight percent of all jobs in the commercial world revolve around meeting people and working with a customer base.  I don't think she'll ever fit into any of those jobs.  From the remaining two percent?  Between anxiety, panic attacks and personal stress....a simple eight hour a day job would be absolute torture for her.  Toss in yearly evaluations or trainer-involvement.....it'll be near impossible for any long term job.

The other side of this story is that she is an extremely bright individual.....heavily focused on every single detail and event within close proximity of her.....probably calculating forty scenarios in her mind at any given time.  Trust and control in her mind?  It's measured in Planck length.  Planck length is the magnificent device that scientist Max Planck developed...giving the smallest possible way of measuring a defined object.

You can feel some pity for Natascha....along with some hope.  The trouble is that in her mind....it's one against a million, and trust will never resolve itself in any way of living a typically normal lifestyle.  I would imagine just going on a hike....would amount to walking with a seven-hundred pound gorilla next to you and the threat of a thunderstorm going from possibly maximum power to absolute maximum power.  Stopping for a burger at McDonalds?  It means human contact....questions asked (stupid questions I admit)....and unnecessary stress at having to deal with another person.

In a way, Natascha has exchanged prison version 1.0.....for prison version 2.0.  She's never free....just consumed with acting free and pretending to be marginally recovered.

TV Show: "Young Germany"

The state-run TV guys here in Germany produced a 90-minute documentary of historical background on the last one-hundred years of Germany.  Yesterday (Easter Monday).....it played up to the 8:00PM time slot.

It was an awkward way of telling German history.  First, there's this limitation of one hundred years.  Second, it's told by two moderators or narrators....both around seventeen or eighteen years old.....talking to each other, rather than the camera.  It felt like two teenagers talking gossip over an afternoon....historical gossip.  Third, while they had a great deal of historical footage and pictures from the database.....they continually wove soap-opera-like video of themselves in the historical piece.....made to fit the older video shots. Yeah, kinda like reality TV.  Fourth....after a while, I came to realize that they emphasizing history from the prospective of a teenager at the time....not from a historian's view.  Fifth?  Cherry-picking.  There were two segments where the anti-nuclear stance of German youth were brought up (late 1950s and early 1970s).....yet they decided that the Bader-Meinhof gang era would not even be mentioned.

The network guys took up the issue that most German teenagers don't care about German history, and tried to make something "cool" and direct to the thinking of a teenager.

On a scale of one to ten.....historically speaking....I give the show a "five".  The cherry-picking bothers me, and the attempt to make this all "cool"....mostly failed.

But here's the curious thing.  From the age-group of fourteen to twenty-one.....the age group that ARD is pushing the show across to.....I would imagine that less than five-percent of the country's youth watch their network on any given evening.  Most prefer the commercial networks, with live action, or reality shows.

Last night's viewership?  I'd take a guess that less than 2,000 German teenagers watched the show.....most had better choices or were enjoying the day outside.  The bulk of the viewers?  My humble opinion is that the bulk were people over the age of sixty, and kinda remember things in a slightly different fashion.....thus getting into arguments and discussion over the method of telling the history story involved.

A failure?  No.  What will happen is that most German school teachers trying to teach German history.....will get a DVD of the show, and incorporate it into the class structure over the years to come.  It might provoke some class discussion, and at least bring kids one notch higher than they are today.  Even lousy historical items like this.....have some value.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

Local Windmill Feud

Here in the rurals of Wiesbaden....as urban rural as a guy can get....there's a fight underway between the environmentalists, the urban-ites, the progressive folks, the windmill enthusiasts, and just about anyone who doesn't have hobbies to keep themselves busy.

From the map you see.....I live over on the far right side....in the tiny village of Naurod.  The red striped areas?  That's the areas where the windmill folks have done the studies and project lots of wind.  Naturally, it's a ridgeline on a hill, which is about 1.5 to 2 miles from Wiesbaden.

Folks get peppy about landscape....especially from Wiesbaden.  They believe God descended down from the heavens, and blessed them with the best darn landscape that you could ask for.  Never mind the fact that TV towers can be seen in six different directions, on various hilltops overlooking the region.

The anti-windmill mafia?  Well, they've gotten to organizing. Part of the scheme is to get locals writing letters to political folks and the newspapers.  Naturally, most folks aren't bright about this.....so there's a hint to help them along in writing their thoughts on this.

What they suggest is that you need to lead off and really harp on landscaping damage and recreation limitations.  If you just see a windmill....it gets you depressed and negative....especially if it's two miles down the road.  Yeah, I'm not sure how you'd get this across....other than admitting you were drinking a lot and it was all caused by windmill viewing.  The more windmills.....the more booze.

So, we move onto issue point two.....fire, ice thrown from the blades and lightning.  Yeah, the 200 meter tall windmills are a magnet for lightning.  Frankly, it'd be kinda nice to sit on my balcony in a thunderstorm and watch bolts of lightning struck the blades.  Course, TV towers also are a magnet.  In fact, most houses now in my village have lightning rods on the roof.....to absorb the bolt and send it to the ground.  The logic in this political statement?  Well.....your very own house is a problem, if you start talking like this.  And the ice?  Unless you are standing underneath the blade there on some cold afternoon when the ice breaks off from the blade....that's the about the only way to get whacked.

Issue point three?  It's bound to affect drinking water.  I sat there for five minutes....trying my best to think how water would be affected.  You see....most everyone in the entire region.....drinks water coming off the ridge.  There's underwater caverns on the ridge, which pump out tens of thousands of gallons per hour.....to twenty different communities in the region.  An effect on water?  If there were chemicals involved in windmill usage, maybe so.  But I've yet to see any windmill that had some chemical gimmick.  Bad excuse....if you ask me.

Issue point four?  Bird strike.  What the windmill mafia will readily admit.....birds get into some dive related to the blades, and get whacked.  No one wants to talk numbers, but you can assume one single windmill with three blades....likely kills at least a dozen birds a month.....minimum.  Maybe it's a decent reason to forbid them.....ALL of them....but then we kinda opened this Pandora's Box a long time ago.

Issue point five?  Infrasound.  A lot of folks in smaller towns where the windmills were built near.....have complained in recent years of continued issues of dizziness and a throbbing sound.  If you live within a kilometer of a windmill.....you might have an issue to complain about.  The locations on the map?  Well....to be honest....it's at least one kilometer from any community.

Issue point six?  Air safety.  Supposedly.....a low flying plane might get whacked by the blades.  In the nine months I've been a "prisoner" of the village here.....I've never seen a low-flying plane.

Issue point seven?  Property loss.  If you throw up a windmill farm of five windmills....they consume around ten acres of property.  There's not much way to avoid this issue.  Course, all of the regions under discussion are state forest properties, and in the middle of walking trails.  It's not taking away village property, farming land, or urban acreage.

Issue point eight?  Bats and wildcats.  Yeah....it's a pretty long stretch.  The woods are full of bats and I'm guessing it might be a problem.  Course, all these bikers and hikers disturb the bats, and no one says much about that.  The wildcats?  I have walked the woods on dozens of occasions, and never seen such an animal.  Lynx and wildcats?  Maybe you should make up stories about the wolves of Naurod, or the wild bears that roam the woods....with little girls wandering around in red capes....going to grandma's house.

Issue point nine?  Beetles.  Yeah, somehow, it'd disturb the various bugs and beetles of the region.  Roads also disturb them....as do bikers and hikers.  It's a lousy argument.

Issue point ten?  The all inclusive UNESCO heritage project.  They seek to have the town put into the sacred category of spa resorts of worldly renown statue.  The only issue is that the resort spa town status died off in 1914, and most of the hotels that were part of that tourist scheme are long gone....as are most of the spas.  Course, there is the enteral worry that this windmill deal would really screw up the application.  Never mind the fact that no one really believes it will do much for the city except add one more sign, and one more status symbol to the city.  

I will admit.....these guys are bright in their endeavour to stand against the windmill project.  The fact that they are the same ones who stand against nuke power, believe in climate change, and generally always side with environmentalists.....taking a stand against windmills....makes them look hypocritical.  I'm guessing they will get at least three thousand of the locals charged up and each will write a letter.  Chatting up a storm over their precious landscape.....talking about the wildcats of the woods, and harping over the UNESCO project.  At least it keeps them busy.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Black" Money and Luxembourg

The Local.de put up an article today....related to German customs folks and the search of an older German couple crossing Luxembourg into Germany.  The story goes....customs folks stop them....ask to search, and then come across 200,000 Euro....taped onto the various body elements of the two (yeah, even the genitals as the article described the situation).

There's a hefty fine involved in this cash and carry deal.  Questions will be asked.  Time in jail?  I doubt it.  But of the 200,000 Euro....I suspect they will lose at least a quarter of the money in fines and lawyer costs.  Additional money in Luxembourg?  Well....they will be questioned and asked to sign statements.  Basically, if you lie.....you could owe more money.

All of this brings one to the topic of Luxembourg and hidden money.  Generally, for the past fifty-odd years....Germans have hidden money in Luxembourg.  They'd done in simple ways, and in complex ways.

Banks in Luxembourg used easily allow German customers....but times got tough and regulations more difficult.  Then Germans got into buying property....quietly....and putting secret money into assets like that.  Some Germans even get into deals of investing with some Luxembourg resident to buy a pub or hotel.....letting them hold the asset until they are ready to part company.

German society is fairly negative about tax episodes.  Germans work hard for their money, and don't see much reason to hand over thirty to fifty percent of what they make.  You have lots of craftsmen now....carpenters, roofers, plumbers....who do weekend work and make 30,000 to 100,000 Euro a year in secret money.  Taking a weekend job....you could easily make 4,000 over two weekend, and you really don't care to admit the money and pay taxes.  So it makes sense to hide it.

German customs folks got smart over the years.  Every single road leading out of Luxembourg is generally monitored at various times of the day.  You can cross the river....into Germany....make it three to five miles....thinking you are completely safe, then turn the corner and find a roadblock.  I had this to happen once.  They ask to look in the car, and if nothing suspicious is noted....they let you go (as in my case).

Round the clock coverage?  For the most part.  Patrols lessen at night, I am told....and if you transit via the autobahn....you might have a higher chance of no customs stops.  However, even on the autobahns....the customs folks have authority to pass you.....give you the light, and pull you over.

A decade ago....I was watch German news and they had this craftsman with a RV.  He and the wife were driving from Germany into Luxembourg and were likely less than 500 yards from the border.  Pulled over....the customs folks search the whole vehicle top to bottom....then come to the coffee can.  Bundled up....there must have been around 25,000 Euro in the can (in big bills).  They asked his intent but he kept quiet.  They end up filing a report on this, and some audit will be done down the line.  Lawyer costs?  You can figure he had to engage a big-name guy and pay out at least 15,000 Euro to clear himself.

My general advice on this?  It's best to avoid these situations entirely....but if you were stupid enough to desire crossing into Germany with 200,000 Euro.....I'd find myself a rubber raft.....cross the river at midnight, and drive safely out of the Luxembourg region on secondary roads between midnight and 6AM.  I doubt if any of the customs folks are on duty at that time....and if so....most are likely around the autobahn area.

Finally, I'm pondering over what this elderly couple was intending to do with the 200,000 Euro they were sneaking over.  A new house?  Paying off some debt?  A big villa?  A new business?  It would have been curious to know how they were going to use the money.

The Berlin Memorial Episode

Two German newspapers today took an unusual step with a public petition of sorts that is being pushed to remove tank memorials in the middle of Berlin, near the Soviet WW II memorial on 17 June Strasse....leading up to the Brandenburg Tor.

If you've been to Berlin, the 17 June Strasse is the main drag running east to west in the center of town.  The Tiergarden area takes up a fair amount of space in town, and the memorial was built in 1945....just six months after Soviet forces took the city.  Impressive?  It's as grand as the WW II Memorial in DC.  What few people realize after visiting the site is that it's really the burial grounds for roughly 2,000 (at least that's what the Russians say) Soviet troops during the Berlin last day's fight.

The memorial has two tanks, one at each front edge.  All of the WW II variety.

The petitions involved?  The memorial itself should stay, but the two tanks represent a problem for the new German mentality of supporting Ukraine.  Bad guys, bad memorial tanks, etc.

The newspapers pushing the agenda?  Bild is the national paper which is generally read by the working class guy.  You can best describe Bild as a paper writing up the top twenty significant items of news....in forty words or less.  It's a paper that a guy can read on the way to work and be done by the end of morning break.

The second paper is the Berlin Zeitung (BZ)....which works along with the same ingredients....working guy's paper.....short on details....etc.

The memorial has faced a number of public episodes over the years.  In 2010....near Victory in Europe Day.....the memorial was vandalized with red paint.  The city was accused by the Russians as doing little to protect the memorial.

The effect of the petitions?  I would imagine that they will get 300,000 signatures within a month, and put the city council in a very difficult position.  Of course, the Berlin city council IS NOT known for making quick or sudden decisions....so even if they were to go with the petition....it could be two years before a final decision is made, and they might only remove the tanks to some WW II museum within the boundary of the city of Berlin.

One possibility?  The German-Russian Museum at Berlin-Karlshorst.  It'd be a natural fit and give defining history to the tanks.

What's this all add up to?  Well....it only brews more hostility and frustrations over the regular Russian guy, the Russian image machine, and Putin.  A thousand Russian thugs show up for some Russia-Germany soccer match....dispatch 2,000 Germans to medical facilities, and it just heats up another notch over the Ukraine business.