Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Cinema

Germany has a unique feature which you don't see much in the US.....small-town cinemas.  Oh, we used to have small-town theaters....but the bulk (probably over ninety-nine percent) have gone away.

Here in my village....up until the late 60's....they had a small cinema operation.  It reached a point where they couldn't compete or reach enough profit.....so they shut down.   If you go over the hill.....about a dozen miles away to Idstein, they've still got an old fashion cinema.

MDR (one of the regional state-run networks) did up a story about a month ago, and talked about the decline of such operations.

If movies are done in digital fashion, and you'd have to upgrade your small 'kino' if you wanted to continue getting movies to show. The average cost?  Roughly 120-thousand Euro ($140k dollars).   If you ran a two-room operation....it's a hefty amount of money.

Most operators will tell you that by the time they figure the cost of operation, heat, taxes, etc.....there's zero profit in the movie itself.  Their profit is in the drinks and pop-corn.  If you figure a hundred people might show up tonight, and each buy a popcorn and soda.....then your cut is probably around 300 Euro, but then you have to pay the two kids at the stand, and you walk away each week with seven-hundred Euro if you were lucky.  All of this for an operation that consumes seven days a week, and at least six hours per day in operation and clean-up.

A dying thing?  Unlike the US situation where new bumped-up theaters moved into medium-sized towns and were mega-operations with six to ten large rooms.....these small German cinemas don't fit that image.  Oh, will note in the region at least five or six mega-kinos and they are popular with the public.  The small cinema has some curious flare or design......where you want to sit back and admire the movie on a small screen.

If you live in a small German town where there is a local cinema.....take advantage of it and enjoy an old-fashion evening of entertainment.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Coffee For the Soul

I typically don't chat a lot about coffee shops or bakeries in Germany.  I've probably wandered into three-hundred of them during my time in Germany.  There typically two types.....the 'cheapo' and the 'regular'.

You typically get a sweet roll of some type or a piece of cake.....with a four-star cup of coffee, then sit for ten minutes while sipping the coffee.

Most German coffee shops can serve a fairly decent roasted coffee....as good as Starbucks or Caribou Coffee.  Germans kind of demand exceptional coffee and have done so for decades.  For all the talk that people do over Starbucks.....it's mostly over the coffee....not the atmosphere.  It's a couple of pictures on the wall.....some music....with a theme or character that is lacking.

Today, on my way out of Wiesbaden and heading back to my village....I departed the bus at a point where a small coffee shop on the corner of Bierstadter Strasse and Alwinenstrasse exists.

Two years ago, it was an small empty building related to newspapers and magazines.  Someone picked up the building.....put a fair amount of money into the structure....new windows, paint-job, and exterior appeal. I'd never been there and had some time to waste.....so I stepped in.

The Living Bakery Cafe surprised me.  Once inside.....it was like the image that you had of a real five-star coffee shop.  At best, they could have handled twenty-five people sitting in the place.....with the kind of cushioned chairs that you don't see often.

In the background....jazz.  It was that ambiance that you'd dream about for a coffee shop.  A dozen-odd cakes lay there.....begging you to pick one up.  Various sandwiches were prepared and ready to throw under some grill heater device.  Friendly staff were obvious.

So ordered a coffee and cake.....sat down by the big plate-glass window....looking out at soft rain falling on the street and listening to some decent swing and ragtime mixed with various other tunes. My blood pressure probably dropped by ten-percent over ten minutes, and I felt like I was somewhere else.....somewhere far away and less hectic.

It's a small shop.....no great parking opportunities.  It's along the main drag going into Wiesbaden but if you mentioned it to a thousand people.....fewer than a hundred probably have noted it while passing in the bus.

There's two small tables by front entrance way and it'd be a fine place in the summer period to stop for an afternoon tea or just to chill out with an espresso.

So, if you happen to be in Wiesbaden....along Bierstadter Strasse and Alwinenstrasse....needing some refreshing coffee, a bit of jazz to sooth your soul, and seeking to recharge your enthusiasm for life....then stop for thirty minutes and get some relief.

The Missing 10,000

Over the last couple of days.....various European news sources (German, French, Brit, etc) have talked up this new item which Europol (the police agency of the EU) dug up in terms of statistics.

Ten-thousand (10,000) migrant children have disappeared in Europe since their registered arrival.   This has all occurred within the past two years.

Five thousand of the group.....are suggested to be German-registered....and missing.

Elements of crime? Kidnapping?  Use for exploitation?

I sat and watched this simply noted by the German state-run news last night.....barely noting it.  If ten thousand total kids were missing from around Europe in two years....it'd be a national emergency.  If five-thousand just alone in Germany were missing....it'd be a national emergency.

Curiously, you don't see posters up and any real cop effort.....nor Muslim parents crying junior missing or their dear "Mandy" who just walked off.

So I sat and pondered today over this story.

I've come to this belief.....the ten-thousand kids never really did exist in the first place.

I know.....that sounds stupid, but allow me to explain.

You are Hamad....a single guy leaving Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan, and discover through sources already in Germany that things go better if you have a family or kids.  You got better living accommodations (you don't have to share a room with four guys who are single)......if you claim dependents.

So you sit and think over this, and a cousin offers to let you "borrow" one or two of his kids.  Maybe he got here in Germany four months ago.....maybe a year ago.

You swing this deal.  You get his son who is eight or nine years old and you show up to register with your 'family'.  The wife is dead.....so you tell the naive German guy who pats you on the back and notes it's hard to raise a family without a wife.

So, they process your paperwork and you note you.....your son.....and then they work up living arrangements.  Rather than share some place with five guys....you and your "son" live in a one-room place in an old military barracks area.

Days and weeks pass, and eventually....you put your 'son' on a train and return him to his actual parents.   They are happy.  You are happy.  Meanwhile, the Germans sit and naively go and pay you for your family and ensure your living situation is a family-quarters deal....and not a single-guy deal.

Were all of the 10,000 that way?  No.  My hunch is that a number of the kids who were fifteen or sixteen years old.....got pretty negative over Dad's frustrations and life with the family, so they found a friend, and just left.

But the bulk of these.....maybe out of the 5,000 missing in Germany....my humble guess is that 4,000 of them are fake kids and weren't really existing (already registered in the network somewhere else).

You would think that the Germans would do some special identification and really work to ensure this doesn't occur.  But the reality is that this wasn't exactly a rocket-science type project and they were just worried about problem A, B and C.  The idea of fake kids?  I'm pretty sure that the intellectuals on state-run TV would just stand there in shock when analyzing this issue and then realize how badly this was managed.

I am reminded years ago while in the US military, and I met "Sarge".  Sarge had returned from South Korea with a wife, and moved off-base and had a great housing allowance.  Along about the fourth year on that base.....it kinda came out that no one had met Mrs. Sarge.....ever.  There was a marriage certificate from his base in South Korea, but there just wasn't any real evidence of Mrs. Sarge existing there in Arizona.

Eventually, the commander asked Sarge to bring Mrs Sarge to the base.  He kinda refused and said she was visiting relatives.  When would she return?  Unknown said Sarge.  This went back and forth for a year, until investigators came to find that Mrs. Sarge had legally divorced Sarge back a couple of weeks after getting the green-card in the US.  No one was even sure that Mrs Sarge ever lived a single day in Arizona (our base location).

I think these 10,000 missing kids kinda fall into the same category.  They simply ensure a certain benefits package and a marginal process fails to work properly.

Airline Advice

Euro Wings is finally shaping up as an discount airline. I need to admit this up front.....they currently plan to only serve two US locations (Boston and Las Vegas)....and this will start in early May.  I did some checking.....for a ticket from Koln to Boston....round-trip in early May, the cost is 294 Euro.

Yeah, it is a bit of a shock.....that's extremely low but the current fuel cost figures into the better deal.

With the Koln-Boston route....they will fly daily.  With Las Vegas, it'll just be twice a week.

It does limit things a bit but if you were really looking for an amazing deal and could work through these two airports....it'd be a great savings.

Growth?  There is some expectation of another airport or two being added in 2017.

Normally, if you were pricing via the big ten airlines of Europe for regular airline ticket....round-trip to say Chicago in May, you'd pay around 800 Euro.  At some point about twelve years ago, I found some amazing round-trip ticket from Frankfurt to Detroit for $700 in mid-July (it was a no-name carrier that had to stop in Dublin).  For July and August, airline tickets typically run a minimum of a thousand dollars for a round-trip now.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Poll Story

I often talk of the complex issues over asylum, immigration and refugees in Germany.....and how it's too complex for most Germans to get a grip over the entire process.

Focus wrote up a fine (short) piece today that had to do with a poll and public opinion.

So, 63-percent of the Germans polled.....said there has to be a limit on asylum seekers/refugees (German law prevents that).

Almost nine out of ten polled said that a reduction of social benefits for refugees is necessary if they don't integrate.

Almost eight out of ten said that Tunisia,Morocco, and Algeria ought to qualify as safe countries and these asylum seekers in Germany need to go 'home'.

Almost seven out of ten believe the process of acceptance or rejection ought to be made there at the border as they enter.

Nine out of ten polled believed that acceptance of refugees because of war-time events ought to be approved.  Even a majority of AfD voters (76-percent) agreed on the war-time status.  Even seven out of ten said that for religious persecution can be used as a reason for German acceptance for asylum.

But I noted over at ARD (state-run Channel One).....they had an interesting poll as well.  Eight out of ten Germans believe that the current government coalition is unable to control or handle the immigration and asylum crisis.

Confidence lacking?  The odd thing is that state-run news journalists have done as much as they can to help form a positive public opinion about this episode.  There's not much left in the 'tool-kit' for the political figures to repair this situation, except shuffle a couple people out and hope that there's no massive entry for 2016.  If by June....there's 400,000 new refugees who attempt to enter Germany....it'll be a massive problem for the public to handle.

The Language Story

I looked through German news on Focus this evening.....and here is this oddball story on languages.

This journalist went and interviewed an education expert.....Thomas Strothotte, language professor here in Germany.

The professor says that not only should Syrians and Iraqis learn German.....but German kids ought to learn Arabic.

"In this country should be added that the refugee children from the Middle East German and German children learn Arabic," was quote which apparently came out of Die Zeit over this idea.

All of this.....would lead Germany to be a true country of immigration and multi-culty (one of often heard expressions.....although most in the negative.

The weight of this statement?  Frankly, it'd likely freak out about seventy-percent of parents now if their local school director or state education folks mandated this idea.  What might catch on?  Most schools all offer a minimum of English now, and I'd say that roughly fifty percent of schools will offer a second other language.....such as Spanish, French, Chinese or Latin.  There might be a handful out there who teach Italian, Japanese or Russian.  Maybe a dozen-odd schools would at least offer the option, and maybe get twenty-odd kids interested in this deal.

Upsetting the public?  By some 'gut-Deutsche' individuals....political folks....and journalists hyping up this suggestion....they'd basically push another five percent of the public over to the AfD Party and the anti-immigration enthusiasm.  Whether accidental or intentional.....it's stupid in terms of public response because they hear something like this and freak out.

This 5,000 Euro Limit Talk

It's come out in the last day or two....that the SPD Party (coalition partner to the CDU in the German government).....suggested a new economic policy.  They want a law that says you can only barter cash money up to 5,000 Euro for a cash transaction (to buy something).  After that.....you have to use a bank transfer or credit card.

Their public comment is that this would hinder terrorism.

Yeah.....that's pretty much all that they suggested in their public commentary.

I sat and pondered upon this scheme.  No one in the CDU said a word, and it seems this was a shock suggestion which they weren't expecting.  Commentary from journalists?  Almost none except a few said it'd be practically impossible to enforce.

After many years of viewing how Germans do business....I've come to realize that a vast underground economy does exist.  Some guys will talk up a massive house renovation project, which goes way beyond their 15,000 Euro budget. So, they find this guy who is willing to do the project on weekends and under the table.  A 25,000 project gets accomplished by settling upon cash, and no paperwork.  This cuts out the government, and the added pension tax or medical insurance.

Deals are often swung on used RVs where you look at the guy's 10,000 Euro asking price, and simply offer 8,800 Euro in cash.  It's enough to entice a guy into accepting the deal.  He takes the cash and quietly moves it later to some Luxembourg account (illegal if he doesn't report the account to the Germans).

Buying a car in cash?  Typically....if you were talking about a dealer....it'll be a bank transfer required.  But you run into various private characters now who have a three-year old vehicle which the blue-book might suggest 12,000 Euro, and they will swing the deal 11,500 Euro (in cash).  They don't want the income to show up.

I would take a guess that roughly ten percent of German adults will absolutely be against this limit of cash transaction.  It'll mean that the German government is continually in on the deal made and you risk a lot if you go around this 5,000 Euro cash situation.  Course.....nothing exists to say that you conclude this deal in Austria, France, or Poland....thus avoiding the effect of the law.

Another ten-percent of the public will ask stupid questions over the necessity of this and why it has to be some German law.

The odds of the CDU agreeing to something like this?  That's the thing about it.....they've said mostly nothing and usually.....they won't come around to agreeing to something like this until months have passed and they want something of equal value....so they trade passage of "a" to get "b".  This passing the legality test with the German supreme court?  That's something that I suspect will come up and perhaps even the EU court might step in to say it's not a binding EU standard.

Political Stumble Story

It was one of those odd events that you could not have predicted, and simply stood there in amazement.

The Hessen state government has their parliament here in Wiesbaden.  Yesterday was a general assembly where the state Interior Minister (Peter Beuth from the CDU, Merkel's party) was to stand and give a pretty positive speech over all the good work of the cops here in Hessen.  It was all scripted and note that the cops had done OK with the Islamic threat, crime, and maintained security of the state of Hessen.

Around fifty minutes prior to the speech....Bild (a significant German newspaper) published a major update....which related confidential documents leading back to the Hessen cops. It more or less suggested that crime statistics had been 'arranged' in some fashion to avoid finger-pointing going back toward immigrants or refugees.

All of this kinda unfolded quickly, with opposition groups (mostly FDP and SDP).....requesting a special meeting of the Civil Liberties committee later in the week.  Whatever advantage or positive that Beuth was going to spin.....dissolved.

The general belief?  The thing about crime in Hessen (mostly around Frankfurt and Wiesbaden, and lesser throughout the rest of the German state).....it's been escalating since the early 1990s.  This escalation doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the Syrians, Iraqis, or the incoming crowd of 2013-2016.  Most Germans have the belief it relates more to southeastern Europeans who simply drove in....established gang territory.....and evolved into house-break-ins and pick-pocket activity.

So, if you had a crime, and actually arrested some guy, and he's not a German.....the cop has to make a report and he has to say something about the guy's nationality.  Just saying non-German.....doesn't say much and doesn't really help any statistics guy in noting increased problems.

If you arrested seventy people over a one-month period in Wiesbaden (just a scenario, not fact), and sixty-five were non-Germans....it might be interesting to note that.  If forty of the sixty-five were Gypsy or Romanian or Bulgarian....it might be interesting.  If only one was Syrian....it might be interesting.  If the bulk of these were Russian kids between 18 and 21 years old, and part of a gang....it might be interesting.

But would you want to be the political guy standing there and saying that immigrants of some variety were a problem?  The sad thing is that you might actually have some facts to assemble and say that none of the crime of the past year relates to Syrians or Iraqis.....but mostly to another ethnic group or cultural group.  Would you even be willing to suggest this and clear the Syrians or Iraqis from prejudicial attitudes of Germans?

Finally, one might wonder.....this confidential document that Bild cited.....where exactly did it come from?  The answer?  I'd take a guess that the cops are peeved about the way that the statistics game is run, and someone finally said enough.....walking into a coffee shop and handing a copy of the document to a Bild reporter.