Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Karl Marx Strasse Story

Late this week in Germany.....Wolfgang Steiger of the CDU Economic Council (the chief guy of the council) got into an interview with a BILD reporter.  He eventually came around to this topic that he declared some support for.  BILD gave him roughly 12 lines of coverage.....which is hype if you think about the typical 10 lines they write on some subjects.

Across Germany, there are approximately 500 to 600 streets named for Karl Marx, who has been dead for about 150 years.

Karl....was mostly a philosopher, economist, and journalist.  It's safe to say that his stability and income in life....came from running a couple of small newspapers that harped mostly on his favorite topic in life.....communism.

In his vision....a bunch of guys could produce work.....get an income of some sort, a roof over their head, and live a decent life.  It's never a complete picture on how you get from A to B to C, but something good would happen in the end.

What the CDU economics guy.....Wolfgang Steiger....suggested in this interview....is that it's time for the national government of Germany to dump all these Karl Marx Streets.

He didn't go into any detail about how this would happen (reminding you somewhat of how Karl built up his reputation).  Woflgang simply says that we don't need this reminder around about Karl Marx, who he more or less.....was deemed a failure.

What would they rename the streets?  Unknown.  Maybe Merkel Strasse.

On the priority list?  Well.....out of the 500 problems confronting Germany today.....I'd rate this around 8,558 on the list.  I'd actually like to ensure every apartment in Germany has a toilet within the apartment.....before renaming some streets.

In an election year?  Well....yeah....we are entering twelve months in Germany of election chaos, where some political folks will say some stupid things....for a headline.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Santa, Burqas, and German Intellectuals

The debate will rage in Germany over the next couple of weeks as the burqa ban is discussed within political networks, forums and public arenas.

At some point, Santa Claus and his outfit will be brought up by the intellectuals to defend stopping the burqa debate and just accept the outfit as a part of "new" cultures in Germany.

So I've asked myself.....did Santa integrate into Germany?

When did Santa arrive?  Most historians give the date 6 December 342....when Saint Nicolas is said to have died, and some celebration or gift period was established.  The 16th century is given by some people as the period where it was generally accepted across Europe.

Santa and integration?  Santa learned German.  No one ever tested the guy.....but he's probably way above the 2,1 level required by the German visa folks.

Orientation and knowledge of the Basic Law (German constitution)?  Santa wasn't tested on this but I'm pretty sure that he knows all of this to some level.  He also knows who has been naughty and nice.

Santa and fake passports?  As far as I know.....Santa has never been tasked to show a passport.  The customs people may swear that he's cross the Austrian border into Germany on hundreds of occasions but so far.....no one has thought to ask and make him show some passport.

Santa and weapons?  As far as I know.....no knives, no rifles, no explosives, or such.  He has been seen with a fairly large stick, which no one can explain it's usage other than for whacking reindeer or perhaps bad elves.

Santa and threats?  So far....other than skipping some bad kids.....no one can establish that Santa has ever threatened anyone.

The use of the beard and outfit as a disguise?  No....it's just regular North Pole attire.  It's kinda like fashion outlets in Poland in the 1980s....you wore what they sold even if it were way out of style.  My take is that there just aren't many C+A clothing shops there in the North Pole.

The necessity of intellectual to use the Santa argument to defend the burqa?  Lets be honest on two parts to this question.  First, when an intellectual has to use an imaginary character to build his argument.....he's stepped a full-step off a cliff (if you know what I mean).  Second, Santa has never been busted on the nose, jaw, or eye by some family acquaintance and used his beard or outfit to hide his injury.  Santa doesn't limit his character or his friendships, or hide his robust figure from public view.  And Santa doesn't seem to defend a 7th century behavior in his 'visits' or seem to harm anyone.

I hate to suggest that the intellectuals have locked onto a bad argument, but if you asked me.....dragging Santa into the burqa discussion is pretty amusing.

My 10 Bits of Advice on German Language Classes

After a number of classes over the years.....I can say that I've seen just about everything, and like Mark Twain....I'm at a loss to explain to anyone how the German language works but I can explain how the classes end up.  This is advice not only for Americans and Brits.....but for refugees as well.

1.  When the "professor" comes around with the sign-in log for each day....USE only Blue or black ink.  If you pull out some red or green ink pen.....that German professor will freak out and go crazy.  Trust me.....it's pretty serious over blue or black ink (don't ask me why).

2.  When they say this is an 'intensive' course....it means that over five weeks....roughly four hours a day....four to five days a week.....they've got a class, and it's designed as a college-level type course.  If you think you can miss three or four days out of that five week period, and still pass the test.....dream on, it won't happen.  They cover too much material each day for you to miss more than maybe two days (hopefully not consecutively).  If you were out for the day, you'd best find someone who takes good notes, and spend an hour with them on what you missed.  At the end of that episode (1.1 for example), you will be tested.  You don't go to 1.2 unless you pass that stupid test.

3.  The book.  No matter where you go.....they go and select a book from some publisher that is designed for a know-nothing-student.  Back in 1985 when I took the German class.....it was a 1970's style book and worthless.  Over the past three years.....the books I've seen....are all light-years ahead and worth the nine-to-twelve Euro cost.

4.  The instructors.  There are basically three types of instructors.  There's the actor or comedian type, who is very animated and getting everyone peppy into the rhyme of learning Germany.  Their focus is making German "FUN".  Then instructor two is the die-hard.....very-serious....dynamic instructor who will drill the language over and over into you.  Then the third instructor type is the 3-minute topic instructor who knows precisely how to teach you one simple thing, and it's built into a three-minute lesson.....which you easily pick up that single topic, and then move on.  Each has an advantage or disadvantage in the way they teach.

5.  The classrooms.  I've seen some classrooms over the past three years that were modern and up-to-date.....technology, etc.  And there's some which were left-overs from the 1980s.  None of them had AC, and on extra hot days.....you were fairly hot and miserable by noon.

6.  Cost?  If you use the social office deal....it's free but you can't fail a single class.  If you are a capitalist.....you will pay roughly 300 Euro for each single five-week class.  Twenty years ago....it would have been a quarter of that cost.....things have risen greatly over the last two decades.

7.  Characters you bump into and their ability.  I sat in a class once that had almost all immigrants and refugees, with four of us who had college or such in our past out of the twenty students. That class was locked into first-gear and had child-like behavior that went on from day one.  I often refer  to that episode as the "kids class" and quit at the 10th week (15 week course).  I sat in one simple five-week course that had all westerners....majority with a craft or college time....and every day had a great pace.  Some of these language programs will try to pair folks up and get X people into the X-class and Y people into the Y-class.  Don't go expecting that you end up with a good group or bad group....it's just the luck of the thing.

8.  Homework.  When you break for the day....you've got probably 25 minutes of real homework and twenty minutes of stuff to recite or read over.  If you aren't doing the homework and trying to just skip your way through these classes.....don't worry, you won't get past the 5th week or level 1.1.

9.  Anyone who tells you that German is easy......is a nutcase.

10.  Islam.  Typically....in 99.99-percent of the occasions or class-time.....Islam won't come up....even if 80-percent of the class is Islam.  Now, that said.....I've had two occasions where it came up and became a noticeable issue.  In one class....we had some naive but clever instructor who was pro-Islam (German gal who was part of the Evangelical Church and a instructor).  She wanted everyone to know she was pro-Islam and thought it was a really keen religious group.....oddly, we only had two Muslims in the whole room out of 20 students.  Around the 10th time that she spoke up about this....I started to shake my head....she had some kind of issue.  It's best not to tell off a German that their behavior is questionable.....so my advice is to just keep quiet.

The second episode was a class which ran during Ramadan.  Along about 10AM, an hour into class, you'd notice dehydration setting in for a dozen of the people in the room.  They couldn't focus well and were having concentration issues.  By 11AM, it was worthless for the instructor to involve them in any class participation.  They were basically zombies and working on heat exhaustion or heat stroke.  Ramadan runs for four weeks.  It's safe to say that this four week period for that particular class.....made it utterly worthless and brought me up to speed on the reliability of Muslims in classrooms or at the work-place.  About the only thing I would advise is that you need to keep the number for the ambulance folks nearby and quickly call an ambulance if they fall over from dehydration.

Where All This Ban-the-Burqa Talk Will Go

For three weeks in Germany, there's been talk of banning the burqa.  It gets some traction, but this week.....there was push-back.

The intellectual argument against the ban is that once you write this script for the law.....it'll also affect anyone who wears a mask, period......to include Santa Claus characters.

I noticed a state-run TV poll done on German perception of the possible ban.  Eighty-one percent of German society are against the burqa facial covering.  That means at best....only 19-percent support the burqa and allowing the covering to stand in place.

Presently, I'd say it's a zero percent chance that ban will be passed by this Bundestag group.

But as the intellectuals continue this fight, you come to realize that it's helping to trigger one end-result.

The longer that this ban-the-burqa discussion goes on and the Bundestag avoids passing it.....it gives the alternate party (the AfD folks) a five-star discussion item.

As much as the opposition parties think they are doing the ethical and right thing.....it's increasing the amount of frustration across the general public in Germany.....helping attract voters to the AfD.  It's not really about this election in 2017 that the general politicians should worry about....it's 2021's election that people should be viewing.

As each argument occurs over the ban, and the political parties waste time pretending to discuss the matter and then put it down....it just moves the frustration level of the public up one notch.  When people start to worry in 2018 and 2019 that one-third of German society identifies with AfD by that point, the question will be.....what did we do wrong?  At that point, there is no ability to reverse or fix perceptions.

As much as one sees logic in avoiding radical law changes in Germany.....it's a difficult road ahead.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Bar-B-Q Story

I sat last night and watched an episode of MEX on the regional state-run network of HR (our Hessen network).  MEX is a show that picks up economic and business related stories.  One of the short three-minute pieces from last night was over illegal bar-b-q efforts at Hessen city parks.

For those who haven't been around Hessen.....we have a lot of city parks.

We also have a pretty hardcore rule about NO bar-b-q's unless it's in a designated area.  So, it's safe to say.....there just aren't many people out bar-b-q'ing.....unless they are doing it in an illegal fashion.

So, the cops got called out.....several families of an immigrant type in a city park.  Two cops show up at first and tell the dozen-odd folks to put out the fires.  No response....defensive in nature.

Those two cops then have to call two back-up units....so there's now six cops in this park (one is a supervisor) and there's some names taken down and forceful language about putting the fires out.

Most Germans don't want any confrontations with cops.....you pick this up after a while.  The less you have to deal with the cops....the better off you are.  It's a logical thing.

In this case, this crowd simply weren't going to listen to the cops and just pretend that they weren't ordered to cease the bar-b-q.  Signs up?  Oh yeah.  There's never a lack of these signs to let people know about this.

This is one of the odd differences between the Germans and their new "guests".....in the old homeland....cops were regarded as losers.  Here, it's a matter of law and respect.  If the Germans made up a law.....99.99-percent of all Germans obey that law, no matter how stupid it is.

The episode demonstrated the reasoning behind adding more cops because you have to show up in force to make people take notice and obey the law.....something that wasn't required twenty years ago.

Germany and Atheism

If you go and dig up the statistical information on atheism in Europe.....Germany is in the top ten.  The EU average (by Wiki) is 20-percent of each nation is atheist in nature.  The lowest is Romania with one-percent, and the highest is France with forty-percent.  Germany?  It rests there with around 27-percent of the nation as atheists.

A true picture of Germany?

This starts an odd topic.  Rarely are individual state or regional polls done like this.  What German journalists say is that most atheists that exist in Germany....reside in the eastern side of the country.  The logical end-discussion point is that the old DDR mentality, with Soviet influence, helped to create this large core of atheists in the region.

When you sit down and look at other numbers though....it's hard to buy this simple explanation.  For example....other Soviet satellites from the old Cold War period (Romania, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary) have a much lesser number of atheists.  Adding fuel to the discussion is that fact of France having the 40-percent.  Oddly, even Germans will note that in the Hamburg region, it's a very large group of atheists.

So, I come to three suggestions to explain this....most having to do with history.

1.  The Hanseatic League started up along the German north coast and extended into the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark in the 1300s.  It was a trade and craftsman group, which had a fair amount of hatred of the Catholic Church.  Their leadership authority and legal system took an extremely harsh view of Church politics in the region and helped to funnel a lot of people toward atheism.  That independent view still resides today along the coastal region of Europe.

2.  The Thirty Years War and the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre in France....both fueled a discontent with the Catholic Church and opened up the door in central Europe for the atheist view.

3.  Finally, you come to a large concentration prior to the 1930s of German university operations in the eastern side of the nation.  I would suggest that the thought process of questioning things through these universities.....some of which existed from the 1400s on....added more emphasis to questioning religion of all types.

Why I bring this all up?  With immigration growing as a topic in Germany, and thousands upon thousands of Muslim enthusiasts showing up in Germany....eventually, you'd think that one of them would ask if there was a problem in losing your religion in Germany.

Statistics say yes....and if you live in the eastern side of the country or in Hamburg....it's a pretty big chance that will happen.

This is the same crowd to note that not only is there freedom of religion existing in Germany, but freedom from religion as well.

It would be curious to see some statistical data and if the current trend is Islamic growth mostly in the western states of Germany, and to ask why that's the case.....but I doubt if German journalists really want to open that line of questioning.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What a Bundestag Member Makes on Retirement

This came up today in some German article....over what members of the Berlin Bundestag make for a pension.

So, the deal starts on year one....with 2.5 percent of your "allowance and pay".

If you work ten years....you've got 25-percent of your "allowance and pay".

If you are a senior ranking member after ten years.....you likely make around 14,000 Euro a month or 168,000 Euro a year.  If you reached retirement age at that point.....you'd collect roughly  42,000 Euro a year.

The max you can collect?  67.5 percent of your pay and allowances.

Note, the 14,000 a month covers your living cost in Berlin as well.....you could expect most everyone to be paying in the range of 3,000 Euro a month for a upscale and spacious 2-bedroom apartment.

Fairly decent retirement program but very comparable to the US side as well.  

Spies in Germany?

Last week, some story came out with BND labels all over it.....that the Turkish government has various spies within Germany.  Naturally, this upset the Linke and Green political parties to some degree.  They want the government to provide the big picture and explain what the heck is going on.

Historically.....even going back to the 1800s....Germans have continually believed they were being spied upon....even when there were few if any spies within the country.  At some point in the first year of the World War One.....just about anyone with an accent got beat up severely and accused of being a spy....even if they were Germans from another part of the country with a funny accent.

When I arrived in 1983....part of the security orientation for Air Force people was that there were all kinds of Stassi (East German) and KGB (Soviet) spies around.....even in Kaiserslautern.

Every few months, some West German would be arrested and accused as a spy of some sorts.

After the Wall came down, there were tons of files to indicate all kinds of characters were providing data to the East German and Soviet governments.

Today?  You would think that there were almost no spies in Germany.....but if you start talking about economic or technology-related spies.....then folks kinda admit that there are hundreds of spies around the country.

These Turkish spies?  What is said is that they spy mostly on the Kurdish community of Germany, and report back to Turkey.  Numbers?  No one ever goes into details.....my guess is that we are talking about a hundred such characters in Germany who report to Turkey.

Is this valuable information on the Kurds in Germany?  I doubt it.  Some idiot in the Turkish government thinks its necessary and is willing to front money to make it happen.  There's probably five or six 'chiefs' sitting in Turkey who get the daily report and try to make a "mountain out of a mole-hole" which then gets passed up the chain to someone else who tries to make a "glacier out of snow-free mountain".  By the end, Erdogan is standing there and all perturbed over what was said by two retired Kurds at some Mainz coffee shop which got all twisted around by various idiots in the middle.

But here's the other side of this episode.  Toss in the Russians, the Chinese, the North Koreans, the Americans, the Brits, the Google guys, the Facebook guys, the GM folks, the Pabst Blue Ribbon spies, and the Canadian TV management spies.....and there's probably something like 6,000 spies at work in Germany on a daily basis.  Some work for Fiat.....some work for NSA....some work for Delta Airlines.....and some probably even work for New York Times.

Last year, while sitting around Wiesbaden one afternoon.....I sat and observed a Chinese couple (you can spot a Chinese tourist from 500 feet by the character of their clothing....they dress like the 1980s). The couple had stopped in a highly landscaped area (Wiesbaden has dozens of impressive areas).  They were standing there and pointing things out.....then whipped out a camera.  My guess is that they were landscapers in China....on a tour to pick up new ideas and designs.....thus spying on Germans and their landscaping efforts.  Not full-scale spies....but still spying in some fashion.

On any given day, there's probably 6,000 spies of some type busy in Germany and spying on someone or something.....my humble guess.  There are probably even 500 Germans who are spying on other Germans.

My German Frau is probably even suspecting that I'm spying on Germany, and reporting back on beer tastes and kase kochen (cheese cake) recipes.

But here's the thing.  There must be something to spy on of value.....to have that many idiots just walking around and writing some secret report each day of some value.....which earns them a check.  These Germans must have tons of secret stuff that people want to know about.  In that case, they ought to feel awful proud of the achievements accomplished and people wanting to spy on them.  Well....I'm saying that to make them feel good about the spying business.

Anyway....over and out// (secret report 2016-08-32, Agent Ripley).