Thursday, December 31, 2009

One More Christian?


In fifteen year of living in Germany...today's news was the one bit that I wasn't expecting. Nina Hagen....announcing that she's become a Christian and writing a book on acceptance of Jesus.

The 54-year old rocker....had this long trail....an atheist....drugs....and various weird Indian religions. So now....she says she's permanently converted.

I'm mostly in shock. She's the last person on Earth that I'd expect on some Christian conversion. I would be curious who stood in her path and laid some wisdom at her feet. This would be the interest part to know.

Of course, like every idiot big-wig who finds some Christian path.....she has to write a book to explain things. So they say she's publishing a book in March.

Stranger things have occurred, but in my fifteen years of living Germany....this is one the top three.

What I Won't Miss

As I part from Germany in a few days....I pondered upon the things that I won't miss.

Blitz Cameras. These speed trap cameras came to be a thing that I hated. Over fifteen years....I've been blitzed about five times.....but none of the notices ever came to me. So for two or three weeks.....after each one....I had this anxiety of sorts. Watching a news episode one night....I came to realize that the cops now have huge problems in court with their pictures. If two cars are in the total picture.....the judges have been tossing these out because the camera might catch car "A" while they are accusing car "B" of the crime.

Water with gas. If you go to a restaurant, and are extremely thirsty....you typically for your drink....with a bottle of water. The problem is that there is regular water and water with bubbles (with gas). Some restaurants don't have regular water....so you get stuck with water with bubbles. Frankly, it's the foulest stuff you can dream up and I've had a deep dislike of the stuff.

Customer Service. To be honest, this is the last place on Earth that you can expect any kind of friendly help with a problem at a store or business. Over fifteen years and maybe eighty visits to a customer service operation.....barely twenty percent of my visits have been successful. The funny thing is that German hardware stores are usually the only place where a positive end will always occur.

Channel One/Two. Yes, without any doubt....the two state-run TV channels are the most corrupt and incompetent channels that you can imagine. They pay tons of tax money for sports events, which have limited interest across the spectrum. They run anti-US news episodes on a daily basis.

Potato Pancakes. Germans go nuts over them in December and it's a big food item at outdoor stands. Frankly, I don't see the big deal....and the greasy texture just doesn't appeal to me. If you have any stomach problems and toss down two of these....you might as well drink half a glass of Milk of Magnesia.

Staus. These autobahn traffic jams make life miserable. There are locations around Frankfurt, Munich and Dusseldorf that reminds you of Atlanta in rush-hour traffic....but twice as bad. I was heading up to Denmark once....and got into a 7-mile long stau. At some point....I turned off and drove twenty miles around this whole mess and added almost an entire hour onto my trip. Driving to Ramstein once....which barely seven miles from my house....I ran into a total autobahn stoppage of almost forty minutes. Nothing moved.

Parking Garages. The only way that a 500-car parking garage can hold 500 cars....is if you shrink the turn radius by 30 percent and make every spot as tiny as possible. The Opera Haus parking lot in K-Town is my worst nightmare. I used to have a pick-up and try to park in there. It just wasn't meant for any vehicle longer than twelve feet.

Anti-American behavior. It's rare that I ever ran into it. Over the past year, I've had a dozen people describe situations in Kaisersluatern, Landstuhl and Ramstein village where they ran into this attitude. Some were embarrassing for my associates. I've had two cases in fifteen years. There's nothing much you can say or do.....they want to let you know their feelings....even though you've never met the guy before in your life. You stand there....listen to their lecture for about 60 seconds, and then start smiling. They hate that for some reason.....I won't even speculate why. The more you smile....the less pleasure they get out of the experience.

The four classes of German society. It took me five years to realize there are four classes of people in Germany. First, there are the Hartz IV crowd.....at the bottom of the economic pile. Some are simply unlucky and deserve a better chance than what they've got. Then you have the middle-class guy whose worked hard....owns a house....goes to Italy once a year for a vacation....drinks beer (not wine).....and doesn't complain or whine about much. Then you have the intellectual crowd who own or operate the state-run TV networks or the political parties or the educational sector. The intellectuals pretend that they really are that smart, but you tend to realize the middle-class guy is typically loaded with common sense and a bit smarter. Finally, you've got the status crowd. The status folks can be fairly down on the economic pole or fairly up....doesn't matter. They have things to show off and make their status known. If you buy a new fancy car....and you've got a status guy next door.....expect him to buy a new car within a month or two....just to get one-up-on-you. The status crowd always ask how much you paid for a new item.

The rules. Frankly, there are about forty thousand rules to living your life in Germany. Don't wash your car on Sundays. Don't mow grass between 1400 and 1600. Walk your dog only in these locations. I could go on and on. I'm surprised the base doesn't have a 4-hour lecture on German rules to keep guys out of trouble as they arrive for the first time. I came to hate the massive list of rules. Some did make sense....the other fifty percent....didn't. I won't miss this kind of atmosphere.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Micky D's


It was shocking news yesterday for most Berliners...the giant of American fast food....McDonalds....announced that it plans to open a resturant at the world-famous Checkpoint Charlie. For those with barely a memory of the location...this was the entry point to leave the American sector of old Berlin and enter into the Soviet-dominated East Germany.

For twenty years...people have been waiting for something to truly happen with this site. Tourists came but it really didn't make the money or develop the block around the former checkpoint.

So this 120-seat restaurant will sit opposite of the museum dedicated to the Berlin Wall.

A number of Berliners are unhappy. The fast food empire is not totally appreciated...and some think this really makes the area "American" in nature....which alot of Germans tend to hate a label like that.

As for the site...I would guess that since day one of the wall falling...McDonalds had a plan underway to develop the site. They likely had a full-time team...sitting in a massive room....planning the acquisition and development of Checkpoint Charlie. They had to fight off four-star German gourmet restaurant establishments. They had to fight off tooty-fruity bar establishments. They had to fight off Turkish doner establishments. They probably even had to fight off herbal tea shop.

So it's coming, and the world will never be the same.....at least around Checkpoint Charlie.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The German Protestant Church

There was a minor story from Thursday...which I'll drag back up. The Protestant Church of Germany...has a union of sorts....involving at least twenty different Protestant groups. So as this mighty organization of religious power...they have an election and put up a chief of the Church. This year....Margot Kassmann got elected into the position.

So last week....Margot stood up and condemned the German participation with the war in Afghanistan. She actually called it immoral and wanted a exit strategy quickly developed.

Somewhere in the midst of her statement....she rationally put out the idea of calling for peace talks with the Taliban.

There were a number of things about this Protestant statement which amused me....but I'll center around two of these.

For any Christian leader to emphasize the Taliban being good partners or good community leaders...you'd have to be mostly brain-dead. There are thousands that suffered from the extremist views of the Taliban...and were punished...in some cases, put to death. If you remember the kite-episodes...if you were a kid and seen flying a kite...you were to be beaten by the Taliban leadership in that village. Somehow, Margot has gotten around that issue of the Taliban....and want them to be a full up partner.

Then, the other curious thing...here in the midst of the Christmas season...you would have thought that Margot would have used her position to center on the number one morale problem in Germany today....the Hartz IV crowd (the welfare program of Germany). It has become a major issue which the majority of Germans now see as a problem.

You've got folks who stuck in Hartz IV and unable to live any kind of normal life. They eat substandard food....they live day to day....and they suffer greatly because of the current economic mess.

Margot could have voiced great discontent with this program and mobilized the church into getting political pressure to change the program. Instead, she keyed in on external matters to the state...not internal matters.

A political arm of the Green party? Dare I suggest such? I believe Margot holds a fair amount of power with the Church here in Germany....but I would question her priorities and her political wisdom here. She prioritized the Hartz IV crowd way down on her list...which might indicate a lack of compassion. Something about her statement just doesn't click.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Son & TV Taxes

My son, now an apprentice and drawing a paycheck of sorts (less than $600 a month)...got his invitation to pay up to the national TV tax. He kinda figured this was unfair. I just kinda grinned.

The deal is that anyone who lives in an house....that makes a wage...must pay the TV tax. Naturally, they got all smart and started counting computers as part of this scheme...even though the national TV network is the last thing on Earth that a 19-year old kid would want to watch.

So the deal centers around you admitting that yes, you do draw a check....and you select your options. He's figuring to admit a radio and computer....adding up to around 6 Euro a month ($7.20). Thats about the lest of what you could admit and feel ok.

The issue with these TV mafia guys....is that they kinda like to impress folks with just showing up at your house and asking for a tour....and counting everything. I naturally told the kid...whoever comes to the door...is unwelcome to enter....unless dad personally authorizes it. I impressed upon him the necessity of a court order and how these idiots just don't want to play fair and ask for a court order. He kinda grasps that legal action now.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Xmas Tree

I bought my Christmas tree Sunday...at the butcher’s shop. Yeah, it is a bit strange.

In my village...there are around twelve businesses in town...of which there is the butcher shop. This guy went out thirty years ago....bought around forty acres of property in the middle of nowhere....and planted around 200 Christmas trees a year.

Then come the two weeks before Christmas....he cuts them down and sells them for roughly $45 (35 Euro) each. So he’s making roughly $9k off this...with barely $500 invested in the seedlings each year.

The trick to this is to get there early....pick out the six-footer....and then tote this back home (half-a-mile away).

I used to work with a guy whose German wife convinced him it was ok to wander out in the local woods and just cut down a tree, without asking. Its a fairly risky practice....you could have the cops called on you. He’d go off and park his vehicle in the middle of nowhere....walk two miles to the tree area....and cut it when it was almost dark. I kept waiting for him to get lost in the woods and try to call one of us in the office to rescue him.

So it’s done...another year with the Christmas tree episode.

A Bad Surge

Major news this past week....the number of German kids with alcohol issues....surged again.

2008 ended up being the worst year ever.....with thousands of kids between 10 and 20 being taken to the hospital (25,700 total for the year). That’s 170 percent rise over 2000 numbers, and 11 percent rise over 2007.

The experts are standing....kinda shocked at the continuing trend with binge drinking by teenagers.

Between the age of 10 and 15.....they ended up with 4,500 kids who had to be taken into a hospital because of their alcohol poisoning. Almost half of that group....were girls.....which the experts weren’t expecting.

In my village....around four years ago....this alcohol issue became a huge issue. We had around a dozen kids between 10 and 16 who were major drunks. One of the punks got sent all the way to Finland....to some special recovery rehab unit. You have to remember....I live in a tiny village of maybe 2,000 people. So you wouldn’t expect a problem like this.

Why the trend? Alcohol became simply a simple task of acquiring and the cost factor made it cheap to buy. I can buy a bottle of the cheap apple whiskey for around $8. Add in the fact that it’s commonly accepted now and the public won’t react to the issue with any force.....and you’ve got a permanent problem.

The curious thing is that you now have kids at fifteen....an alcoholic and a loser in school....tossed out....and stuck into a job stacking shelves. Presently, I’d guess around 500k folks in Germany who are alcoholic in some fashion. If we wait ten years...add in these teenage punks.....we will easily have a million out of the 80 million who are alcoholics....then what?

Egyptian Woes in Germany

For about one hundred years....Germany has held this fine Egyptian antiquities piece.....the statue of Queen Nefertiti.

The guys in Berlin have built this fine museum to house it....which if you are ever in Berlin....this is one of the top five things in the city to go and see.

There has always been this discussion over ownership of the 3,400 year old statue.

The German guy in 1913....who made the discovery of the statue....worked up a fine agreement of sorts with the government of Egypt at the time. Basically, he described the piece as a discovery...made of plaster and just depicting a royal princess....nothing more.

It would come out later that this was a limestone statue of Queen Nefertiti....and the Egyptians figuring out a major lie occurred with the agreement.

This past week....a new effort has been mounted to recover what the Egyptians consider to be their own property.

As the media has dragged up the topic over the past decade....Germany has continually said it acquired the statue legally and just won’t even discuss ownership....or even a loan because moving the “fragile” bust might be dangerous.

I sat there and pondered upon the German argument....and if this were a piece of plaster....they’d be actually right about the danger in moving it. But strangely enough....since it is limestone....there just isn’t any danger. Course, maybe they are still in the stupid mode from 1913, and still believe they hold just a plaster statue....of some princess....and nothing more.

The more you ponder on this issue....you see some folks who made up a deal that was kinda underhanded and involved some trickery of sorts. It wasn’t a legitimate contract between the two countries in 1913 because of the false claim on the German’s part.

The problem is that there are thousands of pieces of art in German, British, French and Italian museums....which were gained through questionable methods. If you open up the door to this episode....then you start to question alot of stuff gained from Greece, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. The bottom line is that if you took out thirty percent of the current holdings and handed them back over...then what? Could you even run a 4-star museum with a 3-star collection? That’s what this really comes down to.

Taxes in Germany

TV taxes are often a part subject to bring up with Germans. This past week....we had a tax court episode of sorts....to seriously affect the TV tax folks.

There had been a strong push about seven years ago....to include computers into this “media” tax situation. The TV tax folks at the time....thought this was a nifty way to grow the tax revenue bucket without stomping on too many folks.

The case that came up involved a professional translator....who had declared the computer at home with her TV and radios....and had been paying the legal amount of taxes on those. Somewhere in the process of things....as a translator....she had added a second computer (I will assume a laptop)....to carry back and forth. The TV tax folks came acalling to her house and asked to do an inspection. She didn’t think much about it and allowed them in. They counted, and then recounted.....and came to say that the second computer was not being calculated and they wanted taxes on it.

The court viewed the whole episode.....and said that the work computer was a totally different issue and not part of the taxation episode. So she is off the hook....at least until they can convince the government guys to change the rules yet again.

My advice for anyone visited by the plain clothed TV tax folks.....smile and refuse entry. To enter....they have to show court order or be invited in. To gain a court order....they have to present evidence that seems to prove that you are violating the rules. Frankly, most judges won’t agree to such a court order without massive proof.

It all simply adds onto the hostile nature of folks now over state-run TV. The costs escalate each and every year. There are still competitive folks in the state-run TV system....buying and pumping up prices for shows or sports projects. The salary level is way beyond reason.....and their long-term projects all seem to show growth. We now have one channel designed and built for the 15-30 year old crowd....that barely gets 200,000 viewers on average a week (out of 80 million). So the state-run TV guys are buying up shows to run on this network and paying an entire staff.....with few if any folks watching.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Wiesbaden

I spent the day in Wiesbaden....with the temperature down to six degrees for most of the day. Every year....for Christmas....I spend a day there....mostly shopping. Its normally a bit warmer.

The thing about the Wiesbaden Christmas market....is the food. You can walk from stand to stand....picking up all kinds of tasty foods.

If you wanted to make the run up....aim for the underground parking around the church downtown....and you walk up in the midst of the Christmas market. Make the circle, and then head over to Karstadt for presents.

As for restaurants....look for a steak house at the edge of the Christmas market area on the left. And if you find a place called Saft of the Earth....stop in and have a freshly squeezed orange juice (the big glass is 3.5 Euro ($4.5) but its the best orange juice in the world.

A Word of Advice

This is my top ten list of German things to avoid wasting time or money on....with no real priority.

German cuckoo clocks. Frankly, it's a fair amount of money you pay...for a clock that ends up as a wall dust collector. Accuracy? Well...you will continually have to adjust it as each year goes by. It's hard to find any German family in existence today...that has a clock. Folks with a full-up den and library....might have one...as a show piece....but that's about it. For $1k to $2k....which is what they typically want....it is a questionable purchase. And if you do buy it....keep the box for shipping later.

Roman coins. I worked with people at Bitburg...that got into this collection business. Roman coins are found up there a good bit and the locals make a business out of selling these. The curious thing is that you could end up with a fake....which I knew a guy who paid $300 for a coin....which later turned out to be a fake.

German or Russian war medals. Ok, this is what you must realize....that guy at the flea market with a "real" iron cross for $150....is selling a fake medal. The same way for the Russian medals that he keeps under the table. For the most part, you tend to end up with fakes.

Russian military uniforms. There was this glory period in the 1970s...when collectors would show up at flea markets with Soviet uniforms and American GI's would pay $100 for a uniform. Some are real....and some were simply made in a garage operation for less than $10, which aren't authentic uniforms. I knew a guy once that paid $200 for a Soviet officer's 'bus drivers hat'. I asked him how he knew it was authentic....and he just looked at me (don't spoil the moment).

Significant paintings. You can walk across a BX area here in Germany....and always find a painting sales guy...who has a wonderful painting of some Bavarian valley scene....for $300. That's about as authentic as you can get. When you get invited to a wine tasting episode....and the painting guy starts to show you 'treasured paintings'...from the 1930s....for $2k....the odds are they are fake.

Nazi copies of Hitler's Mein Kampf. There are copies around for sale. You can go to EBay and find them. Typically....the real authentic copies from the 1930s....go for a substantial amount of money. When you have a guy standing in front of you.....offering to part with his copy for $500....it's likely fake.

Lederhosen. Ok, so when you travel to Bavaria, and here are these silly guys standing there in leather pants that end halfway to the ankle....and have fancy embroidery on them....this is lederhosen. If you go to a professional shop, you end up paying around $300 for a top notch pair of the paints. They are all authentic, but the truth is...where the hell are you going to wear these later in life? Ninety percent of all German men...DO NOT own a pair. That should say something about wasting money on a piece of clothing you might never wear.

Beer Machen outfits. This is the typical garb of a beer hostess down at the Octoberfest. You could go cheap and get something for around $150....but a real outfit will run $400. First, if you got boobs....it's designed to maximize the view. If you don't have boobs....it's not for you. Frankly ladies, you tend to look silly and unless you have some weird uniform fetish for the bedroom....it's best to skip this outfit. However, if your guy is into this...use the five-inch heels to accent the outfit but don't be carrying around eight beer steins while wearing the heels.

Beer Steins. There are two basic types of beer stein. The one you regularly would drink from...and the one that sits on some shelf which acts as some show-piece. The show-piece one....often costing $100 to $400...is worthless (my own humble opinion). The one you drink from....is actually used and worth twice its weight in gold.

Christmas cake. For the months of November and December....you can walk around through a German grocery or bakery and buy stollen. This is a cake of sorts....often chewy...that is loaded with calories. The bakeries typically make it in October and ship it out in a sealed package. For some odd reason, its stays fresh for three months. The typical problem is that they sell you a huge cake....and you barely eat half...and then it gets rock hard. It's not a four-star cake...by any means...and you must drink coffee with it.

I hope I didn't upset any of you...but after fifteen years here...you come to realize the tourist trend of buying stuff...without real value or questionable value.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Arbeit Macht Frei

There's a sign...at the entrance of the Auschwitz concentration camp....across the border into Poland. The sign is made of steel, and says: "Arbeit Macht Frei".....basically work makes you free. It was a Nazi slogan of sorts. It is historic in nature. Last night....some guys came by and stole it.

Almost every German news broadcast tonight in Germany...carried a 1-minute segment of the report. The cops are purssuing the matter....and the museum has erected a copy of the gate....which they happened to have (a strange matter which they haven't really explained).

Who would steal it? Nazis? I have serious doubts that they took it. You can't display it or show it....so it's not really an item they'd want.

Russians? Well...I could see some mafia unit considering it a item that they could admit to later, just to get plus-up points on the cop's charts.

Locals? Hmmmm....well...if the management of the facility had something to upset the workers of the operation...then this would be a fine way of gaining some revenge. Consider in the amount of work required to take this down...and I'd be looking over these guys before anyone else.

An Update to a Blog

This guy....Devon Hollahan....who disappeared in the morning hours of 21 November in Frankfurt....has been categorized now as missing and presumed drowned now by the cops.

I blogged this about a week ago, and had already speculated on him making the distance down to the river and accidentally falling in.

Frankfurt is a city that you can't find many people who simply disappear from. There is a crime element....but typically, a body shows up the next day somewhere. In this case....this guy was fairly drunk at 3AM....and walked down the wrong direction.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kunduz

For the past month, Kunduz has been a nightly topic for the German news folks. It’s a curious episode, which most Germans don’t grasp the entire story or simplicity.

Basically, off in Afghanistan....the German Army had a camp set up.....with a couple of large-scale military fuel trucks. With questionable security....some Taliban guys walk in and steal two of these....making off in the middle of the night.
Somehow, a couple of German special forces guys quietly track these....and within an hour or two....know precisely where they are. They notify the commander, and then await instructions.

What occurs next is kinda interesting. At the truck point....near a creek....around eighty people gather in the middle of the night....supposedly to steal fuel from the two stolen trucks. Taliban members? Well....no one can say now. Off on the German side....no one wants to mount an assault on the area....in fear of being shot at. So the German general calls in for a US air strike.

The US fighter pulls up and starts to question alot of this intended target. The German general wants all six bombs dropped....the pilot says ‘no’....he only needs to drop two max. This goes back and forth.

Finally, the US pilot drops his two bombs and hits the two trucks....with a fine explosion. As for the number of dead? Well....the Red Cross gives one number. The Afghan government gives another number. And the NATO guys give another number. The key feature to the Red Cross story is that they were all innocent poor locals just stealing gas from the vehicles.

So back in Germany....within two or three days....the opposition parties have taken up this mess. They wanted names and stories. Merkel and the generals were left standing there and trying to figure what all happen that evening.

In the weeks that passed....two generals have been fired....for holding information on the episode, at least that's what the government now says.

The opposition parties are still upset and want various other folks fired....to hinder political progress of the new Merkel government.

The curious thing....is that German military folks are furious over the entire mess. They view the opposition position on this mess to be detrimental to the morale of the whole military.

Afghan lawyers are now pursuing a legal case to get tens of millions out of the German government....over the sixty to one hundred dead folks at the site.
So allow for me to lay out three simple observations.

First, if you were the German military now....observing this entire mess....and any incident of any type arises....I won’t react except to protect myself. If the Afghans want to steal every vehicle in the compound....let them. Don’t fire on anyone unless they shoot at you. When the political figures get furious...let them know that they started this attitude and you have no intention of reacting to anything.

Second, German military morale can only get lower.

Third and final....if you were PM Merkel....why keep troops in a US-led war? I’d call up the plans folks and then announce a withdrawal within 90 days from Afghanistan. I’d refuse to donate a single dollar for the Afghanistan government and I’d then tell the entire Bundestag (Parliament) that we are finished with all military operations outside of Germany.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Germans and Avator

The movie Avator is getting a big hype here in Germany. But the curious thing is that most of these guys are lining up their sights on the Americans being the evil military that is disrupting the poor blue natives on this distant planet.

Naturally, as naive as Germans are...it wasn't difficult for the director to accomplish this feat.

It promises to actually make some money here in Germany and became an intellectual classic. But lets be honest.....out of 80 million Germans...if four million watch it....it'll be considered a major success. The majority of Germans simply don't go out to watch movies that much...maybe once or twice a year. And their peak? It's always around Christmas.

Passau Update

A long while ago....I blogged up abou the stabbing of the Passau police chief, Alois Mannichl. At the time....the police chief said it was a Nazi who did it. But issues developed...and the case went into limbo. The knife used....came to be identified by the press as a cake knife. The Nazi stabber? The chief said he had a funny snake tattoo on his neck, but the cops can't any Nazi listed in their database with such a tattoo.

So this past week....the DA finally came out and said that significant problems lie in the story that the Police Chief told....and it's changed a bit each time that the guy is asked to repeat some part.

Most folks are confident that it was the wife or girlfriend who did it. The local folks would like for him to fess up but he won't do it.

As for the Nazi angle....it's starting to become apparent that the answer is always the Nazis....but it doesn't always solve the question asked.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

RFID

As science advances....so do ID cards. This week....the German Interior Ministry announced that new identification cards containing radio-frequency (RFID) chips will be introduced starting November 1, 2010.

This RFID technology has a number of folks scared. The chip is such that a cop could walk around with a scanner in a crowd and anyone within two meters....could be scanned....and identified. Got a riot underway....just walk in the midst of it....and suddenly, you’ve got forty names....then you just mail out court appearances for these people to come in and meet the judge for their punishment....no arrest necessary.

Got a cop who has pulled over a car? He can walk up and perform the scanner from two meters and then confirm the guy has previous arrests or a violent nature.....so he automatically treats the guy in a hostile manner.

This isn’t a mandatory episode....simply the cards being introduced. It could be an entire decade before everyone has these.

Naturally, there is a growing hostility amongst privacy act folks. They don’t want this invasion of their hidden data.

The cops claim that data will be protected by a PIN and only law enforcement will have the ability to readily scan across to the person. The thing is....if this catches on....why would super-markets seek to market a super-cheap credit card with this RFID technology on it....and they could scan the shopper and his buying habits?

A RFID card coming to driver’s licenses in America? People already complain about the idea of a national ID card but this RFID technology could radically change the American landscape....if it’s allowed to enter on licenses.

German Health Care

Germans have this fear about their universal health care program. They’ve just about maxed out on what people are willing to pay monthly on their insurance costs.

So everyone is sitting there and waiting for this announcement of extra fees as they actually use health care. Well....that day has come.

The state-run health insurance (GKV) budget folks....are now predicting a loss of some €4 billion ($5 billion dollars) in funding in 2010.

Somewhere in the midst of their own 2,000 page document.....German law mandates that health insurers charge members extra fees when the numbers don’t match up.

The suggestion of the GKV folks....is that this upsurge of fees....will occur in 2010.

The amusing thing here....the government guy in charge of health care....kinda jumped into this mess and said that a deficit of €4 billion wasn’t a big deal. It’s always interesting how guys now working for the government see a billion dollars of problems....as no big deal.

What does this fee business mean? Well...when you walk in....instead of paying $20 a quarter for the first visit of the quarter you make....now you will likely pay something for every visit (maybe $15). If you require any kind of bandage....maybe $6. It doesn’t hurt the first five to ten years of this game...but you can already imagine where a visit will run $40. You start to get nickel and dimed to death.

The medical business…is just that…a business. It’s not charity, or cheap, or compassionate. Someone has to make a profit….for the business to work. And the minute you start to think it’s a “right”….you start to lose focus over how the system really works.

There's This Little German Law

There’s this little law that got passed in Germany in 2008....that requires every telephone and provider company to “store” all numbers called and all web sites visited...for six months. So they keep this log of your IP and then attach every single site to that log. Yes, it could go into the tens of thousands.

The consolidated government at the time....thought this would be great for getting people caught by the cops eventually. The telephone and providers hated it....because it means they have to track this information and then store it. It adds up.

There are presently....over sixty separate legal questions now pending on the law....and it’s at the Supreme Court of Germany.

Most folks think that eventually....the Supreme Court will throw out the law but some media folks have voiced the idea that the Court might view this as a moment to change the perception of privacy. If they say sites visited and phone numbers called....are not private....then a vast and mighty door gets opened.

The curious thing that I see....is that the phone companies and providers.....are sitting there with a vast treasure trove of data on people. All I need to do...is hack into it....and then start to track down some critical people to ask if they’d like numbers they called to be released. I could probably make a million a week....with such a list.

How much protection is being offered to this “list”? No one is sure.

How much protection was required by the law? That never was specified.

How much pain could one guy with 50,000 pages of copied lists create?

For some reason, I’m thinking this really wasn’t thought much about or conceived.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Our GM Buddies

Not that it really matters...but the amusing bit over GM's headquarters popped up today. Last month, GM said for sure....they were moving the Zurich-headquarters over to Russelsheim. Today? We find out that the headquarters is shutting down, period. The functions will stay at Russelsheim, but the 150-odd people involved in the Zurich function...are basically finished.

Other than looking good on TV...this entire statement was basically wasted.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The TV Tax

There is a debate underway in Germany....over TV taxes. For those who are curious....an average house now pumps in around $400 per year....for their media tax.

The guys who run the state-run operation....kinda need more money. So you can see where this debate is going.

The folks on one side....have spoken up and say that we should now include laptops, internet devices, and cellphones.....in the method where we count and add up the tax. The neat thing about this method is that any house with four folks (two adults and two kids over ten)....has four cellphones typically. The growth of laptops and PC's in homes? Well...that adds up too....because in the same house with the four folks....they likely have two PC's/laptops as a minimum.

Naturally.....the opposition is upset about this because it allows the government to ASK and get data....to assemble the fee. Why would anyone tell the truth? Everyone would admit one cellphone and one CPU....just to look legal.

Then you have the crowd who are fixated back on the state-run networks.....asking why we need so many channels across the whole country. They also are asking why so many state-run radio channels still exist and if half couldn't go commercial. Even others are asking questions now about the salary level of the folks who manage the state-run networks.

The curious about this entire mess is that there is no citizen committee to stand over the state-run TV folks....and ask stupid questions. The TV management folks come up to the national level....lay out their costs...and then ask for a 3 percent or 5 percent plus-up. And the political figures have some fear in denying them.....because they might turn the investigative reporters loose on them. It's like a friendly mafia operation running your local grocery....and you simply have to accept it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

German Movies

This is my list...of ten great German movies to watch. Bear in mind...sometimes, I don't select artistic movies or intellectual movies.

- Run Lola, Run. It is a great written movie...with a twist of science fiction to it. From 1999.

- Das Boot. It's a five-star German war movie....over submarine warfare. The thing about it is that it has a great 3.5 hour version, and it's really around eight hours in length, if you went for the full version. If it's the two-hour version that you are watching...forget it.

- Barfuss. It is a tidy comedy from 2005. It has Til Schweiger and a fairly interesting script.

- Good-bye Lenin. Frankly, its the best written script that any German has come up with in years. The family grew up in East Germany, and mom has been in a coma since the wall came down. Now Moma comes out of the coma but the family has to act like they are still in the old East Germany days. It is a five-star comedy.

- Das Wunder Von Bern. It's the true football story of how the Germans came to win their first world cup in the 1950s. Worth watching, absolutely true, and a feel-good movie at the end.

- Comedian Harmonists. True story from WW II....centers around a band. The music is great and it's a good positive ending.

- Rosenstrasse. 2004....excellent movie.

- Krabat. Dark movie....over a kid who yearns to learn magic. Excellent story, and 5-star graphics.

- Baader Meinhof Complex. True and extremely violent movie.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stuttgart "21"

For about seven years…the Stuttgart guys have been discussing this dream of theirs….a fantastic 5-star train station. Originally….folks thought this was a billion dollar project. As last year came up….they finally attached four billion Euro ($5 billion dollars) to the project.

The curious thing to this….the old train station downtown….which is still in good condition and a historical spot….had to be torn down. Plus, this was a decade-long project….requiring the entire middle of town to be torn up. Business operations were not impressed with this grand plan.

Today….the state government finally approved the plan and the cost.

“Stuttgart 21” will proceed. In this case….an additional 35 miles of tunnels will have to be dug throughout the city….which will invite a vast amount of negative comments.

For the locals…..there is a mixed blessing in this deal. Jobs will be plentiful for construction folks. The new train station will be this mega draw for major traffic going from central Germany to any location in Europe. But the locals will also find the daily work-arounds for getting through town will just ask for more stress in their lives.

Germans & Fear

Someone did a survey with Germans….and three out of four…fear the upswing of the Muslim religion in Germany.

The curious thing…is that they used the word “fear”. When I walk around and this topic comes up with a handful of Germans….they translate it more to mean that they really can’t allow Germany to become some state of full acceptance of Islamic traditions.

It was ok, when Spaniards came and worked themselves into German society back in the 1400/1500 period. It was ok when Italians came after WW II and began to own restaurants and pubs. It was ok when Americans came and stayed after their military service. To some degree….they don’t have problems with Africans who come in and actually instill themselves into society…learning the language and becoming businessmen.

But the folks associated with the Islamic traditions….haven’t really fitted into German society. And the lack of acceptance has touched on a massive number of Germans.

The curious thing….as I watch things develop….you start to see “players” who instigate feelings on the Islamic side. They pretend to be leaders in their community. They say one thing but then to say the opposite to their crowd. They try to voice objections over German rules….when it was the German rules that made life nicer here and business opportunities better than the old country.

After the fire in Mannheim this year…with the Turks killed….and the insistence of bad evil Germans or Nazis at the heart of the fire….and Turkish leadership strongly domineering the local scene there in Mannheim….then we came to find out via the cops that it was Turkish kids playing with matches…and not Nazis involved.

I’ve come to view this Islamic opera playing out in Germany as an instrument of people with an agenda. I’ve often wanted to ask these people what made them leave their old Islamic country and resettle in such a terrible place….but I doubt that they have much of an answer.

The curious thing is that the Jews played in a game similar to this in the 1930s. It was never started by the Jews….they simply ended up as the folks blamed for issues. Then I look at today’s environment….and can see a simple ten-year period where the whole 1930s experience is repeated. Germans are in some ways…na├»ve. They reach a point where they accept something as “facts” even if it isn’t a fact. Then they move to a conclusion….which ends up as a tragic opera of sorts.

Then…..the fat lady finally sings.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

You Might be Educated....Maybe

For anyone whose been in Germany for a long time....and educated....you always come across educated Germans who immediately let you know that you just aren’t in their category of “educated and certified”. Yes, you might have a four-year degree, or even a master’s degree....but you simply don’t measure up.

Part of this revolves around the rules or standards that the German federal government uses....but’s also a general mental note that they make of auslanders....they are less....no matter how educated they are.

This week...the German government announced that they plan to make acceptance of foreign academic qualifications easier for immigrants. There will be a legal process where external documents and degrees are examined....and then given a “stamp” of sorts.

Reasoning? Well....they are becoming very focused on the shortage of high technology skills and abilities that the German university system simply can’t churn out. If you want just a good basic degree in history....it’s no problem. If you want just a good basic degree in computer science principals....it’s no problem. Beyond that....with a fast paced technology world....the university system of Germany can’t stay up to par.

An issue occurs now with nursing......where so many German nurses are leaving the country.....for better pay....and the German hospitals are recruiting nurses from third world countries to make up for the problem of limited nurses in the country.

The curious thing about this....while the government might change....people don’t. So if you are standing there....with a doctoral degree....chatting with Germans and hand out a business card with it listed....you get a smirk of sorts. Even if you spent eight years at Harvard....you really don't have the same doctoral degree as Germans.

Some things will never change.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Cake Knife Episode

About a year ago….there was a funny story in Germany, with serious overtones at the beginning….but then became a joke.

The Passau police chief…..Alois Mannichl….came to be stabbed on the front porch of his house. He said it was a neo-Nazi. Alois is fiercely known in the region for attacking Nazis left and right….so it made sense at the time. The guy doing it? He was described by Alois as 30 years old….about six foot tall….and had a snake tatto on his neck.

The cops were all over this. Their chief had been stabbed severely…..and attacker had said "You leftist pig cop, you won't trample on the graves of our comrades anymore."

So as days passed….an interesting thing occurred. The chief started to recover in the hospital. The wound was examined and strangely didn’t fit your typical attacker knife….but more so….a cake-knife. Yeah….a cake-knife.

Based on a number of minor problems with the story….the detectives around this case began to see this as a domestic dispute where thing went wrong.

The police chief was furious…..how dare anyone suggest such.

Then they ran into a fascinating problem. The massive database that they keep on all Nazis…..was scanned. NOT one single character came up with a snake tatto on the neck. Yeah, it’s a curious thing….not one single Nazi.

So the local paper did a one-year update on the story this week.

There are 430 open leads in the case. Ten investigators still work on this case….and have examined a total of 3,000 clues. They also have interviewed well over 2,000 people.

An amusing side note to this story is that the cops are still today…offering $25k as a reward. And yet, they still can’t find anyone in the region of Passau….with a snake tattoo on his neck.

The chief? He’s still the chief….and still readily claims Nazis are hard at work…threatening the lives of locals.

After fifteen years in Germany….and watching all the various comments and negativity over Nazis in Germany….you start to wonder if a real threat exists or a bunch of folks simply pump up a bunch of pretenders.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Anarchists

This year...several major riots occurred in Germany...which the media will kindly report they were anarchists at work. The chief locations? Mostly in Hamburg....a handful in Berlin.

This week....a "coordinated" attack of sorts occurred in both cities on politce stations and political offices. The German cops are highly upset. In fact, they even used the phrase "declaration of war" in their statements after the attacks. Several police cars were attacked with Molotov cocktails.

So far, the anarchists have been careful....no injuries have been reported. It simply looks like an escalation of some sorts.

What the cops want....based on actions taken so far....are major prison sentences when they apprehend these guys. So far, the state interior ministers and the judges have frowned on this. My guess is that they will let the mess continue until local political pressure becomes too much...and then...it'll too late to control this mess.

There are several observations here.

First, the amount of coordination involved? The timing? Well...the boys have to be using technology to communicate. Twitter? Yeah....I'd be guessing it might be the tool...but they've got a dozen possible ways of chatting back and forth.

A repeat of the RAF methods of the late 1960s? Yes, in some fashion....some smart guys are leading the lesser intelligent herd toward confrontations. There is a strategy involved.

The idea of ensuring no injuries in these attacks? I would think that this is a strategy to build up the confidence of the troops involved and to get some front-line newspaper coverage for their cause.

It's hard for a guy from Bama to view an anarchist. In the entire state of Bama....we don't have a single anarchist. I think it's mostly because we've got better things to do....but the other note here is that if we went looking for trouble....we just might find it, and it might not be a simple arrest.

In this case...you've got a bunch of folks with time on their hands and a support cell behind them. I would suggest that as you arrest them....I'd move them as far as possible into Bavaria...to the most remote town with a jail. Let them simmer there for a week or two...without friends or associates around.

For the cops? They need to start monitoring Twitter and forums....and getting smarter. These guys aren't going away, and I suspect this is merely the beginning of a long period of anarchists.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Mystery of Sorts

Here in Germany....a discussion of sorts...has arisen this week.

Somewhere...over near Herxheim.....an ancient settlement has been under review for a long while. There are two groups of scientists with a pretty wide view of what they've found.

The village remains that they've found....date back 7,000 years ago...which you can't really refer to this "clan" as German or even European in nature.

One group thinks this is the remains of a group of folks who were deeply into canniblaism.

These guys think....over a wide period....decades...hundreds of people were hacked up and served as a meal. The remains? Tossed into a oval pit....which is what the scientists have stumbled upon.

I sat there and pondered over this. A small population of folks...a clan, of sorts...who went out and collected prisoners? This is not a scenario that you'd really like to envision.

But here, we come to the second group...a couple of archaeologists...who think cannibalism never occurred.

According to these guys....it was a common habit to bury folks...then dig them up....and go through a process of removing the skin from the bones. The reasoning? That never was truly explained and kinda makes me wonder the logic.

The best we can say....around 7,000 years ago....at some village in the middle of nowhere....something happened, which has triggered a debate of sorts....7,000 years later. On one side.....we'd rather not know what may have happened.....and on the other side....we'd like to settle this mess.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Mercedes Argument

Germans kinda woke up today.....hostile over Bama having taken the Mercedes S-class plant.

I pondered over comments made on this. One guy complained that quality would rapidly disappear and he'd never buy a non-German made Mercedes.

With the declining birthrate....it's very possible within three decades.....that a significant number of the German work force....will be Turkish. So I sat there and looked ahead by forty years. Which would you rather buy? A Turkish-made Mercedes or a Bama-made Mercedes?

For a German, there might be a long pause here. They really don't want to contemplate this or wonder about which is worse.

Minaret


The minaret issue continues to be a major topic in Switzerland and adjoining countries. Whatever the vote episode was supposed to accomplish this past weekend….merely pumped the entire topic across most European countries.

A reminder….the Swiss didn’t outlaw Mosque construction for Muslims….what they did do….was outlaw minarets. You can build Mosques as far and wide as you want. The minaret is simply a rocket-like constructed building....whose chief purpose is to mark the most significant building in town.

The general feeling is that this is going to turn into a huge mess for the Swiss....and a number of countries are going to suggest doing the same thing. The courts are bound to wiggle into this mess....one way or another.

So, using my Bama logic....I have come to suggest a radical way of fixing the problem.....and making folks HAPPY.

In poker.....to win....you double and triple up your bet....to make the other guy shut up and quit. So I'm prepared to suggest such for Minarets.

Make them all legal and then.....encourage Minarets everywhere.

Minarets-R-Us will suddenly swoop down and become a major business.

You start to sell the following types of Minarets:

- "The Pink Lady".....a steel Minaret-missile-like structure.....pink in color and a parachute "dress" from the mid-point on down....with a grinning happy face.

- "Lighthouse"......a 40-foot tall Minaret with a flashing red light beacon on the top....to be seen for miles.

- "Barber-pole Minaret".....a 50-foot Minaret with a barber strip color scheme to it.

- "Flash-Minaret"....a 50-foot structure with alternate lighting schemes every two feet and they blink at a rate of 60 blinks a minute with different colors.

- "Watermelon-Minaret".....a canon-like device built with a air pressure capability...of firing off a watermelon from the base....in any direction for 300 feet. Have kids stand out around the structure and see who gets hit first by a watermelon.

- "Jumper-Minaret".....a 12- foot tower where you can climb to the top and just jump off into a pit of leaves.

The Muslim folks will be furious that we've taken a symbol and turned it into a joke. But the truth is that we simply took what existed, and used it for another purpose. It's not a Muslim tower....it's simply a dang tower, period.

At this point, they will realize they've lost this argument, and simply shut up.

Karstadt

Here in Kaiserslautern….there’s one real 4-star store of a Penny’s variety…Karlstadt. It’s in the midst of town and actually in the best real estate of any store in town.

For the past six months….major stores throughout Germany have been collapsing. The bulk of bad business, extended loans, and simply downward turn in purchasing…..put them to the point of closing. Yesterday Karstadt in K-town….announced it’s impending closure….sometime in the spring of 2010.

It’s a curious thing…..after that point, unless someone moves into the building….it’s pretty much a joke in town. The REAL store at the end of K-town…is closing next summer, with a rumor of some French Wal-Mart-like operation likely to move in. Globus has parked itself at the other end of town….and it’s mostly an upgraded Wal-Mart-like operation. After that….K-town has nothing but small shops.

If you want anything of a real shopping experience….in one store….you will have to travel at least an hour to find such a shop once Karlstadt closes.

Just another sign of how K-town is sliding down into the pit of nothing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Mercedes Day in Bama

It was a shocker today....Mercedes-Benz has decided the time is right to relocate their luxury C-class car plant...in 2014....to Bama.

The negative here is that 3,000 jobs disappear out of Baden-Wurttemberg....which has kinda irked the locals greatly.

Naturally, there was a comment or two about "quality" and the inability of Bama folks to accomplish quality work. Bama is already known for making some of best and finest bass boats on the face of the Earth....and we are very capable of using that same quality against the C-class Mercedes.

Who benefits in Bama? Well....those kindly folks in Tuscaloosa. They are likely sitting there tonight....with a case or two of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and tears rolling down their face as they know they are getting the awesome responsibility of building the C-class.

The thing about this entire deal is that basically...thanks to the weak dollar....Bama is now the Bombay of car manufacturing. Thanks to the anti-union attitude and the low cost of assembly folks....Bama is attracting manufacturing left and right.