Observations

It’s Coalition Time: Quick Facts to the German National Election

Posting this, I am back in Germany and operating on little sleep while embracing nicer temps than those in Florida. It’s weird to be back after being in the US again. Yet, I’m also noticing how much less I’ve reverted to old US habits. I guess I didn’t integrate into the culture as much this time; if I’m not careful, I’ll end up taking on expat habits. However, I also know I just have to balance my bicultural identity a bit better. Part of that is taking an active interest in the politics of both nations. I’m not ashamed to say that choosing between coming back on Sept. 23rd and Sept. 25th was a matter of being able to cast my vote on Sept. 24th.

The current Google doodle

Yep, this Sunday Germans are heading to voting stations to vote for candidates and parliamentary parties to take power in the Bundestag. Since no one lives in a vacuum in this globalized age, I figured many readers may be interested in a little more information about what’s at stake and what it could mean.

  • Germany is a parliamentary democracy
  • It has the fourth largest economy in the world
  • It is one of the founding members of the European Union
  • Germany has two houses of Parliament, the Bundestag (lower house) and Bundesrat (upper house, representing the 16 federal states).
  • Each German state has its own parliament and a regular election, and every four years the national parliament is newly elected
  • Germany has a complex voting system for electing its Bundestag, or lower house, largely due to negative experiencesduring the Weimar Republic. The post WWII system seeks to combine the benefits of both direct and proportional representation while guarding against political fragementation. More specific facts here
  • The ballot contains two votes: one for a candidate- the district representitatve- and one for a party
  • There are 598 total seats in parliament; 299 of these are the winners of the constituent vote. The other 299 are delegated  proportional to the percentage of the vote won by the party.
  • There are six recognized major parties: CDU (center right), SPD (center left), FDP (libertarian), Linken (left/neo-communists), Grünen (environmentalist and center left), and the AFD (anti-Europe/nationalist/right).
  • There are over a dozen other parties up for election and seats
  • Anyone wanting to disassociate him/herself from the neo-Nazis will disassociate him/herself from the AFD
  • The party with the most seats has the most power in parliament
  • The leader of the party with the most votes is the Chancelor
  • The German chancellor is head of state and has the most political power in the nation
  • Dr. Angela Merkel (CDU) has served three terms
  • There is also a president, a largely symbolic head of state, currently Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former foreign minister who was sworn in in March 2017.
  • While the party with the most seats has the most power, it cannot rule alone unless it has 50% of the seats. Therefore, the leading party will often join into a coalition with a junior partner with which it can pass most legislation.
  • For the past four years, CDU and SPD were coallied, which made for very bland, centered decisions.
  • This year, that coalition may be an option as well as CDU-FDP-Grünen or SPD-Linken-Grünen.
  • No one wants a coalition with the AFD.
  • However, no one (in their humane mind) wants them as the main opposing party in parliament either
  • This is getting a large number of German voters hopefully mobilized.
  • More than 60 Million Germans are eligible to vote in the 2017 election

My brother and I are two of those voters. We’re interested in the results. Hope I could raise some interest in you as well.

Fun fact: The Berlin Marathon is also happening on Sunday. How Berliners will navigate the logistics of getting to their voting stations will be interesting to follow.

Edited to add: the AfD has more than 80+ seats in parliament as of 19 o’clock. This is… well, the adjective I’d like to use wouldn’t be very polite.  Also up for election in Berlin was keeping use of the Tegel Airport, thought to become obsolete once the BER airport is finally completed.  I flew in there yesterday and like to fly there, since the ‘port is so small (easily navigated) and close to home.

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The Summer of the Hanse

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Vincent D’Onofrio in Daredevil (2015) from the IMDB database

A line from Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil Season One, episode 9 really resonated with me: the moment where Wilson Fisk (played achingly well by Vincent D’Onofrio) states that his one “character flaw” is his inability to quiet the mind. I mean, disregarding the fact that it is not his “one flaw,” I sympathize with his difficulties (though I’m not on par with him being a brutal homicidal guy with messed up ethics). I’ve been pushed by my unquiet mind to finally write this post, in the hope that it will give me the mind-space to deal with some significant life responsibilities. In return, you shall be caught-up on my adventures!

There’s a bit to report from my summer in Germany, but it really came from the last three weeks I was there. I love being a student in Germany. I really do. But one setback is that the semester runs April through the middle of July and once that’s done, there’s not much summer left to overlap with the vacation the rest of my family has. So, most of what I did that was interesting was after the semester had ended and I could take longer trips.

However, I did have a few adventures before that:

Dresden: though I surprisingly took NO photos, it was a very nice two days there. You’ll just have to believe me.

A rose festival: just outside of Hansestadt Rostock, a rose farm finds some people to play some bluegrass and country, some people to sell tea and cake, and then display a vast array of some of the most beautiful roses you’ve ever seen, and if you’re lucky, some available for sale. It was a beautiful day and the music wasn’t bad, so it was kind of cool.

An organ sermon in the chapel to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. These happen every Saturday at 6 pm, and while the organist may have improvised a little too crazily, a few classic pieces were played too, and it was a nice respite from the hustle of one of Berlin’s main shopping and tourist districts right outside.

A few bike rides: mostly on the Baltic coast, mostly in good weather and as always with beautiful scenery; the sheep on the roof summarize the vast array of quirky things there are to see up north.

When I wasn’t squeezing in family or friend time, I was finishing up the second semester of PhD colloquium at the Freie Uni and keeping up with my part-part time position as secretary to a secretary.

Once the semester was done, my parents rented a car and we used it to go all the places in the north of Germany. I didn’t go anywhere I hadn’t been before, I but I got to know old places in new ways. Plus, we seemed weirdly attracted to the Hanseatic League, visiting four of the remaining cities retaining the “Hansestadt” moniker in Germany: Stralsund, Rostock, Wismar and Luebeck.

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You know you’re in a Hanse city when the harbor hosts a bunch of ships. You know you’ve met a LotRs fan when s/he names his/her boat after Tolkien. Someone must have taken the name J.R.R. Tolkien

For those that want a brush-up on European history, the Hanseatic League was kind of one of the first European Unions. Tired of having to pay taxes or worry about diplomacy everytime a nation’s water territory was crossed, traders, merchants and fishermen agreed that my fish is your fish and saved their tax allotment to build their cities instead. Stralsund we just drove through to get to the beautifully tucked-away island of Hiddensee, and Rostock is the nearest major city of our normal summer haunting-grounds, but Wismar and Luebeck were pleasant surprises in how they’d developed over the last 10 years. Luebeck was especially nice to see again.

Luebeck architecture, like much of the League, was influenced by the Swedish and the vastly popular red brick gothic building style. The Holstentor (top right) and facades of the buildings in Luebeck are very famous throughout the world. I was also enchanted by small courtyards behind almost every house. Fun bonus fact: Luebeck was not attacked during World War II the way other German cities and harbors were because the Allies already knew that they would get that part of Germany as a part of the reparations. They didn’t want to destroy that which they’d later have to occupy.

As mentioned, we also visited Hiddensee (the name does not mean what it looks like it would). There are absolutely no cars allowed on the island as it hosts one of the nation’s largest natural parks and therefore preserves a large number of the native Baltic wildlife. It’s a great island for hiking and I enjoyed walking on the edges of cliffs, eating fish, and seeing a few deer. One gets to the island by ferry and the last one to leave the island was at sunset, so you can imagine the view was amazing. The water was also so still, that at one point, the fine line between earth and sky was almost invisible if it weren’t for a small hint of land.

The weather was not good enough this summer to be motivated to do a whole lot of exploring, so my family did a lot of the same things we do every year, which is sometimes also good.

The time for my parents to return to work and routine was creeping up, though, and now, here we are, back in south Florida and sun and sweat.

However, right before we left, my mother, brother and I visited an art exhibit in Potsdam (that big city outside Berlin, capital of the state of Brandenburg). Called From Hopper to Rothko: America’s Road to Modern Art, I got a good dose of US culture. If you want to get an idea of how Western Expansion weighed on the collective psyche of the US people, consider the change in artwork from the beginning of the 19th century through WWI. While the perspectives excluded a few narratives of racism and genocide, the vitality of America’s frontier mentality- the ability to organize and survive in the face of raw nature, as we see most recently in the Texan’s response to H/TS Harvey, is visceral to the art.

The history of the building where the exhibit was is interesting too. It was sponsored by by operative SAP buisinessman Hasso Plattner. The museum exists on a square that was rebuilt only a few years ago and eerily remove one to a different century. It’s something one definitely does not get in Berlin anymore. Too many new buildings have been built next to the old ones for this kind of impression to be made. Still, there’s a beauty to both.

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Check out my mad cloud-designing skills: the Vocation School for Art, Nikolai Church, and Old Market of Potsdam

aaand that’s that. I’m now happily in my parent’s home in Florida, taking advantage of sun, the pool, and the local library. Hope the school year is starting well and fall doesn’t creep up too nastily.

Cheers, -Dorothea

Spring cleaning and some new (to me) Berlin

Happy Monday!

Hope you had a good Mother’s Day weekend. I couldn’t be with my mother on Mother’s Day for the first time in a long time (ever, maybe?), and it was harder than I thought it would be. Still modern technology like FaceTime makes these kinds of situations much better.

However, I did use the weekend to prepare for my mother’s imminent arrival in Berlin (yay!), and this resulted in a bit of spring cleaning, both on- and off-line. Yesterday, I randomly got sucked into my email inboxes and deleted all old mails that had been resolved. I forwarded myself the ones I needed to do something with this week, and went from over 400 mails between all my inboxes to “just” 80-ish.

Of course, real-life space is less forgiving and I had a bit of mass to get rid of. Saturday consisted of going throughout the entire apartment (which, as I think I’ve mentioned before, is actually my parent’s apartment?) and cleaning/removing most traces that I’ve been living here like a bachelor for 10 months. It doesn’t help that my brother (the actual bachelor) joined me for four of those, so the task was arduous. But we got it done! And we get to benefit from the cleaner/neater space as well.

I haven’t just been spending my time indoors, though.

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Tiergarten Town Hall

 Most recently, I’ve discovered Berlin-Moabit, the grungy sister to Prenzlauer Berg (where all the starter-ups and hipsters hang out). It’s part of the greater district Tiergarten (home to the famous huge park of the same name in the middle of Berlin) and a little more low-key compared to the rest of Berlin, but still very cool.

In Moabit, my brother and I discovered a hole in the wall there that’s been turned into a burger-joint and plays mix-tapes (from actual boom-boxes hung on the walls). I also discovered one of Berlin’s old 10 in-door markets right across from, I kid you not(!), a training ground for bicycle riders. I couldn’t get a good photo yet, but one day I will post the tickle-me-pink neatness of the road and bike lane replicas, the traffic lights and street signs that are to aid the youth of Berlin in navigating the city on their bikes safely.

Moabit is also home to a lot of great old Berlin architecture and generally not visited by many tourists, so I think I’ll visit there more often, if just to get away from the steadily increasing masses on Ku’damm, in Potsdamer Platz, and all Berlin’s main attractions.

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Pickles in a jar, pringles and bagels that weren’t half bad when I toasted them

In other news, Aldi (which extended its long arm to the US a while ago in Trader Joe’s, and now under its own name) had “America Week” this past week, where all it’s special items were America-inspired. Asides from the items I bought, they had a whole assortment of peanut-caramel-chocolate concoctions that they think represented US sweets. Good job, you guys.

Finally, in spring news, this being my first spring with actual planting space, I’ve discovered my thumb is more green than I previously believed.  Growing up in south Florida, there was gardening to be done year round and I always associated it with trimming hedges and trees, pulling weeds that never froze and died, or digging in a sandy soil that was as unforgiving on my hands as for the plants. I never thought of the fun part of gardening where things you plant in fall pop out in spring. Turns out, I like gardening!

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Oh, and finally for real this time, I got that scholarship I was hoping for last time I wrote. You are now reading the work of a fully-funded PhD student. My parents are so relieved proud. 

Hope you have a good week! -Dorothea

Happy International Women’s Day

I came in for an uncharacteristic mid-week post to wish everyone a happy Women’s Day.

I guess some people need to be reminded that this day does not mean women think they deserve more attention than men. This day is a gesture to acknowledge the achievements of women in the millennia past that have been overlooked by establishments and communities.

That being said, this means that men can celebrate this day as well. That is, men can celebrate unless they don’t think women had any achievements, in which case I’d invite them to imagine a world in which they are required to both work full time and be 90-100% responsible for the care and upbringing of their children, held morally and ethically responsible for every accidental pregnancy that occurs, be witty, entertaining and fit while also kept out of schools, places of discussion and worship, and physical sport, and a world in which the structure of DNA hadn’t been discovered, we didn’t know how to program computers, we didn’t have hypertext fiction, nuclear fission (though that one, given the atomic bomb, may be worth imagining a world without), pain and Alzheimer’s treatment, signal flares, polonium and radium, HIV and AIDs treatments, IVF treatments, or radio pulsars…all things trail-blazed by women  that I think we can all be grateful for and (those are just a selection from the things that we know about).

I think most everyone gets this. However, I still struggle against those who say that they are willing to let women do anything and that they respect women when these same people hold women to standards of behavior and expectations that limit the opportunities women have to reach their full-potential… and it’s not just men who are at fault here. Women often limit other women in their expectations and standards, and I find this whole cycle frustrating and worth talking about.

I celebrate this day inspired by all achievements of all people, curious about those I don’t know about- because I know there are a lo we haven’t/don’t hear or read about-and imagining my future based on my potential that is unbridled and wholly me. I just want to know that whatever I want to do will be allowed and supported by the government, laws, and people around me, and that whatever achievements I make won’t be overlooked or stolen from me. That’s not a lot to ask, and it’s something I ask for both men and women and anyone in-between/ or without.

James Turrell and the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof

Of course, given all the talk about my name in the past week, I had to visit the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof yesterday.

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The Dorotheenstadt cemetery, officially the “Cemetery of the Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichswerder Parishes,”  is a ‘landmarked Protestant burial ground located in the Berlin district of Mitte’ (Wikipedia) which dates to 1762 and in which many, many famous Germans are buried: Bertoldt Brecht and his wife Helene Weigel, who also happened to live next door to the cemetery, Hegel, Fichte, Heinrich Mann, Arnold Zweig, Anna Seghers, Regisseur Heiner Müller and the Prussian architects Friedrich August Stüler and Karl Friedrich Schinkel, among others. It’s called the “Prominenten [basically VIP’s] cemetery” of Berlin and is located in Stadtmitte (a city district in the center of Berlin) near Oranienburger Tor, which used to be the north entry to a much smaller Berlin. It’s also near the Jewish Synagogue of Berlin and the Bertoldt Brecht Haus. A lot of the cemetery and the chapel were affected by WWII, but the chapel was reconstructed in the 1960s and a dedicated space for James Turrell’s (a US American artist and architect) concepts of space and light since then. It is this chapel my brother and I visited yesterday, having been to the cemetery in the past to appreciate the space and resting grounds of many important German thinkers.

Since being in Berlin 2017, I’ve tried to do something unique to Berlin at least twice a month. Lately, it’s been something at least once each weekend. The past two weekends were taken care of by the Berlinale- Berlin’s international film festival, which featured some really great movies (better, dare I say, than some of the movies up for Oscars tonight).

To just return to those viewings for a second: The really neat thing about the Berlinale was that the directors, producers, and/or actors as well as others involved would be available for Q & A after the movies. The awards ceremony for the Generation group (movies with kids as a main focus) was especially fun to watch.

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The Glass Bears

However, this weekend, I spent a leisurely Saturday morning while preparing for my long run, came back from my long run and felt like a zombie, and decided it was a good reason as any to get some blood pouring through my legs again. I had looked for things to do in the morning, but didn’t really find much except for a play and a few random destinations. So I went for my run.

After refueling with pancakes, I looked again and stumbled upon the “tips for the day” put out by the Berlin event planner thingie (don’t know who’s job it is to arrange these things, but I’m glad they’re there!) and found an event that met my expectations: interesting, I knew where it was located, and it was inepensive- cost 5 Euro reduced entry free.

The event started at 5 pm, which I later found out was so that one could see the chapel during the day and then experience sunset and the effect of the light changes from inside the chapel. Being there a bit early gave me the chance to catch a few shots from outside and surrounding gardens:

After getting seated in the chapel, which was arranged like any other chapel- benches, alter in the front, space in the back for the organ, but otherwise rather spartan, I tried to wrap my head around the unusual lighting. There was a bright blue light coming from the walls, and bright green coming from the alter that while pleasant enough, just seemed artificial. I didn’t feel like I was properly in God’s space. It didn’t help that people were chatting and laughing and on their phones.

But then a member of the parish came up and introduced the space before introducing the curator of the art installation. The young curator told us about James Turrell and his work, as well as his ideas for the chapel. It is an interesting coincidence that the one event I chose this weekend in Berlin had to do with a US American, but it’s also a refection of how globalized we are.

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At any rate, I was thrown back to my art studies and how complementary colors work and how lights affect ability to gauge dimensions, and so I was really into the design aspect of the space. Then, the parish member lit the candles of the alter, and I was surprised at how the natural light balanced the artificial light that no longer was unappealing to me anyway.

There were some great violets and oranges that I didn’t photograph. Once the prayer was said and the candles lit, the space was mostly quiet and it was a great chance to reflect and let the lights do their magic… and it really was magic.

Leaving the chapel, my brother remarked that what we did was low-keyed for a weekend outing, but it was really nice. It got us a chance to see something unique and participate in a little event that not many knew of or were there for. I know many people who come to Berlin are more interested in the big monuments and events of the city, but one shouldn’t forget the small ones. I guess getting to know them is part of the perks of living in that space, and not just visiting.

For those interested, the event happens every Wednesday and Saturday half an hour before sunset, and costs 10 Euro, 5 Euro reduced for students, veterans, seniors, and those on benefits.

Random Q & A

Blair from “The Shameful Sheep” writes some pretty funny stories about her daily thoughts and life… and so it figures that a Q & A by her will be funny too. It helps that the questions are a bit unusual and not something you would expect to find out about someone.

Since I feel like sharing some unsolicited facts about myself, here you go:

1. Who are you named after? 

My mother named me after the second wife of a famous German poet. This means that not only was I kind of cursed to hear my name mispronounced by English-speakers my entire life, I was also destined to dedicate my life to poetry, or marry a poet… something like that. Also, “Dorothea” comes from the Ancient Greek for gift of god, which is how I think of myself in relation to the world. You’re welcome. 

2. Do you like your handwriting?

I used to have the kind of cursive handwriting that was so unique (and intricately cursive, yet too intricate to be called “awful”) that only a few select people in my classes were handed my papers for peer-checking, because they were the only ones who could decipher it. These people were also my best friends. Now, my handwriting, like my demeanor, have settled down a bit. I still like my cursive more than my print.

5. Do you still have your tonsils?

Yep. Isn’t that such a great fact to know about me?!

6. Would you bungee jump? 

Probably yes, but only after freaking out about it the hours before hand. I’m scared of heights, but also super-competitive and like to take on a challenge. I also like adrenaline rushes, hence running.

9. What is the first thing you notice about people?

Whether they are the kind of people who look you in the eye. I’m a huge “look you in the eye” kind of person, so it’s obvious when the other person isn’t. I try not to be creepy about it, though, and sometimes, if doing it for too long, get cross-eyed.

11. What color pants are you wearing? 

I got some mint green pj pants for Christmas with sledding cats and “meowy Christmas” on them. It’s near the end of  February. They make me happy. 

13. If you were a crayon what color would you be?

Blair’s answer to this was poop brown. I don’t think I’d want to be a bodily excrement color! My color would be “Maximum Blue Green.” Best of both worlds and top of its game.

19. Scary movies or happy endings? 

I can’t watch scary movies, because I then believe in things that I previously hadn’t heard of and can’t sleep alone. So happy endings. But I actually like the movies where the ending is not cliched happy the best. It’s okay to leave the viewer with a mellow ending that prompts thinking about life.

20. Last movie you watched? 

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. My brother and I are rewatching all the Peter Jackson Tolkien tributes. We’re currently 2/3s of the way through the extended edition of Battle of the Five Armies and it makes me so happy to have this to look forward to this evening!

23. Night owl or early bird? 

Early bird. One hundred pro. Even if I take about an hour to meander from bedroom to kitchen to my writing table, I love the feeling of waking up in the morning and starting a new day. I’m usually too tired by 2300 to notice it’s also a part of the day.

24. Favorite day of the week? 

I love Saturdays. It’s the weekend and buffered by one other day before the new week starts. I can do ANYTHING on a Saturday, planned or unplanned, and still have Sunday to recover.

25: Which three of your favorite bloggers do you want to know more about? 

Like Blair, I just “want to know more about a lot of people – so I’m not going to nominate. I’d love to read everyone’s response. So, if you want to fill out the questions and post them, make sure you let me know in the comments so I can go read them.”

Thanks for saving me some typing, Blair.

 

 

Update on Life in Berlin in Winter

A week ago I wrote on my running site that I was going to post to my “other” (this) blog soon. A week is still “soon,” right? So much for posting about life in general. I guess  I’m too busy living it to write about it much. But let it be said, things are mostly good and Berlin is cold and gray, but still a lot of fun.

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Things I did recently worth writing about:

  • I visited a national Turnkunst exhibition. Turnen is a sport similar to gymnastics, but while we associate gymnastics in the US with girls, it used to be a “bro” sport in Europe and involved the typical bro culture. In Germany especially, Turnen fraternities were largely responsible for the mobilization that lead the to the (failed) 1848 revolution to get Germany to unite from all its little kingdoms and townships. Going there introduced me to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
  • I also visited the International Grune Woche: basically a convention for world produce, agriculture, bee culture, farm culture, rock gardens, nutrition…, I think you get the idea. I was impressed by a device exhibited that’s supposed to determine the sex of the chicken in an egg while it’s still an eg. This device would help prevent waiting for the egg to hatch before killing the chicken if it’s a male. I was also excited about all kinds of free samples and thought it was neat to be in Berlin’s convention center for the first time. It was pretty cool!
  • Finally, I most recently  (as mentioned in my running log) traveled with my brother to Lower-Saxony and had a skiing vacation in mountains of the Harz national park. It’s so beautiful there… and has a reputation for its deli specialties and witch motif. Apparently, witches celebrate Walpurgis Night (featured in Goethe’s Faust as well as re-imagined in Joyce’s Ulysses) on the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz, and the theme is carried out in all the shops, restaurants and hotels- partially for the sake of tourists, but also an homage to this history and it’s suitable for the region. Wandering around the quaint German town (I had forgotten about the German architectural stereotypes living in Berlin now) after dark was a bit exhilarating.

Looking forward, the Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Fest is currently in its 67th rendtion, and I am actually willingly leaving my flat on weekends to participate. I’ve opted for only one day of the weekends, not both, and I’ve limited myself to watching 5 of the many, many options. I’ve never participated in a media event of this magnitude before. I guess living in Berlin does have it’s perks!

And it’s not all gray.

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p.s. I continue to follow the news in the US with great interest.