Germany

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.

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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Breidtscheidplatz 19. Dez 2016

I don’t have anything useful to add to the news reporting about what happened in Berlin last night, but I think two people said it well:

Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière:

There is a psychological effect in the whole country of the choice of words here, and we want to be very, very cautious and operate close to the actual investigation results, not with speculation.

and

The UK Labour party’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry:

Our thoughts are with all those killed and injured in the horrific incident in Berlin, and with their families. We stand united in sorrow and solidarity with all the people of Germany, as well as with all those affected by today’s attacks in Switzerland and Turkey.

These lights will shine differently tonight.

Advent and Christmas Spirit in Berlin

I know the title is about Berlin, but I have a few photos of my visit to Hamburg last weekend that I wanted to share as well. Same theme, different (beautiful) city.

I’ve been meaning to post for some time now and just found myself overwhelmed by school, work, work for school, applying for scholarships, trying to get some social life in… not to mention, exercise, eat, and sleep–it’s all a bit much. But I figured I’d relieve some of the pressure that I’ve put on myself by making a short post about Christmas in Germany, round 2.0 (see the archives for Round 1.0 in Hamburg in Dec 2014). That way, I can decide to tune-in a few times through the rest of the year with photos and maybe an end-of-year post that probably is too self-reflective anyway to be super interesting, but I won’t feel bad if I remain tuned-out of WordPress and tuned-in into the rest of my world.

That aside, there are two things that make the holiday season unique in Germany:

  1. Advent
  2. Christmas markets

img_2013Now, I think it’s pretty clear that Germany is developing into a recognizably multi-cultural, -ethnic, -religious space. However, its social life is still heavily framed by a Christian (mostly Lutheran in the north and catholic in the south) background and traditions, and these traditions play out in various corners of the social spheres. One way that Advent is noticeable by living in Germany is the sale of wreaths and evergreen arrangements with four candles, one for each Sunday of the waiting for the baby Jesus. People wish each other a happy Advent Sunday and it’s assumed that households will have a candle set of some kind in their homes and light one more candle each Sunday as the 24th draws near with their inner family circle or with friends and extended family. It’s a time of togetherness, quiet, and reflection… and a lot of goodies: Lebkuchen, Domino Steine, Zimtsterne… the baked goods in Germany are delicious anyway, but around December they are especially good.

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Since Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, the Advent season is as long as it can ever be: 5 weeks. Starting the weekend after Thanksgiving (good thing most Germans don’t celebrate both!) and carrying through the 24th, Advent is a chance to feel legitimately festive all through the month.

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Included in Advent are the Advent calendars. One sees these boxes with little doors for each day of December in US stores now too-most notably Trader Joes, Aldi (both German, btw) and The Fresh Market. However, in Germany they can get a lot more elaborate, there’s many more brands to chose from, and many people make their own for their loved ones.

Still, while people may not have heard of German Advent customs, they most likely have heard of the Christmas markets. Nuremberg is an extremely popular one in the US, but each German town will have one or more, and while some are just a place to get Christmas-y festival food and drink (basically every other stand has waffles or crepes or candied almonds or mulled wine [Glühwein]), a lot are still special with hand-made crafts, carol singing, and unique items for sale that may make a good gift after a mulled wine or three. A few larger markets will have amusement rides, which aren’t really my thing, or ice-skating rinks… which I wouldn’t mind visiting!

So I leave you with a few choice images of Adventszeit in Berlin, and I wish you a healthy, safe, and as-stressfree-as-possible holiday season.

–  Dorothea

US civic duty while across the pond 

This isn’t going to be a last-minute candidate support post. Really. I’m actually only interested in basic politics and promoting the basic rights we citizens of the US have as a part of  a democracy. I’m here to remind you to go out and make democracy count… and I guess that means I don’t care who you vote for–just go and vote. 

I’m sure no one has forgotten about the culmination of one of the craziest campaigns in my living memory… and from what I’ve heard, perhaps of all time: Election Day: November 8th 2016. It’s here! 

I definitely haven’t forgotten. In fact, I’ve been reminded about it since coming back to Germany. All people want to talk about lately is “what do you [as the American] think about the election?” I’ve also had to plan for this election differently because of my status of being absentee. 

On my way home from work yesterday, where I finally managed to fax my ballot, I thought about the pros and cons of absentee voting. Pros: don’t have to wait in line for possibly a long time, being stuck accidentally talking to people I’ve never met before and may not meet again, even if we do live in the same district, or being stuck trying ignore them for (possibly) several hours. Cons: Maybe I would have gotten to have interesting conversations while on line. I don’t get an “I’ve voted” sticker. I also got stuck with the  logistics of requesting a ballot in time (30 days in most states), receiving that ballot, filling it out and sending it back, paying at least postage fees if not faxing charges.

 But I didn’t really have a choice so…

I was able to request my absentee ballot per decent length application per email, and received it per email. I did have to mail a hard copy of my request for it to be counted, and I wasn’t allowed to email my ballot either. Still, I could send in my ballot in time, even if my email did get caught up in the junkmail folder and I only found out I had it Sunday. At least I didn’t have to give up my right to a secret ballot. At least I found a fax machine I was gracefully allowed by my interested coworkers to use for free. Everything went well, and if I could manage to get it done, you probably can, too. 

Asides from that, I think the term absentee is interesting. It implies that I’m absent from the place and situation I should be. I really should be in the US right now (and it would make following the post-poll closure coverage a lot easier!), but I’m here, and luckily, due to the conflation of space with modern technologies, I’m not totally absent. I voted, I’m going to find people to watch the results with, and overall, I am invested in the fate of my country. 

 Of course, since I plan to be here at least two more years, some people may say that I won’t be immediately affected by the outcome of this election… but those people are unaware of the extent to which we are globalized. I’m sorry to say, there’s a reason the election is being covered so closely here in Germany. It’s not just because of the fact that the US is already kind of great. It’s because diplomatic relations are important in a world where “isolation” doesn’t exist and German leaders will maybe have some trouble with whomever may win. This is true of most of the world, and I hope that’s not ethnocentric thinking,  but I really do think the outcome of this election will have ramifications for international diplomacy, and of course the global stock market. 

I guess I just have to wait and see with the rest of the US citizens. 

Just know, you can’t complain about the election if you don’t even take part. 

Also, no matter what candidate wins, we still need to have serious talks about the state of the US.

But finally, just for fun: Key of Awesome parody (you don’t have to click if you don’t want to!)

Study Abroad Tip: Always try in-person

Just a quick note about something I’ve learned during this second bout abroad:

Always try to figure things out in-person or via telephone.

Getting anything accomplished relating to official business at the German universities requires patience and know-how. Being an Google-friendly society, many of us look towards search engines as providers to answers for life, the universe, and everything (though, I don’t know why they bother with the internet when it’s 42). The problem with the webby bureaucracy of German universities, whose administration offices are spread all over the place just like their classrooms, is that navigating the webs, analog and digital, is tricky.

For each thing that needs to be accomplished, use the web to find out where it gets done, and then spare yourself the trouble of navigating the websites. Call the number of the office or info-center and ask your questions in person- much less complicated. The good news, most people who answer the phone have to have good English to have gotten their position. It helps, though, to be able to express yourself in German.

I recommend calling, but visiting the office and physically showing someone what documents you have, don’t have, don’t know you have, makes things easier as well.

I like to think that Germans make up for their extremely low student fees by having minimal support for their students. I also think, part of their entrance qualifications is figuring out how to enroll in their school. It’s a rite of passage that I haven’t quite made yet, but I’m almost there. There will be champagne (or at least a really fancy beer) once I finally have my admittance papers.

 

15 years ago…

This marks the first year that I’m not in the US on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. While I didn’t expect there to be any sort of reminder other than the interactions I made with the online world, I was surprised to hear tributes to victims and observance of September 11, 2001 on German radio stations.

Apparently, even though most of the world, contrary to US belief, hold reservations about the US being the best country on Earth, they still are very tied to the 9/11 Attacks and their history is tied to the US on this day. For example, there were also German citizens in the Towers and nearby in NYC on that day. Furthermore, the resulting “War on Terror” drew in various countries all over the world, and let’s not forget the growing threat of terrorist attacks since then.

“A thick bundle of black smoke is hanging outside the tower. It looks too heavy to hang there. An aeroplane comes in slow motion from the corner of the screen…” “The aeroplane comes again. The television shows it again and again.”- Brick Lane by Monica Ali, pg. 366

Since starting my PhD project dealing with intermedial references in contemporary literature to events like the 9/11 attacks, I’ve been forced to address the large amount of discussion in German intellectual circles about the event and its mark as a “turning point” in history. Arguably, having a massive symbol of western capitalism and ideology attacked and destroyed before the eyes of the world– camera crews were on hand to capture the second crash into the Towers–shifted “what is possible” and “how do communities react?” for the world as well as for the US.

Still, it’s a strange feeling to be a US native in a German city, hearing about this event both as a mature adult and as a representative of my country- for, despite how good my German is and how integrated I am into the social, legal, and academic structures here, I am still “the American.”  I like to think I have a special claim to memory and grief in regards to this event, because I was one of the millions of school children sent home early that day to find safety with family- since many US Americans feared even more attacks scattered all over the US. I was someone whose normal routine was interrupted by a call by someone who happened to catch the news and gave instructions to turn on the television news. I was someone who sat at home with my family, television news running in the background, trying to get in contact with people we knew who were in NYC and the Pentagon, wanting to make sure that at least the people we knew personally had escaped death and, if lucky, weren’t in the area altogether. I was someone who couldn’t understand why one group of people could hate an ideology so much, that they would be willing to take the lives of anyone who lived in it.

Now that I’m older, more critical of the world and the way public trauma works, I realize that there’s a lot of “black and white” understanding of these events and the subsequent reactions of the US and countries around the world. It’s actually thousands of shades and tints of gray that no one person could summarize in his/her lifetime. Still, 15 years later, I think we can all agree that it was not the end of the world. Time moves on. Wounds heal. Movies are made, books written, and thousands of interviews and conversations add more layers to understanding the attacks (or rather, continuing to try to understand).

Fifty-five years from now (I’m an optimist- I believe there will be a 2071, I imagine my grandchildren asking me where I was during the 9/11 attacks. What will we tell them? How will they learn about it in school? What is the timeline of events that will appear in the history books, before and after September 11, 2001? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ve learned what it means to despise an ideology- Islamist fundamentalism is a pretty nasty piece of business- and  I hope I’ll never to have find out whether I’d be willing to kill someone of that ideology. I suppose an individual can be justified differently than 3000+ individuals. But that’s not a thought I want to end this post with.

Rather, I felt the need to publicly reflect on an event that is such a key part of recent public memory. I know I won’t be the only one who feels that way today, though most people don’t feel the need to share their reflection with the world.

I am grateful to live in a world so interconnected that a US American can be inspired to reflect in Germany, and that US Americans are wise enough to recognize their role in the world and work on being a productive member of it, even if we often disagree on the methods they take to fulfill that purpose. This interconnectedness- another word could be globalism in the cultural, political and economic sense- is, as we’ve seen, a double-edged sword that we’re still collectively learning to wield. Good luck to us all.

 

Some Exploring in Berlin: Hoppegarten and the Botanical Gardens

I have some time on my hands when I’m not motivating myself to be academic or apply for yet another job, so I’ve taken a few trips around Berlin these past few days.

I ride my bike a lot anyway, partially to make up for the fact that I’m not running and partially to avoid public transportation costs. Still, I always end up seeing something really neat, even if I get lost more than I thought possible just by making one wrong turn.

On the other hand, when I set out for a trip on purpose, I can also get a little disappointed.

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This is my “I rode 20 miles for this?” face

Still, it was worth the ride and I saw a little bit of Berlin outside of Berlin.

Today, I visited Berlin’s Botanical Gardens and saw all the plants gardeners from around the state had brought for the “Stauden Markt.” Stauden are bushes and shrubs, and I would never have thought I would be interested in shrubbery beyond getting past the Knights of Ni in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but there were a lot of interesting plants being sold, and a lot to see in the garden itself.

IMG_1757I even brought my first lily! It’s tall, bearded, and called “Stairway to Heaven.” I can’t wait for it to bloom… though I guess I’ll have to (and learn how to keep a plant like that alive) until next June.

I’m having a pretty good time so far in Berlin. Then again, I don’t have the stress of school or a job yet. I have my first interview tomorrow, though. Wish me luck!

-Dorothea

p.s. I finish this post just in time to start getting ready to watch Tatort, which is the longest running detective series in Germany and tradition on Sunday nights for many families.