Refugees and populism

This time I’m writing on a hot topic. Not hot because of its popularity, but hot because it causes controversies, pain and even war.

People tend to classify everything they get in contact with: colors, numbers, food, things and even people. How many classifications of the human race have there ever existed? If I remember the history book on Colonial New Spain, there were quite a lot. Now, how many wars have included racial definitions, belief or other human definitions as reasons to fight for?  What is race? What is religion?

We have all been following the press reporting on the US presidential campaign, either, if we are interested or not,  A radical and racist guy, we know who, is running a campaign to be elected President of one of the most influential countries in our times. In Europe, it’s not that clear because there are usually more than two parties running for elections. However, in France a party of the extreme right has been elected and has won in many of the French regions or départements. Germany has had a history of racism that caused millions of deaths is having again a problem that may have to do with the definition of ‘race’ believed by some people, maybe too many.   There is now a new party, the AfD or ‘Alternative für Deutschland’ a right-wing populist political party founded in 2013 that has won 7.1% of the votes and 7 out of 96 German seats in the 2014 European Parliament.  Some years ago, the Green Party was the third in the country and now?

In my opinion this party supports those old views and and is even worst than the New Nazis party. The New Nazis were mostly supported by young men with little chances in society, many unemployed or with bad paid jobs, with very little education. This has changed in the past years and the new extreme right is now supported by educated people and more women have been participating actively and have even got higher positions in this new party. If we look at the traditional way of life and the way families are organized, women are the ones responsible for passing their values to their kids, that is, to the next generation. These women and men are well educated…

(If you speak German, watch the documentation: Die Anti Asyl Front , http://goo.gl/KxgogV on German TV)

We my come to the conclusion that in Europe this phenomenon may be caused by the millions of refugees that have got there last year and the thousands who have tried it by sea in the last years crossing the Mediterranean and dying in the intent. This may be the case in Europe, but where are the millions of war refugees trying to get to the US? Isn’t ‘America’ an immigrant country or better an immigrant continent? I really dislike the idea of calling the US by ‘America’.  Since the 16th century people have been arriving there. Who were at that time the refugees?

I used before the word ‘race’, how do you define it? We are in the 21st Century, haven’t they heard about genetics? About the origins of the homo sapiens? about phenotypes? I have just read an article in the German paper talking about the Neanderthal genes that we all have.  Even in the same family, one child maybe blond and another have dark hair, one can be short another tall, one can have blue eyes, the other brown. What does this have to do with race and more, what does this have to do with nationality?  I wonder…

What is now happening in Europe, more precisely in Germany, where I lived for more than 20 years, is really shocking. On the one hand the arrival of more than a million of people with nothing would collapse any country and forgetting that not all are good souls, it simply gives me the creeps. Imagine that you invite two or three friends to dinner and they arrive with their families, friends and even their neighbors…  Oh, and they would stay indefinitely. I imagine that you wouldn’t be that pleased.

Germany, well, Angela Merkel, was the one who offered to welcome the refugees and to help them and the country started receiving refugees not only from the Middle East, mostly from the bombed Syria. However, Germany is already very crowded in a small space and the land doesn’t have enough space or schools or hospitals or homes for the people already living there. I don’t want say Germans because exactly using that term is what causes so much tension. Are only Germans entitled to live there? Who are those Germans? By nationality because they live and are registered there or because of their ‘blood’?  The ones living there, working, paying taxes, with children in school, or the ones whose families were there for generations and they may look a little bit alike? Are the first ones less ‘German’?

The current situation with a rise of populists parties all around Europe is not only a result of not liking foreign or different looking people, but it has also to do with the fact that people in the middle of the society fear loosing their status and their work gained position in society. This fear is exactly what those populists do, agitate people using their fears against those who are different or foreign.

I really would like to know where all this is going, but I prefer not to think and not to imagine… The scenarios may be horrible.

To understand a little bit more, you may read the following article: https://goo.gl/s8W0he

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Sankt Nikolaus and Krampus

Today is December 6th, a day awaited by all children and also all those children at heart in Germany. The first Christmas Markets have already opened. Grandmothers, mums and all those who enjoy it, have started baking Christmas cookies and cakes. We could say that Christmas is in the air…

Who is or who was Saint Nicholas? Nicholas was born around the third century A.D. in a territory that used to be Greece, and that is nowadays Turkey.  He was from a wealthy family though his parents died when he was still young. He was named bishop of Myra and he dedicated his wealth and life to help the suffering. If you want tor read more about him, follow this link http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/.

Saint Nicholas is not only well known in Europe, but also in the US in cities that have a big German heritage, such as Cincinnati, Milwaukee, among others.

In Southern Germany not only the good ones will get a present from “Nikolaus”, as he is known over here. No, those who have been bad or naughty will start sweating as St. Nikolaus doesn`t always come alone. He has a “partner” called “Krampus”. He is sometimes represented as a demon with a big sack where he packs children who have been bad and takes them away. I can imagine that having such a figure at your door will make you regret a lot, if not all of your sins in the past year.  And yes, it is a tradition in Southern Germany to engage someone to play the part of  Saint Nicholas and to ring at your doorbell. Parents with especially “difficult” children can also engage a “Krampus”… He would also be good for some difficult partners, don’t you agree? 😉

Krampus

Krampus, one of his representations

There is even a parade dedicated to this character, in an Austrian town at the Wörthersee.

To celebrate Saint Nicholas, families gather on the eve of the 6th in the warmth of their homes sharing cookies, a steamy tea and some “Glühwein” (spiced wine) for the adults.

There are many different recipes to prepare your own spiced wine. I would say that the classical ingredients for a red one are a 1 liter of a not very dry wine, an organic lemon sliced, some cinnamon ( 2 pieces of bark), 3 cloves, sugar white or brown, some cardamon.  You can also add orange peel and some aniseed, if you like. Add the ingredients to the wine, heat it, but be careful not to boil it, and leave it warm for an hour or so. Ready, enjoy!

Some families will be awaiting the visit of Nikolaus with his presents singing the Nikolaus song:  “Lass uns froh und munter sein…”, which would be more or less “Let us be happy and cheerful…”

Other families will leave a shoe with a small letter for him at the main door. On the next morning, the morning of the 6th, a plate with “Lebkuchen” or gingerbread  cookies, oranges, clementines, nuts, a chocolate Nikolaus and maybe some extra present for the little ones.

Nikolaus plate

Brought by Nikolaus

 

Especially on the weekends, the Christmas markets with all their smells, lights and charm are very attractive. There are cities famous for their markets, such as Nürnberg. You may book a tour to visit the Christmas market. However, Munich has also got a wide selection of markets, from the very commercial and well known one at Marienplatz to smaller ones. Almost every neighborhood has got its own. There is avery nice one, specialized in handcrafts at the Münchner Freiheit, which is a square in the neighborhood Schwabing with the same named underground station. There you can find exclusive handmade jewelry, lamps, paintings, knitted clothing and very good food.

There is another very popular Christmas market downtown, called Medieval Market. The artisans sell their handmade products, such as leather goods, wood, ceramics and of course, mouth watering specialties, such as oven baked bread with sour cream and scallions.

Other smaller ones are the “Weihnachtsmarkt” in Haidhausen, next to the S-Bahn, or suburban station “Rosenheimer Straße. You can eat a delicious 1m “Bratwurst” or sausage and drink some hot honey wine from the horn, the same way the “Barbarians” did… There is a very small one, but not a secret one anymore, in the “Residence” yard. They mostly have food and spiced wine booths, and while enjoying your hot beverage you can listen to live Christmas music playing.

One of my favorites is the “Weihnachtsmarkt” at the Rotkreutzplatz, a square in Munich West. Here you can buy very nice candles, stoneware and wooden toys and before you get real cold, you can drink some “Glühwein”, too.

The last market I’m mentioning is the “Tollwood”. It is not only a market,it is really called “Tollwood Winter Festival” and you can find it in the same area where the famous Oktoberfest takes place, in the “Theresienswiese” with direct underground access.  It’s nice to visit this place when it’s dark and snowing. As you may remember, it’s already dark at 4.30 pm However, on Saturday and Friday evenings you may rather stay home or go somewhere else because it will be very crowded. The good thing about it, you will forget everything about the cold weather, especially in the tents 😉 Another important thing to remember, most of the Christmas  markets will be open till 8 o’clock, except Tollwood.

Tollwood

The Tollwood Christmas market

 

I know that this tradition is now very popular all over the world, so look for the Christmas market close to your place and get some Christmas inspiration 🙂

 

Tying the knot

For many the wedding day is the most expected day in their lives, it’s the day a dream comes true. It is the day when you officially commit to your best half. Every culture has its own traditions and rites. Rites are more often observed on such a day than in normal life. We all want to show our best face and share joy and happiness with the guests.

I remember the weddings of my older cousins, lots of planning, deciding and excitement. Who will be invited to the religious ceremony and who will attend the party afterwards? Where is it going to take place? Coming from a country where the extended family plays a very important role, weddings are usually very big events. However, the longest weddings I have attended to have been German weddings. I know that Indian weddings may last for days and that brings to my mind the funny film ‘Monsoon Wedding‘ where bride and groom hadn’t met before. Their marriage had been arranged by their parents. Although this doesn’t sound very nice to our “Western” ears, I sometimes wonder if this method is not better that our ‘marrying the love of our lives’.

Monsoon Wedding

Film “Monsoon Wedding”

Thinking of the weddings I have attended in Mexico City, I remember every one of them as being quite formal, except mine. Everything designed and well combined. They usually started with a religious ceremony in church and then a big meal in a luxurious restaurant. After the meal, mostly a dinner, live music was played and everybody would dance. Sometime later, the just married couple would cut the Wedding cake and shorty afterwards the party was over. Weddings in small towns or villages in Mexico are very different, depending on the geographical location. In general, they last longer and may even include the whole village to celebrate the marriage.

In the city there is always a dress code that should be followed unless you would like to stand out… I remember that for the wedding of one of my brothers, one of the younger ones who had been working in Europe, came into the restaurant, that was a colonial hacienda with a big garden, in a kilt. It was quite a surprise! When the dancing started the nicest couple was my brother in his kilt dancing with my daughter, at that time 5 years old, in her Bavarian dress, a dirndl. They were very sweet!

In Sao Paulo, women like to dress feminine and elegant, I would say, very sexy, with deep décolletés and very high heels. However, many of them are catholics and want to get the blessings in church. Therefore, the witty Brazilians always have a box with all kind of shawls in different colors to lend to the ladies while attending the mass. Clever, isn’t is? Another great idea for ladies wearing really high heels is that the couple orders many pairs of flip-flops in all sizes to be given out when the dance is starting. The flip flops or thong sandals may be designed in the colors used for the flower bouquets and the table decoration and they can even have the name of both printed, for example Pedro e Leopoldina 😉

I have also attended a couple of traditional weddings in Bavaria. Lots of food and tons of cake! Weddings over here are either Bavarian or simply different. I like to see the families in their traditional costumes, called Trachten in German. For younger men shorter Lederhose and knee high Lederhose for older men. In these occasions women are the ones wearing the longer dresses! There are also long ‘Dirndl‘, that’s the name of the traditional dress for ladies, middle ones and the very short ones, very popular among young girls, and men… All men, at least all Bavarian men, will agree that a Dirndl is the best way to underline a woman’s treasures… for the dirndl women usually wear a special brassiere called “balconette” that offers a very good support and forms a perfect décolleté… a little bit like a balcony…  Traditional clothing has become so popular that during the world’s famous Oktoberfest it is now normal to see Asians, South European, African Americans wearing a dirndl, an imagine, even Mexicans!   I’m mentioning those origins, because it is difficult to distinguish a blond Swedish or Austrian from a blond German girl, that’s why, me, a small dark haired Mexican looks very different indeed…(Me 😉 )

That to the dress code. Other German weddings are not that strict regarding the dress code. You can wear what you want, a little bit more elegant than everyday… and I think that sometimes that is the problem… Some guests keep their blue jeans and if lucky, wear a shirt instead of a t-shirt keeping their comfortable walking shoes.

A Bavarian wedding is not only Bavarian fashion, there are also lots of food, music and anecdotes.  Some traditional weddings start early, at about 10 or 11 o’clock and while waiting for the guests and family to gather,  “ Weißwürstchen und Brezen” are served. For those who are very thirsty, they can start the day with a Weizen or Weißbier, a wheat based beer.  After this “light” second breakfast, there is usually a ceremony in church, catholic or protestant.

weißwurstfrühstück

Brezen, Weißwurst und Bier

(Image from: http://www.typisch-bayerisch.de/index.php/essen-trinken/weisswurstfruehstueck/248/)

After mass, guests and the just married couple go to the restaurant where the party takes place.  Drinks will be served, yes, you’ve guessed right, more beer: a Pils or a Helles or a Radler or… and of course, other beverages. If it’s noon or half past noon, lunch will be served. A typical starter is a broth with some “Spätzle” or thick noodles made of eggs and flour and others with liver. There is a special “Wedding soup” also made of broth, usually no chicken broth, served with two or three dumplings, one only made of eggs and flour, and the other one with liver, too.

Afterwards they serve a traditional salad, not very big, with raw red and white cabbage, rasped carrots, rasped turnips and maybe lettuce and tomatoes. Ah, and of course finely sliced paprika, red or yellow. The dressing is usually thin and a little milky and it shouldn’t be sour.  Sometimes in between the courses there are stories on the life of bride and groom, usually funny, sometimes indiscreet… depending on the person telling the story. The now married couple expects their friends and family to perform some sketches with funny and nice episodes in their lives for example, how the couple met, or the first visit to the in-laws, among others.There may be some games and word games, but not for everyone to take part in, but only as clapping and laughing spectators. That would be too spontaneous… Continuing with the menu, usually some dish with pork meat, may be some filet medallions with champignons or pepper sauce, and to be fair, there may also be a “meatless” option for the many vegetarians here.

Afterwards the dancing music starts and the couple and guests start to dance usually in pairs and strictly following the steps they have learned in dancing school. It is very common for teenagers in Germany to go to dancing school to officially learn the most popular dances, especially the Waltz. The ladies are the ones who enjoy this part of the party while many of the gentlemen discreetly engage in deep conversations about football or they simply “disappear” out of the room to stretch their legs 😉

Everybody brings the presents and congratulates the freshly baked couple. Hopefully, everything turns out fine and the couple may start their honeymoon…

I also hope not many of the delighted couples organize dress, wedding car and honey moon on a boat with these items I found close to my place.  They remind me of Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride”…

Bride's paradise

Brautparadies… (= Bride’s paradise…)

Have a nice week!

Ulysses and coming home

I feel like the female Ulysses, may be Odyssey would sound more feminine. Yes, after a very long trip that lasted 27 years I am now heading home… Is it really home? To a certain extent yes, but I’m really also leaving home behind…

Do I have someone like Penelope who has been waiting for me all that time and who has been faithful all those years? I’m pretty sure that no, nobody has been waiting for me all that long spending time and weaving. However, many old friends, acquaintances and my family are vey happy, or so they say…, of having me around. It’s been a very long time and I’ve lost many names on the way, names of friends, family members, colleagues, neighbors, but I’m sure that new names are waiting for me in the new old shore in the New World… Leaving Old Europe is difficult, all the culture and cultural differences so close and easy to reach… provided time and money are there to enjoy it.

Going back to Ulysses. On his travel he encountered giants, cyclops, witches, sirens, females who tried to spellbound him… Have I encountered those creatures? making some analogies and if you imagine me of a very small size trying to compete with German men for the only free space in the subway, I would say yes! I’ve encountered giants, cyclops and strong amazons, too. Those women who reach to the sky and look healthier and stronger than an olympic athlete. They have been part of my reality for a long time.

Sometimes when I have to fill in official forms asking me about my country of birth, believe me, I’ve been very tempted to write: Lilliput… Some other times I’ve had to control myself to avoid writing the name of some capital in one of the countries of the Mediterranean or in the Middle East… So, imagine me living in this side of the world where the ‘natives’ are almost always fairer and much taller than myself… I’ve got mostly used to it. However, I have been very scared once or twice with the aggressive behavior of the cyclops trying to crush me… Don’t worry, I survived and the experience made me even stronger ;-).

A giant

Help! A giant!

(Image from: http://pdp-meghanhill.blogspot.de/2012/12/research-for-guess-who-giants.html)

The very first time that I lived in Munich was in the ’80s and the physical appearance of the city hasn’t changed that much. Although one the first things that caught my eye was the colors used in this part of Germany to paint the exterior of houses and buildings. They were what we could call ‘autumn or fall’ colors. They had all shades of brown, ochre, and especially that green that reminded me of the trees in the fall changing from green to brown. Many of the official buildings were decorated in ‘Moosgrün’ or mossy green and dark brown and lots of wood, preferably oak, not shiny but in an honey shade. Everything looked very sober and sad, at least to my eyes used to the extremely colorful Mexico… Sometimes too colorful. This has changed and you can now find warm yellow and the traditional white with red or brown tiles on the roof as being the most used colors for buildings and houses.

I remember that the most exotic place you could eat was the Chinese restaurant in one of the main streets close to the university. I don’t remember any other Asian food, no Indian, no Thai, no Vietnamese, no Sushi and of course no take away food. If you didn’t want to eat Bavarian food you’d have to choose the Italian or the Greek restaurant nearby. However, Italian restaurants were not the fancy and expensive restaurants that you can find now on every corner in downtown Munich. They compete against each other in exclusivity and price, swearing to be the most authentic one. Germans have always admired the Italian culture, we all have, but with such a fervor, only the Germans in Munich and surroundings. They even call Munich the most Italian city north of the Alps. As for the German love for Italy you may be interested in Goethe’s Italian journey. You can find a précis here: (http://www.nytimes.com/1986/09/21/travel/goethe-s-italian-journey.html)

I think you now understand better what I mean. I also love the Italian culture, the food, the art, the cities, everything, but… in Italy! I love my Italians friends, not because they are Italians, but because I like them and we understand each other. The best thing of all is when I go to ‘eat Italian’ (This is the expression you use in German) in Munich with an Italian friend. She usually speaks German to the waiters, who always greet you warmly with a “Buona sera, signora”. One day I asked her why, and she explained that most of them are not Italians and don’t speak Italian. I laughed and said that I knew what she was talking about because it also happened to me in some so called ‘Mexican’ and ‘Spanish’ restaurants. So we both stick to German. That to authenticity. As for that, yes, some of those places have a very good selection of dishes and very good wines, but the prices have reached such heights that I don’t find it affordable anymore… Let’s better save some money and enjoy some authentic Italian meals in Italy.

Munich… ‘Weltstadt mit Herz’ or City of the World with a heart… (Image from: http://www.amazon.de/Magnet-mit-Motiv-MÜNCHEN-Weltstadt/dp/B00H19QP0M)

münchen weltstadt mit herz

Weltstadt mit Herz

Going back to the eighties, Munich was not really an international city, as I was mentioning. There were, and still are, only two or so cinemas where you could watch movies in English or in the original language. On TV there were only the ARD, the ZDF and the BR … what are those? The official channels, the first, second and third German television programs and, if you were lucky and lived close to one of the borders you could maybe receive one of the foreign channels. Living in Munich we could also watch the Austrian official channels. What does that mean? First of all, we had to pay a TV tax that was calculated according to the number of TVs and the number of adults living in your place. Ah, and also the number of radios you had… and the radio in your car was counted extra… Yes, quite an amount to be able to watch 3 TV programs that promised you a very high quality and no advertisments! … Well, only some allowed commercials from 19:59 to 20:00 when it was time for the news.

By the end of the Eighties I moved to Munich from my “Third World” country and was shocked to not being able to watch my well known TV series and the end of some of the very popular shows at that time, such as Dallas! People here were very proud of having no commercials, we know, almost none, on TV… I always thought: Guys, you don’t have TV!  Change got here, too. We finally got some ‘private’ TV chains, the bad guys, with lots of commercials and American series… very bad for children… Nowadays, the official channels are struggling to keep their audiences and they are really worried because the average age of their viewers is about 65 years old… Imagine!

(http://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/183279/umfrage/durchschnittsalter-der-fernsehzuschauer-nach-sender/)

Durchschnittsalter der Zuschauer 2011

Age average of TV viewers 2011

We now have a lot of channels, which doesn’t mean that the quality has increased and we still pay TV taxes. You have to pay even if you don’t have a TV… The first cable TV was “Kabeldeutschland” and if I remember right, it was also “official”, which means they were monopolized, no alternatives. Currently we have also “Sky” and the Internet provider “Netflix” has just arrived.

I was mentioning the cinemas. There was a very big cinema called that way, Cinema, that showed films in English. It still exist and has enjoyed a popular comeback after and extensive face lifting. One or two art cinemas showed films in French or sometimes even Spanish or Italian. I was used to watching films in English with subtitles and got a little bit frustrated having to wait longer to watch brilliant films till ‘the actors learned German’, that is till they were doubled into German. It was also a shock listening to the German voices of my favorite actors… it still is and I still prefer to watch films in English… sigh… Going to the cinema was very expensive and that hasn’t changed. Although Germany is one of the countries that develops the best technology in cameras and other devices, they don’t like to change their old ways. If you go to the cinemas that show films in original versions you will feel like transported to the early eighties. The screens are better, but the rest is really retro, not pretending to be retro, they really are…

I don’t want you to think that I didn’t like living in Munich. No, I did enjoy it. Munich has a lot of good sides and attractions. I was only mentioning the difficulties, the difficult tasks to compare it a little bit to the Odyssey of Ulysses… And I am still looking for the female form of the name, I hope I find it before I leave Munich 😉

p.s. I found it in English, it’s Ulyssa!

 

 

 

The Other Senses

In elementary school and before that, we learn about our five senses.  We use them since the day we were born. We remember the sound of a song we used to listen to in our early childhood. When we smell something nice, for example, cinnamon and oranges, we think of Christmas. When we open the fridge and close the door because of the pungent smell like a blow to the nose, we suddenly remember the cheese we bought some weeks ago and we had forgotten because it was hiding, on purpose,  behind the big bottle…

In literature we find several references and associations to our senses as we come across metaphors. Some of these literary constructs may help us to read with more than one sense while others help us to get the whole picture, e.g. He (or she) is the black sheep in the family.

If you want to read about bad metaphors, and speak Spanish, you may want to read at the blog post “Malas metáforas” (http://boeneker.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/las-malas-metaforas-la-bici-lxix/) of a friend of mine, Heiner Boeneker.   For examples of sublime metaphors you can read the poetry of Ernesto Cisneros, also in Spanish. http://ernestocisnerosrivera.wordpress.com/page/2/

My topic is not metaphors or literature, but our senses, especially the other ones. The first sense that came to my mind was common sense. What does it mean? Why is it called common when it is so difficult to find? Is it true that some of us have more of it while others almost lack of it?

Does common sense have to do with safety, precaution or even fear?  Does it have to do with intelligence or education?   Here the definition: “Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by nearly all people, and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without any need for debate.”  Mmmm, all people?  Do we learn it, are we born with it, can we acquire it?  What if we don’t have enough of it? And in our modern times we could ask, can I buy it?  or can I find it in the Internet?

You may laugh at the idea and wonder, but the answer is yes.  http://www.wikihow.com/Develop-Common-Sense.  There is another web-page full with common sense http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/common_sense.html

It’s maybe easier than I thought. However, I’m not sure if this would be the right way to get some common sense.

Another sense that comes to my mind is the so called sixth sense. With this concept I start with the first definition that I found in the all knowing Internet 😉 Sixth sense: a supposed intuitive faculty giving awareness, not explicable in terms of normal perception. As this doesn’t really clarify the term I found another definition in the Merriam-Webster: a special ability to know something that cannot be learned by using the five senses (such as sight or hearing). This one is much better. However, what do they mean with special ability?  Do we all have it? Can we learn it? Are we born with it?  Sixth sense, it is a special sight? Have you ever had premonitions? Are prophecies true? Have you ever had your future told either by a card reading, a coffee reading or maybe runes or bones reading? Well, I have, which doesn’t mean I believe in all that the psychic person told me. It was however very revealing…

There are many films based on many of these psychic abilities. I think of the Sixth Sense (1999) with Bruce Willis. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0167404/?ref_=nv_sr_1   Another example is Carrie with telekinetic abilities, the first version from 1976, a horror classic of the seventies,  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074285/?ref_=nv_sr_4  which has been recently redone (2013).

The horror movie genre usually uses the idea of a sixth sense and “special abilities” in their plots to achieve fear and suspense.

Let’s leave the imaginary horrors and come back to reality 😉

Another sense I can think of is the sense of humor. I start from the premise that we all have one, good or bad, that depends on our definition.  A good sense of humor, how can we define what that is?  A person who makes a lot of jokes is a person with a good sense of humor? In my opinion, it’s not that simple and I would say no. Does it mean you laugh a lot or do you make a lot of “good jokes” or are your jokes cruel or sarcastic? Do you laugh at the expense of others?  Do you never laugh or almost never laugh?   Mmmm, this is getting more complex…

Is a good sense of humor defined by our house and family? By our nationality or rather the culture we grew up in? Have people who grew up in contact with many cultures a good sense of humor or is it really a personal matter?

Let’s take a look at the things that are considered funny in some cultures. What do we laugh about in Mexico or Germany or the USA?

If we take a look at comedies in TV or cinema, we find out that the most popular ones usually come from English speaking countries. I find it difficult to have access to comedies form other countries, even if I live in the so called “European Community”. What everyone can watch in free TV is American or, if we are lucky, British comedies. Among the newest American comedies we find “The Big Bang Theory”, “Two and a half men”, “Two broke girls”, “Modern family”, “Family Guy” or “South Park”. The brits have “Mr. Bean” and I cannot think of other examples.  Of the Golden Era we all know and enjoy “Laurel and Hardy”.  Are they international, can we all laugh at their jokes? I personally think that yes, indeed, some more, some less.  While living in Sao Paulo I was amazed to learn that a Mexican comedy was so popular there, “El Chavo del Ocho” and “El Chapulín Colorado”.  However, this show never made it across the ocean.

El Chavo del Ocho

El Chavo

Here in Germany there are some popular comedians, and by that I mean popular, which means “almost” everybody laughs with them. Some of the films are “Lissi and the Wild Emperor”, a parody of Sissi and Franz-Joseph which could be internationally understood. Another comedy of Bully Herbig is “Traumschiff Surprise” a parody of Star Trek. The humor is plain and sometimes funny, if you know the originals.

Lissi and the Emperor

Lissi and Franzl

 

Germans in general are not well known for their good or light sense of humor. This doesn’t mean that they don’t like to laugh or that they don’t laugh at all. However, to laugh with them you have to have a pretty deep knowledge of the culture and of the language 😉

German humor is heavy and they sometimes don’t know the limits. That is maybe why they are what in other cultures would be considered as rude.

Although I have been living here for more than 20 years I had to look away from the “humor” in one of the posters hanging these days in the streets. These are part of the political campaign to elect the Representatives for the European Parliament.

Radical poster

Controversial Poster of the right

Does humor have to do with taste? Good or bad?  I imagine that you will agree with me that this goes too far…  This party, a radical party of the far right, is asking “What a… are you going to vote for in September?” With this image they’re referring to representatives of the bigger political parties: the CDU/CSU the conservative right or the Black party, the Green Party, the social democrats SPD in red and the liberal democrats in yellow.

This radical party has not got the majority and is not representative of the country. However, it amazed me that such an offending poster could be used publicly all around the city! Have we lost our senses?

Good or bad taste? Good or bad humor? This last example is not an example of German humor, but only of one small group of people with narrow minds. They want to use hate and fear, if you see other posters in German cities,  claiming that the Islam and their mosques should be in Istanbul and not here in Germany.  Very populistic!

I’m sure that common sense will prevail in the elections so that we can continue with our good humor in this country.

 

The Dragon

Economy and finance are not my specialties. However, trying to live in a universe where money and finance rule the world is what I have to cope with everyday.

Is it possible that companies only look at their own benefits when it comes to workforce? They always want to increase their profit. I have never ever heard of a company that was satisfied with its earnings…
Now my question? Is a company an entity that breaths, sleeps, eats and decides on its own? Sometimes I come to think that companies are like the old dragons in ancient legends… They devour towns, burn crops and eat the princesses… =:-O But weren’t dragons created by human imagination? And aren’t companies founded, managed and brought to success by human beings?  Why is then so that money and profit matter much more than the well being of humans? This well being I’m referring to is not wealth or fame, it is only the right to have a job that allows you to live and feel human by doing so.

This weekend in an article in the newspaper “Die Welt” (only in German):

http://hd.welt.de/ausgabe-b/specials2-b/article126322364/Deutschland-riskiert-Erfolg-und-Wohlstand.html

Germany talks about risking its success and wealth by introducing a minimum wage, an earlier retirement age of 63 instead of the current 67 and by improving the rules for temporary work (Zeitarbeit). I ask myself again, is “Germany” a person or even “human”? Can “Germany” think and decide on its own?

It’s very comfortable to talk that way and to forget about the individuals, the single persons who constitute a company, a school, a country. It is also understandable that individuals have to build groups, find and share common interests, but are economic wealth, money and power really the common interests that we want to share as human beings?

In the article they (…or should I rather say “Germany” ?) are also worried that many companies will have to reduce their costs… again. How does this usually happen? By firing more people. They get rid of people in order to reduce the high costs that a fix wage would cause. Imagine the margins they are talking about! They are not planning on reducing the salaries of the managers or the costs of the top executives with company cars, business or first class airline tickets, evenings in expensive restaurants, etc. No, “they” prefer to get rid of more ‘workforce’ to continue enjoying the privileges of their high positions. Now, who are ‘they’? Those who have a well to very well paid position and have all the benefits, simply those who decide. Who is the ‘workforce’? The worst paid ones and also the temporal workers who have to accept a lower pay and worse working conditions than the contract workers in a company.

It is also true that we cannot find fairness in the world, and that we should not always compare ourselves with others, especially, if we cannot change anything at all. However, what I try to point out is that talking in an impersonal way: the company, the management, the country, we easily ignore that the unit of each one of this conglomerates is a person, yes, a human being, and not the capital, the money, the shares, the votes, or whatever…
We cannot either change society nor the economy, but I think that the economy has developed into a ferocious dragon that needs more and more victims to survive…

Another crucial topic in Germany is that most of the companies, top or middle, complain about not being able to find adequate candidates to hire… And we, qualified ‘workers’ older than 40!, are not even given the chance of starting in one of those positions and are denied the opportunity of showing “them” that we are able to learn fast. Because of our “advanced age” we also bring a lot of experience and many of the so called “soft-skills” so popular nowadays…
Currently, I know of some engineers, scientists, lawyers, … me… and other highly qualified ‘human beings’ who are struggling to find a job. So, what is happening? What kind of super being are the companies looking for? You usually find out that the ideal candidate should be flexible, well to highly educated, qualified, and, if possible… good looking, too!? 😉 And of course between 25 to 35 years old. In that case, I agree, there aren’t that many.

If I then consider the age pyramid in Germany, look at the picture… Then I ask myself, why do “they” insist on mostly hiring young people in a country that is not that young??

Image

From the “Sueddeutsche Zeitung”, 2010. (Männer = men; Frauen = women)

One of the consequences of this economic decisions is that there are a lot of time work companies who offer you a contract with them so that you can work as a hired workforce for another company to the lowest price. This contracts often offer less holidays and no long term contracts.
All these people with such time work contracts don’t appear in the unemployment statistics, where Germany makes a good figure compared to the countries in Southern Europe. Students who have finished and are looking for a job are not included in the unemployment statistics. People who aren’t registered as “looking for a job” in the Job Agency don’t count either. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbeitslosenstatistik#Nicht_in_der_Arbeitslosenstatistik_enthaltene_Unterbesch.C3.A4ftigung

Considering all these exceptions we may then understand why the unemployment rate is not that high…

I mentioned in one of my older comments that in this new economy I feel like in a modern slave market: you’re sold or given away, and maybe if attractive enough, you’re bought to the worst conditions and the cheapest price. If only Spartacus would come fast to save us!

However, I’ll take it easy and try not to get angry when I read such articles. I have just read in the blog of Enrique Boeneker, an excellent writer, that “bad news + anger = heart attack” .

http://boeneker.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/el-que-se-enoja-pierde-el-mundo-desde-mi-bici-lxxvi/#comment-80

As a conclusion, trying to change things that cannot be changed is impossible, I’ll try to accept them… However, I don’t know, if I’ll read the newspaper again…

I’ll better leave it here now and… Let’s hope for better times!

Berlin, Berlin…

Last November I spent two weeks in Berlin. For some of you Berlin may be of no interest or it may offer less compared to Paris or London. For others, Berlin as the capital of Germany may have a difficult or bad reputation.
 
I’ve been living in Germany for more than twenty years and had the opportunity of experiencing the Fall of the Wall here. Before those years I had only been once in West Berlin. The city was very crowded and the Wall was impressive. In the West part of the city there were observation points where you could take a look over the Wall at the East part. The German Democratic Republic was really another country although everybody was German. To be able to get an idea of this period in time there are some locations in Berlin to visit. First of all, Checkpoint Charlie which was the official point to cross from West to east Berlin during the Cold War and which has some old pieces of the wall left. 
 
Another interesting place to visit is the DDR Museum that offers a vivid view of every aspect of life in the German Democratic Republic. It is interactive and some products of the old DDR can be bought there, too.  A nice film to watch, Goodbye, Lenin.
Leaving the Cold War era, Berlin has experienced a fast modernization and is a proud example of modern architecture. Nice buildings are in and surrounding the Potsdamer Platz. One of the most famous is the Sony Center finished in the year 2000. It has place for restaurants, cinemas, offices and some living area. Next to the Sony Center there is a very big complex with more restaurants, cinemas, a new shopping mall, a theater and some first class hotels. 
If modern life with all its glamour gets to be too loud and “schrill” or jarring in about 15 walking minutes distance you can find a cultural oasis called the Kultur Forum. The famous Berliner Philharmonic is the first building that will attract your attention. If you cannot visit a concert there, take a tour and enjoy the building. Another idea would be to go on Wednesday afternoon to the small conference room where they show cultural films and other cultural events. And don’t forget that there are also “lunch concerts” to enjoy.
 
 
Next to the concert hall is the Gemäldegalerie or Picture Gallery where you can find the Old Masters of the European painting. The Gallery also offers special exhibitions like last year’s ‘ Picasso, women and animals’.  Funny title, but I loved the pictures.
Crossing the Matthiasplatz in front of the gallery, is the New National Gallery in an impressive modern building with glass walls and almost no columns to sustain the roof. It is dedicated to the twentieth century masters.
 
If you rather prefer to enjoy fresh air and green areas, very close to Potsdamer Platz you can visit the zoo or simply take a walk through the many paths along the water behind the zoo. You can smell the animals and can take a short look at some birds and lamas without having to pay an entrance 😉  If the weather is sunny and more or less warm, you can enjoy the hidden Biergarten close to the zoo. 
 
Berlin has many green areas and parks. The Spree river and its affluents offer idillic views that you can admire  taking the U-Bahn line, German for subway,  that goes to the Main Train Station. If you take one of the S-Bahn trains and leave the city for a while you will be surprised by the many lakes and woods that surround the capital. Very beautiful!
 
Going back in time and reviewing history, there is a very special area that you shouldn’t miss, the old Jewish Quarter with the New Synagogue and a lot of jewish shops and cafés. There is a building complex called Hackesche Höfe that has been modernized keeping the fashionable architecture of older times.
To handle this difficult topic, it is a good idea to visit the Jewish Museum from Daniel Libeskind. I found the building very impressive because it makes you feel the tragedy with only walking through the long aisles.  After the visit and to get you moods up a nice hot-chocolate in the coffee is the best.
 
 
Last but not least, the nightlife in this extraordinary city. Every neighborhood has something to offer:  the alternative bars in Prenzlauer Berg, the Turkish and Arab coffee shops in Neu-Kölln, elegant and classy restaurants in Berlin Mitte or nice places in other bourgeois neighborhoods like Charlottenburg or Steglitz.
Berlin is a very open minded city and you can find the best gay cafés, shops and clubs in Schöneberg ever since the 1920’s.  This makes me think  of Marlene Dietrich and her unforgettable “Blauer Engel”  and of “Cabaret” with Liza Minelli. 
 
 
 
The city hasn’t changed that much. There is fun for everyone: men and women, men and men, only women or all together… Why don’t you dare visiting a club where not only the doors swing? That would be another side of the wonderful city, Berlin. 😉