Bullfights are Bullpoop

When I heard that we were going to a bullfight at the Las Ventas Plaza de Toros in Madrid, I had no idea what we were getting into. I’d heard of bullfighting, but I didn’t know much about it.



Looks pretty cool


Is that Michael Jordan? Nah, just some hunky matador.


Cooler than most concert posters

Bullfighting’s history traces back thousands of years, but bullfighting generated increased popularity by the Spanish in the 18th century. In the 19th century, the Spanish government began promoting bullfighting as a national symbol. Since then, bullfighting spread to Portugal, Latin America, and Asia.


Coliseum Jr.

Inside and outside, the arena resembles the Coliseum in Rome.


The procession begins

Okay, now, I started to get confused. What’s up with the dudes on padded horses? Turns out these guys wield spears and rile up the bulls by stabbing them. Plus, poor horses are blindfolded and face the wrath of the bull’s horns.


Who says men can’t wear tights and sequins?


In comes Hugo


Not quite a fair fight.

Matadors scattered around the arena stab and provoke the bull until the main matador slays the bull with a stab to the heart. However, matadors do not always succeed on the first try. It’s a bloody, gruesome “sport”. Luckily for them, they have a barrier to hide behind.



As you can see, the bull has barbs stuck in its back.


Way to go, Hugo!

The matadors at the beginning of the event are the opening acts. In this case, the bull “won” against this matador. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the battered bull), the next matador finished him off.

After seeing one act, I couldn’t stand to watch another. Bullfighting popularity has declined in recent years and certain cities have outlawed it. I only hope that soon it will be banned everywhere.


Pollution by Rémi Lanvin

Germany’s Green Revolution Falling Flat

A Nuclear Plant in a Small German Town by Trey Ratcliff

A Nuclear Plant in a Small German Town by Trey Ratcliff

When an entire country goes green you don’t expect for pollution to rise, electricity bills to skyrocket and carbon emissions to increase. But in Germany, that is exactly the case.

In an attempt to forgo nuclear power and run Europe’s largest economy on wind and solar power, chancellor Angela Merkel’s “Energiewende,” is hoping to turn Germany into an energy-efficient powerhouse by shifting from nuclear and fossil fuels to renewables.

In 2002 a law passed announcing all of Germany’s nuclear power plants must close by 2022. Revised by Merkel in 2010, she extended the nuclear power plants phase out by 2032. Then after the Fukushima disaster  Merkel decided to scratch that idea, closing eight nuclear power plants immediately and ruling that all would close by 2022.

But closing all these plants left a gap in energy sources, so in order to keep the lights on, Germany is turning to coal-powered plants.

Specifically, they’re burning lignite, a filthy fossil fuel, and large amounts of it. In fact, just last year coal-burning escalated to its highest level for more than 20 years.  More coal-burning means more gas emissions.

Last year Germany emitted 951 million tons of greenhouse gases, up 1.2% than 2012.

Confused? Me too. I get that coal is cheap, and thousands of jobs come from mining, but for a country priding itself in taking the green initiative, aren’t there cleaner, natural gas solutions?

And apparently, I’m not the only one lost at what exactly German is doing. American economist Mark Perry tweets, “Germany shows how NOT to push green energy. It fails the poor, while protecting neither energy security nor climate.


Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 9.03.32 PM

It fails the poor?  Shouldn’t going green mean less money spent by the everyday citizen? While that makes logical sense in my mind, electricity bills in Germany are higher than any other EU country, and only rising. Even the government in Berlin admitted recently that already 6.9 million households live in energy poverty. This means that nearly 7 million households are spending more than 10 per cent of their income on energy.

Financial Times writer Bjorn Lomborg writes this is a result of the price for renewable energy. Between 2000 and 2013, electricity prices for households have increased 80 per cent in real terms, according to the OECD and the IEA, the International Energy Agency. This is quite interesting seeing that the Energiewende website states this transition is “affordable.”

While Germany’s attempt at doing away with fossil fuels, and nuclear energy is noteworthy, the price of current green technology is just too high to meet the country’s demand for dependable electricity.

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 9.02.24 PM

On the bright side, there are now 1.4 million solar photovoltaic installations in Germany and over 24,000 wind turbines, increasing the share of renewable electricity from 5.4% (then chiefly hydropower) to nearly 25%. David Scrimgeour writes the Energiewende has also created over 500,000 new jobs.

But overall it just blows my mind reading that wind and  solar power sources are not consistent and ironically need conventional backup power sources. Even more mind-blowing is the fact the more electricity created by wind turbines and solar panels the more expensive it becomes.

No country has pushed for going green more than Germany, and this country’s green dream, may just in fact be a nightmare.


Feature photo from: Pollution by Rémi Lanvin


Russia’s Library Night Appears to be a Success

Amid the negative news which has surrounded Russia for the past few months, the people of Russia recently organized a notable event.


Library Night’s bright logo attracts attention to the event. Photo credit to Библионочь 2014.

From April 25-26, more than 80 Russian regions held their third national annual event called Library Night or Библионочь. During these two days, libraries, museums, galleries, and book stores remained opened throughout the entire night, well after regular closing hours. This event was sponsored by many different organizations and partners such as the coffee shop chain Coffee Bean and book store chain Moscow Book House, to name a couple.

Anybody interested in reading and the arts in general had a chance to meet famous writers, poets, and critics.

Watch this video recap of Library Night from a town called Mikhailovka. In this video, local libraries held events for both adults and children (the best part is when the little kids dance).

The event is held in hopes of educating people of all ages about local libraries, reading, and fine arts in general. This is a great way to help preserve Russian culture and foster discussions.

Not surprisingly, Crimea managed to steal the spotlight in library numbered 172. Visitors of 172 were able to experience a beautiful event. One of the makers of this project claimed:

“This evening, halls of this library will turn into little streets and beach fronts of one of the coziest Black Sea towns, so passionately described by the great Russian writers and poets. Visitors of the summer café under the Bakhchisarskiy fountain will be treated to a reading of classic writers such as Anna Akhmatova.”

Young children who participated in the events of the night were able to play many trivia games regarding literature. A little girl named Liza won a book by correctly answering questions. She said that she really liked this event, and that she will share this book with her classmates, so they can read it too.


Children participate in literature trivia in hopes of getting a prize.

Library Night shows that Russia continues to instill educational values in its people. Perhaps this is one aspect of Russia’s culture which the U.S. should actually try to imitate. I have never heard of such an event happening in the U.S., at least not nation-wide. It would be great to see American people, especially American youth, showing more interest in their own rich literary culture.

Blooming Heather – Holland Countryside

Blooming from “July till September,” the heather fields of Holland are beautiful in the summer afternoon sun. As the sheep feed on the soft fluffs of purple, the heather waves in the wind.

The Dutch are crazy about their sheep: “Ah, there is so much to say about sheep,” says a Dutch shepherd. Although there is a lot to say, there also is a lot to see.

These are some photos I took in the Dutch countryside, sheep and all.

Sheep-Heather-Caroline-ElliottSheep-Heather-Caroline-Elliott-3Sheep-Heather-Caroline-Elliott-2 Sheep-Heather-Caroline-Elliott-6 Sheep-Heather-Caroline-Elliott-5 Sheep-Heather-Caroline-Elliott-4 Sheep-Heather-Caroline-Elliott-1

Staplerfahrer Klaus – A Film Review

Germans are stereotypically known for their coldness and lack of emotion – specifically a complete inability to feel humor or partake in any sort of amusement.  The Germans do this entirely intentionally and for good reason. How else should they be capable of such economic success? Or such technical and industrial prowess? They combine their clinical practicality with efficient training. The German film industry has been harnessed to become an effective tool for training the German worker to be safely productive.

One such film has gained widespread notoriety for its realistic portrayal of a specific profession – forklift driving. Staplerfahrer Klaus – Der erste Arbeitstag is such an effective training film that it has won numerous awards including: Best Short at the German Film Critics Association Awards, First Prize at the Day of the German Short Film, Best Short Film at Fantasia Film Festival, as well as Audience Award for Best Short Film and Special Prize of the European Broadcasters Jury at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film (although safety should be no fantasy), and more.

In the interest of promoting public safety, it has been made freely available on the internet (with English subtitles!):

Klaus is a Gabelstaplerfahrer [fork+stacker+driver] who is new to his profession. Astute English-speaking readers will note that the English noun “stapler” describes a tool used for stacking together papers in the same way that the German verb “stapeln” and its associated noun “der Stapler” describe a the action of stacking items in general, as well as the tool  or entity used for such a purpose. “Gabel” and “fork” do not share any etymological ties due to their differing ancestry in High German and Latin respectively. “Gabelstaplerfahrer” is shortened within the title of the film to “Staplerfahrer” [only stacker+driver] for the purposes of brevity.

While on the job, he encounters a number of situations which are used to demonstrate the safe operation of forklifts to viewers. These situations include the correct use of lanes to avoid accidents, securing loads correctly to prevent damages due to falling objects, and the operation of forklift equipment around pedestrians in an industrial setting.

The film manages to convey all the necessary safety information required for prudent forklift operation in its short, eight minute length. The actors’ performances are compelling, and they ensure that the film’s training content is conveyed in a professional and businesslike manner. One reviewer calls it “klasse”, German for “brilliant” and stemming from the Latin “classis.” (The English word “brilliant” comes from the Greek “βήρυλλος”, but this goes back much farther via Sanskrit “वैडूर्य,” [pronounced “vaidurya“] to Dravidian, and comes ultimately from the name of the city Velur – which is now modern day Belur.) There is a Facebook page for the film, as well as a fanclub, and even a page for our friend Klaus, if you find yourself interested!

More information can also be found at the film’s IMDB page.

History Redux Indeed

If you haven’t read Rachel Alvord’s interview with Dagmar Bazzoni, you can do so here. Bazzoni was born in Austria in 1943 and has some very interesting thoughts on World War 2 and Putin to share. I read through it a few times and the Putin-to-Hitler comparisons reminded me of a movie I saw a few years ago, The Wave (‘Die Welle’ auf Deutsch [Available on Netflix!])

Directed by Dennis Gansel, The Wave is a modern German take on a social experiment that took place in Palo Alto in 1967. Jürgen Vogel plays Herr Wenger, the German stand-in for high school teacher Ron Jones, the man behind the myth. Jones explains in his personal account:

“We were studying Nazi Germany and in the middle of a lecture I was interrupted by the question. How could the German populace claim ignorance of the slaughter of the Jewish people? How could the townspeople, railroad conductors, teachers, doctors, claim they knew nothing about concentration camps and human carnage? How can people who were neighbors and maybe even friends of the Jewish citizen say they weren’t there when it happened? It was a good question. I didn’t know the answer. In as such, as there were several months still to go in the school year and I was already at World War II, I decided to take a week and explore the question.”

The results of this experiment were astounding. Ordinary high school students transformed into the very image of fascism we all know. In the space of a week they became a close-knit secret community, fostered along by slogans like “Strength Through Discipline,” “Strength Through Community,” and “Strength Through Action.” Each day Jones pushed the students a little bit closer to a fuller manifestation of Nazi Germany. Just as the students had fully adopted this new mindset, Ron Jones / “Herr Wenger” do the unthinkable…

The Wave

Herr Wenger addresses his converts

I’ll let you explore how it ends but the crux of the story is riveting. Essentially the experiment shows how easily people can be blindly convinced into detestable acts. It also answers the question to how Germans could willfully claim ignorance of the Nazi acts or even go so far as to deny them. Jones sums up the explanation his students were reticent to believe:

“If our enactment of the Fascist mentality is complete, not one of you will ever admit to being at this final Third Wave rally. Like the Germans, you will have trouble admitting to yourself that you come this far. You will not allow your friends and parents to know that you were willing to give up individual freedom and power for the dictates of order and unseen leaders. You can’t admit to being manipulated. Being a follower. To accepting the Third Wave as a way of life. You won’t admit to participating in this madness. You will keep this day and this rally a secret. It’s a secret I shall share with you.”


The teacher discusses autocracy

Doesn’t Herr Wenger bear an odd resemblance to Putin?

The similarities between these movements and Putin are arguable to say the least. Our class, especially the session led by Ulrike Langer (a German news foreign correspondent) last week, and Rachel’s interview raised some discussion of Putin’s following in Russia, and this film is a great visual tool for understanding the possibilities of such a radical following.

The Island: Unique, Yet Strangely Familiar

The Monastery

The Monastery where most of the action of “The Island” takes place.

Pavel Lungin’s The Island or in Russian: Oстров (2006) is the tale of a Russian holy man named Anatoly (Petyr Mamonov) who works as the stoker at a monastery on an unidentified and barren Northern Russian coast.  The movie begins with Anatoly and his commanding officer Tikhon (younger version played by Aleksei Zelensky) working aboard a Soviet coal barge during World War II.  The Germans capture their ship and give Anatoly two options: either shoot his commander or be shot.  In a fit of cowardice Anatoly shoots Tikhon, who falls overboard.  The Nazis then leave Anatoly to die on a nearby island, but a small cloister of monks rescue him and he lives with them for the remainder of the movie.

Thirty years later Anatoly has converted and still lives with the monks, but does not live in the prescribed monastic lifestyle.  He sleeps in the coal, never bathes, and constantly works with laypeople from around the region – giving prophecies, healing people, and performing exorcisms.  Despite this, his guilty conscience consumes him, driving him nearly to madness and forcing him to row out and pray alone on an abandoned island near the monastery.

While this does not seem like a recipe for excitement: with just a single setting, muted colors, dim lighting, and several middle aged men living together, the film manages to combine an intense psychological drama with a truly inspiring story of faith and forgiveness into a masterpiece of cinema.  Indeed, the film has won several  awards including “Best film” at the 2006 Moscow Premiere festival, “Best film” at the 2007 Chinese Golden Eagle Awards, and “Best picture” at Russia’s most prestigious award ceremony, the Nika Awards in 2007.

Petyr Mamonov

Petyr Mamonov as Father Anatoly

Of course, the film has some highly religious themes and seems to really resonate with Christians of all denominations including this Catholic blogger, The Rad Trad, who praises the film’s portrayal of a “fool for Christ”; however, I believe the film’s brilliance lies in the universality of its message and the outstanding performances of the actors.  Petyr Mamonov (a truly remarkable artist, here is a good article about him) provides a blend of ridiculous humor and serious dialogue in his performance as Father Anatoly, without which the film likely would not have worked at all.  Supporting actors include Viktor Sukhorukov and Dmitrii Diuzhev, famous for their roles in the Russian gangster films Brother (1997) and Brother 2 (2000).

The Island presents all the ironies of the nominally atheist Soviet state along with those of Christianity in a way which any viewer can understand, and does it all without dragging the plot or getting too preachy.  I highly recommend it even to those who don’t know Russian, its subtle beauty and award winning performances by the actors are well worth seeing for anyone.  Best of all, the film can be found with English subtitles for free on Youtube.




The Haunting Allure of Europe’s Abandoned Places

The powerful stories of many European buildings can be seen in the cracks and dust left behind in these abandoned wonders scattered across the continent. After centuries of strength and poise, these buildings can still be found intact and full of empty, fascinating mystery. Although most of the following buildings are rarely on the list of ‘must-sees’ for world travelers, they might actually be worth the trip to indulge in some good, old-fashion history.

I found it especially interesting to know that I’m not alone when it comes to curiosity about abandoned places. In fact, many bloggers dedicate entire blogs to abandoned buildings and sites around the world. I’ve linked to several of them, as well as broader blogs that touch on the topic every once in a while. Bloggers from all over the world seem to have an interest in these historical findings and the stories that got these sites to their present state. Here’s a look at some of the many run-down sites and buildings that once stood extraordinarily tall.

 Beelitz Heilstatten:

This complex started as a military hospital during WWII and was continually used by Russians until its abandonment in the 1990s. For more photos and info, click here.


Photo by Sara at FindingBerlin.com


Photo by Sara at FindingBerlin.com


Photo by Sara at FindingBerlin.com


Photo by Sara at FindingBerlin.com

Castle of Mesen:

Dating way back to the 1500s, this small town Castle was rebuilt and remodeled until the middle of the 20th century. For more photos and info on the Castle of Mesen, click here.


Photo by Niek Beck

photo at abandoned-places.com

photo at abandoned-places.com

Photo at abandoned-places.com

photo at abandoned-places.com

9The Medieval Village of Craco, Italy:

Over time, this village lost residents due to the plague, French occupation and civil unrest. It’s final abandonment took place in the early 1990s when locals fled to America to escape the poor agricultural conditions. For more photos and info on Craco, Italy, visit this blog.

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com


Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture:

This Paris railway came long before the Paris Metro. The main source for Paris transportation in the 19th century fell to it’s decline in the mid 1900s. For more photos and info on this railway, visit this blog.

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com

photo from desertedplaces.blogspot.com


Hafodunos Hall:

This deserted mansion in Wales was built in the 1860s for the wealthy, Sandbach family. Since the house sold in the 1930s, it has been used as a girls’ school and then an old peoples home until it was shut down in 1993. To learn more about Hafodunos Hall, visit this blog.

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogs

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com

Photo from Alexander at desertedplaces.blogspot.com


These are just a few of the many buildings and towns across the European continent that once prevailed and are now deemed useless. I find it incredible how intact many buildings still are. I can’t imagine letting a spectacular castle waste away to nothing. It will be interesting to see if any abandoned wonders one day make a comeback and are remodeled to flourish on their old grounds that remain filled with memories and stories of time passed.

To read about abandonment of full European towns, check out this blog.

Game of Thrones Actress Kekilli has More to her Past

Many of you may know her as Shae, the lover and prostitute of Tyrion Lannister from the Game of Thrones series and have probably heard the discussion about her previous history in the adult film industry, like several actresses in the series. With background like that, you might have been hesitant to type “Sibel Kekilli filmography” into Google (or conversely, intrigued), but at the very least, you probably wouldn’t expect her to claim many major roles in any renowned films. Hardcore adult-film actresses and actors don’t often make the transition to the mainstream, and when they do, they often fill the role as “the stripper” or “the model” in films that most would consider less than the peak of artistic achievement (watch Zach and Miri Make a Porno or the series Entourage and you’ll see what I mean.)

But Sibel Kekilli is different, so I wanted to shine some light on this actress’ outstanding career, not in the US, but in Germany. Some of her greatest performances include her work in Die Fremde (reviewed by our own Jasmine Dell here) and Winterreise, but I wanted to specifically focus on Fatih Akin‘s critically-acclaimed Gegen die Wand (2004), for which she won and was nominated several awards internationally.

Gegen die Wand is a hard-hitting punk romance that, like many of Akin’s films, deals with Turkish identity in Germany, but this identity crisis is not the main focal point of the film, which I think adds a lot to the whole. The film takes place in Hamburg, Akin’s city of birth, and begins with the main character Cahit () driving his car straight into a wall, with hopes of ending his life. After being admitted to a clinic, he meets Sibel, played by Kekilli, whose conservative

Sibel and Cahit’s marriage of convenience leads to love, jealousy, violence, and familial strife in Gegen die Wand

Turkish family drove her to also attempt suicide. After convincing the anti-social, alcoholic Cahit to help her escape her family by agreeing to a marriage of convenience, the movie takes off in a cycle of self-destruction and renewal as both characters search for identity and freedom through sex, drugs, love, and eventually family.

Kekilli’s performance is remarkable as she portrays this conflicted and extreme young woman who wants to live life to the fullest, which to her, means having wild promiscuous sex, doing drugs, and dancing until dawn in the underbelly of Hamburg’s nightlife. Her lust for freedom is what first fuels her lifestyle, but soon love makes things a lot more complicated, as jealousy and frustration lead to some pretty intense scenes for both Kekilli and Ünel.

All the while, Sibel’s family also puts the pressure on, and the unique structure of a Turkish family in Germany is presented, showing the role of gender and honor that may not be familiar to most western cultures. Her performance as a threatened Turkish daughter in Gegen die Wand is especially interesting considering occurrences with her real life family after the German tabloid “Bild” exposed her as having a history in adult film. This slandering of the actress’ name, or “media rape,” as Kekilli called it, resulted in Kekilli’s family disowning her. The role of a persecuted Turkish woman is all too real for Kekilli, and she portrays the character expertly.

“Gegen die Wand” literally means “against the wall,” which explains the “no-way-out” situations as well as the extreme impacts that occur in the film. This title does not, however, describe Sibel Kekilli’s career, and any use of this actress’ past to defame her is petty and unprofessional. I think Kekilli said it best herself:

“Ich will nicht, dass ihr mich liebt. Aber respektiert endlich, dass ich ein neues Leben angefangen habe”

“I don’t want you to love me, but in the end, respect that I have started a new life” (Der Spiegel)

Whether or not you agree with Sibel Kekilli’s past, I find it pretty hard to deny the fact that she has some serious acting capability. It would be a shame to write her off completely and miss the depth and range of character she can bring to the table, especially in light of her difficult experiences in life. I hope to see more of her talent displayed in the upcoming seasons of Game of Thrones, as well as in German films that demand an actress that can push herself to the limit in her craft, as she does in Gegen die Wand.

Venice of the North

Fotor0424154820Saint Petersburg is located along the Gulf of Finland and is considered to be Russia’s most vibrant city. If you love food, culture, high art, and lavish architecture, then this beautiful city is for you.

Last summer I had an opportunity to study abroad in this relaxing city for over a month, and I must say it was love at first sight. The best time to see this whimsical city in action is during the White Nights (May-July.) During this season the daylight is celebrated nearly round- the -clock because the sun sets for only a few hours. The White Nights Festival has many ballet performances, operas, and The Scarlet Sails Celebration (Алые паруса.)


The Red Room is a masterpiece by French artist Henri Matisse. This artwork is located at the Hermitage.

If you decide to visit, you must bring out your inner art critic and spend some time in the Hermitage and the Russian Museum.  This is your chance to see the world renowned art works by Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh and etc. The Hermitage gets extremely busy, so get there early so you do not have to wait in line for hours.

Quick Fact: Experts say that if you were to spend a minute looking on each art piece at the Hermitage, it would take nearly 11 years to do so.

Walking Down the Nevsky Prospect:

Nevsky Prospect is the main street of the city; many shops, cafes, restaurants and tourist sites are located here. If you only have a day to spend in the city, this is where you should spend your time. On this outrageously long street, there is the Kazan Cathedral, Church of Spilled Blood, Hermitage (Catherine’s Palace,) and more. If you are a literature buff, perhaps you should enjoy a meal at the Literaturnoe Kafe (Literature Café.) This is where Alexander Pushkin enjoyed his many meals and his last one before he died in a dual in 1837. As you take a stroll, you will come across pleasant street artists, beautiful canals and cool bridges. The vibe of this place is very diverse and laid back.

Side Note: If you are wanting more detailed information of the city life and what it has to offer, check out Life in Russia blog!


I love food and I was so excited to taste everything, so of course most of my money went towards delicious meals. If you are

Traditional Russian Donuts

Traditional Russian Donuts in Cafe Pyshechnaya.

looking to try out authentic Russian food for cheap, then Stolovaya (Cafeteria) is your place. This is where the locals go to enjoy many of their meals. There is more than one of these, so it should be easy to spot them. Bakeries are everywhere. My personal favorite is БУШЕ (Bushe.) This bakery is heaven. My  favorite is the smoked salmon sandwich with cream cheese. Yum! The bakery only has 30 minutes Wi-Fi limit; if you are trying to get some work done on your laptop, this place is not for you. On the bright side if you get your treat to go, then your price will be cheaper. Another bakery that you must try is the Cafe Pyshechnaya. This is the oldest cafe/cafeteria and serves the best pishki (Russian donuts.) This place is extremely busy and seating is very limited. Also, the Russian women servers are extremely intimidating and they expect you to know your order right away.  Be prepared! The Guardian writes a review on this cafe and they consider it to be top 10 hidden gems in St Petersburg.

Countryside Trips:

Taking some time off from the city is always nice and there a lot of palaces and parks that offer a relaxing afternoon. Here are some attractions that will revive you.

St Petersburg has much to offer and it does take significant amount of time to explore all the streets, museums, monuments, cathedrals and etc. The vibe of this city is addicting and if you are like me, you will want to come back as soon as possible.

How To Butcher a Black Forest Cake (And Still Make It Taste Delicious)

The Black Forest Cake in its natural habitat

The Black Forest Cake in its natural habitat

The Black Forest Cake wasn’t created in the Black Forest of Germany (obviously, you can’t bake a cake in a forest…) but was named after the cherries that grow there.

The Bollenhut

The Bollenhut

Now I have been making this cake for YEARS and nobody ever told me that there was a black forest cake hat. This hat is truly sensational, and combines two of my top 100 favorite things: cherries and hats.


At this point I feel that it is my civic duty as a global citizen to share with you the secrets behind this delicious cake.

Here is the first secret: I cheat.

They don’t sell Kirchwasser at Wal-Mart and I don’t have the patience to bake a chocolate cake from scratch. However they do sell cool whip, cherry pie filling and chocolate cake mix at Wal-Mart, and my short attention span can deal with all of those things!

So without further ado, here is the college kid’s version of a Black Forest Cake:

Make the chocolate cake according to the directions on the box. Put it in two circular pans.



I know what you may be thinking: that is not a circle. I know. I know my shapes and I also know I don’t have enough money to buy circular pans. So I went with rectangles cut in half. Hopefully it’ll taste the same!



Remove it from pan. I have never done such a perfect job. This cake flip is so good it should be on the cover of a magazine. Or win a blogging contest.


Screen Shot 2014-04-25 at 1.40.31 PM

Lather some Cool Whip and cherry pie filling on top of that baby.


Now plop the other cake on top and repeat the last step. Feel free to make it fancy.


Wow. That is one not aesthetically pleasing cake. But it tastes good, further proving that it is truly what’s on the inside that counts.


This German tradition that I have so cavalierly butchered holds its own amongst the dessert battle throughout Europe. In my expert opinion (I eat a lot of desserts) the Black Forest cake crushes the cannoli (figuratively and literally, it is a very dense cake), defeats flan and massacres macaroons. Black Forest cake is yet another example of German excellence, throughout not only Europe, but the world.

Watching the Watchers: Germany’s Commitment to Privacy

The global furor surrounding Edward Snowden’s June 2013 revelation of U.S. Government data collecting and processing practices seems to have calmed as the initial outrage has become a more organized push for transparency and reform.

The European Union has made far greater strides toward transparency than the U.S. in recent years, insofar as each EU member country must have a comprehensive set of laws protecting its citizens against unauthorized data collection, whether by individuals or government agencies.

This European approach to careful protection of individual privacy has been made quite clear through such sweeping policies as ending information sharing with the U.S.– a decision which the German government made shortly after the Snowden leaks, and effective immediately.

Information gathering isn't always so tranparent... Credit: Tuzen at Flickr

Information gathering isn’t always so tranparent…
Credit: Tuzen at Flickr

For those of you who don’t read German, cloud security company Perspecsys lays out a pretty clear picture of the significant reforms set forth in Germany’s Bundesdatenschutzgesetz, also known as the BDSG, because the Germans love acronyms.

Germany's BDSG explicitly protects individual rights to privacy.

Germany’s BDSG explicitly protects individual rights to privacy.

The BDSG has existed in various forms since the 1960s, but the 2009 reforms to the law have put a more intense emphasis on personal privacy in an increasingly digitized world.

The 2009 reforms include:

  • Data collection requires express permission from the individual in question. This applies to any and all data, from name to IP address.
  • In granting permission to gather an individual’s data, the individual in question determines the exact conditions of use of said data, including purpose, location, and expiration of permission.
  • At any time, any individual who has made their data available for any purpose may revoke their permission without opposition.
  • All organizations which manage personal data must have comprehensive policies in place to protect said data in accordance with the BDSG.


The BDSG is a sort of legal solidification of what seems to be a growing sentiment amongst the German public, but in addition to civilian protests such as the “Blurmany” debacle, there is a devotion to the cause of privacy throughout the German government itself.


Okay, so this is exaggerated, but it's exaggerated for effect!

Okay, so this is exaggerated, but it’s exaggerated for effect!

UK-based blogger and eDisclosure activist Chris Dale helps to put this predilection for privacy in a personal context in his analysis of four articles concerning data privacy in Germany, writing:

“We consent to the erosion of our privacy continually, usually as a result of an unconscious trade-off between that erosion and some benefit – if we choose to carry a mobile phone, then our location is traceable, but the benefit outweighs the downside. The same is true of many other web or GPS-based functions. The difference between them and Street View is that the latter is disconnected from our own choice – we may choose not to use Street View but we have little control over its usefulness to those who want to eye up our houses for burglarious purposes, or over the risk that it happens to catch us coming out of a massage parlour, as happened to one man”

I feel that a point like this helps to distinguish the real rallying cry of those Germans who have a real desire for privacy. The issue isn’t that these people have anything to hide, but rather that without transparency and protective measures, there is no way of knowing who could be looking at your data for what reason.

The tradeoff that Dale mentions has been heavy on my mind lately: where does convenience require a sacrifice? Is it really worth your privacy to be able to find a gas station near you when you really need it? Feel free to comment below, and be sure to look both ways as you leave the massage parlor- you never know who’s watching.


The Blend of Cultural Ideas in “Die Fremde”

I watched Die Fremde, (“When We Leave”) at University of Missouri’s Department of German and Russian  Studies “Germany in Europe” Campus Weeks Film Series. The film draws on a recent issue in Germany where Turkish immigrants have been committing “honor killings“; a story that recently gained a lot of press was that of Hatun Sürücü, a women who was honor killed by her brother on a street in Berlin. In Die Fremde, the director Feo Aladag, advocates for women to have the right to leave their husbands or to fight for the life they want.  She is highly involved with stopping violence against women. In this clip, Feo Aladag gives her reason for how this movie got started.

In an article about the film, The LA Times writes about some further points of the director.

“Pakistan has the highest rate of honor killings in the world, Aladag said. “I don’t know the overall number, but there is one province where each year an average of 268 women are killed,” she said. “The problem is that many women in many countries are not registered, so if they disappear…. and it stays within the family or it is covered up as a suicide [there’s no way to track what actually happened]. Under [some Islamic laws] it is not a crime.” LA Times

The Plot of Die Fremde

Umay is a woman who grew up in a Turkish family that lived in Berlin.  Her Turkish parents arranged her marriage and she had a son with her husband in Istanbul.  Her husband abuses and rapes her and abuses her son.  She flees for Germany for freedom.

Umay leaves istanbul with Cem.

Umay leaves istanbul with Cem.

Once she reaches Germany with her son she wants to stay with her family in Berlin.  When they find out she left her husband for good they try to force her to go back and she rejects it.  It is her duty to be a wife and listen to her husband.  Once they realize she won’t go back they try to steal Cem her son and bring him back to Istanbul.  Umay calls German police to escort her to a safe house in Berlin.  Umay in this stage is working and met a German man.

Her brothers find where she lives and create havoc for the safe house. They say she has ruined the family name and embarrassed their family.  She then leaves the safe house and lives in the real world with her son.  Umay’s mother meets with her to tell her to go back to Istanbul or she will have to disown her.  Umay denies ever going back and her family pretends she is dead to them.  Umay shows up at her sister’s marriage and

Umay is dead in her family's eyes.

Umay is dead in her family’s eyes.

the family is furious and has the youngest son take her outside while the rest of the family ignores her.

Umay breaks up with her German boyfriend because she only cares for the bettering of her son Cem.  Umay’s father decides to tell Umay’s two brothers to kill her for good called “honor killing.” To protect the family’s honor.  Once her father decides that the next morning he has a heart attack.  Umay then visits him in the hospital and he tells her to forgive him and to leave. Her mother doesn’t say a word to her.  She does so and leaves the hospital.  While walking on the street outside of the hospital her youngest brother asks her if he can walk with them and then pulls a gun on them.  He drops it and then runs for the bus.  The older brother is behind her as she looks at the youngest brother running off.  Cem says her brothers name Umay turns toward him with Cem in her arms and he accidentally stabs Cem instead of Umay.

Theme of Die Fremde

Die Fremde shows the pressure of family reputation in society and the purpose of self-fulfillment clashing.  The image of families in society have a certain idea or image that must be met and fulfilled.  Sometimes family members don’t want the same image or purpose and how they idealize or prioritize things affect each other’s lives.

Another idea is the women in patriarchal societies. Umay is forced to listen to her father and husband who both want tradition and respect to the patriarchal society more than her own needs.  Some women feel neglected, abused and alone in these types of relationships other women like Umay’s mother accept the traditional  patriarchal lifestyle. 

And the influence of two cultures on a person. This movie shows the cultural adjustment in Europe.  It shows the clashing of the Germany and Turkish values. The movie shows the integration in Germany and shows a step forward from its past.

Why It Ended the Way It Did

It ended the way it did to make a point.  I think it ended the way it did because the concerns on how she was living her life were innocent like that of her son and it shouldn’t have mattered how she lived.  I feel as though everyone wanted Cem to have the best life whether it was under the family tradition with his dad or the German culture of his mom.  The reason why she left was for herself and Cem and now that Cem is dead she has nothing to live for and it’s worse than killing her. It is the worst crime to kill a child and it shows a change in reality. When Cem dies it shows the cardinal sin, a child represents the future and life.


According to Rotten Tomatoes 81% of the audience likes the movie and I would have to agree if not give it a higher rating.  It’s relevant to it’s time and shows an international view.  I liked it because it’s about a topic that I wouldn’t have known about and it shows Germany and its European ideas mixing with Middle Eastern ideas. MetaCritic  gave it a rating of 65 and I feel as though this rating is too low for this movie.  I did like a critics comment about the movie Ty Burr from the Boston Globe said, “As powerful as the movie is, it stays on the outside of a culture looking in.”

Another Person Taking a Stand like Feo Aladag…

A German Turkish Rapper, Eko Fresh Ehrenmid, Koln kalk

Blogging Contest Winners: Alexander Drößler, James Jordan, and others!

The blog competition for MU students on the topic of “Germany in Europe” is over and we have some winners!

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In First Place is Alexander Drößler, a Journalism Student here at MU and a recipient of a year-long scholarship to study here from the German-American Fulbright Commission. Hosted on his own personal blog, his post takes a closer look at the pedestal upon which some Americans have placed Germany in terms of its involvement in the EU. While Germany is often praised for its role in the Euro crisis and its pioneering role in using renewable energy, Alexander calls into question all-too rosy perceptions of German domestic and foreign policy. http://alexdroessler.de/2014/04/14/germany-responsibility-between-expectations-and-reality/

In Second Place is James Jordan, who is a senior at MU majoring in international business and a student this semester in the 4820 WebBlogging in Cultural Context Course. His blog addresses Germany’s position in the European automotive industry. He looks at the successes of companies like Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz over other European firms such as Italy’s Fiat group. He goes on to show how while Fiat is treading water, they are catching on to what makes German auto companies work and is trying to emulate them. http://eurokulture.missouri.edu/emulating-germanys-automotive-success/

Tied for Third Place are Rachel Alvord and Josephine Peterson. Rachel is a German Major at MU and a student this semester in the 4820 WebBlogging in Cultural Context Course. In Rachel’s post she interviews Dagmar Bazzoni, who grew up in Germany in the years directly after the Second World War. In this interview, Rachel asks Bazzoni to reflect on her childhood and on similarities between recent events in Russia, the Ukraine, and Krimea, and the expansionism of Nazi Germany. http://eurokulture.missouri.edu/from-right-to-left-is-history-repeating-itself/.

Josephine is a Convergence Journalism and French Major with a German minor, and she has her own blog, entitled A Cup of Europe: the Ins-and-Outs of Europe. Her blog post explains why German women have played such a large role in the country since World War II. After WWII a shortage of men forced women to enter the workforce and think for themselves instead of relying on men for income. Peterson argues that that created a liberal attitude toward women’s rights, but also that gender politics were different on east and west sides of the Berlin Wall. http://youreupblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/gender-equality-in-germany/

And a special consolation prize for Comic Irreverence goes to Natalie Kirst, who is a Sophomore Journalism Major at the University of Missouri and a student this semester in the 4820 WebBlogging in Cultural Context Course. Natalie’s humorous post relates her attempts to create a classic German dessert – the Black Forest Cherry Cake. From cheating (shh, don’t tell!) to perfect cake flips, Natalie takes her readers through her experience with this moist masterpiece, letting them know just why this is one of her all time favorites. http://nataliekirst.blogspot.com/

Thanks to all the entrants in the contest!

Students entering the contest were to address Germany’s political, cultural, or historical role in Europe and the European Union. Questions about Germany’s role in Europe have generated lively debates about history, technology and cybersecurity, economic turbulence, gender, and culture and the arts, and student bloggers were welcome to address any of these topics as well as one of their choosing.

The competition and the broader Campus Weeks at MU are sponsored by the German Information Center (http://www.germany.info/gic/), the German Embassy, and the MU Department of German and Russian Studies.