Ein lieber Gruß zum Muttertag!

I’ll be honest, I was expecting this post to be chock full of the crazy differences between American Mother’s Day and German Muttertag. Turns out they’re pretty much the same. This doesn’t make for a good blog post. BUT… telling you the story of MÄNNERTAG probably will.

First however, here is my wonderful mother because it’s Muttertag (and father too so I don’t have to post again on Father’s Day):

Special Mother’s Day shout out to Grandma who has no Facebook photos that I could steal and post!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Mother’s Day is where you leave wherever you are on the Second Sunday in May in order to go give your mother (and HER mother also) a hug and a card and maybe flowers if you remembered. This is functionally the same in Germany as it is in America. Your grandmother probably also magically spawns some baked goods relevant to your family’s heritage out of thin air. It’s a wonderful holiday.

There is this OTHER holiday called Father’s Day or Vatertag. In America, here’s how it works: you drop whatever you’re doing on June 15th in order to look your father directly in the eyes and give him a firm handshake, assuring him that you’ll get a job soon, you promise, oh and here are some socks. Maybe you tell him you love him. (I uhhh… like you, dad… kind of). It’s all fairly unexciting and straightforward.

In Germany, Vatertag is completely different. First, it’s literally a completely different day – the Thursday that comes 40 days after Easter, also called Ascension Day, instead of June 15th like it is in the US. (Whoever creates these holidays needs to just decide on a specific date because these rules are too much). But that’s not even the most important part – it’s also called Männertag or Herrentag, both of which mean MAN DAY and completely ignore the fact that not all men are fathers. It’s more or less an excuse for white men to celebrate themselves – how great is that!? It’s really only okay, but the true greatness of Männertag isn’t the pale flabby stomachs, sandals with high socks, or dad jokes. It’s the beerwagens (what were you expecting?).

In Germany the tradition is for ALL MEN to take their beer and their boombox, place it in a suitable wagen, and then walk around town without any bothersome women or children around so they can drink and wish other men a happy MAN DAY. Some of these wagens can get out of hand:

Any German man will have memories of walking around the park on Männertag in order to inebriate themselves while shouting across the fields at other groups of men that their wagen is “supertoll,” before they pass out on a park bench. Seriously, it’s a problem. On the other hand, many men successfully refrain from getting drunk (not sure if that’s actually a success…), and actually return home to their loving families in time to be celebrated there as well. (GO WHITE, WESTERN MEN!) American men would surely be in favor of adopting this tradition but I’m not sure if we can live up to it because it really is a great time. Look at these Männer having a blast!

The canes aren’t usually a thing but they help with the drunkenness probably.

Read this by Spiegel, or go get some beer and a wagon if you want to know more!

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.

The Churches of Germany

Germany’s churches are not just architectural masterpieces. Their structures record hundreds of years of prosperity, warfare, destruction, and rebirth. They remain landmarks in German skylines despite what has been built or violently torn down around them. Some have been victims of upheaval themselves, while others escaped relatively unscathed; some remain stark reminders of mankind’s willingness to undo while others have become examples of humanity’s endurance.

Photographs – Wikimedia Foundation and German Federal Archives

Europe’s Jihadists

The conflict in Syria is now in its third year. It can be characterized by the heavy influx of foreign fighters – up to 11,000 as of December – as well as the sustained use of social media, particularly Twitter and YouTube, by rebel groups.

To set the stage for readers who are unfamiliar with the Syrian conflict, here is a VERY superficial, and entirely insufficient summary of the situation. Bashar al-Assad has been the president of Syria for 14 years, following his father who ruled for 30 years prior. Assad is the leader of the Ba’ath party, which promotes a pan-Arab state and is ideologically tied to Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party in Iraq, as well as an Alawite. Alawis are a branch of Shia Islam, generally ideologically opposed to the vast majority of Muslims – Sunnis.

In the general upheaval of the Arab Spring, Syrians protested for better living conditions and political representation and were met with harsh retribution by state forces. Soon, the protests evolved into outright civil war which has devastated most of the country. There have been accusations of chemical weapons and other extrajudicial killings by both the Syrian regime and rebel factions. Both sides receive heavy support from external actors – generally aligned with their respective religious ideologies. For a really good breakdown of these groups, see this series of Reddit posts: One, Two, Three, Four.

Of particular interest (and concern to some) is the increasing number of foreign fighters coming from Europe and North America. Germany, this blog’s focus, has contributed about 270 jihadists.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rm5CQOUrhYo

One of these Germans, a rapper named Deso Dogg, made headlines inside and out of the social media community after he converted to Islam, moved to Syria as a jihadist and was reportedly killed, then confirmed to be alive. He now goes by the name Abu Talha al-Almani and outspokenly encourages German-Muslims to leave Germany and participate in jihad.

Though Germany is Europe’s most populous country, many European jihadists have come from smaller nations like the Netherlands and Belgium, although that trend seems to be changing. They increasingly use social media to document their lives as jihadists; one Dutch fighter posts regularly on his Tumblr (WARNING MAY BE GRAPHIC), mixing images of dead fighters and children with AK-47s and even posts titled “cats of the mujahideen” (NOT GRAPHIC, JUST KITTIES). He even has an ask.fm account set up to answer questions that his followers might have. While many foreign nationals join existing factions, there is at least one faction that is comprised entirely of foreign fighters, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Supporters) who you can follow on Twitter here.

Opposition groups have always used social media to promote their message; they often post videos of successful missile attacks or hard fighting to improve their image. Just as often they post ultimatums, decrees, or threats towards other groups. The Syrian conflict’s fighting has spread to the internet. Journalists (and regular people) have jumped at the chance to follow every detail of the conflict via primary sources. The entrance of western voices into this mix is a way for Syrian groups to reach out to western audiences who are mostly disinterested and possibly gain support.

For more information on the Syrian conflict, check out http://reddit.com/r/syriancivilwar which is a great example of citizen-journalism, essentially collating the thousands of social media posts into a more coherent picture.

Reinheitsgebot: Holding Germany Back?

The average American associates Germany with three things: Nazis, cars, and beer. The most important of these is obviously the last.

Reinheitsgebot original text

Reinheitsgebot Original Text

Many brewers in Germany, especially Bavaria and the south, brew their beer following an almost 500 year old tradition called Reinheitsgebot (“purity law”). This law was created by Albert IV, the Duke of Bavaria, and it stated that beer could only contain three ingredients: water, barley, and hops.

If you’re a brewer or if you know anything about fermentation then you’ll notice a VERY important and vital ingredient is missing – yeast. This is because the law was created before Louis Pasteur’s germ theory proved that microorganisms like yeast existed. Brewers at the time simply mixed the three Reinheitsgebot ingredients together in what I expect were fairly unsanitary conditions and then mother nature did the rest. Nonetheless apparently 79% of Germans want to put the Reinheitsgebot on the UNESCO world heritage list, according to the Deutscher Brauer-Bund.

While it’s interesting that brewers were able to make beer with any form of reliability under those conditions, what is even more interesting, in fact astounding, is that they can still get away with brewing beer whose main ingredients are only barley and hops.

Despite Germany’s brewing-fame, the American craft brewing scene is a few leaps and bounds ahead of the game.

Barley and Hops

It is characterized by fascinating combinations of undeniably unrein ingredients. A local microbrewery in Columbia offers beers brewed with chili peppers, chocolate, flowers, raw fruit, and salt, not to mention far more conventional ingredients like wheat and rye.

I think the reason that Germany’s craft brewing scene is so much smaller than one would expect is because of it’s inability to move beyond the Reinheitsgebot. However, that isn’t to say that there are no German craft brewers.

Bavarians may be more conservative and traditional (I’m talking about beer not politics here), but the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung says there has been a “Mega-Ansturm” of microbreweries in the northern half of the country, especially in large metropolitan areas like Berlin, Hamburg, and the Ruhr.

These German craft brewers are taking a leaf out of the American scene’s book by brewing with increasingly unique ingredients, and also seem to be tapping into the mentality of brewing good, wholesome beers. The Hopfen Helden blog recognizes one Berliner microbrewer as an “artist-slash-brewer.”

Nonetheless, many still brew at least some of their offerings in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, and there is undoubtedly a stigma against those that don’t follow the old laws. While Germany may be internationally known for brewing good beer, within the country it’s the Bavarians who are known for brewing only reines beer.

Yeast – the missing ingredient

Finally, although the Reinheitsgebot may be keeping German brewing medieval, there is something to be said for the tradition it has set. German beer styles are ubiquitous across the world and the almost all traditionally follow the purity law. And from a technical standpoint it remains an impressive feat to brew such a wide variety of styles with only three ingredients. In any case, it’s refreshing and exciting to see German microbrewing gain some traction and begin to express itself and it will be even more exciting to see how this creativity continues to interact with the Reinheitsgebot.

For a number of fascinating and well-articulated views on the Reinheitsgebot (and only if you understand German) check out this talk: http://www.bier-deluxe.de/blog/leading-beers-talk-2013-zum-reinheitsgebot

Bitcoin in Berlin

Bitcoins

Bitcoins – DailyTech

Berlin has always been known as a world hub of culture and technology – at the forefront of developing new ideas and pushing them to fruition. One of these ideas is Bitcoin (BTC), a decentralized pseudo-anonymous online currency, somewhat controversially known for its connection with SilkRoad – a now-defunct online drug emporium. More than 144,000 BTC were seized from SilkRoad by the FBI – now valued at just over 95 million USD (almost 70 million EUR). However, this is only a small portion of the 12,371,900 BTC in circulation at the time of writing, and accounts for only two days worth of Bitcoin transactions (~60,000 daily according to the blockchain). All of this points to a large legitimate use of Bitcoin and it’s happening in Berlin.

According to coinmap.org, there are at least 48 real, brick-and-mortar businesses in Berlin that accept Bitcoin, a number which makes Berlin one of the largest local Bitcoin markets in the world, and a number which is growing daily. The currency has gained popularity in young counterculture-driven boroughs like Kreuzberg where it can be used in cafes and restaurants, as well as book and music stores. The currency has caught on in the Graefekiez neighborhood particularly strongly and local business owners have set up a Bitcoin-Stammtisch as part of an effort to promote the currency’s use. But Bitcoin isn’t limited to a particular neighborhood or block, it has a presence in almost every industry and is accepted by landlords, attorneys, architects, jewelers, dentists, and web-designers across the city and across the world.

Coinmap.org

Bitcoin merchant locations in Berlin – coinmap.org

Payment is almost as easy as swiping a credit card – the customer uses their cell phone or tablet to scan a QR code, an amount is entered in, and the funds are transferred instantly. Bitcoin is attractive to many because it does not rely on a central authority like a bank to back its value, so it has no transaction fees, payment is secure and instantaneous, and users feel in control of their money. After the global financial crisis, faith in central banks and their currencies plummeted and many consider Bitcoin a safer alternative to traditional financial systems.

These same traits can also be disadvantages. The lack of central authority makes mistakes permanent and irreversible, and some Bitcoin trading markets or websites have come under cyber-attack, pushing them offline or resulting in the loss of all the Bitcoins in their system. Because of its novelty, there are few regulations in place to guide users through processes like paying taxes, or transferring and converting to traditional currencies (which some may consider attractive). Finally, Bitcoin is known for gaining and losing half its value over the course of a day – volatility which may drive many away.

Bitcoin window-sticker

Payment window-sticker – The Guardian

Nonetheless, Berliners have taken to Bitcoin more than perhaps any other city in the world. This should come as no surprise – Germany has a fairly large leftist minority and its unique history has left many Germans skeptical of government regulation and control. A unique combination of technological prowess and capitalist sensibility make Germany a prime candidate for fostering Bitcoin’s continued growth. The Guardian ran a great piece on Bitcoin adoption in Berlin and noted that merchants “find it hard to come up with definitive characteristics for the “typical” Bitcoin user who walks off the street” – users seem to come from every demographic and background. The future of Bitcoin remains unstable and the currency itself is still confined to the techno-geek niche, but physical adoption of the currency is necessary to help to push the cryptocurrency into the mainstream. Once again, Berlin seems to be ahead of the game.