Image from Google Images

So guess what time of year it is? That’s right, it’s Christmas time, and with Christmas fastly approaching, if you’re in Germany, then you will notice several Weihnachtmärkt (Christmas Markets) popping up.  The average American is probably asking; “what is a Christmas Market?” Simply put, Christmas markets are what they sound like. The markets have always opened at the beginning of German Advent. They are places where traditionally the town or the village would meet and set up stands to sell christmas based arts, food and drinks.

Traditionally the vendors sell carved nut crackers, roasted almonds, gingerbread, bratwursts and, of course Glühwein. Glühwein is basically wine that is served hot and sometimes served with a shot of Brandy, to add some more holiday warmth to the mixture. If you want more information on Glühwein, read Astrid’s post. Along with the food and drinks the vendors sell, they also sell hand crafted Christmas ornaments, nativity scenes and nut crackers.

Image from Sebastian K.

Weihnachtsärkte first appeared in Dresden, Germany in 1434. Since then Weihnachtsmarkt’s have popped up all over the world including markets in London, Chicago, Brazil, Romania and even in Hermann Mo. However, the largest and most successful markets are still in Germany. While looking around, I found this blog about multiple Weihnachtsmärkte in Germany. They also talk about the experiences they’ve had with Glühwein, and other German Wiehnachtsmarkt traditions.

I personally haven’t ever been to a true German Weihnachtsmarkt but I did ask a friend from Germany about them. His family is traditionally from northern Berlin, and in their little “village” they always held a giant Weihnachtmarkt in the center square. Every year his family was in charge of making the Glühwein for the festival. “It was always a fun time with family and friends and when it got too cold outside Glühwein always helped warm everyone’s spirits'” Sebastian K. I think that if Weihnachtmarkts were closer to me, I would happily attend them, however driving an hour to Hermann kind of ruins the holiday mood for me.

For more on Weihnachtmarkt watch this Video.

Terror in Germany

When many Americans think of terrorism, they think of plots against Americans carefully planned by evil middle eastern extremists. However, terrorism is a world-wide problem. Germany is one of many countries always on the watch for potential terrorist threats… and for good reason.

In 2006, two bombs were hidden in suitcases and placed on regional trains heading for the cities of Koblenz and Dortmund. Luckily, the bombs ended up not exploding due to faulty construction techniques but this event raised awareness of Germany’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks. Since then, Deutschland has increased its ability to infilitrate suspect groups and has also raised the extent which it monitors internet activity.

Germany’s Interior Ministry has stated that since the beginning of the year, threats to Germany from Al-Qaeda  and other Islamist organizations have increased to a whole new level.

Germany’s Federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maiziere, has confirmed that the ministry has received concrete indications of not just one, but a whole series of attacks planned for the end of November. With security already at a heightened level, the German government is taking these threats very seriously. Hopefully, Germany’s government will succeed in putting a stop to any and all plots to harm their citizens.

Who you gonna call? Ghost Busters!

picture taken from www.immediateregret.com

I fear no ghosts! When watching TV in the U.S., however, I might easily get an eerie feeling. TV shows like Ghost Adventures make us believe that we’re surrounded by ghosts and that paranormal activities happen anytime anywhere. Even History Channel reports matter-of-factly that aliens have evidently erected many of the world’s finest buildings such as the pyramids of Giza or Machu Pichu.

If these are proven facts (as TV makes us believe) why didn’t anyone in Germany tell me about it? It seems like Sir Simon and his peers have vacated medieval castles in Europe to settle in more modern American homes – and who can blame them. Apparently, Europeans spooked the ghosts, who then fled over the Atlantic. And Americans seem to welcome them with open arms. If the Otis Family isn’t scared – Zak Bagans “didn’t believe in ghosts until [he] came face to face with one.

But why are Americans more perceptible to hauntings, ghosts, and aliens? To me, there doesn’t seem to be an apparent reason why Americans should be more superstitious than Germans. In a poll executed by CBS in 2005, one in five Americans claims to have seen a ghost themselves and almost half of the people in the study admitted to be believers. According to FOX (2007) one third of Americans believes in ghosts and UFOs. These findings are supported by the large number of blogs that deal with the topic. In Germany, only about 10 % believe in paranormal activities.

What I found most striking though, is that according to CBS, the younger the people are, the more susceptible they are to these beliefs. This made me wonder how much influence the said TV shows like Ghost Adventures and the like have on the results of these polls. Halloween and the media obviously make paranormal appearances pop culture in the US, whereas you hardly have any mentioning of ghosts on German TV. To the uncritical viewer of American TV, it really may seem like ghosts, ghouls, and extra-terrestrials are among us. You may not even be aware of how close they actually might be –  the Missouri-based Kindred Moon Paranormal Society has recorded “something unexplained” in MU’s Ellis Library. Now this might be a good excuse for a missed research assignment.

If you want to watch the Ellis Library Episode, follow this link. Then select Kindred Moon Productions, click on Season 1, Episode 3 and you can start the video above.

Americans are Fat

BY ASTRID WAGNER AND MARKUS SPIER When you think of Germany, what comes to your mind first? Let me guess? Beer? Even though I am most likely right you might also have thought of Lederhosen, beards, German Shepherds, the German’s love for David Hasselhoff, the Autobahn and many more.

But that’s okay – stereotypes are not necessarily wrong and statistics show that Germans indeed drink more beer than other nationalities, some Germans wear Lederhosen, some Germans have fancy moustaches, some Germans have German shepherd dogs, and some Germans do even love “the Hoff.”

Some stereotypes are insulting, such as the one that Germans are fat, some stereotypes are respectful and show admiration of the Autobahn. But as you can tell by the frequent usage of the word some, stereotypes are not very accurate. But that should be common sense.

Just as Americans have their stereotypes about Germany, there are many clichés about Americans, as well.

The stereotypical American seems to be fat and lazy, he watches TV all day and the only exercise he gets is the walk to his oversized car when he drives to the nearest fast food restaurant and orders a supersize meal. Americans are stupid and slow, and their geographical knowledge, nay awareness is restricted to the state they live in. These are just a handful of the many stereotypes that exist but all we want to do is to raise awareness to the insufficiency of stereotypes when it comes to describing a people as diverse as that of the United States.

Again, you will find confirmation of the stereotypes or exceptions when depending on where you look and what you look for. For example, when I spent a year as an exchange student in Roscommon, MI, I was asked if Germans really live in caves without electricity and running water and if Hitler really still is in office. But questions like these are the exception to the rule. As a matter of fact, most Americans we meet display a genuine interest in foreign cultures and many Americans know at least about the countries of their ancestors. While it is true that many Americans are rather oblivious of anything that happens in the world if it doesn’t concern their lives directly, one has to keep in mind two things: First of all, the U.S. are a huge country and there’s enough going on in North America to keep track of. Second, you will also find many Germans who don’t know much about things that go on outside of Europe.

Probably the most persistent stereotype of Americans is that they are fat. While there are many obese Americans, there also is a huge counter-movement advertising a healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of exercise. If you compare this to Germany again, you will be able to observe the same. As a matter of fact, in any Western country, people live in abundance – they can eat whatever they want whenever they want – and their lives have become extremely convenient. Maybe this development has started in the United States or Americans have bragged about their achievement of creating abundance the most and that’s why they are now portrayed the way they are. However, these stereotypes are slowly changing as the Western world moves closer together and American historian Peter Bladwin claims that the Atlantic is getting smaller.

There is one stereotype however, that so far, we have only found one exception to. Americans never are on time, which is especially hard for the stereotypically punctual German. The only exception is Eric – but he has spent several years in Germany.

Bier anyone? A taste of German breweries

Everyone knows that beer is very much a cultural tradition in Germany.  So much that it has even become a way of life for some. However, what many do not think about is how German breweries played a large part in developing this beer phenomenon.

This intrigued me and I decided to dive into the world of German breweries to find out more.  I was not only interested in the breweries themselves, but also in finding culturally comparable American beers. Here, I will take you on a tour of a few of Germany’s finest breweries and their American counterparts.

1. Becks Brewery

If you’re a fan of German beer, then undoubtedly you have heard of Becks. Becks brewery started brewing their first beers in 1875.  It has certainly grown to be a widespread, well-established brand. Becks is the number one exported beer of Germany and is sold in more than 100 countries.

Their most popular product is their pale lager, which instantly made me think of Budweiser from Anheuser-Busch. Budweiser would be the culturally comparable beer in this case. Both Becks’ and Budweiser’s most popular beer are their versions of the pale lager. They are also very similar because of their widespread popularity domestically and internationally (Becks is Germany’s number one exported beer). This Australian ad for Becks below is just one of many examples of their success in foreign markets.

2. Monastery Brewery Andechs

Andechs is the pinnacle of German brewing history. Located on the Holy Mountain in Bavaria, this brewery has an interesting background. Andechs was originally a monastery  dating back to the early 12th century. However, it was not until 1730 that the monks drilled a vault into the mountainside to brew beer. The very same vault is still in use, slightly updated of course.  You can see some of the incredible art featured in Andechs in this video, only reaffirming the incredible sense of history that Andechs has.  I imagine one would only be able to smell two things on Bavaria’s Holy Mountain, beer and history. I would call Andechs the Sam Adams of America. Sam Adams has managed to attain the stigma of pure American patriotism and Andechs certainly has been soaking in the culture around it since the 12th century.

3. Weihenstephan

The Weihenstephan brewery is the oldest brewery in the world. This is indeed another large reason why Germany has the reputation that it has for its beer. Established no later than 1040, Weihenstephan has today managed to properly modernize while keeping age-old traditions. Today, this brewery produces quite the selection of beer, from dark wheat bear to non-alcoholic beer beverages. Yuengling is the oldest American brewery and the second largest American owned brewery. They started  in 1829 which hardly seems impressive after Weihenstephan. Both companies have managed to keep their traditions while still managing to adapt to the times.

The Muslim Threat

Thilo Sarrazin presenting his controversial book

Presenting his controversial book: Thilo Sarrazin

Germany is becoming stupid and it’s the Muslims’ fault.

Germans should be able to live among Germans and should not live in a country where the main language is Turkish or Arabic, women wear head scarves, and daily life is organized by the call of the Muezzin.

Says Sarrazin. His rhetoric is certainly more than just questionable. It has made him the target of public criticism and has driven him into resignation from his job as a member of the executive board of the Deutsche Bundesbank and a member of social democrats.

It is obvious why he received so much criticism. What’s surprising is that hardly anyone who does so has not read his book. This does not by any means mean that I support his theses. However, Sarrazin’s direct and offensive language has almost averted objective discussions on a topic that is not only of national but international importance. (“Es geht mir vor allem um Klarheit und Genauigkeit, die Zeichnung ist daher kräftig, nicht unentschlossen oder krakelig. “)

Sarrazin based his argument on facts but his language stands in his own way. While it is true that, for example, the German elite and academic families have fewer children than Muslim families from predominately lower class backgrounds, it is very problematic to find cultural reasons for the  IQ of Muslims, which – on average – is lower than the IQ of Germans. If you take this whole argument one step further and claim that the above statement is also due to genetics, it becomes impossible to discuss it objectively.

In a very blatant way, Sarazzin mixes facts with myths or half-truths and claims that our society has turned Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest into a survival of the most fertile, i.e. the Muslims. The truth behind this argument is that lower class families in Germany have more kids than academics and many immigrants, unfortunately, still belong among the least educated part of society. This cannot, however, be blamed on genetic defects caused by intermarriages but is more likely to originate in the cultural value of education in general and the education of women in particular. Furthermore, Muslims usually learn differently than Europeans.

That's not funny, Ahmed!

In the Western world, logical thinking and independent thinking are valued much higher than in the East. (Another problem is that these arguments usually generalize and are thus, prone to stereotyping certain ethnic or cultural groups. This article is no exception.)

Research shows that the decisive factor in a child’s intellectual development is not their national or cultural background but the upbringing and education. During childhood and adolescence, the child’s IQ grows by about 5 points per year and about 80 % of this growth happens in school. While intelligence is hereditary, the genes only play a minor role in the development of cognitive ability.

I don’t want to defend Sarazzin’s theses in any way, but the public reaction to his book shows that he touched a very sensitive topic in Germany. Germany is divided into two sides either supporting Sarrazin or resolute opposition. Ist er ein Hetzer oder ein Held?