All About Germany

On Pastries and Internships

There are many things that I miss about Germany. The cold, kind-of blustery days spent discovering historic cities, exploring Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets), Dönner kebabs, among others. But I think the thing I miss most is the plethora of delightful pastries, purchasable at almost every corner. It’s hard to find baked goods that are quite that good here in the US. But I got a throwback to those delights the Friday before Thanksgiving, thanks to efforts of the OU German Club. At their annual Weihnachtsbäckerek (essentially Christmas baking), one instructor brought a traditional Austrian cookie, Vanillekipferl. These cookies are essentially a shortbread with almond flower, providing them with a subtle sweetness that can be increased with a dusting of powdered sugar. I’m a sucker for baked goods, and those hit the spot. They’ll definitely be incorporated into my Christmas traditions from here on.

The German Club provides many opportunities to experience German (and Austrian) culture throughout the semester, opportunities that enhance my appreciation for the unique and storied history of that region of the world. Additionally, the German Club provides its members with the knowledge needed to take advantage of opportunities to study or intern abroad. At this same event, they included information about an agency that coordinates internships for interested students in Germany. One of the barriers to entry to this program was possession of a Lebenslauf (resumé in German). Although I don’t currently have the requisite skills to create this document, I hope to take classes that will continue to increase my skill in the German language. The German Club is an invaluable resource for enhancing my immersion in German culture, and I hope to take greater advantage of those resources in the future.

All About Germany

Der Wunder von Bern

One of the key components of learning a foreign language is being able to understand the language as spoken by native speakers. It can be challenging to gain this experience of hearing extensive German conversations spoken by proficient speakers in the classroom. Fortunately, once a semester, each German class watches a German film. This semester, since there wasn’t enough time in class, one of the German GTAs put on a small event for viewing the film, Der Wunder von Bern, for any students in German 1225 interested in attending. It’s a rare experience for me to be able to hear German spoken as it was in the film. Although there were English subtitles, if I focused exclusively on the German that was spoken, it was remarkable to realize that I could follow a reasonable portion of the dialogs. This experience definitely motivated me to begin watching more media in German, whether using the dubbing offered by services such as Netflix or searching out original German films and TV shows.

The experience of watching Der Wunder von Bern was remarkable, not only for the opportunity of watching a film where the only language spoken was German, but also because the film focused on two critical aspects of German culture: the German recovery from World War 2 and Soccer. The story follows the 1954 German National Team during the World Cup as they attempt to overcome all the odds and bring the championship to Germany. Although I knew that soccer was of enormous importance in Germany, I had no idea the extent to which, at least at this period in history, it defined their national identity. Besides documenting the German love of soccer, the film also highlighted the fact that in the years following their victory in the 1954 World Cup, Germany began a massive economic recovery that would ultimately bring Germany to its current state as an economic powerhouse in the modern world. Der Wunder von Bern viewing party hosted in Kaufmann Hall by Frau Rodriguez was an educating experience that enriched my knowledge of both German language and culture.

All About Germany

A Continuing Discussion of the German Election and Immigration Crisis

In an event hosted by the OU German Club, Dr. Stefan Buchwald, a career diplomat who currently works at the German Information Center for the United States (based out of the German Embassy to the U.S.) discussed the immigration crisis of 2015 and 2016 and how this event impacted the most recent German election. By way of introduction, the immigration crisis has dramatically impacted German politics and the German state as a whole. It is an ongoing issue, but one that is steadily improving. I have already discussed some of the background to both the immigration crisis and the election in a previous post, so I’ll dive straight in to Dr. Buchwald’s analysis in this post.

First, it can be difficult for those of us in America to fully grasp the magnitude of the immigration crisis in Germany. To begin, although only having a landmass the size of Montana, Germany has a population of approximately 82 million. This is a much more densely populated area than virtually any large area in the United States. Additionally, over the period of time from 2015-2016, nearly 2 million refugees rushed to Germany seeking asylum; at the peak of this influx, 12,000 or more people entered Germany daily. Despite the magnitude of the crisis, Prime Minister Angela Merkel chose to keep the borders open for humanitarian reasons. As a result of this decision, the massive influx of refugees has caused a variety of difficulties for Germany. These difficulties are based around two primary issues: finding a place for the migrants to live and successfully integrating them into German society.

The first challenge, caring for the immigrants, was most challenging at the height of the crisis in 2016. During this time, when 12,000 or so immigrants entered the country daily, the German government, despite transporting immigrants all across the country, could barely find sufficient housing. But the migrants needed more than homes. They needed jobs to provide for themselves and other necessities. Caring for the refugees is an ongoing challenge for the German government; however, as the migrants become more self-sufficient and integrated into the German culture, this challenge becomes progressively less substantial.

The second issue, integrating the immigrants into society, has also been a significant challenge for the German government. When she allowed the migrants to continue entering Germany, Merkel acknowledged that there are “expectations” associated with immigration. Namely, that the migrants will learn German and obey German laws. In a word, they will integrate into German society. The German government has tried to make this transition easy, providing immigrants with classes to teach them the language and assisting them in finding jobs to help them develop autonomy. Although there have been distinct costs and difficulties associated with immigration, the immigrants have contributed significantly to German’s workforce, which, prior to the massive influx of immigrants, had been steadily aging.

Moving on to the German election, it is undeniable that the crisis shaped the outcome of the election. Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) experienced a dramatic boost in popularity because of the immigration crisis. Despite their meteoric rise, Dr. Buchwald expressed his hope that their popularity would be short-lived and they would fade to the background in future elections. He also asserted that they would gain more support the more that fear and the doctrine of isolationism is propagated throughout Germany. Additionally, Dr. Buchwald expressed his belief that AfD would not accomplish anything meaningful in the legislature, given that every other party represented in the Bundestag (the German parliament) is opposed to their ideals.

To conclude, the immigration crisis in Germany is a complex and multi-faceted issue that will undoubtedly have significant repercussions as time goes on. Despite the controversial nature of some of Chancellor Merkel’s decisions, the situation continues to improve as the German economy stabilizes and the state continues to integrate migrants. While the election was significantly impacted by the immigration crisis, Dr. Buchwald is hopeful that these changes will not be permanent. The German Immigration Crisis is not over – but the future ahead is bright for Germany.

All About Germany

On the 2017 German Election

As international citizens, we have a responsibility to be informed on current events the world over, and the German election was a momentous event for politics in the EU. As a disclaimer, I’m not relating my views on these events, just summarizing commentary that I’ve read on the subject.
To begin, let’s look at a general overview of German politics. Germany is generally moderate to liberal on the political spectrum, and no far-right groups, as they are called in the US, have succeeded in German elections since World War 2. That is, until approximately 2 months ago, when Alternative for Deutschland (Afd) succeeded in gaining representation in the German political system. Having covered the basics, let’s look at some of the more detailed background information of German politics.
German Politics, especially in comparison to many other Western, are considered to be fairly stable and centrist. Germany’s role in keeping the Euro strong is a clear example of its stability and influence in the EU. In spite of this, recent events, most notably the immigration crisis caused by Syrian refugees in 2016, have created some disorder and dissatisfaction among some among the German population. In 2016, Prime Minister Angela Merkel signed a law allowing up to 1.3 million primarily Islamic immigrants from Syria into Germany (1). The Afd has used this event as a rallying cry, asserting, among other things, that Germany is no place for Islam. Some consider it to be the parallel of the populist Trump movement that occurred in the U.S. in the 2016 election. The Afd is still a minority, only winning approximately 13% of the popular vote in Germany. Nevertheless, this is a dramatic increase in popularity for the party, and shows that the political landscape may be changing in Germany.
So what led to the Afd’s sudden rise in popularity? To begin, I’ll cite a graph, presented in an exhibition on immigration in Germany in Kaufmann Hall at OU, relating the number of asylum seekers entering Germany for the past 4 years. From 2013-2016, the number of asylum-seekers entering Germany each year expanded from 127,023 in 2013 to 745,545 in 2016 (2). This serves to highlight the dramatic increase into Germany over those four years. While the immigration crisis may have been the catalyst for the Afd’s success, it does not explain everything, as John Burn-Murdoch, a contributor to the publication the Financial Times, points out in his article, “Germany’s Election and the Trouble with Correlation.” Interestingly enough, most of the common markers of political views such as religious views, race, age, etc. have no strong correlations with the Afd’s success. Although Burn-Murdoch points out there are some slim relationships, none can account for Afd’s success. In manipulating statistics, Murdoch notes that the success of Afd is rooted in the region that was East Germany. In what was East Germany, only 3% of the population is first or second generation immigrants, whereas in what was West Germany, nearly 20% of the population is first or second generation immigrants. Murdoch asserts that this cultural discrepancy, the difference in migrant population, is largely responsible for Afd’s success in the most recent election. The reason, he hypothesizes, is that since more individuals in what was West Germany have been exposed to more cultures, they are more accepting of those whose background is different than their own. In his own words, “as exposure to people from other cultures increases, prejudices diminish.” (3)

1. From Reuters, “Germany’s far-right AfD has more immigrant MP’s than Merkel’s conservatives.”
2. Statistics from the Federal Minister of the Interior of Germany.
3. Murdoch, John — “Germany’s Election and the Trouble with Correlation.”

All About Germany

Der Großer Stammtisch

On September 29, 2017, the OU German Club organized a großer Stammtisch at Das Boot Camp in Norman, OK. I should probably start by defining the term großer Stammtisch. Translated literally from German, Stammtisch means cracker barrel, though not referring to the restaurant so well loved throughout the United States. In this context, a Stammtisch is a gathering of individuals to discuss current events and other topics of interest. And the adjective “großer,” which precedes the word Stammtisch, simply means “larger” or “greater.”

Unfortunately, as a newbie to the German language, I was unable to fully participate in the discussions going on at this gathering – much went over my head. Nonetheless, it was eye opening to hear individuals speak fluently in a foreign language, even while drinking what could easily be described as a substantial amount of beer. This leads me to a discussion of the food and drink at the Stammtisch. I had only had German food once before, and I could barely remember what I had; as I recall, it was Spätzl, German pasta covered in Gouda cheese. At the großer Stammtisch, I tried one of the most famous German dishes, Wiener schnitzel. Essentially, it’s breaded, fried pork. Although it was definitely tasty, in my opinion, Chick-Fil-A has them beat when it comes to fried food (although as an enormous fan of Chick-Fil-A, I might not be completely unbiased). What was more remarkable than the food, however, was the large quantities of alcohol that could be purchased at the restaurant. Their signature glass in which beer was served was a glass in the shape of a boot, and these glasses ranged in size from one liter to a massive three liters. No one ordered the three-liter option, but the idea of drinking anything, much less beer, in that quantity astounds the mind.

Although I did not get to participate in many German conversations, attending the Großer Stammtisch was an illuminating experience that, I am sure, only begins to capture the feeling of actually being in Germany, where everyone speaks a language that is foreign to you. One day, hopefully by the time I go to Germany, I’ll be able to join in these conversations. The Großer Stammtisch organized by the OU German club offered me a great opportunity to see the great German love of beer and food and experience conversation in a language other than my own.