Next trip: Krakow

Apparently, studying at a distance-education university does not only mean that I can study from anywhere, but also that they are taking me on trips. As part of my studies in history, I’ll be going on a field trip to Poland, starting tomorrow. And of course we picked the Polish city steeped in history the most: Krakow.

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The four-day workshop is called “Policies of memory and history in a Polish metropolis from 1900 to 1970”, encompassing anything from cultural history with art nouveau, Polski Jazz and a visit of the Wyspianski Museum as well as Jewish artists, the example of Socialist city planning Nova Huta, student protests and anti-Semitism in Poland after 1945. But I am not even sure if we are still allowed to discuss that topic in Poland now. In any case, the current debate just makes the seminar even more timely.

A large part will of course be taken up by the German occupation from 1939 on and by the Holocaust. We will visit both the city of Auschwitz and the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. The former ghetto in Podgórze and the camp for forced laborers in Plaszów are topics as well, as is Oskar Schindler. As always, I got stuck with a legal topic, so I will present my thoughts on the question whether claims for compensation are a path or a hindrance to reconciliation.

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In a way, I am surprised that I haven’t been to Poland yet. After all, it’s a neighboring country. – And even my grandfathers already visited or rather invaded it in 1939, trying to create Lebensraum for Germans, not having the slightest clue that only two generations later, their families would die out with me anyway. (And trust me, even the largest living space thinkable wouldn’t convince me to produce any offspring.) But I have always been curious about Poland, hence I am using this academic trip to stay in Krakow for five additional days, until 20 June. If I like it, I will return to explore more of Poland.

There is only one thing that worries me. When I find myself in places of mass murder, which is hard to avoid in Eastern Europe if you travel with open eyes, I prefer to be alone. I like to take my time there, reflecting and sitting in the forest or the grass for a few hours. That’s obviously not an option when I am part of a group of well-prepared students. We will see how that goes.

As always when I go on a trip, if you want a postcard from Krakow, just send me an e-mail.

(Hier gibt es diese Reiseankündigung auf Deutsch.)

Posted in Education, History, Holocaust, Poland, Travel, World War II | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Anthony Bourdain, 1956-2018

Food is a big part of travel. For some people, it’s the most exciting part.

Unfortunately, food is the part of life in which I am least adventurous. I wish I was open to try anything once, but if somethings looks weird (seafood), if it is made from weird parts of the animal (boiled heads of sheep) or if it’s an animal that I never associated with eating (guinea pigs), I won’t even try it. I don’t think anyone is following my blog for its food section.

But there were two food shows on TV that I enjoyed watching: No Reservations and Parts Unknown, both with Anthony Bourdain.

From a food perspective, I liked his focus on simple dishes and on street food.

Because I don’t want to spend too much money and time on food, I often just sit by the side of the road and order a plate of whatever is steaming in a huge pot. Thus, I discovered falafel in Israel, arancini in Sicily and trancapechos in Bolivia. Each of them a better dish than what you get in fancy restaurants.

But what I really liked about Anthony Bourdain’s shows is that they went beyond the food and were actually far more serious than most other travel shows. He never annoyed viewers with the 100th show about the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, but he went into the side streets, meeting up with people and always hoped that he would be invited to their home.

Yet, he managed to address serious issues, too, bringing them to an audience that might initially only have been interested in food. Like my blog, in a way, that strives to be far more than a travel blog.

Anthony Bourdain tried with all his might to teach people that the world is, first of all, not dangerous, but interesting, including the countries that often have a dangerous ring to them. I hope that message won’t be lost with the loss of Anthony Bourdain.

Because everybody seems to assume that his death was a suicide (or was it Russia, once again?), I should add some thoughts on that.

I am surprised by the number of people expressing their surprise. “He always seemed so full of life.” Actually, I always saw someone more thoughtful and somber. But even if someone was always outwardly happy and energetic, what do people expect? Do you think anyone who is fed up with life, or maybe just bored by it, has to sit in a corner, crying?

Another reaction that pisses me off is the jump to a “mental health issue”, often insinuating that he should have sought “help” and if he had done so, he would still be alive. It’s nobody’s bloody business if someone else wants to be alive or not. It’s their decision and their decision alone. The reason may not necessarily be a troubling psychological issue. The decision to end one’s life at a time and in a manner of one’s own choosing can be perfectly rational. I actually have a lot of respect for people who make that ultimate decision.

As always, people are looking for signs. “How could we have spotted it?”, apparently believing there is one tell-tale sign for someone harboring thoughts of suicide. There isn’t, and until people understand that not everyone thinks like them, they won’t ever be ready to spot those signs. If it’s possible at all. Because where someone sees a fulfilled life, someone else doesn’t. Where someone sees a point in living, someone else is bored. Where someone is afraid of death, someone else knows that suicide is the one decision you will never regret.

And don’t ever be distracted by someone’s “adventurous attitude” to life. After all, seeking out adventures (and eating crazy food) is a way of gambling with death every day and every dish. Sometimes, I have the feeling as if suicide by adventure is the only socially accepted form of suicide.

(This article was also published on Medium.)

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Posted in Death, Food, Life, Media, Travel | Tagged | 17 Comments

The Smoking Snakes

Just a few weeks ago, on 8 and 9 May, Eurocentric Europeans celebrated the end of World War II, although in Asia, that show didn’t get cancelled until a few months later. The surviving US-American, British, French, Belgian, New Zealand, Australian, Indian, Canadian, Soviet veterans and even the partisans were celebrated with parades and marches, the dead ones with visits to cemeteries.

But every year, the soldiers of one country are completely forgotten.

No, I am not talking of our grandfathers in the Wehrmacht. Most of them really don’t deserve any celebration.

I am talking about the Brazilian soldiers who helped the Allies to liberate Europe from fascism.

You never heard of them? See, that’s exactly what I mean. They always get overlooked. And it wasn’t just a handful of Brazilians who served in the US-American or British military. No, Brazil dispatched a whole division to Italy in World War II. That was 25,000 soldiers.

As the Second World War began, Brazil wanted to imitate Switzerland, remain neutral and continue trading with both sides. At that time, Brazil was a dictatorship once again, which did have some sympathies for Nazi Germany (although the melting pot of Brazil managed to be fascist light without the racist element). But the North-American charm offensive was simply too convincing, and in 1942, Brazil allowed the USA to establish military bases for the war in the Atlantic.jornal_o_globo_1942

Neutrality became untenable when, in the same year, German submarines sank 13 Brazilian merchant vessels and hundreds of people died. Actually, the government of Brazil still didn’t want to enter the war against Germany. The calls to do so came from the people and became ever more loud. Protesters demanded an entry into the war and smashed  German restaurants. On 22 August 1942, Brazil declared war on Germany, Italy and Japan.

That step was becoming increasingly popular in South America at the time. BoliviaColombiaEcuador, Paraguay, PeruChile, Venezuela and Uruguay followed suit, in that order. Oh, and the heroic nation of Argentina took the bold decision just in time before it was too late, on 27 March 1945; it was the last declaration of war against Germany.

But even in Brazil, nothing happened after the announcement. Public anger kept boiling, although the real reason for that may have been the cancellation of the Football World Cups during World War II. A saying at the time was that “sooner would snakes smoke a pipe” than the government would send troops to Europe, to express the skepticism whether this would ever happen. In English, one would say “when hell freezes over”, but in Brazil, nobody knows the meaning of freezing.

Finally, almost two years after officially joining the war effort – and conveniently after the successful landing in Normandy, when it had become clear to everyone who would walk off the European battle pitch as winners -, the first Brazilian troops were shipped to Italy on 2 July 1944.

175px-distintivo_da_feb“The snakes are smoking!”, the incredulous cries accompanied the soldiers, and the Brazilian Expeditionary Force self-mockingly selected that symbol for their shoulder patch. War is always chaos, and thus, it only became obvious as the troops landed in Italy that they had no weapons, that nobody had arranged barracks for them and, worst of all, that nobody had told them about winter, cold and snow.

Except for some mountain regions, there is no snow in Brazil. It was an unknown concept to most soldiers. And in the winter of 1944/45, these beach boys were supposed to fight the Wehrmacht’s hardened mountain infantry in the Apennines, where they had dug themselves in along the Gothic Line.

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All the more surprising that the Brazilians advanced quite successfully, won battles, liberated Parma, among other cities, and took more than 20,000 soldiers, mainly Germans, as prisoners. The photo shows the German lieutenant general Otto Fretter-Pico surrendering to a Brazilian soldier.

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So, the German propaganda had remained ineffective, although there had even been a radio program in Portuguese for the enemies from Brazil: “Hora Auri-Verde”. These broadcasts probably tried to frighten the South-Americans more deeply of even more snow, ice and frost, recommended a return to Rio, and threatened a severe drubbing in soccer should they not heed the advice.

In their propaganda directed at the Italian population, the Nazis also used the fact that many Brazilian soldiers had darker skin. They tried to incite fear of rape and murder, their work now being continued by Italian parties like the Lega Nord.

During the long winter months in the trenches, the Brazilian soldiers had time to think. They realized that it was weird, fighting for democracy in Europe, while being governed by a dictator at home. Thus, it was also under the influence of the returning soldiers, that Getúlio Vargas announced elections in 1945, allowed parties to be formed and promised not to run for office anymore. But to be on the safe side – Brazil struggles with democracy at time –, he was removed by a military-coup, but then re-elected in 1950 and finally, in 1954, confused by the constant back and forth, he shot himself.

For more, there is an interesting documentary with original footage and many original voices (in Portuguese with English subtitles). Enjoy it with a pipe!

(Hier gibt es diesen Artikel auf Deutsch.)

Posted in Brazil, History, Italy, Military, Politics, World War II | Tagged | 18 Comments

Renting in Germany

Rental contracts all over the world:

You agree on the monthly rent, the landlord gives you the key, you move in and pay the rent every month. If there is an issue, you call each other and talk about it.

Rental contracts in Germany:

Even for a small apartment, you need to apply with a CV, with references, with bank account statements, with your employment contract, with a credit check and a criminal background check. The landlord will still want two other people, preferably your rich parents, to co-sign as guarantors.

The landlord will only give you the key after you have paid a deposit of three months’ rent, the rent for the first month, a down payment for water, gas, electricity, garbage collection, road-cleaning fees, and will additionally request a power of attorney for your bank account.

There won’t be any furniture in the apartment, probably not even light bulbs. (If there is already a toilet, you hit the jackpot.)

The rental contract will govern every step of your life. You think I am over-dramatizing? Trust me, I am legal translator for German and English and I often translate lease agreements. Today, I came across a section, in which the landlord gives unambiguous instructions about how often, how long and how far the windows should be opened.

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And you can count on the landlord walking past the house every day to check on you. If you don’t meet the schedule, you’ll find a letter in your mailbox the next day, probably from an attorney at law, sent by registered mail.

Seriously, even if I could afford to rent something in Germany, I wouldn’t want to.

But I am curious to hear about your experience!

Posted in German Law, Germany, Law | 37 Comments

GDPR – Privacy Policy

Finally, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has come into effect, and there is panic all over the continent, as if there hadn’t been any data protection laws in force until now. And it seems like everyone slept through the two-year preparation period.

I shouldn’t really be complaining, because as a lawyer and a translator for German and English, the GDPR is giving me work until late at night. On the other hand, I don’t really like work that much, because it keeps me from more important things. And I do find the whole situation very sad, with everyone lying to everyone else on the internet now: companies pretend that they care about your privacy and will protect your data. And users click on “Yes, I have read and understood the terms and conditions of this website/app”. Nobody has ever read those!

But what would you expect from people who put up gadgets in their bedrooms to record every spoken word (and other sounds) and to transmit these recordings to a company? People even pay for that! Or they buy overpriced watches to not only constantly transfer all of their private data, their current location at any time, but also their blood, pulse and liver scores to a corporation. Actually, it would be wrong to call that spy device a watch, because something that doesn’t work for 24 hours without the battery going dead doesn’t fulfill the most basic function of a watch. And you can’t imagine how many super-important business negotiations I could already listen to and how many Excel spreadsheets I could read on the train, because people with cell phones and laptops don’t ever seem to be able to wait until they get home.

Which of your data do I collect?

None. Why should I?

Of course you may/should post comments and those comments will be saved and displayed. That’s the point of comments. But I bet you already were aware of that before.

Very rarely, somebody has asked me to delete a comment they had previously written. Then, I usually only delete their name, but leave the comment there. Comments are like letters to the editor. If you change your mind after three years, the publisher won’t destroy all old papers.

Statistics

WordPress allows me to see how many people from what countries have clicked on my articles (hence the interesting list of countries/flags on the right). But I cannot attribute this information to certain individuals. Thus, I don’t know who of you is really reading my blog and who is not. (I usually learn that when people cease contact with me.)

In any case, I don’t check the statistics very often because they are rather depressing.

Cookies and Plugins

Oh yes, I probably have cookies and plugins too, because these buggers are all over the internet now. If you want to know what they do, you have to check with WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

In any case, I recommend to get vaccinated.

Objection

I hereby object to all comments and messages that are stupid, boring or trivial as well as those which disrespect the generally accepted grammar principles.

Noncompliance may lead to blocking, ignoring and loss of respect.

E-Mails

I don’t believe that A sending an e-mail to B puts any obligation unto B to respond to said e-mail.

It’s nothing personal at all (and how could it be, for I often don’t read them), but I simply don’t have the time to read all e-mails, let alone reply to them. But when I do reply, I want to take the time for a well-crafted letter, which is why you may sometimes be waiting for half a year. I recommend that you use the time for books and long walks.

Material for the Blog

Whoever interacts with me by e-mail, in person or otherwise, or walks into my metaphorical field of vision, even if unintentionally, or attracts my curiosity, has to be aware that they may find themselves as the object of an article on this blog or – inshallah, one day – a book.

That’s all?

Yes. Data protection is like buying a car or getting married: if someones hands you a contract of 20 pages at the last moment, you can be sure that they want to rip you off. I actually think that terms and conditions and privacy policies should be limited by law to two pages. Or users should be required to read out loud the whole text (but not on the train, please) in order to confirm that they have really read it.

Schreibtisch voll

A disorderly desk is the best data protection strategy.

(Hier geht es zur deutschen Fassung.)

Posted in Law, Technology | Tagged | 6 Comments

Spanish B1

So, it seems I can speak Spanish now. At least at the intermediate B1 level. But considering that you only need A2 to obtain Spanish citizenship, that’s not too bad.

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I was disappointed that I almost failed the written part. Maybe I completely missed the topic and rambled on about something else. But it may also reflect the way I learned Spanish: mostly by speaking and talking, not in any formal setting, although I did use the Assimil book.

That I got higher marks for talking than listening shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has met me. ;-) Maybe I just got the full score because there was no other way to shut me up. Or the Instituo Cervantes recognized that I spoke with a Bolivian accent and thought: “How beautiful to listen to Spanish in its purest and most perfect form!”

But the B1 level is not yet enough to study at a Spanish-speaking university, so I have to continue. If only there were better TV programs in Spanish than those damn telenovelas

Posted in Education, Language | Tagged | 18 Comments

How organized is Germany?

So organized that even ducks stop for a red traffic light. They only cross the road as it turns green.

What you cannot see in the video, is that the ducks had arranged the walk two weeks in advance and that none of them was late (not even the girls). Also, they elected a group leader for the excursion, and as they are walking into the pedestrian zone, they all locked away their bicycles.

Posted in Germany | Tagged , | 12 Comments