Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Americans on German TV

When the editor of the local newspaper contacted me a few weeks ago asking if I’d like to write a weekly column about US politics from an expat’s point-of-view, I asked my few Facebook friends if they would do it. One commentor replied that he would consider it if the paper would have articles from both sides (Republican and Democrat) to avoid readers thinking the opinions in the article are what most expats think. I answered that I don't know any expats in Germany who are Republicans.

Well, a friend of ours found one. She's a member of "Republicans Abroad" and was an invited guest on the Markus Lanz talk show. She so shocked the host and other guests 45 minutes in (at that moment my jaw dropped so hard I'm lucky it didn't snap off) that he insisted that part of the discussion end because what she’d said was so abysmally below the line of decency that he would not allow that level of discourse to continue. It was clear she had no idea what was objectionable about her statement.

Our friend said that only since watching this can he understand the depth of the division in the US and he had never realized how bad it is. I can verify that the Spaltung in America is indeed this bad between strangers, some friends, and family members, and I really do not see how its citizens can unify and become a cohesive country again. The only thing keeping some semblance of peace is the fact that most Americans do not enjoy talking face-to-face about politics. Keyboard warriors are in abundance, but few are willing to risk actual in-person conversation about anything controversial, especially - but not only - with people whose views differ from their own.

The host told this woman (before she made her most absurd comment) he reproaches her for only one thing: the fact that no matter what topic is brought up, no matter what anyone else on the panel says or asks, she does not even attempt to approach the others or meet them anywhere in the discussion. She shows not the slightest will to acknowledge that the other side might be right or even have a reasonable point. Everyone else is just wrong. She shrugged her shoulders at the more than 200,000 deaths in the US from Covid as a small percentage of people, she blew off so many Americans not having access to affordable health care, she said all men talk like that when asked how, as a woman, she felt about Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment, and she said the problem within the black community is that all the fathers have disappeared (no, that was not her most absurd comment). Even at the most outrageous things, she excuses Trump and backs him up rather than even once saying, "Yeah, he didn't handle that very well."  When she had no good excuse for Trump, she employed "Whataboutism," even saying "Look at England..." when the topic was mail-in voting.

This is a well-known talk show. The news occasionally reports on what was said there and I'm actually very surprised I hadn't heard about this particular show since it aired a week ago (M had, however). That woman was presented as representative of Trump supporters and Republicans, and it is no wonder if many Germans find such people batshit crazy.

In contrast to her, when the German guests spoke about their topics (the Covid situation, right-wing extremism, a book written by one of the guests, and anti-Semitism, for instance), they were able to also be critical, meaning show critical thinking, about Germany and the Western world. They sat in such contrast to that American woman, coming across as people who have some depth and have thought deeply about all the topics at hand, including the shit show in the US.

I watched this because I want to know what kind of Americans Germans are seeing and because I converse often with this friend of ours about politics. There's one other American I've seen on talk shows a few times who is a Trump supporter, and he also has parroted the same things Trump wants his supporters to believe. I have yet to see an American liberal/Democrat on a German talk show, in the news, or in the newspaper. When the evening news reports about America, they show the rapturous crowds cheering Trump, maskless fans being interviewed about how great Trump has been for the country, the lines of voters waiting 10 hours to be able to cast their votes, etc. The only mention I've heard of Biden other than clips from the debates is that he is leading in most polls. But the people who support Biden don't make it into the German news. I think we're probably not interesting enough.

By the way, do not believe the polls and do not become complacent.


...but vote only once, either by mail or in person. Do not do both, as #45 advised his fans at a gathering in September.

My first column (in German) was put in front of the paywall and the topic is how I go about absentee voting as an expat from Wisconsin.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Trouble with Melchior

A friend of ours recently told me about some news out of Ulm. The Ulmer Münster is a Protestant minster/cathedral and boasts the tallest church steeple in the world. I’ve climbed it (there is no elevator) plenty of times with our exchange students during the summer exchange. The news is that the figures of the Heilige Drei Könige (wise men) are being removed from the Nativity Scene this year due to controversy over Melchior, the African wise man, and the debate over racism.

Traditionalists, mostly white, will roll their eyes, scoff, and shake their fists in outrage because the Magi belong to the Christmas story as much as Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Some say the wise men - they were not kings, but rather astronomers - are meant to represent Europe, Asia, and Africa. Around the end of the 15th century European artists started depicting Melchior (Americans say it's Balthazar) as a black African. Many have come to consider this more authentic than versions of all the magi being white." In fact, though, all we know from the Bible (Matt 2:1-12) is that the wise men came from "the East."

So why are the Heilige Drei Könige being booted out of the crib in Ulm? Not having interviewed the dean of the Kirchengemeinde and only having read a few articles in German and one badly translated into English about it, I admit this sounded odd. I don’t think it’s racist to depict one magus as having dark skin if we are agreeing he was from Africa. But then I had a look at a photo of the figure in question. It can be found here or here.

The figure was created in 1920 and looks to me like a ridiculous caricature of a black man the likes of which racists of the 20s would find amusing and the rest of us disgusting. I have seen serious and respectful paintings and sculptures of the Heilige Drei Könige, and this is not one of those. 

And what’s with the pretzel? That’s not controversial, it’s just weird. Melchior brought Myrrh (or is it frankincense, who knows when we can’t even agree upon which magi was African?) and a Bavarian pretzel to the Christ Child?

the epiphany blessing for 2020 chalked onto our doorframe
For an explanation of the blessing, see here.

Each year on Dreikönigstag (January 6, the official end of Christmas) children in many towns in southern Germany go from door to door dressed as the magi, recite a poem or sing a song, collect for a children’s charity, write a blessing on the door frame and usually receive fruit and chocolate treats to boost them on their journey. This nice tradition is not without controversy because some church organizations (not the one in our village!) feel it is necessary to put one child in black face to represent Melchior. Never mind that girls often portray the kings and don’t have to bind up their hair and paint on beards to disguise themselves as men. Never mind that we can all pretty much figure out that these children are not really the actual wise men or authentic actors portraying them and don’t need one of them to charcoal his or her face for us to understand who they are supposed to be. 

The tradition continues in many communities, however, and it seems many do not understand that black-facing white children is, to say the least, not appropriate in this day and age. No one can convince me of the necessity for black-facing a child or that the figure of Melchior I saw in that article above was an attempt at an authentic and serious depiction of a wise man from the African continent. 

Personally I think it’s time for white folks to stop excusing black face and vaudeville caricatures of black people as “no big deal.” Look into the origins of this and how it has been used. It is not a gesture of respect or an honoring of African culture or people. It was and is a way of mocking them. I don’t think church groups who organize the children for Dreikönigstag and have black-faced one of the children are intending to mock Melchior or black people in general. I think they do it out of ignorance and a sense of “that’s how we’ve always done it, so what’s wrong with it?” 

It is long past time to stop. 

Admittedly, I have questions.
Which one of you is Caspar?
Where exactly are y'all from?
Which pot holds the frankencense?
What the hell is myrrh?

By the way, I have re-read the only Bible passage in which the wise men are mentioned. We've made several assumptions about this story that have become "Christian tradition," so don't come at me with "But that's what the Bible says!" Matthew never tells us there were three wise men, only that there were three different gifts. The wise men are unnamed, and Matthew only tells us they come from "the East." Most of Africa is west and south of Bethlehem and Jerusalem and even the horn of Africa is more south than east. There's nothing wrong with depictions of Melchior as a wise black man, but there is a whole lot wrong with black-facing children and having a figure that looks like a gollywog in a nativity scene.

Are there more important issues to address regarding racism and its prevalence in our societies, churches, and neighborhoods? Absolutely. But for mercy's sake, people. Some thing are pretty easy and need no debate.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Life Update: October 2020

What a year this has been, eh? To be perfectly honest neither M nor I have minded the 1,5-meter-Abstand (6-feet distance to others), the masks, washing our hands frequently (please tell me this is not new for you either), avoiding large gatherings, or not using public transportation. We're homebodies anyway, and when we choose to be near others it is because we've decided those people or that activity is important enough to us to be there. We haven't seen my Schwiegermutter since Easter, which is extremely unusual for us, but she's been up North with her daughter and grandsons as well as having spent some time in the hospital (non-Covid-related), where we weren't allowed to visit her due to Covid restrictions. We stay in contact by phone or email.

Cases are on the rise again in Germany but some of the restrictions have been eased or lifted since the early days. Masks are still required in all stores and shops Germany-wide as well as when entering public buildings and restaurants. We've been in the Bürgerbüro (citizens advice office) a few times lately, and we can only take off our masks at the desk of the person we've come to see if s/he has a plexiglass divider between us and him/her. No one goes anywhere anymore without a mask, and instead of decorative things hanging from people's rearview mirrors, there are masks.

In the big cities there have been demonstrations against all these measures intended to keep us healthy and out of hospitals, and I will never understand those people. Gives me yet another reason to be glad to have settled in a small community. Honestly, people!

I thought it was high time to write a life update and let my readers know I'm still around, so I'll get on with it.

Jagdschein, WBK und Keilernadel

After passing the third and final part of my Jägerprüfung, I applied for and received 5 weeks later my Jagdschein (hunting license)!! This was quite exciting, especially now that we're both Jungjäger.

With my Jagdschein in my hand I was able to apply for my WBK, or Waffenbesitzkarte (gun license). We already had two Flinten (shotguns), both of which are on M's WBK so they officially belong to him. My WBK was ready within two weeks, just in time to get my Büchse (rifle) properly registered in my name. Our Schießtrainer picked up our Büchsen when he drove to the Heym company in Thüringen with two other students, and we drove to his home that evening to retrieve them. 

Remember when I wrote that after I pass my test I will never shoot again? Yeah, well...that turned out to be untrue. We practice at a shooting range in Stuttgart once or twice a week, and we are seeing some improvement. This has become a skill we want to improve, and perhaps one day we really will go hunting. 

One of the days we were there our Schießtrainer said, "Ami, mach den Keilernadel jetzt." The Keilernadel is a small shooting test one needs to pass each year in order to be eligible to participate in a Drückjagd (driving hunt) as a hunter-shooter. You have to shoot 5 times at the standing boar and 5 times at the running boar both at 50 meters free-handed, and you need to get above a certain score. I passed it on my first try, as did M. Since then we have seen seasoned hunters have a go at the Keilernadel and not pass on their first try. That speaks to what we've heard quite a few times - that Jungjäger (new hunters) are sometimes better shots than seasoned hunters because we've recently had such intense training. 

So according to what's on paper, we are eligible to participate as shooters in a Drückjagd this year. As I've been told, you don't gain experience as a new driver by taking the bus while your car sits in the garage. 


On Tuesday evenings I team-teach with a partner a German class called Deutsch Spezial, which is intended for native speakers and non-native speakers who struggle with reading and writing. There are no tests and there's no textbook - we just use our creativity and ask the students what they'd like help with. We sometimes split into two groups and other times we all work together. It's a small class, intended for no more than 10 participants so we can give them the individual attention they need.

I am still jumping in as a substitute at the local VHS when they need a replacement for the regular teachers, and although I sometimes have to be spontaneous and once last week had to go in blind only knowing which book they were using but not where they were in the book, I have enjoyed it every time. I must admit, I really do love teaching German and especially to adults. I think the students see that I enjoy teaching them, and they seem to enjoy it as well.


On an absolute whim one day after seeing a commercial for the umpteenth time, I signed up for Hello Fresh, the meal ingredient delivery service. I wanted to be forced to try new recipes and I liked the idea of not having to go to the store except for bread and wine. The meals were...fine. I did it for two weeks, listening to M grumble the whole time though he helped me by always doing the meat. We never had that "Wow" feeling one should experience sometimes, and there is way too much plastic since everything they send is pre-measured and packaged separately.

I'm not sorry I tried it, and my curiosity is satisfied. But we don't need to continue it.

Sober October

For the second year in a row M and I are participating in "Sober October." The idea is to give up drinking any alcohol and instead learn something new. We're cheating a bit on the "new" part of learning since what we're learning (see below) isn't exactly new for us. But since everything we didn't know before is certainly new, this works! Admittedly I enjoy a Gläschen Wein in the evenings while reading or watching TV, but I'm finding I'm going to sleep earlier without it. I think this will remain an October tradition for us.


We have a new car. It's a Jaguar I-Pace, and fully electric. They installed a charging station at M's company a few months ago, and since the office is within walking distance of our home, charging is pretty convenient. There are all kinds of pros and cons to electric cars which I'm not going to get into, but for the type of driving we typically do (rarely more than an hour from home and most often less than a 10-minute drive), an electric car works well. 

If you've been a long-time reader you know I have always hated driving here, at least driving more than 10 km from home. However, in the weeks leading up to my shooting test I needed to drive myself to Stuttgart and Esslingen for gun handling training and shooting practice. I was nervous at first, but I had no choice but to do it. Being forced to drive in whatever conditions the Stuttgart Autobahn threw at me turned out to be a good experience. I still don't drive willingly, but I know that I can handle it if I must. All of that driving was in our "old" Audi, but switching to the Jaguar has not been a problem. 


My whole reason for going for my Jagdschein was so that I could then take another class and test to become a Falknerin (falconer). That course begins later this year and lasts eight days, followed immediately by the test. M is doing the class and test with me, so with enough hard work and studying, we will both soon be Jungfalkner!

For several weeks I've been meeting once or twice a week with a Falkner who lives not far from us to study. He's been helping me so much to understand what lies ahead, what having a Beizvogel (hunting bird) entails, important laws to be familiar with, and much more. I've learned the Falknerknoten (falconer's knot, which is tied using only one hand), details about the relevant Greifvögel (birds of prey) and their prey, the latin names of the birds, the special Falknersprache (falconer's language) and Federkunde (feathers).

I need to know from which birds such feathers come,
where the feathers were on the bird, and label the parts of the feather.

People keep asking us what kind of falcon we'll get later, but we're not that far in our plans yet. It probably won't be a falcon at all, because they're not really beginner birds. Perhaps a Habicht (goshawk) or two Harris Hawks. I'd still love to have a Steinkauz or Waldkauz, but we'll see.

Current Events

Not much to say besides "God help us all!" At least not much that's printable. The shit show going on in the US is exhausting to follow. The "debate" was a national humiliation and I am left completely baffled that anyone can still support that insufferable manchild. But support him they do. He's the messiah of the GOP (Grand Ol' Party, or Republicans) and they support him with either their rapturous jubilation or their silent agreement. I'm disgusted. I may not be thrilled with Biden as the only other viable choice, but we need relief and Biden is a decent person who will surround himself with good people, not just loyal bootlickers. He believes in things like science and climate change and heeds the experts. And he will not selfishly endanger everyone around him to satisfy his indefatigable ego. The democrats want the kind of future I want to leave to my children.

I have printed out, completed and asked our Schießtrainer to witness my absentee ballot, and I sent it to Wisconsin - by mail. Now I have to wait and see if it arrives and gets processed. Here's hoping...

I have agreed to write a column for the local paper about US politics from an expat's point-of-view, which is both exciting and a bit scary. My first piece (about absentee voting) will appear in tomorrow's paper!


I've got a new alarm tone on my Handy (cell phone), which makes me smile rather than thinking "damn alarm!" (Not for children's ears!) Someone edited clips from Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying's podcast and turned it into this song, and I begged M to put it on my phone. Now this wakes me up from naps, reminds me it's time to start dinner, and gets me up early when I have to teach. I should probably set a different alarm tone when I'm out of the house! LOL

That's roughly it for now. I hope you are all weathering the pandemic and keeping healthy. Keep your wits about you, practice self-care, and we'll get through this. We've got a ways to go, but let's hang in there!

What have you been up to lately?
Let me know in the comments or share a link to your blog!