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It's Time for More American Policies

Ed's posts got me thinking. From them, we learn that Germans are still required to include a photograph with their job applications, and that German employers freely admit to choosing new employees based in part on their physical attractiveness. Based, of course, on the picture.

My prediction: this will be rare in Germany in 10 years. Why? Because it's now unheard-of and (essentially) illegal in the United States.

Marx, cheekily amending Hegel, once said that all facts and personages of history appear twice; the time first as tragedy, next as farce. Let me adapt this quotation to fit American public-policy initiatives: they appear in the European media first as farce, then as policy. Fifteen years ago, most Europeans were snorting with patronizing glee over those pleasure-hating American puritans who were banning cigarettes in public gathering places. Now, most of them live in countries with identical laws.

The same thing is true of racial discrimination. Europe is years behind North America in taking strong government action against discrimination and fostering public stigma against overt racial discrimination and stereotyping. Here's a recent post to a forum for English-speaking expats in Germany that reflects how an someone of Asian descent sees the situation in Germany:

I am Asian living in a small city in provincial southern Germany...  All over Germany...I have encountered a lot of stereotyping, good and bad, and it  gets tiring. For example, "all Chinese, Japanese, oh and Koreans study so hard and therefore you have learned German so quickly and well" -- a lot of comments which make my American PC sensibilities cringe and roll my eyes. This comes from mostly university-educated people too. I do get tired of it and of playing the educator/ambassador role because I can't always just accept that stereotypes, even if they are "positive" are good. You have to have a tough skin, take it in stride and know that it's part of your intercultural/study abroad experience. Having come from the US and London, I would say that attitudes here are generally about 25 years behind. I see this in general attitudes towards other foreigners especially towards the Turkish, for instance, which again, I find shocking because of the overt generalising and stereotyping.

This woman sees Germany as lagging behind North America here not because Germany's swarming with racists, but because old-fashioned attitudes still prevail, and discrimination is still not seen as a major public-policy issue.

This last point's important: the task of eliminating open racial discrimination and stereotyping from society is still seen by many Germans as either (1) not worth undertaking (either because discrimination doesn't exist or, much more rarely, because it's actually a good thing); or (2) some special concern of left-wingers. The mere fact that you take exception to racist jokes or discrimination in hiring, or that they listen to non-Western music, is considered enough to place you on the left wing of the political spectrum, among the "Greens" and "multi-kultis."

Another example: I once gave a presentation on American anti-discrimination law to which a few German lawyers showed up -- all white, all male. They were somewhat shocked by how extensive U.S. anti-discrimination law was. They were all of the opinion that Germany did not need similar laws, for one reason: there was no racial discrimination in Germany. Ever diplomatic (note the irony), I bit my tongue and refrained from asking them whether they'd ever asked someone of Turkish descent whether he thought there was discrimination in Germany. Nor did I ask them how they might feel about an age-discrimination law if they knew they would be fired after they reached age 55 (unemployment is 20% in this age group). These lawyers were at the very first, "crude" stage of conservative opposition to anti-discrimination laws -- the stage in which they hadn't even thought of these obvious criticisms of their position. (Here is a more sophisticated argument.)

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Getting Hired (or fired) in Germany Part IV

The long-promised end to the series on looking for jobs in Germany, kindly provided by sometime GJ contributor Ed Philp (who, by the way, is gainfully employed):

In this last addition to a small series on differences between applying for jobs in Germany and North America (my apologies for the intermediate delay – work actually got in the way) I take a look at the highly formalized German system of providing departing employees with a Zeugnis. Zeugnis can be translated as “letter of reference”; tellingly, it also means “testimony” (law) and “report card” or “evaluation” (academic). The German employment context is less a simple “letter of reference” and much more of a broad evaluation of your performance, deportment and character.

For German readers: departing employees in North America can ask for letters of reference from their previous employers. There are few hard and fast rules about these letters; generally, it is preferable to obtain them from an immediate supervisor who is able to judge your work performance, as opposed to the head of a department, who may have only met you once when you joined a company. An immediate supervisor may not be well-versed in the phrasing of the letter, so results and style can vary considerably; indeed, it is not uncommon for a supervisor to request that the employee draft the letter herself. The supervisor may then modify the suggested draft.

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Deeply 'Shocking' Skull-Photos

Good heavens, German soldiers serving in Afghanistan took photos of themselves, in 2003, posing with a human skull! There's only one word that comes close to describing my reaction to this headline-grabbing revelation: boredom.

Now, I comment less and less on current affairs on this blog, for one simple reason: I came to Germany because so little happens here. You can really live without distractions in a country where the unauthorized sale of elderly meat (which doesn't even make anyone sick) passes for a huge scandal.

But skullgate is just too rich to let pass without comment.

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Here Come the Testicle-Biting Optimists!

Urban density -- lots of people living stacked on top of and right next to each other in lively little neighborhoods. You don't get much of it in most U.S. cities, but you do in Germany.

Urban density means there are hundreds of people from all income levels and walks of life living within, say, 300 metres of your home. When you live in a nice, dense neighborhood, excitement comes to you; every time you leave your front door, something fun has happened.  In my neighborhood, the "German-Iranian Cultural Center" just inserted a marble plaque into the sidewalk commemorating Goethe's praise of the Persian poet Hafiz.

Dike_geschaeftAnother recent addition to the neighborhood is a "store" called ( The cardboard man in the window is smiling and holding a sign saying "I've got a good feeling!"

What can you buy here? Hard to say. The website offers no products (or if it does, they're well concealed), and describes its "motivation" thus:

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German Joys Review: Camera Buff

Polish director Krzyzstof Kieslowksi (known internationally mainly for the Trois Couleurs (G) trilogy he directed in the 1990s) made Camera Buff in 1979, long before his reputation had crossed the Polish border in a serious way.

We meet Filip Mosz (Jerzy Stuhr), an unassuming thirty-year-old who works as a purchasing manager for a factory in Wielice, a nothing town whose residents live in gray, pre-fabricated rent-barracks. As the movie begins, Irka (Malgorzata Zabkowska) gives birth to their first child, a daughter. At the time, Polish men were kept away from their wives during childbirth, and instead downed congratulatory vodka with friends. After sleeping off his hangover, Jerzy buys a Russian 8mm camera to record his new daughter’s first steps and words.

Cameras were rare in Poland then – Filip’s cost 2 months of his salary. When the factory director learns Philip has a camera, he orders him to film the company’s 25th anniversary celebration (speeches, visits by dignitaries, a cheesy band). This assignment sparks a fascination with moviemaking; Filip begins to imagine his daily environment filmed, and begins to frame shots with his hands. He forms a film club with the factory’s "cultural" subsidy. He's the director, and his wiry young friend Witek and a "crew" of other enthusiasts helps him. He submits the resulting movies to the local amateur film federation, headed by the sultry Anna (Ewa Pokas).

After getting some advice from some of the of bald, turtleneck-clad auteurs in the Film Federation, Filip begins coming up with his own ideas for short documentary films, among them a feature about a midget who works in the factory. A brief, hesitant flirtation sparks between Filip and Anna, and shortly after, the midget documentary is shown on Polish television. Filip attends a lecture by an established Polish feature-film director, Krzyzstof Zanussi, and persuades Zanussi to visit drab old Wielice to screen his new movie Camouflage and answer questions afterward. (Zanussi, a contemporary and friend of Kieslowski, plays himself in the film).

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Someone Help Susan Wenzel find Heintje Records

Heintje Over a year ago, I posted about Heintje, a German singer. When he was a child star in the late 1960s, Heintje sang a lot of songs about how much he loved his mother.

I said some rather unkind things about Heintje. I called his voice a 'spine-cracking metallic falsetto' and compared it to 'colony of enraged wasps stinging the listener's eardrum into pulp.' I stand by those characterizations.

However, others seem to have a more nuanced view. Against all expectations, this post has attracted more comments than almost anyother. There are, apparently, hordes of people who remember Heintje fondly, and are eager to relive golden moments they spent listening to his records. The comments come from as far away as Canada, China and New Zealand!

The latest is Susan Wenzel, who writes (you'll have to forgive the all-caps):


Go read her touching comment, if you can TOLERATE THE FACT THAT IT'S ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Ms. Wenzel is desperate for a CD of Heintje singing in English. Why don't you write her and tell her how to find one? Something tells me we're not dealing with an Internet connoisseur here, so maybe you should just send an email to MITZEE@AOL.COM.

Biting a Bishop's Head Off

WeckmannChristmas must be just around the corner, because my local bakery has Weckmaenner. These are wheat-flour pastries in the shape of a fat, bulbous man. He always holds a clay pipe, and may have raisins for eyes. My favorite kind of Weckmann is covered head-to-toe in marzipan paste and almond slivers, which makes him look like an albino porcupine having an orgasm. The combination of the serious, daddy's-office taste of roast almonds, the gooey sweetness of the marzipan paste, and the slightly sour-tasting fluffy wheat dough can't be beat. (When he's covered with nuts, you have to make sure not to accidentally bite into his pipe. So to speak.)

Whenever I encounter something edible in the shape of a living creature, I eat the head first. I figure if anyone were to eat me, I would request the same treatment. I may think twice about that, though, now that I find out the baking of the Weckmann during Advent is a centuries-old custom, and the Weckmann was originally meant to represent a bishop.

I learned that from the following webpage (G), which was written by a real theologian named Dr. theol. Manfred Becker-Huberti. My translation follows:

In the early days of the church, it was common, on Sundays and Church holidays, to give blessed, but not consecrated, bread to people who had not received the Eucharist, were not entitled to receive it (=penitents, catechumens) or were unable to receive it (=sick people staying at home). In the Greek and Russian Orthodox liturgy, this custom, which goes back to the early Christian Agape Meal (Feast of Christian Love) after religious services, has been maintained. Jews maintain this custom to this day: After the Kabbalah-Sabbath, the religious service on Friday evening at the beginning of Sabbath, all who took part in the service gather for a communal meal. Over the course of time, the pastry used during this meal took on a particular form relating to the celebration. It was called “image bread.“ The Weckmann (which is called Stutenkerl or Piepenkerl in Westphalia, Hefekerl in Switzerland, and also Printenmann, Hanselmann, Klasenmann) , which was common originally only on St. Nicholas’ day, but then later also for St. Martin’s Day and now during all of Advent is an “image bread;” that is a pastry formed into a figure made out of wheat flour or dough. It is supposed to represent a Bishop! The clay pipe one usually sees today is an error: If you turn it around so the end of the pipe faces the top, you can see even today that instead of the clay pipe, a Bishop’s crozier was originally attached to the pastry.

Critical, Satisfied, Threatened German Voters

The Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung ("Friedrich Ebert Foundation") is a German think-tank closely identified with the mainstream-left German Social Democratic Party. They recently released a report called Society in the Process of Reform (G-pdf) in which they indexed the political opinions and worldviews of a large, representative sample of German citizens.

They came up with the following typology, which I've translated for you.

The Performance-Oriented Individualists (11% share of the voting public) are opponents of state intervention in the economy and desire a society which primarily rewards individual accomplishment. Two-thirds of these are men. Politically, they prefer the conservative camp and are more likely than average voters to vote for the [free-market oriented] Free Democrat Party.

The Established High-Performers (15%) represent primarily the upper-middle class free-market conservative milieu from smaller towns.  They are strongly oriented towards performance and accomplishment, and have a stronger-than-average connection to the [mainstream conservative] Christian Democratic Union party.

The Critical Educated Elite (9%) represent the youngest, best-qualified, and most left-wing group. This part of society has the largest component of people who are active in society and in party politics. Over four-fifths of them vote for one of the three left-wing parties that are currently represented in the German Parliament.

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