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August 2008

Obama Before the Victory Column

So, it looks like Obama will speak in front of the Siegessäule (Victory Column) in Berlin.

CDU/CSU parliamentarian Andreas Schockenhoff bizarrely denounces this decision as a piece "unhappy symbolism," since the column, erected in 1873, celebrates German victories over Austria, Denmark, and France, countries which are now Germany's European partners. Two questions for Schockenhoff:

  1. As he's apparently deeply concerned about the negative symbolism of the Victory Column, does he think it should be demolished?
  2. Has he perchance obtained an advance copy of Obama's Berlin speech in which Obama praises the "glorious military might" of Germany's "over-men" whose sacrifice "ensured the purity of the Teutonic race"?

By the way, I might actually go to the speech. If I decide to go, I'll try to blog about it.


Baby Bonuses or Flexible Labor Markets?

The New York Times has a go at the question of why America's birthrate has remained stable while Europe's decreases:

But one other factor affecting the higher U.S. birthrate stands out in the minds of many observers. “There’s much less flexibility in the European system,” Haub says. “In Europe, both the society and the job market are more rigid.” There may be little state subsidy for child care in the U.S., and there is certainly nothing like the warm governmental nest that Norway feathers for fledgling families, but the American system seems to make up for it in other ways. As Hans-Peter Kohler of the University of Pennsylvania writes: “In general, women are deterred from having children when the economic cost — in the form of lower lifetime wages — is too high. Compared to other high-income countries, this cost is diminished by an American labor market that allows more flexible work hours and makes it easier to leave and then re-enter the labor force.” An American woman might choose to suspend her career for three or five years to raise a family, expecting to be able to resume working; that happens far less easily in Europe.

So there would seem to be two models for achieving higher fertility: the neosocialist Scandinavian system and the laissez-faire American one. Aassve put it to me this way: “You might say that in order to promote fertility, your society needs to be generous or flexible. The U.S. isn’t very generous, but it is flexible.

As for Germany and Austria:

They share many of the same characteristics of other Western European countries with regard to forces affecting family life, but in addition childlessness is peculiarly high in these countries, and has been for some time. A 2002 study found that 27.8 percent of German women born in 1960 were childless, a rate far higher than in any other European country. (The rate in France, for example, was 10.7.) When European women age 18 to 34 were asked in another study to state their ideal number of children, 16.6 percent of those in Germany and 12.6 percent in Austria answered “none.” (In Italy, by comparison, this figure was 3.8 percent.) The main reason seems to be a basic change in attitudes on the part of some women as to their “natural” role. According to Nikolai Botev, population and development adviser at the United Nations Population Fund, many observers have been surprised to find that in recent years “childlessness emerges as an ideal lifestyle.” No one has yet figured out why some countries are more predisposed to childlessness than others.

The question lurking in the background: Have these German/Austrian women given up on child-bearing because they genuinely have no interest in raising children? Or because it's just too hard to combine career and family, and you might as well not want what you don't think you can get?

Purely anecdotally, I know a few German women who say they're in group number one, but when you question them a bit more closely, they sound more and more like they're actually in group two...


'Fleshy Trash' (File Under German Thoroughness)

An eerily chirpy exchange between cannibal and victim:

cator99: So I’m the first? You have eaten human flesh before, or you haven’t?

antrophagus: No, you don’t exactly find it in the supermarket, unfortunately

...

antrophagus: After you’re dead, I’ll take you out and expertly carve you up. Except for a pair of knees and some fleshy trash (skin, cartilage, tendons), there won’t be much of you left

cator99: There will be a good bit, like the knees, I hope you have a good hiding place for them

antrophagus: I’ll dry out the knees and grind them up soon after

cator99: Okay, they’re good as fertilizer, I heard that once. I see you’ve thought about it.

My verdict: Todesbejahend!*

Continue reading "'Fleshy Trash' (File Under German Thoroughness)" »


Cubic Nation

I biked past this town last weekend:

Houses_and_garages

"In their spatial orientation, a perfect example of clarity can be seen in the fences, gates, and walls that surround all German houses and yards. These fences clearly and exactly mark the boundaries between the different properties and serve as a protective wall, limiting entry from outside. Lawns and yards without clear boundaries, which inexactly blend into one another, like those found in many American towns and suburbs, are too ambiguous for Germans. They believe instead that Robert Frost’s 'Good fences make good neighbors'* is actually more German than American. Given the limited space and high population density in Germany, this attitude makes sense."

-- Greg Nees, Germany: Unraveling an Enigma, p. 47.  The book's balanced and insightful, by the way.

* You Amerikanisten out there will know this, but I'd like to point out that Frost, of course, mocked the saying "good fences make good neighbors" in Mending Wall:

'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.'


Which Options? Which Table?

Bernard Chazelle on Bruni and Ahmadinejad:

Just when you thought Sarkozy's presidency couldn't get worse, his wife, Carla, has a new pop album out.

In it she sings: "Still a child, despite my 40 years, despite my 30 lovers."

The 30 include Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Donald Trump, Laurent Fabius (a former French Prime minister), and perhaps even her husband Sarko. Curiously missing from the list is President Ahmadinejad. This has made Iran watchers around the world ponder the true meaning of Sarkozy's latest remark: "All options are on the table." Which options? Which table?


German Colemanballs

They exist, and they're as good as the original Colemanballs.*  A selection from the book Abseitsfalle: "Der Spielt wie 'ne Parkuhr" (g), (roughly "Offsides Trap: 'He Plays like a Parking Meter'"):

"He plays like a parking meter. He just stands there, and the Bavarians stuff money into him."

- Max Merkel on the Bayern Muenchen player Mario Basler

"So many believed in me: my family, my manager, the coach, and especially God."

- Kevin Kuranyi

"Sex before the game? My boys can handle that any way they want. But during halftime -- no way."

- Berti Vogts

"A shot. A goal. That is Ailton."

- Ailton from Brazil

"You have no chance against referees, journalists, and your wife. You always lose."

- Wolfgang Wolf, coach of FC Nuremberg

"They need balls -- and someone to give them a hard kick."

- Legendary coach Udo Lattek on star players

"Does it bother the oak when a pig rubs up against it?"

- Oliver Kahn, on calls for him to resign as team captain because of his colorful private life

"Here, you play against someone in the afternoon who was hunting bears in the morning."

Sebastian Cimirotic on the professionalism of the Slovenian footbal league

"We had to totally concentrate -- especially in the mental area."

- Michael Meier, Borussia Dortmund's manager

[h/t Mica P.]

* Yes, some of these aren't actually gaffes, but let's not split hairs.


Should You Come to Germany?

I recently got an email from a young Anglo-Saxon reader of this blog.  He's got a couple of college degrees under his belt.  He'd met some Germans and rather fancied coming to the country to continue his studies or get a job. Here is the advice I'm giving him.  Feel free to add your own in comments.

Your best chances might be academic; since there’s a pretty good infrastructure for arranging for students to visit and study in Germany. The chance would present itself to write a dissertation at a German university. Many of them will let you do this in English – although the life of a graduate student in Germany is no less precarious than it is in the States. There's a lot of red tape, and accommodations are basic, although acceptable.

Keep in mind that if you stay long-term, you will have to learn German at a pretty sophisticated level, not only for bureaucratic reasons but also for peace of mind. Like most Europeans (and people in general), Germans instantly judge foreigners by the care with which people speak their language, and you will soon get tired of being condescended to because you are speaking what sounds like 'pidgin' German. At some point, you will have to actually learn the three noun genders (distributed randomly) and the four cases if you want to communicate effectively and be treated with respect in a work or academic setting. You can't 'pick up' proper German. The non-Germans who say this are usually speaking crappy German themselves, although you may not realize this until it's too late and they've taught you a lot of errors. So, learning German will unavoidably require good, solid German classes (which are easy to find and available at all price levels). But this is a feature, not a bug! Language classes are a blast -- you get to regress to childhood, social distinctions are erased for a brief shining moment, you learn lots of interesting stuff about other cultures, and you can meet lots of intriguing members of the opposite sex (if that's your thing).

As for living and working, I can tell you one thing up-front: it is much, much easier to get settled in and have a pleasant and productive time if you are invited by an institution (whether for employment or for study). The more resources the institution puts at your disposal in terms of clearing paperwork hurdles, the better. Coming to a German city ‘cold,’ with no job and no connections, is a terrible idea. You will be soon be entwined in yards of red tape, the authorities will not be friendly toward you, and unless you can get a job within a few months, you will be forced either to work “black” (underground) or be put on a path to being chucked out of the country.

And getting a job without connections or valuable job skills is extremely difficult. As a practical matter, the only thing that offers itself is teaching English. While this can be a pleasant enough occupation on its own, it is fraught with difficulties. The pay is low, the work is sporadic, the competition is intense, and believe you me, a substantial minority of people in this profession have decided to go to a foreign country and teach English there for less-than-wholesome reasons -- if you catch my drift. So, I’d strongly suggest coming as a student, if at all possible. If that doesn’t fly, I would try to work contacts among the students you know to try to find some sort of work. Perhaps you could join a few of them for trips to Germany, and try to schedule a meeting or two to probe job opportunities. As always, the more specialized skills you have, the better your chances of getting a job that will offer you a dignified existence.

If you can work something out like this, though, I would say by all means come. It’s a beautiful, fascinating country, and the quality of life you can enjoy even on a limited income is impressive. Germans are thrilled by foreigners who have a genuine interest in their country, and will treat you to all sorts of unforgettable experiences.


George W. Who?

As reported by Talking Points Memo:

"It would be nice if the German government would focus on strengthening its contacts to us rather than already beginning to look for our successors."

That's U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt, talking about Obama's plans for a rally at the Brandenburg Gate in late July. This is pure petulance. Whatever remaining business needs to be done with a lame-duck President who's despised by large majorities of both Europeans and Americans will get done regardless of whether Obama holds a rally in Berlin.

The Bush Administration's probably worried that Obama will attract large crowds (which he will) and highlight that masses of people are also desperately yearning for an end to the Bush era in Europe. The White House is probably also carrying water for John McCain, who is not eager to see footage of foreign leaders giving Obama tongue-baths and cheering crowds begging America to elect Obama.