A Refugee's Story: Andrew H. Speaks

German newspapers have graciously conferred refugee status in every foreigner here, so I would like to publish the story of Andrew H., whose story stands for so many.

Andrew H. in his state-subsidized apartment reading one of his favorite books"My name is Andrew H. I'd rather not give you my last name or where I live, except to say it's near the Rhine river. 

I arrived in Germany 10 years ago with nothing but two suitcases and a few college degrees. I was fleeing my home country. Perhaps you've heard of it -- it's called the United States of America. A backward and foolish leader had just taken power. He promptly plunged the country into several different wars at once. He ran a huge budget deficit, and appointed corrupt cronies to important government ministries. He was finally removed from office in 2008, but just as I thought it might be safe to return, a massive financial crisis enveloped the country, so I decided to stay.

The trip over was harrowing. I had to pay a shady outfit called "Air France" a small fortune for a tiny, cramped place among hundreds of other people. To add insult to injury, the in-flight 'entertainment' was Police Academy 3. I kept looking out the window in terror, wondering whether we would end up on the bottom of the Atlantic, like so many other Air France flights.

At first, Germans were welcoming. I found a job at a college, but it was only a temporary position, which needed to be renewed every 6 months. It took a long time getting used to the local customs and conditions. Attractive young female policewomen, seasons, crappy television, front-page tabloid tits, fantastic public transportation, the baffling omnipresence of kale, legal drinking in public, the constant grumbling and bitching -- all these things were new to me.

I found out that Germans had many prejudices about my people. They thought we Americans were loud, fat, arrogant culture-free boors who knew nothing about the rest of the world. They kept asking me why the rulers of my country were so violent and paranoid. People would call out: "Hey Ami, where's your SUV?" or "You can take your Big Mäc and shove it up your big fat white ass, Ami!" That really hurt. They were also concerned about the effect Americans would have on the job market. Time and again, they asked me: "So, you're an American, eh? Did you come here to give us jobs?" 

I soon realized I would need to learn German. I was kind of ambivalent. Not speaking German insulated me from the stupid things people said and wrote in my new homeland, significantly improving my mental health. Yet I knew that I needed to learn the language to advance my career. I won't lie to you -- it was hard learning German. But eventually I managed to scrape together enough German to get by. I found out that the natives here can't even begin to pronounce my first name correctly, and my last name actually means something not very flattering in their language.

I guess you could say I've fit in, sort of. There are still many things I miss about my homeland: Twinkies, twinks, 64-ounce sodas, random gun violence, Hummers, American Gladiators, chocolate-covered bacon, BaconBits, and bacon-flavored mayonnaise, just to name a few. But I've found lots of new things to like about Germany, including Sex-Kino 'Wichskabine', Schlager festivals, Heino, Sido, and Kotzbecken. All in all, it's been a rough transition, but I feel I've learned a lot as a human being."

The Minnesota Umlaut Wär

In which soulless bureaucrats try to strip 'Little Sweden' of its proud Nordic heritage:

[T]here is a city in Minnesota that had been known as Lindström — or, if you saw the signs greeting you on the way in or out of town in recent years, Lindstrom.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation replaced the signs welcoming people a few years back. These signs are generally replaced every decade or so after the U.S. Census takes place, and after the last such survey, new signs were brought to Lindström.

The state transportation authority relies on federal guidelines that outline what it can put on signs, and these rules say signs must use only “standard English characters,” said Kevin Gutknecht, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“So when we replaced the sign, we didn’t put the umlaut in,” Gutknecht said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

And that was that for a few years, with little notice since the signs were first put into place in 2012, he says. However, a few days ago, the Star Tribune noted that some people in Lindström were — politely — wondering where the umlauts went.

“It’s a big deal to us,” John Olinger, the city administrator, told the newspaper. (Olinger did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.)

On Wednesday, the state’s governor put his foot down: The dots were coming back.

Gov. Mark Dayton (D) announced that he would be signing an executive order demanding that state transportation officials put the umlauts back on the roadway signs.

“Nonsensical rules like this are exactly why people get frustrated with government,” Dayton, who grew up in Long Lake, about an hour southwest of Lindström, said in a statement. “Even if I have to drive to Lindström, and paint the umlauts on the city limit signs myself, I’ll do it.

That probably won’t be necessary, according to the Department of Transportation.

“We will certainly add umlauts to the signs in Lindström,” Gutknecht said Wednesday. “We’ll probably get that done within the next few days. It’ll be a fairly simple process.”

Lindström calls itself “America’s Little Sweden” on the city’s official site and states that the city was founded in the mid-19th century by a Swedish immigrant. Its sister city is Tingsryd, an area in southern Sweden.

...“The Swedish heritage in the Lindström area and the rest of our state should be celebrated,” state Rep. Laurie Halverson, who grew up in the city, said in a statement. She added that Lindström is a tourist hub for international visitors.

I confess to tearing up just a little but when I read what Governor Dayton's promise.


The Economist on German-Americans


The Economist gives us German-Americans some respect:

German-Americans are America’s largest single ethnic group (if you divide Hispanics into Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, etc). In 2013, according to the Census bureau, 46m Americans claimed German ancestry: more than the number who traced their roots to Ireland (33m) or England (25m). In whole swathes of the northern United States, German-Americans outnumber any other group (see map). Some 41% of the people in Wisconsin are of Teutonic stock.

Yet despite their numbers, they are barely visible. Everyone knows that Michael Dukakis is Greek-American, the Kennedy clan hail from Ireland and Mario Cuomo was an Italian-American. Fewer notice that John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Rand Paul, a senator from Kentucky with presidential ambitions, are of German origin.


German immigrants have flavoured American culture like cinnamon in an Apfelkuchen. They imported Christmas trees and Easter bunnies and gave America a taste for pretzels, hot dogs, bratwursts and sauerkraut. They built big Lutheran churches wherever they went. Germans in Wisconsin launched America’s first kindergarten and set up Turnvereine, or gymnastics clubs, in Milwaukee, Cincinnati and other cities.

After a failed revolution in Germany in 1848, disillusioned revolutionaries decamped to America and spread progressive ideas. “Germanism, socialism and beer makes Milwaukee different,” says John Gurda, a historian. Milwaukee is the only big American city that had Socialist mayors for several decades, of whom two, Emil Seidel and Frank Zeidler, were of German stock. As in so many other countries where Germans have settled, they have dominated the brewing trade. Beer barons such as Jacob Best, Joseph Schlitz, Frederick Pabst and Frederick Miller made Milwaukee the kind of city that more or less had to call its baseball team the Brewers.

Today German-Americans are quietly successful. Their median household income, at $61,500, is 18% above the national norm. They are more likely to have college degrees than other Americans, and less likely to be unemployed. A whopping 97% of them speak only English at home.

They have assimilated and prospered without any political help specially tailored for their ethnic group. “The Greeks and the Irish have a far stronger support network and lobby groups than we do,” says Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador in America. There was no German-American congressional caucus until 2010, though there were caucuses for potatoes, bicycles and Albanian affairs. The German caucus has quickly grown to about 100 members, who lobby for trade and investment as well as the preservation of their common cultural heritage.

New Documentary on Jens Soering

This is a new German documentary about Jens Soering, the German national who was convicted of a 1985 double-murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in Virginia, where he still is. Here are two trailers, the first in German, the second in English.

Soering's case has a long and complex history. While in England, he fought extradition to the state of Virginia on the grounds that it would violate European human rights law for Britain to extradite Soering to Virginia to face the possibility of capital punishment. The European Court of Human Rights agreed in Soering v. UK. Virginia dropped its demand for the death penalty, Soering was returned, convicted, and now is in prison for life.

He initially confessed to the crime and fled the country. He now claims he's innocent of the crime, but I haven't really been convinced by anything I've read so far. The documentary looks intriguing, I'll post any thoughts as soon as I've seen it.

This is the first and last time I will ever put a trigger warning on this blog, but these videos contain brief shots of crime scene photos with mutilated human bodies, so be advised. 

Freude, Zucht, Glaube in the USA

As a proud owner of a copy of the official National Socialist guide to summer camping (Freude, Zucht, Glaube -- Joy, Discipline, Faith), I was intrigued by this film, recently restored by the National Archives of the USA:

The curator notes

I have one great party trick. Anytime someone asks me if I’ve ever come across something really cool while working in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, I tell them about the time we had what looked like footage of a Boy Scout camp and then the Boy Scouts raised a Nazi flag along with the red, white, and blue. Without fail, I get the attention of anyone in within earshot. Then, I tell the assembled crowd that in the late 1930s the East Coast was home to many summer camps for the junior Nazis of America and the National Archives holds the film evidence. They might have been hoping that I would tell them about footage of the Roswell aliens, but the reaction to “American Nazi summer camps” is just about the same.

Volks-Deutsche Jungen in U.S.A. (German Youth in the U.S.A) you’ll see what first appears to be an unremarkable story of a boys’ summer camp. The film starts with the camp under construction and excited children piling onto chartered buses to make the journey from New York City to Windham, New York in the summer of 1937. The boys pitch tents, unload crates of baked beans, and perform physical fitness drills. If you pay close attention, you might notice that some of the boys are wearing shorts bearing the single lightning bolt insignia that marked the younger contingent of the Hitler Youth, but it’s not until the “Flaggenappell” (flag roll call) at 13:47 that the affiliation becomes clear.


Less well-known is that the DAB also operated as somewhat of a cultural indoctrination organization for German-American children, with activities that are depicted in several of the films we hold. The summer camps, complete with the official uniforms and banners of the Hitler Youth, might be the most visual and chilling example of the DAB’s attempts to instill Nazi sympathies in German-American children. Another film, intended to encourage boys to attend the camp, includes a perhaps unintentionally ominous intertitle that translates to “German boy you also belong to us.”

The Story of Germanic Ashkenazi Names

I occasionally encounter Germans who seem a bit shocked when I, or some other American, confidently assume that an American named 'Goldstein' or 'Feldman' or 'Rosenthal' is Jewish. (Generally, these are Germans who haven't spent much time in the USA). To them, these just seem like unusual German names, meaning the people who carry them could just as easily be Protestant or Catholic. I then explain that  -- all stereotyping aside, not that it matters, etc. etc. -- the chance that an American with one of these names isn't Jewish is vanishingly small.

That's because these are names were imposed on Ashkenazi Jewish communities by German-speaking bureaucrats in the 18th and 19th centuries. Over at Slate, Bennett Muraskin has an article on the eubject:

Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance).

These Jews then emigrated to the United States, carrying their names with them. For obvious reasons, very few Jews with these names are left in Germany. Muraskin provides a fairly exhaustive list of the names, many of which are instantly recognizable to any German-speaker. One of them many life-changing benefits of learning German is the ability to impress your Jewish -- and even Gentile! -- friends by telling them what their names mean. Muraskin provides a list, allowing you non-speakers to play yourself:

Ackerman — plowman; Baker/Boker — baker; Blecher — tinsmith; Fleisher/Fleishman/Katzoff/Metger — butcher; Cooperman — coppersmith; Drucker — printer; Einstein — mason; Farber — painter/dyer; Feinstein — jeweler; Fisher — fisherman; Forman — driver/teamster; Garber/Gerber — tanner; Glazer/Glass/Sklar — glazier; Goldstein — goldsmith; Graber — engraver; Kastner — cabinetmaker; Kunstler — artist; Kramer — storekeeper; Miller — miller; Nagler — nailmaker; Plotnick — carpenter; Sandler/Shuster — shoemaker; Schmidt/Kovalsky — blacksmith; Shnitzer — carver; Silverstein — jeweler; Spielman — player (musician?); Stein/Steiner/Stone — jeweler; Wasserman — water carrier.


Garfinkel/Garfunkel — diamond dealer; Holzman/Holtz/Waldman — timber dealer; Kaufman — merchant; Rokeach — spice merchant; Salzman — salt merchant; Seid/Seidman—silk merchant; Tabachnik — snuff seller; Tuchman — cloth merchant; Wachsman — wax dealer; Wechsler/Halphan — money changer; Wollman — wool merchant; Zucker/Zuckerman — sugar merchant.

Related to tailoring

Kravitz/Portnoy/Schneider/Snyder — tailor; Nadelman/Nudelman — also tailor, but from "needle"; Sher/Sherman — also tailor, but from "scissors" or "shears"; Presser/Pressman — clothing presser; Futterman/Kirshner/Kushner/Peltz — furrier; Weber — weaver.


Alter/Alterman — old; Dreyfus—three legged, perhaps referring to someone who walked with a cane; Erlich — honest; Frum — devout ; Gottleib — God lover, perhaps referring to someone very devout; Geller/Gelber — yellow, perhaps referring to someone with blond hair; Gross/Grossman — big; Gruber — coarse or vulgar; Feifer/Pfeifer — whistler; Fried/Friedman—happy; Hoch/Hochman/Langer/Langerman — tall; Klein/Kleinman — small; Koenig — king, perhaps someone who was chosen as a “Purim King,” in reality a poor wretch; Krauss — curly, as in curly hair; Kurtz/Kurtzman — short; Reich/Reichman — rich; Reisser — giant; Roth/Rothman — red head; Roth/Rothbard — red beard; Shein/Schoen/Schoenman — pretty, handsome; Schwartz/Shwartzman/Charney — black hair or dark complexion; Scharf/Scharfman — sharp, i.e  intelligent; Stark — strong, from the Yiddish shtark ; Springer — lively person, from the Yiddish springen for jump.

When Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were required to assume last names, some chose the nicest ones they could think of and may have been charged a registration fee by the authorities. According to the YIVO Encyclopedia, "The resulting names often are associated with nature and beauty. It is very plausible that the choices were influenced by the general romantic tendencies of German culture at that time." These names include: Applebaum — apple tree; Birnbaum — pear tree; Buchsbaum — box tree; Kestenbaum — chestnut tree; Kirschenbaum — cherry tree; Mandelbaum — almond tree; Nussbaum — nut tree; Tannenbaum — fir tree; Teitelbaum — palm tree.


Other names, chosen or purchased, were combinations with these roots:Blumen (flower), Fein (fine), Gold, Green, Lowen (lion), Rosen (rose), Schoen/Schein (pretty) — combined with berg (hill or mountain), thal (valley), bloom (flower), zweig (wreath), blatt (leaf), vald or wald (woods), feld (field).

Miscellaneous other names included Diamond; Glick/Gluck — luck; Hoffman — hopeful; Fried/Friedman — happiness; Lieber/Lieberman — lover.

Gerhart Hauptmann Haus, the Other Ostalgie, and the Origins of Becherovka

I recently gave a seminar in the Gerhart Hauptmann House in Düsseldorf (on a subject totally unrelated to him). The whole place seemed to be a kind of shrine to the former German populations in Eastern Europe, who were unceremoniously yet understandably kicked out of Poland, the Czech Republic, and other nations in the wake of World War II. This was the fate the befell Hauptmann (g), a German writer who won the Nobel Prize in 1912, himself. In fact the Hauptmann Haus in Düsseldorf is also the headquarters of the Bund der Vertriebenen for Northern Rhine - Westphalia (g). For those of you who don't know, this 'League of the Expelled' represents the interests of those millions of ethnic Germans who were expelled from historical areas of German settlement (as well as areas conquered and brutally occupied by the Nazis) east of the Oder/Neisse river, which was roughly the Eastern border of East Germany.

Somewhere between 12 and 16 million Germans were expelled from the East immediately after the war:


The expulsion was often brutal, accompanied by abuse and massacres, and most of the expellees were forced to leave their land and possessions behind. The human suffering was enormous, but, to put it bluntly, nobody cared much about German suffering in the immediate aftermath of World War II. After the collapse of Communism, the idea of compensation for the expropriated property was bruited in some German circles, but was met with incredulousness verging on hostility by Eastern European governments.

The survivors of the expellees are still well-organized today, and are a moderately powerful lobby in Germany. They're considered pretty right-wing, and their actions are often a thorn in the side of the German government. To say the issue of compensation for expelled ethnic Germans is a sensitive issue in Eastern capitals is quite the understatement.

Here are a few photographs from the dusty displays in the Haus, featuring typical toys, pastries, and even bitters from the German Sudetenland:


I had no idea that Becherovka was originally created by Germans. 


Finally, a charming nativity scene. Well, except for the giant, flaccid penises pointing directly at the Christ Child. Oh wait, those are candles. Yet another embarrassing situation that could have been prevented by air-conditioning.


Germans Are the Biggest, And Quietest, Ethnic Group in the U.S.

German Heritage in US

Bloomberg reports that people of German ancestry are still the dominant ethnic group in the United States:

The U.S., first populated by Native Americans, rediscovered by Europeans and colonized under the flags of the Spanish, English and French, is now filled with Germans.

More than half of the nation’s 3,143 counties contain a plurality of people who describe themselves as German-American, according to a Bloomberg compilation of data from the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey. The number of German- Americans rose by 6 million during the last decade to 49.8 million, almost as much as the nation’s 50.5 million Hispanics. (Click here to explore an interactive county-by-county map of U.S. ethnic groups.)


Germans have been immigrating in significant numbers to the U.S. since the 1680s, when they settled in New York and Pennsylvania. The bulk of German immigrants arrived in the mid- 19th century; they’ve been the nation’s predominant ethnic group since at least the 1980 census.

The increased identification with German culture contrasts with earlier eras in U.S. history -- during both world wars -- when many kept those ties quiet. The passage of time has replaced that impulse with a search for enduring traditions, said J. Gregory Redding, a professor of modern languages and literature at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

The 49.8 million German-Americans are more than triple the 14.7 million Asians counted in the 2010 census. Bloomberg’s county-by-county analysis broke down the Hispanic and Asian populations into subgroups by national origin, with Mexican- Americans and Chinese-Americans making up the largest share of their respective groups.

Americans of German descent top the list of U.S. ethnic groups, followed by Irish, 35.8 million; Mexican, 31.8 million; English, 27.4 million; and Italian, 17.6 million, the census shows.

Yes, there are millions of us. But you've never heard of us. Why? Because we stay in the background. We learned that from two world wars. We German-Americans are doing those well-paid but kind of boring jobs that form the backbone of American industry. We're managing your hardware stores, mixing your new industrial sealants, and overseeing your supply and distribution chains. Unlike more flamboyant ethnicities -- you know, the ones with lots of vowels in their names and/or dark, curly hair -- we don't call attention to our cute customs. That would be totally un-Lutheran.

Perhaps that should change. We German-Americans should begin flexing our cultural muscles. You want to invite me to drink green beer for St. Patrick's Day or eat matzohs at your seder or roast suckling pig at your Vietnamese wedding? Fine, I'll go! But then you have to come eat Käsespätzle and drink Weizenbier at my house. And then we're going to schunkeln. And you're going to like it!

When Your German Surname Mocks You

One of the many advantages of learning German is that I can return to the United States and inform the 50 million Americans of German ancestry what their last names mean. All these Totenbergs, Fickens, Himmelfarbs, Rosenthals, Koenigs, Knapps, Wagenknechts, Sensenbrenners, Schwarzkopfs, and Schoenemanns are usually blissfully unaware that their last names mean something (or at least imply something) in German.

Sometimes, the results are shock and dismay, other times bemusement. Heck, I could probably turn a profit from offfering this service.What made me think of this was an article in the American online magazine Salon about celebrities who are atheists, a group which apparently includes Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Keira Knightley, and Julianne Moore. (Almost all the celebrities mentioned in the article are American, by the way).

The author, apparently an atheist herself, says 'As I watch the Academy Awards each year, I’m always left wondering: Aren’t there any atheist celebrities? ... Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s awards ... the presence of many of these performers on the red carpet is certainly something to celebrate.'

The author's name: Laura ... Gottesdiener.*

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