From Christkind to Neujahr

9 Dec

I spent two weeks in Germany during my school’s winter break two years ago. My aunt, uncle and two cousins live there in a town called Unterleinleiter which is 26 miles outside of Nuremberg. We stayed through New Year. Interestingly, there is more than one Christmas tradition in Germany. The original tradition of Christkind, meaning Christ-child, is in a competition of sorts with Weihnachtsmann, or Santa Claus. Christkind is portrayed as a young blonde child who brings the gifts on December 6th. For a large part, Weihnachtsmann and secularized Christmas is becoming the dominant holiday, but some signs are still covered in Christkind advertising. A big part of winter in Germany is Gluhwein, which is a mulled warmed wine with spices in it. Interestingly, many towns in Germany are in valleys, separated by large tracts of empty land. Because fireworks are legal in Germany, a big part of Neujahr, or New Year, for my cousins is a battle of fireworks. The valley they live in divides loosely down the middle, and the two sides try to outdo the other side with fireworks. My youngest cousin, who was 7 at the time, was still awake for it. They tended to eat much later than we do here, sometimes not starting dinner until 10 o’clock, which is why my youngest cousin stayed up so late. Lunch also tended to be more of a snack than a meal, and it was sometimes skipped. Breakfast was usually bread or croissants with some sort of spread on it. For most German families, there would be meat involved in that meal, however all but my uncle are vegetarian. Obviously the biggest difference was the change of drinking age. My cousins, who are both around my age, drank beer fairly regularly, and were consequently confused as to why I didn’t drink. It was much healthier than the binge drinking favored by teenagers in America, because it’s legal and they can drink smaller amounts more often instead of trying to down it all at once. Simply being there, in such a different culture that is so much older than our own, made me want to visit again, hopefully more than once. Therefore, I figured learning German would be useful and a fun way to connect with my cousins.



The Brother’s Grimm

9 Dec

One of my favorite aspects of German history and culture is its rich tradition of folklore. It was the work of two German Academics, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, that brought many of today’s most popular and enduring fairy tales into the European collective consciousness. Without their work in collecting and modernizing classical European stories, it is unlikely that we would know of such famous stories as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and the Frog Prince.
The bothers Jacob and Wilhelm were born on January fourth, 1785 and February twenty fourth, 1786, respectively, in Hanau Germany. Although suffering from many hardships along side their other siblings in their young lives, the two brothers rose to become prominent academics, working primarily in the field of German linguistics. Aside from their collection of Fairy Tales, the brothers actually wrote the first comprehensive German Dictionary, as well as developing Grimm’s Law, a linguistic theory that demonstrated German’s connection to and transitional history from other more ancient languages. While celebrated for their academic achievements, The Brothers Grimm are also credited with the foundation of Germany’s earliest democratic movements and are still celebrated as the pioneers of German Politics.
While these little know facts about the brothers Grimm, of which there are many more, are quite interesting, the main reason I care about them is their collections of European Folklore and Fairy Tales. Their two volumes of stories make up the second most comprehensive collection of European Folklore ever complied, and certainly the most accessible. The most important thing about their collections is the manner in which they were able to convert all of the tales they came across into a more modern and easily understood style, allowing the stories to proliferate throughout all of Europe. Without the work of the Brothers Grimm, it is likely that many of the most important stories of our ancestors would have been lost forever.

Albert Einstein

9 Dec

It almost pains me to write about Albert Einstein because I know no matter what I attempt to try and convey on his behalf, it will still be a meagerly understated vignette of his lasting imprint on the world. All that I can say with the utmost certainty is that he has posthumously inspired me more than any intellectual has, and I imagine ever will, in my entire life.

My intrigue began early in my high school career when I was gifted a copy of Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe. I devoured it with utmost vehemence, thus beginning a spiraling obsession with the German physicist. There’s a level of respect that I have for him not only due to his sheer intellectual capacity, but for how he acted within the confines of early-20th century Germany. He was living in a time when progressive thought was quelled, and when the walls of antiquity, especially in the German classroom, held the gavel that determined what was correct and what was not. Einstein was a virtuoso and a rebel of his time. He is often portrayed as a bad student in school, but this is pure slander as he was an exceedingly profound student, if not disinterested in subjects that did not concern his intellectual intrigue. At twelve years old, for example, he had already taught himself Euclidean geometry. The story that many cling to also bolsters his status as the lone ranger of science during his time: during his time at the Eidgenössische Polytechnische Schule, Einstein was known to dispose of the lab directions given to him by his physics professor. The lab assistant noted that while Einstein did the experiments in sometimes completely different fashions, he achieved the same end-result. This is the innovator, the avant garde postulator that we all know today.

I think that it is difficult to discuss Albert Einstein without sharing his philosophical views of the universe. Einstein has often been misconstrued as being a theist. Instead, Einstein the man was more in tune with atheism, or at least a form of pantheism, or the belief that there is no omnipotent God, only Nature. Einstein’s views on religion have helped (along with countless other inspirations) me establish my own philosophical views of the world, particularly in the vein of atheism. To this day I consider myself an atheist (a devout one for hypocrisy’s sake) because of Einstein’s empirical analysis of Quantum mechanics, of relativity and of  his theories of photon energy.

I feel culturally related to Einstein as well, considering my grandparents grew up in Esslingen, very close in Baden-Württemberg to Ulm where Einstein was born. My Oma and Opa have often told me about what they remember from their time in Germany during World War II, and how well-silenced Einstein was because of his Jewish background. Because of how endowed we are in Germany culture in my family, I figure one of the reasons I have had such an affinity for Einstein is partially due to the culturally significant relation I feel towards him.

Einstein’s impact on civilization as a whole will be everlasting and permanent. This can decidedly be either a positive or negative thing to attribute to him, as he is famously quoted “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” What will become of our technological interpretation of atom-splicing? Will we continue to combat what we deem as “evil” with nuclear weapons? Will nuclear proliferation lead to some sort of End-war? Even Einstein himself is noted as having mailed FDR soon after the atom bomb was established, begging him to reconsider its usage. Needless to say there are few people in the world, alive or not, who incite as much respect in my eyes as does Albert Einstein, the Wandering Professor.


Einstein walking home from Princeton.

You Can’t Fight Fate

9 Dec

It seems like all of my life I have been connected to Germany. Even disregarding the fact that all four of my great-grandparents were first generation German immigrants, I seem to be surrounded by people who are linked to Deutschland in some way. The language was always interesting to me, even though for years I knew little more than “nein”.

I decided to take four years of Latin in high school, yet German still lingered it my mind, even to the point where I would sit in the back of Latin class and learn funny German phrases from my Austrian friend.  I thought I could teach myself Deutsch over the summer, but like many well-intentioned plans for higher learning, it never amounted to anything. No matter how hard I tried though, the idea of it learning German would not leave me alone, and it was the one language that I held a consistent interest in.

My interest in this language may have been partly due to the fact that as a classical singer (and a vocal major in college) I was given many songs from the German lieder, and it amazed me how a language that has a reputation for sounding harsh could be so beautiful and melodious when put to music.  It wasn’t until college though that I became enamored with one composer in particular: Johann Brahms.

Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany on May 7, 1833. He combined combined three centuries of different styles of music into his vast compositions, ranging from large-scale works of chamber and orchestral music, to piano pieces and songs and choral music. I think what I love most about Brahms is his versatility; he could jump from writing huge, complex symphonies to small folk pieces that have accompaniments that are just as interesting to listen to. Brahms died on 3 April 1897 and was buried in the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, in a grave of honor near the remains of Beethoven and Schubert, as a sign of his importance to German music culture for future generations.

I thought maybe I could limit my love of German music to my voice lessons, yet the German fates had other plans.  I got a job at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts, a music studio in Flemington, NJ, and when I met my boss, he was a musician from Germany! I don’t know why I am surrounded by so many Deutschlanders, but it seems to be something I just couldn’t fight, and so I did the next best thing: I embraced it.



Family Ties

7 Dec

I actually chose to start studying German in 5th grade.  My original reason for choosing German was that, while I am a typical American mutt, German is one of my largest cultural heritages, second only to Polish since my mother is almost completely polish and my father is a mutt.  I wanted to learn about the culture my family came from, and while Poland is very different from Germany, my Grandmother came over from Poland at the very beginning of World War II, and so I have heard many stories about what it was like there with the German influence.

I was in German class for five years before coming to college.  Once I started learning, I was intrigued by the language.  I was forced to stop taking German my Junior year of High School due to scheduling conflicts, and yet I would still speak in German with some friends of mine at school.  I regret having to stop, especially since I began to forget most of what I learned over those five years.  I still enjoyed the language, even if I began to forget most of it. 

By this time, my interests had dramatically changed from 5th grade, and I had become fascinated with German music.  Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, I wanted to learn as much as I could about German music and how the sound of the language related to/affected the sound of German music.  German is by far my favorite language to sing in, and I’ve sung in over 15 different languages.  And so, while I could have taken an easier language such as Spanish to fill my language requirements, I decided to take German again because I missed the language.  I am determined to apply what I learn in class to my musical world.  The German language never ceases to amaze me.

What grabbed my attention.

7 Dec

During my senior year in high school, I took a European history class, in which we obviously learned about the history. Part of this course included art from France, England, Spain and of course Germany. Before this class, I already had an interest in the German language because I am very into cars. My favorite cars originate from Italy and Germany, and so I would constantly watch videos on YouTube and other networks, many of them being in German. I always wished I could understand what the commentators and narrators were saying, and so from then on I wished to learn the language. I also, want to learn the language because I hope to visit Germany one day to experience these cars for myself. It would be nice if I could have my own encounter with these German cars I so like, and so learning the stepping stone to the language would be a great help. All my friends said that the German language always sounds angry, or unattractive. I on the other hand have a different opinion. I really like the German language and how it sounds. I think it’s unique and “out of the norm” to take German, since a lot of students opt to take French or Spanish. I wanted to take a language that other people wouldn’t normally take, and also something that could help me in the future. I wouldn’t mind going to Germany to work, for I am a Chemistry major, and Germany could be a good place for me.
Another main reason was my friend from my hometown speaks German fluently, so he had a great impact on my interest. I would always want to converse with him, but was never able to. Hopefully after German 101, I will be able to talk with him a little bit.



6 Dec

I agree with Germany’s Chancellor Merkel’s stance on ending the policy of multiculturalism.  Even though I am Turkish and I have many relatives that live in Germany, I don’t believe that their open door policy will work as it does in the U.S.  Which as of lately hasn’t been working to well either.  Germany is a geographically small country and cannot sustain the influx of immigrants from Turkey and other Arab countries.  I understand the reasons why these immigrants choose to leave their country.  With unemployment running rampant and living conditions that are sub standard and a government that is not only fundamentalist but corrupt as well, who wouldn’t want to flee.  So with the huge number of “guest workers”, Germany is like a balloon that is about to pop.  Too many people in such a small area will eventually lead to friction and that leads to animosity.  German citizens have a legitimate argument against this policy of multiculturalism.  Immigrants are displacing German jobs and are not integrating into German society.  Instead they refuse to learn the German language which is the first step to assimilate into the society.  Nobody will deny ones cultural heritage but when permanently entering another country, one must put forth some effort to try and fit in.  Turkey’s own President scolded the Turkish community living in Germany for not even attempting to learn the language much less be fluent.  This language barrier is a big part of the problem along with conflicts between Islamic culture and German laws.  I feel that if I invite someone to live in my house, I would expect that person to abide by my rules otherwise I would ask them to leave.  It is a simple analogy but its almost a mirror of what is happening in Germany today.  If I was to immigrate to another country I would think that it would be prudent to pick a country where my values and beliefs would be a better fit.