Trust a Stranger (or Three)


With all the news about violence and hatred and crime, it is good to remember that – at least in our part of the world – violent behavior is the exception, not the norm. And that, contrary to what we are often told, people are usually not planning to harm us. On the contrary. They are willing to help, or just need help themselves. I’ve made this experience twice in the last couple of weeks.

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The Pearl Harbor Memorial

There is still oil leaking from the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor…

The Arizona was one of the ships stationed at Pearl Harbor when the home of the US Pacific Fleet was attacked by hundreds of Japanese planes 77 years ago, during World War II. On that Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the “date that will live in infamy”, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said the next day when he asked Congress to declare war against Japan, 21 US warships were sunk or damaged, and more than 150 planes on nearby airfields destroyed. More than 2,300 Americans lost their lives.

Most of the ships were repaired and returned to service.  For three battleships, however, the destruction was too substantial. One of them was the USS  Arizona. 1,177 sailors and Marines were killed when she was attacked, over 900 of them could not be recovered and remain onboard. In 1962, a hull was placed on top of the shipwreck, but not touching it, to commemorate the crew, and other service members killed in the attack. The hull today is part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. It is currently closed for repairs until March 2019.

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

When I was visiting the memorial seven years ago, the feeling of German collective guilt was very present, just  like when I would visit Hiroshima many years later. In a war, both sides lose.

“Never Again”, was what I was taught in school. Never again, the Germans must be the ones starting a war. Never again, there must be discrimination, xenophobia, and aggression.

Today, there is a fear that this historical mission is fading. That the lessons of the past are lost in history books, dying with those who lived to tell the story. Last week was the first time no USS Arizona survivor was present when officials commemorated the anniversary of the attack.

Therefore, it is even more important to preserve memorials like the ones in Pearl Harbor, and keep the memory alive by listening to the stories of those who’ve experienced history.

Burg Meersburg – The Old Castle at Lake Constance

If you are visiting Lake Constance in Germany, be sure to check out Burg Meersburg, the old castle. Built in the 7th century, it features sleeping and dining rooms, a kitchen, a dungeon among other fully furnished rooms, and a tower with a spectacular view. You can tour the castle on your own and join a guided tour to the top of the tower. The castle has been remodeled many times by kings and bishops since it was first built, and people still live there today. Oh, and poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff died here.

Dresden’s Revival

Visiting Germany this summer, I spent two days in Dresden. And although it was raining cats and dogs the whole time, I was impressed by the beautiful buildings, all rebuilt or restored after the war or even after Germany’s reunification. The Semperoper was closed, unfortunately, but I could climb to the top of the Frauenkirche. And I could marvel at the old paintings in the Zwinger. The Elbe, however, did not have enough water after the long hot summer for a boat trip. But at the Panometer, I could get an impression of how the city looked during the Baroque in Yadegar Asisi’s impressive installation.

I stayed in the charming Hotel Smetana,  and had dinner one evening at the Restaurant Stresa, which has delicious food and an excellent wine selection.

Yesterday, a friend at the dinner table asked the question: Why does all progress (technical, medical, social…) seems to have happened in the last 100 years, or an even shorter period? In terms of IT, think of the Apollo Program and the much larger capacity your modern cell phone has. An interesting question, so I asked the internet… and came up with this: Continue reading

German American Heritage Museum in Washington, DC, Foto: Christina Bergmann

Have you ever been to the German American Heritage Museum (GAHM) in downtown DC, close to Chinatown? It’s worth a visit, and it’s free. These days, the museum is hosting an exhibition about “idealistic 19th-century immigrants who wanted to create the 25th U.S. state” – German immigrants, that is. They came from Giessen, close to Frankfurt, to Missouri. Here is the Washington Post story about the GAHM exhibit with the name “Utopia: Revisiting a German State in America“.

And while you’re at it, check out this WP article about “How to view art” by Philip Kennicott. Worth reading – and doing.


Happy Birthday, Germany

Who would have thought 25 years ago, that in 2014, Germany would celebrate it’s first quarter century as a united nation (although we still have to wait another year for the “official” 25th anniversay). On Oct 3rd, 1989, a peaceful German unification seemed like a dream that would never come true.

So let’s celebrate like on Wednesday at the German Embassy in DC,by remembering what happened 25 years ago,  like in this DW report, and with pictures from my now united hometown: Berlin.


“Play Yourself, Man”

The Goethe-Institute Washington, DC has a special program about jazz, celebrating Blue Note Records: “Blue Note Records celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2014. Its roots lie in Berlin, where Alfred Lion, a teenager in the thrall of swing music, met Francis (Frank) Wolff, a young photographer with similar musical interests, in 1924. Their mutual love of American jazz fed a strong friendship. Both men moved to New York in the 1930s, where Blue Note Records was born in 1939.”.

Today, Tuesday, May 27th, Wolfram Knauer, director of the German Jazz Institute Darmstadt talked about Jaz in Germany in “Deutsch am Mittag”. Jazz in Germany, he said, became special when the musicians followed the advice on how to become a good jazz musician: “Play yourself, man” – and don’t just imitate the  Americans. Berlin is now, according to Knauer, THE European center for jazz, where musicians go, although there is not much money to earn, the “atmosphere is creative, because everybody is there”.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, the Goethe Institute will host a discussion about the Role of Music in Cultural Diplomacy and a concert with Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes Quintet.


Young Journalists at Seitz Elementary

SeitzE4mediumIt is always amazing how enthusiastic kids are when it comes to journalism and writing. For three days, I had the pleasure of teaching the fifth graders at Seitz Elementary, Fort Riley, Kansas, about what a correspondent does and how to write a news article. Their assignment now is to write a news report about their school and the person the school is named for: Lieutenant General Richard J. Seitz.

General Seitz at the dedication of Seitz Elementary in September 2012

General Seitz at the dedication of Seitz Elementary in September 2012

General Seitz passed away last June, but in order to give them an opportunity to learn from “primary sources” about the general and his life, his son and nephew were invited for a “news conference” to the school to answer the kids’ questions. “It was an amazing experience”, says General Seitz’ son, Rick Seitz, and the general’s nephew, John Seitz, adds: “It was very enlightening because of the depth of their knowledge.”

During the press conference the young apprentices asked many questions and learned about General Seitz’ favorite color (yellow), his favorite medal (the Silver Star),that he loved practical jokes, was a paratrooper in World War II and retired as a three-star-general in Junction City.

Rick (left) and John Seitz

Rick (left) and John Seitz

Among other things, the kids heard that the retired general was very involved in the community and school life. He used to visit the classes, talked to the students and he admired the principal, Ms Samrie Devin, and the teachers.

The 5th grade teachers, Ms Hansen, Ms Lopez, Ms Smice, and Ms Cook, had worked with their classes to prepare the kids for their task.