HF

About HF

Born in New Mexico USA. Grew up in Calif., N.C., Florida. Tulane and U. of Nev. Reno. Taught German for 28 years. Lived in Berlin twice (2011, 2007-2008). Extensive travel in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, much of Europe, and Mexico. Book author and publisher - with expat interests.

November in German Culture and History


November: The Mourning Month and Its Fateful Dates

The first two days of November are significant in the Christian religious calendar. November 1 is All Saints Day (Allerheiligen). November 2 is All Souls Day (Allerseelen). In Germany, most of Europe, and all over the world where the western Christian church is dominant, these two days are devoted to remembering and praying for the “faithful departed.” Indeed, the Latin (Roman Catholic) name for this day is In Commemoratione Omnium Fidelium Defunctorum (“commemoration of all the faithful departed”).

Two Catrina figures

Two Catrina figures. The Mexican Calavera Catrina (“dapper skeleton” or “elegant skull”) began as social satire in 1910. Today the Catrina figure is associated with the Day of the Dead observance. PHOTO © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com (Wikimedia Commons)

Although Mexico’s Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos), a national holiday, is perhaps better known and a bit more colorful, if you visit some German cemeteries on the same dates, you’re likey to see a similar observance, complete with candles. The main difference is that in Germany there is no all-night vigil in which family members gather near the grave(s) of their “faithful departed,” as in many parts of Mexico. Germans also tend not to celebrate in quite as colorful a manner as in Mexico. You may not see Catrina skeletons, sugar skulls, or decorative masks in Germany, but you will see lighted candles. (See photo below.)

As history (and two world wars) would have it, November in the western world has become a month for commemorating the dead — whether fallen in war or otherwise. Since the 14th century, the Roman Catholic church has dedicated the month of November to the dead, and in the United States, November 11 is Veterans Day, a time to remember and honor those who fought and died, originally in the Great War ended by the armistice that took effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, on November 11, 1918. (In fact, the date was known as Armistice Day prior to World War II.) This day, known as Remembrance Day or Poppy Day in some other Allied nations, is also a holiday in France and Belgium. Continue reading

5 Places To Visit In Germany This Fall


Autumn in Germany • Herbst in Deutschland

Fall tourism can be excellent in many parts of Europe. The summer heat ebbs away, comfort foods (and beverages) abound, and many cities and countryside areas alike are at their most beautiful as the leaves change and the daylight dims ever so slightly. All of this is true of Germany. And that, coupled with a few noteworthy events and attractions, makes this a perfect country to keep on your list for autumn travel.

Here are five places in particular you must visit if you travel to Germany this or any other fall.

1. Jasmund National Park

Jasmund National Park

There are a few particularly nice places to view the beautiful nature that comes with fall. But among them, it’s difficult to top Jasmund National Park (Nationalpark Jasmund), created in 1990. This scenic nature reserve is found on the Jasmund peninsula of the island of Rügen in northern Germany. Here you can enjoy long hikes through changing trees, as well as occasional views of the Baltic Sea. The area may be particularly appealing to those who appreciate fine art, as it’s known to have inspired some of the works of 19th century German painter Caspar David Friedrich. Specifically, the chalk cliffs (see photo) within the park are the subject of a wonderful painting depicting a journey the artist once made with his wife. The work shows a human figure facing the deep and almost infinite space beyond the cliffs – a pose you may well imitate while enjoying this beautiful area. Continue reading

Goethe and Schiller in San Francisco


German culture at the “Goldenen Thor”

NOTE: This updated version posted on 28 August 2017 (the day when Goethe was born in 1749) was first published on 20 January 2010.

During a recent visit to San Francisco I got a surprising reminder of how truly widespread and important German culture once was in the United States – before two world wars drastically changed the role it played in America.

My wife and I were standing in a very long line of people, slowly making our way towards the entrance to the California Academy of Sciences building in Golden Gate Park. (And we all already had tickets!) As the line flowed at its glacial pace, I noticed a statue of two figures standing on a stone pedestal. I remarked to my wife that it looked like a German or European statue. As we got closer, the bronze figures seemed even more familiar.

Once we were standing right in front of the statue, I was amazed to read the inscription on the reddish stone base: “Goethe. Schiller.” As I gazed up at the large bronze figures of Germany’s two greatest poets and philosophers, I realized why they looked so familiar. This statue seemed to be the same one my wife and I had seen a few years earlier in Weimar, Germany. How the heck did it get here? What was the story behind this larger-than-life symbol of German culture standing in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco? Did any of these people in line, besides my wife and me, even know who Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Friedrich Schiller were?

I took out my iPhone and snapped a picture of the statue (see photo below), thinking I would try to solve this mystery later.

Goethe Schiller statue

The Goethe-Schiller memorial statue in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (Dec. 2009). PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Continue reading

German and Austrian Pioneers in LGBT Rights


Although we tend to think of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights movement as a modern, fairly recent phenomenon, the advocacy of homosexual rights goes back to the nineteenth century in Austria and Germany. Two pioneers in the field were the Austro-Hungarian Karl-Maria Kertbeny (who coined the word “homosexual”) and the German Magnus Hirschfeld (who invented the term “transvestite”). We’ll learn more about them and others below, but first let’s compare several European countries in the area of LGBT rights.

Hirschfeld

Pioneering German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935) in 1929. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The treatment of homosexuals in Europe, socially and legally, varies greatly by country. Only nine of Europe’s nations have legalized same-sex marriage. The Netherlands was the first European country to do so (in 2001). Northern European nations tend to be more progressive in LGBT rights than southern and eastern European lands. Here are some examples:

Germany
Being gay or lesbian is largely accepted in Germany, with most of the population feeling that sexual orientation is a non-issue. Berlin had an openly gay mayor (Klaus Wowereit) for many years. Legally, however, Germany has not been a leader in gay rights. But on June 30, 2017 that changed when the German Bundestag (parliament) voted in favor of same-sex marriage (“Ehe für alle”). Ironically, the CDU/CSU party of Angela Merkel, which had long blocked a vote on the issue, was encouraged by the chancellor to proceed with a vote. Although Merkel herself voted no, the marriage-equality law passed with 393 yes votes versus 226 no votes, meaning that 75 CDU/CSU members voted in favor of the new law.

Klaus Wowereit

Klaus Wowereit served as Berlin’s mayor (SPD) from 2001 until 2014. He “came out” prior to the 2001 mayoral elections. He is known for his now famous phrase: “Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so.” (“I’m gay, and that’s a good thing.”)
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

A special type of civil union existed for gay and lesbian couples for many years, but it was not really equal to marriage in several respects, including taxes. In May 2013 a high court decision on so-called “tax-splitting” (Steuersplitting) required the German government to allow homosexual couples to combine their incomes for tax purposes, just as heterosexual couples could do. This reduced the difference between a gay civil union (eine eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaften, “a registered life partnership”) and a “normal” heterosexual marriage, but it was still a “separate but equal” status. (Tax-splitting was already legal in 13 of Germany’s 16 states before the court’s ruling.) Many Germans had already called for doing away with this legal distinction before the recent marriage-equality vote. Continue reading

Red Bull and the Richest Man in Austria


According to the Forbes annual tally, there were seven billionaires in Austria in 2016. (Only one of them female.) Dietrich “Didi” Mateschitz (b. 1944) is at the top of that list – the wealthiest person in Austria.

So how did Herr Mateschitz amass his estimated $15.4 billion fortune (as of April 2017)? Perhaps you’ve heard of the energy drink known as Red Bull? Red Bull’s world headquarters are located in the tiny town of Fuschl am See (population 1,500) near Salzburg, Austria. All those drink cans are filled at plants in Austria and Switzerland. Mr. Mateschitz is the co-founder of Red Bull, which sold its first drink can in Austria in 1987. Today Red Bull sells its drinks in about 165 countries, pretty much all over the world.

If you don’t happen to live in Austria, you have probably never heard of the Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz. Continue reading

The Truth About Tipping (Trinkgeld) in Germany


Much of the online English-language tipping advice for Europe – and Germany in particular – is wrong. This is understandable when you realize that even most native Germans get restaurant tipping all wrong.

The Myth That Won’t Die
If you ask the typical German about how tipping should work in a German restaurant, the standard answer is to just round off the amount of the bill to the nearest euro. If the Rechnung comes to 33.40 euros, they’ll tell you to round that off to 34 or 35 euros, but never more than two or three euros Trinkgeld. Some Germans are even more stingy with tips than that! They will tell you that wait staff in Germany are well paid and the Bedienung (service charge) is included in the bill. But this is a stubborn myth (and lame excuse) that somehow never dies. Only if the menu clearly states that the service charge is included in the prices (Preise inklusive Bedienung) is that true, and that is almost never the case. But there is also an important distinction between Bedienungsgeld and Trinkgeld, which we will explain below.

restaurant menu

A doorside restaurant menu in Germany. Is a service charge included in the prices? Usually not. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

The Truth
Germans who are better informed will tell you the truth: The wages earned by a Kellner/Kellnerin in Germany are among the lowest of any profession in the country. Food servers in Germany start out at a minimum-wage level of just under nine euros per hour brutto (gross, before deductions). Experienced waiters/waitresses can earn from 10 to 12 euros per hour, depending on the location and the type of dining establishment. A new waiter in Bremen earns on average about 950 euros a month before deductions and tips. The German average is 1,646 euros a month. More experienced Kellner/Kellnerinnen can earn up to 2,400 euros monthly. The average annual wage for a food server in Germany is 18,000-21,000 euros, not including tips. (Wait-staff wages in Austria are lower; those in Switzerland are higher.) Whether experienced or not, a food server working in a German restaurant depends very much on tips from customers to bring their income up to a more reasonable level. If you consider 10 euros an hour, or 18,000 euros per annum “well paid,” then you have rather low expectations. Continue reading

Austria and Germany: Worlds Apart


Billy Wilder (1906-2002), the noted Austrian-American film director (Double Indemnity, Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot), as famous as he was, used to complain about how he was frequently misidentified as German. Americans often get Austria and Germany mixed up. Sometimes they even confuse Austria with Australia! Thus the joke T-shirts and signs found in Austria with a “no kangaroos” logo. Silly Americans!

Salzburg

The Hohensalzburg castle seen from the padlock bridge in Salzburg, Austria.
PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Never really that good at geography, Americans, even if they can find Austria on a map, also tend to be ignorant of the many great and subtle differences between the small Alpine republic (population 8.4 million), known as Österreich, and its much larger neighboring republic to the north, known as Deutschland (population 80 million). Austria is only about the size of the US state of South Carolina. Germany is slightly smaller than Montana. In some ways, the two countries can be compared to the United States and Canada, or the US and Great Britain (with the sizes reversed): They both speak the same language, but with significant differences, and they share a common history that has made them friends, yet has also left them worlds apart.

More at The German Way
Austria (culture/history)
Austria for Tourists (travel info/sights)

Even English-speakers with a modicum of German can hear the difference between the lilting, almost musical tones of Austrian German versus the less lilting, more crisp sound of standard German (Hochdeutsch). Bavarian, on the other hand, is very similar to Austrian. (Bavaria being a state in Germany, yet not quite part of Germany. Rather like Texas in a way.) The difference between Austrian German and standard German is similar to the difference between the drawling language heard in the US South versus the more standard English of the US Midwest or West. Continue reading

Berlin’s Abandoned Tempelhof Airport Becomes a Vast Park


I first wrote about Tempelhof Airport when I was living in Berlin, just before the air terminal shut down in 2008. In fact, my post about Tempelhof’s closing (now deleted) was one of the very first German Way Expat Blog posts. Berliners’ “nein” vote in an April 2008 referendum had sealed the historic airfield’s fate. It ceased operations as an airport at the end of October 2008. But, as with most things in Berlin, the decision on what to do with the now-idle airport remained in limbo for some time. Proposals ranged from developing the large site and using it to provide badly needed affordable housing, to leaving the grounds largely untouched as a park. (Thankfully, the airport terminal building is landmark protected and can’t be torn down. Guided tours are offered for individuals and groups.)

Tempelhof field aerial view

Tempelhof Field covers 386 hectares (954 acres, 1.5 sq. miles) including the terminal structure (303 ha without the buildings). PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Tempelhofer Feld
For a long time after its closing Tempelhof’s huge airfield was fenced off and unavailable to the public. But today Tempelhofer Feld (Tempelhof Field) is a popular park that attracts Berlin families and people of all sorts to its expansive, open environment on the grounds of what was once Berlin’s only commercial airport until the new Tegel airport opened in 1974.

Tempelhof gates

The boarding area of the Tempelhof terminal in 2007, just before the airport closed down. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Before Tempelhof Field first became an airport in the 1923, the area was a military parade ground. When the parades ended, Berliners took over the field as a park on weekends and holidays. Today the former parade ground and airport has been returned to its function as a park. The vast Tempelhof park now features six kilometers (4 miles) of asphalt-paved former runways and taxiways for recreational use. Where aircraft once took off and landed, visitors today can walk, jog, bike, skateboard, and rollerblade. The grass-covered fields around the former runways and taxiways are now popular for picnics, sunbathing, kite-flying and other leisure pursuits. (Also see Chloë’s post about Three Great Berlin Buildings That Used to be Something Very Different.)

Old Tempelhof runway

The former runways at Tempelhofer Feld park today serve as a recreational area for bike riders, joggers, and anyone who wants to enjoy the famed “Berliner Luft” (Berlin air). PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

The Tempelhof Field park is so large it can take 20-30 minutes just to walk from one end to the other. That’s why many people prefer to ride a bike or use something else with wheels (skateboards, scooters, etc., but nothing motorized) to navigate the vast field. It usually requires several visits over time to visit the entire area of the park, not counting the terminal complex.

Tempelhof’s heritage-protected terminal building complex stands largely empty today, but parts of it now are used to house offices for Berlin’s police department, the Berlin traffic control authority, a kindergarten, a dance school, a stage theater, and various other agencies. More recently, in October 2015, the hangar area became home to about 1,000 refugees – first housed “temporarily” in tents and now in cubicles. (Berlin’s refugee housing policies have come under heavy criticism, quite justly.) At its peak, Tempelhof’s hangars housed about 2,500 refugees. In February 2017, the city announced that 600 remaining refugees would move out of Tempelhof by the summer, with all of them rehoused by the early fall. As with any announcement by Berlin officials, one should be skeptical, but for the refugees’ sake let’s hope it’s true. Even after all refugees leave, Hangar 5 at Tempelhof will continue to serve as a refugee intake center (Ankunftszentrum). A new and controversial “container village” on the Tempelhof grounds is supposed to remain there only for two years. Continue reading