Is it Germany or is it France?

If you like your French with a side of German, the Alsace-Lorraine is the region for you. Traded back and forth between the two countries as borders changed throughout time, France came out the winner with this lovely little territory.

Alsace-Lorraine might sound like a mouthful….until you hear the full German name of Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen. This is a complicated name for an English speaker, but an uncomplicatedly beautiful place that features the best of both countries. I have visited just a few times, but this is one of the few places where I linger a bit longer and think maybe, just maybe, there are other places I could live in Europe besides Berlin.

A vineyard in Alsace-Lorraine PHOTO: Erin Porter

Brief History of the Alsace-Lorraine

It was French, then it was German, then it was French, then it was German and now it is French again.

Just kidding! Brief, but not that brief:

Once the home of the Gauls, this roughly 5,000 square mile area was officially recognized by the German Empire in 1871 after it annexed most of Alsace and the Moselle department of Lorraine after the Franco-Prussian War. After World War I in 1919, it was reclaimed by France. But during the German occupation of France from 1940 to 1945, Elsaß-Lothringen was German again. At the end of World War II, it found its home again as a French region as it remains today.
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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

How to tell when Germans are really being rude versus just being German


If you want to confirm the fact that the internet is not improving people’s IQs, just type “rude Germans” into your favorite search engine. Boom! You’ll get over 1.9 million results, most of which were written by morons. (But “rude French” pulls an amazing 39.1 million results!) Few of these online commentaries run counter to the usual “rude Germans” rant and the negative stereotype that so many Americans, Brits and others have of Germans. Even fewer of these web articles, forum posts and blogs offer any useful, helpful information on the topic of “rude” Germans, French, or other Europeans.

The Rudest Countries
I recently saw a CNN online article that listed the “10 Rudest Countries” in the world. As usual, France took first place in the rudeness race. Germany only came in fourth, right behind the UK. The USA placed seventh. But a survey like this, by the skycanner.com cheap flights travel site, is subject to all sorts of distortion, including cultural biases, language difficulties, personality differences, and ignorance, to name just a few.

What a person perceives as rudeness may only be a cultural misunderstanding. What is considered rude in one country or culture may not be regarded as rude in another. But every culture has people who are rude, no matter which culture it may be. Certain impolite behaviors are unacceptable in almost any culture. Sometimes an expat or traveler is actually right to consider someone rude! Continue reading

Grad School in Germany: 9 Unique Master Programs to Study for Free

 

Entrance to University of Bielefeld Photo: Jay Malone

Entrance to University of Bielefeld Photo: Jay Malone

Jane wrote back in October about the announcement that is still causing jaws to drop from Miami to Maui: the news that Germany, thanks to late arrival Lower Saxony, is now a country free of college tuition. Germany has long been known for its superlative system of higher education, and for many, like myself, the free tuition was just gravy. So for those of us who finished our undergraduate degree in the States, the only question to answer after recognizing the value of this opportunity is what to study. Fortunately, the German university scene is awash in graduate study programs certain to pique myriad interests while opening up future career opportunities in a variety of fields, enough to tempt just about anyone to pick up stakes and catch the first flight to Frankfurt. Here are a few standouts.

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Green Sauce

Chopping herbs in London

Chopping herbs in London Photo: Chloe Daniel

The origins of Frankfurter Grüne Sosse (green sauce) are not entirely clear. It is largely believed that the Romans brought it from the Near East. But the route the recipe followed from Italy to Hessen (where it is today a celebrated local speciality) is disputed. Some say it was introduced in Hessen by Italian trading families, others that the recipe travelled to France and was later brought to Germany by French Huguenots – a story which makes some sense, given that the second largest settlement of Huguenots in what is now Germany was in Hessen in the late seventeenth century. What I know for sure, however, is that Easter is not Easter in my parents-in-law’s house in Hessen without at least one meal of Grüne SosseContinue reading

Comparing Germany and France and…

There was a time when I thought certain practices and cultural quirks were uniquely German (or Austrian or Swiss), but as I traveled around Europe more and more, I realized that some “German” things are actually European things. The fear of a draft or breeze, for instance, or tense and aggressive driving, and other cultural traits that differ from those in North America.

And yet there are also some interesting differences among the people in the various European countries. I was just in France for about a week. (And mostly without internet access in a remote area, which explains why this blog is a day late.) My wife and I drove across much of Germany, but as soon as we crossed the German-Belgian border (which is barely marked, by the way) I noticed a difference in driving styles on the autobahn (or whatever the Belgians call it). Since, unlike in Germany, there is a speed limit on freeways (130 km/h, or 80 mph) in Belgium (and most European countries), you don’t have to worry about someone suddenly coming out of nowhere in the left lane, doing literally 100 mph (161 km/h) as they zoom past you like you were standing still. In Germany you really need to look twice before venturing into the fast lane! Continue reading

Ladenschluss – German Shopping Hours

For an American, it takes some getting used to. German shopping hours have come a long way over the last decade or so, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. I’ve followed the Ladenschluss (“store closing” law) phenomenon since the “good ol’ days” — when stores in Germany were locked up tighter than a drum by 6:00 or 6:30 in the evening, even in big cities. Sunday has always been a no-shopping day, but Berlin has been at the vanguard of the effort to change that. (Eastern Germans enjoyed better shopping hours in their socialist GDR — even on Sunday. They had less to shop for, but more time to shop for it. After the Wall came down, they suddenly had more restricted shopping hours.)

I have mixed feelings about not being able to buy anything on Sunday. Continue reading