One hundred words! And, German Politics

WOW. Do I seriously know 100 words in German? In just over a week?

I didn’t think I could do it. This took me all summer and then some with Turkish. I guess there are some benefits to studying related languages!

What was that marvellous word #100, I hear you ask. It was none other than the humble rechts -“right”. Not terribly glamorous, but useful for giving directions, along with its sister words links (“left”) and geradeaus (“straight on”).

In honour of my learning the directions links and rechts, it seems appropriate to take a look at their other, political, meanings. It’s time to learn about German politics!

First, the basics.

Germany is a federal parliamentary republic, which, as far as I can tell, basically means that governing power is split between federal and state governments, and that the head of state (i.e., the Prime Minister in Canada or the President in the US) is granted their power by a legislative brach (i,e., a parliament or a congress)

In Germany, federal power is managed by the Bundestag or German Parliament, while the Bundesrat represents Germany’s 16 states, or länder. Both are located in Berlin.

Every 5 years, the President, or Bundespräsident is elected by the Bundestag and state delegates. Since 2012, Joachim Gauck, a former pastor, has filled this role.

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Angela Merkel, Bundeskanzler of Germany

Germany also has a Bundeskanzler (Chancellor), elected for four-year terms. Dr. Angela Merkel, physicist, has been the Chancellor since 2005. She’s been in the news a lot lately for her openness to accepting refugees from the war in Syria, and most recently for her decision to allow a German satirist to be prosecuted for mocking Turkish President Erdoğan. She is also Germany’s first female chancellor, one of the architects of the EU, and has been described with such language as “the most powerful woman in the world“. I have no idea what her politics are like, but I think I like her.

Now, much further that this and I know I’m getting on to dangerous ground; politics are generally to be avoided in conversation. I know. And when I went to France, I tried to avoid learning about political parties. Bad idea! Ignoring them just meant that when I inevitably found myself in a political discussion, I had no idea what was going on. Therefore, without further ado, it’s time to look at some German political parties. Like in Canada, there seem to be several, with a couple of them rising to the forefront. These are the CDU and the SPD.

CDU

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The Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutshlands logo. With every ounce of creativity I’ve come to expect from political logo designers.

CDU stands for Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutschlands, or Christian Democratic Union of Germany. It is Germany’s main conservative party, and the party to which Bundeskanzler Merkel belongs (Did I use that word correctly?). According to their website, they stand for “…the Christian understanding between people and their accountability before God (…) a free and constitutional democracy, a social and ecological market economy, Germany’s inclusion in the Western values and defense community, and the unification of the nation, as well as a unified Europe.”

SPD

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The logo of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands. These logos, man. Are just blowing my mind.

The other large party in Germany, SPD is a centre-left party whose initials stand for Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or Social Democratic Party of Germany. The SPD is also Germany’s oldest party, founded in 1875. That’s only about 10 years younger than Canada! The party platform is one of social democracy, believing in a strengthened social market economy, a welfare state, civil rights and European integration. I tried to get direct quotes from their website, but it didn’t have an English section, Google translate was not quite good enough, and my German was definitely not good enough. Oh, well. One more reason to keep learning!

There are, of course, several more worth knowing, including…

The CSU (Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern or Christian Social Union of Bavaria), a sister party to the CDU, which apparently only exists in Bavaria (What? Not sure how that works), and is generally more “socially conservative

The Freie Demokratische Partei or Free Democratic Party (FDP) is a liberal party, which believes in both economic and social liberalism. In 2013, they were won no seats in the Bundestagfor the first time in the party’s history.

The Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance ‘90/Green Party) focuses on alternative energy, sustainable development and a green transport policy.

Apparently, German politics were pretty stable until Bündnis 90/De Grünen came along, and since then there’s been a whole bunch more parties created – among them the Die Linke (Left Party) and the Piraten Partei, which seems to be pretty much what it sounds like.

My thoughts?

Politics have always been tricky for me to keep track of – who thinks what, why, what they want to do and how they want to achieve it. Basically, though, German politics feel pretty familiar. You’ve got your centre-left (centre-links?) and centre-right (centre-rechts?), you’ve got more intense versions of each, and you’ve got a green party and a few out-there ones. What I was most struck by was the openly-religious bent of the CDU. I mean… “Our party was established in 1945 by individuals who wanted to construct Germany’s future with a Christian-influenced, non-denominational party of the people.”?

I’m not saying religion doesn’t play into politics in Canada and the US. I just don’t know if a leading party (the governing party, in fact) could get away with openly announcing that they want to construct a Christian-influenced future. In some ways I imagine it’s better to just say it and deal with the fact that religion influences politics. But then on the other hand isn’t the ideal, ostensibly, that it shouldn’t influence things? (And then there you’re getting into forms of knowledge and the value we place on knowledge that is perceived as emotional/spiritual vs. what is perceived as rational) That’s a whole other can of worms.

At the end of the day, the two systems feel more or less the same. Rechts, links, und geradeaus.

 

Geography – Berlin

Like the silly little Canadian I am, I thought I could learn about Germany’s capital city quickly. I always forget that the history of any city in Europe is about six hundred years longer than any city in North America, give or take a century. (Of course, off topic but important to mention: indigenous history goes back quite a bit further but our education system doesn’t really acknowledge that and it pisses me off) Nevertheless, here’s my best try:

What is it?

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First thing I saw on the official Berlin tourism page. I already love this city.

Berlin is the capital of Germany! (like I needed to tell you that) But it’s also a state. I keep needing to remind myself that no, states in Germany are not as big as provinces in Canada. I mean, can you imagine a city the size of Ontario?

Anyway, Berlin is located in northeastern Germany, kind of close to the Polish border, and is the second-most populous city in the European Union. So huge.

It pitches itself as being known for its “arts scene, nightlife, and modern architecture” I’ll add to that, tolerance. It keeps popping up when I search Berlin.

A Few (of many) Noteworthy Places:

A (very) abbreviated history of Berlin

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A map of baby Berlin! Found here: http://people.umass.edu/latour/Germany/ljennings/1237Map400.jpg

Berlin was built in the 13th century (or maybe earlier) as a trading post on the banks of the river Spree. It was the capital of the Prussian and German Empire. Through the 17th-19th centuries, Berlin became a centre of enlightenment and tolerance, accepting numerous immigrants and refugees. During the Industrial revolution, it became the most populated city in Germany.  In 1918, under the Weimar Republic, Berlin was demoted from capital city, but that wasn’t going to stop it. By the 1920s, Berlin had really taken off as a prosperous and busy city for the sciences and the arts, but by the 1930s, the economy was suffering and the Nazis came into power, WWII began, and the Jewish population was decimated.

In 1945, Berlin was taken by the Russian army – which was, I hear, a violent and traumatic affair . Germany, and therefore Berlin, were divided. In 1949 Berlin was split in half between the Eastern Soviet communists, and the Western Allied democrats, a split which would be made physical by the Berlin wall.

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A map from 1988, depicting West Berlin as a gaping hole. Really cool (and slightly disturbing) illustration of the immense political division. Found at http://360.here.com/2014/11/06/fall-wall-missing-pieces/

After the fall of the wall, Berlin was reinstated as the capital of a reunified Germany. And they all lived happily ever after!

Well. That’s probably not 100% true. But this website, which contains a slightly less-abbreviated history of Berlin, certainly seems to think so. This one has an even-less-abbreviated history, although it’s still pretty damn short.

A Few (of many) Notable Events

And the list. Goes. On. This was a dangerous undertaking – I could go on for DAYS about Berlin! I’ve already gone longer than I planned. Almost makes me wish I was going on exchange in Germany. (Oh wait, I AM! Not to Berlin though…)

Film – Metropolis

metropolisposterSo, a few nights ago I started this whole endeavour off with an appropriately clueless blunder. I thought I would get myself started off easy learning German by watching a German movie. I did a quick google search, and when Metropolis came up I jumped on it. It had been on my to-watch list for a while, and if I could get it in while learning a bit of German, well. Even better.

It took me about half an hour to realize that Metropolis is a silent movie. Smooth one, Saskia.

Now I’m clearly no film connoisseur. But the experience was interesting for other reasons. I had never seen a silent movie before, and I got to enjoy for myself some of that exquisitely theatrical acting. Lots of anguished clutching-of-the-chest.

I also never knew that, made in 1926, Metropolis was the most expensive film yet made in Europe, and the first feature-length science fiction film. The plot was not particularly extraordinary – In a futuristic city, Freder, son of Joh Fredersen, the city’s master, meets the beautiful working-class Maria. He rebels against his father’s treatment of the workers, and when the workers rise up against his father, he and Maria make the peace. (There’s more to it than that – like the evil robot/clone – but if you want more you’ll just have to watch it) The most striking thing about it, to me, was the ending. When I hear a story about a revolution, I expect something to change. In Les Miserables the revolutionaries are defeated and the city mourns; in The Hunger Games the social order is ultimately overthrown. In Metropolis, it seems that things just…go back to normal? Maybe it’s a difference of the times, but to me that’s a puzzling conclusion. What is the director trying to say?

However I may feel about the plot, it’s been described as a “bravura display of film craftsmanship”, and I must say the sets were impressive. It kind of puts me in mind of a 1920’s Avatar. Undeniably dazzling, but ultimately a little bit underwhelming in message and story.

There are those who would disagree. Apparently, the film was admired by Hitler, who even said he would like Lang (the director) to make propaganda films for him. Joseph Goebbels even offered him a job as the Head of the German Cinema Institute. Lang never accepted. In fact, he left Germany for Paris soon after. I have to wonder what was so appealing to them about the film. Maybe it was the message of unity, the implication that issues in society can be resolved without directly challenging those in power.

Either way, this was an…interesting way to kick of a year of learning German. Let’s hope my future attempts have a little bit more German in them!

Until next time,

Saskia

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 12.00.17 AM…Oh, yeah. I also was half-convinced at several points that the movie I was watching was about to turn into a gay romance. Which actually would have been really cool. 1920s, black and white, sci-fi, silent, gay, romance film about the ills of industrial society, anyone? I would watch that.

Some day, people. Some day. Just wait until I’m a famous German filmmaker.