Author Archive

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Red-Red Coalition

June 20, 2010

On Thursday June 03 we visited Staatskanzlei Brandenburg and spoke with some of the representatives of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who have recently formed a coalition with the former Communist party, the Socialist Left party. Between the two parties they have a formed an alliance that supports a strong German welfare system. After our discussion I spoke with the state representative to further discuss the difficulties the coalition faces in regards to the welfare state and the persuasion of the dominating parties in Germany. We discussed the weakening demographic state of Germany, which can also be referred to as a ‘graying of the state’. This definitely has an extensive impact on the welfare state. That is, in Germany’s current conservative welfare state, what an individual pays into the state is what they receive in return from the state. There are however a few serious problems that arise with this type of welfare system.

In regards to the weakening demographic state in Germany, people are not having children like they used to. Namely, there are more elder individuals than that of the youth, and the whole concept of a conservative welfare state is that the younger individuals (those who are not retired) pay into the system to support those elderly individuals who are in need of retirement, Medicare, assisted living, hospice, etc. Alas, when there aren’t enough young individuals to pay into the system to support the elderly, the state must then step in pay.

The other major problem in regards to a conservative welfare state the high unemployment rate in Germany, particularly eastern Germany. Those employed pay taxes and that money is used to support those individuals who are unemployed, which presumes that they are in fact looking for a job. The problem however is that unemployment is very high, especially in the east and the money that those employed pay into the system is not enough to support those unemployed. Again, the state must then step in and pay.

This is merely a vicious cycle in which the German state is trying to get water from a dry well. Like the majority of politicians, the Brandenburg state representative didn’t really have an answer to such questions on how to reform the welfare state, decrease the vicious cycle of unemployment, or give further incentives to end Germany’s population decline. He merely said that the welfare system is a heated topic within the German government, because the dominating parties are not as enthusiastic in regards to a welfare system when unemployment is so high.

Of course I don’t have the answers as to what Germany should do, but there does need to be some type of reform in regards to the welfare state, or Germany is going to go broke! In the past few years they have made the initial stride to reform, by doing things such as basically cutting the unemployed off gradually after a year of being out of work. This is a good initial push, but Germany has a long road ahead if it is going to have a stronger welfare state, lower unemployment, and a stronger demographic state.

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Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung

June 14, 2010

On Tuesday June 01, 2010 we ventured to Ecologic to discuss Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung with Dr. Martin Jander. I found this lecture to be extremely helpful in regards to how individuals and families come to terms with the past. Dr. Jander mentioned that after WWII families were unable to talk about what their individual experiences were during the war. That is, information as to what actually went on during the war became lost in time due to individual recollection that was/is blurred by post traumatic stress of such disturbing and horrific events of the Holocaust.

Coming to terms with the past varies between that of individual memory and that of collective (societal) memory. In regards to collective and societal memory, historical landmarks are funded, preserved, and memorialized. For example, Hohenschoenhausen has been preserved and memorialized so that not only visitors but also former prisoners can visit the grounds in an almost pristine original condition. It has been preserved as a memorial to indicate the awareness of the atrocities of the Soviet Union and the Stasi, and also to signify that such acts will never happen there again. I was very pleased with Hohenschoenhausen in that almost the entire site is original rather than reconstructed. I also found it interesting that after reunification Germany almost kept it as a [regular] prison rather than preserving it to become a future memorial. I definitely agree with the final decision to memorialize Hohenschoenhausen so that there can be a collective coming to terms with the past.

In regards to individual memory and familial memory, this also varies between families. Dr. Jander used the term ‘secrets’ to describe familial knowledge of the memory of those who participated in the war. Posttraumatic stress aside, the dialogue between families varied after WWII. Many families will never know what actually happened due to the lack of dialogue between one another. This lecture touched me personally because of my German background. My father is originally from Mainz and my Oma was a young girl during WWII. Being as open as she possibly can be, she has shown me pictures from her childhood, including pictures of my great uncle in his Hitlerjugend uniform. Along with pictures, my Oma has well preserved documents that basically map our family tree in which my family was required to have to prove that they were in fact German. Other than pictures, my Oma does not remember much about the war besides often running to bomb shelters at night. After the war my Oma remembers my great-grandfather returning home and his skin being yellow. Shortly there after he passed away due to the tuberculosis he caught at a prisoner of war camp in Russia.

Prior to this course, I thought I knew a lot about my family. However, after that lecture I realized that I really don’t know anything and I truly believe that my Oma doesn’t know the full extent of what happened either due to her father’s untimely death. What bothers me most is that I will never know my great-grandfather’s full story of WWII.

In all, Hohenschoenhausen and my family story are only two examples of what Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung represents.

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Sachsenhausen

June 2, 2010

Berlin is definitely a city that never ceases to amaze me.  It may be poor, but damn it is sexy! It has a vibrant and rich culture, world-renowned architecture and a profound history.

Among all of the places we have been so far, Sachsenhausen has by far affected me the most. As I mentally prepared myself for that day, I don’t think I was fully aware of my emotional state of being. Usually something that intense would cause me to become an emotional wreck, however this time was different. Throughout the entire tour I was in shock and was horrified and was not able to shed a tear. This wasn’t due to the lack of sadness. I am incapable of comprehending how a human being can inflict something so horrific on another human being. I was horror-struck standing within the walls of Sachsenhausen.

In spite of this, at the end of the day our tour guide said that it is okay to walk throughout Sachsenhausen and think about things other than what happened there. That is, it is okay to think about your day and what you are doing that evening without feeling bad, and it is even okay not to cry. Sachsenhausen isn’t a concentration camp anymore. Today Sachsenhausen remains a memorial for not only those who lost their lives, but also as a signifier that nothing like that will ever happen there again.

Being able to walk around the serene landscape while taking in all of the information was definitely an eye-opening experience. From 1936 to 1945 tens of thousands of lives were taken at Sachsenhausen, yet today it holds a very different purpose. It is a way of recognizing the past in the form of a memorial, to ensure that it never happens again. The memorial at Sachsenhausen is Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung.

Whether you were like me and stood in shock in the middle of the triangle where so many deaths took place, or if you shed many tears for those lost due to pure inhumanity, I hope everyone was able to take their own piece of importance from that day at Sachsenhausen.