Category Archives: World

On health insurance and bicycles

We wanted to write about cycling. Now I see the head of Francesca´s post — obviously she wants to write about health insurance.

Hmmm.

I know there was thunder and lightening in the US about Barack Obamas proposals for a new health insurance system. When we last met, Francesca got excited, too. I couldn´t. Health insurance isn´t an issue, it is a fact.

Everybody in Germany is insured, from the first to the last day of his or her life. Everybody in need is cared for. My health insurance covers medical treatment in all of Europe. I show my card, the doctor accepts it, my treatments are paid, that´s it. If I earn a lot of money, I pay more; if I earn less money, I pay less. Children and spouses without income are covered by my insurance as well.

If I earn enough money to be able to advance the medical bills before  my insurance company reimburses the bill, I´m allowed to go private. But I can decide to stay with the public system as well. In this system, my insurance rate depends only on the amount of money I earn, not on the money the insurance company spends on my medical bills. When I´m young I pay more than I cost the insurance. When I´m old I kind of get this money back, because then the medical costs are higher while the insurance rates still stay the same. There are several insurance companies in the public health system I can choose from. Each of them has a slightly different profile. But all of them have to stand by me when when I´m ill. They can´t end the contract the moment I need health insurance. They can pick me, but they can´t leave me. One of them even has to take anybody who pays the rates – no questions asked.

Pretty simple, isn´t it?

My duty done,  I can proceed to the joy of cycling.

Though this turns out to be an health issue, too. Cycling burns fat, kills stress and strenghtens the immune system.

Cycling is a natural part of German life. You will find at least one bicycle in 80 percent of the German households–there are more households with a bike than with a car!  On average, there are 1,8 bicycles in a household. Family with kids always have bicycles. Chances are fifty-fifty that their over-80 year old grandparents own a bicycle, too.

So, bicycles are omnipresent, though they are not always present. In my lifetime, from when I learnt cycling at the age of 7, I have owned and lost a lot of bicycles. Most of them were stolen. Each year, roughly 400 000 bikes are stolen in Germany, ten times as much as cars. Especially in cities like Frankfurt chances are high that you loose a good bike within a year. Therefore, city-dwellers often have two bikes: an old, dull, undesirable  working-bicycle for Monday to Friday,  that can be left outside like a horse in front of a saloon, and a sparkling sleek machine for the weekend, which is kept protected in cellars specially designed for bicycles.

To ride a bike to work is common practice in Germany, at least in the cities. It takes less time to go by bike than by car or by public transport. These bikes are practical: wide tires so you don´t get stuck in the tramway rails, a sturdy carrier for the laptop case or the shopping bag, a mudguard so you don´t end up with a strip of dirt on your shirt on a rainy day.

If these bicycles equal marriage, weekend bikes are love affairs. There is no end to how much a bicycle may cost. Though, as in extramarital affairs, men are the main actors here. Women can resist the temptation of superefficent brakes, superlight frames and superhigh gears. Men can´t.

This said, I must confess that I can´t, either. Though I don´t look the type. I learned this the hard way when, one Saturday morning, the whole family set out to get new bicycles: first my husband, then my son, then me. While the men discussed the merits of this Shimano gear system over that Shimano gear system, I strolled through the shop and found my bike.

“Which bike would you like?”, the salesman adressed me, having to leave a highly satisfying talk of experts for the mundane task of  earning some more money.

“I would like this one”,  I said.

“This one?” he cried in disbelief, as his expression of professional friendliness changed to incredulous surprise.

“Yes, this one. Is there anything wrong with the bike?” I inquired. “Can´t you recommend it?”

“It´s good. But … women  like you .. never ask for this bike.”

Maybe my black racing bike with dropped handlebars equals the red sports car middleaged men buy after their 45th birthday. It certainly offers open-top riding. But where is the blonde 20something to go with it?

@Truegerman

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Hospitality

Never visit a German unannounced, guidebooks to Germany say. First, I wanted to protest.

The way I grew up, everybody walked into our house when they wanted to. Everybody was welcome and everybody got something to eat. “Fünf sind geladen, zehn sind gekommen. Schütt Wasser in die Suppe, heiß alle herzlich willkommen” runs a German saying: “When you invite five and ten people come, don´t worry. Add water to your soup and welcome everyone with your heart”. This is the German hospitality I wanted to defend.

Till my neighbour rang the bell the other day – unannounced. I found myself standing in the doorframe, not moving one inch. I like her, but I tried to shield her view from  the mess my rooms are in.

I tell everybody that I´m a lousy housewife – but nobody believes me. No wonder, as I don´t allow anybody to see the state my surroundings normally are in. Of course I would add water to the soup and say a hearty welcome to any unannounced visitor–if they managed to pass my doorstep.

Last year I tried to introduce a kind of drop-by-if you-have time-event: a jour fixe. Every Friday night I opened the door to anybody who wanted to come – unannounced. On Friday afternoons, I cleaned the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room. I forced my son to lay the table. I sent out my husband to buy a better wine. I cooked till the kitchen couldn´t hold the food.

Nobody came.

Germans don´t like ambiguous situations. When I invited our friends saying: you are welcome every Friday night to drop by unannounced,  everybody was pleased: “That´s a good idea! No more complicated arrangements anymore, we just drop in”. Then, on Fridays, they started to worry: “Maybe Truegerman won´t be in this Friday. Or maybe there are already too much people. Did she really mean what she said?”.

Of course I meant it – but nobody believed me.

Tomorrow this won´t happen again. I invited, officially, one month ago and sent out a reminder one week ago. I asked a neighbour to help me with the cleaning last weekend: the floors sparkle, the windows let in the sun.

It took her five hours to do two rooms.

Now my friends can come.

They will find everything perfectly prepared. Of course, they will think: “If this is the state the rooms of a lousy housewife are in, German standards must be extremely high.”

This is the way myths are born.

They will live as long as nobody visits unannounced.

Sometimes it is good to act according to guidebooks.

But this is another story.

@Truegerman

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Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän

Germans love long words. We have an easy way to create them by stitching several nouns together. A Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän works as a captain for the  Danube steamship company. Though this word isn´t used much any more (when did you see your last steamship?) the spirit of it prevails. Especially as it is a title. Nobody admits this any more as democratic Germany yearns to be as relaxed as the Americans, but titles still count.

There are the professional titles like Doktor or Professor. Once you gained them you never loose them.They stick to you like a chewing gum to your shoe. There even is a law saying that those title are part of the name. Anyone who got his or her PhD can insist to be adressed Doktor or Professor.

This would never happen in Germany today. Nevertheless, in their heart, a lot of Doktors and Professors like to be adressed as such. The use or omission of the title serves as a subtle definition of  the hierachical relationship assumed: if  the partner without the title needs the goodwill of the other, he says Herr Doktor or Frau Professor.

Titles can run wild. In the course of a successfull career, they grow in length and weight.   A very honourable man can become Professor Doktor Doktor Doktor XYZ.

His wife used to be Frau Professor Doktor Doktor Doktor. Or even better: Frau Direktor, which means that her husband is a sucessfull businessman rather than a genius in academia.

Recently, I enjoyed a DVD-session with my son. We watched the first German soap opera, the story of work and love at a little family run printshop somewhere in Hessen, called the Firma Hesselbach. A lot of jokes based on the vain attempts of the owners wife, Frau Hesselbach, to be respected as Frau Direktor. “Ei Karl”, she would say when something went not her way “schließlich bin ich eine Frau Direktor“.

Alas, those time are long gone. Therefore, I´m bare of titles. My own doesn´t count any more: Diplomingenieur. It mean that I studied engineering at university and I still need it to get the right jobs, but nobody would adress me this way. Nobody but the Austrians: If you enjoy to hear a Herr Kandidat, Herr Assessor or Frau Ingenieur, cross the border and you will be in heaven.

The lean managment policies of the last decades killed a lot of stratum titles in companies. While I still remember the  Hauptgeschäftsführer, i.e. the main CEO, as compared to the normal CEO, the chance to get a prestigious title at work are dwindling. Luckily, there are millions af associations in Germany, and all of them need a president. While Andy Warhol  promised 15 minutes of fame to everybody, in Germany we have the guarantee of a presidency at least once in a lifetime.

At the moment, I´m Schulelternbeiratsvorsitzende, president of the parents association at school. This job runs out in summer. Then I will have to look for a new presidency–or create my own. In Germany, you need only three people to found a Verein, an association. ‘If we can convince our husbands to join, Francesca and I will be the founding mothers of  the “Verein zur Förderung der interkulturellen Weblogs”, the association for the promotion of intercultural weblogs.

In our first constitutional meeting we would stipulate that there shall be two presidents. The husbands can call themselves Stellvertretende Präsidenten, vice-presidents.

Unfortunately, we can´t make these titles hereditary, as in Truegerman, Präsidentin von und zu Lettersfromgermay.

But this is another story.

© Truegerman

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Queue – yes, we do

Yesterday I wanted to  buy a railway ticket. I put on comfortable shoes, expecting to have to wait in line for a long time.  Then, the big surprise at the station. I had to wait, but I could sit on cushioned red sofas. The queueing was done by a number system: push the button, get your placement in line, then sit down, relax, and wait for your number to show on the monitor.

This number system isn´t new in Germany, though before it seemed to be reserved for the unpleasant situations in life, like unemployment agencies and tax offices. There I would sit on hard chairs and mentally brave myself for the confrontation with the civil servant.

What´s new at the Deutsche Bahn is the nice atmosphere they create. I love those red sofas. They remind me of Starbucks, that´s probably why I was expecting a waiter to come by with a Latte or a glass of water.  Normally queuing isn´t that pleasant in Germany.

A lot of foreignersthink that Germans don´t queue. Believe me, there are lines in Germany, though not always at places where you would expect it.

In Germany, we don´t queue at busses, trams or railways. To get in first demands a great amount of calculation and knowledge of the territory: Where exactly will the bus stop? Does the door open to the left or the right? How will people move once they get out of the vehicle?

The most valuable of these skills I  didn´t learn in Germany, but in Australia. Before, it often happened that I placed myself in the wrong position, because I ignored the automatic movement of the masses. Sheep taught me what I had to know, the thousands  of sheep I had to bring from one paddock to the other. How do you force a flock of sheep through the bottleneck of a gate? Shouting? Pushing from behind? Swearing and firing a colt? No, you place yourself in the center of the crow,  the sheep have to circle around you. Then you move in such a way that the first sheep in the outer circle runs through the gate. Where one sheep goes, the others will follow.

While Darwin rules in public transportation, there are strict rules for queueing at the butchers or any place with a long counter. Normally, there is no space for a orderly line. Therefore there is an invisible queue. My duty as a customer is to remember who was already waiting when I came in. The sales person will ask: “Der Nächste bitte – Who comes next”? Then I must be quick, lift my hand and start my order. Sometimes, there is a feeling in the room that somebody will try to cheat. Then I get nervous, mark my territory by pushing closer to the counter. I square my shoulders and let my eyes wander around, sending silent warnings to anybody I suspect of breaching the line. If this doesn´t help I have to stop the line jumper with a sharp ” Ich war vor Ihnen dran – I came first.

When there are several counters, queuing rules have become a bit unclear over the last decades.Traditionally, there would be a line to every counter. Choose your line well! Otherwise latecomers will pass by to your left and to your right. Nothing more frustrating than this. It always happens to me. I have never been in the fastest lane in my life. I used to spend a lot of brainwork to choose my line: I counted the people in front of me, measured the amount of products they wanted to buy or tried to figure out the complexity of the problem they were due to present to the man behind the counter. It never worked: the swift business man wanted to rearrange a trip to five cities, the teenager had to count each Euro and Cent three times, the man with only three products in his basket couldn´t find his credit card.

Today, I leave my position in line to destiny. Or the number system of the Deutsche Bahn.

Whatever comes first.

But this is another story.

© Truegerman

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Turnfest or Where to look for the Real Fun

 “Today, the Internationale Deutsches Turnfest starts” I said to Francesca. “Let´s write about Turnen (gymnastics)”. 

“Okay” Francesca said “I have done gymnastics in a Turnverein as a child. Where does the Turnfest take place?”

Sometimes it shows that Francesca´s children don´t attend a public school in Frankfurt. I first heard about the Turnfest six month ago when the headmistress of my son´s school informed the parents association that in June all schools in Frankfurt would be closed for a week because of the Turnfest.

Schools in Germany never close outside the holidays. In  school life, everything is regulated. I even know the exact date when summer break will start in 2017. School is sacred. Turnen is even more sacred.

Its importance for the German lifestyle goes way back into the 19th century. Then,  part of the identity of the developping  Bürgertum-middle class based on the leisure time they could afford  to enjoy. As dutiful Untertanen-subjects to the emperor, they combined pleasure with work: to keep fit became an act of patriotism.

As early as 1811 Turnvater Jahn, the founder of the movement. opened the first Turnplatz in Berlin. He gave the movement its rules, its slogan (Frisch, fromm, fröhlich, frei) and its equipment (Reck, Pferd. Kasten, Barren).   The first Deutsches Turnfest took place nearly  nearly 200 years ago. Its aim: the battle against effeminacy of the German manhood. 

That is one of the reasons why schools in Frankfurt are closed for the Turnfest: The 100 000 participants will sleep on the floor in the classrooms and eat on wooden benches in the gymn halls. This is part of the spirit: no eiderdowns and  soft matresses, but hard floors and thin blankets. In a German sports club  hardship is part of the fun.

I learnt this – the hard way – when  I joined a rowing club. After a year of rather dull excercise I was allowed to take part in a Wanderfahrt, a rowing excursion down the river Mosel. ” That´s great” I rejoiced and started to dream of cosy Gasthäuser, little inns,  where I would snuggle under feathercuvets in a romantic attic room, drowsy from a sunny day, a glass of Mosel wine and a hot bath in the tub to relax my sports-strained muscles.

“Do you want me to organize the rooms in the Gasthäuser?” I offered, prepared to do my share of work.

“We sleep in the club houses.”

“Oh … Do other rowing clubs offer guestrooms?”

The old lady opposite me had been a member from this club for 50 years. She had carried heavy wooden rowing boats on her shoulders to the station 2 miles away for her first Wanderfahrt before World War II. She weighed a 100 pounds– a 100 pounds of steel.

“We sleep on the floor of the boat hangar. If you must, you can bring a camping mat. Though most of us do without.”

I will do without Wanderfahrten, I swore after the trip. My muscles where sore as a grapefruit, my back ached and I wasn´t able to bend my legs for a week. When the pain faded, I realised what hardships are good for: exciting stories. How boring would it be to read  about the trip in the Vereinsmagazin, the club magazine: “The weather was good, the food excellent and the beds warm and soft.” Oh no, we could write about boats hanging dangerously above our heads, of cold-water showers, of mysterious dark corners in rooms we couldn´t switch on lights in, of spiders running down the walls, and of the difficulty of getting some sleep in a room full of people groaning because of sore muscles.

I´m sure that the people camping in my son´s school  will report in the same way: “The water fountains at the opening ceremony were great. Do you know what happened afterwards? ” And they will tell the tale how they couldn´t find their room in the middle of the night because they didn´t realise that there were two staircases, how they had to get down again to find the toilets and it turned out that they were outside, on the other side of the school court, that  they had only two showers for two hundred people and no hot water after 6 a.m, that John und Jane were found sharing a sleeping bag …. 

Depending on the size of the sleeping bag, this shows remarkable  gymnastic talents. 

In Germany, most romances start either at the workplace or in the sportsclub. 

But this is another story.

©Truegerman

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Father – Daddy – Dad

I met my Dad coming out of a lift. I didn´t give him a chance of nervously pacing around a waiting room, sitting down and jumping up again. I was there when he arrived at the hospital, being carried around on the arm of a nurse.  I don´t remember this momentous meeting, but my father does.

What I remember are the times he took me to the printshops. I felt privileged to sneak a look at the enormous machines, smell the ink and see the huge paper rolls that were used to create the newspaper, which my father worked on. It was also very noisy, but I didn´t mind because that was part of the magic.

My Dad the journalist

I took it for granted that we lived in Europe, my father came from the States and had married an italian lady. Until recently I did not appreciate where he came from. In the course of this year we have spent many hours chatting about his childhood in a cozy midwestern town called Oak Harbor. We talked about the accident, which nearly killed him when he was seven and left him with one eye. We talked about him leaving his town and beginning life on his own at the University of Notre Dame (while still sending home all his wash ) and how he tried to get a foothold as cartoonist and journalist in the States after graduation.

He went to Europe as a tourist and decided to look for a job while there. He got lucky in Rome, where the “Daily American” was being published. A paper where, while it still existed, I also was able to visit the printshop. This is where he met a girl called Maria. He went off to Paris to work for the Herald Tribune, but found that he really missed the lady that became my Mother – Mummy – Mum. She joined him, while mastering climbing mountains of bureaucracy that were not used to dealing with an American and an Italian that wanted to get married in Paris in the year of 1957.

I discovered in our chats that he had saved every letter my mother and he wrote in this time of their long distance courtship. He saved every letter his mother sent him. He saved his lists of wash sent home from University. He saved every cartoon and copies of many of the articles he wrote.  We decided to go through all his material to organize it. For me it was like walking through time, discovering what was on my father´s mind and happening in his life at the time and with him there to explain and elaborate on pictures, drawings, stories and letters it all became real.

Sometimes things happen for a reason. I had just finished compiling an anthology for an adult learning course. It was a lot of work and of course I was doing it for free (which is something I cannot really afford, but who can nowadays). While we sorted through my Dad´s work I came upon familiar drawings of a pirate. He was called Captain Bucky and the drawings showed him golfing or skiing, things we normally don´t associate with pirates. But to my great surprise there were a lot more drawings of Bucky, which I had never seen and a story my father had written about the pirate. That´s when the pieces of the puzzle fell in place.

I had drawings. I had a story. I had an author and I had just learned how to create books. The idea was born and my father liked it. What a way to celebrate being over 80.

 

Pirate Bucky know what to do with Cannon Balls @John C. Krueger

Pirate Bucky knows what to do with Cannon Balls @John C. Krueger

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon the first print of “The Jolly Roger Twins – Pirates who fly Kites” will be produced. Little did I know there was a lot more learning to do, but throughout it all my Dad and I had a wonderful time creating his first book. And being 80 and suffering from makular degeneration, doesn´t stop him from making plans for the next one.

It will be called Roma Oma and Europa Opa.

@Francesca

Here is a sample of my Dad´s professional writing from the sixties:

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Break fast – That´s how it feels in the morning

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” I said to Francesca. ” Unfortunately, breakfast time in Germany is between 6 and 8 in the morning.”

At this time of the day, I can´t imagine to eat anything at all ever again for my whole lifetime. Even to look at anything edible makes me sick.

This has been a constant cause of battle between my mother and me. When I went to school, I had to leave the house at 6:30 to catch the bus. As a good German mother she insisted on me having a substantial breakfast. As a not-so-good German child I resisted. Who can eat Graubrot-grey bread, the staple diet for breakfast in the seventies, at 6:00 clock in the morning? It tasted the way it was called: grey and muddy. My mother tried Müsli-oat meal flakes. No fancy mixes then, but pure, wholemeal plated oat. Who can eat the staple diet for horses, at six a clock in the morning?

Finally, we found a compromise: two soft boiled eggs, and nothing else. This was victory. Soft-boild eggs traditionally are reserved for Sundays. On this day, Germans enjoyed the pleasures of eating: A big breakfast with Sonntagsei, homebaked Hefezopf and cooked ham started the day. Three hours later, the Sonntagsbraten followed: roasted pork with gravy. Another three hours later, the “Kaffee und Kuchen“. Another two hours, finally, the Abendbrot, a light meal with frankfurters or a Wurstsalat, a salad made of finely chopped sausages.

As on Sundays my parents allowed themselves to sleep in, I harbour sunny memories of these breakfasts after eight. The only other time my early morning rhythm and German work ethics came together nicely was when I worked on a farm. “Pigs and cows first” – this working order woke me up at 5 o´clock in the morning. I pulled on my dungarees and went out to feed the sows, piglets, cows, calves, bulls, hens, cats, kittens, dogs  and puppets that cried for forage. Three hours later,  I happily sat down to a voluptous feast of rolls and eggs and homemade jam.

“The French work to be able to eat. The Germans eat to be able to work”. I´m not sure which nations invented this saying. but both sides use it as a diffamation of the other.  So, to skip the early morning meal means not  to prepare yourself properly for a day of work.

Ironically, I breakfasted most when I worked least. At college, we established the nice custom to start each early morning study group at a kitchen table laid with everything our hungry stomachs wished for: fresh rolls, good cheese, the sausages sent by our mothers in weekly parcels full of food.  Unfortunately, politics soon spoilt this simple pleasure. Müsli-cereals-became the only accepted dish for the early hours. When I say Müsli, I don´t talk about those harmless varieties, sugarcoated, sweetened, processed.  I´m talking about the real thing: oat grain flaked by hand. Though even this could get worse. The ulitmate fad in eco-conscious nutrition was a dish made of handgrained wheat or oat, soaked in water the night before. In the morning, this slimey pulp was served with – nothing else. Only the most audacious dared to add a halfspoon of honey from freerange bees.

In the nineties, breakfast cafés became fashionable, though only in cities. In the countryside, nobody would dare to sit in a café at nine o´clock in the morning so everybody would see he/she wasn´t working. In the cities, this was the sole purpose: to be part of the in-crowd that were so smart they didn´t have to slave their hours away in a nine-to-five job.

After the seven years of  sumptuous two rolls-one croissant-ham-eggs-freshly-pressed-orange-juice luxury at eleven clock in the morning, the meagre years brought Latte Macchiato, the triumph of the dairy industry. Now, even women who are on a diet since the day they were born  drink half a pint of milk every morning.

My Latte is waiting for me. As it is after 8 o´clock in Germany, a Saturday morning and my spouse brought home a big bag from the bakery, I might dip in a croissant, the way the French do it.

Though they stick to Café au Lait, as Starbucks had to learn since it opened its first shop in Paris in 2004.

The French have very impressive ways to say Non, especially when somebody endangers their food traditions.

But this is another story.

©Truegerman

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