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Photo: Lisa Marie Summer for the New York Times
A German opera company invited current refugees to be part of its production of “Moses,” lending immediacy to the story of exile.

Powerful stories from any century speak to the human condition in any other century. Thus, for example, the story of exile in the opera “Moses” speaks to the sense of dislocation that today’s refugees experience. To drive home that point, an opera company in Germany has invited current refugees to participate in a production.

Joshua Barone reports at the New York Times, ” ‘We tell the story of Moses because it is actually our story,’ one teenager, a refugee from Afghanistan by way of Iran, said in the Hazaragi dialect to the German-speaking audience at the Bavarian State Opera here on a recent Sunday evening.

“Others chimed in: ‘The story of Moses is also my story,’ they said in French, Kurdish, Greek and Arabic.

“They were the cast of ‘Moses,’ a feel-good yet sobering new production by the Bavarian State Opera’s youth program, written for refugees, children of immigrants and born-and-raised Bavarians.

“In the opera, a mixture of new music by Benedikt Brachtel and adapted excerpts from Rossini’s “Mosè in Egitto” [“Moses in Egypt”], the teenagers tell the story of Moses — common ground for followers of the Bible, Torah and Quran — with Brechtian interludes about refugee experiences and current events.

“The director Jessica Glause, who created the libretto based on interviews with refugees in the cast, has concocted a blend of humor, horror and youthful energy that hardly feels like a didactic documentary about Europe’s refugee crisis. Behind the scenes, ‘Moses’ has provided a way to learn German and make friends — in short, to make the process of migration a little less painful. And audiences have responded favorably. …

“Theater about the refugee crisis has proliferated in Germany since migration into the country reached its peak in 2016. But rarely has the hot-button issue — which continues to threaten Chancellor Angela Merkel’s power and fuel the rise of the far-right party Alternative for Germany, or AfD — entered the realm of opera, much less children’s opera. …

“Ms. Glause, who had volunteered on boats in the Mediterranean, also wrote the libretto for ‘Noah,’ after interviewing many of the same young refugees who are in ‘Moses.’ She described the process — hearing stories of loss, danger and fear from teenagers — as acting as both an artist and a counselor.

“Among the people she spoke with were Ali Madad Qorbani, a young man from Afghanistan who fled to Iran, then Europe, after his father had disappeared; and Zahra Akhlaqi, also from Afghanistan, whose mother came to Europe first while she and her sister waited in Iran, where, she said, they were forbidden from going to school but would dress up like students at home and play pretend.

“Now, their lives are slightly more stable, though just as precarious as any refugee’s. …

“There are still monologues of how and why some of the cast members came to Europe, but much of the material is about reconciling their faiths and cultures with those of Germany — including one humorous passage about trying German beer for the first time. But they also describe how they don’t always feel welcome, such as a scene in which the plagues in Moses’s story give way to one person describing signs near Munich that say refugees overrun Germany like locusts. …

“In interviews, [youth program director Ursula Gessat] and Ms. Glause were quick to say that their job is to reflect the world around them, and that it would be irresponsible to ignore the refugee crisis. Indeed, Ms. Glause said that conservative politicians may change their minds if they met the cast of ‘Moses.’

“ ‘I would tell them to come see this show,’ she said. ‘Come hear these stories.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

 

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Photo:  Diana Markosian / Magnum Photos
Yazidi refugee children are overcoming fear of the water in Germany.

One reason I was interested in the following story is that I have worked with Yazidi refugees from Iraq like these. One of the people in the family I know actually has relatives in Germany, where the story takes place.

Philip Oltermann writes at the Guardian, “When Hanan Elias Abdo looked over the side of the rubber boat into the deep blue sea, she could make out two large shapes, moving at speed. Were those dolphins? Or sharks? ‘Did you see the fishes?’ she shouted at her siblings.

“Six-year-old Sulin, the youngest, … was lying on top of a thin patch on the boat’s floor and could feel the water moving underneath her. At home, in the Sinjar mountains in Iraq, she had never more than splashed through an ankle-deep brook. What if the floor gave way and she got pushed into the bottomless depths? What, she thought, if the fishes started nibbling at her feet?

“That was in September 2015. Two and a half years later, Sulin stands atop a starting block in northern Germany, takes a two-step run-up, waggles her arms and legs mid-air, before landing in the 2-metre-deep turquoise water and splashing her giggling sisters who are paddling near the edges. Surfacing, she pulls a funny face at the man with the white beard and white slippers applauding her from the side of the pool. ‘That’s it!’ says Günter Schütte, Germany’s first swimming instructor to specialise in helping to cure refugees’ fear of water.

“Schütte is a teacher with 40 years’ experience teaching politics and sport at schools in Wolfsburg, and a passionate swimmer since he was 13. Throughout his career, he says with pride, he made sure that by the end of the school year there was never a non-swimmer in any of his classes. …

“When Schütte realised that many refugees who arrived in Wolfsburg were families from countries with little open water, and that many children had been traumatised by the journey across the Mediterranean, he decided that swimming could become a tool for better integration.

“From October 2015, he booked a two-hour slot every Sunday at a municipal swimming pool and handed out flyers advertising the course at asylum seekers’ shelters in the area. …

” ‘We take our time,’ he says, ‘because when you are scared, time-pressure is the last thing you need.’

“The purpose of the course was to help the new arrivals ease into an unfamiliar element – in a metaphorical sense, too. ‘By learning how to swim, refugees are no longer shut out from the sports lessons at school,” Schütte says. ‘Some of them also get a head start on their German peers – they have a sense of achievement.’ …

“Sinjar province, where Hanan, Helin and Sulin, now nine years old, grew up, is a traditional stronghold of the Yazidi minority who were declared infidels by al-Qaida and actively targeted by Isis in 2014. Helin, now 12, recalls a phone call late that summer from her grandmother, who lived in the next valley along: Isis fighters were approaching and the villagers had run out of ammunition. …

“There was no time to wait any longer. Their mother, the six siblings and a neighbouring couple all piled into a single car and headed for the Turkish border, leaving behind the two family goats and the cherry and orange trees in their garden. Months later, after crossing the Mediterranean and seven different countries, someone sent Helin a photograph of their village. ‘The war had flattened everything,’ she says. …

“For now, the pool can suspend the pressures bearing on them outside. … Hanan wants to go a step further and get the rescue swimming badge in silver, for which she has to take a jump from a 3-metre board, swim 25 metres underwater in one breath, and rescue a drowning person with pull stroke. Asked what she wants to do when she grows up, she doesn’t take long to come up with an answer. ‘I want to become a sports teacher.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Stefan Sauer/AFP/Getty Images
Amateur archaeologist Rene Schoen (left) and 13-year-old student Luca Malaschnichenko looking for treasures in Schaprode, Germany. The boy made a startling discovery in January, then participated in a professional dig that uncovered a larger trove.

In this National Public Radio story, a young boy working with an amateur archaeologist gets to experience the thrill of a significant find, one that underscores the historical connection between Germany and Denmark.

It wasn’t aluminum trash he found. It was a silver coin.

Camila Domonoske reports at NPR, “An amateur archaeologist and a 13-year-old student have uncovered a stash of thousand-year-old coins, rings and pearls on an island in the Baltic Sea in northern Germany, including items that might be tied to Harald Bluetooth, the famous king who united Denmark.

“René Schön and student Luca Malaschnitschenko were searching northern Rügen island with metal detectors when they found something they thought was aluminum but turned out to be silver, Agence France-Presse reports. …

“The two alerted professional archaeologists, and then helped recover of the rest of the trove — more than 600 silver objects dating from the late 10th century. …

“About 100 of the coins are from the reign of King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark: the largest find of such coins in the southern Baltic region, the [archaeology office of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania] office says.

“Harald I — his nickname is believed to come from a dead tooth that may have looked blueish — was a Viking king who united Denmark, conquered Norway and converted to Christianity.

“And based on the date of the stash, the state archaeology office says, it’s possible that the hoard wasn’t just from Bluetooth’s reign, but that it was directly tied to the king himself. …

“In case you were wondering: Yes, King Harald Bluetooth is the namesake for Bluetooth wireless technology. An Intel engineer who worked on the technology, Jim Kardach, was reading about Vikings as the project developed.

“In his words, King Bluetooth ‘was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.’ The Bluetooth symbol is a runic representation of his initials.”

More here.

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Photo: John Ydstie/NPR
Apprentice industrial clerk Henrik Tillmann assembles a valve for a commercial aircraft galley kitchen at Hebmuller Aerospace near Dusseldorf, Germany.

The old-time way of learning a trade — by working as a low-fee apprentice for a few years — never completely died out and remains the reason Germany is a manufacturing powerhouse.

In the second of three reports at National Public Radio (NPR), John Ydstie explains.

“Manufacturing accounts for nearly a quarter of Germany’s economy. In the U.S., it’s about half that. A key element of that success is Germany’s apprenticeship training program.

“Every year, about half a million young Germans enter the workforce through these programs. They provide a steady stream of highly qualified industrial workers that helps Germany maintain a reputation for producing top-quality products.

“Henrik Tillmann is among the current crop of young apprentices. The 19-year-old is training at Hebmuller Aerospace to be an industrial clerk, which qualifies him to do a variety of jobs from materials purchasing to marketing. Each week he spends three-and-a-half days at the company’s production center, and a day and a half at a government-funded school. Before he can become a clerk, though, Tillmann must first learn how to build the valves Hebmuller sells to aerospace companies.

“He will be a better clerk, says his boss, Axel Hebmuller, because he’ll know the valves inside out when he describes them for customers. …

“Hebmuller says only 3 of the 16 people who work for his company went to university. …

“Felix Rauner, a professor at the University of Bremen, says … the U.S. approach to vocational education has been ineffective partly because it’s often not directly connected to specific jobs at real companies.

“Also, says Rauner, U.S. society has stigmatized vocational education, so most American parents see college as the only path to status and a good career for their children. Rauner says there’s a troubling trend in that direction in Germany, too. But, in Germany there’s still lots of prestige attached when someone, trained through apprenticeship, achieves master status.”

In the US, entrepreneur and philanthropist Gerald Chertavian had to pretty much reinvent the wheel for his nonprofit Year Up, building partnerships with companies to give his organization’s young adults serious internships. The internships are not quite apprenticeships but they lead to real skills and real jobs. Year Up’s expansion around the nation is proof of the pudding.

I’m also familiar with a genuine US apprenticeship effort in Rhode Island. Led by Andrew Cortés, founder of Building Futures and Apprenticeship Rhode Island, it produces the skilled construction workers that employers look for.

For more on Germany’s approach, click here.

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Photo: Marcus Teply/PRI
Dr. Andre Niemann with a partial model of his plan to turn Prosper-Haniel into a pumped storage system (basically a giant, water-powered battery). “It shows responsibility. It shows that if mining is over you’re not leaving the place.” 

Recently I read a sad story about a coal miner in the U.S. who once thought he and his infant son would have secure jobs long into the future. Now his mine is closing and he’s off to find another.

What’s sad to me is that although there are opportunities to retrain in up and coming industries, he and his family are chasing a dead one. But I can understand that he wants to keep earning six figures, a salary unlikely in most fields for which he might train.

Meanwhile, in Germany, people in an old coal town are biting the global-warming bullet and moving on.

Valerie Hamilton reports at PRI’s the World, “For most people, the top of the mine shaft at the Prosper-Haniel coal mine in Bottrop, Germany, just looks like a big black hole. But Andre Niemann looked into that hole and saw the future.

“Niemann leads the hydraulic engineering and water resources department at the University of Duisberg-Essen, in the heart of German coal country, western Germany’s Ruhr Valley. For more than 150 years, Germany mined millions of tons of anthracite, or hard coal, from coal mines here that at their peak employed half a million miners. But that’s history now — Germany’s government decided a decade ago to end subsidies that made German hard coal competitive with imports. …

“The end of hard coal mining in Germany comes just as Germany is working to slash its CO2 emissions by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources like wind and solar. The country calls it the Energiewende, or ‘energy transition.’ But wind and solar aren’t always there when they’re needed, so a key challenge of the Energiewende is to find ways to store sun and wind energy for later use.

“One way to do that is with a pumped energy storage system — basically a giant, water-powered battery. When the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, the excess energy is used to pump large amounts of water uphill into a reservoir. When the sun goes down or the wind dies, that excess energy can be released by letting the water flow back downhill, through turbines that generate electricity like in a hydroelectric dam.

“Existing pump storage systems make use of hills or mountains for the necessary difference in altitude. But Niemann says the depth of a coal mine — like Prosper-Haniel — would work just as well.

“He and a team of researchers have worked up a plan to turn the mine into a pumped energy storage system that could generate 200 megawatts of power, enough for almost half a million homes. Water would be pumped through a closed system of pipes from 2,000 feet below ground level up to the surface and fall back down again on demand, regenerating 85 percent of the renewable energy used to pump the water up in the first place — energy that would otherwise be wasted. …

“Niemann, who grew up in a coal-mining family in the coal city of Ibbenbueren, says it would be a powerful symbol that as Germany transforms its energy landscape, coal regions won’t be left behind. …

“[Miner Ernst] Mueller explains the deal offered to him and every other mine worker in 2007, when the German government moved to end the subsidies that kept Germany’s hard coal mines afloat. …

“Underground workers over 50, and above-ground workers over 55, like Mueller, can retire early, paid by a company fund, as long as they have 20 years on the job. About 400 of their younger co-workers can stay on to maintain the mine area after it closes. The rest get job placement and training. Beike says [the company] promises to find every worker a new job. …

“The hope is, eventually, green business will pick up where coal left off. To prepare, the region has opened a new technical college in Bottrop to train the next generation of workers — not in coal, but in fields like green tech, water management and electro-mobility.”

More at Public Radio International, here.

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Photograph: ESBC Handout
Pupils at this German school have no homework and no grades until age 15, but they are learning a lot.

My husband and I have liked seeing how Montessori teachers guide children in learning. They get them started and then turn them loose to learn at their own speed and follow their own interests. Certainly, the approach has been good for Suzanne’s eldest.

Having been an elementary school teacher for five years right after college, I continue to be intrigued by different techniques. Here is a method that is working in Germany.

Philip Oltermann writes at The Guardian, “Anton Oberländer is a persuasive speaker. Last year, when he and a group of friends were short of cash for a camping trip to Cornwall, he managed to talk Germany’s national rail operator into handing them some free tickets. So impressed was the management with his chutzpah that they invited him back to give a motivational speech to 200 of their employees. Anton, it should be pointed out, is 14 years old.

“The Berlin teenager’s self-confidence is largely the product of a unique educational institution that has turned the conventions of traditional teaching radically upside down. At Oberländer’s school, there are no grades until students turn 15, no timetables and no lecture-style instructions. The pupils decide which subjects they want to study for each lesson and when they want to take an exam. …

“Set subjects are limited to maths, German, English and social studies, supplemented by more abstract courses such as ‘responsibility’ and ‘challenge.’ For challenge, students aged 12 to 14 are given €150 [$180] and sent on an adventure that they have to plan entirely by themselves. Some go kayaking; others work on a farm. Anton went trekking along England’s south coast. …

“The school’s headteacher, Margret Rasfeld, argues [that] the most important skill a school can pass down to its students is the ability to motivate themselves. …

“The Evangelical School Berlin Centre (ESBC) is trying to do nothing less than ‘reinvent what a school is,’ she says. ‘The mission of a progressive school should be to prepare young people to cope with change, or better still, to make them look forward to change. … Nothing motivates students more than when they discover the meaning behind a subject of their own accord.’ …

“Germany’s federalised education structure, in which each of the 16 states plans its own education system, has traditionally allowed ‘free learning’ models to flourish. Yet unlike Sudbury, Montessori or Steiner schools, Rasfeld’s institution tries to embed student self-determination within a relatively strict system of rules. Students who dawdle during lessons have to come into school on Saturday morning to catch up. …

“The main reason why the ESBC is gaining a reputation as Germany’s most exciting school is that its experimental philosophy has managed to deliver impressive results. … Yet some educational experts question whether the school’s methods can easily be exported: in Berlin, they say, the school can draw the most promising applicants from well-off and progressive families.

“Rasfeld rejects such criticisms, insisting that the school aims for a heterogenous mix of students from different backgrounds. While a cross adorns the assembly hall and each school day starts with worship, only one-third of current pupils are baptised. Thirty per cent of students have a migrant background and 7% are from households where no German is spoken.”

Read more here.

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Photo: DW/Bern Jutrczenka
Angela Merkel, German chancellor, has welcomed people fleeing war.

Here’s another approach to finding jobs for migrants. This one involves a website started in Germany, where the nationwide employment rate is high.

Jona Kallgren writes at the Boston Globe, “A startup company in Berlin is trying to help integrate last year’s flood of migrants into the German workforce with a tailor-made online job market for new arrivals.

“The website Migrant Hire, was founded earlier this year by a mix of Germans and migrants, and operates with a staff of five volunteers out of a shared working space in a former industrial building in Berlin’s trendy Kreuzberg district.

“More than 8,000 migrants have registered on the website — a fraction of the 890,000 asylum-seekers who arrived in Germany last year but a good sign that some are serious about finding employment.

“The website helps migrants create resumes that match German standards, then connects the applicants to companies. It’s free for the migrants and relies on donors and volunteers.

“MigrantHire cofounder Hussein Shaker has channeled his own experience trying to find work as a migrant into helping others. Back in the Syrian city of Aleppo, he studied information technology, but when he came to Germany he couldn’t find any work in the IT sector. Instead he ended up working in a call center while learning German.

“When he was approached with the idea of MigrantHire by Remi Mekki, a Norwegian entrepreneur living in Berlin, he immediately quit his job and threw himself into the project.

“On a normal workday he and others help migrants write resumes, answer questions about German employment law and help migrants apply for jobs that companies have posted on the website.” More here.

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