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Photo: Cologne, Germany, police.
This painting by the artist Pietro Bellotti was found in a dumpster in Germany.

German dumpsters are yielding up treasures these days. In one case the rightful owners are unknown and being sought; in another, an owner realized in time that he’d left a valuable painting in an airport. (We all know how that can happen when our flight is called and we jump up. But we’re more likely to leave a sweater than a Tanguy.)

Naomi Rea writes about the unknown owners at Artnet News: “Police in Germany are appealing to the public for tips about the origins of two 17th-century paintings that mysteriously ended up in the garbage at a highway rest stop last month.

“According to authorities in the western city of Cologne, a 64-year-old man stumbled upon the two oil paintings in a dumpster at a rest stop near Ohrenbach on May 18. The man, who was taking a driving break at the stop at around 4 p.m., took the paintings with him and later turned them in to police in Cologne.

“After the paintings were examined by an expert, police concluded that they are both 17th-century originals, and have put out a public appeal to find their owner: ‘Who knows the paintings shown and / or how they got into the dumpster at the service area?’

“The first painting is a raucous self-portrait by the Italian painter Pietro Bellotti, dated to 1665. The other is a portrait of a boy by the Dutch Old Master Samuel van Hoogstraten, which has not been dated.

“The auction record for a Belloti is $190,000, achieved at the Swiss house Koller Auktionen in 2010, according to Artnet’s Price Database. There are multiple versions of the painting, and a very similar portrait, titled Self-Portrait of the Artist as Laughter, was put up for sale at Christie’s London in 2006 (estimate: $55,000–$91,000). … Other versions of the Bellotti painting are in the collection of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, the Pinacoteca di Brera, and a third was once part of the Scheufelen Collection in Stuttgart.

“Meanwhile, works by Van Hoogstraten, who studied under Rembrandt in Amsterdam, have sold for as much as $788,000 (at Christie’s Monaco in 1993). The artist is best known for his experiments with perspective.” More at Artnet News, here.

In related news, a surrealist work turned up in another German dumpster. Check out Jesse O’Neill’s New York Post article from December.

“A surrealist painting worth $340,000 was recovered from a paper-recycling dumpster in Germany, police say.

“The valuable artwork, by French painter Yves Tanguy, was accidentally left behind by a businessman at Duesseldorf’s airport. The flier had forgotten the painting, which was packaged in cardboard, at an airport check-in counter before he boarded a flight to Tel Aviv, Israel, on Nov. 27.

“By the time the man landed in Israel, realized what he’d done and contacted police, the 16-by-24-inch masterpiece had disappeared. The mystery was solved only after the businessman’s nephew traveled to the airport from Belgium and talked with police. An inspector was able to trace the painting to a recycling dumpster used by the airport’s cleaning company.”

More at the New York Post, here. At least in that case, the owner knew where to look.

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Photo: Christian Jungeblodt/The Guardian.
City wildflower meadow with central Berlin’s skyline in the background. It’s all about love for pollinators.

The other day, Asakiyume pointed me to a charming thread on Twitter about volunteers in San Francisco who move bee swarms to safer places.

@Annaleen tweeted, “I have an amazing and wholesome story about a wayward swarm of bees who decided to take up residence on a lamp post in the middle of a residential neighborhood in San Francisco. … love that my city has a volunteer bee swarm emergency hotline! The dispatcher said that exterminators generally call them when they find a swarm. This city is very ‘pro life’ for bees, he told us. When I imagine a better world, this is the kind of experience I think of.”

Meanwhile, in Germany …

Philip Oltermann has this report at the Guardian. “To escape the Berlin bustle on a summer afternoon, all that Derek O’Doyle and his dog Frida have to do is lap the noisy building site outside their inner-city apartment, weave their way through the queue in front of the ice-cream van, and squeeze between two gridlocked lorries to cross over Baerwaldstrasse.

“Bordered by a one-way traffic system lies a bucolic 1,720 sq metre haven as colourful as a Monet landscape: blue cornflowers, red poppies, white cow parsley and purple field scabious dot a sea of nettles and wild grass as armies of insects buzz through the air. Two endangered carpenter bees, larger than their honey bee cousins and with pitch-black abdomens, gorge themselves on a bush of yellow gorse.

“The mini-wilderness on Baerwaldstrasse is one of more than 100 wildflower meadows that have been planted in Germany’s largest cities over the past three years and are coming into full bloom this summer to transform urban landscapes.

“Berlin has set aside [$1.79 million] to seed and nurture more than 50 wild gardens over a five-year period, while Munich has set up about 30 meadows since 2018. There are similar initiatives in Stuttgart, Leipzig and Braunschweig. Hamburg, which started the trend in 2015, this month unveiled the first of a series of bee-friendly flower beds atop bus shelters.

“Juliana Schlaberg of Germany’s Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) said her NGO was receiving more and more requests from city residents who either wanted to grow their own wildflower patches or pressure their council to stop cutting green spaces into manicured lawns. …

“The rain-heavy start to this year’s German summer has created a bloom so spectacular that many a doubter has been swayed. The organisers behind the scheme deliberately mixed in endangered flowers that take two years to come into their prime with populist Akzeptanzpflanzen (‘acceptance plants’) like poppies and cornflowers, which blossom after only a year. Three years on, the full floral array is on display.

” ‘I’ve changed my mind,’ said O’Doyle. ‘It’s become an incredibly attractive addition to our neighbourhood. You experience the seasons in a whole new way.’ Yet aesthetics are a mere bonus for a scheme with serious purpose: the protection of Germany’s population of wild bees.

The country is home to about 580 species of wild bee, of which an estimated 300 can be found in Berlin. More than half are endangered or on the verge of extinction.

“A 2017 study by the Entomological Society of Krefeld showed a 75% decline in total flying insect biomass in protected areas in Germany since 1989, with the use of insecticides, exposure to toxic exhaust fumes and above all a loss of diverse habitats cited as reasons for the drastic decline.

“The findings inspired a 2019 ‘save the bees’ petition in Bavaria that became the most successful in the southern state’s history, nudging politicians to pass into law its demands without putting them to a referendum first. A similar petition will be handed over to the parliament of the large state of North-Rhine Westphalia in July.

“Christian Schmid-Egger, who coordinates Berlin’s wildflower meadows on behalf of the German Wildlife Foundation, said any conservation effort would ultimate require broader changes in agricultural practices: ‘If we are going to save the bees, we won’t be doing it in cities.”’ …

“Unlike the hive-building honey bee, wild bees are solitary creatures always on the look out for new temporary accommodation. … Others have picky dietary requirements: one Berlin species of mason bee, osmia adunca, only collects pollen off viper’s bugloss, a type of plant that only grows in dry grasslands and waste spaces.” More at the Guardian, here.

Asakiyume understood that Annalee’s final statement in the Twitter thread on bee swarms is more or less my philosophy: “Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get to glimpse a better world in the present. It’s like looking through a pinhole at something huge and distant and almost imperceptible. But you can see just enough of it that you know it’s possible, one day.”

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Photo: Bode-Museum, Berlin, Germany.
A wax bust once attributed to Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) has been conclusively shown to be no earlier than the 18th century.

There are always new things to discover. In today’s story, decades of fierce arguments about the artist behind a wax bust in a Berlin museum were laid to rest when researchers mastered the dating of the wax. The History Blog has the report.

“A wax bust whose attribution to Leonardo da Vinci once caused art historians to threaten violence has been conclusively shown to be a modern work from the 18th century at the earliest.

“The bust of Flora, goddess of flowers and springtime, now in the National Museums in Berlin, was spotted by general director of the Royal Museum of Berlin Wilhelm von Bode in an antique store in London in 1907. Her downcast eyes, half-smile and finely-modeled features impressed Bode as a work by Leonardo da Vinci. German art historian Max Friedländer, assistant director of the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum under Bode, was convinced by its high quality and wear patterns that it was a Renaissance work. Bode bought it for a princely sum (185,000 Goldmark) in 1909 and announced with much fanfare that it was a work by no less a Renaissance luminary than Leonardo da Vinci, the only known wax sculpture surviving from the period.

“Bode was held in high regard in Germany. He had been involved in the creation of a national collection for the royal museums since he was hired as assistant curator of sculpture in 1872 and his career would span the entire five decades of the second German Empire from Unification to Republic. …

“Within months, the Times published a story contesting the attribution and alleging Flora was in fact it was created by 19th century British sculptor and photographer Richard Cockle Lucas who had copied it in 1860 from a painting of Flora in the Hermitage once attributed to Leonardo but later determined to be the work of his student and right-hand-man Francesco Melzi.

Lucas’ son Albert Dürer Lucas, then 80 years old, swore that his father had made it and that Albert had helped stuff old newspapers and wood chips into the hollow of the bust.

“Even though newspapers and wood chips were indeed found inside, including an article from 1840, Bode dismissed out of hand the possibility that Lucas was the sculptor. Lucas, Bode contended, was simply not good enough to model so superlative a piece. Unlike Flora, Lucas’ known wax pieces were greyish in color, lacked any polychromy and still smelled of wax. Bode was sure that at most, Lucas had been employed to fill its empty core to reinforce the structure and had fashioned some arms to match.

“In the next two years, more than 730 heated articles were written debating the attribution. There were debates on the floor of the Prussian parliament. Two scholars challenged each other to a duel. Bode died in 1929, still convinced that his attribution to Leonardo was correct. The debate got less aggressive over the decades, but never died down. Even modern technology hasn’t been able to settle the issue conclusively, because wax, as it happens, is a complicated medium to date.

“Albert Dürer Lucas said his father made the bust by melting down a bunch of burned candle ends. Analysis of wax samples found it is composed almost entirely of spermaceti, a waxy substance produced in the head cavity of the sperm whale commonly used in 19th century candles, and a small amount of beeswax. The decay of C14 occurs in the atmosphere in a calculable way, but under water the C14 is absorbed much more slowly and is much older than the carbon absorbed on land. The Marine Reservoir Effect makes radiocarbon dating results difficult to calibrate because you would need to know that specific whale’s full biography — track its movements from equator to ice shelves — to produce any semblance of accurate results. …

“The new study utilized two calibration curves, marine and terrestrial, and applied them to samples of the wax from Flora as well as to another work by Lucas, an 1850 relief of Leda and the Swan. The result was a date range of between 1704 and 1950, admittedly wide, but it conclusively precludes that the bust was made by Leonardo or anyone else in the Renaissance. The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports and can be read here.”

For additional details, check out the History Blog, here.

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Photo: Angelika Porst.
New examinations of John the Baptist wall paintings in Augsburg cathedral date them to more than 1,000 years ago
. Above, a decorative detail of the frescoes in the southern transept, which were only revealed in the 1930s.

A word to the wise for artists who hope their work will still be enjoyed in 1,000 years: try frescoes. The Oxford dictionary describes a fresco as “a painting done rapidly in watercolor on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling, so that the colors penetrate the plaster and become fixed as it dries.”

So even though watercolor is transient, plaster holds it.

Catherine Hickley reports at the Art Newspaper, “A series of frescoes showing the life and death of John the Baptist in the cathedral of the Bavarian city of Augsburg have been recently dated to the first decade of the 11th century, ranking them among the oldest wall paintings in a medieval church north of the Alps.

“The frescoes, located high in the southern transept of the church, were whitewashed over and forgotten until the 1930s, when they were uncovered. But it was not until conservation work began on the roof structure in 2009 that they could be proven to date back to the construction of the cathedral more than 1,000 years ago.

Dendrochronological tests revealed that wood in the masonry dated from AD1000, contradicting the previously held dating of the cathedral to around AD1065. The new dating ‘fits with what we know about a massive destruction in 994,’ says Birgit Neuhäuser, a spokeswoman for the Bavarian State Office for Heritage Protection.

“ ‘The oldest frescoes are the first layer above the masonry, and are therefore part of the original decor of the church,’ Neuhäuser says. ‘We can assume that in the case of an important Episcopal church, the frescoes would have been painted soon after the construction, so soon after AD1000.’

“In artistic style, the frescoes bear a strong resemblance to the tenth-century wall paintings at the Church of St George on the island of Reichenau on Lake Constance, near Germany’s border with Switzerland. The island owes its Unesco World Heritage status [read about a World Heritage site I visited, here] in part to the frescoes. Apart from the Reichenau church frescoes, the Augsburg paintings are the biggest preserved frescoes of their era in the German-speaking countries, says Mathias Pfeil, the head of the Bavarian State Office for Heritage Protection. …

“Given the height of the frescoes in the church, there is no need for special conservation measures in the long term, according to Neuhäuser. ‘They are not under any particular stress’ from the humidity or heat generated by visitors’ traffic, she says. ‘After cleaning and conservation, they are in a stable and sustainable condition.’

“The team plans to examine the roof area and the northern transept of the church for further fresco remnants. The research and conservation work is financed by the Beate and Hans Peter Autenrieth Foundation, the Siegfried and Elfriede Denzel Foundation and the Augsburg diocese.” More at the Art Newspaper, here.

Have you ever seen any frescoes? I saw Leonardo da Vinci’s frequently restored Last Supper in Milan when I was a teen. I really liked doing a research project about the frescoes of Giotto in high school although I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen any Giottos except in pictures. Below, I’ve added a nice dragon fresco from the Cloisters. (I wrote about my 2019 visit there in this post.)

Twelfth Century Spanish fresco at the Met Cloisters in New York City.

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Photo: SZ Photo/Bridgeman Images
A scene from the animated film “The Adventures of Prince Achmed,” by the late Lotte Reiniger. Before there was such a thing as Disney Studios, she was using intricate hand-cut silhouettes to make movies.

Society has become so accustomed to Disney and Pixar types of animations that it has lost sight of predecessors in the field.

In a step toward restitution, Devi Lockwood wrote for the New York Times series Overlooked (“obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in the Times“) about an early animation artist we all should know.

“A decade before Walt Disney Productions came into existence, making its name synonymous with animated films, there was another pioneer of the art form — Lotte Reiniger.

“Reiniger’s filmmaking career spanned 60 years, during which she created more than 70 silhouette animation films. … She’s perhaps best known for her 1926 silent film ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed,’ a fantastical adaptation of ‘The Arabian Nights’ that was among the first full-length animated features ever made.

“Charlotte Reiniger was born on June 2, 1899, in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin to Karl and Eleanor (Raquette) Reiniger. She studied at the Charlottenburger Waldschule, where she learned about scherenschnitte, the art of cutting shapes and designs in paper with scissors. The art form originated in China and later became popular in Germany. …

” ‘I began to use my silhouettes for my playacting, constructing a little shadow theater in which to stage Shakespeare,’ she wrote in 1936 in Sight and Sound magazine.

“At first she wanted to be an actress, but that ambition changed when, as a teenager, she encountered the film director and actor Paul Wegener after a lecture he had delivered in Berlin on the possibilities of animation in cinema. Fascinated by his films, like ‘The Student of Prague’ (1913) and ‘The Golem’ (1915), she persuaded her parents to enroll her in a theater group at the Max Reinhardt School of Acting, where Wegener taught.

“For fun she cut silhouettes of the actors in the group. Wegener was impressed [and] enlisted her to help with his 1918 film, ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin.’ …

“Her work with Wegener led to her admission to the Institute of Cultural Research in Berlin, where she met the art historian Carl Koch. He would become her husband and a collaborator on her films. …

“Reiniger’s editing was meticulous. Starting with more than 250,000 frames [for ‘Prince Achmed’], she and her crew used just over 100,000 in the film, which ran for an hour and 21 minutes, each second requiring 24 frames. It took three years to complete, and premiered in the Volksbühne, or People’s Theater, in Berlin, when Reiniger was 27. …

“Reiniger designed a complex process to make her films. She cut each limb of each figure out of black cardboard and thin lead, then joined them together with wire hinges. For research, she spent hours at the Zoo Berlin, watching how the animals moved. …

“When Hitler was in power, Reiniger and her husband left Germany for France, Italy and England, where they collaborated with other puppeteers, funders and artists before returning to Berlin in 1944 to look after Reiniger’s mother. In 1948 they moved to London, where they joined a nearby artists’ colony. Reiniger then directed a series of short children’s films for the BBC.

“Her husband died in 1963, and she stopped making films. But in 1972 she was recognized with the Golden Reel Award at the Berlin Film Festival for her contributions to German cinema. Two years later, the Goethe Institute sponsored her on a lecture tour of Canada and the United States.

“ ‘A Reiniger revival swept North America,’ the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail wrote.

“The tour inspired her to make a few final short films, including ‘The Rose and the Ring’ (1979), a 24-minute adaptation of the 1854 satirical work of fiction by William Makepeace Thackeray, and ‘Düsselchen and the Four Seasons,’ a two-minute film completed in 1980. She died on June 19, 1981, in Dettenhausen, Germany. She was 82.

“[The] Times film critic A.O. Scott recalled her in a 2018 article about the unsung women who had advanced the art of filmmaking. Praising Reiniger’s ‘blend of whimsy and spookiness,’ Mr. Scott wrote that her ‘dreamy images that seem to tap right into the collective unconscious suggest both an antidote to Disney and a precursor to Tim Burton.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

You might also be interested in the Armenian shadow puppets I wrote about in 2018, here.

Lotte Renniger’s film about Jack and the Beanstalk.

 

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lowest-vocal-note-header_tcm25-584243Photo: Guinness World Records
Helen Leahey, a Welsh musician living in Germany, recently broke the record for the lowest vocal note (female).

Hello, friends, are you ready for another story on the unusual world records that adventurous humans can’t wait to break? (Remember this one on a poetry recitation in 111 languages and this one on running backwards?)

Well, let me introduce you to Helen Leahey, the “Bass Queen.”

Connie Suggitt writes at the Guinness World Records website that Leahey “sang from a D5 to a D2 note at an incredibly deep 72.5 hertz(es) in her attempt at the Music School Wagner in Koblenz, Germany.

“Helen, originally from St Asaph in Wales but now living in Germany, has recently returned to singing after the birth of her first child. …

” ‘I have been encouraged for some years to pursue a musical career professionally, in part because of my unique voice,’ Helen explained. ‘Everywhere I sing, I hear that nobody has heard a woman who can hit the low notes like me. I guess I wanted to see how unique my voice truly is.’ …

“During her attempt, Helen had eight industry professionals present, including qualified music teachers and sound engineers. Her witnesses were Tatjana Botow, a singing teacher, and Elmar Wald, a sound engineer. …

“After a couple of attempts, sound engineer Tobias Jacobs confirmed Helen had achieved the record-breaking low note. …

“Helen’s naturally deep voice has helped define and shape her music career, as has Celtic roots. In her songs, many instruments can be heard, including the guitar, Irish bouzouki, harmonica and the Irish drum (Bodhrán). …

” ‘When I play music, there is no filter, nothing, nowhere, where I can hide. Singing my own songs in front of an audience is incredibly humbling and intimate,’ Helen says on her website.” More at Guinness, here.

I have known women in a cappella groups who have deep enough voices to sing the bass line, but this takes the cake.

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In honor of my 3,000th post today, Suzanne is offering a 20 percent discount on anything at Luna & Stella, the site for contemporary and vintage jewelry with which this blog is associated. Just use the code 3000. The offer is good for all of June 2019!

Turning now to two of my blog’s favorite themes — paying it forward and refugees — I want to tell you about England’s Dame Stephanie Shirley, a former kindertransport evacuee, who plans to donate German government compensation to modern-day refugee children.

Are you familiar with the kindertransport that rescued children from Nazi Germany and brought them to England? According to Wikipedia, “The Kindertransport (German for ‘children’s transport’) was an organised rescue effort that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. The United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig. The children were placed in British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms. Often they were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust. Most importantly, the programme was supported, publicised and encouraged by the British Government, which waived some immigration requirements.”

Imagine that. The government responded to the urgency!

I like that Dame Stephanie, having grown up to be a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, will pay her German compensation forward to help other refugee children. There is still a crisis, just for children from different countries this time.

According to the Jewish News, “Dame Stephanie Shirley, 85, who boarded a train from Vienna in 1939 aged five, founded a software company in 1962 which was later valued at over £3 billion. … She said: ‘I intend to donate my €2,500 windfall to the Safe Passage charity which supports today’s child refugees. …

“ ‘I’m trying to encourage others to donate theirs as well. There are an estimated 500 of us Kinder still in the UK, so that adds up. I’m discussing it with [Lord] Alf Dubs and [Sir] Erich Reich, how we can combine to make a really big donation. …

‘I’m ashamed of how little this country has done to save child refugees in recent years. It couldn’t be more different to the monumental effort that saved so many of us.’

Read more here and here.

P.S. Please buy something gorgeous at Luna & Stella — for yourself, or maybe a June bride — and use that 20 percent discount so my daughter knows my eclectic blog actually sends folks her way.

Dame Stephanie Shirley, a former kindertransport child, who is paying it forward to help young refugees.

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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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Photo: Isabelle de Pommereau
Anja Reefschläger has taken Ahmad Madarati and other refugees under her wing since they arrived near her Berlin home last year.

The Christian Science Monitor always has great stories about good works around the globe, and this one on ordinary Germans who are volunteering to help refugees get settled is no exception.

Isabelle de Pommereau writes, “ ‘Frau Anja.’ Hearing this name for a Berlin volunteer who teaches refugees German – and has become a second mother to many of them – brings a smile to Ahmad Madarati’s long, sad face.

“Mr. Madarati, who fled war-torn Aleppo, Syria, and Anja Reefschläger met on a freezing November morning last year. …

“Today, Madarati works practically gratis at a youth center in Berlin, helping young people build furniture. And in a few weeks, he is set to move out of the so-called Treskowallee camp into a house. The house is next to Reefschläger’s, and she is the one who persuaded the owner to rent it out to Syrians.”

Ordinary Americans are also showing kindness and warm hearts, even when state government refuses to participate.

In Texas, for example, when the governor refused to sign on to the federal effort to resettle Syrians, ordinary Texans and nonprofits stepped up to the plate.

Jim Malewitz writes at the Texas Tribune, “Texas’ top elected officials have not exactly welcomed refugees over the past year. [In September] Gov. Greg Abbott followed through on his threat to end cooperation with the nation’s refugee resettlement program because federal officials refused to ‘unconditionally approve’ a Texas plan requiring extra vetting of applicants. Such a move will not keep refugees from coming here, but it eliminates the state government’s role.

“But everyday Texans seem to be more willing to help refugees from Syria and elsewhere start new lives in the Lone Star State. Nonprofits that resettle refugees say volunteer turnout has increased — in some cases dramatically — since Texas Republicans first suggested they threatened security.” More. See also an article in the Nonprofit Quarterly, here, for details on the critical role of nonprofits and volunteers in Texas at this point in time.

I have personal knowledge of the many volunteers reaching out to refugees in Providence via the Providence Granola Project (how about giving their yummy products as holiday gifts?), the Refugee Dream Center, Genesis Center, and Dorcas International. The Diocese of Providence is also at the forefront of service as an official resettlement agency, like Dorcas.

You know what else? I just heard of a woman in my town who is selling her house and moving to “wherever she’s needed.” She wants to use her years of language-teaching skills to help refugees.

[10/15/16 Update: Read about the outpouring of support for refugees in Lowell, Mass., here.]

Photo: Marjorie Kamys Cotera
A group gathered at Wooldridge Park in Austin on Nov. 22, 2015, to show support for refugees.

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