Race Relations, Stasi Prison and Foreign Trade

I will attempt to tell you all I’ve learned today. There was so much, I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll start with where we started.
At breakfast, we were introduced to an American journalist working in Berlin. I remember his first name was Eric and how he ended up making this his home. He told us, when he was a young man he left his home in the U.S. He didn’t have a job in Berlin but here, he was given health insurance. He was astonished! He said he was able to go to the doctor, the dentist without a job and it was taken care of by the government. If you have a job in Germany, health insurance is automatic and even if you don’t have a job. Oh, and by the way, mothers can take up to a year off with their newborns. And kindergarten (German word) starts at age 1 in Germany.
Anyway, back to Eric. He began writing for Reutgers. He became involved with stories on reusable energy. In addition to writing, he and his colleague started a successful business putting solar panels in homes, businesses and schools. Solar energy and the Euro are two major issues here. I remember him saying just one hour of solar energy could produce enough energy for one human for a year. Some side with utility companies and argue that solar energy is too expensive and it takes time to install the equipment.
After breakfast we headed to a Stasi prison museum where we met a former prisoner. The way I understand it, after the war…World War II…West Germany became more viable and alive as it was restored by allies but in East Germany, the conditions were worse. Many Germans kept moving to West Germany, leaving the East to decay. You may have heard that famous line , “There are no plans to build a wall”, weeks later, the wall went up. People began trying to escape. The Stasi captured and persecuted those who tried to leave East Germany. Our guide, Cliewe, tried to escape three times. He spent 18 months in prison because he bought a one way ticket on a train, which sparked suspicion. In those cells, prisoners had nothing but concrete walls and a bucket to go to the restroom. They were tortured and interrogated for trying to leave or criticizing Stalin. Some never knew what their sentences would be. The prison we visited opened in 1946. Very emotional to see the films of the slain Germans who tried to flee before the wall come down in 1989.
We also went to the Foreign Office…I guess you can say…the states office in U.S. I learned more about foreign trade. Last year Germany traded more with China than with the U.S….that’s the first time the U.S. has come in second, according to our guest.
It sounds as if some Germans are hoping President Obama wins another term. Germany and US governmental relations are good. They are in alliance on issues such as climate change and nuclear disarmament.
Lastly, at dinner we met with two members of the RIAS Kommission. Dr. Richard Meng, the press speaker of the Berlin Government and Peter Claussen, public affairs for the US Embassy in Berlin. RIAS is the organization that sponsored this entire educational trip. We discussed everything from race relations to families in Berlin.
I was curious about the minority population, naturally. They said in some parts of Germany…mostly rural…some Germans are not accustomed to seeing Blacks, immigrants, etc. There is a large Turkish population here (considered a minority group) and racism is still something Germany is working on. Some parts of Germany are very much integrated and there are leadership figures who are openly gay. Gay marriage is also legal here. But in other parts, Blacks might be snubbed. Sounds like the U.S. to me in that regard. I thought I was being shooed away because my German sucked (trying to ask for directions). Now, I don’t know. Maybe the two people I asked, at two different times, were just rude. My experience, however has been great and the people…genuinely kind. I wouldn’t change I thing. I’m taking it all in, even the small snubs. After all, I believe America is still working on race relations too.
Check out my Vienne Schnitzel! It was good!!! Especially with my lager but I thought if I put a beer on my work website, I might get called into the office. Hey…when in Berlin.


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