Birthday in Berlin

This will have to go down as one of the most memorable birthdays ever! I celebrated a milestone (and I dare not say which one) with my RIAS fellows and it was fantastic! The only thing missing was my beloved family and friends back home.
Today started with chocolates, flowers and my very own Beer-stein (mug) at breakfast. At lunch, another fellow treated me to a large basil and cheese pizza (Thanks Shanda:), and for dinner a chocolate cake topped with a sparkle to finish off a delicious meal. I was so surprised, I couldn’t even take pictures at dinner but it was so thoughtful and fun. The learning continued in between birthday songs and treats.
Our first speaker of the day was the senior political editor Mr. Thomas Habicht. He filled us in on German unification between East Germany and West. I didn’t realize that unification at one point, some Germans thought would never happen. After the Soviet sector take over of East Germany and even with the fall of the Berlin wall, some were not prepared for unification. Many lost jobs and currency became void so they had no money and psychologically both sides were unprepared for the future.
Shortly after, we heard from an MP, (member of parliament) similar to our U.S. Congressmen and women.
Interestingly enough, Mr. Klose will soon be retiring from parliament but he said some of issues he would have liked to see settle was something I didn’t even know was an issue in Germany…demographic problems. Germany’s birth rate is very low. Fewer babies are born and the older generation is well…getting older. Fewer people marry in Germany. Some couples stay together for a decade before marriage. Right now the population is about 80 million but in the next century, if more babies aren’t born, it will decrease to about 60 million.
Another thing I thought was interesting, because of the demographic issue…Germany welcomes immigrants. Currently, legislators are working to find out how they can implement religious studies…all kinds of religion…into schools. Educate their children about different cultures. That is completely opposite in the U.S.
We also visited the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. No cameras or phones allowed. We spoke with the U.S. Deputy Chief, James Melville and Ruth Bennett and Peter Claussen.
Mr. Melville explained the duties of the ambassador in Berlin and as I understand it, it’s to keep open lines of communication between countries. The ambassadors are representatives of the American President’s presence in other countries. Most of that discussion was off the record so I can’t discuss it but it was very interesting.
Our last speaker, Dr. Lutterbach filled us in on trade unions in Germany. This was particularly interesting to me because of the unions in my state. Unions in Germany work very closely with companies…large and small. Unions in Germany cannot give political funding to campaigns here because they represent all parties and there are at least four different parties, I think.
Currently, the Federation of Trade Unions are fighting for minimum wage for all workers. There is not a set minimum wage here. They are pushing for at least 8.50 euros/ hour.
Union leaders are also a part of boards of companies. Which I found that fascinating. Gotta turn in…big day tomorrow.
Here are a few of my RIAS colleagues below and a picture of me at the Brandenburg Gate…Napoleon and John F. Kennedy past through these same pillars and a nice ride on the Spree. Prost!

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