Tag Archives: Germany

Montana comes to its senses

INTERSTATE 90, Mont. — I don’t come to Montana too often. My first time in the Big Sky State was in the summer of 1973 when my wife and I traveled with our then-infant son to the Great Lakes and back to Portland, Ore.

Back then, Montana was famous — or infamous — as a place where the state set no limits on speed. You could drive as fast as you wanted, as long as you considered it “prudent.”

It was sort of a Mountain West autobahn in Montana. My wife and I traveled to Germany in September 2016 and were treated with how folks drive really fast. I didn’t rent a car during our stay in Bavaria; we left the driving to our friends who played host to us. Vehicles would zoom past us and our friend, Martin, would laugh it off: “Oh, that’s nothing, man.”

The autobahn days are now over in Montana, I am happy to report. We’ve driving a good stretch over Montana in recent days.

The posted speed limit throughout the state on rural highways in 80 mph. That’s still a bit too fast to suit my taste. We hauled our fifth wheel recreational vehicle behind our pickup and set the cruise control at 60 mph. That’s fast enough for us, thank you very much.

Still, I am heartened to know that Montanans have a speed limit to obey … presumably to curb the peddle-to-the-metal mentality that well might have been instilled in them by a history of adhering only to what they believe is a “prudent” speed.

POTUS ‘tells it like it is’ abroad

Donald J. Trump’s supporters like to say the president merely “tells it like it is.”

Others of us prefer to say he tells it like he thinks it is.

He is abroad, finishing up his first overseas trip as president and he’s managing — as only the president — to demonstrate a stunning lack of diplomatic skill.

Get this, his assessment of Germany, one of our nation’s strongest allies and trading partners: “The Germans are bad, very bad,” he said. “See the millions of cars they are selling to the U.S. Terrible. We will stop this.”

What? Stop it. How? He wants to start a trade war with Germany because it peddles cars to American consumers?

Vox.com is a known liberal-leaning website, but it offers an interesting analysis of how Trump’s lack of diplomatic skill is hurting him and the country he represents.

https://www.vox.com/world/2017/5/26/15698824/trump-germany-bad-trade-cars

As Vox reports: “First, it’s worth noting that the language Trump reportedly used in the meeting is yet another example of his total lack of nuance or finesse. Trump likes to cast the world in black and white and use superlative language. Things are ‘terrific,’ or they are ‘terrible.’

“Trump speaks this way on domestic issues as well, but in international affairs his vulgarity as a speaker is amplified. Diplomacy requires gentle touches and subtle signaling that simultaneously maintains stable relationships while having the power to pressure or persuade. Slamming the Germans, a vital US ally, as ‘very bad’ and saying you need to ‘Stop’ them from selling cars to the US is, well, the opposite of that.”

Vox also notes that German automakers also operate many manufacturing plants in the United States, employing Americans and paying them well to produce these motor vehicles.

That the president wouldn’t recognize that is just another sign of his complete ignorance about the world and the inter-connectedness among nations.

Not everyone is as friendly as they need to be

bavaria

BAMBERG, Germany — Our friend Alena warned us about it.

We kind of laughed it off. Then it more or less came true: the realization that some folks might actually be inherently rude.

She spoke of the residents of the Franconia region of Bavaria in southern Germany. Alena described them as curt, not very friendly or open.

We came to Bamberg to do some shopping and sightseeing in a lovely city that was virtually untouched by the ravages of World War II.

Nuremberg was all but destroyed by Allied bombing, as were many major cities throughout Germany. Dresden? Berlin? Cologne?

Bamberg was saved from that destruction. Thus, the architecture throughout the city is “original,” according to Alena’s husband, Martin.

So, we walked into a department store. We shopped for some items. After we finished, we were walking out. A woman behind us apparently muttered something as she sought to get past us.

We moved to the side, allowing the woman to scurry out of the store into the sunshine. She said something that Alena overheard.

“I told you about the people of Franconia, right?” Alena said. “That lady was one of them,” she added, referring to the woman who had just scooted by us.

“Really?” I asked. “Did she say something?”

Yes, Alena said. I asked, what was it?

“She said ‘Thank you … finally,'” Alena responded.

Why, I never …

We laughed it off. Earlier in the day, our hosts had joked that my wife and I had brought an “aura” with us that made many of the customer service employees we had encountered extra friendly.

I’ll take all the credit we deserve for that bit of cheer.

As for the woman who mumbled something we likely weren’t supposed to hear as she hurried past us, I’ll just presume she was having a bad day.

Trump has them scratching their heads

Cassidy-Donald-Trump-Americas-Muslims-1200

WEITERSDORF, Germany — It turns out, based on some preliminary conversations with friends, that Germans and Americans are of like minds as it regards the U.S. presidential election.

Hillary Clinton has some baggage.

But it’s light as a feather compared to what Donald J. Trump is lugging around.

Our friends are having trouble understanding — just as many Americans are experiencing — how it is that Trump has managed to score the presidential nomination of a major American political party.

Trump, the Republican nominee, frightens our friend Martin — a journalist who works in Nuremberg. The same can be said of his wife, Alena, who’s also scared at the prospect of a Trump election to the presidency.

Martin asked my wife and me almost immediately upon our arrival to predict the outcome of the presidential election.

“Hillary is going to be elected,” I said, barely drawing a breath.

My friend isn’t so sure. He seems to believe Trump could get elected. I haven’t quite said so out loud, but my own view is that hell would have to freeze over and that the sun would have rise in the west for that to happen.

Martin also wonders whether there is a latent sexist strain among American voters who just do not want a woman to become head of state. “We have Angela Merkel as chancellor,” he said, adding that she’s “universally loathed here,” but said she’s “still the chancellor.” He wonders if Americans are ready to elect a woman.

I said that appears to be a still-largely unspoken element in the U.S. presidential campaign.

Alena echoes her husband’s view regarding Clinton and Trump. She has a bit more hands-on political experience, as she works for a member of the German parliament, helping him write laws and answering constituents’ needs in his office.

I’m going to be visiting during the next few days here with locals, presuming they’re willing to talk to me.

I’ll report to you what I hear from this part of the world about what’s happening back home. Rest assured, as near as I can tell, that Germans seem to be watching with great interest in what’s about to happen in the New World.

Moreover, as Martin said, late-night comics in Germany are having as much fun as our guys are having back home. He mentioned how one of them joked how a President Trump would blast Denmark off the map if the Danes said the wrong thing.

I know, that’s not really a funny thing to consider. Then again …

Blog is taking wing … so to speak

Syrian internally displaced people walk in the Atme camp, along the Turkish border in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on March 19, 2013. The conflict in Syria between rebel forces and pro-government troops has killed at least 70,000 people, and forced more than one million Syrians to seek refuge abroad. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC        (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

I don’t consider full-time blogging to be actual work.

It’s more like therapy for me. It keeps me engaged to the best of my ability, which I suppose depends on whether you agree with the opinions expressed in this forum.

So, when I decide to take a vacation, I like taking High Plains Blogger with me. Where I go with my wife, the laptop comes along and the blog keeps spewing out musings on this and/or that.

OK. So, here we go.

My wife, myself and the blog are getting set to take wing.

We’re heading soon for Germany and The Netherlands. We have friends in Bavaria — the pretty region of Germany — and in The Netherlands we intend to see. I’m going to get caught up with these folks, one of whom I met on a journalist field trip to Taipei, Taiwan in 2010, the others I met while traveling through Israel on a month-long Rotary International Group Study Exchange trip in 2009.

I have a couple of burning questions I’m going to ask people I meet during our stay in Western Europe.

*I want to know about the Middle East refugee situation in both countries. We keep hearing on this side of The Pond about the “flood” of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria. What has been the impact of their arrival? Is it the “crisis” that we’ve been told it is? And what is the state of the nationalist fervor that appears to be building, particularly in Germany?

*The second question is a bit more straightforward. What’s the feeling in Europe about the state of the U.S. presidential election that’s going to pick up a serious head of steam. Particularly, what do the Europeans think of Donald J. Trump’s nomination by the Republican Party to be its candidate for president of the United States? I will do my level best to set my own bias aside as I glean the views of our German and Dutch hosts. Rest assured: We’ll talk also about Hillary Rodham Clinton.

There is likely to be some more local color I’d like to provide as well.

Neither my wife and I have been to Germany or The Netherlands — although we did stop once in Frankfurt, Germany to change planes en route home from Athens in 2001. I don’t count airport stops, you know?

I am anxious to see my friends. I also am anxious to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of cultures that are much older than ours.

What’s more, I am anxious to obtain — to the extent I am able — a broader world view of the chaos that’s about to unfold in my own country as we make up our minds on who’s going to become the next Leader of the Free World.

Come to think of it, I might even ask Europeans whether they hold the U.S. president in such high regard.

Overseas travel awaits

This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on impending retirement.

You’ve heard about my plans to travel in a recreational vehicle with my wife throughout North America.

That’ll happen in due course. Some of it’s happening now as we take our fifth wheel out for long-weekend excursions. Retirement beckons. It’s coming closer every day and soon enough we’ll be free to hit the road.

However, we have some places we intend to see abroad as well.

My wife and I have compiled an official list of places we intend to visit once we decide we’re tired of working. More or less in order of preference, but not entirely so, here they are:

Australia: Neither of us has been close to the Down Under continent yet. I’ve been to Southeast Asia a time or three over the years. My wife has been to Taiwan twice with me. Australia is calling our name.

We have been communicating with a friend in Adelaide ever since we met this individual on another trip, in 2000, to Greece. We’ve indicated our desire to see him. He is receptive to our visiting him in the state of South Australia.

My fascination with Australia goes back to when I was about 13. My dad was entertaining a job opportunity in the coastal town of Rockhampton, between Sydney and Brisbane. I studied all I could then about Australia, anticipating a huge move. Dad didn’t pursue the opportunity. We stayed put. My interest in Australia, though, has remained high.

My wife has agreed that Australia should be at or near the top of our foreign destinations when the time arrives.

Greece: We’ve been there twice together already, in 2000 and 2001. I returned a third time in 2003. It is the land of my ancestors. My wife fell in love deeply with Greece almost from the moment we landed in Athens.

She has told me on more than one occasion: “Of all the places we’ve seen this is the one place I could return to again and again.”

It is magic. The scenic splendor is breathtaking. The antiquities are staggering. The people are charming.

We’re going back.

Israel: We’ve been there as well. We spent a week in the Holy Land after I had spent four weeks there leading a Rotary International Group Study Exchange. We stayed in Jerusalem and saw quite a few holy sites during our time together there.

We were unable to see a lot of other sites. We didn’t get to Galilee. We saw only a small part of Bethlehem. There were many other sites we left unseen. Time wouldn’t allow it.

Germany: Four years ago on a tour of Taiwan, I met a young journalist who lives in Bavaria, which I call “the pretty part of Germany.” He and I struck up an immediate friendship. We communicate regularly. He has invited us to visit him and his young family. Oh, how I want to see the mountainous region of southern Germany. We’ll get there.

Africa: I’ve long had a fascination with the wildlife of Africa. I want to shoot some of it — with a camera. The idea of a photo safari sounds like more fun than I deserve.

The Netherlands: The trip to Israel five years included my making some friends from The Netherlands. They traveled with our Rotary group. One of the Dutch group and I have remained in contact in the years since then and he, too, has extended the invitation for my wife and me to visit him there. How can I say “no” at the chance of seeing such a spectacular region of Europe?

We’re not yet ready to quit working. Indeed, I intend to keep writing for as long as I am drawing a breath.

It’s a big world out there and we’re excited about seeing more of it.

Brazilians show class in defeat

Just when I thought the world had spun off its axis and that a great Latin American country had suffered from collective apoplexy over the defeat of its national soccer team, I came across this story on CNN.com.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/09/opinion/bass-brazil-germany-rout/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

It turns out the Brazilian soccer fans — stunned beyond their ability to comprehend — cheered the German team that beat their beloved men in the World Cup semifinal match.

The Germans won that game 7-1 in what’s being described as the most astonishing performance in the World Cup … ever! That they beat the host team in that fashion gives extra punch to the Germans now as they get ready to play the winner of The Netherlands-Argentina match for the World Cup championship.

I’ve also been wondering about this passionate love of the sport that seems to transcend anything with which I’m familiar in the U.S. of A. When the Denver Broncos lost the Super Bowl this year to the Seattle Seahawks, did the Mile High City’s fans go into the kind of collective funk that has fallen over Brazil. What happened in Miami when the Heat got blown out by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA finals? I think folks in South Florida went about their business.

Granted, the U.S. doesn’t have a national soccer team that’s able to compete — at least not yet — on a consistent level with Brazil or Germany.

But the craziness is beyond anything I can quite grasp.

Still, I was heartened to know that despite their grief, the Brazilians had it within them to pay proper tribute to the young men who gave their guys a good, old-fashioned whuppin’.

And yes, the sun rose this morning over Brazil.

Euro recession over? Tell that to Greeks

This just in: The recession in the European Union is over.

But if you’re a citizen of those countries hit hardest by the financial crisis, you’re pain hasn’t yet let up.

http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/world/article/Eurozone-recession-end-is-cold-comfort-for-Greece-4731488.php

I get that the Germans, French and even the Italians are faring better these days. Their economies grew for the second quarter in a row, prompting EU economists to declare the recession to be over.

The story in Greece and Spain, for example, is quite different.

Let’s look at Greece, my ancestral home that became an international laughingstock when the financial crisis nearly took it down.

The Greek economy is still in the tank, down about 24 percent since 2008; just in the past year alone, it shrank 4 percent. Unemployment is about 25 percent, nearly as bad as Spain, which has Europe’s worst unemployment rate. Barry Bosworth of the Brookings Institution describes the Greek economic condition as far worse than a recession. “It goes way beyond anything that looks like a recession,” he said. “It’s absolutely appropriate to refer to Greece as in a depression.”

***

This characterization hurts me at a personal level.

I’ve visited Greece three times: twice with my wife in 2000 and 2001, and again by myself in 2003. It’s a magical place. My three visits there came as the country was preparing to play host to the 2004 Summer Olympics. They cleaned up Athens, scrubbed the graffiti off building walls and highway overpasses, built a sparkling new airport, constructed a state-of-the-art subway system and, in general, presented themselves as more than ready to host such a magnificent worldwide event.

But they did it on borrowed money. They went into hock up to their armpits … and then the bills came due.

I’m not sure the Euro recession is as “gone” as the EU folks say it is. Another hiccup in Greece, or Spain, or Portugal – where the recession/depression is lingering – could send the continent into another tailspin.

I keep thinking of when I walked to the top of the Acropolis in 2000 and stood in front of the Parthenon. My thoughts were of enormous pride that my ancestors were able to build such structures and were able to produce great genius.

If only they could revive that brilliance and find a way out of the economic mess that is largely of their own making.