On February 13, I learned of the passing of my dear friend, Fred Amram. Many of you perhaps had the opportunity to meet Fred, as for the past five years, he has been a frequent guest and lecturer at the Haus. Fred was most notably known as a Holocaust survivor, eager to share his experience fleeing Germany after the Nazi invasion of his hometown, Hannover, and beginning a new life in the U.S. When sharing his story, Fred always challenged his audience to be up-standers, to notice grave injustices both locally and globally, and to have the courage to speak out and take action. At age 89, Fred was still a passionate voice for social justice. It is from him that I first learned of tikkun olam, a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to repair a broken world.
Fred was a wonderfully multifaceted person. He retired from the University of Minnesota as “Professor of Creativity.” In addition to teaching and writing, Fred was also an inventor. I had the privilege of trying on the Amram 5-in-1 Backpack, a backpack he designed for college students to better distribute the weight in their schoolbags while trekking across campus. Fred never stopped noticing problems he could help solve.
I spoke with Fred just two weeks before he died. Our events team had a Zoom meeting with him where we started to plan how the GAI could honor Holocaust Remembrance this year. Fred was eager to lead a writing workshop, teaching participants how they could record their family’s heritage through storytelling. Fred’s memoir, We’re in America Now, a Survivor’s Stories, has been published and his wife Sandra Brick, a gifted textile and media artist, has created an accompanying exhibit, Lest We Forget, a Survivor’s Stories, recently on exhibit at the Twin Cities German Immersion School. We still plan to host the storytelling workshop with Sandra, likely this fall, knowing how pleased he would be that we too believe that every family’s story is worth saving and passing down to the next generation.
Today I went down to help out at the food shelf for Ukrainian refugees to help with the distribution of the food. They did decide to limit distribution to people who live in the Verbandsgemeinde Zell (the 26 towns that ‘belong’ to Zell here) as the need is great and it was getting very busy. Rosemarie was worried we would run out of funds too quickly. I think this was a good decision; she is hoping that now there will be enough to take these families through the winter.
It’s incredibly well run, with 3 volunteers (Rosemarie, Marga and Barbara) and now they have a number of tables with donated clothes, jackets, shoes and housewares from people in town. Marga was in charge of this area and helped everyone who came through to ‘shop’ for warm clothes for winter and clothes for the kids.
Our friend Ksenia (she is a refugee with two boys who lives in town) helps out as a translator every week and she introduced me to the group of people standing outside waiting for the food shelf to open. It was incredibly emotional, many of the people there began to cry when Ksenia explained that I was from the organization that sent the money for the food shelf. I shared with them how strongly we support them and that we are wishing for their families to stay healthy and safe and that we stand with them in solidarity. It was truly lovely.
We served about 90 people today. They have a new room where they distribute the food that is larger than the previous one and were so excited to show it to me… the space is bigger with better lighting and a BATHROOM (very exciting) and they even picked up 2 cute baskets for the refugees to “shop” with. It is lovely. They are also planning to open the space once a week for the refugees to simply meet up and have coffee and cake and to get to know each other more and support each other.
All said to send hellos and thank yous to everyone at the GAI, especially Marty and Penny.
The outpouring of support from the GAI community has been impressive! We more than doubled our goal of $20,000, ending with a total of almost $50,000! The donations have already been used to buy appliances and stock food shelves, with weekly updates coming from the Bürgermeister’s office in Zell.
GAI Board Chair Danika Hoffmann visits Zell
We wanted to provide an update about what your donations have made possible in Zell, Germany—the small town along the Mosel river that has become a prime destination for Ukrainian refugees.
Rhineland-Pfalz (the state in which Zell is located) has taken in over 40,000 Ukrainian refugees, nearly half of whom are children. Zell’s regional district (the Landkreis Cochem-Zell) is supporting more refugees per capita than any other region in the state. The donations from our GAI community have made a tangible impact on the area’s ability to provide safe shelter for refugees and their families.
GAI Board Chair Danika Hoffmann was in Zell in June to meet with Mayor Döpgen and see first-hand what your donations have made possible.
In addition to the renovation and furnishing of homes, our donations have supported a new food shelf, organized and led by Zell’s Second Councillor Rosemarie Mandernach. Ms. Mandernach identified a centrally located space, stocked it with food staples, and staffed it to operate every Tuesday. Each week as the word spread about the food shelf more and more families arrived.
It now serves over 150 families, many traveling to Zell by bus. In addition to critical staples like bread, canned goods and fruit, a chocolate bar is offered to every child—and last week there was an additional treat of American candy sent by the GAI. This food shelf is 100% supported by our donations, and because of your generosity the refugees can continue to count on this vital support.
The people of Zell—both Germans and Ukrainians—now know they have many friends in Minnesota, standing with them in steadfast solidarity and a call for peace.
June 18, 2022 Thanks from the community of Zell
A note from Rosemarie Mandernach about the food shelf is one of many expressions of thanks from Zell:
“We took care of more than 100 Ukrainian people, young ladies with children, old people, families with 5 or 6 members. All of them are very…grateful. We are very proud to do this kind of work [and] we are grateful [to you] too.”
Besides heartfelt thanks from the community of Zell, Bürgermeister Döpgen shared a touching letter written in German by Ksenia, a Ukrainian mom of two boys. She thanks him and the people of Zell for not only providing a much needed washing machine, but also for helping them feel welcome and making their world bright again. Read the full letter here.
GAI volunteers travel to Zell
In late May, two members of the GAI Haus & Grounds team, Marty and Penny Loso, arrived in Zell to help with apartment renovations. Marty updated us on their stay: “This morning we met the Baumeister, Franz-Josef Nolden. In our car, we followed him across the river to an old schoolhouse halfway up the hill. Penny and I are renovating about 8 rooms on the second floor. Today we stripped everything off of the walls, cleaned them, replaced trim and patched any holes (some small and some LARGE). Penny picked up and bagged lots of junk/litter, swept (several times) and washed windows. Tomorrow we begin to paint.”
It’s that special time of year dedicated to celebrating Germany’s favorite vegetable.
By Audra Grigus
The beloved Spargelzeit (asparagus season) is upon us, a time when Germans eat as much “white gold” as they can before the season ends.
The Spargel season is relatively short in Germany, running from mid-April to June 24. If Spargel is harvested too late in the season, the root may be killed by the harsh summer heat. It is best if the asparagusroot stays protected in the ground for the next season. Older Spargel farmers have a saying, “When the cherries get red, leave the asparagus in its bed.”
But… Why is Spargel white and why do Germans love it so much?
The main difference between the thin, green stalks Americans are accustomed to and the thick, tough and flavorful stalks the Germans adore is how they grow. Green asparagus grows when it is exposed to light, like traditional plants. White asparagus grows under ground, so the lack of photosynthesis means no green color.
Almost one fifth of German farmland is used to grow asparagus. This makes sense, however, considering that in 2019, Germans ate 1.7 kg of fresh asparagus per capita. Germans have been known to pay more per kilo for it than meat.
White asparagus is more expensive than the green variety in large part due to the time and energy required to harvest it. The spears need to be carefully removed from the dirt and cut by hand with a special shaped knife. The shoot must be cut about a foot below the surface—if it is exposed to sunlight it will turn green or purple. Not only is the harvesting process more labor intensive, the white asparagus requires special steamers so that it doesn’t break, special tongs to get it out of the pot and peelers to take off the hard outer layer.
Spargel was just as loved by the Romans as it is today by the Germans. It is said that Romans used to freeze the white asparagus in the Alps for the feast of Epicurious, transporting it there by fast chariots and runners. Asparagus became a forgotten vegetable with the fall of the Roman Empire. As monasteries were built in Germany, Spargel made its way back into agricultural rotation for medicinal purposes. It wasn’t until Germany was formally reintroduced to the vegetable by France in the 16th century that it made its way back onto the dinner tables of Germans. Asparagus arrived in the city of Beelitz, Brandenburg, in 1861 and quickly became a hot commodity once again with 1,500 acres under cultivation by 1937.
Within the season, many different areas, most notably Baden Wurttemberg, Lower Saxony and the city of Beelitz, have different Spargel festivals. Many celebrations include the crowning of a Queen of Asparagus, beer drinking and indulging in a variety of Spargel dishes. We hope you will one day get a chance to take part in joyous festivities and meals this time of year brings!
and into the early morning of May 1. Initially it was a night to pay tribute to the Abess Walpurga, who had been known in the 8th century for warding off pests, illness and witchcraft. She was celebrated on May 1 due to a medieval record indicating that as the date of her canonisation. Later, like many festivals and holidays, the celebration was influenced across Europe by pagan practices, local folklore and myths. While missionaries were trying to dispel pagans and their believed witchcraft, the pagans used the celebration of Saint Walpurga as a facade for their own enchanted welcoming of spring — it is only coincidence that the celebration of Saint Walpurga fell on this date and became a useful deception device for those she was working against.
Through time, Walpurgisnacht has shifted and it is in some ways seen as a “second Halloween.” Both Halloween and Walpurgisnacht have their origins in pagan celebrations that mark the changing of the seasons, and were important markers for when it was believed that the veil between the spirit world and ours was the thinnest.
Certain traditions remain from the medieval period, such as hanging sprigs of foliage, dressing up in costumes and leaving offerings of Ankenschnitt (bread spread with butter and honey) for phantom hounds. For centuries witches have pilgrimaged and held a large celebration on the Brocken, the highest of the Harz Mountains in north central Germany.
New Walpurgisnacht customs include firework shows, singing folk songs and enormous bonfires to burn wooden witches. When the flames die down from the bonfires, lovers will jump over the fire together in a practice called the “corn jump.”
Versions of the holiday are also celebrated in the Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Finland and Estonia. If you’re interested in taking part in some witchy activities in your next springtime visit to Germany, the biggest celebrations take place in the towns closest to the Brocken, such as Goslar, Thale and Wernigerode. And if you’re feeling up for adventure, you can make the pilgrimage to Saint Walpurga’s tomb in Eichstätt.
Germany’s climate targets are only about a decade away from being met.
By Audra Grigus
Germany is often associated with sustainability and being a “green” country, and for good reason!
Its public transportation system is easy to use and accessible.
Biking is an easy and normalized form of transportation.
Most cities have an abundance of green spaces.
The waste sorting system is impressive and effective (just don’t mess it up!).
Around 40% of the country’s energy production is renewable energy.
Berlin Fashion Week has been the hub for innovative sustainable fashion for over a decade.
While its efforts toward a green future are noble and should be admired, Germany still ranks as the number one producer of CO2 emissions in Europe. Germany’s output of 604.8 million metric tons in 2020 may seem like a lot, but it is actually 8% less than what was produced in 2019. However, emissions did pick up again in 2021 after the COVID-19 related dip.
According to the Fraunhofer Institute, 46% of electricity generated in 2021 came from renewable energy sources. Solar and wind power sources have been a main focus—in fact, the city of Freiburg produces the same amount of solar power as the UK. Outside of renewable energy, 41% of electricity was generated by coal, natural gas, and fossil fuels, and the other 13% came from nuclear power.
For those unfamiliar, the SDGs are an urgent call to action for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. The Germanic-American Institute also uses the SDGs as a guideline for the advocacy work that we do.
Germany is focusing on work in 6 main areas that utilize most of the SDGs:
Human well-being and capabilities, social justice (SDGs 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10)
Climate action and energy transition (SDGs 7, 13)
Circular economy (SDGs 8, 9, 12)
Sustainable building and transport (SDGs 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13)
Sustainable agricultural and food systems (SDGs 2, 3, 8, 12, 13)
A pollutant-free environment (SDGs 6, 8, 9, 14, 15)
Germany has much work to do in order to meet its environmental targets, but thankfully the strategic implementation of the SDGs and focus on renewable energy have proven fruitful thus far. German GHG emissions have decreased by 40.8% since 1990, a motivating sign of the green future that is to come.
The symbolism and significance of the time-honored labor of love.
By Audra Grigus
Easter is fast approaching and if you’re in tune with Central and Eastern European traditions, you have probably seen or heard of pysanky. A pysanka is an egg, a symbol of life and fertility, that is decorated in bright colors and an ornate wax design. While many countries have their own version of it, pysanky is best known for coming out of Ukraine. The name comes from the Ukrainian word pysaty which means “to write.” The oldest pysanka found was excavated in Lviv in 2013 in a rainwater collection system from around the 15th century.
There is an abundance of folklore and superstitions surrounding pysanky. In Ukraine, many believe that a pysanka can protect people and households from evil spirits and chaos. An old myth states that older people should be given gifts of pysanky with darker colors and rich designs, as their life had been fulfilled. Adversely, young people should be given eggs with white as the main color, as there is still much to be written in the story of their lives.
Geometric symbols are widely used today and can have many meanings. For instance, the triangle can represent the Holy Trinity; the elements of air, fire and water; a traditional family (man, woman, and child); or the cycle of life (birth, life, and death). Pysanky with spiral motifs are the most powerful, demons and other monsters are said to get trapped within the spirals forever. Other important symbols include spiders, meaning patience and happiness; flowers, to represent wisdom and beauty in life; birds, the messengers of good news and springtime; and butterflies to signal transformation.
Colors also play a large part in the symbolic nature of the eggs, blue for good health, black for remembrance and respect, red for love and friendship, and periwinkle for everlasting love.
Ukraine is not the only country that has their own traditions with ornately embellished and symbolic eggs…
Belarusians (пісанка, pisanka)
Bulgarians(писано яйце, pisano yaytse)
Carpatho-Rusyns (писанкы, pysankŷ)
Croats (pisanica), Czechs (kraslice)
Romanians (ouă vopsite, încondeiate or împistrite)
Slovenes (pirhi, pisanice, or remenke)
Sorbs (jejka pisać)
The Sorbian people, a Slavic community that is generally concentrated in the Spree River Valley in Eastern Germany, have a style that is also often simply called Sorbian Easter Eggs. While there are a few similarities in symbolism between Ukrainian and Sorbian eggs, such as how triangles can represent the father-mother-child trio and the Holy Trinity, there are also some significant differences. For the Sorbian people, circles generally represent the sun or sunshine and triangles can also represent wolf teeth, which drive away evil.
While writing on these eggs takes many hours and is certainly a labor of love, the tradition lives on with as much significance today as it did far back in time.
With a few minor setbacks, support continues to flow into Ukraine from D-A-CH.
By Günther Jahnl & Audra Grigus
Germany has a long standing tradition to not export military weapons to other countries. This has been a commonly accepted fact of German procedure, until voices criticizing Germany’s abstaining from involvement became loud enough that the country historically changed its course.
Annelena Baerbock, the newly minted Minister or Secretary of Foreign Affairs and a member of the Green Party, and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said, “After Russia’s shameless attack, Ukraine must be able to defend itself. It has an inalienable right to self-defense. The German government is therefore supporting Ukraine in providing urgently needed material. The federal government is therefore supporting Ukraine in providing urgently needed material.”
This is a significant shift that resulted in the German government sending weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine. Germany has also supported restrictions of the SWIFT global banking system, which disabled the largest Russian banks from inter-bank transfers, practically cutting off the flow of money. Outside of finances, weapons are being moved into strategically accessible positions, as Germany sent 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 “Stinger” surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks a turning point. It threatens our entire post-war order,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement. “In this situation, it is our duty to help Ukraine, to the best of our ability, to defend itself against Vladimir Putin’s invading army.”
Zelenskyy pressed the Bundestag to not let a new wall divide Europe, urging support for his country’s membership of NATO and the European Union.
In a statement paralleling U.S. President Ronald Regan’s 1987 appeal to Mikhail Gorbachev, Zelenskyy implored, “Dear Mr Scholz, tear down this wall.”
Die Welt called it a “black day for [Olaf Scholz’s] coalition” and “a disgrace for parliament.”
In a rather unprecedented move, the usually neutral, secretive, and uninvolved Swiss have also changed their stance, freezing Russian assets in Swiss banks. Switzerland has announced 35 tons of humanitarian and medical aid that they will provide to Kiev. They have activated the S-Permit, which allows people to live and work in Switzerland for a year. Ukrainian refugees are otherwise permitted to stay for 90 days without a visa in the country and will be supplied with emergency aid, including clothes, and cash. Mere days after the initial invasion, Swiss transit networks announced anyone fleeing the conflict could travel free on long or short-distance trains, along with many other countries around Europe.
Switzerland has set aside $86 million as an act of solidarity with Ukraine. Three-quarters of these funds will go to the Red Cross, UN agencies, and international and local NGOs and projects implemented by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Ukraine. The last quarter will go toward helping refugees in neighboring countries of Ukraine.
In the State of the Union address on March 1, U.S. President Joe Biden fondly noted that “even Switzerland” was holding Moscow accountable for the invasion. This statement was polarizing for right-leaning, neutrality seekers and left-leaning, hopefuls who want to aid Ukraine.
Poland declared that they would loan the country their entire fleet of Mig-29s, a type of aircraft that is mostly labeled with Russian instruments that are understood by Ukrainians pilots. The transaction would have led them through Rammstein Air Force base, which the U.S. government quickly denied them access to. This comes on the heels of Putin saying that any direct support could be seen as an act of war itself.
According to Reuters, Putin has accepted 16,000 foreign volunteer soldiers from middle-eastern countries to aid Russian forces on their invasion. Ukraine has done the same, however the number of available military personnel between both nations and the firepower differs greatly between the invading Russian forces and Ukrainians who are steadfast in defending their home.
Many countries, such as Austria, prohibit its citizens from taking up arms in a foreign conflict. If any Austrian were to enlist with Ukrainian, or unfathomably Russian, forces, the Austrian government would rescind this person’s citizenship.
As a member of the EU, but not a member of NATO, Austria’s neutrality is challenged by the EU’s commitment of $500 million in weapons and aid packages to Ukraine. Austrian Chancellor Nehammer tweeted, “Austria was neutral, Austria is neutral, Austria will remain neutral,” bringing up the ethical question of whether being a member state in an organization that now supplies military equipment and other aid impacts the foundations of neutrality?
Today we celebrate women, and we’ll do it again tomorrow.
By Audra Grigus
With this year’s theme for International Women’s Day being #BreakTheBias, here’s a short list of German women throughout history who did just that.
Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) was a German feminist, activist, author, and Socialist. She is credited with being the founder of International Women’s Day as she made the appeal during the second international conference of socialist women in Copenhagen in 1910. Her work focused on women’s suffrage through socialist means and an outspoken opposition to WWI. Zetkin is honored today through memorials and through the German party Die Linke’s annual Clara-Zetkin-Frauenpreis.
May Ayim (1960-1996) was an Afro-German activist, educator and writer. Ayim’s thesis was the first academic study of Afro-Germans and their experiences and history. This work, with the help of Katharina Oguntoye and Dagmar Schultz, was turned into the first book to describe the everyday racist encounters Afro-Germans faced called Farbe bekennen (Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out) in 1986. The book is monumental as it is also the first time the term “Afro-German” was used in writing. Ayim also helped found the Initiative Schwarze Deutsche und Schwarze in Deutschland (Initiative of Black Germans and Black People in Germany).
Katharina Oguntoye (1959) is an Afro-German historian, writer, and activist. She is often recognized for her co-editing role on Ayim’s book, but she founded the nonprofit intercultural association Joliba and co-founded the Afro-German women’s group ADEFRA. She went on to publish her own thesis “Eine Afro-Deutsche Geschichte: Zur Lebensituation von Afrikanern und Afro-Deutschen in Deutschland von 1884 to 1950” (An Afro-German Story: About the Living Situations of Africans and Afro-Germans in Germany from 1884 to 1950) in 1997, and a new edition was published in 2020. Oguntoye has been involved in the lesbian movement in Germany and internationally since 1983, and was honored in 2020 with the Lesbian Visibility Award for Berlin.
Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), a well-known name around the world, was a painter, printmaker, and sculptor. Her depictions of women, including her self-portraits (of which there were many), were important in a time where men in art reigned and women struggled with finding their voice. The loss of her son during WWI is known as the origin of her more melancholic works. While her work may be best known for its socially critical subject matter, her technical ability, willingness to experiment, and resilience have also contributed to her remembrance through time.
Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was a Polish-born, naturalized-German revolutionary and political theoretician. She is best known for being an unwavering activist in the first Marxist Social Democratic Party and within the Spartacist League. Her work and beliefs meant that she found herself with jail sentences on more than one occasion, however that never dimmed her spirit or opposition. She was avidly against WWI and the Bolshevik uprising. After her murder by the Free Corps (Freikorps) in Berlin in 1919, her messages lived on with the publishing of a pamphlet she wrote by a former lover that criticized the suppression of the democracy in the Bolshevik revolution.
Steffi Jones (1972) is a German-American football (soccer) manager and former football star. Jones found football in the midst of tumultuous childhood experiences, and with practice and dedication, her talent blossomed. Her experiences are laid out in her autobiography Der Kick des Lebens (The Kick of Life), published in 2007. After her successful career as a defender, Jones became the first-ever Afro-German Head Coach in the history of the Germany Women’s national soccer team in. In 2021, she served as the president of the Organizing Committee for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. Today she continues to be an Afro-German and feminist symbol, as well as an inspiration to LGBTQIA+ folks in Germany.
Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was an artist, composer, theologian, author, medical writer and practitioner during the High Middle Ages. Starting at the age of 3, Hildegard began having visions. At the age of 18, Benedictine nun at the Monastery of Saint Disibodenberg and her confessor told her to write down her visions. It took her 10 years to write Scivias (Know the Ways). Pope Eugene III urged her to continue writing after having read this work, and she would later go on to write Book of the Merits of Life and Book of Divine Works. Through her visions, she saw the harmony of God’s creation and how men and women both fit into that, becoming quite the controversial opinion for the time. She was officially canonized in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI as a Saint and given the title Doctor of the Church.
Annalena Baerbock (1980) is best known today for her current role as Germany’s first female Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs within the Bundestag. Early in her career, she knew that she was interested in politics, and she ended up studying political science and public law in Hamburg and earned a Master’s Degree in international law at the London School of Economics. When she was 25, she joined the Green Party and after only four years she became the leader of the party in the state of Brandenburg. Baerbock was only 40 years old when she won the nomination against her co-leader, Robert Habeck, to be her party’s first-ever chancellor candidate in a national election. Despite the misogyny she faces on a regular basis for her political standing, she is a leading voice in climate initiatives, current correspondences in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and foreign policy as a whole.