Magdeburg Day 23

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June 10th 2009
Published: June 10th 2009
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Whew, keeping updated is difficult. By the time I leave work around 4pm, find something to do for an hour or two around town and make dinner, all I want to do is take a short walk and read. Funny how something so simple, i.e. this travel blog, can be so exhausting.

I say this frequently, but where to begin? I'll start with...

Politik (Politics):

What more can I say about my internship? I love everything about it. I learn something new every day, as I am rarely just sitting in my office. Even when I am sitting in my office, they give me small (and big) research projects that interest me.

Currently, I am working on a project, in which I compare Frauenrechte (women's rights) in the United States and Germany. The comparison is nothing like Saudi Arabia and the U.S., as my roommate Martin so helpfully pointed out, but the difference is bigger than most would assume. More on that as the project progresses.

On Monday, I accompanied Frau Bull to Stassfurt, where we met with the "Frauenhaus" (women's house). While the organization specializes in violence against women, its primary "feature" is therapy for VAW committers, most of whom are men. Today (Wednesday), the Auschuss (Committee) for Sozialpolitik (social politics) discussed whether or not to fund the organization -- as I recall, the owners of the NGO said over and over that they needed finanzierung (finances). The funny thing is, CDU/CSU/FDP sat on one side of the Committee room, while SDP and Die Linke sat on the other. The former (conservative parties) argued that it is not within the scope of the Laender (German states) to fund such programs (in that they assist men and not women), while the latter (liberal parties) argued to the contrary. As Frau Bull told me, the Bundesregierung (national government) refuses to fund these programs, so who is left?

Federalism is hugely problematic to the financing of programs that pertain to women's rights, in that the Laender are primarily in charge of said rights. Because the Laender are tied to the national government, which has a history of dismissing women's rights, very little is done at the local level. To make matters worse, CDU/CSU is currently in power, so the conservative opinion on the financing of women's rights NGOs prevails.

Speaking of which, I am almost certain that I know my Fulbright proposal. More specifics on that later. Essentially, I am interested in how parties frame women's rights at the regional level. This topic is particularly significant, given the heavy migration of women from eastern Germany to the West.

Last but certainly not least: Europawahl '09! How did I get so lucky as to happen upon this internship while the Europe-wide elections were taking place? For non-politicos out there, the Europe-wide elections are for the 734 seats in the European Parliament in Brussels. Germany has the most seats of any country in Europe -- around 100, I believe.

First off, the Kommunalwahl (local election) was also taking place, so there was a significant amount of campaigning. The week before, I helped set up for a few concerts in the city center and handed out thousands upon thousands of fliers. Really. At the concert, I met Luthar Brosky -- the #1 seat for Die Linke in the European Parliament. If ever evidence existed for my geekiness, it was my (very high) level of excitement about meeting an *actual* member of the EU Parliament.

Ultimately, Die Linke received 7.5% of the vote in Germany for the Europe-wide election (8 seats) and 23% of the vote for the local election in Sachsen-Anhalt. How interesting is that? Although Die Gruene (the Greens) and Die Linke are very similar, the former is popular in the West, while the latter is popular in the East. Sadly, turn-out for the election for the EU-wide and local elections was 42.3%! Supposedly, the worst in German history. What's interesting to me, Germans are all about the financial crisis right now. So, what gives? As somebody who studies the EU, I assumed that the EU was gaining significance in the eyes of Europeans. Whenever I ask Germans about the EU (especially post-Amsterdam Treaty), they just shrug their shoulders. Given their interest in the financial crisis and the economic significance of the EU, why do Germans still not care? Sounds like a paper topic to me.

Kultur (Culture):

I love absolutely everything about Germany. Everything! I was initially unsure as to whether or not I should apply for a Fulbright, but my first month here made me realize just how passionate I am about German politics and culture. As always, where do I begin?

If you know me well, then you know that I notice very small, insignificant quirks about people and cultures. On that note, I noticed that a lot of women in Magdeburg have pink hair. The color is sort of in between a standar pink and maroon, if you get my drift. I asked Kevin if he noticed a pink hair fad in Nuremburg, and he said no -- but, that fashion in eastern Germany tends to be more "punk-ish." Not sure how else to describe it -- basically, aside from the pink hair, teenagers have "edge-y" hair cuts, chains, black clothing, etc. Note: I feel like an 80-year-old saying this.

In any case, after communism, east Germans became infamous for this kind of fashion. For the first time, they could express themselves! What I find incredibly interesting is that this "legacy" is still present in Magdeburg, even after 20 years of post-communist governance.

That said, I can't believe how inexpensive leather products are in Germany. Birkenstocks in the U.S. run for $80, while they run for $40 or so here. Sounds like the perfect (in a non-financial way) excuse to stock up on shoes!

On a very general level, I thoroughly enjoy the German "way of life." They somehow manage to be unbelievably organized and content/relaxed at the same time. For example, I get lunch at the Kantine (cafeteria) every day during the lunch break. At 11:59pm, nobody is in the Kantine; between noon and 1pm, the place is packed; but at 1:01pm, not a soul is in sight. Very aptly, they call it "German punctuality."

All in all, I love Magdeburg. I go for a walk and/or bike ride every night, and words cannot describe how peaceful Magdeburg is after 7pm (and technically speaking, the entire day). The weather is mild (60s and 70s in the summer) with no humidity -- and the sun stays out until 10pm. The juxtaposition of old, beautiful, historic districts with run-down, post-communist districts is oddly beautiful. I love walking down my neighborhood streets, smelling the flowers (non-metaphorically) in the parks and thinking.

Absolute. Serenity.

Sprache (Language):

As always, my German is improving. Not too much to report here, except that I have the low-voice "Jaaa" down. Especially because of election news, I've been reading a lot of Germans newspapers, and I feel like my vocabulary is expanding exponentially. I can understand Committee meetings pretty much fluently now, but I need to start expressing more complex thoughts. I find that I respond with a single sentence when people ask me questions, as opposed to saying something more complex, such as what I would say in English. I have to ask myself: what would I say to an American asking me this question?

Okay, really awkward story. So, I really wanted to buy a newspaper with the election results -- you know, something I can bring back to the U.S. as a token of the Europe-wide elections. As I approached the newspaper stand, I immediately saw "Das Bild" with a colorful rundown of the elections. I thought to myself: "Perfect. I'll ask for that one -- I totally look like I know what I'm doing."

When I asked for "Das Bild," the cashier looked at me strangely and asked: "Das Bild?" I nodded, not thinking anything was odd about my request, and the transaction took place. As I walked back to my apartment, I noticed more and more people looking at when I looked down to see what was up, I noticed three completely naked women smack-dab in the center of the paper. FML.

Apparently, I bought a really trashy celeb newspaper that also features porno ads. Great. A treasure for decades to come!

Until next time!


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