A: Abifeier, Abiball
As a student completing the Gymnasium with Abitur, the Abiball is an eagerly awaited event in Germany. After receiving their certificate at graduation, students usually celebrate with their families. The Abiball (prom) then takes place either at graduation day or a few days later, giving students the chance to dress up very nicely and enjoy one last night of music and dancing with all their fellow classmates, friends and families. The event usually starts with speeches of headmaster and headboy/headgirl and then proceeds with a band or DJ, followed by some formal dancing before the actual party starts.
The Berlin transportation company Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) operates Berlin buses, trams and underground, and is widely known for making fun of itself and their unrealibility in their advertisements. Berliners tend to talk negatively of the unpunctuality of the BVG, however, it is the biggest and best developed underground network in Germany; you will get almost anywhere in and around Berlin using the BVG services, day and night. They even operate ferrys, such as the F10, bringing you from Wannsee to Alt-Kladow, and you can also reach Schönefeld Airport outside of Berlin with BVG buses.
The Currywurst is undoubtedly one of the most famous German foods. Its origin dates back to Berlin in 1949, where a woman called Herta Heuwer invented the sausage at her snack bar in Charlottenburg by mixing different spices and herbs in her tomato sauce, cutting up the sausage into pieces and adding the sauce. Since the Currywurst was a huge success, Herta Heuwer patended her idea as “Chillup” – a mix between chili and ketchup, although she affirmed that she never used ketchup in her sauce. Heuwer was praised and celebrated nationwide until she passed away in 1999, and even received a plaque in Berlin in 2003. Of course you can not only enjoy Currywurst in Berlin but in most German cities. The Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg for example is famous for their Currywurst as well, and especially their Curry-Ketchup, as well as the Ruhr area; Currywurst even made it into a Herbert Grönemeyer song. But whatever place in Germany you visit- make sure to try it!
As you might know, the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) was a state formed after the separation of Germany after World War II, based on the concept of communism and real socialism. It existed from 1949 to 1990, and consisted of territory occupied by the Soviet forces, today known as the new federal states Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, Thuringia and the Eastern part of Berlin. The economy of the DDR was centrally plannend and, by the end of it, almost completely state-owned. The restrictive political and economic situation, the cutting of fundamental rights and many other reasons led to many well-educated young people fleeing the country, which however led to a weaker economy. In response to the mass emigration to the West, the DDR built the Berlin wall in 1961, and tightened border controls. People who were caught attempting to flee the country were imprisoned and often severly injured by booby traps at the borders. The undemocratic political system brought about increasing discontent among the general population and eventually led to the Peaceful Revolution, followed by the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the reunification of Germany in 1990.
As energy transition is a global endeavour, Germany too passed laws and legislations with the ambition of transitioning to more substainable electricity generation and power production and to reduce its carbon footprint. The origins of a sense of transition in Germany lie in the 1970s, when the oil crisis and debates about the dangers of nuclear energy were initiated. As a main source of solar power in Germany, photovoltaik, which is produced by sunlight and comes from rooftops solar pannels as well as solar power parks, has been one of the most successful renewable energy measures in Germany. Germany has long been a pioneer in alternative energy solutions; since 2004, it has been growing steadily due to a decreasing price of photovoltaik systems and other renewable energy measures.
Since the Germans love their Döner and sausages, food scandals such as the rotten meat scandal (Gammelfleischskandal), have been unsettling and upsetting the country ever since news first went public that a meat wholesaler in North-Rine Westfalia circulated over 100 tons of rotten meat in 2005. This was followed by similar scandals in Bavaria in 2006 and 2007, when it was discovered that someone had circulated over 200 tons of 4-year-old Döner meat, which had already been sold and consumed for the most part. Following the nationwide and international debates around animal welfare and consumer protection, the EU passed new laws in 2008 to secure the identification and tracing of animal by-products.
It is a common stereotype that Germans love building things and do-it-yourself projects, that their Hobbykeller is full of equipment and their favorite store is the local Baumarkt. Indeed, Germans like to build their own garden sheds, car ports, and even furniture. According to historians, the roots of German Heimwerken lie in the years after World War 2, when getting a tradesman was getting more and more expensive and people started repairing house-related things themselves. Soon there were DIY-magazines, such as selbst ist der Mann on the market, and the first Baumärkte were opened, where people had the opportunity to buy all sorts of material for building houses and repairing things at their homes.
The Jugendweihe (or Jugendfeier) is a german non-religious coming-of-age ceremony that was first established in the 19th century as an alternative to the Christian confirmation. It is supposed to mark young people’s step into adulthood and is usually organized by secular organisations- since Germany’s reunification, the biggest organisation is the Jugendweihe Deutschland e.V. In the GDR, it quickly became the most popular ceremony for young people and was a tool for the socialist regime to indoctrinate young people. Today, the Jugendweihe is still practised in Eastern Germany. Before the celebration, the teenagers are taking part in a several months long course, where they learn about different aspects of life and adulthood and about their own abilities and strengths.
Karneval, especially Kölner Karneval is one of the most popular German celebrations. The Volksfest in Cologne officially starts on the 11th November at 11.11 in Cologne’s city center and the festivities go on until Ash Wednesday. The highlight of the carnival is Rosenmontag (Carnival monday) with its big parade through Cologne. Although carnival is celebrated nationwide, it is of bigger significance in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz. People everywhere dress up and join the parade, go out and celebrate with friends, collegues and tourists that have come to witness carnival. The tradition dates back to medival times where people would have expulsions and excessive celebrations before Lenten season; although the church condemned the festivities and tried to enforce bans, they couldn’t stop people from dressing up and celebrating. The first Rosenmontag parade was celebrated in 1823 when Festival Commitee was founded, and has since taken place every year with few exceptions.
The Mottowoche (motto/ dress up week) is the graduation highlight for many High School graduates. Students dress up according to different mottos each day for a week before they leave school. Since students usually still have class after their final exams but it is not taken seriously anymore, they take it as an opportunity to play pranks and dress up; it is also an entertaining sight for all other students and teachers. Dress up week is a highlight for the entire school, often accompanied by the annual graduate prank. Mottos are for example Disney, Zombies, Pyjamas, old people, childhood heroes or gender swap.
Pegida, which stands for Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident, is a german far-right extremist movement, founded in 2014 by political activist Lutz Bachmann. The demonstations against the so-called Islamisation first took place in Dresden in 2014 and soon spread across the country, with mass demonstrations in big cities such as Hamburg, Hannover and München. They are however always accompanied by thousands of counter-protestors, which led to declining numbers in Berlin and Munich, and to the end of the movement in Berlin. Dresden however still has so-called monday demonstrations, where extremist activists and anti-immigrant/refugee/islam speakers get to talk to the protesters, held speeches and call on protestors to keep demonstrating. Pegida has connections to the right-wing hooligan milieu and the Neo Nazi scene.
Recycling rubbish has a long tradition in Germany. Everything is recyclable: plastic bottles have their own Pfand system, glass, paper, plastic and biological/food waste their own bin. For foreigners, this recycling system can be a bit daunting. The following list will give you a short overview of what to recycle and how, so that you are not frowned upon by your german neighbours in case you decide to live in Germany. Glass belongs in the glass container, and it is sorted by colour (an exception is Pfand, of course). If you live in a multi-storey dwelling or in a student hall, you might have a container for each colour in the yard, if not, you will have to collect it and bring it to the next Altglascontainer in your neighbourhood. Cardboard, newspapers, and everything else made out of paper goes into the blue paper bin, whereas compostable waste goes into the compost in the garden or in the green bin. This leaves us with plastic and the “rest” (literally called “Restmüll”); when sorting plastic, you will have to look out for the “green dot” on the packaging, which tells you that the product belongs in the yellow bin because it is made out of recylable material, such as plastic or aluminium. The Restmüll is everything you weren’t able to categorize; however, you also need to make sure to- for example- dispose of hazardous waste, such as batteries, correctly, so it doesn’t get burned with the plastic waste.
The Tatort (in English: crime scene) has been Germany’s most popular police crime drama since it first aired in 1970. The series is a collection of different police stories in cities all across Germany. Each city has their own police team; the most popular ones are officer Thiel and coroner Boerne from Münster, inspectors Ballauf and Schenk in Cologne, and inspector Charlotte Lindholm in Hanover and Lower Saxony. Although the series started as a project of West German television, it is now produced collaboratively with Swiss and Austrian television. Since it started in times of Germany’s division, most of the Tatort plays in cities in West Germany, with the exception of Dresden and Weimar, and even has a police team in Vienna and one in Zurich.
A Volksfest is a popular event in Germany/ Austria, which combines food markets with beergardens and traveling funfairs. The biggest and most popular Volksfest in the world is the Oktoberfest with more than six million visitors each year, but almost every town in Germany has their own annual Volksfest. Originally, it was part of the annual church mass celebrating the foundation of a church/parish- nowadays, however, it is simply a community fair / beer festival, a chance for friends and neighbours to come together and celebrate, and to go on ferris wheels, swing caroussels and other rides. In Bavaria and other parts of Southern Germany, people usually dress up in their traditional costumes (Trachten- Lederhosen and Dirdl) to celebrate.
Y: Yücel, Deniz
Deniz Yücel is a German-Turkish journalist and author. Between 27th February 2017 and 19th February 2018, he was detained in Turkey for alleged espionage. Yücel had worked for the German newspaper taz and was a correspondent for die Welt when he was arrested in Turkey in 2017. He was held in a high-security prison in Turkey in solitary confinement for most of the year. After he was realeased in 2018, he wrote the book Agentterrorist. Eine Geschichte über Freiheit und Freundschaft, Demokratie und Nichtsodemokratie.
Up until 2011, young men in Germany were required to serve military service for at least six months after they had turned 18 and finished school. If you did not want to serve military service for ethical or political reasons, you could substitute it with alternative civilian service, Zivildienst. As a Zivildienstleistender (civilian servant), men would usually work in the social sector- volunteering in hospitals, nursing homes or kindergartens. The aim was for them not to replace workers in their fields, but providing a helping hand and contributing to society. Civilian servants were not paid for their work, but compensated by pocket money, accomodation and meals. According to the Federal Agency for Civic Education, around 62.000 young men used to serve civilian service ever year. As an alternative, men and women are able to serve Bundesfreiwilligendienst (federal volunteer service) since 2011, where they can participate in social, ecological and cultural projects in Germany.