Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Liberal Arts and the Workforce

I'm often at odds with people at 11D over the role of some academic majors in helping people find jobs. I teach at a very career-oriented university, and I see a lot of practical career-focused teaching go on all the time. Over the past week, I found out that the higher-ups think that majors in liberal arts are actually a growth area, too, with strong hiring potential, which was kind of shocking to me. We're never going to have a History major or a Philosophy major, but there are ways that the university sees liberal arts contributing to the growth of the university.

But this just blew me away.

Charles Kennedy, a senior VP for research within the TV division, is going across the conglom to share some unusual theories regarding how the most popular entertainment of yesteryear provides clues to what could work today.

If Kennedy is correct, not only is there a predictable pattern behind why ABC series "Once Upon a Time" and "Revenge" struck a chord in recession-era America, but it's for some of the same reasons classics like "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Public Enemy" touched the same strings during the 1930s....

What Kennedy does might be best explained in terms of reverse-engineering: He studies the kinds of stories that succeeded in comparable historical eras in order to suggest how new programming can be tailored to resonate in the current marketplace.

I've always believed this about entertainment, but it's nice to see that a big business sees it the same way.

Slight tangent: In the thread I linked above, there was a discussion about the relevance of German. Two things:

1. In my week in Germany, I was never condescended to, and 
2. As a result of our Germany trip, my husband has decided to take a German class at my university, and it has 24 students enrolled in it. (I'd take the class, but I have child transportation issues at that time, plus I learn languages more easily than my husband, who needs more structure.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

East-West Extremes

My husband has a geotagger attached to his camera, so he can pretty well document where we traveled in Berlin. As you can see, we were in East Berlin almost exclusively. One day we went to Spandau to see the Zitadelle Spandau, and we had to change trains in Charlottenberg (hence the one hit there).

This is basically what I see whenever I travel:

(Photo of the Julius Tower at the Zitadelle Spandau.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

East Germany

The town in Thuringia where my ancestors/relatives are from bordered West Germany. My cousin took us to the location where the border had been. Appropriately, there's a farm, smelling of manure, and a McDonalds alongside the location. He said that he was one of the first people to cross the border because as an electrician, he needed to access the electricity across the border. The East German police almost shot him, and the mayor of the neighboring town had to speak on his behalf. He would have been 45 when the wall fell.

Although there are other family members in the town, it seems that they don't really intermingle that much. We met not only my cousin, his wife, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, but my cousin's cousin and his son. "K" is in his 90s, and his wife is of Polish descent. She escaped to East Germany in 1944 (!) with only the clothes on her back. I still don't quite get that, but I guess East Germany was better than Poland at the time.

Under Communism, my cousins' electrician business seemed to flourish. And the town's main industries stayed because they couldn't really go anywhere else. However, when unification happened, the industries left the area and moved to West Germany. This disappointed my cousin (my father's 3rd cousin) because she wanted to go into that industry. Right now, Thuringia is the poorest district of Germany, I think I've read somewhere. It's a shame because the area we were in was so beautiful.

In Berlin, we ended up spending most of our time in East Berlin. It amazes me to think how much of the ground we covered was behind a wall for half of my life. One of our guides said, Russia took the best parts of Berlin. We did two tours, one a general walking tour and the other a bike tour of East Berlin and the Wall. I'm also reading Stasiland, by Anna Funder. The incredible amount of work that went into surveilling and controlling East Germans' lives is frightening.

I said to Amy in an e-mail that though I will never become a Republican, I do have a greater appreciation for why so many Russian immigrants I know are so fiercely libertarian and distrustful of any government program. East Germany was so clearly a failure economically and socially. The Communist totalitarian governments of the Soviet bloc exerted such control over individual lives and businesses that only the most obtuse and delusional person could have escaped feeling that government could ever be a positive force.

And I can see more about why people fear the redistribution of wealth. That was, obviously, government/fiscal policy in East Germany. And it failed. It's worth thinking about and analyzing why it failed, and how much of that was due specifically to the policies of redistributing wealth. But it's easy for me to see how the whys don't matter. It just didn't work, and I can't really blame the people who lived under that system for never believing that a bigger government could ever be a good thing.

From the East Side Gallery, photo by my husband:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ancestral Home

For our 20th anniversary, I managed to make all the pieces fall into place so that my husband and I could take a week-long trip to Berlin. Why Berlin? Airfare was cheap, and it wasn't London (which I love but had been to twice) or Paris (which I am finally admitting is a city I don't love).

But there was a little thought in the back of my head. I've been doing genealogical research on my father's family, and I learned that his great-grandfather emigrated from Germany. I talked my husband into agreeing to an overnight trip to that small town in East Germany. He agreed. It was a 5-hour train ride from Berlin, and we decided to do it right when we arrived in Berlin.

A few weeks before we left for Germany, I found out that my great-great-grandfather had not only the 2 siblings I knew about but a total of 8 siblings, two of whom seemed to have lived into adulthood, both sisters. Armed with their last names, I sent a form letter, written in German with the help of Google translate and a friend, to every person with their last names in the area of their town. I gave them my address and e-mail address and a photo of my great-great-grandfather.

Within the week, I'd received a e-mail from the grandson of my great-great-grandfather's youngest sister. He is my grandfather's second cousin. Actually, his granddaughter (my fourth cousin) wrote the e-mail for him because he does not speak/write English. Hesitantly, I e-mailed back: "I don't mean to surprise you, but I am planning to be in your town next week." The response was surprising: utter and complete excitement. They insisted on meeting us at the train and inviting us to dinner and taking us around the town.

It was wonderful. They were truly wonderful, caring people who had never known their grandmother had siblings who emigrated to the US. It was 24 blurry (we were jet-lagged) but thrilling hours of talking and visiting other relatives and seeing the main spots in town. Here is one view of this beautiful town in Thuringia:


One of my cousins gave me two small porcelain heads made by his grandfather, a toy maker. I have to figure out how to display them. We were given photos and genealogical info and treated so nicely. I wanted to cry, not just for how generous they were but with how I wish my father had been alive to know about all this. I can't wait to share it with my uncle, who is on vacation in an internet-free location.

I'll write another post later about my feelings/education about East Germany, which is where we spent all our time. I was 23 when the Wall fell, and it's been 23 years. My relatives in Thuringia lived under Soviet/DDR rule. When we were in Berlin, we spent most of our time in East Berlin. I'm still trying to process all my thoughts/experiences.