Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thanks, German Animal "Rights" Activists!

27 September 2011

One of the highlights of my trip to Deutschland was definitely the animal "rights" demonstration! Yes, that's Chad, Shane, and me pictured at an animal "rights" display in front of the historic Brandenburg Gate!

The large pig atop the trailer read "Eat Vegetarian: Good for Health, Good for Animals, Good for the Earth" and it had a video screen inside showing the "horrors" of farming. To a farm girl like me, however, it was fairly standard & reasonable images of good management. Yes, there are times when pigs are in stalls: it is for their health & safety, as well as for the farmer's. Yes, chickens do get the beaks clipped: it is no fun to have your fellow chicken peck you to death! Yes, animals are slaughtered: this is a part of the circle of life created by our world that allows herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores to flourish. Outside of the trailer, a human was wearing a colorful chicken suit and sitting in a cage. Much like other chickens I have seen in cages, the human-as-a-chicken seemed quite calm! Alas, it laid no eggs while I was there!

I spoke very briefly with a lady passing out fliers. When I accepted her materials, she complimented my blue coat. With that opening, I engaged her very briefly in conversation -- a mix of German & English. We spoke for just a moment, but she seemed pleased to find an American so interested in her fliers. She probably had no idea she had just provided me with excellent research materials for my Fellowship paper! Thank you, animal "rights" activist lady!

Is That Chancellor Merkel's Seat?!?

27 September 2011

This picture was taken from the top of the glass cupola that graces the Reichstag. The original dome was removed in the 1950s. Following reunification, when the Reichstag was renovated to serve as the seat of the Bundestag (the German Parliament), this cupola was added. It allows natural light all the way through the building, down to the chamber where the parliament meets. The glass is constructed in such a way that the striking color of the purple chairs in the chamber is visible when looking down from the top of the cupola. I was very impressed with the manner in which the new & the old sit comfortably together in the Reichstag. It is a beautiful, historic building!

The Reichstag: History & Modernity

27 September 2011

I am very passionate about history and have always adored anything antique. I wanted to include this picture because it saddened me to see the historic parts of the Reichstag that had been destroyed in the name of modernity. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was an effort to renovate the Reichstag building. Following World War II, the German people were very sensitive to the legacy of the war. This had been a conflict that deeply impacted the country & its people, and caused massive suffering. Renovating the Reichstag was an effort to move beyond the destructive war-time era. It was a movement to restore this emblem of Germany in the face of the communist-controlled German Democratic Republic that surrounded West Berlin. Unfortunately, that sentiment created an attitude that supported destruction of the historic aspects of the building. When the Reichstag was built in the 19th century, it had beautiful stone work throughout the building. During the reovation, these pieces were basically destroyed with hammers and plastered over. Following reunification, when the Bundestag decided to move to the Reichstag building, one hallway was opened to tourists with the plaster removed for viewing. This picture gives some sense of how ornate those stone carvings were, and the force that was used to destroy them. As a history geek, it made me very sad to think of this. I cannot fault those who wanted to take the Reichstag in a new direction after such a difficult era, yet I was quite sorry to see the loss of such brilliant stone work.

Reichstag History

27 September 2011

In an effort to preserve the historic elements of the Reichstag, several items remain from the era prior to renovation. This includes a stretch where Soviet soldiers left graffiti. During the time period after World War II, the Reichstag was in the British sector of influence, except for one corner that stood in the Soviet sector. Part of this corner is preserved to show what the Soviet soldiers wrote on the wall. The tour guide noted that most of the statements expressed relief at surviving the war, and a desire to return home. In addition to the writings, bullet holes can also be seen along this stretch of wall. I was continually impressed and amazed by the impact of division upon Berlin. The Reichstag sits geographically very close to the Brandenburg Gate, but they were once in separate countries. I was able to walk freely from one to the other, yet as recently as my own youth, that would have been impossible.

How Sheep Influence the German Government

27 September 2011

This is a photo of the interior of the Reichstag, where the Bundestag meets. It is a very open and airy space. The architect designed the interior of the building specifically to convey the importance of transparency: visitors can easily see members of Parliament -- and members of Parliament can easily see the citizens to whom they are responsible! The contrast between the modern interior and historic exterior is striking, yet not stark. Like the country itself, the building is a blend of old and new. In fact, the foundations of the Reichstag still rest on the original oak piles that were driven when construction began in the 1890s. Now, 12 massive concrete pillars also serve to support the new glass cupola (which weighs 1200 tons!). This cupola is the crowning modern addition to the Reichstag, that allows light in to shine upon the meeting room of the Bundestag!

The parties are seated from most conservative on the right, to the communists on the far left. The Liberals (conservative) have 93 seats, the Christian Democrats (the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel) have 239 seats, the Greens have 68 seats, the Socialists have 146 seats, and Die Linke (the communists) have 76 seats. Voting is typically done by a show of hands or by standing up. With so many members, however, this can sometimes be difficult to count quickly to reach a conclusion. Thus, a traditional method called "Hammelsprung" is used.

Hammelsprung means "wethers leap" and it appeals to my love of sheep! In the old Reichstag, there was a painting of the Greek mythological being Cyclops counting his sheep as they head to pasture. This painting hung above the doorway, and its name came to refer to the style of voting by which members of Parliament would all exit the chamber and then re-enter to vote. In the Bundestag, there are three doors: one for ayes, one for nos, and one for abstentions. As members re-enter the chamber, secretaries count the exit number that pass through each door. Thus, if it wasn't for sheep, the German parliament wouldn't function! (Maybe a slight exaggeration, but a compliment from this farm girl!)

The Reichstag

27 September 2011

This is a picture of the Reichstag taken during our boat cruise on the River Spree. It was such a sunny day, and I liked the way this phenomenal symbol of German history looked with the sunshine upon it. The Reichstag is home to the German Parliament, the Bundestag. From 1894-1933, this building was the venue for sessions of the actual Reichstag, the Parliament of the German Empire and then the Weimar Republic. It is still commonly referred to as the Reichstag, although the "Reich" has long since ended. Its history, however, helps to make it the most visited parliamentary building in the world.

The Bundestag chose to make the Reichstag its home for a very particular reason: not only is it a historic emblem of Germany, but it was never used by the Third Reich. Hitler never gave a public speech or appearance at the Reichstag, and his minions were behind the burning of the building in the 1930s (an act which was blamed by Hitler on dissidents and used to unjustly arrest them). After World War II, the Reichstag sat on the line between East and West Berlin. While the vast majority of the building was in the British sector, a corner actually sat in what became the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Following the reunification of Germany on 3 October 1990, the newly reunited Bundestag decided to renovate the building to be the seat of the German Parliament. It is a breath-taking modern building inside, cloaked in a majestic historical exterior!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Visit to the German Ministry for Agriculture

27 September 2011

The German equivalent of the USDA is the BMELV: Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection. While agriculture was obviously the main focus of my study in Germany, it was fascinating to learn how much of a role consumer protection plays in the daily functioning of the BMELV -- particularly in regard to the internet. The BMELV serves as the entity that monitors the impact of the internet and questions on privacy. Despite the technological advancements of Germany and its industries, the German people are rather wary of the impact of the internet. During our time in Germany, we heard over and over that people were suspicious of social media. VERY few businesses and individuals (that we met) were embracing social media. Thus, the BMELV has come to the forefront as a monitoring agency for the security of German citizens in the age of the internet, thanks to its role as the consumer protection entity.

At the BMELV office in Berlin, we met with Birgit Risch, who shared with us the organization structure of the BMELV and its functions. The headquarters for this agency remains in Bonn, the old West German capitol. The Federal Minister who leads the department is Ilse Aigner, who recently was in Washington DC for meetings with the USDA. From Frau Risch, we learned that about 5% of arable land and 5% of German farm products are organic. 2/3 of Germany is considered rural, but 70% of its people live in cities. In 1950, the average German farmer fed 10 people; today that number is 150 people! Half of all German land is managed or controlled by farmers, and 94% of German farms are family owned. (Despite the fact that some Europeans view American agriculture as "industrial & corporate", 98% of American farms are family-owned . . . a higher number than in Germany!) Unfortunately, German farmland continues to decrease, an issue that America shares.

The Food Policy for the BMELV focuses on such themes as awareness, quality, research, and prevention. The Agriculture Policy deals with farming, markets & trade, forestry/hunting, fishing, and rural development. Consumer Policy handles food safety and consumer protection, including social security for German farmers (which is 67% of the total budget for BMELV!) Imagine if the USDA handled social security for American farmers! This was a very educational meeting for all of us, and served to provide us important background for our visits to the countryside!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The DBV, the EU, and the CAP: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Farm Policy!

This picture was taken during our luncheon with Dr. Born, General Secretary of the Deutscher Bauernverband. We had an excellent discussion on issues that face the DBV, in comparison to those that face the American Farm Bureau. In the photo, from the left: Shane Otley of Oregon, Tracy Grondine of Washington DC, Chad Vorthmann of Colorado, Dr. Helmut Born of the DBV, and Katherine Harrison.

In Germany, more than 90% of its farmers are members of the DBV. This is an amazing membership rate! Total membership is around 325,000. The DBV has offices in Berlin and in Brussells. Much like the Amercian Farm Bureau Federation, the DBV is composed of 18 State organizations (there are 16 German states, and certain states have dual organizations). Farmer members direct the work of the organization, and professional staff carry out the duties of the association. The DBV was founded in 1948 and exists to represent the agricultural, economical, legal, fiscal, environmental, social, educational, and socio-political interests of farmers. Germany is a leading producer in the EU of canola, potatoes, milk, pork, beef, and eggs.

The DBV is, in turn, a member of COPA, which is the agricultural organization for the EU. COPA has 85 members from the 27 EU states and non-member European countries. Some of these countries have multiple national farm associations, such as Italy which has 4. The Green Party has initiated an effort to start a rival organization to the DBV in Germany. (As you can imagine, I was not surprised to learn it was the Greens!) Thus, while Germany as a nation has influence at the EU on agricultural policy, it is important to remember that policy decisions that impact farmers are made primarily at the EU level. The German department of agriculture serves to implement these decisions.

The European Union was created in 1957 with six nations: Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Italy. There are now 27 member states, 500 million citizens, and 22(!) official languages. This means all official documents of the EU must be translated 22 times -- amazing! There is one single market amongst these 27 states for the free movement of goods and services. Only 16 of the member states, however, use the common currency of the Euro. Beyond this, while those 16 members are part of the Euro zone, their individual national governments set their own financial policy . . . thus leading to the current situation where Germany is faced with bailing out the Greek government in its financial debacle to maintain the stability of the Euro.

The three key institutions of the EU are the Council of Ministers (which represent the member states), the European Parliament (designed as the voice of the people), and the Commission (which carries out the work of the EU). EU policies largely are crafted as the result of huge compromises between member states to achieve action. Even with these pieces of legislation, there are still major difference in how nations implement them. For example, the EU set an end date for the use of hen cages in Europe. German implemented this several years early, but other countries (such as Poland) are delaying the implementation. Polish farmers purchased a lot of those German hen cages, and are now able to produce eggs at a lesser price . . . and then sell them in Germany!

With the founding of the EU in 1957, the Common Agricultural Policy was also inaugurated. The CAP focused on three areas: self-suffiency for main commodities, sustainable economic development in rural areas, and compensation to farmers for respecting high production standards. Currently, there are 19 provisions in place that farmers must follow in order to receive EU dollars. One example is the animal identification system, which requires that each animal have a passport and a specific form of tagging. Cattle must maintain matching tags in each ear. There is a 40 Euro fine if a cow does not have this, and there is no tolerance, no matter the reason. (I can't imagine keeping two ear tags in my goats' ears -- they lose them constantly!) These 19 standards are theroretically voluntary, but virtually all farmers participate under pressure to receive EU dollars. Between 2005 and 2009, 30-40% of the average farmers annual income was made up of subsidy payments!!!

The European Union member states view agriculture as crucial for their culture, economy, environment, and self-sufficiency. Thus, they are willing to dedicate public funds to achieve this. In return, farmers must agree to abide by the 19 standards identified in response to consumer discussion and public mandate. By keeping farmers prosperous, the goal is to keep rural communities prosperous. It ensures the presence of jobs & services for rural dwellers: such as postmasters, doctors, and teachers. Sustainability is regarded as a 3-legged stool: environmental, social, and economical. In the United States, there is a great deal of ambiguity regarding the word "sustainable". While I have always personally taken pride that I do not receive government payments -- and thus am not responsible to the government for my production -- I will openly applaud the EU for clarifying that if the government is to espouse certain practices, it must be able to define them!

The Goatherd Meets the Greens; The Goatherd is NOT Impressed

26 September 2011

Our first "business" day in Berlin was full of meetings at the DBV: Deutscher Bauernverband. The DBV is the German equivalent of AFBF: American Farm Bureau Federation. Much like AFBF, the DBV is organized into county associations that make up state organizations, which in turn form the national farm group. We were welcomed to the DBV by Dr. Helmut Born, the General Secretary of the DBV. After coffee with Dr. Born, we sat in on the start of the DBV's weekly staff meeting. It was -- of course -- in German and I quickly realized that I was not understanding nearly as much as I wanted to! Oh, Rosetta Stone -- you should have taught me more agriculture & political terms! I really did not need to know "Der Kaffee schmeckt schleckt": The coffee tastes bad!

A highlight of the day was our morning session with representatives from several political parties. It was an excellent introduction to the German political system. In Germany there are several parties which influence politics. This diversity results in a need for parties to work together to create policy and pass legislation. It also forces organizations like DBV to be responsive to interacting with multiples parties so as to ensure their voice is heard. Laws are written by the parliament only, but can be requested by the government (similar to our executive branch) or the Landers (which are the states of Germany). When a German votes in a parliamentary election, he votes twice: once for the chosen candidate and once for the party of choice. These votes result in a complex equation that dictates who will serve in the parliament.

The political party representatives that we met with were from the CDU (largest party, conservative, and party of the Chancellor Angela Merkel), the Liberals (a party which harkens to the original meaning of the word "liberal" and is thus now considered conservative), and the Greens. Oh, the Greens. The party that loves organics and fear! The Greens reached a new level of popularity with Lander (state) elections in the spring . . . that happened to occur shortly after the nuclear issues caused by the tsunami in Japan. Fears over nuclear accidents led to a popular movement to ban nuclear power in Germany. The Greens led this effort, which will force renewable energy to the forefront. While this is a good thing for farmers (thanks to solar power on farms, windmills in the countryside, and the agricultural popularity of biogas), it creates a situation where less power will be produced within Germany, but the level of demand will probably stay the same. This may force the Germans to purchase more power from Russia and France -- both of which rely heavily on nuclear!

The woman from the Green Party was very well-spoken in sharing her views on agriculture. She was opposed to nuclear power due to the potential for accidents. She was opposed to windmills since they ruin the view of the countryside. She was opposed to biogas that operates from corn, as her constituents complain that corn is abhorrent in the landscape of Germany. She was opposed to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as one study from Argentina hypothesized that they were negative to humans. She would only acquiese to the usefulness of biotechnology in medicine -- never food or farming. She believed that 3rd World nations did not need the advances of science through GMOs, but could feed their people if they wasted less and had more local farms. I would personally have a hard time telling my friends from Somalia -- whose countrymen are dying by the thousands from starvation -- that they just need to waste less food.

I will absolutely give credit to the Green Party representative that she was firm in her beliefs and dedicated to them. She was quite pleasant and had a charming personality. We simply had very different beliefs. Her view of American agriculture as being "industrial" was based on the notion that American farmers specialize and hope for a profit . . . two things that I see as excellent attributes of agriculture! Diversity is a good thing, just as specialization is a good thing, and profit is always a good thing! If a farmer has no interest in profit, that is certainly acceptable -- but then it is a hobby, not a true career.

The Palace of Tears

Berlin is a modern, fascinating city, but one that will always carry its heritage with it. I was continually amazed by the vestiges of Berlin's history of division that remain. Although the Soviets reached Berlin first in 1945, the British & American military leadership made a concerted effort to prevent the city from falling under complete Soviet domination post-war. As World War II concluded, the Allies agreed to a system of "spheres of influence" in Germany, where each of the Allies would administer a region.

Noting the prime importance of the city of Berlin, it was also divided. While Berlin sat deep within the Soviet sphere of Germany, it had sectors administered by the Americans, the British, and the French. Eventually, as years passed and communism became entrenched in East Germany, West Berlin (the former American, British, and French sectors) became an island of freedom & democracy surrounded by the repression of a communist state.

During our first day in Berlin, we visited the newly-opened "Palace of Tears" Museum. This site was an entry to East Germany along the rail line. Very few East Germans were granted permission to leave, but the East German government did permit West Germans to visit the eastern side. At this train station in Berlin, Westerners would pass through government control to be admitted to and exit from East German. The name "Palace of Tears" came to refer to the sadness that surrounded the hearts of the German people as the visitors from the West said farewell to their family in the East and prepared to board the train.

The new museum focuses on the impact that the division of Germany had on its people and the celebrations when the Berlin Wall fell. This museum made quite an impression on me. What creates the slippery slope that allows citizens of a nation to watch as their rights are continually and more aggressively revoked? How do good people react when faced with oppression? Would you and I know when our country was being systematically absorbed by an oppressive regime? What would we risk for freedom . . . our farms, our fortunes, our lives?

Beautiful Berlin

Before my trip, I had a very inaccurate perception of Berlin: gray, cold, and full of skyscrapers. The city was quite a contrast to that idea! This is a picture of the River Spree, which curves through Berlin. On our first day in Berlin, we took a boat cruise along the river. It was a sunny, beautiful afternoon . . . and perfect for a catnap on a tour boat! Thus began my reputation amongst my fellow travelers for constant sleeping! Berlin is a city rich in history, and East Berlin has been rebuilt in such a way to embrace modernity while preserving its heritage. Berlin lacks skyscrapers due to a building code that limits the height of buildings. This makes for a very open and appealing atmosphere. With such a lovely city to gaze upon, nearly every apartment in Berlin offers a balcony. I was extremely impressed with Germany's largest city!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Welcome to Berlin!

25 September 2011

Things I learned about Berliners today:

Virtually every Berlin apartment building has a balcony. Germans are very connected to the outside, despite living predominantly in “people coops”. They "move" a lot: walking, bike riding, etc.

Children have much more freedom of movement here than in America. Parents send their kids out to play in the city of Berlin without qualms, confident that the children have been instructed in appropriate and safe behavior.

Pets are treated much the same way. Dogs are often seen running about unleashed and following their owners through the public areas of Berlin. The animals are well-trained and responsive, but allowed to manage their own behavior.

When we landed we made it through the Passport Kontroller, then we picked up our baggage. We were met at Tegel Airport by Brigitte of the DBV (the German equivalent of the American Farm Bureau). Brigitte was a McCloy Fellow last year and served as our host in Berlin. She informed us that the Berlin Marathon was being run today, and thus we would alter our schedule a bit. We took the bus to Brigitte’s part of town, and then staked out a location to watch the start of the marathon as it made its way by her corner. We took some pictures of the first runners, many of whom appeared to be African. Next we ducked around the corner to a baker to buy fresh breads. Yay for bruchen!

We were welcomed to Brigitte’s apartment by her 10 year old daughter Marta. She was a charming young lady. We had a very typical German breakfast, which reminded me a great deal of what Frau Bricker would serve at home: fresh breads, cheeses, meats, coffee. After eating, we watched part of the Marathon on television and saw the first gentleman cross the line. I will be forever certain that he appears in one of the pictures I took early that morning!

We spent the afternoon walking EVERYWHERE around Berlin . . . or at least it certainly seemed like it when I was hot & tired. (I was prepared for Germany to be cold; Germany decided to trick me!) We walked by the Brandenburg Gate, the Adlon Hotel, the Resichstag. We saw the end point of the Marathon, took a cruise on the River Spree, and toured the Palace of Tears. It was with relief that we all finally returned to Brigitte’s for a delicious dinner. Martha helped to cook an amazing meal of pork, potatoes, peas, and carrots. Shane, Chad, and Tracy enjoyed the Bitburger Beer -- a favourite of my Christopher -- and I had some lovely wine. We eventually headed to our hotel (in a Mercedes-Benz taxi, no less!), and I was ready to shower and SLEEP!

My first impression of Berlin: beautiful, green, and friendly!