Guest post: Life after graduation

Today’s guest post is from Ben Young, an Aston graduate who now lives in Munich.

 

Hawidere and Grüße aus München!

My name is Benjamin Young, I’m a 25 year-old Aston graduate who is currently living and working in Munich, southern Germany. I studied on the International Business & Modern Languages (IBML) BSc between 2008-2012 and moved back out shortly after graduating.

After initially moving to Munich in May 2012, I started working for the British Government at the Consulate General in May 2014. My day to day work is with the commercial arm of the Government, working for UK Trade & Investment, helping German firms invest into the UK and providing a route into (and through!) Government from a local perspective. My remit covers advanced engineering & manufacturing with a heavy focus on the railways, so I am often working with large German companies such as Siemens, Deutsche Bahn and BMW. The skills that I learned at Aston, and vitally the combination between applied business subjects and language skills, was really key to me hitting the ground running in this job.

The Ambassador’s Residence in Vienna – there is still always time for tea, even in Austria!
The Ambassador’s Residence in Vienna – there is still always time for tea, even in Austria!

Outside of my main duties there is more general, Consular work to be done to show off the UK to the Germans, widen our network and organize visits from British delegations. I was part of the organizing group for the HM Queen Elizabeth Royal State Visit earlier this year, and was fortunate enough to be with the delegation on the Frankfurt leg of the trip to the Roemer and historic city hall, and garnering a surprising amount of camera time! As well as this, we still organize a Queen’s Birthday Party each year (she is yet to attend), and I am often asked to represent the UK at interesting events such as the maiden voyage of the National Express trains linking Cologne, Bonn and …, from which I am writing this blog post- it’s a far shout from the old National Express coach station in Digbeth!

I feel very fortunate to have studied at Aston and there’s no doubt in my mind that it has helped me greatly so far in my career. Although I do occasionally feel the pangs of homesickness (as a season ticket holder at West Bromwich Albion, it has been particularly tough), I have at least been able to switch the Birmingham Christmas Markets for the real thing – and there is of course Oktoberfest!

I’m happy to speak with any prospective or current students or indeed upcoming graduates should you have any questions about working for the British Government overseas, moving countries or my course studies – please do feel free to get in touch.

“Wetten, dass…” returns to German TV screens with a bang – but would it be better to let it die quietly?

Last night saw the return of Germany’s longest running and most successful entertainment TV programme “Wetten, dass”, which can be loosely translated as “I bet you”. True to the Ronseal system of German programming, “Wetten, dass” does exactly what it says on the tin, inviting members of the public to suggest crazy and – in some cases physically dangerous – bets. If accepted, contestants get to demonstrate their skills in front of a live studio audience and of millions of German, Austrian and Swiss viewers at home.

To spice up this simple format, contestants are allocated a celebrity who has to complete an often embarrassing “truth or dare”-type task if the bet is lost. This integration of high-calibre guests into the show is the real secret of its success – this and the immense popularity of Thomas Gottschalk who hosted the show for decades until resigning last year, after a contestant was badly injured on stage.

With Gottschalk now focusing on his remaining sources of income, such as fronting the German advertising campaign for Haribo sweets,  it remains to be seen if his successor, former talk show host Markus Lanz, will be as successful in attracting big names to the show. Over the decades, “Wetten, dass” presented not only homegrown talent such as Boris Becker, Karl Lagerfeld or Til Schweiger.  The show was also the most effective arena for international stars to reach Europe’s largest audience, the German speaking public.

Particularly musicians used the programme to advertise their latest records. Madonna, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Robbie Williams, Cliff Richard, and many more, all appeared several times on “Wetten, dass”, despite being treated to the weird experience of trying to communicate with the host and the audience through an interpreter and consequently  having trouble following the strange goings-on and politically incorrect jokes made by the host.

Luckily for his international guests, Gottschalk’s entertainment value rested to some extent on his flamboyant dress sense, his readiness to drop his trousers on stage if needed – for example to prove that he was wearing the same underwear as folk singer Patrick Lindner – and on his ability to transcend the language barriers separating him from his female guests by a universally intellible and embarrassingly male chauvinist flirting technique.

A whole generation of Germans, a generation also dubbed “Generation Golf“, after the popular Volkswagen car which was first built in the early 1970s, grew up watching “Wetten, dass” on a regular basis and continued to tune in even as more and more channels became available and German TV offered a wider variety of programmes.

Last night, “Wetten, dass” was as big a national event as it had ever been. Millions were watching and in no time #wettendass was trending globally on Twitter – much to the confusion of the largely English tweeting online community. But was the show worth watching? German left-wing newspaper taz seems to disagree. They were quick to list Lanz’s many faux pas and insensitive comments, directed towards German-Turkish comedian Bülent Ceylan in particular.

But what about the show’s entertainment potential and freak quota? Well, in keeping with the “Wetten, dass” traditon, yesterday’s bets included a woman claiming that she was able to distinguish dog breeds by touching their fur. Viewers must have felt reminded of the time when the team behind Germany’s biggest satirical magazine Titanic (similar to Britain’s Private Eye) infiltrated the show and staged a hoax involving a man who had put in a bet saying that he could distinguish the shades of coloured pencils by licking their tips.

The show remains an easy target for satire and derision. But the big question mark currently hovering over the future of  “Wetten, dass” is whether Lanz can successfully replace the sometimes offensive but always charmingly eccentric Gottschalk – others have failed before him. It is also unclear if the “hidden attractions” of the programme will continue to outlast the tired looking main premise of the show, which has long run its course and cannot easily compete with more innovative formats such as “Schlag den Raab.” This week’s edition of the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT argues that German TV is better than its poor reputation, but judging by the many scathing comments on Twitter, “Wetten, dass” will need to work hard to improve if it wants to remain the flagship of Germany’s public channel ZDF and defend its position as the incarnation of the nation’s favourite Saturday night entertainment.

Ruling German Coalition Considers Granting Equal Tax Rights to Same-Sex Partnerships

As one of the first countries worldwide, Germany introduced gay civil partnerships (“eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaften”) in 2001, granting same-sex couples similar rights to their married heterosexual counterparts. The new legislation meant that same-sex life-partners could no longer not be considered next of kin. They are now entitled to receive information about their partner in an emergency and can no longer be turned away from their hospital bedside. Being “verpartnert”, to use the neologism which was quickly coined, also makes it easier for gays and lesbians to leave their estate to their partner when they die.

Picture taken from http://www.siegessaeule.de

But two big differences still remain, making the so-called “Homo-Ehe” (gay marriage) not quite a “real” marriage, with exactly the same rights and advantages that heterosexual married couples enjoy.

First of all, homosexual couples, despite being allowed to raise children, biological or adopted, do not have the right to adopt as couples. Equal parenting rights are not granted to both partners.

Second of all, civilly partnered couples do not enjoy to a special tax break referred to as “Ehegatten-Splitting”. Currently, married couples – irrespective of whether they have children – can save taxes by declaring a joint income and applying for a low tax code for the higher earning partner (usually the husband). This rule has long been at the centre of heated debate but it has so far resisted all attempts at having it abolished. Now, an initiative supported by politicians from both the Christian Democrats (CDU, Angela Merkel’s party) and their junior coalition partner the Free Democrats (FDP), has been launched to give homosexual couples access to Ehegatten-Splitting. Supporters include Family Minister Kristina Schröder (CDU) and Vice Chancellor and Leader of the FDP Philipp Rösler. Unsurprisingly, critics have commented on the bad timing of raising this in the middle of the holiday season. However, one major opponent, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), has already found time away from the beach to voice his strong disapproval and reject the initiative.

Opponents of equal rights for same-sex couples usually refer to a clause in the German constitutional law, the “Grundgesetz”, which guarantees special support and protection for families. However, the definition of what constitutes a family is an evolving concept, and conservative critics may soon find that by challenging the right of same-sex couples to gain access to the same privileges that heterosexual marriages enjoy, they are clinging to an outdated and fundamentally discriminatory idea.

Click here to read a report by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and here for a Deutschlandlandfunk commentary.

Kein Spaß: TV Host Kurt Felix Dies

Kurt Felix and Paola © Nadine Rupp/getty images

He was best known for hosting “Verstehen Sie Spaß”, the German version of “You’ve been framed”. From 1980 to 1990 Kurt Felix and his wife Paola presented the hugely popular entertainment show based on the “candid camera” principle. After the Swiss journalist left the show, a series of other hosts, including late night talk show legend Harald Schmidt, took over and continued to play pranks on celebrities and unsuspecting citizens.

The current successful presenter is Guido Cantz, and the programme still has impressive viewing figures. But the show has never been quite the same without Felix. His inimitable blend of boyish humour and charmingly deliberate Swiss diction will forever be associated with “Verstehen Sie Spaß”.

Innumerable times Felix had suddenly appeared at the end of a prank to show people that they had been punked. Sadly, as DIE ZEIT writes today, Felix’ death from cancer, which ocurred on Wednesday, is all too real and this time no one will jump out from behind a bush shouting “it’s all been a joke”.

One of Felix’ classic pranks: The shower in the lift

German Has a New Word: “Dänenampel”

Yesterday’s regional elections in Germany’s nothernmost state, Schleswig-Holstein, produced a number of surprising results – and a new word, the “Dänenampel” (Danish traffic light).

The ruling coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU) and Liberals (FDP), who had been in the difficult position of trying to run a state with a precarious one-seat-majority, lost the election – or did they? The CDU only fared 0.7% worse than at the 2009 polls, securing a total of 30.8% on Sunday. And while their junior partner, the FDP,  lost a substantial 6.7% of the vote, the party still sees it fit to celebrate the fact that they managed to cross the compulsory 5% threshold to enter parliament – and comfortably so. Nationally, the Liberals are currently so violently unpopular that not having been kicked out of yet another Landtag (regional parliment) can indeed be considered a success and their result of 8.2% seems quite respectable.

With the current regional government losing support, Germany’s second major party, the Social Democrats (SPD), managed to increase their vote by a satisfying 5%, putting them behind the CDU by the incredibly narrow margin of 0.4%.

This very tight outcome now means that whichever of the two major parties, CDU or SPD,  first manages to form a coalition will run Schleswig-Holstein for the next four years. This situation puts the spotlight on the various smaller parties. The FDP’s significant losses mean that the current coalition cannot be renewed, or at least not without taking a third partner onboard.

The fragmented result of the election indicate that quite a few combinations would be possible. The third biggest party are currently Die Grünen (The Green Party) who did well with a result of just over 13%. They would most likely be interested in entering into a coalition with the SPD – but that would only give the two parties a combined share of just under 45% of seats in the Landtag in Kiel. They would be well advised to look for a third partner. And they are unlikely to find a coalition partner towards the left of the political spectrum.

Die Linke, a Socialist party to the left of the SPD, failed to clear the 5% hurdle, making space for the Piratenpartei (Pirate Party), a conglomorate of independent leftist thinkers and internet activists with strong links to the Occupy movement. The Pirate Party recently regrouped at their national party conference and did impressively well at this regional election, securing the same number of votes as the much more established FDP, one of Germany’s oldest political parties. But it is uncertain if the Pirates with their taste for anarchy are ready to enter government, even at regional level, and it is unlikely that the more traditional parties would currently be prepared to invite them into a coalition.

All in all, the current unresolved situation may just turn out to be the big opportunity a unique national minority party has been waiting for. The Südschleswiger Wählerverband (South Schleswig Voter Federation) represents the Danish and Frisian minorities in Schleswig, the northern part of the region which borders on Denmark. They are protected by special legislation, which exempts them from the 5%-rule and guarantees them a number of seats in parliament proportionate to the election result. They have been gaining support in recent years and they did well on Sunday, securing 4.6% of the vote, making them a potentially attractive junior partner. If negotiations are successful, the SSW could enter regional government for the first time in their history – and could add to the German vocabulary at the same time.

In German, political coalitions consisting of three partners are referred to as “Ampeln” (traffic lights), because they combine three different party colours. Only the (usually unlikely) coalition of SPD (red), FDP (yellow), and Greens forms a conventional “Ampel”. If the SSW were to reach an agreement with the SPD and the Green Party, the result would be red, blue and green – or a “Dänenampel” to use the quickly coined new term which has been hitting the headlines and is trending on Twitter.

It remains to be seen if the Danes really will be part of Schleswig-Holstein’s new government, but they have already made their entry into the German language.

Uwe Schütte gives laudation as Gerhard Roth is awarded prestigious literature prize

Austrian author Gerhard Roth has been awarded the Jakob-Wassermann Literaturpreis for his critical novels on Austria during the Nazi occupation and the memory processes and controversies in contemporary Austrian society.

Roth joins the ranks of famous colleagues Hilde Domin,  Uwe Timm, Sten Nadolny and Feridun Zaimoglu. The prize is named after German-Jewish writer Jacob Wassermann and has been awarded biannually by Wassermann’s hometown Fürth near Nuremberg.

 And who would be better suited to give Roth’s laudation than Dr. Uwe Schütte, Head of German at Aston University and internationally renowned Roth expert. Dr. Schütte is the author of 1997 monograph Auf der Spur der Vergessenen. Gerhard Roth und seine Archive des Schweigens and he has published extensively on Roth’s works in various academic journals.

Director Andreas Dresen Triumphs at German Film Awards

At last night’s German Film Awards, or the Lolas, as the ceremony is colloquially referred to because winners are presented with supposedly female statuettes, it was all smiles for Andreas Dresen.

Dresen’s film “Halt auf freier Strecke” (“Stopped on Track”) did extremely well, winning both Best Film and Best Director. In addition, the Lolas for Best Male Lead and Best Male Supporting Actor also went to “Stopped on Track”.  This was even more remarkable given the subject matter of the drama which tells the tragic story of a family man dying of a brain tumor. For Dresen this was the second Best Picture win in just four years, following on from “Wolke 9” (“Cloud 9”), a tender and unconventional  love story  between two pensioners.

Dresen originally trained as a documentary film maker in East Germany before moving to feature films in the late nineties. From “Nachtgestalten” (“Nightshapes”, 1999) to “Sommer vorm Balkon”  (2005) many of Dresen’s films are set in the capital (as indicated by the English title “Summer in Berlin”) and often provide an unusual and closely observed focus on its inhabitants and their daily joys and struggles. As a director he has a keen eye for social dynamics, and while some of his films contain strong comedy elements and sometimes even produce laughs at the expense of his often socially disenfranchised characters, there is never any condescension in Dresen’s attitude as a film maker. This strong respect for his characters also came through in his 2003 documentary “Herr Wichmann von der CDU”  about a young Conservative politician on the lost mission of trying to win a seat in a left-wing Eastern province. Ultimately it is this strong sense of empathy which makes Dresen’s films special.

Other awards given last night included the Silver Lola, which went to Christian Petzold’s highly acclaimed film “Barbara”. It is set in Communist East Germany and focuses on the discrimination and repressive state measures a physician encounters, when she applies to leave the GDR for the West. Petzold had previously won second prize for his film at the prestigious Berlinale film festival and must have been disappointed that he was only successful in one out of eight nominated Lola categories.

Other wins included the “Filmpreis in Bronze” for David Wnendt’s hard hitting social drama “Kriegerin” (“Combat Girls”) about girls in neo-nazi groups, and several awards for the historical drama “Anonymous”. “Combat Girls” also won best script and newcomer Alina Levshin secured the Lola for Best Female Lead. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zbExxjx39M

 “Anonymous” is a controversial “Fakespeare” film by Roland Emmerich (of “Independence Day” fame), who has joined the ranks of many conspiracy theorists before him, claiming that the bard’s plays and sonnets were penned by an anonymous author. Last night the film won an impressive six Lolas, but all of them in minor castegories such as sound and costumes. Unsurprisingly, the film has not gone down well with British critics (and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust even launched a counter campaign) to re-establish Shakespeare’s position as England’s greatest author). On the whole Britain was less than impressed by this attempt to question English literary history, particularly because it was made by the man who brought you light action film fare such as Godzilla.

But see for yourself: Here are the 10 reasons why Emmerich believes Shakespeare was a fraud:

Popular Comedian Loriot Is Dead

With much sadness Germans learned today that one of the nation’s favourite and most versatile comedians has died. Vicco von Bülow, who used the stage name “Loriot” throughout his long career, spanning over four decades, will be sorely missed. In many ways his death at the age of 87 marks the end of an era in German TV entertainment.

Herr Müller-Lüdenscheid and Herr Doktor Klöbner taking a bath together

Loriot was equally popular as a comic actor with impeccable timing (and a drive for perfection bordering on the obsessive) and as an inimitable cartoonist.

His characteristic Knollennasenmännchen (little men with bulbous noses) starred in a variety of scenarios, from simple sketches to impersonations of politicians and TV presenters or parodies of classic German poetry.

Nobody could make mundane activities like shopping for clothes (or furniture), eating at a restaurant or attending a concert – not to mention office work – look as painfully uncomfortable and hilariously funny as Loriot. He had an unparalleled gift for pointing out the absurdities of life and the emptiness of conventions and etiquette by poking good-natured fun at them. The presentation of keenly observed, very orderly everyday situations which he joyously let descend into chaos and mayhem – but all in a very well-mannered, middle-class kind of way – was his forte.

Slapstick and visual comedy formed an important part of his work but so did word play and verbal comedy. In his sketches, he devoted as much time to falling over as he did to cleverly ridiculing the pitfalls of the German language and pointing out the difficulties of human communication. Although some of his sketches were slightly macabre and quite a few contained (mild) sexual innuendo and double entendre, Loriot always remained the gentleman of German comedy and much of his popularity and appeal was due to the fact that his humour was universal and never offensive.

For part of his working life Loriot was a solo artist but it was only once he had found the perfect “partner in comedy”, the congenial and hugely talented Evelyn Hamann, that his career really took off.

Loriot and Evelyn Hamann

Nearly 20 years his junior, she starred in almost all his sketches, they repeatedly went on tour together and she also acted in the two feature films which Loriot wrote and directed: Ödipussi and Pappa ante Portas. When Hamann died of cancer in 2007, an ageing Loriot mournfully remarked, “you beat me to it”. This sad feeling of having been left behind ended yesterday when he passed away in his sleep.

[A dvd box set with Loriot’s collected works is available to Aston students in the LSS dvd library]

Sommermärchen Reloaded? Germany Is Celebrating the Fifa Women’s World Cup

copy right: Axel Heimken/dapd

Five years ago, Germany hosted the football world cup which attracted millions of visitors from across the world who came together in a legendary celebration of sportsmenship, sunshine and good spirits. The almost euphoric atmosphere and the relaxed and positive attitude towards nationhood, which the proud German fans displayed for the first time since the end of World War II, prompted reporters – and filmmaker Sönke Wortmann – to refer to the event as a “Sommermärchen” (summer fairytale). Now it seems Germany intends to repeat the magic and the country is once again abuzz with football news – only this time the players are female.

Despite boasting an extremely successful national team, who seem set to win the world championship the third time running, women’s football has, until recently, been a much-overlooked discipline – in Germany as much as in the rest of the world. This is clearly about to change, as was demonstrated by the excitement which could be felt all over Berlin when the championship kicked off at the capital’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

copy right: Clemens Bilan/dapd

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel – herself a woman in what is still considered by many to be a man’s job – was present at the game and although she did not display much confidence during some parts of the match (see picture), the German team did not disappoint their fans and swiftly defeated Canada 2:1.

It might be premature to say that women’s football is finally experiencing its well-deserved break-through into mainstream sports. Critics were quick to point out that, whereas the men’s tournament had been broadcast on big screens all over the country (turning “public viewing” into one of the most popular words of 2006, as noted by the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache), only smallish televisions have been put up this time round and only the matches involving the German team will be shown on the public TV channels.

However, the media are doing their best to promote the coverage. In an already very popular cinema and tv advert, Maradonna, Pele and Beckenbauer are pitted against Prinz.

Admittedly Birgit Prinz, Germany’s veteran player and still one of the strongest members of the women’s national team, can look back on a distinguished career – but only time will tell if she can ever achieve a public standing comparable to that of male professional footballers.

Women’s football is very obviously still in a period of transition and it is not quite clear yet who its main supporters will be. Unsurprisingly, the team has a large lesbian following, as evidenced on Saturday by the impressive women’s football float at Germany’s biggest gay pride event, the Christopher Street Day parade in Berlin, displaying the confident slogan: “The future of football is female.” (“Die Zukunft des Fußballs ist weiblich.”) But at the same time a survey conducted by the magazine Stern showed that the most likely group to be watching the matches in the weeks to come are men aged 60 and above.

The DFB / FIFA float at Berlin's CSD

Read more about the history of female football on the BBC sports page or check out this Deutsche Welle article on the rising popularity of the beautiful game played by the fair sex.