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

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.