Strong Young Women

Germany is currently captivated by a number of young women that are the talk of the nation:

  • Helene Hegemann (18), the plagiarist author of a widely acclaimed book
  • Anna Felicitas Sarholz (17), the goalie of Turbine Potsdam who won the first European Women's Champion's League in soccer. She stared down the French opponents in penalty kicks and shot a penalty goal herself.
  • Lena Meyer-Landrut (19), who will represent Germany at the European Song Contest in Oslo on May 29.
Amazingly, they all have Wikipedia pages in German, Helene doesn't have one in English. Oh, and then Berlin has hired Sigrid Nikutta to lead the public transport system. She's not that young (41) anymore, but looks like she might actually have to gumption to whip the company into shape. She's a psychologist who wrote her dissertation on aging male managers, and has practiced running freight trains around Europe.

Go, girls, go!


3D Tetris

We spent the weekend cleaning out WiseMan's parent's home. It was quite an emotional weekend, as quite a lot of stuff had to be thrown out. WiseKid and WiseGirlfriend pitched in quite a lot, with WiseKid enjoying mowing the lawn on the riding mower first, followed by breaking down all the crumbling shelving coming in a close second.

WiseGirlfriend was very hesitant at first - they need stuff for their new household, but she didn't know my mother-in-law, and it felt strange to be digging through people's stuff. I told her that I understood, and there were exactly two things you could do with each piece you picked up: either decide to keep it for yourself or chuck it. Preferably sorted, so that the trash can be taken out with a minimum of cost. She asked over and over if she could have something until she finally learned: keep it for yourself or trash it.

We did have some exciting discoveries - and she was quick enough to see that this kind of stuff was important. Letters from father-in-law to mother-in-law from before they were married, underneath a ton of stockings; silver spoons in with the plastic ones; an old ID card of my mother-in-law from after the war was over (end of 45) that has a stamp on it that still carried a swastika.

Man, there was a lot of stuff to trash. I even approved trashing my 10 year's collection of "die tagesszeitung" that had spent the past 20+ years in the attic. I did keep the ones from when the Wall came down, though. But as came through in a conversation I had with a friend who was helping out: you have to let go at some point. And we really, really needed newspaper to pack glasses in and the used newspaper collection was just through the neighborhood Thursday. WiseKids will have the fanciest glassware on the block for people their age, but it was either take it or chuck it.

This morning then we had the game of 3D Tetris in the pouring rain. I had already decided that everyone else would have to take the train back so I could have the back seat folded down. WiseMan fretted all day yesterday that the stuff wouldn't fit in the car, I calmed him down, especially when the WiseKids decided not to take the mattresses with them that we had pitched (i.e. taken to the in-laws "just in case") 20 years ago.

I actually like this game - how much stuff can I get into the car and still be able to drive it? I have a netting I can put up so that I fill it to the roof. I also have two side mirrors to help me drive the thing. I was very proud of myself today: 6 crates, 2 boxes of crystal and china, a "Grandma-Porsche", our food box, a vacuum cleaner, the picture I bought in Sweden, a suitcase filled with china, our Sweden suitcase and my backpack, 2 coats and 2 down comforters (they squish nicely) plus assorted small stuff. At least in this Tetris game I have all the pieces in full view before I start.

The hard part was getting out WiseKids' stuff at their apartment without wrecking anything. But it worked. Now we have to unpack all the stuff here.... and maybe throw out our old, broken vacuum cleaner.

Kids these days

It's a three-day holiday weekend, and I am traveling with WiseKid and WiseKidGirlfriend to meet WiseMan in the city where he grew up, we have to sort out his parent's home. He's driven ahead by car, we are taking the train, as there is this wonderful thing called a "Happy Weekend Ticket" that lets up to 5 people travel for the price of one if they take only local regional trains. It is actually only 30 minutes longer than the high-speed train, as you have to take quite a detour.

Of course, the German Bahn is completely surprised that so many people want to take the train today - and even take their bikes. There are crowds of people on the platforms, and it takes forever to get on and off the train. We luckily got on at a smaller station just before the main train station, so we have good seats for the first leg.

Of course, the train is so delayed that we have to wait an hour in beautiful Bad Kleinen. WiseKid pipes up - hey, that's cool, we can go to McDonald's. I try and explain that even though the wall came down before he was born, nothing much has happened here in the way of modernization. I enclose a picture of what at one time was a place for the stationmaster to wait.

Anyway, just before Bad Kleinen a bunch of 14- and 15-year-old boys join the car. One bangs into WiseKid with his bag, and they start talking with each other in the way that WiseKid himself used to speak just a few years ago. He gets seriously angry at these stupid kids, calling them wannabes. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black ;)

Anyway, the train for the second leg is on time, but no place to sit together, so they are in the row behind me. And they are playing "Stadt, Land, Fluß". I vaguely remember us having something similar when I was a kid, but I've forgotten the name. They choose categories and letters and have to find an item for each category for each letter. WiseKid chose the category "Car" for her. She got mad, so that had to be changed. She chose "Body of water" for him, and I expected him to reject it.

But no, he has it in, and is coming up with the most amazing bodies of waters, regions, animals, and jobs: Küstengewässer (costal waterways); Lake Caucausus; Lake Génève; Andalusia; Westerland; Kolibri; Bundespräsident (German head of state) - WiseKidGirlfriend protests: That's not a job! Sure it is, he rejoins. He gets paid, doesn't he? This is a guy who quit school after the 9th grade! I'm really rather enjoying sitting in front of them and hearing the words they choose - and fight over whether they exist. "Chemnitzsee" - there is probably a Lake X for all city names X. And without the Internet we can't check it out.

I'm glad WiseKidGirlFriend is along - otherwise I would probably have had to listen to "are we there yet?" about a hundred times.

Update: Chemnitz is not a member of the set of all cities for which there exist a "Lake"+city. WiseKid got a point he shouldn't have.



Yesterday was the yearly meeting of the Wikimedia Germany, the German Verein that supports open and free knowledge - among other projects, the Wikipedia.

The joke goes that where ever seven or more Germans discover a common interest, they set up a Verein. And a Verein has to have a chairperson and maybe a deputy and a recording secretary and a treasurer and they have to register with the local court so that they are recognized, and then they have to hold at least one meeting a year. If the Verein does "good works", and can prove it, then they can set up a deal with the tax office so that people can donate to the Verein and take the donation off their taxes.

Which is something amazing that happens in our Verein - people donate smallish amounts of money, but since there are many, many people donating, we can actually hire people to do things like teach teachers about the free knowledge available online or badger German officials to give us copies of text and pictures that the taxpayers have already paid for, and so on.

But as the new treasurer so nicely put it yesterday, we are currently in the process of moving from a Kleingärtnerverein (an association of people holding allotment lots in one particular area) to a mittelständischer Firma, a medium-sized business. We took in over 800.000 Euros last year, so if the growth rate keeps up, we break a million next year.

And that brings on lots of headaches, as the money does not flow continuously, but shows up when we have our campaigns, or when something political happens that makes people realize why it is grand to have free knowledge repositories around. We love politicians of minor parties trying to shut us down, or public brawls about relevance criteria, as this seems to inject extra cash into the project. But when you have to pay rent and salaries every month, this is also a problem.

So we had the Vereinsmeierei, all the stupefying discussions on how we want to proceed forward, and how to do it in such a way that politicians can't shut us down.

We met in a charming, 50s meeting hall that unfortunately did not have electricity at the tables or WLAN, so we rather had to focus on what was happening up front. I'm sure that this prolonged the discussions!

The best part was the breaks, talking with people you've know for ages. I ended up being a founding member by attending the meeting where they were discussing setting up the Verein. I was hiding in the back, only using my Wikipedia pseudonym, when one of my former students spied me and loudly welcomed Prof. WiseWoman. Okay, cover blown, and they wanted some non-students in there, so I signed on the dotted line.

The next few years will be rough, I hope that we manage to establish free knowledge. I think we are on the right track, even though there are lots of stones in the way - and lots of very, very long meetings.


But I need the course

I pulled the final class list today, 4 weeks after the start of the semester. There were two new names on the list! One wasn't there today, but the other showed up. It is a Master's seminar with lots of reading and homework, as it gives 5 credits for just 2 hours class.

He hadn't found the syllabus. He hadn't done the homework. He hadn't contacted me. And he didn't really speak English (the course is in English).

But he needed the course.

I tried to get him to explain why he thought this would work. Well, the officer for his program had said that he would accept my course as an equivalent for something entirely different. I do the Mathematical Basis of Basketweaving, so to say, and he needed Applied Silk Painting.

I asked why he had not come the first week. He replied that he needed the course. I began to pick up on signals - he has issues, major psychological issues. He also has a stuttering problem that he was trying to keep under control and preferred to say nothing to many of the questions I asked him. He just stood there, at one point I was afraid he was going to start crying.

But it is useless for him to start a class the fourth week. It is useless for the group to have to drag him along. I feel sorry for him, but he really needs to get his act together.


A Distant Neighborhood

We hit the sneak preview this afternoon that the teacher's union organizers for its members. There was not much advance information about the film, except that it was a father-son story. We were expecting "Vertraute Fremde", the title said "Quartier Lointain", and on the Internet I only find an announcement for "A Distant Neighborhood" that sounds like the story.

At the end of the film WiseMan said that it sounded like a manga, and according to this, it is indeed a manga by Jirô Taniguchi adapted to the screen by Sam Garbarski.

Thomas is a comic artist in his 50s. He is heading off on a business trip to a comic book fair. His wife is too busy telephoning to give him a kiss goodbye, his daughters are fighting about something in the fridge. At the fair a customer asks why he hasn't made a new comic in the past 2 years. Thomas notes that he is looking for a new story.

On the way home he gets on the wrong train and ends up in his boyhood village. The emptiness of the town of today is contrasted to the bustling little village it once was in the following, as Thomas faints while visiting his mother's grave and is transported back (in a dream?) to his 14-year-old self. He has the knowledge of the older man in the body of the boy.

It is entertaining to see France in the early 60s. When the teacher lights up a cigarette in class the teachers in the audience all murmur to each other. And they make understanding noises at each of the painful teenager situations. Sure, they have to put up with them all week.

Thomas wants to ask his parents lots of things, and he wants to keep his father from going to get bread the evening of his birthday and never coming back. Of course, if he would be made to come back, then Thomas would not be the Thomas that he now is.

There are comical scenes in which he calls the girl who will grow up to be his wife, but who of course does not know him. He tries to tell people about coming things - Berlin Wall falling down, man on the moon, but everyone thinks that he is being just a crazy teenager.

The story twists along, coming back to a déjà vu situation that we don't get to see how it ends. There are no credits after the film, just "á mon père" (for my father). Of course, this might be because of the sneak preview thing, but I wanted to know what beautiful town it was filmed in.

Not the best film I've seen in the past year, but an enjoyable afternoon at the movies.