Weißwurst, Bratwurst, Schweinebraten: Germany’s cuisine is known as good and robust – and also as very meat-based. When it comes to traditional dishes, it is not always easy to find something suitable for vegetarians or even vegans. But besides the lack of meatless meals, there is a growing number of vegetarians and vegans in the country. Even without eating meat, you don’t have to starve in Germany – although it isn’t always easy.
Hidden meat-base dishes
When it comes to traditional German meals, you will soon notice that meat is often an essential ingredient. Even if you don’t see it at first sight, many foods do contain a certain amount of meat, like soups or the so-called Eintopf which is available in many different styles. So beware of hidden meat when you are planning to have a typical German dinner and better ask for it if you are in a restaurant.
Thus most of the restaurants in Germany do have at least a few vegetarian dishes, but especially smaller ones in rural areas might have not. A durable alternative, in this case, is just to order some “Beilagen” (side-dishes). For example, if you are in Franconia, “Kloß mit Soß,” i.e. dumplings with brown sauce, is a popular meatless alternative not only for children but also for vegetarians. Also, Spätzle can be a very satisfying main-dish. Try some Käsespätzle – Spätzle with onions and lots of cheese. Besides this, many of the sweet dishes of the traditional German cuisine are suitable for vegetarians, for example, Kaiserschmarrn or Dampfnudeln. In northern Germany, old-school food does, of course, often contain fish in some kind. If you are a pescetarian, you won’t have any problems.
When it comes to veganism, it gets a bit more complicated because traditional food mostly contains milk or eggs in certain amounts. In this case, you should just be slightly more aware, but you might find yourself some satisfying food to enjoy.
Veganism and Vegetarianism on the Rise
Vegetarianism and veganism are disproportionately large popular among educated persons. That is why you can find very suitable vegetarian restaurants or those offering vegetarian alternatives in bigger cities. Even many meat-biased restaurants like those offering burgers will have something without a touch of an animal. Universities and higher schools are always a good indicator for a more or less distinctive vegetarian community, in every cafeteria, students will get at least one meatless meal. That’s also the reasons why you won’t have any problems to find something that suits you in the major cities of Germany, also if you are vegan.
Vegetarian and Vegan Street Food
But what about a quick snack on the streets? The real Germans like Bratwurst, Fischbrötchen or Currywurst are not the right choice, but the all-time favorite street food of Germany is Döner. Although Döner usually contains meat, you can always have a vegetarian variation with cheese. Other healthy alternatives at the Döner-stand are Falafel or Halloumi. You can see, even if you are vegetarian or vegan, you don’t have to suffer in Germany. But sometimes, you’ll just have to be a bit more patient.
In times of religiously legitimized fundamental terrorism, religion is obviously still playing a big role in the ways of the world. Though it’s easy to think the world would be quite secularized, the great religions are in fact gaining in numbers. And despite every society usually viewing itself as the norm, Germany is indeed one of the exceptions when it comes to its religious make-up. Taking into consideration that having a denomination doesn’t necessarily mean you are a particularly religious or faithful person, still more than half of the German population is a member of either the Catholic or the Protestant churches. In addition, circa 5,5 % of Germans is part of another confession, such as the Islam or Judaism. The rest of the population is undenominational, that means roughly 30 Million of 80 Million people. What makes Germany one of the exceptions is that above all the two large Christian churches have continuously been losing members, and are going on to do so. In any case, the churches are still of utmost importance in Germany. So, let us take a look at the relationship of church and state in the country.
Bound by Contract
In Germany, the relationship between the state and the two major churches is defined by a contract. The foundation of this contract is the separation of church and state, which in turn can be traced back to the French Revolution and the development of laicism. The term laicism is derived from the French word “laïc”, which originally meant anyone who was not part of the clergy. A laical state is thus one that bases its values not or at least not only on religious commandments and that ultimately places religion in the private life of its citizens. Germany is almost a laical state, in that there is an official separation of church and state. Churches should not have a say in state matters. As it usually goes with us humans, things are, of course, not quite so clear. For one, the Bundesrepublik is collecting a special church tax (though only from those who actually are church members) for the churches. In return, churches compensate the tax authorities for their efforts. Additionally, Christian holidays are statutory in Germany. But, Churches, respectively organizations that have equal contracts with the state, profit, even more, form German law. They legally are charitable organizations, which has an impact on the taxes they have to pay. Further, the salaries of bishops and religion teachers (who are not allowed to teach without the consent of their respective church) are being paid by the state, not through church taxes but out of the budget that pays civil servants. At the same time, the churches are able to dictate the rules of the working environments. The maintenance of buildings owned by the church is also financed by all taxpayers. In numbers, that’s a sum of about 450 Million Euro each year (not including the church tax). Thus, the Christian churches in Germany are definitely privileged in comparison to other religious organizations.
As mentioned before, the details of these issues are defined in state contracts, the so-called concordats with the Vatican and the Church-State Treaties with the Protestant Church. A very few other representative religious organizations, such as the Central Council of Jews in Germany, have coherent contracts with the Bundesrepublik. As there are many smaller religious organizations that do not have equivalent contracts with the state and merely count as e.g. non-profit associations, it is noteworthy, that these kinds of contracts are very special. As you see, we can’t really speak of a complete separation of church and state.
Of course, Germany is well known for its favorite beverage beer. Drinking it is common and important, but thus it can also lead to some unpleasant moments when you don’t know how to handle the thousands of years of drinking culture. Let’s face the most important rules.
Drinking in Public
Unlike in many other countries, drinking alcohol and especially beer in public is not only legal but very common in Germany. The so-called Feierabendbier (end of work beer) is still a vivid part of the German beer and working culture. That’s why you can easily see workers with a can or a bottle of beer in their hand walking home or riding the bus and nobody will probably care. But beware: in some public trains or buses, drinking alcohol is prohibited, so just watch out for signs. Especially in summer, it is also widespread to have a beer outside at the lake, in the park or at the beach. You don’t need to cover your bottle – just show it with pride.
Anstoßen (toasting) with Beer
Toasting is crucial in Germany, especially when you have some beers with your friends. Germans tend to toast a lot and in many different situations. They toast when they get a new round of drinks, they toast when someone just said something important and they toast just without any reason. If you don’t want to attract attention, you should just follow some simple rules: You should always try to bump your glass to those of every single of your drinking mates, but sometimes it is just good enough to knock them all together. If your mate is too far away, it’s also allowed to just raise your glass and nod your head slightly. Don’t bump too harsh because your drink could splinter. Also, a very basic rule is to make eye-contact to whom you are toasting. If you don’t, you will have seven years of bad sex, according to a German drinking myth.
In Germany, it is legal to enjoy soft alcoholic drinks like beer and wine at the age of 16, whereas hard drinks like spirits and liqueurs are only allowed to adults over 18. So don’t wonder if you see some youngsters having a beer – it is probably legal.
Never drink Weizen/Weißbier out of a Bottle
This rule is sometimes also discussed in Germany, but most of the German beer drinkers (and especially in the south) will agree: It is absolutely sacrilegious to drink a Weizenbier (or Weißbeer or Hefeweizen – different words, same style) out of the bottle. You have to use a special, high glass, narrow at the bottom and wide at the top. An alternative can be a mug. There is a reason besides the good, old tradition: It just tastes better. Because of the yeast you use for this type of beer, you have to pour it to spread this yeast in the beverage. But better practice a bit because pouring a Weizen is not easy and must be done with the right technique.
So your qualifications are not considered enough for studying at a university in Germany? Time to check out the Studienkolleg – a preparatory course especially meant for international students to be able to study in Germany. There are two main types of Studienkolleg; basically, ones attached to a university, and ones attached to a “university of applied sciences” – what people from the United States might call a technical or vocational college. If you go to a Studienkolleg from a university, and pass the qualifications and exams from it, you can study at any university or vocational college in Germany.
If you study at a Studienkolleg at a vocational college, you can only apply to study at vocational colleges in Germany. So please check with the associated universities to make sure that when you study at their Studienkolleg, that the qualification is accepted at the university at which you want to study!
Also, make sure of the requirements for tuition fees, if any. State-run Studienkolleg-facilities do not charge tuition fees and their qualifications are valid within the whole of Germany. Private Studienkolleg facilities do exist, and they do charge tuition fees, but make sure you get as much information from these facilities as possible as to their qualifications, their validity, and if the qualifications will be accepted by where you eventually wish to study!
Within the Studienkolleg, there may be specialized tracks depending on the subjects you wish to go on to study. Of course, this will also include German language classes as well to help prepare you, but the subjects you wish to study will be also reflected in the program of study.
These tracks are usually broken down as follows, with the target degrees in mind:
medical, biological, and pharmaceutical degrees
mathematical, science, or technical degrees (STEM type fields)
business, economics, and social science degrees
the humanities (including German studies)
So please make sure to check and double-check the information you have! Contact the Studienkolleg that you are interested in directly if you must, to get information directly from them. Because they are familiar with working with international students, they will be able to help you get the most up-to-date information about their programs of study and what a student can expect.
Historically, the lands we know today as the nation of Germany were in reality governed by an loose conglomeration of princes and nobles, each with their own lands (even in the days of the Holy Roman Empire). With the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in the early 19th century, and the rise of nationalism in the 19th century especially during the Napoleonic era, unity was first achieved by Wilhelm I of Prussia when German princes gathered in Versailles to recognize him as German Emperor on January 18th, 1871.
Days of German unity in the East and West
Since then there have been several days considered a “day of German unity”, for various reasons: in the postwar Federal Republic of Germany, June 17th was celebrated as a day for German unity. This day was actually to remember the uprising of 1953 in East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, as it was called). In East Germany itself, the Founding Day on October 7th was celebrated as a national holiday.
The Origin of October 3rd
While English speakers may mistake the current Day of German Unity to celebrate the reunification of Germany, “reunification” is not a term used within Germany at all. The dream of unity has existed for decades, if not into centuries, and the current Day of German Unity (October 3rd) was partly chosen to reflect a day not already observed in some way by either Germany as to avoid connotations of reunification and the harsh economic and political divisions that had existed. This debate and avoidance of reunification and division comes into play even today: there was a short-lived debate to move the Day of German Unity from its set date on October 3rd to the Sunday closest to it, but was rejected in part because the proposal would have placed the holiday to occasionally fall on October 7th, which had been the Founding Day in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). It is not about reunification of what was formerly East Germany and West Germany, but about celebrating the dream of a singular unity that had existed and continues to exist.
An alternate date was considered for the current Day of German Unity, that being November 9th (the day the Berlin Wall came down), but was rejected in part because November 9th was also the anniversary of large-scale progroms against Germany’s Jewish population (notably, the Kristallnacht) and thus deemed inappropriate for a national holiday.
After closely following the course of the US-Election, a couple of new terms entered my vocabulary – terms such as “Filter-Bubble” or “Fake-News”. And as Americans are always a little faster than most Germans in all things social media, I was not surprised when Fake-News and Filter Bubbles made the, well, news in Germany as well. But I wondered: Is that a thing in Germany too?
Fake-News in Germany?
The short answer: Absolutely. “News” proclaiming outright falsehoods or simply changing or falsifying actual facts in order to support certain sentiments are meandering through networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat and even made it to messenger apps such as Whatsapp, by sparking police investigations into the authors of specific items.
While the Fake-News-Discussion in the USA blew up to enormous proportions, including justifiable suspicions of clandestine operations by foreign secret service agencies, I asked myself: What kind of Fake-News do pop up in German social media? Who profits and who might launch them or at least push them ahead?
How to identify Fake-News in Germany
In case you are unclear about how to identify a news report as a purposeful falsehood, let me give you a few hints: It might be a cliché, but in Germany, truthful news tends not to be narrated in an (overly) exaggerated fashion. Furthermore, it is always a good idea to check the author and the respective website’s imprint for information. When it doesn’t really become clear who runs the site, it’s wise to be critical about its contents. Apropos contents: usually real news can be found on more than one news site. Are there different versions of the news (and not only copies of the exact same statement) on the web, it makes the report more plausible. In the case of images, it can help to reverse search an image using Google or other search engines in order to clarify whether a picture or film is actually showing the reported news or whether it has other origins.
Who uses this Tool in Germany?
Following inquiries of politicians from all major parties of the spectrum, it seems that only the right-wing AfD is deliberately pushing and using Fake-News to further their agenda and to mobilize possible supporters and voters. Research revealed that some of the high-ranking party officials even have strong (even proprietary) ties to multiple websites that are either hotbeds or active sources for such false information.
What are the main Topics?
Consequently, the most frequent topics of these deliberate falsehoods revolve around the refugee crisis, the fear of Islamic terror, and general Anti-Muslim as well as xenophobic sentiments – often including attacks on the established political parties and the government. In detail, this means reports of masses of refugees being secretly brought into the country by the government, false terror threats, and stories of (white German) women and children being raped by barbaric gangs of refugees. Actual incidents, such as the Berlin-Attack or the mass assaults on women in Cologne and Hamburg on New Years Eve 2015, do, of course, not make the situation any less difficult. But it’s not only the AfD and its supporters that spread Fake-News in Germany. There is a whole haystack of unrelated Fake-News providers out there. Often, respective site owners don’t actually care about the truthfulness of their site’s contents, as their sites are a mere business to generate income through ads.
The good news is that numerous media outlets, federal and state officials and municipalities, as well as actors from the civil society, are engaging in defusing the explosive that is Fake-News. Whether their efforts will succeed in assuring a more rationally and truthfully fought election campaign in 2017 remains to be seen. Website-owners such as companies like Facebook and Twitter have yet to prove that they will make good on their promises to fight the distribution of Fake-News in their networks.
Frederick II of Prussia (Frederick the Great) (24 January 1712―17 August 1786), a strong supporter of benevolent despotism, built his magnificent rococo palace in a 290-hectare park in Potsdam, just southwest of Berlin, between 1745-1747 as a respite from the official court in Berlin. Its very name comes from the French phrase sans souci, which means “without a care” and “carefree,” i.e., “sorgenfrei” and “unbeschwert.” It’s important to know that rococo was an 18th-century art movement that emphasized lissome, clever, and witty ornamentality, and is more or less the antithesis of and a reaction to baroque.
The most important Features
The palace is within the larger park (“Park Sanssouci”) and the picture gallery, the “Bildergalerie,” built between 1755-1763 and formerly a tropical greenhouse, is just east of the palace proper. So, when you visit, and you must visit, be sure to allot at least three days to immerse yourself as much possible in the Sanssouci experience, i.e., at the absolute minimum, you need to visit the grounds adjacent to and behind the palace, the “Weinbergterrassen,” the “Lustgarten,” and the “Neptungrotte.”
The Wish of Frederick the Great
“Old Fritz,” as he was lovingly called, said “I have lived as a philosopher and wish to be buried as such, without circumstance, without solemn pomp, without splendor. I want to be neither opened nor embalmed. Bury me in Sanssouci at the level of the terraces in a tomb which I have had prepared for myself . . . . Should I die in time of war or whilst on a journey, I should be buried in the first convenient place and brought to Sanssouci in the winter.” It took a long, long time―205 years―for people and events to honor his wishes. His tomb is now finally where he wanted it to be and it is certainly worth a visit―a modest resting place for one of Germany’s two or three greatest leaders.
The Highlights of the Picture Gallery of Sanssouci
The Picture Gallery is not the only reason to visit Sanssouci, but it should be your primary reason. Beyond that, there is the Sanssouci Park and all its buildings that are works of art, in and of themselves and in their own right. I will provide a somewhat detailed listing below; first, however, a few highlights of the Picture Gallery.
Among the artists and styles favored by “Old Fritz” were Antoine Watteau, history paintings, renaissance art, so-called mannerism art, and baroque art. The Picture Gallery includes superb representations thereof as well as many, many additional works. Five representative works of the Picture Gallery are Anthony Van Dyck’s The Descent of the Holy Spirit, oil on canvas; Johann Christoph Frisch’s Frederick the Great at his Tomb at Sanssouci with the Marquis d’Argens; Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas; Anton von Werner’s The Opening of the Reichstag; and the extravagant profusion of all the so-called Fridericianum Baroque.
Going for a stroll in the Lustgarten of Sanssouci
Sanssouci Park is open every day from 0600 until sunset and entry is without charge. The Evangelical Church of Peace, dating from 1845, behind which is the Lagoon of Peace, is just within the Green Gate, which is the park’s main entrance and quite near the Potsdam city center. Within the church’s apse, look for the spectacular 13th-century Venetian mosaic of Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist, St. Peter, and the martyred St. Cyprian of Carthage. Stroll west several meters and turn north through a bower and across a peaceful stream towards the Palace. Your first stop is the Garden of Delight (“Lustgarten”). Beyond this point is the Weinbergterrassen and the Sanssouci Palace proper, while off to the right are the Picture Gallery and, slightly farther east, the Neptune Grotto. Beyond, i.e., just north of the Sanssouci Palace, the path will take you to the relaxing Steed Fountain and then on to the historical Sanssouci Mill and the Weinstube, across from the Neue Kammern. Farther along Maulbeerallee on the right is the famous 300-meter-long Orangery. The central building of the Orangery, from which two wings extend, contains numerous paintings (almost 50) by Raphael in the so-called Raffael Hall. The building also accommodates government offices, luxurious living quarters, and, in the dead of winter, sensitive plants that need a bit of succor.
Other sights in the Park
Additional sights include the New Palace, Charlottenhof Castle, Dragon House, the Roman Baths, the Chinese Teahouse, the Belvedere, and the Ruinenberg, a 74-meter high hill that continues to play a significant role in drawing visitors to Sanssouci, particularly for the incredible view from the top of the artificial ruins commissioned by Frederick the Great afford over the surrounding area. When contemplating your visit to Sanssouci, remember that it is all a museum and that the museum we know as Sanssouci contains a significant treasure in its core: The Picture Gallery. For additional information, go to http://www.potsdam-park-sanssouci.de/home.html.
It is a wet morning in September of either 7 or 9 AD, and the might of Rome is on the move. In response to a series of reports of unrest by their ally Arminius, chieftain of the Cherusci and trained veteran of Roman campaigns, Governer Publius Quinctilius Varus marshals the three powerful legions under his command- the XVII, XVIII and XIX- and heads out from his fortified stronghold and deep into the Teutoburg forests of Germania. Around them trees rise up into the sky, and there is a fine rain falling, coating the forest in that dreamy quality reminiscent of fairy tales. His men are of good spirit- some have brought along their wives or merchants- to show them the unstoppable power of the legions when brought to bear against inferior forces. It will be a glorious march, and at the end a vicious battle. Nothing the legionnaires had never experienced before. Nothing they had never defeated before. Business as usual.
Varus was following the standard protocol for dealing with instances of unrest. Despite the relative small size of the legions proportional to the population of the Empire, Rome asserted control often through an early form of “shock and awe.” Mobilize the largest force it could, march straight into the offending region, and completely slaughter whomever was challenging the sovereign right of Roman rule. This is how Rome maintained control, how she gave experience to her career soldiers, and how she funded her military forces in times of peace and consolidation. And, with a few exceptions, it worked wondrously.
The special Features of the Teutoburg Forest
The legions moved slowly, almost single file, through the forest, their supply train trailing far behind them. Bird called to one another. Animals cleared a path. The legionnaires laughed and joked as they made their way into the forest at Teutoburg Wald. Sure the rain was becoming annoying, and the constant pressure to keep marching was uncomfortable at best, but these were skilled fighters, a true career force, and such nuisances were just that- nuisances. Even when the heaven opened up several days into the march, and soaked through them, loosening straps and adding undue weight to their armor and shields, the warriors kept pace, moving ever further into the forests. The mighty legions were on edge, growing anxious, but nothing more. Nothing they were not trained for, or at least that was the general line of thought.
Arminius makes his cunning move
When Arminius took his men and rode off ahead to “clear the forest” for Varus and his legions, they were already sapped by fatigue. Trusting their Germanic allies, the column slowed to a crawl, stuck in both literal and mental mud. The thousands of German warriors moving off ahead might have seemed like a relief, perhaps a lucky moment of rest for the Romans.
What happened next might be obvious to us, aware of its place in history. But for the arrogant Varus and his men, it was a surprise on the same level as the Parthian massacre at Carrhae, when the equally arrogant General Crassus made the same mistakes for the same reasons, and ended up with the same outcome.
The Cherusci attack
The Teutoburg forest came alive with the battle cries of the Cherusci and their allied tribes. Up and down the column, German warriors poured from the trees and tore into unprotected Roman flanks. Unable to form up into a battle position, and missing pieces of armor and arms that had become ungainly due to the rain, the Roman legions buckled, with some fleeing into the trees, and right into the arms of the waiting “barbarians.” As death spread, and blood was shed, the legions broke and ran, eager to put distance between themselves and the attackers, for some open ground to fall back to a defensive stance, and maybe salvage the remainder of the expected battle.
The Legions fall apart
But this was not to be. Alone in the forest, with enemies flooding from all sides, Varus made the decision to press forward still, leaving behind supplies, wounded legionnaires, and noncombatants in a fortified campsite. The position would be lost by nightfall, and the proud tribesman would remain on his tail. For days the massacre continued as the energized and enthusiastic tribes meted out their frustrations and their anger on the Romans who had mistreated them, and ultimately underestimated their strength. They picked off column after column, harassing the soldiers who were unable to bring their tactics to bear, tactics Arminius was well versed in himself. The legions split, with some finding sanctuary in a small fort, but with most cut off and eventually wiped out.
Varus’ end in the Teutoburg forest
Who can say what Varus was thinking in those moments before his position was overrun, and he committed suicide rather than fall to his “allies” in the forest of Teutoburg. Did he reflect on how gullible he had been to trust a man who was native to the province and skilled in both terrain and tactics? Did he regret his treatment of the local people, who had joined Rome through reputation, but he treated as conquered subjects? Did he question his own abilities as a soldier, politician, and governor, and how all this had failed because he had never stopped to think about what he was doing and how he was doing it? Or did he curse the forests and their unending stream of warriors that defeated three of Rome’s finest legions?
The Consequences for the Roman Empire
This we will never know. But on that day in Teutoburg Wald, Rome suffered a blow to its pride that would take years to avenge, and a wound that never quite healed. It forced Rome, the principle power of its day, to pull back its expansion and set a solid border along the Rhine river. It exposed the folly of overconfidence, and the value of respect. And it was reminded that despite its power and reach, the determination of people can have far-reaching consequences to the arrogant and unprepared.
When we typically think of relations between Rome and the Germanic peoples across the Rhine, it tends to be colored by warfare, conquests, and the eventual fall of the western empire around the fifth century. Popular media and popular thought tends to depict those Germanic tribesman first as literal tribesman, complete with animal skins and a bestial mentality, and more as a rampaging horde that trampled science and progress beneath its heels as the more “progressive” people were driven out of their homes and cities.
Germania as a Roman Province
So I suppose it might come as a surprise when I tell you that there was once a point where Germania was a roman province. And that they welcomed the empire with open arms into their forests and lands. They fought in the Roman armies. And they accepted Roman learning and culture, at least for a time. Sound out of place? Well it definitely was, and this period of Roman expansion into what is now modern-day Belgium, Luxembourg, and North Rhine Westphalia was equal parts experiment and expansion, and set the stage for the collapse of the powerful empire centuries later.
The Beginning of the Roman Germanic Connection
Roman concerns with Germania stretch all the way back to Julius Caesar, who spent quite a bit of time exploring and beating up people who weren’t like him. The term Germania itself (which may or may not have been directly used by Caesar) was used more as a catchall for the collectives of people who lived beyond the Roman borders on the Rhine, the Germani cisrhenani– literally “this side of the Rhine.” These peoples included the Teutonics, the Cherusci, the Seubi, the Chatti, the Goths, and a bunch of other colorful names, and possessed their own diverse culture. They were often considered by the Romans to be relations to the Gauls who emigrated into Rome, but over time assumed a sense of “othering” that would set them apart from the Empire to their east and south.
Now Julius (and later his nephew Augustus) saw these peoples are a further source of income and land. The Roman legions were famous for using warfare to generate profit, and would conquer and assimilate outside peoples for financial, as well as tactical, advantage. And these Germani cisrhenani were seen no differently. Starting as early as 12 BC, Augustus began a series of campaigns to defeat the tribes and unite all of Germania into a single province, Germania Magna, much as his uncle had desired to do. So one by one, the armies of Rome began to defeat the tribes and bring them to heel.
Germanian Tribes which joined the Empire
Historian Bill Fawcett, when exploring Roman Germania, brings up a very interesting point right about now. While Germania was the subject of limited military conquest by Rome, as it was not a single, unified political entity, there were a fair number of tribes that simply joined Rome entirely due to the Empire’s reputation. While Germanicus and Tiberius were busy wiping out those that resisted Roman incursion, tribes like the Cherusci were more than willing to “sign on” to the Roman way of life, even taking part in sending their young men to Rome as hostages, where they would be educated as Romans, with some even serving in the legions and becoming citizens in their own right.
As the timeline shifted over, and BC became AD, Germania became a rough province governed by Publius Quinctilius Varus, former Governor of both Africa and Syria, and all-around politician from a political family. Upon receiving an assignment from Rome to govern this new province, Varus took three legions and his own Roman arrogance across the Rhine and set up shop in these new lands, where he proceeded to levy taxes and run his “kingdom” like he had run both Africa and Syria.
This would be a mistake, and one that Varus wouldn’t fully understand until his death several years later. Fawcett points to his distinctly Roman style of governance as leading to his downfall- he treated the Germanic people in his province as subjugated foes, a common Roman practice in provinces that had been beaten down by force. Rome comes in, Rome defeats your military, Rome upends your government, and you pay taxes for the privilege of being conquered. This is how it had worked when Varus was in Africa. This was how it worked when Varus was in Syria. This was one of the staples of the Roman economic machine, which allowed it to grow as large as it did.
Unfortunately, much of Varus’ “court” was comprised of Germani who had willingly allied with Rome. People who has joined the Roman cause because they either did not want to be wiped out, or because they saw Rome as the future and wanted to be part of such a storied, and respected, Empire. The chieftain of the Cherusci, Arminius, was himself a naturalized Roman citizen who had grown up in the Empire and learned a great deal about their way of life. He had fought for Rome, and now was being treated by Varus as if he were less than human, there only for Rome’s treasury and nothing more.
Mix the pride of the Germani in with this blatant mistreatment by a career politician, and you can only imagine what comes next: The disastrous defeat at Teutoberg Wald. Tune in next week to see how badly that turned out.
Elections seem to be really trendy at the moment. 2016 had a rather big one and 2017 will see important elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany. So, we thought we’d take a look the German electoral system. In the light of recent events, it’s particularly interesting to compare it to the US-System.
The Federal Structure of Germany
First of all, it’s important to know that the German political landscape consists of more than two major parties. Parties that pretty much constantly play a role in recent German politics are the conservative CDU (and its sister the CSU), the social-democratic SPD, the green party, the (neo-) liberal FDP, the socialist party “Die Linke”, and the right-wing newcomers from the AfD. Germany is split up into 16 federal states with different voting laws. Though those differences are minor in nature, e.g. concerning the legal voting age in communal elections etc.
Different Types of Elections
Which brings us to the different types of elections. There are, of course, elections for the Bundestag, the German parliament, which in turn picks the Chancellor. There is a 5% hurdle that bars too many smaller parties from entering parliament, thus preventing the creation of a working government to be overly complicated up to impossible. The coalition with the most seats in the Bundestag can form the Government. On the ballots, voters can make two kinds of crosses. With the first vote they are supporting a specific candidate from their electoral district, who in the case of success is being sent to the Bundestag. The second cross is a direct vote for one of the listed parties. Basically, the direct party-votes decide the proportions of the seat arrangement in the Bundestag. If a party has amassed fewer votes then district candidates, the candidates go through to the Bundestag anyway. This means that the number of representatives in the Bundestag may change with every election. As in other EU-Countries, non-citizens are not permitted to vote the Bundestag they are however allowed to vote the local assembly. The Bundestag is elected every four years and, interestingly enough, there is no limit of terms for the German Chancellor.
Fun fact: The Bundeskanzler (Chancellor), though being the government leader and the most powerful politician in the country is not the highest political office when it comes to protocol. Officially, the President (Bundespräsident) and the President of the Bundestag outrank the Chancellor. In reality, the office of the President is only a formal one, which almost doesn’t bestow any powers onto the person holding it. The President of the Bundestag is more of a manager of the Bundestag.
Of course, Germans also elect their respective federal parliaments. Organizational forms and names can vary from state to state, but overall the election process, as well as the function of parliament and government, are roughly the same. Still, state-ballots can look a lot different than the ones for the Bundestag. Regularly, citizens are prompted to vote in a referendum on specific state matters, whereas referendums are rarely ever held on a national level. The state parliament-terms last for five years and state elections are seldom held on the same date, which essentially means that there often are fluid slight power shifts throughout a government term.
Further elections include the aforementioned local elections, in which vote members of communal assemblies and representatives for state parliaments. And as all other EU-Citizens, Germans take part in the election of the European Parliament every five years.
In the end, German campaigns and elections are a lot less entertaining than American ones, but then again that might not be a bad thing as it seems that even such spectacle cannot raise voter turnout significantly.