Sometimes, German-speaking artists tend to tackle the spread of American culture by blending it with traditional culture. Andreas Gabalier is an Austrian singer who blends a ’50s rockabilly style with Alps folk culture. He’s pretty successful in both Austria and Germany, but I only discovered his music a few weeks ago.

I got the whole idea for “German Video of the Week” while I was watching a music program on ARD that was hosted by Mr. Gabalier. He was wearing Lederhosen and a leather jacket and had a group of background dancers in Dirndls and leather jackets. The program featured various German musicians (most of them were Schlager musicians) singing ’50s rock hits and incorporating ’50s aesthetics or musical influences in with their own music. It was oddly catchy and I couldn’t stop watching, even when my boyfriend walked in the room and critically asked me, “Why are you still watching this?” At one point, Gabalier did a hip shaking contest with another, older singer (I wasn’t paying 100% attention, so I can’t remember which one). The whole Elvis dancing in Lederhosen thing was one of the craziest things I’d ever seen and I really wanted to share it. I couldn’t find a video, but a friend found this performance for me. It’s pretty representative of the program I saw on TV, Elvis dancing, Lederhosen, and all. Thus, “German Video of the Week” was born.

Because Gabalier is Austrian, I didn’t want to confuse people by posting this video as my first “German” video of the week. So, I’m posting it today. If you don’t want to watch all 8+ minutes of the video, you can find the Elvis dancing about 4:40 minutes in.

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Words can’t describe how much I dislike this image. If you share this post based on this picture alone, please be aware that you are totally ignoring the intent of this post.*

Like most young city girls and most people from the west coast, I know a lot of vegans. I also follow a lot of left-wing media outlets on Facebook and Twitter. With those two combined, I see a lot of posts about veganism come up on my feeds. Now, I’m not a vegan, but I find most of these really interesting. I’m really concerned about the environment and even though I still eat meat, eggs, and dairy, they help me make better choices. Plus, my vegan friends tend to share some really great recipes and gardening tips.

That being said, occasionally I see something I’m less keen on. The photo above is one of those things. A number of friends shared it and I started to make some comments, but then stopped myself. I decided that the whole issue was something I’d rather blog about. I hope none of those friends takes offense to this post (if any of them read it). I’m not trying to attack anyone for his/her views on this; I just want to share my own take on the issue.

Basically, I find images and statements like this really unhelpful. I know that it must be hard to be vegan because people get pretty judgmental about it, as if someone cutting animal products out of his/her diet is some kind of personal affront. Still, two wrongs don’t make a right and these statements are judgmental in the other direction. The people who make them don’t know why various people choose to be omnivores. Yes, a lot of people simply refuse to give up meat, but there are a lot of other reasons behind the decision to continue eating meat. Personally, I have a very serious legume allergy that makes eating meat alternatives very challenging, and I feel that most that are available to me aren’t all that environmentally friendly ¬– most have to get shipped halfway around the world to get here and many take up a lot of resources to grow. Legume allergies are quite common, so I’m not alone. Some people may continue to eat meat for economic reasons. Although plant protein like beans and lentils are really cheap, a lot of baking options are absolutely not.** Judging people for not giving up animal products is somewhat a question of privilege. The point is that people may have reasons for choosing their diets and making blanket statements about them isn’t really helpful.

Environmentalism is about making choices that promote sustainability and promoting awareness about environmental issues. Considering that, omnivores can absolutely be environmentalists. Veganism is a choice that many people make to help reduce their environmental footprint, and it’s a very good choice overall. Raising animals takes up a lot of resources, so cutting animal products out of your diet definitely helps the planet. Still, it’s only one of many environmental choices you can make. I don’t own a car, cycle almost everywhere, take the train whenever possible, reuse things, and avoid buying new products whenever necessary, among other things. I’ve also cut my meat consumption drastically over the past month and made an effort to choose better dairy and egg options. Other people make different choices and I’m ok with that, as long as they make some sort of effort and take steps to lead a more environmental life. About a week ago, I read an op-ed piece about how people often call vegans hypocrites when they make less environmental choices in other areas of their lives.*** The point was that it’s not really fair to expect vegans to be perfect based on their decision to eat a more sustainable diet. I think that’s a totally fair point and the same should apply to all environmentalists (in most cases, at least – some people are truly hypocritical).

Perhaps, instead of excluding omnivores from the environmentalist community, critics should keep spreading awareness about the impact of factory farming, the energy that goes into raising beef, food wastage, and overconsumption. Personally, posts like this have helped me make better choices in my diet, even if I can’t totally cut out meat. They might help other people do the same. These types of messages tend to be a lot more inclusive, and people are generally more willing to accept inclusive messages than ones that they feel totally exclude them.

*I got this image from this Facebook post. I wanted to share it because I wanted to publicly comment on it, but I don’t know who owns the content here. If you are the owner of this image and want me to take it down, please contact me and let me know :)
**This might be a different story in different places, but I can tell you that both here and in western Canada, this is absolutely the case.
***For the life of me, I can’t find this piece again. If anyone knows what I’m talking about, please send it to me.

This week’s entry is an ironic hipster statement that blends Schlager and various aspects of hipster culture. It features the singer, Davigi Amore, and a girl dressed in a odd (and by “odd,” I mean “fantastic”) blend of hipster staples like nerd glasses, bowties, and sneakers and Trachtenmode (folk dress such as dirndls and lederhosen) as he sings about falling in love in a world of apps and social networking. What Mr. Amore lacks in vocal skills, he makes up for in pure passion. I hashtag liebe es.

Tomorrow, Scotland will vote on its independence. It’s an issue that I’ve closely followed over the past couple of months and one that I have a deep interest in. I’m not Scottish, but I think that it’s important and deserves attention. According to polls, it’s a pretty close call. If the “Yes” camp wins, it would be the first time in a while that a developed country has split up. If it doesn’t win independence, it will probably still cause some major changes in the UK. I also believe that this issue has some serious consequences on separatist movements in other countries. Whether the vote is “Yes” or “No,” the contest is so close that it will surely serve as an inspiration to places wishing to gain independence.

If Scotland votes “Yes,” then I support Scottish Independence. I believe that if a country wants to be independent, then it should be independent. A lot of commentators on both sides have compared the issue to a marriage, and I think it’s a good comparison. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you cannot save a marriage. You just want different things and if you can’t work out your differences, you’re both better off going your separate ways. An even better one might be that of a business partner wishing to leave a business to start a new venture. If the existing business isn’t going in a direction you like, isn’t it logical to want to strike out on your own?

Of course, a lot of people are quick to point out that maybe Scotland won’t fare that well on its own. I think the question isn’t really “Can Scotland become a successful independent country?” It’s more like, “Will the UK and the rest of the world allow Scotland to become a successful independent country or will it stand in the way?”

Scotland has the building blocks to become an independent country. Like most of Northern Europe, is rich in natural resources (and not just oil and gas). It has vast stretches of agricultural land, and historically it had a strong manufacturing industry. It has a very strong financial services sector and can continue to do so if institutions stay reasonable and don’t pull out due to a “Yes” vote.

Scotland also has a fairly skilled and well-educated population, which are helpful tools in any successful economy. It also runs many of its own affairs due to devolution, so it’s not exactly starting from scratch as far as running an independent country is concerned.

Scotland can certainly create a strong, healthy economy for itself if it manages its affairs wisely. A “Yes” vote doesn’t imply that everything will be perfect, but it has the potential to be a strong country if it does the work to make it so. However, countries do not exist in bubbles and in this part of the world, other countries can have a huge effect on each other’s economic success. Scotland may become independent, but it will never stop being interdependent. It will need trading partners and political alliances. In this regard, other countries can definitely hamper its success.

Whether Scotland becomes independent or not is up to the Scots. The rest of us don’t have any say in the matter, and truthfully, I don’t think we should. If they want to be independent and believe they would be better off as an independent country, that’s their choice. The real question is, are the rest of us going to accept it and wish them well? Will we cooperate with an independent Scotland? Or will we collectively shun the country for choosing to be autonomous? I think the latter would be a shame, not only for Scotland but for us as well. The “Yes” camp has demonstrated its willingness to become a cooperative trading partner with the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world. I think that saying “no” to that would be cutting off our noses to spite our faces, so to speak.

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Shakespeare probably didn’t put his work aside when he got a little bit bored or frustrated.

One of the more frustrating things I find about being a writer is that so many people do not take my job seriously. A lot of people tend to see creative jobs as “not real jobs.” They see that kind of work as something people do while they’re in between proper adult jobs or something they’ll give up once they finally “grow up.” When you work in something that involves writing, music, visual art, dance, handcrafting, or film, people think you just goof around all day and that you never have the same struggles with your work that everyone else does. I think that this stems from the fact that for most people, creative activities like writing, music, and painting are hobbies, so they don’t see the work in the same way that professionals do.

Believe me when I tell you that doing something creative as a job is not the same as doing it as a hobby.

Creative professionals are lucky in that they get to do something they’re passionate about for a living. But that doesn’t mean that their jobs are all fun and games. As a creative, there are a lot of parts of the work that are work. Musicians don’t spend all of their time jamming or playing their favourite songs; the practicing process involves a lot of repetition, technique work, and stuff that most people who do it as a hobby generally won’t bother with. If you did piano lessons as a kid, think of the practice work you had to do, times a lot more – that’s what being a musician is like. Musicians do it because they like their work and want to be good at it, but it’s not playtime. In the same vein, the writing process involves a lot of research and review work. Writing a good story is only part of the process. Fiction and non-fiction both require research; there’s always some sort of fact or aspect of the story that involves a bit of digging. Even genres like fantasy and sci-fi draw inspiration from historic events, cultures, and politics. Writers usually add things and subtract things throughout the writing process, and then they go over their pieces again a couple of times to polish it up. I’ve done a quick run-through of this blog entry, and I’m pretty casual about my blog compared to everything else I write. I’m sure there’s something comparable with painting, filmmaking, and stuff like that, but I don’t do any of those things so I don’t know what that thing is.

On top of all the more tedious parts of the work, creatives don’t always get to pick and choose which projects they do. In fact, this is often the case, especially at the beginning of their careers. The term “starving artist” isn’t really an exaggeration and it’s hard to make money doing anything remotely creative. Therefore, the criteria for taking on a job are often, “Related to what I do, not soul-sucking, and will pay me.” Most writers don’t get to spend all of their time working on their novels or poetry collections; they have to take on writing for websites, catalogues, or anything else that pays. Musicians may learn a few golden oldies and play wedding gigs, or they might learn a style they wouldn’t normally play so that they can play backup for someone else. The alternative to doing those kinds of things is getting a second job, which is a route that a lot of people take but is one that can be more difficult to juggle with artistic work.

Doing anything creative at a professional level also takes years of education and/or training. Many professionals go to college or university to bring their skills up to a certain level, and even those who do not spend years practicing and improving. Many do start off doing what they do as a hobby, but what sets them apart from people who will always do it as a hobby is the amount of time and effort they are willing to spend on improving their work. Almost no one drops everything one day and says, “I’m going to be a writer!” and then magically has full-time writing work. Getting to that level involves years of reading, writing, submitting, rejection, learning, re-writing, and so on.

When you get tired of doing your hobby, you can put it down and watch TV. If you get sick of a project, you don’t even have to finish it at all. You can just leave it and go onto the next thing. People who do creative work for a living don’t have this option. There are deadlines to meet, which means that they often have to slug through their work, whether they feel like it or not. If they’re working on their own creative projects, they can ditch them when they don’t work out, but they have to do so knowing that all that time and effort they spent on those projects are gone. This means that, although creative professionals might ditch a project in its early stages, they’ll most likely struggle through the tough stages of an established project, even if those stages drive them crazy.

That’s not to say that creative professionals don’t have “pet projects” that they do just for themselves; it’s just that these kinds of projects don’t encompass all of their work. The lucky few (and “few” is almost an understatement here) who are well established in their careers may get to give all of their time and attention to their passion projects, but that’s not business as usual for most people working in the arts. Also, I suspect that even those who are established have to make some compromises in their work; authors must work with editors on their published novels and musicians have to work with record companies, and both of these parties are concerned with balancing what authors/musicians want and what will sell.

So, the next time you think people who do creative work don’t have “real jobs” or think that doing something fun should make up for earning fair pay, remember that occasionally writing your fan fiction after work is not the same thing as being a full-time author or that occasionally noodling on your guitar is not the same as being a professional musician. Those jobs are jobs and they deserve the same consideration and respect as any other job.

Before I moved to Berlin, I had this idea in my head that Europe was one big classy, glamorous place where everyone dressed to the nines and ate gourmet food. Basically, I thought that the entire continent was the fancier parts of Paris or London. It took all of a day in Berlin to shatter that image, but I’m constantly learning new facets of Germany’s culture (or, lack of culture, as some German friends like to put it). Like every nation on this great planet we call home, Germany has its fair share of terrible pop music, reality television, and awful mass-market films. As someone who grew up somewhere else, I find a lot of this fascinating. I gobble up Schlager, televised spectacles, and vampire movies set in Berlin from the perspective of an anthropologist doing some cultural research. Or, that’s what I tell everyone, anyway. I secretly might like some of it.

Of course, many North Americans still think Europe is a classy place and that Germans are highly organized people who would rather debate philosophy than watch sketch comedy, so I am going to do everything I can to shatter that image. Thus, I bring you “German Video of the Week,” in which I will post a new German video each week. Now, I won’t limit this to “trash culture,” as there certainly are many Germans who enjoy classical music and expressionist cinema and focusing on the lowest of the lowbrow pop culture won’t fairly represent the culture of this country. Therefore, I’ll try to post as many of the odd, crazy, beautiful, interesting, and terrible German videos that I can find.

This week, I bring you a Schlager tune titled, “Und wir waren wie Vampire,” which translates roughly as, “And we were like Vampires.” I think that, even if you can’t understand any of the words, you can enjoy the cheesy costumes and terrible “Thriller” rip-off dancing.

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“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”

Due to the East-West divide, Berlin has multiples of a lot of different institutions. Back in the day, you couldn’t easily cross from West to East and you couldn’t cross from East to West at all, so there were two city centers, several theaters, and many opera houses. And, as the world renowned Zoologischer Garten was deep in the heart of West Berlin, East Berlin opened its own zoo in 1955 on the gardens of Schloss Friedrichsfelde.

After reunification, Berlin decided to keep both zoos open. Rather than closing the Tierpark, the city decided to make it a complementary attraction to the larger Berlin Zoo. The zoos swapped a few species and both remained open to visitors. Today, the Tierpark is home to over 800 species of animals, which are spread out over 160 hectares.

Although Zoologischer Garten is much more famous than the Tierpark and has far more species within its borders, the Tierpark is well worth a visit. Because it is not as well known, it is much quieter. Even on a summer afternoon, the park was relatively quiet. This was a welcome change from the crowds gathered in the Zoo. It is also a very peaceful place. The premise used to be the palace gardens of Schloss Friedrichsfelde, and it still maintains the feeling of serenity. It is a bit more out of the way than Berlin Zoo, which lies smack in the heart of Charlottenburg near a major train station.

It seems that many animal habitats were larger than those in the Zoo. There are fewer animals in the Tierpark in a much larger space, leaving a lot more room for enclosures. Most of the enclosures are also tucked away among the trees, which gives the place a very natural feel. In general, the animals seem a lot less bored and listless than they do at Zoo.

Tierpark is surprisingly easy to get to. It has its own stop on the U5 (“Tierpark”) and the station takes you right across the street from the entrance. Several trams and buses also stop right at the front door. We went by bike, and the ride from Prenzlauer Berg was straightforward and hassle-free.

My boyfriend and I spent a sunny Monday there during the last week of August. I forgot my camera, but I snapped a few pictures with my phone. If you live in Berlin and you’ve never been before, I encourage you to check it out. If you’re visiting the city and want a quieter alternative to the Berlin Zoo, I highly recommend it.

You can visit the Tierpark’s website here!

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