Germany has predicted that its economy will shrink by 2.25% in 2009, which would be its worst performance in the post-World War II era.

BBC: German economy faces gloomy 2009

"Great" timing for me to start my first full-time job ever sigh -- on the upside, though, it can only get better from here ;)

Read more…

Zimbabwe DollarsAs temperatures in Pittsburgh approach -20 degrees Celsius (or minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit), here are some curious news from warmer parts of the planet:

Zimbabwe is introducing a 100 trillion (!) Zimbabwe dollar note, currently worth about US$30. That's a one with 14 zeroes. This is the latest in a series of releases of new bank notes as part of Zimbabwe's fight against hyperinflation. (Pictured on the right: Its "little brother", the 100 billion dollar note).

Germany once suffered under hyperinflation as well, back in 1923. Wikipedia writes:

In 1922, the highest denomination was 50,000 Mark. By 1923, the highest denomination was 100,000,000,000,000 Mark. In December 1923 the exchange rate was 4,200,000,000,000 Marks to 1 US dollar. In 1923, the rate of inflation hit 3.25 × 106 percent per month (prices double every two days). Beginning on November 20, 1923, 1,000,000,000,000 old Marks were exchanged for 1 Rentenmark so that 4.2 Rentenmarks were worth 1 US dollar, exactly the same rate the Mark had in 1914.

Luckily, all of this is history. What remains are (now) funny pictures of people using money in unusual ways, such as wallpaper:

Tapezieren mit Geldscheinen

That reminds me, I think at some point, my family had a few high-denomination notes from the time (that are sadly still "worthless") -- I may scan and publish them if we can still find them.

For Zimbabwe, we can only hope that one day, they can look back at their old pictures and find them amusing too. For now, their political and economical situation is not enviable.

(Pictures: 100 billion Zimbabwe dollars. CC attribution licensed by smath. on flickr. Banknotes as wallpaper. CC by-sa licensed by the German Federal Archives on Wikipedia.)

Read more…

I just read a press statement from the German federal statistical office, pointing out the most significant price changes in November 2008, as compared to the same month a year earlier: - Most striking price changes

Good news for us geeks: Personal computers are, still, one of the products whose prices drop the most drastically these days. Of course, why the cucumber prices also dropped or the ones of butter (reminds me of the constant over-production of butter in the EU since the 1970s, satirically dubbed "Butterberg" = "butter mountain"), I don't know. It is also not particularly pleasant that the prices of vegetable oil and "pulses" (which, as my dictionary told me, are legumes) are on the rise, at least until Apple reveals the new edible iPod, or course.

So much for the day from the department of things you never wanted to know ;)

Read more…

The German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) are donating about 100,000 pictures to the Wikimedia Commons, all under a Creative Commons 3.0 by-sa (Germany) license. From the wiki page:

Starting on Thursday Dec 4, 2008, Wikimedia Commons will witness a massive upload of new images. We are anticipating about 100,000 files from a donation from the German Federal Archive. These images are mostly related to the history of Germany (including the German Democratic Republic) and are part of a cooperation between Wikimedia Germany and the Federal Archive.


To our knowledge the donation of 100,000 images is single largest one to Wikimedia Commons so far and we are very hopeful that this is only the start of a long lasting relationship that might serve as an example to other archives and image databases.

As noted elsewhere, in Germany this almost counts as the "hell freezing over": When it comes to availability of historic documents created by the government, Germany has so far had a lot to be desired.

Among the photos uploaded so far by the import script are already some nice little gems of German history, for example: "Feierabend", or "calling it a day" in the GDR. The slogan at the gate reads: "100% of our staff oppose re-militarization" (one and a half years later the East German government proclaimed the need for a new national army and founded it another four years later, in 1956) and on the factory wall: "Fünfjahrplan -- Friedensplan", or "Five-Year Plan -- Peace Plan".

How about this one: Water cannon at the border between east and west berlin, right at the Brandenburg Gate (note its pillars in the background), only a stone's throw away from the modern-day German national parliament building. The sign reads: "Warning! You are now leaving West Berlin!" -- a similar sign can still be seen at the historic "Checkpoint Charlie".

Read more…

World leaders have hailed the election of Senator Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States.

... writes BBC News and expresses what I am sure at the very least most of Europe thinks: That Obama's election for president is not only good for the United States, but good for the world.

German politicians are also thrilled about the outcome of the US elections and both the Chancellor and the Minister of the Exterior are "looking forward" to working with Obama and his government. The German president reassured Obama in a letter that the US "can count on Germany as a dependable partner and long-time friend".

Still, the international expectations are high. Some of them are justified, others not. For example, the Europeans need to realize that Obama was not elected in order to solve the world's problems in a way that conforms with the ideals of the European Union. I expect him to pursue first and foremost the success of his own country, as is his legitimate job, of course. And while he is greatly popular in my country (some people call him the "next Kennedy", as a reference to the major popularity of JFK in Germany: Remember "ich bin ein Berliner"?), he'll not use his power to make the Germans' life easier. The financial crisis, for instance, may have been "brewed" in the USA originally, but Germany will have to carry its share of it like everybody else, and not even a president Obama will change that.

So I sure hope that the German disappointment is not too big once they land back on the hard asphalt called "reality". One of the first times this is bound to happen may be when Ms Merkel's phone rings and Obama asks her to send more German soldiers to Afghanistan. But, as Michael Zürn (a professor for international relations in Germany) says in an interview with, maybe this is even helpful for the German discussions on what role we even want to play internationally, and what we are willing to invest.

This, however, leads to another problem: In September 2009, Germany is due to vote for a new parliament (and, consequently, a Chancellor). With so much focus on and excitement about the U.S. elections, it almost seemed like the Germans forgot their own reality: That we need change in our own country as well. That our government is busy selling out our constitutional rights instead of establishing trust. And that as of now, there's no "German Obama" in sight who is likely to glue the constitution together again.

("Obama campaign poster" picture CC by-nc-sa licensed by Anthony Baker on flickr; "Day one" comic by Mike Luckovich on

Read more…

After I disabled the "subscribe to comments" plugin yesterday, I found out today that two people already extended the original plugin with a "double-opt-in" feature (Link 1, link 2, both [de]).

So I installed the latter and set it up so it sends you the following email the first time you subscribe to comments on this blog:

Note that this email will only be sent once, ever. If you accept it, you'll be able to subscribe to additional blog entries' comments without further hassle. If you ignore it, you won't be asked again.

"Le roi est mort, vive le roi." -- I hope this is a solution that everybody can live with. I'll go back to the original subscribe-to-comments if the author adds a double-opt-in solution himself, but until then we should be golden.

Sorry for the confusion :)

Read more…

For quite a while now, I've been using a popular Wordpress plugin called "subscribe to comments" on fredericiana. It allows people to request email notifications when further comments come in on an article they commented on themselves. As it turns out though, the plugin has an unclear legal status in Germany [de]. The fact of the matter is, since somebody can put an arbitrary email address into the email field when commenting, a person who didn't want that may get "spammed" by my blog against their will.

That would result in a situation where the seeming "victim" of my "spam" could sue me for unsolicited advertisement, provided my blog is considered commercial--and depending on the judge, even a link to Amazon can make a website "commercial".

It is sad that German laws are so Internet-unfriendly, but I have to live with them. So I switched off email notifications on my blog until further notice.

I may switch to a double-opt-in solution (i.e., before notifications are sent, people have to click a link in an email to confirm they actually requested this service). While this is also not completely safe in legal terms (that means, no significant court has ruled about it yet), it is currently considered state of the art when it comes to sending out any sort of regular email to a group of people.

Since a lot of people are facing this problem, maybe the plugin's author or somebody else will extend the plugin to have double-opt-in functionality soon. I may even do it myself when I am bored the next time.

Until then, sorry for the inconvenience. You can always subscribe to the Comments RSS feed if you want to stay up to date with what's happening here.

(via JP)

Read more…

Yesterday was the national holiday of Germany: The 3rd of October is the German Unity Day, commemorating the anniversary of the German reunification in 1990.

Google Germany made a special logo for it and put it on, which I think looks pretty cool:

My humble self obviously had to go to work anyway, as foreign holidays tend not to be observed over here ;) but we coincidentally ended the day with dinner at a fancy fish restaurant, which counts as celebrating, doesn't it?

Read more…

On occasion, living in a Jewish neighborhood makes for some interesting observations. The local synagogue (calling itself a temple, thus, according to Wikipedia, giving the hint that it's a conservative congregation) seemed to be packed tonight, judging by the amount of cars parked around it, in observance of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.

In front of it: Two Pittsburgh cops, observing the passers-by.

I wonder why? Is the social climate here particularly hostile against Jewish citizens? That was not my impression, so far. But possibly, it's similar to the presence of policemen that I saw in front of the New Synagogue in Berlin a while ago (hey, at least the ones in Pittsburgh don't carry automatic guns). While today's German society as a whole is not prone to antisemitic tendencies, just in case some douche nozzle has a strong form of historic ignorance, there is protection in place anyway.

Come to think of it, I recently saw apparently anti-judaistic Christian missionaries quite obtrusively trying to convert the local Jews to Christianity, by walking around on the main street with transparents and forcing flyers onto innocent bystanders. (Interestingly, their targeting specifically orthodox jews for their evangelization efforts goes into the same--heavily criticized--direction of Pope Benedict's recent change to the Catholic Good Friday Prayer for the Jews, though I doubt these missionaries were Catholic. But I am digressing).

Anyway, sad if they need the police to keep such people off their backs.

Read more…

Forbes has an interesting list of "the world's 100 most powerful women". Number one on the list is:

German chancellor Angela Merkel.

I am really glad to see that. When she first came to power, it was not at all clear how well she would handle her job as a chancellor, between parties that couldn't disagree more on lots of key issues, and on an international stage that has shown to be more complicated to deal with than ever. And while she had proven her determination for power for decades before, as she stepped out of the shadow of former chancellor Helmut Kohl (whose protégé she once was) and established her own political reputation, that of course didn't guarantee her success once she actually made it into office.

Since then, Merkel has done (almost) surprisingly well, both in interior politics as well as internationally, and has, in my opinion, proven to be a good leader of one of the strongest economies in the world.

That being said, Germany still has a long way to go in equal opportunity for women: The wage gaps between male and female employees in Germany are still among the widest in Europe. We'll see how efforts like Elterngeld will affect this. Still, having a woman chancellor doesn't magically solve all your social problems, just in case you were wondering...

Read more…