Many of my friends and family in the States think that I live an exotic life. "It must be so cool to live in Europe!" But living in Cloppenburg is definitely not cool. In fact, it stinks - literally. Since moving here, I have learned to smell the difference in pig, cow and chicken manure (in case you are wondering, chicken manure is the absolute worst). Cloppenburg is a small town in the northwest part of Germany, population about 40,000. Not including pig, chickens and cows, and we have lots of these. This part of Germany is an agriculture region. I did not grow up near agriculture. My dad was in the Navy. I grew up outside of Charleston, SC, in the cute, equally small town of Summerville. Which definitely does not stink of pigs, chickens and cows.
When my friends make the "exotic" comment, I always say that, "Life in a small town is life in a small town. Only, we speak German in our small town." This small town is located in the "Dark Region" of Germany. Actually it is call the "Black" region, which is an allusion to the Christian Democractic Party (CDU). The CDU is very strong here and receives about 80% of votes cast. Cloppenburg is also very Catholic. Really - the Italians have nothing on some of the people here.
My husband (who is Protestant) and I came to this area because he had to complete his student teaching (or indentured servitude, whatever). My mother-in-law was very distressed when she heard the news about our new home. "They are so Catholic down there," she lamented. (My husband comes from a Protestant county 45 minutes to the north). Now, as a Catholic who attended the best Catholic university in the world (Go Irish! Beat Buckeyes!), I was a little offended. "Really," I protested, "we are not that bad." "Well, they cannot drive," she insisted. I have not collected actual data to prove if Catholics are bad drivers, but there are a lot of them around here . . . Especially the tractor drivers. You are apt to see the tractor drivers on the main roads as you are dashing off to work at 8:00 am. This was a sight that I am not accustomed to, but now I witness daily in my "exotic" life.
The division between religions here is remarkable. I mean the distinct Protestant and Catholic communities that exist. It is almost like the 30 Years War is still being fought here. Then I discovered that the boundaries mentioned in the Treat of Westphalia, which ended the war, parallel the county boundaries. Some habits die hard I guess.
Cloppenburg is not all that bad however. The people can be very nice. There is a nice pedestrian district and a great open air museum. You should visit. Check out their website: www.cloppenburg.de
Rice's Visit to Germany
I could not let Ms. Rice's visit to Germany pass without comment. The Germans are a little upset that the CIA possibly used German airspace to transport prisoners to illegal prisons. Germans don't take well to being accused of human rights abuses, as you might imagine. Ms. Rice did not confirm or deny this incident, but did insist that the U.S. does not commit torture, Abu Ghraib prison scandal aside.
The Germans have lost a little moral ground, however. It seems that the U.S. kidnapped a German citizen, who is also accused of being a terrorist, and is keeping him in one of these prisons. The previous German government knew about this in 2004 but apparently did nothing. This is making the current administration very angry. I am not sure that our new PM, Ms. Merkel, would have done anything differently though. She cannot wait to get back in bed with the Americans, much to the chagrin of many Germans. Spiegel on-line has good coverage of the CIA affair from a German point of view, although it is in German (www.spiegel.de).
This incident reminds me of why the Germans did not want to get involved in Iraq in the first place. Wars have not worked out for them in the past. Perhaps you can understand their hesitation. I try to explain this to my American friends and family, but they still think that Germany should do something.
Such is the state of things in my Euro-American life.