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2019 The Year in Review

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

The beginning of winter. The countryside is blanketed by snow. 

As I sit in front of my computer composing this blog, it’s hard to believe that 2019 is almost over! Looking out of my window, observing snowflakes dancing in the air, confirms that winter has arrived. We are past winter solstice and the victory of light over darkness will now begin. It is the time for celebrations like Advent, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, my birthday, our anniversary of coming 1992 to Minnesota, the ending of the year and the beginning of a new year. 

I was hoping to update this blog on a monthly basis but time flies faster in retirement. It feels like I’m now a passenger on an express train.” So, I can only summarize my activities, memories and anniversaries of 2019 in this blog. 

Retirement isn’t a never-ending weekend. It is a celebration of life.

I really enjoy my lifetime change called “retirement”. Although, sometimes I ask myself if I’m happily retired or not retired at all. My calendar keeps track of my daily activities such as sports, teaching, traveling, being with friends and family, etc. Life has become more diverse with different activities and adventures. 

Tennis is a challenging sport but I’m having as much fun with it as possible.

I got into tennis on my first day of retirement. I signed up to play in the single and double league. In my first year competing, I lost most of my matches. Yet within a year, I learned how to play: serves, strategies of the single and double game, forehand and backhand strokes, volleys, overheads, lobs etc. My skills have improved very slowly within the year and I can win occasionally. My biggest challenge is to keep a winning mindset and stay concentrated over the entire match. I discovered that this game requires not only physical strength and proficiency in technique, but also mental strength. I’m up to” the challenge.

Teaching German language and culture at the YMCA 

I share many hobbies with my friend Judy, like dancing, gardening, and the German language. She told me, that the YMCA in Hudson was searching for a German teacher. I had worked as a teacher in Germany and taught different areas of chemistry. I don’t have the experience in teaching a language but understand the concept of teaching well. I took the job and started teaching beginner and conversation classes. It is an interesting journey from speaking to teaching my native language. Besides, learning a language is to understand its culture which emphasizes history, religion, cuisine, social habits, music, arts, etc. It is a fun project to share my native language and culture which is rooted in deep historical ties between the two countries. A highlight is the monthly visit to the German American Institute for Stammtisch. There, we enjoy Gemütlichkeit, a home-cooked German meal, followed by a cultural program.

30th anniversary of the wall’s fall

I was born and grew up in East Germany. My hometown is located on the northeastern flank of the Harz Mountains, at the foot of the highest peak, the Brocken. From 1961 until 1989 the Stasi and the Russians operated a spy facility on top of the Brocken. During those years, the Brocken was a military, high-grade security zone and not accessible to us. Although, the mountain was visible from our town, it remained a mysterious area. During my childhood greetings from the other world came with the wind, blowing from the West to the East. Thousands of balloons arrived in the East loaded with advertisements, political views, sometimes candies. We were forbidden to collect this material. We were told this material was poisoned. Of course, we picked it up - too curious about the other world. The curiosity took 30 years to be satisfied. 

A photo taken during my first walk through the Brandenburg Gate from East to West

This year we celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the Wall’s Fall, November 9 in Berlin and December 3rd, 1989 at the Brocken. I presented a talk at the German American Institute's October Stammtisch about Life in East Germany. Our celebration of the 30th anniversary ended with a visit to a concert of the Gewandhaus Woodwind Quintet, from Leipzig. This program featured a finale to the year of German American friendship, Wunderbar Together. It was indeed wunderbar.

30th Anniversary of the World Wide Web

I grew up without the internet and so many other things related to technology. The first encounter using a computer was during my chemistry study at the University. In the early days of electronic data processing, many computer systems could only receive their input via punched cards. We learned how to program a source code on punch cards. In Germany, the personal computer was not available for households. I typed my master thesis in 1981 and my Ph.D. thesis in 1986 on a typewriter. Then in 1990, I typed the thesis of my teaching degree on my first personal computer. Compared to a typewriter, it was so much easier to make corrections, and not to have to use carbon paper for copies! But that computer was not connected to the Internet.

The first use of the internet started at my workplace at the U of Minnesota in 1992. I remember a department meeting where we were introduced to a new form of communication called “email”. We were also given guidelines for using this new tool properly. I also remember how the initial emails were used for trivial communications, including complaints about not having enough toilet paper in the restroom. Obviously, we have come a long way!

Many meetings followed and we learned how to communicate via computerized correspondence. The first step of “digitalization” was on its way. YouTube and iTunes followed, digitizing TV and the music industry. Skype replaced the telephone, Amazon claimed retail, and social networking began. This year we celebrated 30 years of the WWW. What should a good life look like in the next 30 years with the rapid, unstoppable pace of digitalization? How are we communicating with each other? How are we balancing our life between movement and rest, accessibility and non-accessibility, tension and relaxation, being alone and together? I feel that the future has already arrived but will rapidly accelerate over time and lead us into a yet-undefined future. 

50th Anniversary, the first Men walked on the Moon

There weren’t any satellites in the sky when I was born and even while I was growing up. The nights were quite dark because there weren’t many streetlamps. And the sky was flooded with stars. I could easily see the milky way and catch a glimpse of the shooting stars. It was the time of the Cold War between West and East, the US and the Soviet Union. The space race began in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1. Four years later, in 1961, Yuri Gagarin made history by being the first human in space. And shortly afterwards, in 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. These achievements led to the belief that the Soviet Union had an advantage in space technology. The balance of power in the Cold War was questioned. Space had become a new political territory between the US and the Soviet Union. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy began a dramatic expansion of the U.S. space program and committed the nation to the ambitious goal of landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth," he said (Wikipedia).

NASA launched project Apollo in 1963 to achieve this goal of landing a man on the Moon. That led to Neil Armstrong, 1969, becoming the first human to step on the surface of the Moon, followed by Buzz Aldrin just 20 minutes later. The Apollo 11 mission was the exploration of a new frontier and it was accomplished by the United States. The television in East Germany also broadcast the events live before the landing. But it ended abruptly before the decisive event – broadcasting only the test pattern that was common back then when TV stations closed down. Only the East German citizens who lived close to the border were able to watch on West TV. I remember that day like today. I spent the entire night at the television watching this sensational historic moment and could not believe what was happening. I was alone, sitting in front of the TV, not allowed to share the news with anyone. I had the feeling the world would begin to change and wanted to open the windows to scream it out. Captivated by this moment, I victoriously carried this event within me. From that moment I was certain to become a scientist. 

What has been accomplished from launching the first artificial satellite to now?  Since then, about 8,900 satellites from more than 40 countries have been launched, 5,000 remain in orbit. 1998 began the assembly of the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS program is a joint project between five participating space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada). The ISS has been visited by astronauts, cosmonauts and space tourists from 19 different nations. As of September 2019, 239 people from 19 countries had visited the space station (according to Wikipedia). The research presents a collaborative effort of scientists around the world.  For more details, see Published results from the ISS

What’s next for human exploration in space? In 2020 Earth and Mars will be in good positions relative to each. The mission from Moon to Mars is on its way. 

Iceland. A Visit to the Young Island 

Iceland is known for its dramatic landscape with volcanoes, geysers, hot springs, waterfalls and lava fields. In geological terms, Iceland is a young island. It started to form about 20 million years ago from a series of volcanic eruptions on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where it lies between the North American and Eurasian plates. These plates are constantly in motion, increasing the distance between New York and Paris by 2.5 cm every year. The volcanic activity is attributed to a hotspot, the Iceland hotspot, which in turn lies over a mantle plume (the Iceland Plume), an anomalously hot rock in the Earth's mantle which is likely to be partly responsible for the island's creation and continued existence. The volcanic activity under Iceland is therefore the strongest in the world (Wikipedia). Naim, on his blog, did a wonderful job describing our travel in Iceland.

We just got a glimpse about this unique island located between the United States and the European continent. Many visits will follow.  I have summarized some photos in the album Iceland

From Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter

Spring started with the TEX-MEX blizzard. Do you remember that storm? It came with heavy snow, sleet, wind, thunder and lightning. On top of the snow, a layer of brownish-yellow dust. The dust blew into Minnesota from west Texas and northern Mexico - TEX-MEX! 

Spring started late but when it arrived, I enjoyed it in its fullest. I had time to prepare my garden and provided the birds with nesting boxes. The House Wren came back and other birds, geese, ducks, turtles, butterflies, bees, dragonflies, and frogs. I worked on our little deck, sanding and staining.

In July the weather was hot and humid. Strong thunderstorms occurred mostly in the late afternoon. The clouds were fascinating before and after the storm (see photos). Fall was both beautiful and eventful. We celebrated three weddings: two from our family and one with my friend Parul. Now, winter has arrived. We are celebrating Christmas and preparing the arrival of the New Year. 

Wishing you a Happy New Year!

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