Ask Me Anything about American Law or Life in Germany

You know, I've been wondering what to do about this blog. I don't really have the time for elaborate posts anymore, or perhaps I just don't have the patience. I was considering just shutting it down for a while, but then there was a bit of an outcry, so I kept it alive, but as you can see it's sort of limping along.

But then I got an idea from this brilliant series of videos called Sixty Symbols, where people write in with questions about physics and other things, which questions are then answered by the physics faculty of the University of Nottingham. So far, my favorite question has been 'What would happen if you put your hand in the Large Hadron Collider?', plus the God video I just posted. 

I also just got a GoPro Hero 3 camera, which makes great HD videos and is much smaller than a pack of cigarettes. Therefore, I thought to myself, why not open up the floor to my readers? Instead of me having to think of stuff to blog about and then laboriously type it up, I can just field questions from you. Hyperinteractive Web 2.0, people!

But obviously nobody wants to just hear me rambling about random subjects such as anal fissures, Albanian hip-hop, or chameleon husbandry. The only things I can really claim any expertise in are American law and life in Germany. As a bonus, I'll try to record some of the answers in interesting spots in or near Düsseldorf, if time and weather permit.

So if you have any questions about either of those subjects, fire away! You can also ask about other stuff and try your luck, but I will only pick questions I feel like answering. You can propose them in comments or by email, I guess. Let me know if and how you want to be identified.

Oh, and nothing in any of these videos will ever constitute legal advice of any kind whatsoever, or any other kind of advice on any subject. And all views expressed will be my own, blah blah blah.

11 thoughts on “Ask Me Anything about American Law or Life in Germany

  1. What a great idea! Thanks very much. I hope you can answer my question, or point me to someone who can.

    I have tons of questions about how to save for retirement while living in Germany, when I don’t know where I’ll be after I retire. My current job makes contributions to the German social security system — can I really get that money back? What if I am living in the US — I think I have heard I get 85%? Is there a time period before I am vested?

    I may take a Beamte position at a university. Do I have to wait 5 years to be vested there? How much of the pension could I get if I live in the US after retirement?

    I have not been making any retirement contributions for 6 years now, and am getting worried. I have been in Germany in a social security contributing job for 3 years. I am 40. Any help that you, or your readers, could give me, I would very much appreciate.

    Thank you,


  2. Hello Stephanie — Sorry, I’m going to have to turn that one down. That’s more German law than it is German life. Also, I know nothing about retirement benefits. I’ve saved nothing for my retirement and have no idea why or how I would start.

    Your question is doubtless important, but not very interesting. Preferred topics include sex, death, religion, political extremism, crime, ghosts, sex, animals, microbes, sex, clowns, religion, sex, velour, and roofing materials.


  3. OK, will try to stick to your topics (but if anyone wants to talk retirement benefits, let me know!!)

    In my experience, Germans congratulate themselves on being in front of the US on gay rights. But on closer inspection, it seems like the same-sex partnerships available in Germany are not full partnerships with all the benefits given to married couples (tax benefits, adoption and assisted fertility). Is that the case? Can you please elaborate how German same-sex partnerships are and are not equal to marriages? Are the recent changes in some US states putting them ahead of the Germans?

    Vielen Dank!


  4. Well, then I have an American Law question:

    Is constitutional originalism a legal theory or rather a historical one?

    Let me explain:

    I am a historian and I find what I hear about originalism baffling. No right minded and serious historian today would claim that it is remotely possible to establish what someone in the past intended without factoring in one’s position as interpreter. Every interpretation of a text is influenced by our own time, culture and bias.

    However, that is apparently what originalists like Justices Scalia and Thomas are claiming: That the American constitution sould be read as if we were still living in the 18th century and courts sould base their decisions on such a reading. (That’s at least the theory, disregarding their actual decisions)

    Would that not mean that the primary qualification for supreme court justices (or all judges) should be a doctorate in American History at a 19th century university? Why bother with the law, it’s historicism, stupid!


  5. – What’s a fact about the German legal system that makes your US colleagues do a spit take when you tell them about it over a beer?

    – If you had the freedom to implement one US law of your choice in Germany, which would it be? And vice versa?

    – Generally speaking, when you first got to Germany, what was your first impression? Second? Has it stuck?

    – Is it me or has Titanic become less funny in recent years?

    – Germans tend to have a bunch of negative stereotypes about themselves; joyless, subservient, angsty… in your opinion, do we have too much self-hatred, too little, or just the right amount?

    – Are you still buddies with Mr Goldt?

    – If you’re following pop culture in any way, did you take to German TV shows/films/music at any point, or did you stick to the US offerings?

    – Why do even US citizens who identify as liberal and/or pacifist make a point of habitually thanking military personnel for their service? That always struck me as odd, it’d be weird even for someone who agreed with all deployments of the German army to say the same thing to a Bundeswehrsoldat.

    – Clowns: Why? Who thought this was a good idea? Is there anyone who doesn’t find them creepy? Except clowns? Elaborate.


  6. @ Stephanie

    A German Beamter (“civil servant”) has to have German citizenship. I assume you’re American. There’s been some talk in Berlin, though, of eliminating the German citizenship requirement.

    The U.S. and Germany have a social security agreement under which what you pay into the German system is credited to the American, should you choose to reside in the U.S. after retirement, and conversely. Your local U.S. consulate or the Embassy in Berlin could provide you more details.

    I assume you’re employed at the university under the social security arrangement administered by the Bundesversicherungsanstalt für Angestellte (BfA). I would definitely get in touch with them.


  7. Not sure if this fits into the category “American law and German life” – but anyway: I’m curious (and not only a little bit shocked) about the perceived differences between foreigners und citizens. See e.g. the drone killings, as far as I can see the US public was kind of cool about it until the first US citizen was a victim.

    When following political discussion in Germany this harsh distinction is used more rarely (mostly in statements about earlier/faster deportations of delinquent asylum seekers).


  8. What would you show american friends in Germany if you would want them to like Germany?
    And what yould you show them if you want them to dislike and worry about Germany?


  9. A comment on the role of the SCOTUS please:
    Who came up with the crazy idea of appointing only nine people for the rest of their lives to act not only as a constitutional court, but also as the potential appellate court for the whole country?
    And even more important: Why was it never changed?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s