June 25th: George Orwell

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
– George Orwell

Born in 1903 as Eric Arthur Blair in British India, George Orwell remains one of the best-known writers of our times. He was an anti-totalitarian author, journalist, and essayist, and you don’t need to have read any of his works to know about his two most famous works Animal Farm and 1984. These still influence popular culture and are part of many school curricula providing the basis for lively discussions about ethics, morality, social criticism, and possible versions of the future. The terms he coined, such as “Big Brother” or “doublethink” and “thoughtcrime”, are also relevant nowadays and accompany us in our daily life. His writings are considered in many current social and political discourses regarding, for example, freedom of thought, expression and press, and privacy rights.

Orwell is definitely one of my favourite writers and thinkers because he articulated highly controversial topics which were relevant then and still are today. And he did so in a way that makes many feel uncomfortable and forces one to reflect on one’s own mindset. Certainly, one doesn’t need to agree with his writings but they provide an impetus that, I think, is very valuable. I’m a big fan of a social and political differentiated discourse and Orwell’s works are a wonderful food for thought.

So today we not only celebrate his birthday but also the freedom and liberties we enjoy in regard to our thoughts and actions, goods that we cannot value enough and shouldn’t take for granted.



“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”
– Walter Cronkite

World Press Freedom Day promotes the belief that freedom of the press and freedom of speech provide a basis for mutual understanding and sustainable peace. “It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom – a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended, and closed down, while journalists, editors, and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.”(unesco.org) And we know, we don’t have to travel to the other side of the earth to experience the oppression of journalism. Only recently, we witnessed what happens with freedom of the press and speech during war. How people were arrested for expressing their opinion and demonstrating on the street. How news agencies were shut down or used for propaganda. And, to be honest, from a completely neutral perspective, this is quite logical when fighting a war. It only makes sense to curtail the very rights democracy is built on: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of movement. Allowing those would hinder a tactical approach because information plays a vital role in the war because the success of the next move depends upon what the enemy knows or doesn’t know. The thing is, just because something is logical under certain circumstances, it isn’t necessarily right, especially when the circumstances themselves are so incredibly condemnable. I’m sure many of you were quite confused as well as to which of the news reports to believe since biased or even false reporting was used for propaganda. And it makes me sad and frustrated and feel helpless that democracy and freedom of speech are the first to die in war.

However, I was pretty surprised last week when I learned that the UK is planning to update its Official Secrets Act in a way that, many journalists would say, restricts the press freedom because it creates a chilling effect for journalists and their sources. Basically, it concerns anyone who discloses or spreads secret information. The Home Office claims that the balance between “serious harm” and freedom of the press needs to be found. “It added that officials and journalists are ‘rarely if ever’ in a position to compare the public interest against the potential damage of publication” (BBC Official Secrets Act). I find this strange because I feel this sounds like the job description of a journalist, this seems to be the reason why the press is also called the fourth estate. I don’t want to dive all too deep into this subject here, also because it goes slightly beyond my field of expertise, but if you’re interested have a listen to the corresponding panel of this year’s Festival of Debate Official Secrecy: How Government Plans Threaten Journalists & Whistleblowers.

Last but not least, a few literature or media suggestions:

Of course, George Orwell’s 1984: here even the freedom of thought is abolished. Need I say more?

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood: It focuses on an enclosed thoroughly regulated system also including illegal and ethically condemnable activities, information is smuggled out and leaked to the press. It might not be the main point of the novel, but still an important aspect.

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden: Since whistleblowing and journalism are closely intertwined, this is a great and valuable book that also gives insights in a process of disclosing secret information.

And believe it or not, Bibi Blocksberg and Benjamin Blümchen: Although they are mainly in German, they serve as a perfect example for explaining press freedom and the role of the press in general to children. It may also be used with older students since it’s unconventional, funny, and very accessible. On a very easy level, it shows the mayor as head of town/government/regime constantly acting selfishly and arbitrarily, more than once upsetting the citizens, and Karla Kolumna the fair and diplomatic reporter keeping him at bay.

Of course, I’m always interested in and open to new suggestions!
Have a wonderful day and care for your freedom of speech by caring for the freedom of speech of others!


February 24th: Russia starts military invasion in Ukraine, the Russo-Ukrainian conflict escalates. Most of us are shocked by the war events and especially the possibility of a nuclear attack is terribly frightening. Newspapers all over the world are bursting with horrifying headlines. Social media is swamped with guides on how to recognise propaganda and fake news, with tips for donating money, with explanatory videos and charts about politics and strategies, with info about demonstrations near your location and with so much more. And I think this war is difficult to grasp for us as especially younger generations have never experienced military conflicts, never really had to fight, or even think about fighting for their freedom, it’s just something taken for granted. War always happened somewhere but in order to really feel any of the effects, it was simply too far away. Now there is an ongoing war in close proximity. Think about it, from Berlin to Munich it’s approximately 600 kilometres as well as from Berlin to Warsaw. From Warsaw to the Ukrainian border it’s only a relatively small distance of 250 kilometres. Or putting it into yet another proportion, take Iraque, a relevant battle zone of the recent past: Almost 4000 kilometres lie between Berlin and the border of Iraque, nearly 6000 between Berlin and Afghanistan. That’s how close Ukraine, how close this war is.

On top, the economy is affected in such a way that everyone really notices that something’s afoot. How many German citizens thought about petrol for their cars, about their heating system, about the power supply, about what would happen if shortages of these things would arise at some point. Did you know, to name an important example, that about 55% of the German gas supply comes from Russia? Petrol prices are astronomically high and almost unaffordable and now I think three times about whether I really need the car for a trip. I also tried turning off the heating completely in my flat as an experiment, after all, I thought, winter’s kind of over now. And I tell you, it’s not impossible but it’s really nasty. You are cold, not too cold but unpleasantly cold, always and everywhere with the exception of the comfort of a bed at night. For me, the worst thing when working was getting stiff fingers and having difficulties getting them back to working temperature. I thought about what to do in my spare time without using any electricity, also not so easy (I ended up writing a letter which was very nice indeed).

Last here but certainly not least in general: how many Russian or Ukrainian friends, or acquaintances, or friends and family of friends do you have? I count four with whom I speak on a regular basis. One of them picked up a friend with her two twelve-year-old children from Ukraine a few days ago. They don’t speak English or German and couldn’t take much with them. And I try imagining how that must feel for a twelve-year-old.

Now, I know this post may be slightly dramatic and my point of view on this is not the one and only. However, I still wanted to share some experiences I collected over the last few weeks regarding this current and highly relevant topic.

Of course, a few literature suggestions should also not be missing here. In general, I recommend Cold War texts and media as it also deals with the fear of nuclear weapons and of war itself. It also concerns the same parties and is connected to the events of the current conflict.

  • 1984: Orwell’s famous dystopian novel not only explores surveillance but also a totalitarian state severely punishing anyone opposing or criticising the system.
  • You and the Atom Bomb: An Essay also written by Orwell and published in the Tribune in 1945 concerning the relatively new nuclear weapon. Very insightful and a quite accurate description of our present and the current situation.
  • Everything Sad is Untrue: A coming of age novel by Daniel Nayerie focussing on a middle school refugee boy whom no one believes his stories. Maybe relevant for a peek beyond the black and white.
  • When the Wind Blows: Another graphic novel by Raymond Briggs not to be given to younger audiences. It explores the effects of an atomic bomb explosion taking an elderly couple as an example.
  • What if We Nuke a City? : ‘In a Nutshell’ is a German-English youtube channel that focusses on scientific explanations of a great variety of topics. This specific video looks at the direct aftermath of an atomic bomb explosion. Admittedly kind of devastating but still worth watching.
  • The Arrival: This graphic novel does not need a single written word to tell its story about migrating from one country to another. It depicts the story of a man traveling to a strange country to find a new home for his family, encountering loneliness, strange food, and frightening creatures on the way. It might give people insight into just how lonely a new country can be.

Eventually, it’s important to talk about the current situation with its multiple aspects and also, maybe even especially, about one’s individual fears.

Stay Safe!


“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.” – Aldous Huxley

A month ago, I wrote about George Orwell and his works, praising his writings for being uncomfortable and making us reflect on society‘s past, present, and future. And I thought, talking about another equally famous author of the same genre might be obsolete. However, I came to the conclusion that, especially, Orwell’s 1984 (1949) and Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) kind of complement each other in addressing a similar topic while being so different. It’s also nice to know that Huxley was Orwell‘s French teacher at Eton and actually wrote a letter to his former student regarding 1984 praising and also criticising the novel.

Huxley believed his version of government rule to be longer-lasting and more efficient as it doesn’t use fear and violence to make people obedient but conditioning and happy drugs causing citizens to love their state. Moreover, unorthodox thinkers are not broken in Brave New World but given the choice of either becoming rulers themselves or leaving society suggesting relative freedom.

In his letter to Orwell Huxley writes: “I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. […]The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency.”

Comparing and contrasting both novels and simultaneously looking at the present was highly interesting for me. Both draw on people’s fears of being controlled by the government and worst-case scenarios can be good means to discuss and reflect about our contemporary and future society in the EFL classroom.