Sunday, 8 June 2014

Discovering Osnabruck, Germany, the City of Peace

Since the Peace of Westphalia was proclaimed on the steps of its historic town hall in 1648, Osnabruck has been known as the City of Peace. Osnabruck’s location in the northeastern region of Germany made it a center for trade during the Middle Ages. The city was part of the Hanseatic League, a collection of merchant guilds that promoted free trade and defended trade routes along the northern coastline of Europe. Cities within the Hanseatic League were governed by a common legal system and shared military resources on behalf of all the members. This allowed Hanseatic League cities to establish trade routes throughout northern Europe and provided Osnabruck and its residents with exceptional prosperity during this period.

Exceptional Architecture

Many of the towers erected to fortify the town of Osnabruck during the medieval period are still standing today. The brick Steinwerke, also known as the Vault Houses, were built approximately 800 years ago and provide Osnabruck with a sense of character all its own; some of these architectural marvels are still open to the public and offer a look back into the history of the Westphalia region. The Felix-Nussbaum House was designed by Daniel Libeskind and commemorates the life and death of the noted German and Jewish painter.

A Close-Knit Community

Osnabruck’s unique physical layout makes it easy to travel from one part of town to another quickly; the entire city has been designed to be compact and convenient to navigate for residents and visitors alike. Most community activities take place in the Marktplatz, a central marketplace that plays host to local festivals, Christmas markets, weddings and other celebrations. St. Mary’s Church, St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Town Hall of the Peace of Westphalia form the borders of this central gathering spot. The Museum am Scholerberg is another popular educational attraction located in Osnabruck.

Educational and Employment Opportunities

The German Federal Environment Foundation is headquartered in Osnabruck. The city also boasts the world-class University of Osnabruck and the University of Applied Science of Osnabruck, a top-notch technical college that offers a number of international study options for foreign students. Osnabruck is a popular tourist destination and offers numerous employment opportunities for residents; it is currently the third-largest city in the German state of Lower Saxony.

Surrounded by Natural Beauty

Osnabruck holds a singular distinction as the only city in Germany located in a nature reserve. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has established the Natur- und Geopark TERRA.vita to provide a living reminder of the Earth’s history and its natural beauty. Osnabruck is located within the Geopark TERRA.vita and offers easy access to hiking, biking and exploratory trails within this scenic park.

For visitors to this area, Osnabruck offers an exceptional mix of unspoiled landscapes, outstanding Mediterranean and German food and delightful venues designed to please almost any shopaholic. The rustic charm of the surrounding countryside and the range of available activities make this one of the most attractive destinations for tourists in the northern Germany region.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Avoiding the Credit Card Trap

Credit card debt is a serious issue for many American families and can become a long-term problem if not addressed promptly. Because the interest on outstanding credit account balances is compounded on a daily or monthly basis, the total amount due can quickly grow to an unmanageable level and can create financial issues that may seem impossible to resolve. By taking a few simple steps, however, families can often reduce their credit card debt and remove this source of stress to increase their financial stability.

Evaluate the Problem

For many families, even discussing the issue of credit card debt can be a painful process. Taking a hard look at the size and extent of the problem, however, can be t1he first step toward resolving it. By determining the actual amount owed and the current monthly payments on each outstanding credit account, consumers can establish a baseline financial situation from which to build a brighter economic future.

Compare Interest Rates

Credit cards with higher interest rates cost more over the life of the loan. It makes good financial sense to eliminate these debts first and to refrain from charging any items on high-interest credit cards. By paying off these balances, families can make a healthy dent in their outstanding debts and can prevent high interest charges from compounding to create added amounts due. Once one credit card balance has been paid off, consumers can move to the next until all outstanding credit accounts have been resolved.

Don’t Charge

It is vital not to accrue any additional credit card debt during this period. Trading one set of credit card problems for another will only prolong the cycle of debt and will result in further interest charges and excessive monthly payments. Resist the urge to acquire and use new credit cards or lines of credit. Instead, find ways to save for financial goals or to do without luxuries until the debt situation has been resolved.

Negotiate a Positive Solution

In some cases, credit card companies may be willing to suspend the compounding of interest or to reduce the amount owed on an outstanding account. Unfortunately, some lenders require that the account be in default prior to any negotiations and settlement offers. By contacting the company directly and asking for help in reducing or resolving the outstanding debt, consumers can sometimes achieve surprisingly positive outcomes for their credit card woes.

Don’t Close Paid-Off Accounts

It may be tempting to close accounts that have zero balances and are no longer creating financial problems; however, credit ratings are based in part on the amount of unused credit available for use. By closing accounts that are no longer in use, consumers can actually lower their credit scores and reduce their chances of obtaining loans in the future. Leaving these accounts open but unused is a much more positive way to manage the credit score conundrum for most families.

By taking steps to address credit card debt effectively, consumers can ensure greater peace of mind and a more positive financial future for themselves and for their families.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Risks and Requirements of Exotic Pet Ownership

If you are considering adopting or purchasing an exotic pet for yourself or your family, a little research is in order to ensure that you are ready for this major responsibility. Many areas restrict or prohibit the ownership of certain exotic animals by private individuals; these restrictions may be for the protection of endangered or ecologically fragile species or to provide added protections for people against the dangers associated with these pets. Knowing the risks of exotic pet ownership can help prospective adopters or buyers make the right decision for their families.

Monkey Business

Most veterinarians and humane societies discourage the adoption and purchase of primates as pets. These animals require constant attention and can become aggressive as they grow older; additionally, they typically have specialized dietary needs and environmental requirements that can be very difficult to meet as a private individual. Chimpanzees and other larger primates are especially problematic; these large animals have many times the strength of the average human and can easily maim or kill if upset or provoked. Because of their close genetic similarity to humans, primates can also transmit diseases to their human owners and may in turn contract illnesses that can prove dangerous or even fatal from the humans with whom they come in contact.


Snakes and other reptiles are among the most popular exotic pets. In some cases, these beautiful and unusual animals can be handled safely by knowledgeable owners and can be a source of pride and enjoyment for these individuals. If not properly contained and fed, however, snakes, lizards and other members of the reptile family can become a threat to pets and people. Some species of reptile can carry salmonella, a dangerous disease that can be transmitted to humans and can result in serious gastrointestinal distress. What’s more, reptiles also die prematurely due to improper care by inexperienced owners. Plus, many of these animals were taken from the wild and suffer when away from their natural habitat. In fact, experts estimate that 90 percent of these reptiles caught in the wild die within the first year of their captivity.

Big Cats

Most prospective pet owners would not consider adopting a full-grown lion, tiger or cougar into their family. However, the trade in lion and tiger cubs continues to be a major issue for conservationists and a source of concern for the Humane Society of the United States. Lions and tigers are wild creatures that cannot live happily in direct captivity. As they grow older, they require a larger territory than most owners are capable of providing. They can also exhibit aggression toward their captors and may cause grievous bodily injuries in attempting to free themselves or in response to perceived threats in their too-small environment. Zoology experts and veterinarians agree that big cats should not be kept as pets under any circumstances whatsoever.

A number of other animals may be considered exotic pets. For example, Savannah cats are the result of planned breeding between African servals and domestic cats. The first few generations of these cross-breeds are extremely wild and difficult to manage; they may exhibit numerous characteristics of their wildcat ancestors, including spraying, marking and unpredictable violence toward their owners and toward other pets. Prospective owners should perform all the necessary due diligence on their desired animal before making a commitment to adopt or purchase any pet. Most veterinarians and animal-welfare advocates discourage the ownership of exotic animals due to both the dangers posed by animals to people and vice versa.

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Value of Active Play for Pets and People

Ensuring that your dog or cat gets adequate exercise can reduce the risks of obesity and can ensure that your pet stays fit and healthy throughout his or her life. Engaging pets in active play is a good way to reinforce the bond of love and trust between you and your companion animal and can provide hours of entertainment for both of you. As a pet owner, you can use a number of different tools and toys to keep your dog and cat happy and active. Here are some of the most useful strategies for engaging in active play with your pet.

The Feline Perspective

As predators, much of the cat’s instinctual behavior is oriented toward hunting and pouncing activities. A number of toys are available to help you engage your cat and retain its attention in a healthy and productive way. Fluttering toys that move with the wave of a wand are ideal for cats that enjoy leaping and springing toward their prey; strings, balls and dragging toys are more suited for earthbound kitties. Some cats respond to laser pointers that focus a pinpoint of light on walls and carpets. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can even train your cat to do tricks on command with a little patience and a lot of kitty treats in reserve. Whatever your chosen activity, your cat will enjoy the benefits of a healthier lifestyle and a closer relationship with you.

Beyond the Ball

While playing catch or fetch with your dog can be a valuable way to burn off excess energy, most dogs require additional exercise to stay fit and healthy. The daily walk is a good way to establish your position as the leader and alpha member of the family pack. A walk can also provide your dog with a sense of purpose and can allow greater opportunities for socialization in a neutral territory. Dog parks are a great option for many owners. Caution must be exercised, however, to ensure that your dog is ready for friendly interaction with unfamiliar canines. It’s a good idea to keep your dog on a leash for the first few visits to determine the overall atmosphere and risk level of the park and to create the necessary boundaries for yourself and your pet.

Training the Brain

For both dogs and cats, presenting puzzles can provide an added degree of challenge in the home environment. Hiding a favorite toy under a blanket or behind a pillow can stimulate curiosity in both cats and dogs. Don’t forget to reward your pet when he or she accomplishes the desired objective. By creating barriers and challenging your pet to overcome them, you can reduce the boredom sometimes felt by housebound dogs and cats and can increase their mental acuity to a considerable degree.

Scheduling regular times for active play with your dog or cat can ensure that these pets stay fit and healthy. Playtime can also be a bonding experience for you and can reduce undesirable behaviors by redirecting that energy in a much more positive way.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

How Helping Others Improves Your Health

When Mark Pieloch gave $1.5 million to the Capital Humane Society of Lincoln, Nebraska, it wasn’t because he wanted publicity. It was because he wanted to help the many homeless cats, dogs and other animals in the Lincoln area find good homes. Pieloch is the owner of PSPC Inc., a business based on helping animals. The firm develops and manufactures palatable medications for cats, dogs and horses. Yes, he’s a smart businessman, but he also knows the value of giving back to the community.

Pieloch and others who regularly donate money or volunteer time to organizations and individuals in need reap benefits they never expected. Many who give find themselves receiving far more than the simple pleasure of knowing they made a difference. As it turns out, giving is good for human biology.

A Charitable “High”?

A study done by the National Institutes of Health found that when people donate to charities, regions of the brain associated with pleasure, trust and social connection are activated, giving people a positive feeling of warmth. People often experience a “high” when they volunteer. Called a “helper’s high,” scientists found that volunteering releases endorphins that give participants a sense of elation. Giving promotes social connection and cooperation, strengthening bonds and enhancing feelings of happiness. Giving also evokes feelings of gratitude, which leads to greater personal happiness.

Volunteers Get Healthy Benefit

The elderly and chronically ill are often on the receiving end of giving, but research shows that when those in both groups volunteer or give to charities, their own health improves dramatically. In Doug Oman’s 1999 University of California study, it was found that elderly participants who volunteered for two or more charitable organizations were 44 percent less likely to die in the next five years than were the non-volunteers. American Psychological Association research found that older adults who volunteer at least 200 hours per year, or 16 hours per month, reduced their risk of hypertension by 40 percent.

A recent study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that people with coronary artery disease who volunteer after a heart attack suffered less from despair, recovered faster and added years to their lives. Volunteers are also less likely to suffer heart-related diseases in the first place. People who volunteer suffer less from depression and are more satisfied with life than those who don’t.

There are certainly tangible rewards when people give. Pieloch’s generous donation to the Capital Humane Society enabled the organization to build a much-needed adoption center. Now, more cats, dogs and other companion animals are finding loving homes than ever before. His donation to the Syracuse Foundation helped build the Syracuse Sports Complex used by community families. His gift to the Central Florida Animal Preserve enabled the big cat sanctuary to repair damage caused by a severe windstorm. As he and other donors know, giving is not just about the tangibles, it’s an essential part of being part of the human family

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Exploring Ancient Osnabruck, Germany

Many students list their most cherished memories as the time they spent studying abroad. For example, entrepreneur Mark Pieloch studied in Osnabruck, Germany, for a year while he was in high school. The experience gives students a chance to experience living and learning in a different country. Cities like Osnabruck appeal to more than just students, of course. Avid travelers and history buffs are lured to the ancient German city to explore its rich history and modern culture.

A Time of Wizards and Witches

Originally established in 780 as a marketplace near the bishop’s see founded by King Charlemagne, Osnabruck was first mentioned as a city in historical records in 1147. Granted fortification privileges in 1157, towers were built that are still visible today. Sadly, between 1561 and 1639, the most active witch-hunting period, 276 women and two men were executed for wizardry. Osnabruck is arguably most famous for being one of two locations where a series of peace treaties were signed ending the Thirty Years’ War.

Osnabruck sits in a scenic valley between the Wiehen Hills and the northern part of the Teutoburg Forest. Today, approximately 165,000 call Osnabruck home. With its cobbled streets filled with cafes, wine bars, pubs, museums and galleries, Osnabruck is a mix of old world charm and modern nuance.

A Wealth of Historic Sites

Students like Pieloch and inquisitive tourists find a wide range of educational and historical sites to explore in Osnabruck:

● Buckstrum is the oldest tower in the city and was used as the prison for those accused of witchcraft.

● The Felix Nussbaum Haus is a gallery and museum dedicated to Jewish artist Felix Nussbaum. Nussbaum, who was born in Osnabruck, was a surrealist painter, heavily influenced by van Gogh and Rousseau. While Nussbaum was in Rome studying, the Nazis gained control of Germany. Nussbaum continued painting until he was arrested and later murdered.

● Hegor Tor stands as a monument to the Osnabruck soldiers who died during the battle of Waterloo.

● Katharinenkirche, St. Catherine’s Church, was built in 1248, and is the tallest medieval building in Lower Saxony and one of the 150 tallest churches in the world.

● Osnabruck Castle is now the main University of Osnabruck building.

● The Kalkriese Museum houses artifacts from the battlefield of the Teutoburger Wald.

● St. Peter’s Cathedral was founded in the 11th century and has two dramatic façade towers.

After all that traveling back through time, travelers can enjoy exploring Old Town, with its tiny streets and medieval buildings. For a history break, tourists can explore the city’s zoo and botanical gardens.

Modern Amenities and Thriving Nightlife

Older students and adults who visit find a thriving nightlife in Osnabruck. Hyde Park is a music hall that features plenty of youth culture and popular live music. Alando is a nightclub and hot weekend spot near the train station.

A haven for chocolate lovers, Osnabruck is home to Leysieffer, a traditional German chocolate producer. Founded in Osnabruck, Leysieffer makes chocolate and café treats to please the most sophisticated palate.

Mark Pieloch credits his time in Osnabruck with giving him a sense of history and expanding his ideas about people of different cultures. Getting to know the people of Osnabruck, discovering the city’s rich and storied past and stepping out of their comfort zone give visitors a confidence and expanded world view that remains long after they return home.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Building a Rare Classic American Car Collection

Mark Pieloch caught the bug early. Riding along with his older brothers in their 1960s muscle cars sparked a lifelong love. Now, many years later, his Pieloch Classic Car Collection contains over 130 classic and antique cars, most with very low mileage or full frame-off restorations. It wasn’t always that way, though.

Getting His Start

After he graduated from high school, his father gave him a hand-me-down 1967 Ford Ranch Wagon for college in Boston. The car had over 130,000 miles on it and was badly in need of repair. With no money but lots of determination, Pieloch took the project on. In 1975, he proudly took the fully restored Ford Ranch Wagon with him to college. (Unfortunately, he did such a great restoration job that an “admirer” of the car stole it soon after he started school.) The Ranch Wagon was the first of many cars Pieloch restored. Mustangs, Bel Airs and Camaros followed. He loved restoring cars. The problem was that after working on a car for so long and bringing it back to its glory days, he found he couldn’t say goodbye. Rather than sell his masterpieces, Pieloch started collecting.

Collecting and restoring cars sounds like an expensive hobby. It can be, of course. The truth is, however, that anyone can start collecting cars. Pieloch restored his first car because he needed it for school and didn’t have the money to buy one. He was willing to work hard and restore the car to working condition. While he was at it, he discovered he had a talent for restoration. First cars in a collection don’t have to break the bank or be some rare, exotic, one-of-a-kind model. Keeping an open mind and a willingness to use some elbow grease can be the start of something big.

Not Just for the Wealthy

Jay Leno, a long time collector, advises the novice to stop looking for a rare treasure, particularly when first starting out. He says that even if a car is not a rare collector piece, it can be fun to drive, affordable and great for weekend cruising. Plus, it can come with a great story. Hemmings Classic Car magazine lists several makes and models from the 1970s that are affordable and make a good first collection investment. Making the cut was the 1973 to 1975 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Coupe, 1972 Pontiac Bonneville four door hardtop, 1975 to 1978 Matador Coupe, 1973 to 1974 Buick Luxus Century Coupe and the 1976 Gran Torino.

Most initial collector purchases are project cars. Collectors recommend that beginners work on and complete one project at a time. When looking to purchase, choose a car that is within driving distance. Buying unseen over the Internet, particularly with the first project, is too risky at this stage. Keep your budget, capabilities and personal preferences in mind. Purchase a Chilton’s or other detailed manual about your particular car. The object is to have fun and learn.

The Mark Pieloch Classic Car Collection started small. In addition to the over 130 antique and classic cars now in the collection, Pieloch has vintage gas pumps, antique pedal cars, antique radios, restored neon auto signs, antique restored soda coolers and a restored 1952 Seeburg Model 100 jukebox. It all started with that 1967 Ford Ranch Wagon back in 1974.