State Reforms: How Many German States Should We Have?

Priwall Beach, located west of the former East and West German border at Travemunde. Photo taken in October 2013

Since 3rd October, 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany has been in existence, featuring the states of the former West Germany and those of East Germany (or better known as the German Democratic Republic). This includes the largest state, Bavaria, which is as big as the entire state of Iowa but is also the richest of the 16 states. We also have Baden-Wurttemberg and Hesse, two of the most populous states and known as the hot spots for jobs. Then we have the former East German States of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Brandenburg, and Mecklenburg-Pommerania. And lastly, we have the city-states of Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin, the third of which is the nation’s capital. Then we have Saarland, one of the poorest states in the union and the source of the recent proposal brought forth by Minister Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Her proposal: to reduce the number of states to six to eight instead of the original 16 states. The source: The Solidarity Pact, which runs out in less than five years.

To summarize: the Solidarity Pact, signed into law in 1990, required that the rich states, namely in case, Bavaria, Hesse and Baden-Wurttemberg to provide financial support to the other German states, to ensure that the states can be provided with enough capital to survive and avoid a financial disaster, similar to what we saw with the Great Crisis six years ago in the US and the EU. Yet Hesse and Bavaria do not want to carry the burden of these states anymore and with Saarland having the highest debt of any state in Germany, it is not surprising that Kramp-Karrenbauer is proposing such measures, one that is deemed radical and absurd among conservatives, especially in Bavaria, but given the trend in the European Union with states giving up more of their autonomy for a rather transparent one, it is not a surprise. This is especially given the attempts of states to cooperate together to consolidate their resources.

Let’s look at the former East Germany, for example. Since 2004, consolidation in the private sector as well as cooperation within public sector has been under development. This includes the merger of the health care insurance provider AOK in Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, as well as cooperation and consolidation attempts among academic institutions at the universities in these three states. Furthermore, cooperation between Berlin and the state of Brandenburg in the private and public sectors have resulted in ideas and ways to integrate the capital into Brandenburg. Even a referendum was put up to a vote, which was rejected by Berliners and Brandenburgers alike.  In both examples, it is clear that because of the substantial demographic changes that have been witnessed since German Reunification in 1990, combined with poor job market possibilities that the long-term goal is to consolidate the states into one entity. That means Berlin would belong to Brandenburg and thus lose its city-state status, yet it would still be the national and state capital, a double-task that is not welcomed by many in both areas. As for the other states, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia would become Mitteldeutschland, with either Leipzig or Dresden being the capital and the other “former” state capitals becoming the seats of the districts. This concept is also not welcomed by many in these regions because of the potential to lose thousands of jobs in the consolidation process, combined with the closing of several institutions in the public sector. Attempts have already been tried with the university system in these three states, which were met with protests in the tens of thousands.

But the problems do not lie just in the Berlin-Brandenburg area, let alone the Mitteldeutschland area. The attractiveness of the states of Bavaria, Baden-Wurrtemberg and Hesse has resulted in a shift in population and businesses to these regions from areas in northern and eastern Germany, thus causing a strain in the social resources available in both areas. Northern states are battling high unemployment and social problems, whereas southern states are struggling to keep up the demand for housing.  While the Solidarity Pact has had its advantages, especially in the eastern part of Germany, where cities like Halle (Saale), Leipzig, Dresden, Erfurt and Berlin have undergone a major transformation from becoming run-down Communist cities to modern cities with historic nostalgia (reliving the days before Hitler took power and brought Germany to a blazing inferno known as World War II), there is still work to be done in terms of dealing with problems of unemployment, influx of immigration and the struggles to accommodate people, attracting jobs for all and improving education standards in school as well as in the university. The solidarity pact was a good project, but with states on both sides of the former Cold War border struggling to relieve the burden of debt and social problems, Kramp-Karrenbauer’s plan just might be that remedy Germany really needs. With less autonomy because of its interwoven policies of the European Union, there is really no need for all 16 states to function individually, receiving money from the rich states in order to survive.

This leads to the question of how to consolidate the German states. As it would be absurd to give up its city-state status, Berlin should remain an individual entity, receiving its funding from all the German states, but being ruled by the federal government- not the city government itself. It has been done in Washington, DC, as well as Monaco and Singapore. Losing its city-state status would be as preposterous as Washington becoming part of either Maryland or Virginia. James Madison and his forefathers would rise from their graves and make sure that proposal would never happen. So, as Germans would say it: “Finger weg vom Berlin!” As for Hamburg and Bremen, their financial and social woes have put a strain on their resources in general. Hence a merger with another German state would be both inevitable and beneficial.

But how to consolidate the other states is very difficult because the financial resources lie in the south and west of Germany. Henceforth it is impossible to anchor the rich states with the poor ones, with the possible exceptions of Bavaria merging with Saxony and Thuringia, Hesse merging with North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony and Baden Wurttemberg merging with Saarland and Rhineland Palatinate.  That would still leave the problem with Schleswig-Holstein, the three German city-states, and the remaining states that had once been part of East Germany because no financial beneficiaries would be found to govern the region. Therefore anchoring the rich with the poor is out of the question.  Also out of the question would be the old historic borders, where we have one large state of Saxony (instead of Upper, Lower and Anhalt Saxony), Thuringia becomes part of Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia takes over Rhineland Palatinate and Saarland, and Baden Wurrtemberg takes Hesse. Financially, the equilibrium would point clearly to the fourth region proposed here, thus putting the others at a mere disadvantage.  Ideally would be to combine geography and finances so that the equilibrium is firmly established and everyone would benefit from it. That means, instead of having 16 states, one could see three giant German states and Berlin having its own district.  While this proposal would be even more radical than that of Kramp-Karrenbauer’s, given the current situation in Germany, this alignment may be inevitable as financial and domestic problems as a result of lack of resources come to a head in 20 years at the most.

Here’s one of the proposal that should be considered:

Süddeutschland: Consisting of Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Brandenburg. Capital would have to be in the central part of the new state, such as Erfurt, Leipzig or Nuremberg. Munich would have its own city-state status.

Norddeutschland: Consisting of Hesse, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Pommerania, Hamburg and Bremen. Capital should be located in Hamburg, Hannover or Lübeck. Frankfurt would keep its financial headquarters in tact.

Westdeutschland: Consisting of Baden-Wurttemberg the states along the Rhine, including Saarland. Capital would be in Cologne. Stuttgart would be one of the district capitals along with Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, Freiburg im Breisgau, Coblence and Saarbrücken.

One can go with Kramp-Karrenbauer’s proposal of 6-8 states, but it should be noted that if two states consolidate, one should be the stronger one supporting the weaker one(s) but as long as the resources are pooled and the people will benefit from the merger. The last option would be to abolish all 16 states and have one Germany which has control over the entire country. This may be too communistic for the taste of many people, and some people may compare this to the period of the Third Reich. But with Germany being more and more part of the European Union, that option may also be brought onto the table in German Parliament.

But to sum up, the idea of having less German states is the most viable option in order for the German states to remain healthy. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s idea may sound absurd, but it may become inevitable as Germany becomes more integrated into the EU, which may be more of a blessing than a curse. The question is how to redraw the bounderies. What do you think? Should Germany be reduced in half? Perhaps in three giant states? How would you redraw the boundaries of the Bundesrepublik? Share your thoughts here as well as in the Files’ facebook pages and help Kramp-Karrenbauer push her agenda to the politicians in Berlin keeping in mind the risks and benefits the proposals may bring.

Flensburg-Bridgehunter Merchandise on Sale through Café Press

If you are looking for the best gift for your loved one and are not sure what to get them, or know someone who loves bridges, photography, landscapes or the like, or you want to surprise them with something you don’t find on the shelves of any supermarket, then perhaps you can try the Flensburg-Bridgehunter Online Shop. Powered by Café Press, this year’s items include new calendars from the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, featuring the historic truss bridges of Iowa as well as the bridges of Minnesota, which are selling like hotcakes even as this goes to the press. In addition, merchandise carrying the Chronicle’ new logo are also for sale, including wall clocks and coffee cups. Some of them feature historic bridges that are the focus of preservation efforts.  The Flensburg Files has a second installment of the Night Travel series for 2015, in addition to part I that was produced in 2012 but is available in the 2015 version. This in addition to a new set of photos and journals to keep track of your travels and thoughts. Sometimes journal entries are best with a cup of coffee with the Files’ logo on there.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the products provided by the Chronicles and the Files, click here. This will take you directly to the store. Hope you find what you are looking for and thank you for shopping.

Tribute to Friedrich Streich, creator of the Orange Mouse

Statue of the Maus (right) and the Elephant at Anger, Erfurt’s city center. Photo taken in 2011

 

In the US we had our forefathers who created Bugs Bunny and all of his friends as part of the Looney Tunes gang- namely Tex Avery, Fritz Freling and Chuck Jones, with Mel Blanc doing the voice of all the characters. We had Charles M. Schulz who penned Charlie Brown and Snoopy with various kids taking turns doing voices of the characters. And we had a husband-wife team that created, animated and voiced Woody Woodpecker (Walter and Gracie Lantz (née Stafford)).

In Germany, every Sunday morning on TV, we would be greeted by the Mouse and the Elephant with a series of short clips to go along with stories to laugh and learn- the German title is “Lach- & Sachgeschichte.” While there were no one doing voices of the Mouse, Elephant, Yellow Duck and the Pink Bunny, the animations resembled the modern version of silent films with background piano music and some sound effects. These were the works of Friedirch Streich, who for over 40 years, penned more then 330 short animations for the audience to enjoy, both kids as well as adults. Born in Zurich, Switzerland in 1934, Streich had already garnered fame as a cartoonist for the Zurcher Zeitung (Zurich) and the Süddeutsche and Abendzeitungen newspapers (in Munich), an actor and even a director before starting the cartoon series with the Mouse and Elephant in March, 1971. At the time of its debut, the orange mouse was the main attraction. Streich added his sidekick, the Blue Elephant, four years later, whom he touted as “the smallest elephant in the world,” according to German public channel, WDR. They became the dynamic duo and have been making people laugh ever since. The Yellow Duck was added in 1987 and appeared in one of the three 30-second cartoon strips per episode of “Lach- & Sachgeschichte.” The blue elephant would later have his daily kids show in the morning with the pink bunny entitled “Elephantastisch.”  Streich’s signature for every animation with the Mouse and the Elephant was finding a solution for every problem the Mouse and/or the Elephant would face, no matter how out of the ordinary it may be. There are too numerous examples worth mentioning, but this link features the top 17 clips of the tandem. Funny and silly as the scenes were, the main slogan was “When there is a will, there is a way.” Streich did it his way, which is why his legacy will be remembered.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-BGepjoNJE

On 3 October of this year, Friedrich Streich passed away peacefully at his home in Munich. He was 80 years old. His death coincided with the 24th anniversary of the German Reunification, and while it may have overshadowed some of the events that took place across the country, Streich belongs to the list of people that made the new Germany, showing visitors (including those with children) that the Mouse, the Elephant and their friends are typical of German culture. Because they are still one of the key anchors in German television, the show must go on. In the hearts of Germans and those who know and like them, there will always be the Mouse, the Elephant and their friends. Forever and all time to come. Streich will forever keep us laughing no matter where he is at.

To honor Friedrich Streich, WDR has a tribute that was produced on 12 October, featuring the making of the Mouse and the best hits. Although in German, you will have a chance to learn how the characters came to life, apart from learning the language. The link:

http://www.wdrmaus.de/maus_wall/friedrich_streich.php5

And from the Flensburg Files, we just like to say thanks for all the memories and making us laugh. Your legacy with the Mouse and Elephant will go on in the hearts of kids and adults alike.

 

 

 

At Home or Homesick? The Challenges of Living Abroad

As I was preparing an article on schooling in Germany, I happened to stumble across a question for the forum in a group consisting of American expatriates living in Germany dealing with feeling at home in Germany in comparison to living in the USA. The question was whether the expats regret living in Germany and if so, why. Within an hour of its posting, dozens of responses from members of the group came in, and the results were porous. The majority of respondents were of the opinion if there was a opportunity to return to the US, they would, in a heartbeat!

Now why would so many people want to say that about a country like Germany, which prides itself on its social security and health care network, as well as education, culture, sports, landscapes and the like?  Factors, such as difference in mentalities, difficulties making friends, xenophobia bureaucracy, job opportunities and even language barriers were mentioned, as well as missing some of the things that they were used to back home.

In the 15 years that I’ve been living in Germany, I’ve seen the good and bad sides of Germany, some of the latter that would technically scare off people wanting to live in the country, such as the lack of flexibility in the job market (my biggest pet peeve, since I’m an English teacher and blogger), the politicians trying to cut programs that are beneficial to the people, encounters with Skinheads, aggressive drivers and superficial relationships- where you are only friends with your colleagues if you have something to do with a project. But if compared to the US, some of the problems mentioned are also well known over there.

But perhaps the dissatisfaction may have to do with the decline in good relations between Berlin and Washington, which has become imminent thanks to the Spygate scandal earlier this year involving the NSA. Since the activities of the NSA were brought to light, many Americans living abroad have been put at a disadvantage thanks to additional policies by the US to put them more on a leash and Germans have even distanced themselves from the Americans abroad. This includes the latest proposal by the American tax agency IRS, which has triggered many Americans to trade in their US citizenship for one in their country of residency (click here for more details).

Despite all this, the question for the forum has gotten me to ask the forum the following:

  1. What are some things that you like about Germany that keeps you living there? The same applies to other countries abroad.
  2. What are some things you miss about the US that you can NOT get abroad?
  3. What improvements would you like to see in the place you’re living?
  4. And for those seriously thinking about moving back to the US, what factors would influence your decision about returning home?

In the 15 years living abroad, I still haven’t found anything that would convince me to return home, for there are many things that are keeping me here. Interestingly enough, more people I know are even thinking about moving abroad because Germany has more to offer than what they have at home. To give you a classic example, in a southern Minnesota town with 3,500 inhabitants, I am one of four people who are living here in Germany, two of them happen to be in the same graduating class as I am! After being the only one from the community living in Germany for 15 years, I received company from the other three, who moved to Germany with their families this year. Despite this,  we all have our reasons for living here.  Yet we have collected our share of experiences both good and bad. Many of them I’ve mentioned here in the Files. More will come in the Files as many themes will come to light that will be talked about.

But seriously, what keeps you here in Germany (or abroad) and what would you like to see changed? Put your thoughts and discussion either in the Comment section or in the Files’ facebook page and let’s get a discussion going on this theme, shall we? After all, many of us have enough experience to share, much of which will appear in the Files soon.