Odds and Ends for Christmas

With two weeks left before Christmas, many of us are scrambling to find the right gift for the right person, let alone find the right time and the right place to celebrate the holidays, let alone find the right time to do the right things at the right place. Most of us are trying to make things right for the holiday season so that the mood is right for everyone.  But if you are in a rut regarding finding the right gift or the right activity for people to do, or planning on finding the right place to meet for Glühwein and all, the Flensburg Files and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles are here to help.

Online Store:  Check out the latest items including those for Christmas at the Flensburg-Bridgehunter Online Shop. They include the newest calendars coming out for 2015, such as Night Travels and the Bridges of Minnesota and Iowa, which are selling like hotcakes even as the article goes to the press. All of which are courtesy of Cafe Press. Ask them about any holiday deals that are going on before Christmas, as well as shipping options available. You can click here to go to the shop: http://www.cafepress.com/flensburgbridgehunteronlineshop

2014 Ammann Awards: For the fifth year in a row, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles are hosting the Othmar H. Ammann Awards, given to bridges deserving recognition in four categories, as well as people deserving recognition for preserving historic bridges and providing the best photography. The voting process started a week ago and unlike in the past, a polling system was introduced where after reading up on the candidate and looking at the photo, you can click onto the link to Poll Daddy, choose the nominated candidate in each of the categories and and send. You can also view the results if you wish.  A link to the Ammann Awards Voting Process is below. You have until January 6th to vote with the winners to be announced on the 7th.

Link: http://thebridgehunter.areavoices.com/2014/12/04/2014-ammann-awards-voting-now-underway/

And lastly, the Files is on tour of the Christmas markets for the fifth year in a row. As you can see from the first stop on the tour, there will be some different themes for this year’s market tour, some of which will be posted in the coming days and weeks. If you are still looking for a place to visit with your family and friends, a link to the places visited on the tour as well as a guide of the markets in Germany and Switzerland are enclosed below. Note that most of the markets will close after December 23rd, with a handful of them remaining open through the New Year.

Flensburg Files Christmas Tour:   http://flensburgerfiles.areavoices.com/tourism-guide/

German Christmas Market Guide:  http://www.germany-christmas-market.org.uk/

These are some of the things you can do to make your Christmas the best holiday season for you and your family. And even if it is impossible to do these things this year- in particular, visiting the Christmas market, it will give you some ideas for next year as well.

And for that, I’m closing with a quote that has a true meaning of Christmas in itself: Sometimes you don’t need the perfect present, Sometimes you don’t need the perfect place, Sometimes you don’t need the perfect food, Sometimes you don’t need the perfect music, Sometimes you don’t need the perfect Christmas tree and sometimes you don’t need the perfect weather to celebrate a perfect Christmas. You just need the people that love you and make you the perfect man you are to celebrate your perfect Christmas.

The Files and Chronicles would like to wish you safe travels and a wonderful holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy 2015 and stay tuned- more articles to come. :-D

AND

Christmas Market Tour 2014: Jena (Thuringia)- Redux

Photos taken in December 2014

Four years ago, when the Files was in its infancy, the author did a small segment on the Christmas market in Jena, in eastern Thuringia. Since the time it was written (which you can click here for details and photos) and the present, things have changed to a point where a re-write is justified. Here’s why:

 

What constitutes a good Christmas market from your perspective? Or if you want to be specific, what elements should be in a Christmas market in order to make it a really attractive one? On my fifth year of writing reviews of the Christmas markets in Germany, I’ve created my own set of requirements in order for a Christmas market to be attractive. From my point of view, a Christmas market:

  1. Should have a background that is appealing to the tourists, whether it is a church or two, like the Christmas market in Halle (Saale), or the historic truss houses like the market in Quedlinburg
  2. Should have local specialties that you cannot find at any other Christmas market, like the Pulschnitzer Gingerbread Cookies at the market in Dresden or the Domino Steine at the market in Erfurt,
  3. Should have some tours showing people the history of the town and its Christmas market, as seen in Rothenburg ob der Tauber,
  4. Should be spread out with sections representing different themes, as seen with Dresden (once again)
  5. And should not be too commercial and crowded, as seen with the markets in Nuremberg and Magdeburg.

Jena has been one of the regular stops on the Christmas market tour because of its layout and small town atmosphere that people can see. Yet the reason for this stop and tour is because of this question: Is Jena the Christmas market to visit, sticking out in front of the aforementioned Christmas markets in Germany, PLUS the ones in Birmingham (the UK), Paris and Zurich?  According to Buzz Feed, a tourism website that promotes places of interest, it is. However, if it really is the hot spot of 2014, on what grounds is it attractive? I decided to check it out.

Historic Jena City Hall at Am Markt

Jena has changed a great deal in the last four years, for the Christmas market has grown in size and color. Plus the people have put plenty of effort into this year’s market, in the face of proposed changed by the Jena City Council, which was put down unanimously earlier this year. More on that later.

Jena’s Christmas market has four different places that are worth visiting, especially if you have children.  The main attraction can be found at the market square, Am Markt. There, one can try the local specialties, ranging from Thuringian bratwurst to sautéed mushrooms, as well as Heisser Met, Snowflake, Egg nog and organic mulled wine (Glühwein). You can purchase some ceramic ware from the local dealers, LED glass lamps, and paper stars in various colors. If you want entertainment, there is the grandstand where local musicians and dancers can entertain the audience throughout the day and weekend, while enjoying the backdrop of well-restored historic houses. The last of the historic houses was restored last year as part of the project to reconstruct the Sonnenhof complex, located north of the tram stop Löbdegraben. There, a constellation of modern black and white buildings and the restoration of the Medieval building facing Am Markt not only provides people with a sensational view of the city center in general, but also direct access from the tram stop to the market square through a wide corridor filled with local businesses. One should also not forget the brass musical group playing traditional Christmas songs at 5:00pm every evening during the time of the Christmas market. Like the cuckoo clock, these people come out of the windows of City Hall and the adjacent City Museum with their brass instruments to impress the audience with some Jingle Bells. If you want to be in a Christmas mood but have to worry about the crowds at the grandstand, then this is the place and time to do that, for 20 minutes of brass always makes a person feel rather Christmassy. It is also in the same City Hall, where children have an opportunity to do some artwork, visit Santa Claus or even enjoy some Christmas entertainment in the reception hall. This year is the first time that the weekend events are taking place there, for the city government and mayor’s office relocated to new, modern complexes at Am Anger, located northeast of the market square, thus leaving the historic 13th century City Hall, one of the oldest in Germany, open for other venues.

If one is interested in amusement, head 100 meters up the street to Eichplatz, with the tallest building in the city, the Intershop Tower (now known as Jentower), as its backdrop. There, one will have an opportunity to try out the rides and the 15 varieties of Glühwein, while challenging others in bumper car racing and other activities. Eichplatz itself has a unique history that is tied to the tower. During the era of Erich Honnecker, the Intershop tower was constructed at this location in the 1970s. Originally in the planning were twin towers with a skyway connecting them that would resemble binoculars because of the city’s traditional optical industry, lack of money and resources, combined with the revolution 25 years ago that led to German Reunification, resulted in the city having only one tower. For many years, the Friedrich Schiller University had classes and other facilities in that building before dispersing to various locations in the early 1990s, leaving the building vacant. Yet the tower and facilities were remodeled in 2003 and now, a shopping area and several offices now occupy the facility, while the tower has an observation platform, which provides a panoramic view of the city and its hilly landscape.

The open space, where the second tower was supposed to be built, has a double role as a parking area and place where markets would take place. Yet that area came under threat with a proposal to build housing and other “green” sites, thus having the parking area be placed underground. Despite the year-long campaign, which featured prominent figures backing the proposal, almost 70% of the population of Jena voted against it this past May, making it clear that the parking lot and green facilities are fine. This mainly had to do with Jena’s problem of freely spending money on facilities that are not needed, such as the already approved modernization of the sports complex and soccer stadium, and not paying attention to the needs of the community, such as a new high school, two new elementary schools, a renovated swimming pool and an improved infrastructure to make the city more accessible. In either case, the plan was scrapped and there has been no talk on reusing Eichplatz since then- a clear and positive signal that the amusement section of the market will remain for many years to come. Judging by the observation at Eichplatz, many people roaming around the area in a holly mood is a clear sign that they like their space instead of having many houses there, eventually forcing the venue to be relocated to the Inselplatz parking area near the university- 500 meters from the market square!

Closer to Ernst Abbe Platz is the newest of the Christmas market- the medieval market at Johannestor (St. John’s Gate). Established in 2012, the market features food, goods and entertainment pertaining to the medieval period, using the remains of the western wall between Johannestor and Pulverturm as its backdrop. That section was restored in 2010 and now houses a museum. Originally, Jena was a walled city, first mentioned in the 11th century. Yet all but four sections were destroyed in World War II. The remains were either rebuilt or restored, including this section. The market is quite small in comparison to the one at Am Markt, yet it provides people with a reenactment of what the medieval times looked like. One can see the entire market from the wall to see how impressive it is. Yet because of its growth in popularity, it is most likely that that market will expand to include the corridor between Johannestor and Abbe Platz in the near future. But for now, one should enjoy the entertainment in that small pocket of history as it is.

Shopping possibilities are big here in Jena. The Goethe Gallery shopping center at Abbe Platz is the main attraction for food and presents. While there are a few Christmas huts on the ground floor and the area is most crowded, the shopping area is covered with various colors of gold and silver, thus making it a very attractive spot. New this year is the Christmas Calendar, were people can participate and open the calendar to see what he/she gets. This usually happens in the evening when people are done with work. Entertainment in the form of concerts and comedy can be found in the basement section next to the supermarket Tegut.

Keeping the overview in mind, we come back to the question imposed earlier on whether Jena deserves the number one spot, let alone even be listed in the international ratings. The city has improved its image a great deal in the past four years with new faces on the scene and a more colorful and diverse Christmas market, as mentioned here. The Christmas market attracts many people from many countries, in addition to the city’s locals and the German tourists. Yet as some people pointed out, there are other Christmas markets that are more attractive than that of Jena’s, including the ones mentioned previously, as well as those in Leipzig, Erfurt, Hamburg, and along the Rhine corridor between Frankfurt and Cologne.  Even though it is unclear how the Christmas markets are rated according to Buzz Feed, it is imaginable that on a small to medium size scale Jena would be in the top five for sure. Granted that a lot of improvements have been made over the years, putting Jena at the top is a bit too far given the competition and some shortcomings the city still has to deal with- among them, space, parking and selection.  But it is agreeable that the city is worth mentioning in the guide. And even more so, if one wants a small town market instead of dealing with overcrowding at the Christmas market in big cities, then one should try the Christmas market in Jena. Everything is close and it is diverse, no matter where you go. And it is open to everyone young and old, as well as those who have never seen a Christmas market in Germany before.

Closing this first stop on the Christmas market tour for 2014 by revisiting Jena, here are a couple questions to ask you:

  1. What is typical of a German Christmas market in your terms? What would you like to see in a Christmas market?
  2. Do you think Jena deserves the top spot? If not, which Christmas market should take the top spot and why?
  3. And lastly, what are Heisser Met and Snow Flake (Schneeflocken)? They’re both hot alcoholic beverages but what are made of?

Please place your comments either here in the comment section below or in the Files’ facebook page. Looking forward to your comments.

A gallery of photos of Jena’s Christmas market can be found in the Flensburg Files’ facebook, which you can access here.

The Flensburg Files will be doing its 2014 Christmas market tour a bit differently this year. How will this be carried out and why will be explained in future articles. In either case, like the Files on facebook and follow on twitter to receive some information on this year’s Christmas market tour.

Christmas and Holidays, where Peace and Goodwill Meet

Christmas and the Holidays: where peace and goodwill meet. Where differences are put aisde and family and friends reunite to talk about memories and the future. There have been some concerns recently that Christmas was becoming more based on consumption and profits, thus making some people don their Ebenezer Scrooge outfits, while the Robert Cratchits increase in numbers. One of the examples is stores opening their doors on Thanksgiving, a holiday that is considered as sacred as Christmas, instead of doing that on Black Friday at 9:00am.

And while some department stores are bucking this new trend, as seen with Nordstroms, The Home Depot, Marshalls, and Ace Hardware, there’s one store chain, located outside the US, that is taking Christmas to a more personal level. Sainsbury’s in Great Britain, in commemoration with the 100th anniversary of World War I, produced a rather heart-throbbing commercial to kick off the holiday shopping season. Here’s the video clip for you to watch:

 

And even when Britain and Germany was at war with each other, both sides took the time to put aside their differences and exchange stories and gifts, play soccer, and even learn each other’s language. Don’t you think you can do this as well? Since that time, we’ve found ways to forgive each other, break down barriers, and even help each other when in need. But we have also not forgotten what war and ignorance can do to another person. I remember a poster on one of the streets in a German community that says it all: Looking at the poor with houses destroyed through war and empty baskets with no food with the slogan- the biggest catastrophe is ignorance.

So this Christmas and this holiday season, take a few minutes of your time and do something that you’ve been meaning to do for a long time but could not because of barriers that kept you from doing so. Donate blood and/or food to those who need it. Contact someone you fell out years before but would like to make amends. Visit those whom you haven’t seen in a long time, family or friend alike. Put aside your differences and find the similarities that bring you together. Open up and learn something new from others.  Do something that others will benefit from. Only then, will you not only build bridges and break down the barriers. You and those affected will benefit a great deal.  As seen with the Fall of the Berlin Wall, both sides wanted it: the easterners because they wanted to be free, and the westerners because they wanted one Germany instead of two.  We have a lot to do but it just takes a little bit of your time to do it.

So away with the shopping carts. Go to the kitchen and prepare a great meal for those in need. They’ll thank you for that. :-)

BTW: Sainsbury might have stolen all the awards for this advert. Well done, indeed!

 

25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall Highlights

BERLIN; ERFURT-  More than 2.5 million people (or 70% of the city’s population) converged on Berlin over the weekend to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall. The biggest highlight of the event was on Sunday, where over a million people were on hand during the course of the day and evening as speeches were held to honor those who risked their lives escaping from East to West Berlin, as well as the hundreds of thousands of people who pressured the East German government to open the borders- the demand that Guenter Schabowski, the spokesman for East Germany’s Central Committee granted on 9 November, 1989.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel and many prominent politicians spoke at the ceremony at the Bernauer Strasse Memorial. She was greeted by Michail Gorbachev, the former leader of the Soviet Union whose policies of non-intervention and openness led to countries like East Germany to overthrow their communist leaders and break away from the communist bloc. He spoke at the symposium in front of Brandenburg Gate. Concerts took place throughout the evening by many singers and music groups. Among those performing at the Brandenburg Gate were former East German singer Udo Lindenburg, British pop star Peter Gabriel and German techno artist Paul Kalkbrenner. The events culminated with the releasing of 8,000 balloons along the former border dividing East and West Berlin. The led-lit balloons were established along the border where the Berlin Wall once stood, indicating where and how the wall had divided Berliners for 28 years.

Some highlights of the 25th Anniversary events can be seen in the videos below. Readers wanting to know more about the Wall and the celebrations of its downfall can be seen in the Flensburg Files’ facebook page (click here for direct access). There you can find videos, photos and articles in both German and English of the events. Like to follow as the Files will provide some articles and interesting facts pertaining to the events leading to the reunification of Germany.

The Releasing of the Balloons

Paul Kalkbrenner at Brandenburg Gate

Michail Gorbachev at the Celebrations

 

 

But Berlin was not the only place where the 25th anniversary celebrations took place. Many places along the former East and West German borders, from Lübeck to Marienhof to Modlareuth to Hof commemorated the symbolic event of 9 November 1989 in various ways. Some brief examples can be seen below:

HOF:  As many as 250 East German automobiles, among them the Trabant and the Wartburg, and their owners and passengers made a pilgrimage from Plauen in Saxony to Hof in Bavaria. There, people had an opportunity to reenact history of the event, where residents on the western side greeted those on the eastern side with sweets, champaign and the like. In order for the reenactment to be played in full, organizers reconstructed make-shift borders and inspection buildings resembling those that had existed before being torn down shortly after the borders opened. Hundreds of people took part in the event and had an opportunity to see the display of the cars typical for East Germany but are becoming a rare breed. A video of the event is below for you to look at.

Fast fact: Trabant produced its cars in Zwickau in western Saxony. The company closed in 1997. Wartburg produced its cars in Eisenach in western Thuringia. It was bought by Opel after the border opened and is still in business today.

Trabi Caravan from Plauen to Hof

 

MODLAREUTH: A caravan of Trabants and some local celebrations in the village of 60 people commemorated the opening of the border. Located on the border to Thuringia and Bavaria, Modlareuth was divided by the border as East German soldiers forced many residents to move to higher ground, while they tore down houses along the creek that flows through the village to erect the barbed-wire fence and border towers. For 28 years, this village became known as Little Berlin because of the Wall. Yet despite still being divided in terms of jurisdiction, the people consider Modlareuth one home and one village. Celebrations commemorating the opening of the gate included a tour of a portion of the border and control tower, which was given to the German-German Museum and has been preserved for visitors to see.

 

VACHA:  State ministers Christine Lieberknecht (Thuringia) and Volker Bouffier (Hesse) were at the Vacha Bridge, spanning the Werra River between the Thuringian village and Philipsthal in Hesse, laying a wreath at the center of the span and honoring those who tried to flee to the western part of Germany during the Cold War. Severely damaged and impassable because of World War II, the bridge was closed to all people when the borders were put up in 1961 and remained so until 1989. The bridge was later rebuilt. “November 9th was a lucky day,” said Lieberknecht in her speech to hundreds of people at the bridge. “The strive for freedom and democracy defeated socialism and a state-controlled economy.” More on the speech here.

 

For those who could not attend any of the events, there were plenty of opportunities to watch the events on TV, let alone the facts about the East-West Border and the Berlin Wall. This included the children’s TV series “Die Sendung mit der Maus,” which featured a special on the border between then and right now, based on the travels of one of the moderators. A link is available for you to watch and listen to the stories behind the border crossings chosen for the trip:

Summer Tour along the Former East-West Border with the Maus:

http://spezial.wdrmaus.de/sommerreise-2014

 

The rest of the programs can be found in the Flensburg Files’ facebook page. There you can access the programs in either language and learn about the Fall of the Wall and the celebrations that followed then as well as yesterday.

 

9 November, 1989: Taking You Back to the Fall of the Wall

November 9th 1989: The day that changed the world. Growing up in the 1980s, many of us were used to news coverage on the Cold War, the conflict between the USA and the Soviet Union, using Germany as their chess board. And it was no wonder: Germany was divided, along with its capital, Berlin. However, the Fall of the Wall on this day 25 years ago changed that. We became curious about the other side of the world that was once closed off for many years. When the East German Government announced the opening of the gate, the news reached the airwaves almost instantly. I had an opportunity to collect some news stories of the events to be posted on this day. And no matter the news coverage, the pictures were clear: The borders must go and the two Germanys must reunite. Have a look at the clips and see for yourself:

 

This leads to the question of where you were when the word of the Berlin Wall  coming down came about? What were your first-hand reactions? And how do you see Germany today in comparison to then? In the past 25 years, Germany has transformed itself from being two states under different controls to a powerhouse that has attracted millions. Instead of being that chessboard of 25 years ago, the country today controls its destiny, and the rest of Europe are looking to that country that has veered away from its painful past and has written its own history for many people to read about. The Wall was a symbol of repression, but its Fall became the symbol of justice and freedom, something we should remember to this day, as Germany took the lead and helped create the modern world that we still live in today- the world of peace and prosperity, the world of multi-culture and globalization and the world where we can express ourselves and make a difference without being taken to jail for it.

How do you perceive Germany today in comparison to 25 years ago? Share your stories about your reactions to the Fall of the Wall and how Germany has fared from your point of view. Place your stories and thoughts in the comment section below.

 

 

 

 

German Railways on strike- again!

An empty Flensburg Railway Station. No train driver, no trains, but many infuriated passengers, even if none are seen here.

Third union strike in two months. Longest strike in the history of Die Bahn. Court decision on the legality of the strike.

Travellers heading to Berlin for this weekend’s 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall may have to look at alternatives to train travel. Since this yesterday at 4:00pm, the train engineers are on strike, which has put most of the train service at a standstill in all of Germany. This strike is unique for two reasons: 1. This is the third strike in two months and 2. This strike is expected to last five days total (four days for passenger service), which is the longest in the history of the German Railways (a.k.a. Die Bahn).  The cause: The arbitration talks between the worker’s union GDL and Die Bahn broke down after the latter rejected demands of the former calling for a wage hike of five percent and a reduction of working hours a week to 37 hours.

The strike has reduced train travel throughout Germany to an average of 30%. This does not include the private railroad providers that are not affected by the strike. Yet this unprecedented strike has caused widespread anger among passengers, industry leaders and even politicians in Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel has demanded that both sides hold talks to end the strike as quickly as possible. It is already having a rippling affect on the economy, already predicted to stagnate come 2015 because of problems throughout the European Union. Analysts are predicting a loss of over 100 million Euros a day, while gas companies are predicting fuel shortages as early as Sunday as many motorists hit the roads to either celebrate in Berlin or in the case of school children  in Bremen and Lower Saxony, return home from vacation.  An injunction is being sought by Die Bahn to end the strikes, with the decision by the Labor Court in Frankfurt/Main to be made this afternoon German time.

Even if the strike ends on Monday at 2:00am, should the Court in Frankfurt rule in favor of GDL, it will eventually force Die Bahn create tougher measures to make striking more difficult to even impossible, it will most likely start a debate in Berlin on the possibility of reforming the strike laws so that they are not used excessively, as is the case with GDL. While the concept is widely known in the US, the idea of Strikebreakers- people who work despite the strikes- will most likely be considered to ensure that train service runs. In either case, with two thirds of the German population being dependent on train travel for holiday travel or commuting to work, this strike will serve as a wake-up call for all parties involved, including those working in Frankfurt and Berlin, that changes in policies regarding employee and employer relations are long overdue. Especially for even if a compromise is reached or the GDL has it their way, the Bahn may have to shed more rail lines to private rail firms, such as Abiello, Cantus, ODEG or even Metronome in order to break even financially. This is something that Die Bahn cannot afford.

Please refer to ARD and Deutsche Welle for more on the Strike. Articles on the Strike can also be found on the Files’ facebook pages.

 

In School in Germany: Talking about the Berlin Wall

November 9th 2014 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. 25 years ago on that date in 1989, after several weeks of protests, combined with the exodus of thousands of East Germans to West Germany and  changing of the guard from Erich Honecker to Egon Krenz, the announcement was made to open the gates of the Berlin Wall to allow East Germans to flee to West Berlin. At the same time, the borders separating East and West Germanys also opened for others to pass.  Tens of thousands of people who fled to the western part embraced in the western culture that was once forbidden. Many of them did not return nor decided to not talk about  life in East Germany prior to 1989.

To this day, these people still refuse to talk about it, going by the monkey mentality of “See no good of the GDR, Hear no good of the GDR and Speak no good of the GDR.” By doing so in this day and age is dangerous, for the people born in the years 1985 and up are missing out on the truth behind the Berlin Wall and the two Germanys that had existed. In the days teaching English at a university in Bavaria, no one knew about the Vita Cola, the East German version of Coca-Cola until I introduced that in one of my sessions. Very few knew about Sandman, the character that starred on East German television every night at 6:50pm, and still does to this day. Even the well acclaimed traffic lights were unknown in the eastern part and many were used to the generic traffic lights that are simply European. But by the same token, the emergence of “Ostalgia,” the mentality that East Germany was not as bad as it once was, is becoming very common thus increasing the danger glorifying the former times and degrading the western part of Germany because of  different mentalities and conflicts of interest.

During my time in the gymnasium, the topic of the Berlin Wall was brought forward to students in history, for we needed to know how good or how bad the GDR really was. The students were asked to interview their parents and grandparents to collect whatever stories they have on life in the past and compare them with their lives, in terms of childhood, culture, family and anything that would be useful for the topic. The results were surprising. The responses were short and to the point, but there were little details about the former times. If they were short, then it was the fact that the country did have some good points and that was it.  But the question is: was life in the GDR really that bad or that good to begin with?

Growing up in a large family in Minnesota, I became accustomed to storytelling, done by my grandma and her children, including my father. Many of them were detailed and enlightening and provided some morals for us to learn by. This included stories of how my grandparents survived the Great Depression and being separated because of World War II. Many of these stories I can still remember to this day. Yet the younger generations don’t seem to care much about their own history, thus putting the teachers of history, social studies and culture (including foreign languages) in a position where they have to dig up their own history and ideas to share with the students. We are facing a neglect in history, not knowing the key facts and the stories behind them, and the consequences will be fatal in 25 years time. No matter how painful or joyful, one needs a storytelling session about certain events in time from the older generations so that one understands the gravity of the events and think about them on one’s own.

And this is where we return to our subject of the Berlin Wall and how it divided Germany into two in a physical sense for 28 painful years. Nobody wanted the border but it happened. Yet life was not as bad as it seemed, as long as the Stasi did not spy on you and you faced hours of torture, examples of which can be seen in the TV series Weissensee. But nevertheless, if one wants to know more about the Wall, the divided Germany and how people came together to tear it down and bring the two countries together, one needs to find the facts. The best facts are not in the books, but through oral history.

So for all teachers talking about the Divided Germany and the Wall, challenge your students to collect facts from relatives and friends who have lived in both regions, witnessed the Wall and tried to jump it, took part in the Leipzig Demos as well as took turns with others to tear the Wall down. Interview them, ask them any questions that come across your minds- even if they are most painful. Then share them with your teachers, student colleagues and friends (here and abroad), to ensure them that the Wall was the biggest deal and despite having a decent lifestyle in both countries, it was much better with one Germany and not two. Then make sure that future generations know about it to better understand life between 1945 and 1990 and how it has shaped today’s world, in one way or another.  By doing so, we will preserve our history and better understand Germany and its role from the eyes of others.

BTW: In case you were wondering where the author was at the time of the Fall of the Wall, he was watching the coverage from home in Minnesota, writing a short summary about it for a 6th grade social studies class. Little did I realize at that time, that the Wall was one of many factors that lured me here, aside from the most obvious reason. But with the advancement of technology these days have produced recordings of the events of the Fall of the Wall. Some examples to follow soon. :-)

From the Berlin Wall to German Reunification: 9 November 1989

 

One of the former borders separating East and West Germany at Lauenstein (Bavaria). Photo taken in 2010

25 years ago, there were two Germanys- the German Democratic Republic (better known to many as East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (better known as West Germany). It was a Germany that for 44 years was the chessboard for international conflict between two heavyweights- the United States on the western side and the Soviet Union on the eastern side. It was a Germany that should have been a whole country, but wasn’t  because of the Berlin Wall (erected in 1961) and the weapons that were stationed on both sides, waiting to be used. It was the divided Germany that tore families and friendships apart. And for a long time, it was a divided Germany whose citizens were restrained from reuniting with family members and friends on the opposite end. It would have remained that way- until 9 November 1989.

This Sunday, all of Germany will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and throughout the rest of the year and well into next year, celebrations commemorating the Revolution of 1989 and German Reunification of 1990 will take place, giving residents and tourists in Germany and Europe a chance to learn more about how 1989 set the stage for the end of the Cold War, the reestablishment of one Germany and the establishment of a New World Order for international politics both in Europe and beyond.  The hottest spot for the 25th anniversary celebrations of the Fall of the Wall will take place in Berlin, and here’s why:

A row of lights have been erected along the border of what used to be the Berlin Wall, which had surrounded the western part of Berlin for 28 years until its fall in 1989. These lights (encased in balloons) will line the borders and will be released into the skies on the evening of November 9th with millions of people including prominent people on hand.  In addition, information pavillions will be available at the former key crossings, such as Checkpoint Charlie, East Side Gallery,  Potsdamer Platz and Brandenburg Gate to provide visitors with a chance to learn about the history of the Wall. A pair of concerts will take place both at Brandenburg Gate and the Philoharmonie Hall that evening, and a permanent exhibit will be commemorated at the Bernauer Strasse former border crossing. More on the events can be found here.  

In addition, four museums in Berlin and six museums located along the former East and West German borders will be open for with exhibits commemorating the opening of the borders. This includes Checkpoint Bravo and Marienfelde in Berlin as well as museums in Mödlareuth, Point Alpha, Eichsfeld and Kühlungsborn. More information here

In Leipzig, two photo exhibits looking at the peaceful revolution of 1989 and the disarmament of the East German State Secret Police (Stasi) are taking place between now and December, The former can be found  at the Deutsches Photomuseum in Markkleeberg through 28 December (more here) while the latter will be on display until 31 December at the former Stasi Building at Dittrichring 24 in Leipzig (see here for details) Leipzig was the starting point of the Revolution of 1989, which saw its largest showing on October 9th, triggering the downfall of Erich Honecker and setting off the sequence that culminated with the fall of the Wall.

You can also find more information on other events and places of interested in connection with 1989 here: http://www.germany.info/fallofthewall

 

Between now and 3 October of next year, the Flensburg Files will look at the factors that led to east and west becoming a whole Germany. There are many reasons that made Germany is what it is today, most of which will be mentioned here. This will include some Q&A with people who contributed to the remaking Germany, as well as some items that are typical of today’s Germany in comparison with what it was before 1989. Some books and other works will be featured here.  If you have some items that are typical of Germany and would like to see posted here, let the author know at: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.  The Files also welcomes photos of the November 9th events as well as places along the former border for people to look at and/or guess at where they are located.

It has been 25 years since the Revolution, and a lot has changed over time. But the events of 9 November and the factors leading to German Reunification are events that one must never forget, regardless if one lives here in Germany or elsewhere. This leads to the  final question for the forum:

Look at the pictures below:  Where do you think it was located? Hint: Lauenstein in Bavaria is one of the villages where the border once stood. But what was the purpose of the house and the memorial in the form of a wave? You can place your answers in the comment section.

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.

Next Page »