The City of Lights

St. Jürgen’s Cathedral taken from the west end of the harbor. Photo taken in April, 2011

 

 

Revisiting the town for the first time since Pentecost, I’ve already found a few nicknames that makes this city a unique place to visit, let alone live there, if the opportunity knocks. Apart from it being a border town, as it borders Denmark and is next to its neighboring city of Padborg, the city is the birthplace of rum and still is a powerhouse in that area, despite its loss of significance in the past two decades. An American counterpart exists in Minnesota, which a commentary will be written about it at a different time. It is a very popular place for clippers and sailboats, as they cruise along the Fjord and provide some impressions from many who are fascinated by them. When I was there last year, I considered Flensburg as a City of Solitude, where people go to find their inner piece and reflect on themselves. One can also add that it is a City of Solidarity, where friends meet and prosperity exists no matter where you go. Part of that was due to its coexistence of Germans, Danes, and other foreigners alike. In other words, it is truly multicultural where you witness several languages and cultures, and experience the history that makes the city of nearly 90,000 special.

The author on his latest visit over Easter found a brand new nickname that makes Flensburg what it is: The City of Lights!  While the city may look like any other city when you enter it, with all of shopping areas and freeways tangenting its way around the city. However, when you drive in the direction of the city center, past those areas, past the very large but vacant EXE Center, which hosts many events including outdoor concerts and flea markets, and head down the hill towards the harbor, you will know what I’m talking about. Both sides of the harbor are well lit that it not only presents passersby with some unqiue attractions worth stopping to visit, but also (especially with the areas along Roter Strasse and right on the harbor’s edge), it resembles Flensburg as a place where everyone goes out on the town until the wee hours in the morning. It may not be like the bigger cities, like Berlin, Leipzig, or Frankfurt (Main), but the town never sleeps at night, unlike some of the towns its size, including Bayreuth or Eisenach.  No matter where you go at night, there is always something going on at the harbor area.

Flensburg’s skyline at night- it is just as active as its looks. Photo taken in April, 2011

 

 

While it is impossible to describe every aspect of Flensburg at night, as it would take up a library’s worth of the column, the author decided to choose the most important pics worth seeing (with a few notes) to show how attractive the City of Lights is and how lively it is, no matter where you go. So without ado, here it goes:

1. St. Jürgen’s Cathedral: This is one of the first sites you will see when entering the city center and harbor area, as it overlooks the area from the east end of the harbor on the hill. The second tallest building behind the city hall (built in the 1960s), one can be awed in its beauty from a distance, regardless of the time of day. However, up close and personal, you can see why people flock to this unique historic place of interest.

All photos here were taken in April 2011

 

 

2. Roter Strasse/ Norderstrasse: The 2 kilometer stretch beginning at the Nordertor and ending at the Sudermarkt provides the tourist with a shopping mall-like atmosphere at night regardless if all the shops are open or not. A lot of the places along this stretch show their true colors at night that it would be a sin not to photograph them. This includes the former sugar factories and rum distilleries along the Rum and Sugar Mile, the Nordermarkt, Marienkirche, and Alte Post, located between the bus depot and Sudermarkt

Roter Strasse

 

Nordermarkt
Marienkirche next to Nordermarkt
Altes Post Building- a former post office now converted into a bank. Photo taken in May 2010

 

 

3. The Harbor Front. Between the Roter Strasse and the harbor front on the west end is bustling with activity at night, as a dozen restaurants, bars and eateries attract a huge crowd through the wee hours of the morning. Most notable include Hansen’s Restaurant and Brewery, Piet Henningsen, and a pair of Irish Pubs located in the vicinity of the bus depot. This is a complement to the other activities that can only be done in the daytime, such as boating, swimming and and city tours. The only time of the day in which the city lies empty in this section is early in the morning between 4 and 6am, except on the days of rest, where in this case, many people elect to sleep in a couple hours more.

East side of the harbor with the Goethe School in the background
West end of the harbor with the Marienkirche sticking out.
Hansen’s Brewery and Restaurant- one of Flensburg’s finest local diners located on the western edge of the harbor.

 

 

 

4. Goethe, Christian-Paulsen-Skole and Altes Gymnasium Schools.  The first is located not far from the St. Jürgen’s Cathedral; the other two are on the west end, with the second one being a Danish School. All have recently been in the limelight; especially at night, where one can see all three of them from the tip of the harbor or from the north end near Murwik. All of them have one thing in common and that is its pride in educating the city’s population.

Goethe School- taken from the hill near the Catholic Church
Altes Gymnasium High School
The Paulsen Danish School

 

 

 

Then there are some other night pics that are worth mentioning even though they don’t fall into the four categories. There is a reason for these shots, as they will be explained in each pics.

Goldene Lillie near Sudermarkt
The St. Nicolas Church
Former Matz Distillery now a police station and hotel.

 

 

 

While Flensburg may be a really attractive place at anytime of the year, one wonders if the city really stands out as a tourist attraction and place to party at night, then the question is what would the city look like when the Christmas markets come to town at the end of the November and stays there until right before Santa Claus comes to town… We’ll find out eventually. In the meantime, let’s do some window shopping along the Rum-Sugar Mile, shall we?

More Bike Space Needed, Please.

This Easter kicks off the start of the biking season over here in Germany (and parts of Europe). After months of having the bikes in the garages for many months due to a rather wintry season with more snow than what the continent is used to, cyclists, like yours truly are taking advantage of the warm and sunny weather by packing the bikes and whatever they can use for on the way and head hundreds of kilometers away from their homes to their destinations, so that they can see many new places and pedal many kilometers, whether it is a nice 20 km scenic tour or a marathon of over 110 km long. It all depends on preference mainly, although some people go to extremes only to pay the price physically in the end.

For many who are taking their bikes with to their destinations, it is not unusual to load them up on the trains and take off with them. It’s easier than having to load them up on top of their cars or in the back of their trucks, and one only needs to pay for train fare for himself and the bike. Sadly though, as you can see in the picture, the German Railways (Die Bahn) are trying to indirectly discourage that possibility, as there are too many bikes clogging up the train. Now why would railway services, like Die Bahn would want to do that?

Photo taken by the author enroute to Hamburg on the IC

 

 

The explanation is cause and effect. In Germany (and you can also include the rest of Europe as they have the same issue), it is too expensive to own a car. Apart from the very high gas prices (please refer to my last column on dictating our driving habits), one has to worry about paying taxes for the car- let alone car insurance which is twice as expensive as in the United States (in most cases). Furthermore, it is obligatory to have your car inspected annually to ensure that it functions properly. The so-called TÜV inspection ensures that cars that do not meet strict requirements, such as reducing carbon dioxide emissions and eliminating harmful gases produced by the exhaust system, the car engine making minimum noise while in operation, and the outer body looking like brand new, are taken off the roads unless the problems are corrected. In a way, it encourages more business on the part of the car dealers and law enforcement agencies and safety on the part of the drivers. But by the same token, it discourages many drivers from purchasing a car and use alternative forms of transportation instead, such as bus, streetcar, bike, and the train.

Problem with the alternative with train and bike is  not just the overcrowding of bikes, but the lack of availability of coaches to store the bikes. While one can take their bikes onto a regional service train at no cost (most of the time, that is), these trains stop at every single train station at every town, big or small, resulting in the travel time being three times as long as it would be, if one would use long-distance train services, which travels faster and stops at only the big and most popular stations, like in Frankfurt (Main), Dresden, Berlin and Hamburg, for example.  The fastest long-distance train service in Germany is the ICE, which travels up to 300 km/h. The second quickest is the Inter City, which can clock in a maximum speed of 250 km/h. Yet the IC is the only one that provides the cyclists with the possibility to take the bike on board, even though they have to reserve a spot at a small price.  The problem with this possibility is the fact that the bike reservations on the ICs are as limited as the number of these trains that are still running on the tracks. And it will only get worse in the next decade, as many changes by Die Bahn is forcing many to either adapt to the changes or consider alternatives. First and foremost, the ICs are retiring, as many of the coaches have been in operation for 30-40 years and despite consistent renovations, they are approaching the end of their useful lives. At the same time however, the newest version of the ICE, the ICx will make its debut as early as 2017, which will make the ICs and the first two generations of the ICE trains obsolete. There are currently four types in operation: The ICE I, which has been in service since 1990, the ICE II (since 1993), the ICE T (since 2000) and the ICE III (since 2004). All four of these types cannot accommodate the bikes and are therefore forbidden to take aboard unless one wants to face legal action.  Also disturbing is the possible elimination of ICE routes as they are either considered non-profitable or are being bypassed with more efficient routes. This includes the weaning of the route Stralsund- Berlin-Leipzig-Weimar-Erfurt-Kassel-Dortmund-Cologne off the ICs and replacing them with regional services, which has caused some massive protests from those who want a quick route to either the Cathedral in Cologne and points in the Ruhrgebiet (an industrial area where Dortmund and Cologne are located) or the Baltic Sea, in places like Stralsund, or the islands of Rügen and Usedom [Oooh-se-dome]. Another route, the Berlin-Leipzig-Erfurt-Nuremberg route is getting a new route, which would go through Suhl instead of Naumburg, Jena and Lichtenfels and with that, the treacherous mountains located between Saalfeld and Lichtenfels. While it may cut down the amount of time because the trains will go through a series of bridges and tunnels, there are concerns that Jena and Naumburg may end up without long-distance train services, a discussion that was brought up last year in Jena, as the city of 120,000 inhabitants is the center of its optical industry and has two renowned universities that are focused on the sciences.

Regional services do have three advantages. First it better serves the communities as the trains stop at all stations and towns, big or small. People are more connected as they meet and get to know each other, and one can load their bikes on the train and take them to their destinations, no matter where they go, for free. But this privilege will not last for long. Already in some places, like Hesse, the trains now have limitations for the number of bikes allowed on board. And in Bavaria, bike fees are being imposed on certain routes. One wonders whether these restrictions will actually do more harm to Die Bahn and its profits, let alone the customers; especially those who do not want to resort to the car to load their bikes and go to their destinations, if they can help it.

Inside a regional train service enroute to Flensburg. Photo taken by the author.

 

 

While the situation is still bearable, it will be a matter of time before the frustration between the customers with the bikes and Die Bahn come to a boil and that solutions offering flexibility will have to be found. This includes looking at neighboring countries for references, as their systems are more complex but more logical than what Die Bahn is offering. This includes the rail service in Switzerland (the SBB), where bikes are allowed on any train regardless of whether it is the regional services or the quickest service, the ICN, which runs services between Basel, Geneva, and Zurich. The reintroduction of InterRegio services, which was discontinued in 2006, would provide passengers with better connections to medium-sized communities and more space for the bikes. This is one service that the SBB still retains alongside its InterCity services. And lastly, to better serve the customers, having more train services running regularly- namely three per hour in the more populated areas- would provide the passengers with more opportunities to travel and trains with more space for the bikes. This is being practiced in Switzerland; especially in the corridor of Geneva-Montreaux-Bern as well as Montreaux-Sion-Lugano, for example.

Whether Die Bahn will look to other sources for references or find other creative ideas on their own depends on the costs, let alone the supply vs. demand- namely what the customers want and what the rail service can provide them in order for them to be satisfied. No matter what the case may be, many people are not going to let any train service put them down. They will do whatever it takes to travel by train; especially now because of the increasing oil prices, which shows no signs of slowing down at all. And on a beautiful weekend, like Easter, with temperatures between 20 and 30°C and mostly sunny skies, many people, like myself, are taking the bikes into the trains and travelling to their destinations, where they will hit the trails and see the places that they want to see, but without the use of a set of wheels that has guzzled one liter of gas too many.

 

LINK: http://www.bahn.de/i/view/GBR/en/trains/overview/ice.shtml (All the information on the trains of the German Railways Die Bahn can be found here).

http://mct.sbb.ch/mct/en/reisemarkt/services/wissen/velo/veloselbstverlad-schweiz/veloselbstverlad-icn.htm (Info on the SBB’s ICN train and it’s availability to bikers)

 

 

 

Thanks for telling us how to drive, (….)!

It is a site that none of us wanted to see after 2008, the year of the economic collapse. At about this time last year, we were dealing with $4 a gallon gas in a time span between Easter and Labor Day, with some cities dealing with prices at or over $5/gallon, like Chicago, New York, and Dallas. It was a site where everyone was fighting the windmills in cutting costs, just so we could keep the cars in the garages as often and as long as possible. We took whatever forms of public transportation needed if we didn’t have a bicycle. We focused on vacations that were more local and did not even bother with a trip to places far and away. And last but not least, since the oil prices went as far as $147 a barrel, resulting in prices of other commodities spiking as well, we had to go on a diet in terms of our shopping habits, as everything was way too expensive- food included.

While prices did go back down to $2.50/gallon by the middle of last year, guess what?  Have a look at the picture below:

Photo taken by Kari Lucin of the Worthington Daily Globe

 

 

Yep, gas prices are back on the rise again, and this time, there seems to be no stopping the trend. We’ve seen gas prices increase by an average of 70 cents a gallon since this Christmas and it would not be surprising if the entire US faces $4/gallon gas by the time Memorial Day comes around. Already, six states have broken the mark with many more yet to follow, including Minnesota (where the photo was taken). By the time July comes around, travellers will be dealing with prices never seen before- $4.50 to even $5.50/gallon gas!  There is no doubt in the minds of many that many highways will be at half-full capacity at the most when this happens.

If you look at the European shores now, a lot of Americans would feel a lot of sympathy if they saw how much we usually pay on average- that is if the situation is normal and not what it is right now. It is usual to pay 1.30 Euro/Liter unleaded gasoline in Germany, and at a time back in 2006, diesel was less than that. Converting the figures into the English measurements, that would mean about $7 a gallon. However, as you can see in the picture below, we’re also feeling your pain. While travelers normally pay more for gasoline than in the US, gas prices are skyrocketing to levels never seen before in modern history, even though the country invests more in other forms of infrastructure, like passenger rail and busses.

 

Typical gas prices in Germany- TODAY! Photo taken by the author.

 

 

So who do we have to blame for all this? Many people would blame Moamar Gaddafi in Libya for torturing his  people through a civil war, something that the allied troops are trying to put an end to by toppling his regime. That would be a first reaction given the fact that the country has been supplying 20% of the world’s supply of oil. But other countries in northern Africa and the Middle East have been trying to keep up with the growing demand for oil plus Big Oil has been working on finding new supplies. We can blame Big Oil for dictating the gas prices and for quashing other forms of alternative energy, like hydrogen cells, wind, geothermal, and even solar energy. Highly conclusive argument since it has been destroying the environments around the world with reckless oil drilling, and despite regulations passed by the Obama administration and other governments to restrict deep water drilling, in light of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the companies are finding ways to circumvent the laws through perverted measures, like cozying up with the politicians.

But what about us?  Perhaps we as a society should rethink the way we have been using energy resources and not pay attention to the external influences that have been governing our way of life for at least three decades. In the past three decades, we have been consumed by all kinds of stuff that we have been told what to do or what to buy and not think about the long-term consequences of our actions. Whenever there is an SUV that is big enough to fit eight people and eight cupholders, we buy it without knowing the consequences of using it (namely paying more for gas and maintenance). Instead of borrowing a cup of brown sugar to make a sweet potato casserole, we commute 30 km to the nearest supermarket to purchase a package.  If a highway is too narrow and a bridge too light for traffic, we replace it with a six lane freeway and a bridge that is bland but serves as its only function: to be 100% “free of maintenance,” not knowing that it would encourage more driving, more wear and tear, and in the end more money for maintenance. Yet we still continue this process as if there is no tomorrow, and it is not surprising that we are all in a fix that may no longer possible to break out of.

End result? We are cutting back on what we enjoy the most, like photography tours, long distance travelling to various exotic places, and running separate errands individually, embracing our neighbors like we knew them for many years (even though we don’t know them at all) taking advantage of whatever public transportation is available and doing some things differently in order to cut costs wherever needed. In one case, an American student living in Germany recently decided to fly from Copenhagen to Minnesota instead of flying out of Frankfurt as flight costs are much cheaper in the Danish capital, a city that is worth seeing and accessible by train. While the last part may be a bit crazy, these measures show the willingness to people all over the world that there are alternatives to using the car which costs a lot of money. It’s more of a question of how to do it without hurting their own interests, and this is exceptionally hard, given the current circumstances.

While we may have seen gas prices fall in light of the economic crash in 2008, it is highly unlikely that this will repeat itself again. And like the Europeans who have done this already, we need to rethink the way we travel, and politicians need to rethink the concept of expanding public transportation, instead of cutting funding for many projects, as more people are demanding alternatives to the car. It may be expensive at first, but in the long term, it will save households much money by reducing the costs for travelling by car, and families will benefit from these alternatives in many different ways.

It is highly unlikely that the debate over high gas prices will be the focus of the next elections in 2012 (US) and 2013 (Germany), but it will hang around the chambers of the two houses of parliament, to a point where politicians will be so annoyed by it that they will investigate this and ask the public about htis topic. Nine times out of ten, they will be due for a shock…..

 

Note: Thanks to Kari Lucin for providing the photo of the gas prices in the US at present.

Flensburg Flyer FYI: 8 April, 2011

The last couple of days have witnessed some unexpected twists and turns in Germany. Some were surprising, others were tragic. In either case, the Flensburg Files presents you with the Flyer Files, a short FYI News Flash providing you with a glimpse of the eye-opening events occurring in Germany which may interest the readers elsewhere. Here are the Flyer Files’ Top Three Pics:

Sandstorm causes massive pile-up in Mecklenburg-Pommerania

8 April, 2011, Rostock

Normally one can find sandstorms in the northern half of Africa and the Middle East, where there is vast amounts of sand blowing freely in the air blinding even the bravest camel riders and nomads. Normally in Germany, storms bringing high winds and zero-visibility can be found in the form of snowstorms; mostly in the northern third where the land consists of rolling hills. Friday brought forth freakish weather as high winds throughout Germany produced a sandstorm near Rostock, the largest city in Mecklenburg-Pommerania located on the Baltic Sea coast. Even freakier was the 80-car pile-up on the Autobahn Motorway 19 south of the city that occurred in the early afternoon as the storm reduced visibility to zero in the matter of seconds! Eight people were killed and at least 60 were injured (many serious) as the vehicles slammed into each other, causing fires to 13 of them. A truck carrying toxic chemicals was among those involved in the wreck. Many people were trapped in cars and could not free themselves. According to  police spokeswoman Yvonne Burand,  “This is the worst traffic accident the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania has ever seen.”  Germany’s transportation minister Peter Ramsauer reacted to the storm by adding “Such extreme forces of nature show that there are limits even to the greatest efforts to ensure safety on our roads.”  The nature of the storm however is not unusual as high winds can blow the top soil off the fields, producing poor visibility, which hampered rescue efforts at the scene of the pile-up. “Storms like this are nothing unusual in the north of Germany,” said Gerhard Lux, spokesperson for the German Weather Service. “It is more the case, here, that a series of unfortunate circumstances led to the pile-up.” The Motorway is still closed until further notice, as the clean-up may last through the weekend.

Links:  http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14976864,00.html; http://www.ndr.de/regional/mecklenburg-vorpommern/karambolage101.html

Philipp Rösler as main candidate to lead the FDP

6 April, 2011, Berlin

Being of Vietnamese descent, Philipp Rösler had already made a name for himself when he was appointed to head the ministry of health in 2009 by Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the youngest politicians ever to take this post. Now he will pad his political resumé by taking the reigns as chair of the Free Liberal Party, the FDP and the second in line to succeed Ms. Merkel. Assuming that there will be no competition from other members of the party, he will officially be selected to take the spot when the FDP convention takes place in Rostock in May of this year, as he is officially a candidate, and his role of party chair is only temporary at this time. He takes over the role from Guido Westerwelle, who resigned from this post on Sunday in response to the party’s brutal showing in the last elections in three states, where the FDP failed to reach the 5% hurdle to stay in state parliament in one state and barely made the mark in the other two. Currently according to the Forsa Political Forecast, should the elections take place this year, the free liberals would receive only 3% of the votes, thus resulting in the party not being able to take part in the German parliament, the Bundestag. Opposition party leaders believe that having Rösler will not solve the problems the party has, which is the lack of political platform and the indecision on issues, like nuclear energy in Germany and the country’s role in assisting other countries in dire need of financial support in response to the economic crisis that started in 2008 and has lingered since then.

Link: http://www.mdr.de/mdr-aktuell/8432291.html

Greens now the largest oppositional party

6 April, 2011, Berlin

Germany is known to many as the green heart of Europe, given the lucious forests that dominate much of the country, plus the various forms of vegetation that one will find there. Now the country has become greener as the Forsa Political Forecast, an independent polling agency conducting the survey for the German magazine Stern, has indicated that the Greens have taken over the Social Democrats (SPD) as the main oppositional party. The party headed by Claudia Roth has received 28% of the vote, 2% less than the Christian Democrats (CDU) headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, while the SPD slipped to 3rd place with 23%. The socialist party Die Linke and the FDP rounded out the survey. Should the elections take place on Sunday, the Greens would elect their first German Chancellor ever in the history of the German Republic, thanks to its long history of an alliance with the SPD in forming the Red-Green coalition. The FDP would not be able to participate in the Bundestag because at 3%, it would be short of the 5% hurdle. Apart from the strongest showing in its history two weeks ago in the state elections in Saxony-Anhalt, Rheinland-Palatinate and Baden Württemberg, it made history with the election of its first state prime minister in Baden-Württemberg, as the majority of the voters made their point clear that nuclear energy should be replaced with alternative sources of energy. This comes in light of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan as a result of the earthquake and tsunami that struck the area a few weeks ago. The Greens have championed the shutting down of all nuclear reactors in the country, something that the CDU and FDP opposes. However, the danger to the Greens at the moment, according to political scientist Werner Patzelt of the Technical University of Dresden, is that once the topic of nuclear energy is out of the spotlight, the Greens will need to find other points that will make it credible to the voters, including social and family policies as well as other health and environmental topics affecting the country.  With state elections coming up in June and September in three more states, it will be interesting to find out whether or not the Greens will continue to stay its course as the second largest party in Germany, or if the SPD will regain that position. Should the Greens solidify that position then Germany will become the first state to have three major parties instead of the traditional two, like other countries have, such as the Democrats and Republicans in the United States. And as frustrated as the Americans are with the state of the economy and the political system- especially the disappointment in President Obama- it would not be surprising that a third party candidate with a lot of appeal will be elected by the voters in the 2012 Presidential elections, regardless of who it is….

Link:  http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/8444960.html; http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14969895,00.html

Green Invasion at the Expense of the Liberals

"Huh? What's that I hear?" Photo taken in December 2010

Politics is like going through a natural cycle: You have two main parties where one party takes over the podium because of a concept that makes sense, only to find that it does not make sense to the public. In the end that party is replaced with the other one- its opposition- because it has a better idea. However it does not please the public, so it is removed in favor of the party they had unseated previously. This badminton match which includes all the grunts, ranting and raving, and political trash talking, continues until another party comes to bring down the political forum with a digger and bulldozer. When this happens, everybody knows about it and runs for cover- even the deer are affected as they are the most sensitive to change and noise and run when they feel change is inevitable.

It is unclear what to make of the recent state elections in Germany, where the Dream Coalition- the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Liberals (FDP)- are losing support as rapidly as one loses sand through his own fingers. After being routed in Hamburg on 20th February, failing to overtake the Social Democrats in Rheinland Palatinate, being forced to form the Grand Coalition with its rival party the SPD after losing the majority in Saxony-Anhalt, and being unseated as the majority party of Baden Württemberg after 60 years in power (the last three elections being on 27 March), change is becoming more and more inevitable as a long 2 years is ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel for two reasons:

1. She lost her right hand politician and potential successor to the throne, Guido Westerwelle on Monday, as he announced that he was stepping down as the head of the FDP after 10 years in power and was not going to step in for Angela Merkel effective immediately. While he will continue on as foreign minister until the next elections in 2013, the opposition and members of his own party are pushing that he resigns from that post as well and leave politics after the poorest showing in the state elections in its history, where the party did not even make the 5% mark in Saxony-Anhalt and Rheinland Palatinate and barely made it over the mark in Baden Württenberg, making him as the scapegoat. While health minister Philipp Rösner, who is of Vietnamese origin and one of the youngest ministers in the German Bundestag, is poised to take over Westerwelle’s duties, a power struggle is inevitable as the Liberals are struggling to find an identity which would be appealing to the voters. This is sensible given the fact that almost two years ago, the party had 11% of the votes in the federal elections, which was enough for the Dream Coalition with the CDU. Before that it was averaging 8-10% of the votes in the state elections.

2. There is a new party that is taking the spotlight away from the two majority parties, the SPD and the CDU, in the form of the Greens. When Winfried Kretschmann takes over as Prime Minister of Baden Württemberg, he will become the first Green Party member to be elected to this post, let alone the first Green to hold a major post since Joschka Fischer was Foreign Minister and Gerhardt Schröder’s vice Chancellor during the years of the Red Green Coalition in Berlin (1998-2005). How Kretschmann, who originates from Sigmarigen near Lake Constance and the co-founder of the Greens in his homestate claimed his post is simple: In the state elections, even though the CDU was able to obtain the majority of the votes with 39%, the Greens got 24.1% of the votes and the SPD got 23.2%. The FDP only got 5.3%. As a result, the SPD and Greens created the Red Green Coalition, making it the majority ruling party. As a general rule, the party with the majority votes in the coalition also nominates the candidate to run the state, which was the Green candidate Kretschmann. While he may not be the next Jesse Ventura ( the professional wrestler who won the governatorial elections inMinnesota as an Independent Party candidate in 1998 and held that post for 4 years), he is the symbol of what could be the Green Revolution, as the party has become clear winners in the state elections thusfar, winning an average of 8% of the parliamentary seats in the four states, a gain of 7%. This includes a 15% gain in Baden Württemberg, 10.8% in Rheinland Palatinate, 3.6% in Saxony Anhalt, and 1.6% in Hamburg. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the parties where they have been losing seats and votes in the last decade, with the FDP taking the brunt of the losses. The reasons for the trend is two fold. First and foremost, in light of the triple disaster in Japan- consisting of the Earthquake, Tsunami which completely obliterated everything in its path in the northeast part of the country, and the Nuclear Disaster at Fukushima which is on the level with Chernobyl in 1986- the party is pushing for the complete phasing out of nuclear power and 100% reliance of renewable energy by 2040. This includes phasing out all nuclear power plants one by one, something that the CDU and FDP have been opposed to even after the disaster in Japan, which has angered many people in Germany and elsewhere. Secondly it wants to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emmissions by 40% to 1990 levels by 2020, by introducing strict policies to encourage more electric and fuel-efficient cars and introducing other incentives to conserve energy. These are the main reasons to go along with other policies they have involving agriculture and family policies, something that many people are dissatisfied with the current trend by the Dream Coalition.

With three more state elections on the horizon (Berlin, Bremen, and Mecklenburg-Pommerania), the trend is pointing clearly towards the Greens, as the party looks at creating another Red-Green Coalition in Berlin and Bremen with the possibility of having another Green mayor in Bremen and Berlin, which would make history as the first city-states to do that. While the Greens have the votes to do that in Bremen, Berlin is banking on Renate Kunast, a former Agriculture Minister during the Schröder days who is now the minister of nutrition and diet, to pull off the unthinkable, like in Baden Württemberg. As for the Greens in Mecklenburg-Pommerania, the northeasternmost state in Germany, the party is looking at clearing the 5% barrier for the first time in a decade, while finding ways to squelch the most hated Nationalist Party (NPD) in the process. The party had only 3.6% in the last elections of 2006 in comparison to the 7.1% the NPD had.

As for the FDP, they are being looked upon as guidance to help the Grand Coalition through the most difficult times. While Westerwelle is no loner leading the party and may even leave politics, even with a new party leader, some fundamental changes need to take place in order for it to become a credible party. Should it fail to find a platform to attract the voters, there is a danger that the party may lose more than just its identity. It is possible that the FDP may bring down the CDU, thus marking the elections of 2013 as a watershed for the Coalition, as the campaigns of Merkel and company many fall on deaf ears of voters who demand change in the form of a new government, new policies, and a term that is rarely heard of these days in the world of politics, a new set of ethics; especially in light of what happened in Japan with Fukushima and its implications on the energy and environmental policies, touted as one of the best in the modern world, thanks to contributions by the Greens.

Useful Links:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14950846,00.html

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14963869,00.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamburg_state_election,_2011

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saxony-Anhalt_state_election,_2011

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhineland-Palatinate_state_election,_2011

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baden-W%C3%BCrttemberg_state_election,_2011