500 Years of the 95 Theses Celebrated in Germany

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Magdeburg Cathedral, one of the places where Martin Luther spread his influence. Photo taken in 2011

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BERLIN/ERFURT/ LUTHERSTADT-WITTENBERG- You see me, and we see you. The slogan for the 36th annual Day of Christianity (Kirchentag), which ended yesterday with an open-air church service on the field along the Elbe River in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg.  Located between Leipzig and Berlin, Wittenberg was the central stage for Martin Luther, who was a professor of theology 500 years ago- a revolutionary who posted the 95 Theses on the doors of the church in the city with its present-day population of over 30,000 inhabitants. It is this city, where the two-day event commemorated the historic event, which reshaped Christianity and created the church that still bears its name.  Over 400,000 visitors participated in the four-day event, which started in Berlin, but also featured regional events in cities where Luther had its strongest influence: Leipzig, Erfurt, Weimar, Jena, Eisleben, Halle and even Magdeburg had festivities from Thursday to Saturday for Christians, tourists, families and people wanting to know more about Luther and his interpretation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Wittenberg alone, roughly 120,000 visitors converged onto the field along the Elbe River and at the city center, to take part in the evening light show and open air reflections on Saturday, followed by an open-air church service on Sunday. Despite the sweltering heat, people had an opportunity to listen to the sermons as well as the discussion forum, one of which involved newly-elected German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who took over for Joachim Gauck in February this year.

In Berlin, where over 245,000 visitors took part in the festivities, especially at Brandenburg Gate, the events marked the welcoming back of former US President Barack Obama, who, together with Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized Donald Trump’s policy of isolation with his plan for building the Wall to Mexico and isolating the country from its international obligations.

And as for the regional places, according to reports by MDR, the numbers were much lower than expected. In Erfurt, Jena and Weimar alone, only 42,000 visitors attended the events from Thursday to Saturday. However, the events were overshadowed by warm, summer weather, the Handel festival that began in Halle, the relegation soccer game between Jena and Cologne, where the former won the first of two games, and lastly, the Luther events at the aforementioned places in Berlin and Wittenberg.

This was noticeable during my visit in Erfurt on Friday with my wife and daughter. There, despite having over a dozen booths, podium discussions in several churches, tours of the churchs’ chapels and steeples as well as several plays and concerts and a pilgrimage from Stotternheim to the city center, the majority of the visitors took advantage of the beautiful weather for other activities.  It had nothing to do with attempts to recruit and convert people to become Lutheran on the spot. One should not interpret Luther and his teachings like this. In fact at a few sites that feature plays and musicals for children, such as Luther and Katharina as well as the Luther Express where children learned about Jesus during each of the four seasons, the layout and preparations were simple but well thought out with no glorifying features and some informative facts presented, which attracted a sizable number of people in the audience (between 50 and 60).

The lack of numbers might have to do with the fact that despite Christianity dominating Germany at 59%, only 28% consists of Lutherans in general. In the US, over 46% consists of Protestants, of which 26% are Evangelicals. 71% of the population are Christians. Given the low number of people belonging to the church, the United Lutheran Church Association of Germany (EKD) and other organizations worked together to make the Luther festival informative, attracting people from different denominations so that they know about Luther’s legacy both in Germany as well as above. It doesn’t necessarily mean that membership is obligatory. Much of the population are sceptical about the beliefs in Jesus, which is one of the reasons of why a quarter of the 41% are aethesists or agnostics. This leads to the question of why Christ is not important to them while at the same time why people in Germany elect to join the church. This question I had touched on in a conversation with one of the pastors of a local church, which will be brought up in a later article.

Nevertheless, when summarizing the events of this weekend, it was deemed a success in many ways. It provided visitors with a glimpse of Luther’s legacy, especially in Wittenberg, where his 95 Thesis was the spark that started the fire and spread to many cities in the region. It also brought together friends and strangers alike, Christian and non-Christian to remember the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Lutheran Church we know today, branches included. Exhibits on Luther can be found in Wittenberg but also at the places where Luther played a key role. For more, please click here to see where you can visit the sites.

You can also read up on the pilgrimage of six people, who marched on Lutherstadt-Wittenberg for the events by foot, bike or even boat, camping along the way. Each pair started their tour from Erfurt, Eisleben and Dessau-Rosslau, respectively. Here you can find their stories.

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Facts about Germany: German Bureaucracy

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OK everyone, let’s be honest for a couple seconds. What is the number one annoying habit in Germany that you would love to see eliminated?  After living in Germany for over 17 years, there is one that has been number one on my hit list and it is the B-word.

BUREAUCRACY!!!

Bureaucracy is the engine of German efficiency. It helps keep the country running and people out of trouble. It ensures that people reach their goals legally and with no incident. It also gives people a daily dose of Aspirin, courtesy of Bayer, because of the number of papers to fill out, the search for information in a computer filled with letters from a can of Spaghetti-Os soup, the excessive travelling needed for an apostille (with -th, by the way) needed for a wedding, and the countless stops at a small local unknown church to pray intensively for the nightmare to stop.

Despite all the articles written about German bureaucracy (most of which you’ll find at the end of this article), the one variant that will never be replaced is the system where you look at a government official in the eye, when she provides you with an Amtsdeutsch (governmental German) word that you, as a normal person, don’t know the simple German equivalent. Or when you watch people at the Zollamt (customs office) walk around like Borgs bitching about politics while waiting for a package from the US- searched with contents confiscated because of their illegality. Or when you receive a response to a complaint saying “Das ist ein Käse!” (equivalent to This is Bullshit!)

In other words, you cannot escape German bureacracy, period! No matter how the Chancellor reforms the system, you must prepare for the red-tape version of the decathelon and have your endurance tested, let alone your sanity.

I found seven types of bureaucracy that are typical of Germany. As you live longer in the country, it is most likely that you will encounter one type each, at least once; more if you are a student, businessperson or a person about to marry someone in Germany. There are no known remedies to get around them. You just need to be clever and witty, calm and cool, and diligent and strong as steel to get through them. In the end, despite the grey hairs and the bruised ego, you will be wiser and stronger than when you enter the first office you see, asking for a form. 😉

Carousel-Style: This style of buraeucracy comprises of a person who is sent around to every single office to take care of a form- a way of deferring him/her to authorities, most of whom are unwilling to process the person’s request. Sometimes it is referred to a slingshot if Office A sends a person through several agencies before ending up back at the same office a couple hours later. An example of this:

Darius wants to apply for a German as a Foreign Language Class at a university in Hanover. He asks Ms. Schmidt, only for her to send him to five different offices who refuse to process his request (beginning with Mrs. Jürgensen, then Ms. Schneider, Mr. Neste, Ms. Mulder and lastly Mr. Kahn) before the last person sends him back to Ms. Schmidt, who reluctantly processes his application. Wonderful sling-shot as seen in a Star Trek film above!

Mine-Style:  This type of bureaucracy runs along the lines of Wile E. Coyote being blown to pieces while pursuing the Road Runner. A person is ambituous in starting a business only to fall into several traps because of certain guidelines to be fulfilled, let alone fees and taxes to pay and additional forms to fill out along the way. Half of German start-up businesses as well as individual pursuits of degrees and career ladders end up failing because of the lack of awareness of the mines that are in the way, ready to blow up. That is the main reason why Germans are really cautious in any affairs on the business and personal level- they have been there at one point of their lives.

Goal-Line-Stance Style: Named after a defensive play in American football, this style of bureaucracy consists of a request of forwarding an application to an agency via its subordinates being not only rejected, but sent back to the person requesting him/her to do it on one’s own. It’s a way of telling the applicant that they are too lazy to walk the 100 meters to the point of destination and they would enjoy having the applicant to drive 30 kilometers to the subordinates to do the job. This happened to me once when I requested the international office of a German university to forward a request to the student services center, only for them to send the request back via mail, asking me to do it myself! This despite the fact that instead of wasting 2 extra days, the person at the office could have walked the 50 meters to the destination to drop off the letter. Talk about irony for an institute wanting to be student and family friendly, especially to foreign students! However, such stances are common in many cases, so please have a couple extra envelops, stamps and running shoes ready should you deal with this type and fail….

Hanging Chad/ Cliffhanger Style: Also known as the Härtefälle, this type of bureaucracy is one to avoid at all costs if you are pressed for time and need a form submitted within a day or two of the deadline, before your own “judgement day.”  Here, you submit the form to a worker, only for him/her to forward the request to the superiors, despite pleas to hurry. Why? The form must be approved before the deadline although there is a clause denying that request. This applies to students wanting to apply for a third attempt of an exam in a subject or changing a subject after failing an exam twice, risking the possibilities of getting expelled from college. This is standard practice at a German university, especially for students pursuing a teaching degree. It is like a cliffhanger because your future depends on whether a form you desperately need approved will be accepted or not. Apart from the Härtefälle at a German university, examples of such burearcracy can be found with visa forms, last minute requests to book hotels and some emergencies, like this story, just to name a few. The terminology is named after a dispute over which chads should be accepted in the voting ballot in Florida during the infamous 2000 US Presidential Elections.

Collapsing Bridge Style: Your plan to succeed is like crossing a bridge. You may never know when it collapses. This style of bureaucracy presents some surprises that keeps you from achieving your goal because there are some missing components needed to realize your goal that you either don’t know about or you want to try to circumvent- in both times, failing in the process! It can happen during any course of the process, whether it is through wedding planning, immigration or even during your studies, just to name a few.

Take for instance your first state exam for education. You register for the exam for English and History, take part of the former and complete the education portion, but have to change the latter to Social Studies. Despite having completed your semester of practical training, you need to complete another semester for Social Studies. While German law requires you to register for the subjects studied, you cannot continue taking the exam for English until the practical training in Social Studies is completed, thus pushing your finish time back a semester or two. Annoying if you want to finish and earn some cold hard cash teaching, but there is a reason for spending a couple hours looking at the Prüfungsordnung (Studies Guidelines in this case) before embarking on the painstaking task of getting that teaching license!

Jesus Christ Lizard Style- This type of bureaucracy is the exact opposite of the Collapsing Bridge style, only to imply that shortcuts and other incentives are provided to ensure that a form you are filling out or a process that is taking place is completed quicker and easier than expected. However, these shortcuts are not taken for granted and you must have proof that warrant a walk on water. For instance:

Cora applies for a Master’s Studies program in Anglistik-Amerikanistik at a university in Berlin and finds that she needs 60 credits of classes in liguistics, cultural studies, history, literature and political science- all of which have to be taken in sequential order in accordance to the Prüfungsordnung. Fortunately, she majored in Political Science and English and thanks to the credits accrued, the examiner’s office accredited her points and allowed her to start at a higher semester, taking upper level classes instead of the lower ones for anything dealing with English and Political Science.

However, this type of bureaucracy can occur if there are other circumstances that warrant it, such as the lines at the US border controls, where at all international airports, there is an express line for Americans and an ordinary line for the “other bunch.” This is just one of many examples of the style named literally after lizards walking on water, as seen in the film above.

Maze Style- This is perhaps the longest and most tortuous process a person can ever go through. Here, one has to go through every office and agency, filling out every paper and paying every fee in order to achieve your goal. Sometimes it requires trips covering hundreds of kilometers in order to obtain a single form. If you marry a German in Germany and are a non-German, prepare for a trip to Berlin for a couple of forms at your consulate, as well as a trip to the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner’s Office) for your three-year visa, which eventually turns into a permanent residency if you remain married after three years. It is more complicated when applying for a work visa or even an asylum because of proof that you have a job awaiting you or come from a war-torn region and pose no threat, because of the time needed for the forms of both to be approved.

What stories do you have involving bureaucracy in Germany? Share it here or on the Files’ facebook pages. In the meantime, check out the links involving German bureaucracy below and enjoy reading more about this unique feature and annoyance that will never go away:

http://www.dw.com/en/germans-and-bureaucracy/a-16446787

http://www.thelocal.de/20130814/51391

http://www.economist.com/node/2127649

🙂

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Germany Goes Far Right in Three States

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Right-wing populist party Alternativ für Deutschland enters state parliament in Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Wurttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate with double-digit results in state elections, Grand Coalition fails in RP and SA, Greens win in BW but needs help, Chancellor Merkel in serious trouble

BERLIN/STUTTGART/MAGDEBURG/MAINZ- The winds of change are being felt across Germany, the day after the state elections in the states of Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Wurttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Yesterday’s state elections featured a “Kantersieg” on the part of the Right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), as the Frauke Petry-led party, critical of European policies as well as the open-door policies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding refugees, stormed into the state parliamentary scene with 24% in SA, 15% in BW and 12% in RP.

In SA, the AfD is now the second strongest party in parliament, which is forcing minister Reiner Hasseloff to scramble to find a new coalition, for his partner party the SPD finished with 10% of the votes (finishing fourth behind the Left and AfD- its worst results in state party history), which is not enough to continue with the Grand Coalition. Another party looking for a new partner is the SPD in RP, where state minister Malu Dreyer is looking for a new coalition to replace the one with the Green party, as it barely made the 5% hurdle with enormous losses in the elections. Dreyer declared that all parties will be in talks except the AfD.

Winfried Kretschmann and his Green party can continue governing in Stuttgart, but despite maintaining a 31% vote in state elections, the AfD sliced into the voting scene, thus making the absolute governing of Baden-Wurrtemberg impossible. Talks are underway to provide support from the CDU, SPD and even the FDP to form either a traffic coalition or similar constellations. The results of the elections you will find here.

The statues and the National Theater with flowers on memory of the victims of the terror attacks in Paris.
The statues and the National Theater with flowers on memory of the victims of the terror attacks in Paris.

 

 

End of the Line for Angela Merkel?

Already, a coup d’ etat is brewing among the Christian Democrats and the Christian Socialists as calls for Chancellor Merkel to change course regarding the refugee policies are growing louder. Leading the pack is Horst Seehofer, the state minister of Bavaria, who blamed Merkel and her policies of allowing refugees to live in Germany, even for a short period of time, for the disaster in the three states. He stated in Bavarian channel BR “We should tell the public that we understand the results and will draw the consequences.”

Also in Visier was SPD director Siegmund Gabriel, who had to answer some difficult questions of how his party finished with the worst results in history. The SPD is partner of the CDU in Germany.

Despite statements by Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen claiming that the refugee issue is a European problem and that Merkel’s policies should remain on course, after increased attacks on planned housing throughout Germany, with a focus on parts of east half, combined with protests between supporters of the AfD and opponents and even internal strife within the CDU, it is a matter of time before the temperature hits the boiling point and Berlin suffers from the longest summer in modern history. And while we have no politically-motivated violence, as being practiced by Donald Trump in the US at the moment, making the US elections become the next 1968, if measures are not taken to either justify or modify the refugee policies as well as contain the increase in right-wing extremism, the German public may end up in a similar fix as in the US- and unless Merkel is forced to call for early elections, the next national elections are in two years!

 

frage für das forum

In light of the recent disaster in Saxony-Anhalt, Rhineland Palatinate and Baden Wurttemberg, what will happen next and what should Chancellor Merkel do? Vote here and feel free to comment:

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAST FACTS: In the last survey, where the question of whether the slogan “Wir sind das Volk” should be eliminated by law, two thirds of the voters favored keeping the slogan, while 13% would like to see a law protecting the slogan from abuse while discussing this in the classroom. Only 20% voted for the law. More on the vote and its origin here.

 

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ICE-Line Erfurt-Leipzig/Halle(Saale) Open to Traffic

Galloping Gertie (the author's bike) and the ICE-T train at Leipzig Central Station. Photo taken in Dec. 2015
Galloping Gertie (the author’s bike) and the ICE-T train at Leipzig Central Station. Photo taken in Dec. 2015

 

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ERFURT/LEIPZIG/HALLE(SAALE)- It took 25 years of planning, of which 19 years of construction and delays, but now, the new ICE Train Line has become a reality. Several prominent politicians, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, the ministers of Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt and the CEO of the German Railways (Die Bahn) were on hand at Leipzig Central Station to open the new rail line between Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle to rail traffic. According to information from German public radio/TV MDR, the ceremony featured two special ICE-T trains, carrying invited guests, travelling side-by-side from Erfurt to its final destination in Leipzig, where they were greeted by hundreds of people including those involved in the 2.9 billion Euro project. “The new ICE line is a gift for the 25-years of German unity,” said Merkel at the ceremony in Leipzig. Thuringian minister Bodo Ramelow considered this day a historic one and the line would turn Thuringia into a economic hub.  The Erfurt-Leipzig/Halle line is part of the project to connect Berlin and Munich via Erfurt and the Thuringian Forest, and the northern part is half of the two-part project, which will start serving passengers beginning on Sunday. The southern part from Erfurt to Nuremberg via Suhl is expected to be completed in 2017, even though all of the bridges and tunnels have been completed already.

The opening of the northern half of the new line will mark the beginning of the end of long-distance train service for Weimar, Naumburg and Jena, for Weimar will lose its ICE stop by year’s end and will have InterCity trains stopping in the city. Jena and Naumburg will still have their ICE stops until the end of 2017. Afterwards InterCity trains are expected to serve the two cities with Jena-Göschwitz train station to become Jena Central Station and serving InterCity lines between Karlsruhe and Leipzig (after 2023) and between Chemnitz/Gera and Cologne (after 2017). Also planned after 2017 is ICE to Berlin from Jena twice a day. The cities will also lose its night train network, as Die Bahn plans to decommision the City Night Line service altogether by 2017. A CNL line connecting Prague and Berlin with Basel and Zurich runs through Naumburg, Weimar and Erfurt. Whether another international line connecting Paris and Moscow via Erfurt will use the new line or the old one remains open.

 

Halle(Saale) Central Station. Photo taken in Dec. 2015
Halle(Saale) Central Station. Photo taken in Dec. 2015

Here are some interesting facts to know about the northern half of the ICE line between Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle:

  1. The new rail line is 123 kilometers long, which is half the distance needed with the older line going through Weimar and Naumburg
  2. One can reach Leipzig in 40 minutes and Halle (Saale) in 35. This is half to a third as long as with the old line, counting the stops, regardless of what type of long-distance train used.
  3. The trip to Berlin from Frankfurt (Main) is reduced by up to 50 minutes.
  4. ICE Trains travelling the new line can maximize their speed to 300 kilometers/hour (187 miles/hour)
  5. The opening of the line will also usher in the ICE-Sprinter connecting Berlin with Frankfurt with stops in either Erfurt or Leipzig. Before, the Sprinter travelled north to Hanover before heading east to the German capital.
  6. Seven bridges and two tunnels serve the new line. The longest tunnel is the Finnetunnel, which is 6.9 kilometers long and located at the border between Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt near Bad Bibra. The longest bridge is the Saale/Elster Viaduct, located south of Halle (Saale) near Schkopau. The 8.5 kilometer long bridge features a 6.4 kilometer long viaduct (Leipzig-bound) crossing the two rivers and the 2.1 kilometer long branch viaduct going to Halle (Saale). The viaduct is the longest of its kind in Europe.
  7. Freight trains can also use the new line, but will be restricted to night time use only due to less train traffic.
  8. Die Bahn plans to install a automated man-less train system on the line in the future- most likely when the entire line is finished in 2017. Basically, trains would be operated automatically from the train stations, and can stop automatically when problems arises. The Shinkansen high-speed train in Japan is the only system known to have this function.
  9. Citizens in Halle (Saale) will benefit from the connection as its train station is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
  10. The opening will mark the total completion of the renovation of Leipzig Central Station, which included an underground tunnel connecting the station with the Bavarian railway station south of the city, and the introduction and expansion of the City Lines (S-bahn) connecting the city with Bitterfeld, Halle, Geitahin, Altenberg and Zwickau.
  11. The opening of the line will also usher in the introduction of the Abellio train service to serve Erfurt and points to the east. Abellio is owned by the Dutch Rail Services.

 

Erfurt Central Station after the snow storm in December 2010
Erfurt Central Station after the snow storm in December 2010

More information on the ICE-Trains can be found here. Otherwise, here’s a question for our travellers: which is better: train lines that get you to your destination directly without any chance of seeing much of the view because of speed and time or train lines with stops in between to provide some scenic views? It depends on which line has to offer, but what is your view?

 

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Frage für das Forum: Can we make it?

Bridge of Friendship at the German-Danish border north of Flensburg. Photo taken in 2011
Bridge of Friendship at the German-Danish border north of Flensburg. Photo taken in 2011

 

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 &  frage für das forum

Can we make it? This is a question that has been on the minds of Germans and Europeans alike, as we try to cope with the problem with the influx of refugees entering the continent. There have been many discussions and even demonstrations for and against the policies of Angela Merkel, which calls for welcoming refugees who wish to stay there for at least a short period of time. Some of the discussions have even made it to the classroom, where the attitudes of  the students have, for the most part, been mixed.  From the observations of the author, who experimented this topic with a group of 8th graders recently, the opinions have been equal between yes, no and I don’t care. Many think that the refugee crisis eclipses the other news stories that are “more important.”

Picking up where it was left off in the previous article (click here), we decided to have a look at the arguments recently stated by Horst Seehofer, who calls for Germany to halt the inflow of refugees entering the country and German chancellor Angela Merkel, who favors welcoming the refugees as she sees this as a chance for the country and Europe to grow. The comparison of arguments are shown through a speech made by the former and an interview a talk show host had with the latter. For teachers wishing to present this to students in a social studies or German as a Foreign Language class, most of Merkel’s arguments are found in the first 15 minutes, while Seehofer’s speech is over six minutes. In either case, one can write down and compare the arguments between the two.

For those who don’t understand the situation and the potential that  immigrants have when coming to Europe, before looking at the arguments of the two actors, one should have a look at the summary of the refugee crisis via video below as well as link (by clicking here).

 

After taking a look at the pictures and the video, let’s have a look at the two videos at hand. In the first video, we have Bavarian minister Horst Seehofer who is an advocate of closing Germany to immigrants. Under Merkel’s plan, 800,000 would enter Germany, which Seehofer claims to be fatal, for the social system would be overwhelmed, there would not be many places for them to live, conflicts between the refugees and residents would arise, and lastly more money for refugees would mean less money for domestic policies, such as social welfare, education and infrastructure. He calls for halting the influx of refugees straight away and change course on policies like Hungary and other southern European nations. Have a look at his arguments and ask yourself these questions:

  1. What examples does he bring regarding the overload of social welfare in Bavaria?
  2. How would he like to bring an end to the influx?
  3. Do you think his arguments are justified and why?

 

The argument of Horst Seehofer:

 

In the second video, we have an interview between Anne Will and Chancellor Angela Merkel, where Merkel adopts the quote from US President Obama: “Yes, we can,” with her words: “Wir schaffen das.” (We can make it.) Merkel proposes to bring in 800,000 refugees but also calls on other European countries to help out as well. She sees many advantages of refugees living in Germany for the job market as well as the social and health care systems, despite claims that most of them will stay only temporarily before returning home after the war is over. She even balks at this idea (done by Hungary).

Listen and answer the following questions:

  1. Describe in detail how Angela Merkel wants to integrate the refugees into German life.
  1. What idea did Hungary carry out that Merkel is against and why?

  2. What advantages does Merkel see in the refugees in Germany?

  3. Why does she claim that many refugees will stay temporarily and then return to their home countries and what could be done to end the war and rebuild the country?

 

The argument of Angela Merkel during the interview:

In your opinion, who is in the right on this?

This one we don’t know yet, but the coming months will determine the results. While many plan to move further north- across the bridge in Flensburg to Denmark and Scandanavia, others see Germany as a place of refuge, and a place to start over. Judging by the pics and the first video in this article, the reasons behind their escape are logical. But even if border controls were reintroduced at places like the one down below next to the Bridge of Friendship, one thing is certain: many will find new homes eventually, be it here or the US, or elsewhere. Thanks to the factors that have driven many people to flee: war, drought, terrorism, all will stop at nothing to ensure that a new life is ahead for them. It is more of the question of whether it is only for a short time or permanent. But until we can answer that question, we should help them now as winter is right around the corner…..

 

Danish border controls. Passports were checked until 1995. Since that time, border controls were performed only once, which was 2011.
Danish border controls. Passports were checked until 1995. Since that time, border controls were performed only once, which was 2011.

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