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.

 

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.

 

Flood Update: Crest has arrived; Euro-Zone Funding has (and will) not

Elbe crests well below record levels in Dresden; Saale River receding in Halle, rising Magdeburg; No help from Brussels- further cuts imminent?

To start off the Newflyer update on the Great Flood of 2013 that has been deluging Germany this past week and is schedule to linger through next week, there are some good news that should be noted. Here they are:

Elbe River Fails to reach 2002 Mark in Dresden; Magdeburg on alert-  Shortly before 10:00am local time this morning, the Elbe River crested in Dresden, but way below what analysts had predicted. In 2002, the Elbe River crested at 9.4 meters, setting an all time record, and turning the Florence of Germany into the Venice of Germany with the Old Town (Altstadt) sitting in 1 meter of water. This time around, the Elbe River crested at 8.73 meters, missing the mark. While this may breathe a sign of relief for many residents who had feared for the worst, still clean-up is expected once the Elbe returns to normal levels, which will most likely happen over the weekend. Despite the majority of the city being high and dry, some areas did sustain damage as a result of the floods, especially in areas in low-lying areas.  The next stop for the Elbe are the cities of Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, Dessau, and Magdeburg. There, flood records will most likely be set for not only is the Elbe flooding its banks, so are the rivers that empty into the fourth longest river in Europe, which includes the Mulde and the Saale River. Already the ICE-trains are being rerouted because the Elbe River crossing at Lutherstadt-Wittenberg is flooded. It is likely that Germany may be cut into two again, the first time since the 2002 floods.

Saale River receding but slowly- Despite a brief bump overnight, the Saale River is slowly but surely going down in Halle (Saale) and places to the south of the southernmost city of Saxony-Anhalt. The city is sitting at 7.87 meters as of present, down from a record 8.1 meters yesterday, breaking the 400-year old record.  Despite the river levels going down in the region, many towns are still on high alert because the rate of decline is much slower than expected. This includes an area between Saalfeld, Jena and Naumburg, where parts of those cities are still sitting underwater and will remain so through the weekend.  The next stops for the Saale are  Bernburg and Barby, which is mostly underwater, including the city hall, according to information from MDR-Radio.

Passau cleaning up; Deggendorf underwater-  Residents are slowly but finally returning to the Three-Rivers-City to assess the damage and losses caused by the flooding which had made the Old Town (Altstadt) look like Venice. While river levels are still extremely high and the riverfront is still 1-2 meters underwater, those on higher ground are racing to shovel the mud away and throw out what is non-salvageable. It will not be until next week when the Danube, Inn and Itz Rivers return to normal levels and people will see the destruction the flooding left them.  In the meantime, a breech in the dikes resulted in the small town of Deggendorf, located along the Danube northeast of Passau and Regensburg drowning in brown mud. People who could not escape in time, raced to the rooftops to be rescued by helicopters.  The Danube is expected to reach Vienna this weekend and Budapest by the beginning of next week. The people there are preparing feverishly for the worst.

No help from the European Union, but YOU can help-  Since 2002, the EU has had a solidarity fund which is used for helping people and businesses affected by natural disasters. As of present, it is estimated that the flood damage in Germany alone will top 7-10 billion Euros, with 2.3 billion coming from Saxony and 1.3 billion from Thuringia. Yet officials from Brussels have signaled that the solidarity funds are now empty, leaving local, state and federal governments scrambling on how to finance the reconstruction projects yet to come. To compound the situation, the growth of the German economy has been the slowest in five years, with recovery efforts in jeopardy because of the flooding washing away any attempts of economic growth in 2013. It is highly likely that Germany may enter its first recession in four years before year’s end, which unlike the last recession in 2009, it may last a couple years longer. This will most likely drag the rest of the EU into a deeper recession than in 2009 given the fact that Germany is the largest economic motor of the Union. And it will set the stage for a ferocious political campaign to try and topple Angela Merkel and the Coalition of the CDU and FDP through elections this fall.  Regardless of what happens, the regions affected by the flooding are on their own regarding the rebuilding efforts, which may take much longer than last time. And for people flooded out twice in 11 years, hearing the bad news from Brussels may add to their plans of packing up and moving on.

Yet, there are several ways where you can donate money, supplies and your time to the efforts in rebuilding the region. You’ll find the information below, together with links to the photos of the flooding in Europe.

 

Flood Relief Link:

http://www.dw.de/disaster-relief-organizations-seek-flood-donations/a-612392

 

Photos of Flooding:

http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/photo-gallery-floods-sweep-through-central-europe-fotostrecke-97569.html

http://www.spiegel.de/fotostrecke/photo-gallery-heavy-flooding-continues-in-germany-fotostrecke-97511.html

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/06/03/situation-in-flood-hit-german-city-dramatic/2384955/

 

New Links:

http://www.n-tv.de/panorama/18-06-Fluthelfer-stirbt-beim-Sandsack-Befuellen-article10747971.html

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/european-union-says-no-aid-money-available-for-flood-victims-a-904103.html

 

The Best Leaders Learn From Example

 

Statue of Harry Truman outside the Jackson County Courthouse in Independence. Photo taken in August 2011

Here is a thought-provoking question that you should consider: What constitutes a great leader? What do you expect from a great leader? What factors influence you to decide for one over the other when the elections take place. And lastly, are you satisfied with the leader of your own country, and why?

When I write this entry, we have two major elections on the horizon: The US Presidential elections this upcoming November and the German Federal Elections in 2013. A lot is at stake, and the fate of the incumbents- Barack Obama and Angela Merkel- will be determined by not only how they ruled their countries, but also on the satisfaction of the voters. If I was asked if I was satisfied with the way the two governments are being run, the answer for both would be a clear-cut “no!”  Both governments have been targets of public scrutiny but for two different reasons. In the case of Merkel, she hired the wrong people to lead Berlin’s ministries because of the scandals they faced- in particular, with Christian Wulff (now replaced with Joachim Gauck as German President) and Karl Theodore zu Guttenberg (now replaced with Guido Westerwelle as Defense Minister). And it is unclear whether her party (CDU)’s partner, the Free Liberals (FDP) will survive the beatings it had already sustained or if it will sink.

In the case of the US government, it is a rather peculiar situation for Obama, as his envision for a better America has become a target of criticism and cynicism by his opponents, including his challenger for the presidential elections this fall, Mitt Romney. Everything that he tried to put through office has either been reversed or voted down by Congress. The lone exception to the rule is the health care reform which was upheld in the Supreme Court, yet if Romney takes office, he vows to dismantle it within 24 hours of swearing into office. Obama however has tried to reach out to the opposition in hopes to work together on solving numerous issues that has plagued America since 2008: high unemployment, a sagging economy, health-related issues affecting Americans, etc. This has proven to be in vain as his attempts have been touted as too soft and the Republicans were not ready to work with a Democrat.

If Obama was to learn from example, it may help him in the long term. During my trip through Missouri this past August, I made an overnight stop at Independence, which was the birthplace of another US President. He was the one who was famous for his “My Way or the Highway” policy and his coined terms “The Buck Stops Here” and “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” He was a man of true grit and did not allow any room for compromise as he pushed his policies through. That gentleman’s name is Harry Truman.

A replica of his office when he was president located at the Truman Presidential Library. Photo taken in August 2011

A son of a farmer and a homemaker, Mr. Truman was born on 8 May, 1884 on a farm outside of Independence. His rise to stardom began when he became a county judge in 1922 and 1930 respectively, which was followed by his 10 years  as Senator (1934-44). He was the running mate of President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he won his unprecedented fourth term of office in 1944, but was just starting to settle in when the President died on 14 April, 1945 of a hemorrhage of the brain. It was then when he took over and governed the country, going by what was right for the country. He used atomic bombs to submit the Japanese to defeat but refused to do that for the Korean War and fired a feisty Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur for his defiance and insistence on using it. He contained Communism with the Berlin Airlift and supporting the countries that were becoming a target of the domino effect in Europe and Indochina, but picked a fight at Potsdam by looking straight into the eyes of the Russian diplomats in demanding that there is a neutral Germany after the Fall of the Nazis. He recognized Israel by agitating the Arabs who refused to have a Jewish state, but stayed out of conflict when the Israelis drove out every invading neighbor vowing not to recognize the Jewish state. On the home front, he jumpstarted the railway system by threatening to hire strike workers when all train workers went on strike. He alleviated the high unemployment through his fair deal agreements and encouraging former war veterans to go to college. He was the type of person who led the country with an iron fist, despite having a Missourian dialect and not having a degree at a university or college.  While his popularity declined at the end of his eight years in office, most Americans still embraced him as an outstanding but common citizen when he retired to his home with his wife Bess and daughter Margaret in Independence. Even when he was travelling on the road with Bess, he was still treated like a king as he stopped along the way.
What made Truman very popular was simple. He was one of a few people who walked a single independent line, not following the Democrats or the Republicans, not compromising with anybody, and initiating his policies that were to him the right thing to do. He was a person who took on responsibility and made the right decisions on his own terms, hence the term “The Buck Stops Here.” He was also one who never caved into the pressure from the media and other people alike but instead, showed his teeth in every way, shape or form. This is a problem that most politicians today are grappling with for they pass the buck onto others and whitewash themselves at the expense of other people who had nothing to do with the mess that they had caused. Truman kept his promises, whereas many Americans and Germans alike do not remember when was the last time the politicians made and kept a promise, let alone pass measures to the benefit of the public and not that of their own.
The problems facing society in general is huge. The economy is in shambles. Unemployment is high. The socio-economic gaps as well as the racial gaps are wider than ever before. And the number of people responsible for the mess is huge.  But the need of a leader to clean up the mess and take those responsible for the trouble caused to the cleaners is the biggest on the minds of many. Yet politicians gearing up for the Presidential race in the US this year and the German federal elections next year are using media and tactics to make themselves look good at the expense of their opponents, instead of outlining policies that make sense to the public. Already Mitt Romney is slinging mud at Obama even though he championed some of the policies Obama is initiating, especially health care and economic stimulus packages. As for Obama, his soft sides and his lack of experience have ended up with more people with only change in their pockets instead of him keeping his promises of change for America like he did in 2008. In Germany and other European countries, political measures to reduce the debt and help the countries in dire straits are not welcomed and many politicians have been crying foul instead of taking the initiatives to help their own countries first and then the others. And Obama trying to dictate Europe was met with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäubler’s counterattack: “Take care of your mess! It is much bigger than ours!”
It is no wonder that many people are fed up with the leaders of our country and are willing to take action to ensure that the next generation has a tomorrow. Yet extremism is no answer. What is needed is a leader that will set an example for others to follow, through honesty and hard work, strife and sacrifice, dedication to the people and direction, and one that is open but also one who will make the decision and make sure others will follow. Lack of educational background has little importance if a leader has an idea of how to make a country work and become more competitive.
This was something that is admirable for a character like Truman. He did not need an education or special training to become President. All he needed was a plan and a lot of testosterone to lead the country, and the rest listened. Perhaps the candidates should look to Truman as a role model and craft their campaign and planning around his. It does not take money to win the hearts of the public nor deference of responsibly to the other person. It takes a person with guts to look at others in the eye and say “My Way or the Highway,” and take the issues by the horns in defiance with the opposition. This will indeed be the deciding factor in taking us out of the predicament we are in right now.
I would like to finish with a quote about a good leader. Each country is a flame that burns noticeably, rain or shine. It needs no fuel and matches unless one puts it out. It needs not to be bigger as it will create disaster of climatic proportions. It needs to shine for the public to see. The flame is the leader of the country sets an example for the people to follow. In each country there is a person willing to be like Harry Truman. Perhaps our current leaders have yet to show their true colors after a few years of hard time and disappointment. However, there are some who are willing to carry the country out of ruin and into the limelight. It is just a question of who….

 

The flame still keeps going even after the great ones leave. Photo taken at the Truman Presidential Library in August 2011

Joachim Gauck is President of Germany. Who is Mr. Gauck?

Discussions about Gauck at supper time.

 

We all have our political discussions at the dinner table this evening. In the US, many families are talking about the elections of 2012 and the direction the country is going regardless of the outcome. In the Middle East, many families are talking about creating a new government after overthrowing the dictators in the Jasmine-Spring of last year. Here in Germany, our latest discussion is about Joachim Gauck. Apart from the fact that he was officially elected as the 11th President of Germany (Bundespräsident) thanks to the majority vote of 991 to 237 at the Federal Convention on 18 March, and that he originated from Rostock in Mecklenburg-Pommerania, there is very little information that we know about him right now. Even when I sent a questionnaire around on facebook a couple days ago, the response was blank, assuming that no one knows much about the man at all.

Therefore, I decided to do some research about Mr. Gauck and set my own predictions about how he will run the country and support Chancellor Angela Merkel. The results were amazing. Here are some fast facts that one needs to know about Joachim Gauck:

 

Flensburg Files Fact File- Joachim Gauck:

 

1. He was born on 24 January, 1940 in Rostock. His family consisted of sailors, one of whom was his father, who was a distinguished naval officer and ship’s captain. However, his father was taken away to Siberia by the Soviet troops when he was 11 and was never seen again afterwards.

2. While he grew up behind the Iron Curtain, he opposed the East German government and the ideas of socialism to a point where he refused to join the Free German Youth (FDJ) and joined groups that opposed anti-communism. Even the state security police (Stasi) considered him a natural-born opponent and had mentioned his actions in their reports. A good part of that had to do with what had happened to his father.

3. Because he was considered by the Stasi an ”incorrigible anti-communist,” Gauck was denied entrance to his studies in German and Journalism and instead studied theology at the University of Rostock and became a pastor at a church in Mecklenburg-Pommerania. At that time, the East German government looked down upon Christianity and had the Stasi spy and harass the church. Gauck was no exception to the rule.

4. At the time of the revolution in 1989, Gauck joined the New Forum, which was a democratic opposition party to the socialist party. He was very active in the organisation, later becoming spokesperson and in March 1990, being elected to the People’s Chamber. It merged with two other democratic parties to form the Alliance 90 party,  and upon his departure from the party in 1990, he was elected Special Representative of the Stasi Archives. Since 1990, he has had no affiliations with any of the political parties in Germany.  The Alliance 90 party eventually folded into the Green Party in 1993.

5.  Gauck worked as Federal Commissioner of the Stasi Archives from 1990 (as Special Representative) to 2000. During his time at the archives, he uncovered thousands of people, mostly in the eastern part of the country, who had worked for the Stasi and exposed the activities of the opposition. Many of the people who had worked for the Stasi lost their jobs in the public sector as a result. In addition, he advocated for human rights and stressed the importance of ensuring that the history of communism in central and Eastern Europe is not overshadowed by the era of the Third Reich and remembering that both National Socialism and Communism were equally bad and thus the history of the two should not be forgotten. He has written about communism which included a chapter in The Black Book of Communism (published in 1998) and was one of the signatory fathers of two key declarations: of both the Prague Declaration on European Conscience and Communism (2008) and the Declaration on Crimes of Communism (2010). On his 70th birthday, Chancellor Angela Merkel commended him for his tireless work of advocating the education about and elimination of communism and other forms of totalitarianism.

6. Gauck was narrowly defeated by Christian Wulff in the Presidential elections to replace Horst Köhler in 2010. Yet Wulff’s scandals resulted in his falling out of favor with the government and the people and subsequentially had to step down from his post. However, many people believe that because of his honesty and tolerance to and acceptance of other people regardless of background, he was touted by many as the “better president.”

 

Keeping these facts in mind, the next question will be what impact will he have for Germany and the rest of the world? For Germany alone, he will bring the country into calmer waters and provide a fresh start for a government marred by a series of scandals that has resulted in the loss of credibility from the public over the last two years. One of his goals will be to win the hearts and souls of the public and ensure them that Germany is a country that prides itself on high quality, honesty, and transparency. This is something that is rarely seen these days as many countries are paralysed by politicians who are hypocritical and defer responsibility onto others instead of taking them. While Gauck may not be Harry Truman and his policy of “The Buck Stops Here”- where he bore the responsibility of the policies that were burdened by Congress during his administration (1945-53), given his religious background, combined with his past during the communist times, Gauck will ensure that the best way for the country is to be honest, help others in need and have tolerance.

Gauck will definitely provide the government with some much-needed weight with regards to cracking down on right-wing extremism, which includes eliminating the NPD by declaring the party unconstitutional. However, despite years of attempts to make the party unlawful according to German law, Gauck may want to consider rewriting a section of constitution which calls for eliminating any political parties that focuses on any sort of national socialism, socialism/communism, and xenophobia, while at the same time, try to reach out to the youth who are exposed to the right-wing influence, by discouraging that type of behavior.

His last goal will be to improve on international relations with other countries including the US, something that was almost non-existent during Wulff’s short term. He will have the advantage of being an independent and thus having strong relations with the other political parties supporting him, including Merkel’s CDU and the opposing Social Democrats, and even having an influence on their work as he will not have to worry about being influenced by one party or another (like it would have been the case had he been a member). A president who influences the government instead of the government (and in particular, the political parties) influencing the president is something that I hope we see in the US once the elections are completed in November of this year and perhaps if Gauck does a grand of a job in his first six months in office, the presidential candidates and the incumbent, President Obama, should look to him for reference and see what a person can do if he is independent of all the external influences, like it is the case in Washington.

While Gauck may be considered a grandpa by many, after looking at his past through research, I do believe that he is the right man for the job. If he can remain independent and work together on achieving the three primary goals mentioned here, he may end up becoming one of the best presidents in modern German history. But success can only be dependent on two important variables, the ability to take action independently and the ability to lead rationally and responsibly. We have seen the likes of Wulff ignoring the two and paying the price for that, but perhaps Gauck can change that and set an example for other politicians to follow, both in Germany and beyond.

 

Deutsche Welle also has an analysis on what Gauck will do for Germany and the rest of the world and you can see the report by clicking here.

Wulff steps down. Is the End of the Dream Coalition near?

 

At the beginning of the year, I submitted a piece on the changes scheduled to take place in 2012, which included the end of many eras, like the Euro and Germany’s Dream Coalition.  This included German President Christian Wulff stepping down because of his usage of the public’s money and private investments on his own indulgences.  On Friday, he did just that.
In a move that was expected by many political analysts and people closest to the German President, Wulff, beleaguered by the pursuit of prosecutors and media alike and fresh from the latest setback he endured in Hannover, submitted his resignation as President effective immediately, resulting in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cancellation of her trip to Italy and early return to Berlin to hand pick the next president. This came as the request to lift his immunity against any forms of litigation was granted, providing prosecutors with a golden opportunity to take him to court and convict him. While the move was swifter than expected, it does raise questions about the future of the Dream Coalition and its ability to govern the country between now and the elections next year.  Given the slew of scandals involving many of Merkel’s cabinet members, the rash decay of the FDP (Free Democrats) after suffering the most number of humiliating defeats in the party’s history last year, and the search for the second president in the chancellor’s career, one might consider the fact that the reign of the Dream Coalition may be over with earlier than expected. Why?
Let’s compare the predicament of the Dream Coalition with that of the Red-Green Coalition (consisting of the Social Democrats and the Greens) under Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder, which ran the country from 1998 to 2005. Both regimes got off on the fast foot and provided some rounds of success through their policies that reformed the job market and reduced the unemployment rate. The Dream Coalition went further by allowing Merkel to take the lead in straightening the European Union out in terms of its fiscal crisis, which is ongoing especially since Greece just recently received another 130bn Euros in relief funds to alleviate its own crisis.  Yet as the years went on, the public started figuring out that some of the policies that were in place was to their disadvantage, and many politicians were removed from office because of dissatisfaction. With the Red Green Coalition, it was because of its inability to reduce the unemployment and its paltry sets of policies, such as the Hartz IV social welfare policy. For the Dream Coalition, it was because of its stance on nuclear power, which up to the Fukushima disaster, they were staunch supporters of that energy. Furthermore, the scandals that affected the politicians- in particular the plagiarism scandals- has eroded the confidence of the public in the government, even though the latest Political Barometer still shows the majority supporting Merkel and her party, the Christian Democrats, despite sustaining losses in key German states last year.  Wulff’s downfall may signal the change that Germany needs to steer itself (and the rest of Europe) in the right direction for three reasons: 1. It would mark the first time in modern German history that a Chancellor has to appoint a President twice during his/her regime. While the President plays a figurative role by showing the outside world that Germany also has a president, one must not forget that he is the number two man should something happen to Merkel.  2. While the economy has been doing well despite sustaining some substantial blows caused by the ongoing financial crisis, people are questioning the way Germany has been handling its domestic policies in comparison to the foreign policies. While the government has been providing support to business and to European countries, as a consequence, austerity packages have been introduced, cutting aid to state-run institutions, such as universities, health care facilities, and other governmental offices, resulting in strikes and protests within the last two years. This has affected many people on multiple fronts and discouraged others from taking state jobs that pay little and provide only limited contracts. Lastly 3., the strive to return to morals and honesty has been picking up steam, despite the pleas from many supporters to have the likes of Karl Theordore zu Guttenberg to return despite his resignation from office because of plagiarism. These two key words (morals and honesty) are very common in American society for many politicians caught for their social ills (like extra marital affairs, homosexuality, etc.) are defamed by the public and forced out of office.  While this type of behavior is almost uncommon over here in Germany, using the public’s money for indulgences and investing in private funds, while at the same time threatening the media with naming and shaming if it exposes the secret, is indeed morally wrong. It is just as wrong as plagiarizing a doctoral thesis or sexually harassing a state employee, the other two offences that are common over here.  One has to ask whether Merkel is covering up the bad deeds, not paying attention to the inner-political strife, or both, but it does show significant weakness in her ability to rule the country.
The loss of Wulff to his successor Joachim Gauck as President combined with the restlessness of the Free Democrats and its question of identity are two key blows that she may not be able to swallow. While it is easy for her and the rest of the party to strongly encourage politicians with their own set of scandals and ills to resign from their post in the interest of the German population, it will not solve the problem of how the Chancellor will lead the country between now and the elections next year. Facing a crisis of her own and the growing uncertainty regarding 2012 as a whole, the easiest and most effective approach is to dissolve the Dream Coalition and have early elections this year. It was done by Gerhard Schroeder in 2005 when his coalition broke apart after a string of defeats and other mishaps. Perhaps Merkel should learn from her SPD opponent and make the right decision. Only then will Germany (and all of Europe) will go into the right direction with a new set of policies and especially a new set of morals for the public to follow.

FLENSBURG FILES FAST FACT: Joachim Gauck is not officially the President of Germany, at least not yet. According to the German Constitution „Grundgesetz“ (EN: Basic Law), a candidate must be decided by the majority of the ruling party and the opposition. Gauck was nominated by the Dream Coalition together with the Social Democrats and the Green Party on the Opposition side. The Left-wing party abstained and is pursuing its own path. On 18 March, a Federal Convention will take place, where 1000 members (from the federal and state governments) will submit their vote for their new president. If there is no absolute majority after the first two votes, then the candidate may be endorsed through the third and fourth voting process, where the plurality of votes are casted. That means if no majority is found for Gauck, another candidate may be endorsed and could possibly win the post. The process is complicated as a lot of politicking is involved.  If the president wins the post, he will hold this office for five years but can be reelected once after the first term. At president, Horst Seehofer is acting head of state until the Convention takes place on the 18th. As a general rule, when a president steps down, the German government has 30 days to elect a new president through this Convention.

Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_of_Germany

http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15759222,00.html

http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15747820,00.html

 

Flynnism for the Arrogant and Cocky

 

This column includes some stories from the Flensburg Files News Flyer
There are some people who are born to greatness and prove it through word and practice, both as a professional as well as in private life. They set examples for others (especially in the younger generations) to follow, endure and prevail in hardships, and succeed the hardest way possible, through the four Ps of success: perseverance, patience, passion, and persistence.  Yet there are many who love to pretend they are the greatest, by showing off their greatness to the world with their words only and not showing the colors that fit the description. Many times, these marketing techniques can fail miserably through poor performance and scandals that can ruin ones popularity beyond repair. It is like buying a luxury car that has all the features a person could ever ask for (air conditioning, GPS computer, built-in cup holder and retractable seating), only to find that an important component (like the brakes or wiring) fails, and the driver loses control of the car, ending up crashing into a wall or a lake and paying a dear price for it.
This month so far, we have seen many promis who fell into that category as they showed off their greatness through their mouth but the exact opposite in practice.  Tim Tebow, quarterback of the Denver Broncos (in American football the National Football League) pretended he was Jesus Christ in leading the team to the playoffs, knocking out the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round, and talking about his heroics and its connection with religion to the TV audience. This sparked a sensation known as Tebowmania, which many anti-Broncos fans were itching to see him eat dirt in humiliation. The New England Patriots under quarterback Tom Brady took care of that wish by not only burying him and his team 45-10 in the second round this past weekend, but also using him as a tackling dummy (and making him eat grass in the process).  So much for Tebowmania, huh?
Then there is another American football team that everyone loved to hate with a passion, the Green Bay Packers. For 15 out of 16 games, they pummeled every single mediocre football team by an average score of 35-7. Yet the only loss was to another mediocre team (Kansas City), and the cracks started to show. Still, the team was way too proud and cheesy to address the problems and still stressed their greatness to the public. Bring in the New York Giants, a team that won only nine games and were projected to lose in the second round in the playoffs, and the team under Eli Manning disrobed the Pack under Aaron Rodgers on their home turf at Lambeau Field. I guess Goliath can bring down David after all. After all, the telephone switchboards of 1-800 GET HELP were blinking like a Christmas tree full of despair Packers fans after the Giants walked off the field feeling glorious and preparing for the NFC finals game against the San Francisco 49ers next week.
I just know that there was the sound of Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor doing a solo for the Mozart Requiem the next morning when I found out about the Giants’ clear cut victory over Green Bay, because it can be heard clearly throughout all of Germany from the halls of the German Parliamentary Building in Berlin. Perhaps she is a Giants fan, but maybe it is because she is broiling in her own anger because of another scandal that has hit the Parliament; this time it involves the German President Christian Wulff and his private loan affair to purchase a house.
It is hard to believe that Wulff can hold the second most powerful post in the German government (behind Merkel), smile in the face of the public and have the nerve to inform the public on how to be frugal in our spending for 2012 during the Christmas Eve address, that was watched by over 20 million viewers, but at the same time, expose his own corruptive deeds through his own actions. And to exacerbate the situation further, he threatens the media with actions that are considered unlawful to today’s standards. Apparently he does not like the fact that the media is already writing him off for dead and that it is glorifying the Social Democrats for planning his successor for Merkel.  Perhaps if and when the Dream Coalition gets voted out of office in 2013 the future former cabinet members would rather take a trip on a cruise ship off the coast of Italy. After all, if they have a captain who can abandon ship after running it aground and tipping it over- before all the passengers leave, that is- they can relate their experience in the Bundestag to the events that occurred off the coast of Toscana.
That would be invincibility is a recipe for disaster unless you know how to deal with the people first and- in a proper way. Talk is cheap if you are unable to show your actions and impress the people first. Even my former math teacher and high school track and field coach once said that a person’s mouth and actions will determine one’s destiny. He is definitely right about that, yet people don’t seem to take that advice nowadays.
I would like to close this column by bidding farewell to a judge whose wit and charismatic actions have coined another terminology in the legal dictionary. Jeffery Flynn, the 5th Judicial Court Judge in Minnesota, whose residence is in Worthington, Minnesota, is stepping down after 27 years.  He provided students at high schools throughout the region with a whiff of what life in the legal business is all about, encouraging even some of my friends and former classmates to embrace the business, either as a lawyer, solicitor or even a judge.  His quotes to the convicted and to the audience helped coin the term Flynnism, and while some examples would take another page of my column (you can read the article here: https://secure.forumcomm.com/?publisher_ID=24&article_id=54414 ), it sometimes makes me wonder what he would have to say to the people who have fallen flat on their faces so far this month. Before I make my prediction on that, I will just leave this last part blank and hope that when he has the opportunity to read this column, he can close it with some comments on his own. Besides, his Flynnisms for the hot-headed whose air has been released (regardless of which side of the Atlantic they are on) can only be done by the person who has done his deeds to the criminals for all those years.

Flensburg Files News Flyer:
Apart from Flynn stepping down, the Giants have made it to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2008 and will have a rematch with the New England Patriots. The last time these two teams met in the Super Bowl, the Giants spoiled the Patriots run for a perfect record, which would have been the second time this happened. Game time is the 5th of February and given all the rumors from the audience and within the American Football league NFL, this could be the last time the Super Bowl is played on a Sunday. Proposals for a Super Saturday is in the making even as this column comes out.

ALSO:
Calls for German President Wulff to step down are getting louder, for despite him presenting his financial records that are in connection with the real estate scandal, the media organizations have accused him of making threats to the yellow press for exposing his housing loan and abuse of power, and his former press secretary Olaf Glaeseker is coming under fire for assisting him in some of the cover-up. The Opposition (SPD, Green and the Socialist party Die Linke) have been trying to work with Chancellor Merkel on finding a successor for Wulff, should he decide to step down sometime in the course of three months. And even some of the members of his own party (the Christian Democrats) are expressing their dismay and have recommended Wulff to step aside in the interest of the party and his own family. Currently, approval ratings have dropped from 72% to a sobering 30% in the course of two weeks. What will happen next remains to be seen.
As for the tragedy off the coast of the Tuscan Island of Giglio, 17 deaths have been recorded so far (six coming from Germany) with attempts to find the remaining 20 passengers being very difficult because of the capsized luxury ship slipping off the reef and into the water.  The captain of the ship has come under fire because of his inability to see the passengers off the ship and the excuses that were made, such as falling off the ship into the lifeboat. Needless to say, even if he is acquitted, his days of navigating the ship are finished after this incident.

More info here: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15683975,00.html and http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15705486,00.html

2012: The Year of Reckoning

If there is a year where judgement day will take place, where our actions of the past will determine our fate in the future and where justice will be served once and for all, this year is it and for a good reason. Many sources on both sides of the Atlantic have already touted 2011 as the worst year to date, as scandals hit the airwaves, many politicians were exposed for their wrongdoing, many countries faced default as they spent more than they could save, and most of the public was led to a false sense of security, resulting in protests against Wall Street in the US and other financial institutions in Europe and elsewhere, and the Arab Spring, which is already in its second year.  While 2011 exposed all forms of lies and deception, 2012 will definitely be the year of the truth- where people responsible for the scandals and corruption will be brought to justice, old institutions will collapse and a new world order will be created, and the public will finally start getting what they deserved (and what they have been longing for since 2000), which goes beyond the color of money and other forms of financial security.

Many have gone by the Mayan assumption that 2012 will be the year Earth ceases to exist and that we will all perish on 21 December, 2012. Speaking from our past experience with Y2K and Nostradamus and its connection with 11 September 2001, this theory will never happen in practice. It will be business as usual and we will all celebrate Christmas and ring in 2013, so you can rest easily. Yet we will see fundamental changes in our way of life as many institutions will cave into the pressure by the majority who have perceived them to be corrupt and dysfunctional. What has already occurred in the Middle East and North Africa will make its way to Europe and the Americas, both legally (through the election process) and illegally (through the coup d’ etat).  It may not be like the hot summer of 1968, but it could be even hotter both literally as well as in the context.  Here are some examples of changes that we may see in this year:

The End of the Euro and the Return of the Deutsche Mark:  This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the Euro, yet there is nothing to celebrate about given the events that occurred in the last year. Countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and now Italy have more debt than what their Gross Domestic Product can handle. France might follow and Germany is stretched at the breaking point after dishing out its share of money to help Greece. And now the UK wants to protect its British Pound and its own interest. It is hard to believe that the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, which were supposed to bind the 27 countries together (17 of which have the Euro currency), are becoming null and void, but given the problems the European countries are having to keep their fiscal policies in order, it is a sad reality. Despite attempts by Germany, France and now Denmark (which leads the European Parliament for the first six months of this year) to stabilize the Euro, elections in France and possibly elsewhere will make every attempt very difficult, if not impossible. Prediction: The Euro will fall and the national currencies, like the German Mark and the French Franc will return, but European policies will remain intact albeit as a loose-leaf political federation.

The End of the Dream Coalition: The sound defeat of the Free Liberals, combined with the scandals involving many members of the Christian Democrats and the lack of satisfaction among the Germans because of the Euro Crisis may spell the end of Angela Merkel’s regime as Chancellor of Germany. Already before the end of 2011 another scandal emerged with an ugly face involving the German President Christian Wulff as he was accused of obtaining a loan from a private bank, which has gotten the Opposition furious and the media happy to defame the former minister of Lower Saxony. Should he step down as president, it could create implications for possible early elections, which would not be a first in modern history. The last early elections of 2005 brought down Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder and perhaps a beleaguered Merkel could face that possibility that her coalition may not last to the scheduled federal elections in 2013.

 

The End to Washington politics: Perhaps the most pivotal event taking shape in 2012 is not the Olympic Games in London, even though the city will be touted as the first one to host the Games five times since the inception in 1896. It will be the Presidential elections in November that will remake Capitol Hill and break the deadlock that has given President Barack Obama headaches in the past two years. Health care, the debt ceiling, spending cuts, reinforcing the nation’s infrastructure, and finding ways to reduce the unemployment has caused the Republicans and Democrats to harden their stances and the public to lose respect for Washington altogether. Even the President’s performance is considered appalling in the eyes of many Americans. Yet the challengers from the Republican side of the spectrum have not been able to come up with a clear cut plan as to tackle the problems the country has been facing since the Recession started in 2008. Unless the deference of responsibility ends and there is a unified plan to handle the problems that have been left behind from the era of President George W. Bush, we could see a very hot summer over the US which could change the landscape of the US once and for all. There are three ways that could happen: a Revolution like in 1968 marked by protests and violence, a Revolution of 1848 that includes overtaking Washington and New York, or a Revolution of 1936 in Spain, which marked the beginning of the three year civil war. None of these options are desirable. Prediction: Change will come to America but only through a President with a plan and the ability to relate to the needs of the Public and a Congress that will support every policy the President has to tackle the problems that are keeping the country from becoming the best.

 

The End of Big Oil and its influence: This theory may be far-fetched but is possible in practice. After facing lawsuits because of oil disaster after oil disaster (including the 2010 Disaster off the Gulf of Mexico and the most recent disaster in northern Spain), the increasing interest in renewable energy and electric automobiles and people becoming fed up with the monopoly, increasing oil prices and its cozy relationship with politicians, the influence of the big oil companies will diminish due to regulations and the need to keep their influence in check, something that people have been asking for since 2001 but have not had their wishes respected until now.

 

The End of Ignorance to the most pressing environmental problems:  If the world ever was to come to an end on 21 December 2012, it will be because of the natural disaster of apocalyptic proportions, similar to what was seen in The Day After Tomorrow. While 2011 was touted as the wildest weather in recent memory with unprecedented snowfall and blizzards, combined with flooding and extremely hot temperatures, this year will most certainly be considered hotter and wilder. Already, both the northern half of the US and all of Europe (minus the Alps) set the record for the warmest December in recent memory with a green and brown Christmas, and 2012 started off with spring weather in Germany and all places to the north. If one follows the trend, a warm December means a January full of hurricanes and an extremely hot summer with high humidity and storms. This was certainly the case in Winter 2006/07 in Germany, where a warm December was followed by hurricane Kyrill, which devastated northern Europe, brought travel to a total standstill, and coined the word kyrillize. If people do not realize the gravity of the situation with global warming and take action, no one will and the consequences will be unthinkable.

 

And finally….

The End of Rush Limbaugh and Biased Media: In the past 10 years, we have seen the media veer away from becoming a neutral medium where people receive their regular dose of 60 minutes of news on the local, national and international levels and divulge into far left and far right media, influenced by  celebs like Rachel Madow and Keith Obermann (left) and Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh (right). With this divisive influence comes the split in family structure and value where members have been taking sides on certain issues and the ignorance of the most pressing issues that have been mentioned above.  Fortunately, thanks to the likes of CNN and the BBC, German public TV, like N24 and ARD, social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and lastly online blogs and columns, like this one, we are starting to see the influence from the extremes diminish. This is good as many people are really tired of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who has harassed one celebrity too many too much. Earning six years worth $400 million to host his own talk show, he has influenced the public with his own version of the news to a point where many have believed his propaganda and have tried to encourage others to refer to him for guidance. Whoever says that Michael J. Fox is faking his Parkinson’s Disease and that oil is a renewable resource must be way too insane to write a column or speak on the radio. Once the elections of 2012 are finish, we will also see the downfall of many people like him and the return to reality and real news with neutral information, something that will definitely help us become more informed and indeed smarter.

 

But before seeing what 2012 will really bring us, there are some memos worth noting that will help determine whether or not the theories brought forth will come true.

 

FLENSBURG FILES NEWS FLYER:

Operation Wulff:  The background to the credit scandal involving German President Christian Wulff is as follows: During his time in office, he obtained a home loan from a private bank with low interest rate to purchase a house, which is considered illegal according to German law. He tried to avert the scandal by not mentioning it in his Christmas speech or in any of his interviews and apparently threatening the yellow press and other newspapers, which is also considered illegal. Support for Mr. Wulff is waning and it may be a matter of time before Chancellor Merkel will be forced to elect a new president- another torpedo hit to a Dream Coalition that has been battered with scandals since 2009.

Link: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15642945,00.html

Farewell to Arms?:    2011 was also a record year of deaths of famous people world wide, including those who passed on either shortly before or during the holidays. Among them include Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic who led the revolution of Czechoslovakia (a.k.a. Velvet Revolution) in 1989 and granted a Velvet Divorce from Slovakia in 1993. He was president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992 at the time of the Velvet Divorce and the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. He died on 18 December at the age of 75.  Dutch actor Johannes Heesters, a popular figure in the German film industry famous for Die Fledermaus (the Bat), Bel-Ami, and the Otto series passed away peacefully on Christmas Eve at the age of 108. And Kim Jong Il of North Korea died on 17 December after a long illness at the age of 70. He is succeeded by his son Kim Jong un as leader of the country and hope is still there for the country to lay down its arms and hostility and embrace peace, although it still remains many kilometers apart. All three figures were controversial in one way or another because of political spats that were considered inappropriate in the public’s eyes, yet deep down realized that peace was important and to a certain degree have set the precident for the next one to enusre that peace and prosperity dominate the global playing field for the next generation.

Links: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6683647,00.html (Havel)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Heesters (Heesters)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Jong-il

 

The Drive to End Nationalism in Germany: In response to the recent terrorist attacks by the right wing extremists in central and eastern Germany, the drive to consider the prohibition of the NPD in Germany is gaining steam, even though critics consider this futile and will fail at the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe. It is unclear if and when this will happen, but in order to successfully ban the party, one might want to consider rewriting the constitution, written while Konrad Adenauer was in power in the 1950s, and state that all parties that stress the importance of xenophobism, nationalism or nazisim are forbidden, and that law enforcement should be reinforced to ensure that the law is kept. A discussion on this can be found here:

Link: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15597828,00.html

 

Lowest Unemployment in 20 Years in Germany: Despite the Euro-Crisis, Germany had a record year as far as employment is concerned. During all of 2011, an average of 2.7 million Germans were unemployed, an average percentage of 8%.  Of which, 10.5% came from the eastern half of the country and 5.6% from the western half. This is the lowest since 1991, the first year of a reunited Germany.  Despite a slight increase of 67,000 people in December, the total number for the last month was 2,78 million. In addition, the Gross Domestic Product rose by 3% for the whole year, making it one of the most productive countries in the world. Unfortunately, despite the rosy numbers, dangers lurk for 2012 as the crisis in Europe may eventually drag Germany down thanks to cuts in programs and the country’s budget and companies’ planning on laying off employees, which could result in an increase in the number of unemployed. This was already announced by Chancellor Merkel during her Christmas Eve address, televised on German TV. It is unclear whether she will be right on her predictions or if Germany will buck the trend.

Links: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15642176,00.html

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/alos100.html

 

Double Storm to pummelt Europe: For those wanting to celebrate Epiphany this weekend and take down the Christmas tree, one will have to calculate Ulli and Andrea crashing the party and leaving a mess for Europeans to clean up. On Tuesday, Ulli produced winds as high as 150 kmph (75 mph) in places along the North Sea coast and the Harz Mountain region in northern Thuringia and parts of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, uprooting trees, tearing roofs off houses and creating traffic chaos. Thursday and Friday, the storm’s sister will wreak havoc on the region with much higher wind gusts, combined with hail and snow in many areas, making it one of the strongest storms since Kyrill invaded Europe in 2007. More information will come soon.

Link: http://www.ndr.de/regional/wetter327.html

 

 

Berlin Elections 2011: Turning Point in German Politics

The German-named “Superwahljahr 2011” (Super Elections of 2011- if one wants a rough translation) reached its climax on Sunday, as half of the 2.5 inhabitants of the city-state and Germany’s capital of Berlin went to the polls and voted to keep Klaus Wowereit (Social Democrat- SPD) in power as the mayor. His toughest challenge now is to find a new coalition partner that will help govern the city. His party’s coalition partner, the left-wing Linke Party was unable to obtain enough votes to continue the Red-Coalition and therefore, the Social Democrats have the option of having the Greens as a partner to form the common Red-Green coalition, which can be found in states like Rheinland Palatinate, Bremen  and Baden-Wurttemberg (the third state of which brought the state’s first Green prime minister to power). The other option would be to join the Christian Democrats (CDU) to form the Grand Coalition which has dominated the political scene in Germany in states like Mecklenburg Pommerania, Thuringia, and Saxony-Anhalt. Talks began Monday and speculation points to the Red-Green coalition although some issues have to be resolved first in order to ensure that continuity and transparency exists. One of the issues on the table is the extension of the city-autobahn 110 through the southern and easter end of Berlin’s city center The Greens are against the proposal, the SPD are for it.
As for the voting results, the SPD remained a powerful party with 28.5% of the votes, followed by the CDU with 23.4%, the Greens with 17.6%, the Linke with 11.7%, the Pirates Party, a newcomer to the elections with 8.9% and the FDP with 1.8%. The new make-up in the Berlin city senate will consist of 47 seats for the SPD, 39 for the CDU, 29 for the Greens, 19 for the Linke, and 15 for the Pirates.  A pair of notes to point out from the Berlin elections:

 

The end of the FDP?
After recording five losses in a row and losing its presence in the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Pommerania, Rheinland-Palatinate and Baden-Wurttemberg, the liberal democrats once again failed to reach the 5% hurdle to stay in parliament in Berlin. As a consequence, talks are underway in the German government and within the FDP regarding the party’s future. The party has been marred with scandals this past year (including that involving plagiarism), and the miserable results have led to the resignation of Guido Westerwelle as the head of the party in May. While Philip Röseler, currently Minister of Finance has taken over his place, he has come under fierce fire from his counterparts of the CDU for the party’s lack of direction and the resulting poor performance. With the FDP losing influence, it could spell doom for the Dream Coalition of the CDU-FDP under the direction of Chancellor Angela, who may have to consider early elections in order to find a more suitable coalition partner to lead the country. German elections will take place in 2013 unless early elections push it up to next year, the second time in 7 years that has happened.  Should that be the case and the losses continue to mount, the FDP may disappear from the political landscape within five years, and with it, its campaign for free markets and less regulations.

What is the Pirate Party?
Founded in 2005 and headed by Sebastian Nerz, the Pirate Party has raised some eyebrows among Germans, after it made the 5% hurdle and will make its debut in Berlin’s city parliament. The Pirate Party is the most independent of the common parties serving the country for its campaign platform is simple but down to earth; especially for the younger generations born after 1975. Most of the themes covered during the elections are those that were not discussed thoroughly among the common parties (the main ones dominating the German political landscape). This includes unlimited access to public transportation in Berlin, loosening up of copyright regulations, free internet access for all, improving basic rights among Berliners, and more importantly, reforming the government so that they are transparent and there are no loose ends in the regulations.  These topics have been a major agenda for the party for they feel that they have not been discussed in detail by the government. This is especially true with basic rights, as Nerz mentioned in an interview that some of the laws requiring surveillance and reducing the rights of citizens were not thought through thoroughly nor discussed with the public. Whether the party will be successful or not depends on how Nerz and company will push through their agenda when they enter the city hall for the first time. They have five years to show their true colors and perhaps win the hearts and minds of those who never thought they would take that step.

FLENSBURG FILES FAST FACT:  There are 29 countries that have their own Pirate Party. In Germany alone, apart from having one serving the country, two state pirate parties serve the states of Hesse and Bavaria. In the United States, while there is no official party serving the country, there are two state Pirate parties that exist in Massachusetts and Florida. An international Pirate Party was founded in Brussels, Belgium last year.

 

Links:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15399521,00.html

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15397392,00.html

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/nerz102.html

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/wahlberlin102_zc-885afaa7_zs-5d851339.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Parties_International#Pirate_Party_movement_worldwide

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Democratic_Party_%28Germany%29

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

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