2013 Flood Aftermath: What’s next?

Here are some good news and bad news with regards to the Great Flood of 2013: We’ll start off with the good news, first: the giant wave of floodwaters of the Elbe and Danube Rivers have entered their respective mouths- Elbe emptying into the North Sea and the Danube in the Black Sea. And while that is a sign of relief for many people living near the river, the one has to keep in mind that it is not safe to enter the homes to clean-up, especially in areas of Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Schleswig-Holstein where the 200 meter wide Elbe became a lake 40 kilometers wide, sinking many villages, setting records in Lauenburg, Wittenberge, Lüneburg and Fischbek, and destroying livelihoods. It didn’t need the destruction of the Elbe Dam north of Magdeburg, the misalignment of the ICE-rail line between Berlin and Hannover, the sinking of three ships to close a 300 meter long dike breech that drowned Fischbek and the destruction of a dike near Barby where the Saale and Elbe meet to drain the floodwaters in the fields to realize how bad the Great Flood of 2013 really was.

Now comes the question of what’s next. Politicians are reluctant to help, donations are low, and many people affected are asking themselves whether they should have made that decision to better protect their homes and communities that were washed out by the Great Flood of 2002. Others are thinking of moving to higher ground. In either case, two major floods in 11 years should serve as a sign that a change in livelihood is unavoidable, meaning we should change before it is done to us, and when it happens, it will not be to our best advantage.

Using a new App, Audioboo, I’ve made a summary and a pair of questions for the Forum for you to consider (and of course answering either through the Comment section or through Twitter, Facebook or Pininterest.) You can access the Frage für die Forum by clicking on the title below.

The Flooding Question- Flensburg Files Frage für die Forum

Further updates on the flooding can be found here:

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/flut-sonderfonds-bund-und-laender-einigen-sich-auf-milliardenhilfe-a-906642.html

http://www.dw.de/german-flood-prevention-still-cant-prevent-floods/a-16876765

http://www.dw.de/german-town-of-wittenberge-fights-floods/a-16875233

http://www.ndr.de/regional/hochwasserindex105.html

http://www.ndr.de/regional/niedersachsen/hannover/bahnfahrplan101.html

Flood Update: Records fall in Magdeburg and Wittenberge; Solidarity Pact used for flooding

Skyline in Magdeburg. Photo taken in Feb. 2011

 

Records set in Magdeburg, Wittenberge, Hitzacker; Hamburg prepares for Elbe, Solidarity Pact for Reconstruction of Region

Imagine this photo of the city of Magdeburg. It’s a fantastic community with 300,000 people with many bridges, churches (like the Magdeburg Cathedral) and the Hochwasserhaus, one of only two in the world that one can see. This photo was taken at sundown from the eastern bank of the Elbe River at a park.  Now imagine this scenery again but with water filled to the brim.

Residents, crew members and volunteers have been fighting windmills in keeping the violent waters of the Elbe from overflowing its banks, which would have caused substantial and irreparable damage to Magdeburg’s city center. Yet the battle has not been easy, as dikes have bursted and many suburbs of the city had to evacuate tens of thousands. 40% of the city center was under water. Even the rail lines connecting the city, its neighbor Stendal, and the likes of Berlin, Hannover and Oldenburg had to shut down due to water flowing over the Elbe River bridges.  The good news, if there is any right now, is that the water levels are finally going down. Yesterday morning, the city set a new record for flooding at 7.48 meters, more than half a meter higher than the record set in 2002.  In other places, records fell in places, like Stendal, Wittenberge (9.8 meters)  and Hitzacker (9.6 meters), with more to come in the next 24-48 hours in Lueneberg, Lauenberg and even Hamburg.  Most of the records that have fallen were the ones set in 2002, which has many people awing in amazement but scrambling to determine how often such mass floodings will take place. Already Saxony’s minister  Stanislaw Tillich is planning a conference on 19 June to talk about future planning to combat floods like this one. More information with a Frage für den Forum to come once the conference is finished.  But the flooding has already caused many politicians to criticize the current situation in Berlin. For instance:

Solidarity Pact to be Reinforced and used for Reconstruction:

Reiner Haseloff Prime Minister of Saxony-Anhalt is pushing for all 16 German states to put aside money for the reconstruction efforts in the flood-ravaged region. The Solidarity Pact, created in 1991 was designed for rich German states to pay money to those that are in financial need. This came under fire by the ministers of Hesse and Bavaria who wanted to reduce the amount of money contributed to these states, claiming that the money should be spent for their projects in their own state. Baden-Wurttemberg is the other state that is helping the other 13 states out, but has had no issues with this solidarity pact, according to minister,  Winfried Kretschmann. This pact, together with the Solidarity Pact with the eastern half of the country, scheduled to expire in 2019, will be hot topics on the agenda for the coming weeks for Germany will have to find a way to rebuild on its own. The European Union announced that funding for the solidarity pact established in 2002 has been exhausted due to the bailouts given to southern Europe, including Cyprus, Spain and Greece.

 

Hamburg prepares for the Worst:

Even in Hamburg, city officials are bracing the Elbe and its record-breaking water levels. Even though officials are expecting water levels to rise 2.5 meters with a dike constructed to withstand levels of up to 3.5 meters, people living in low-lying areas are being asked to move to higher ground for safety purposes. The unknown factor that is making many Hamburgers nervous is how high will the Elbe go and how the dikes will withstand the pressure from the river, which has been responsible for punching holes in dikes, especially in the area where it meets the Saale at Barby and Magdeburg. The river is expected to crest by week’s end.

Note: Sister column the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will have the latest on the 2013 Floods and the Bridge Disasters in its own article. Good news is unlike the 2002 Floods, there were as many bridges destroyed as feared. But some notable ones, mainly in Saxony, are either destroyed or damaged beyond repair and are scheduled to be replaced.

 

More information on the latest regarding the flooding can be found here:

http://www.abendblatt.de/vermischtes/article116941024/Historische-Hoechststaende-fuer-Lauenburg-vorhergesagt.html

http://www.ndr.de/regional/schleswig-holstein/lauenburg241.html

http://www.ndr.de/regional/elbhochwasser159.html

http://www.thelocal.de/national/20130316-48565.html

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/schaeden-durch-dauerregen120.html

http://www.dw.de/top-stories/germany/s-1432

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/finanztransfer100.html

http://www.wiwo.de/politik/deutschland/staedtetagpraesident-maly-solidarpakt-muss-sich-grundsaetzlich-aendern/8121350.html

 

 

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

 

Flood Update: Germany set to smash 2002 Flood Records!

Passau and Halle (Saale) set new hundred year flood records. Dresden set to follow. Elbe River rising drammatically. German Government to provide relief to areas affected.

“Two hundred year floods in 11 years are too much.” Those are the comments made by the mayor of the small town in Saxony called Grimma, after the Mulde rose and smashed the previous record set in 2002 a couple days ago. These words have been echoing around the flooded areas of Germany, where at the present time, as many as 8 of the German states are underwater or fighting the floods. In many cities throughout the country, new hundred year flood records were set with more yet to come as high waters of the Elbe, Rhine and Danube Rivers continue to rise, displacing tens of thousands of residents. While German chancellor Angela Merkel visited the areas affected yesterday, including the cities of Greiz, Chemnitz and Passau and has promised to provide millions of Euros in relief to businesses and residents affected by the floods, newspapers have reported that the damage and loss amounts are expected to be exorbitant. In Thuringia alone, an estimated one billion Euros is expected to be used to repair and rebuild areas affected by the floods. There, the situation has improved as water levels of the White Elster, Gera and Saale Rivers have decreased steadily in the past two days.

If the trend continues in the coming days and weeks, it is expected that the Great Flood of 2013 will be the worst flooding ever on record in Europe (both in terms of costs as well as the size of areas affected), even eclipsing the Great Floods of 1993, 2008 and 2011 in the United States. Already, many cities have set new records with more to follow. Here are some examples:

Passau:   At the junction of the Danube, Inn and Itz Rivers, the town of 50,000 has had a history of record floods with the worst being set in 1501 at 12.22 meters. This was smashed on Monday by 65 centimeters, even though levels could have reached the 13 or even 14 meter mark given the rasant rise of the rivers. All of the old town is meters under water and it will be a couple of weeks before the rivers return to their banks and people can return to their homes and businesses to look at the damage done by the floods. With its proximate location at the rivers, it is likely that drastic measures will have to be taken to ensure that such a disatser, which featured the city cutting power drinking water supplies and people being forced to evacuate, never repeats itself. Yet no matter what action is taken, it will be costly for the city and all of Bavaria.  Floodwaters are expected to reach Regensburg, located northwest of the city, where it will crest at 6.8 meters, smashing a 130-year old record. Already people are being evacuated and sandbags are being used to keep the floodwaters out of the city center.

 

Halle (Saale): Even the town in Saxony-Anhalt with best-kept secret could not avoid the floodwaters, as the Saale River flooded its banks and portions of the suburb Neustadt and the city center are underwater as of present. The city, where Georg Friedrich Handel was born, set a new record this morning as water levels reached 8.05 meters. This was the first time water levels were that high in 400 years. Workers are trying feverishly to strengthen the dikes to minimalize the effects of the flooding. The annual Handel Music Festival, scheduled for this weekend, was cancelled due to flooding. The author was there for the Christmas market last December and you can view the article here. Yet keep in mind, the famous cathedral and market square shown in the pictures, are all under water at this time. Not a great sight for people like Handel.

Dresden: The people in Dresden are also scrambling to ensure that a repeat of the 2002 floods doesn’t happen again. During the last flood, the waters of the Elbe River set an all time mark of 9.4 meters, flooding 90% of the old town and low-lying areas. While lessons have been learned from this disaster and flood barriers have been built to withstand future floods, it is unknown whether it will help this time. At the moment, the river is at 8.43 meters and increasing by the hour. It is expected to crest by tomorrow. People are waiting and praying that the 11-year old record is not broken.

Magdeburg and Lauenburg:  Yet even when the flooding in Saxony is over (but after breaking records in many cities affected), residents in cities along the Elbe River are preparing for the worst and expecting the Elbe to set new records. In Magdeburg, north of Halle (Saale), the river is expected to creat at 6.9 meters, breaking an all-time record set in 2002 by 18 centemeters. In Lauenburg in Schleswig-Holstein, located southeast of Hamburg, the community is expected to break its own record of eight meters by 80 centimeters by the weekend. The eight meter mark was set two years ago, when rains in the northern half caused flooding in that area.

Even as the flooding has passed in areas like western Saxony and Thuringia, the waters have left their mark in many places, with multiple bridges destroyed, houses and schools sustaining damage and even sports complexes and stadiums being considered not useable at the moment. While the roads are reopened to traffic and many people are returning to their homes, many are facing the daunting task of rebuilding from the bottom up. Yet for some who have lived through the flooding twice in 11 years, some difficult decisions will be made to determine whether living next to a river is a good idea, or if it makes sense to start over on higher ground. While some cities, like Fargo-Moorhead have taken the initiative to buy out homes located along major rivers to construct dikes and waterways to divert floodwaters away from the city center, such projects would be too costly over here given the geographical ciscumstances. Therefore the decision on what to do next lies solely on the people affected.

 

The Flensburg Files is taking stories of people affected by the Great Flood of 2013 in the English language. If you have a story about the flood that you would like to share with the reader, please send it to Jason Smith at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com and it will be posted. Your name will be annonymous if requested. Photos are welcome and highly encouraged.

Links to the flooding with photos can be found here:

http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/unwetter636.html

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/schaeden-durch-dauerregen120.html

http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/hochwasser846.html

http://www.nytimes.com/video/2013/06/04/world/europe/100000002262015/flood-across-central-europe.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/floods-sweep-through-central-europe/

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2013/06/03/europe-floods-060313.html

 

Land Under in Germany!

Massive Flooding in eastern and southern Germany. 200-year flood expected. Other countries affected.

This May was supposed to be the month where we would enjoy the highest number of holidays of the year in Germany.  Almost half the days (and floating holidays) were spent for May Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day (Männertag), Kid’s Day and Pentecost this year, making the month the year with the most number of holidays except for December (if you count Advent and the Christmas- New Year vacation). Yet many people fought unseasonably cold and rainy weather this past month, as the theory of April Showers Bring May Flowers became May Showers bring this….

Burgau Bridge under water. The bridge spans the Saale River in Jena in eastern Thuringia. Photo taken on 2 June, 2013

That’s right! June floods.  German and European meteorologists have declared May as the wettest year ever recorded. And the most recent torrential downpours occurring last weekend has caused rivers in the region to rise rapidly. In many cases the water levels have surpassed the records set by the last major flood in 2002, which cut Germany into two because of the flooding along the Elbe River.  This time around however, the problem areas are the eastern parts of Germany, in Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, but also all of Bavaria and parts of Baden Wurtemberg.  Here are some of the highlights of the flooding so far, which will indeed surpass that of the Great Flood of 2002:

Thuringian Towns evacuated:  While cities like Jena, Gera and Erfurt are mostly underwater forcing cities to cancel classes in schools and traffic to be diverted away from the flooded areas, many towns along the Saale, White Elster and Ilm Rivers are being forced to evacuate. This includes the town of Gossnitz, located east of Gera. All 3000 inhabitants of the town were forced to evacuate yesterday as the Pleisse River flooded its banks thanks to a dam breaking nearby.  Evacuations were seen in Greiz as all of the city center is under water because of the White Elster. The city of 29,000 is now cut off from the rest of the world with no end in sight. Many houses are in danger of collapse, with a couple of them actually occurring east of Jena in the town of Stadtroda. Photos of the flooding can be seen here.

Saxony Reliving 2002 again:  Flooding has hit home in Saxony again for the first time in 11 years. Grimma, Eilenburg, Meissen, Zwickau and Chemnitz last saw the rath of flood waters in 2002, where water levels were so high that it destroyed buildings and bridges. Residents are reliving the floods again as the rivers have overrun their banks and many people are evacuating to higher grounds. Yet lessons learned from the last floods are making this fight a bit easier, with better dikes and a better system of informing people of catastrophes ahead of time. The water levels of the Mulde, White Elster and other smaller streams are still rising and flooding is expected to reach Leipzig in the coming days. In Dresden, the Elbe is also on the rise, but has not caused as much damage as in 2002,, when all of the city center was under water. But the town is not out of the woods just yet. See photos here.

Passau sets the mark again- other parts of Bavaria under water:  Located at the junction of the Inn and Danube Rivers at the German, Austrian and Czech borders, the Bavarian city of 200,000 inhabitants has had a history of flooding in the historic inner city. The last time it was flooded was in 2002, where river levels set the mark at 9.5 meters. That was broken overnight long after the residents were evacuated by boat and helicopter. The mayor expects the river to reach the level of 12-13 meters by the end of today. This will shatter the all time record of 10.5 meters set in 1954. With the second worst flooding disaster in 11 years, many people are fearing that the worst is yet to come after the water levels go down.  But Passau is not the only area affected. Massive downpours in the last couple weeks have turned rivers, like the Danube into the Red Sea, as many cities along the river, including Ingolstadt and Donauworth, are partially underwater. In Rosenheim, floodwaters destroyed a dam, forcing the evacuation of many portions of the city. Train service in and out of the city of 150,000 has been suspended, which includes cutting the line between Munich and Salzburg. The situation has gotten worse in the last 48 hours and even the state minister has predicted that this will be the worst flooding in at least 200 years. Photos of the flooding can be seen here.

While we know that the situation will improve over the next week, the most recent flooding is a sign that the worst is yet to come and we have to make changes to ensure that we have a decent livelihood. It not only means better protection against flooding, but it also means tackling our main cause of these weather abnormalities, which is climate change. We have made some progress, yet as we have seen with the recent floods in Germany and neighboring Austria, Czech Republic and Switzerland, more is needed to ensure that the impact from climate change is minimal. I’m closing this with a series of pictures taken on the flooding in Jena, in eastern Thuringia yesterday. 60% of the community of 120,000 was underwater at that time, which included parts of the south of Jena, the sports complex and the industrial areas of Nord and Göschwitz. Since then, the situation has improved thanks to the Saale River cresting last night and traffic is returning to normal. Yet, like many cities in Germany, classes are cancelled for today and tomorrow, allowing the city some time to clean up. The photos can be seen on the Flensburg Files’ facebook page.

You can take your Christmas Tree down now.

 

A few days ago, as I was preparing for my English classes at the university in Germany, I was listening to a morning talk show on a radio station based in Kansas City when the hosts brought up the subject of Christmas trees and when they should be taken down. Normally this would be a topic that is a no-brainer and should not be talked about on a radio station, for once the holiday season is over with, the decorations are put away, and the Valentine’s and spring decorations come out.  But after listening to what various people have to say, I have come to a conclusion that some of us need to get a life and look at the real events going on outside the world instead of worrying about what to do with the centerpiece of the day of giving and commemorating the Lord’s birth, the Christmas tree.  Some people leave their trees up until Valentine’s Day. Some leave the decorations on the tree but put the entire thing into its very own closet. And there are some who have the seasonal tree, where the trees receives different decorations when Valentine’s Day, Easter, Independence Day (4th of July), Halloween, Fall, and Thanksgiving come around!  When hearing about the different ways the tree is left up, it makes me wonder “What is the point of keeping up the tree at any cost, when all it does is take up space in the house in all the months of the year except the holiday season????”  Sometimes it makes me wonder whether we should have a tree up at all, as  there are other decorations and other things that make Christmas an enjoyable. In Germany,  we have other decorations that commemorate Christmas, like the candle pyramid (Dt.:  Pyramide), the lighted Christmas Arch (Lichterbogen) or even the incense men/houses. But here, we too have the Christmas tree and strangely enough, the concept originated from here as well. Yet we have a different way of treating our prized trees.

Normally,  the Christmas tree goes up on 23rd or 24th and remains there until after Epiphany (6th of January) when it comes down. It is much shorter than putting it up at Thanksgiving and taking it down in February, if some even do that. The reason for that is many Germans prefer the smell of a good old fashion natural Christmas tree, instead of the artificial tree made of plastic, which has the tendency of losing its needles as fast as the natural one.  In Bavaria, Baden Wurttemberg and Saxony Anhalt, the dismantling of the tree is a tradition on Epiphany, as it usually follows the carolers (consisting of three people) who go door to door to sing about the birth of Jesus Christ. It actually fits with the legend of the Three Wise Men who blessed the baby and provided Joseph and Mary with gifts of good tidings. This holiday basically concludes the holiday season and is the start of being back to business as usual and looking forward to spring, which is only two months away. That is, unless you are living in the northern hemisphere this year and experiencing the warmest winter on record with absolutely no snow on the ground, even though it is normal for this time of year.

I have no objection to the Christmas tree or the holiday season per se, as it is a time for family, relaxation, Christmas markets and other holiday events, and love. Yet for some reason, we seem to have lost the holiday’s true meaning this past season, with Black Friday taking place at midnight on Thanksgiving instead of at 9am the Friday after (and people planning their Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday instead of the Thursday it was provided for over 140 years), the obsession with the number of gifts a person should receive, and the stress of plowing through shopping malls and other venues just to see or buy anything they see. The Christmas tree debate is the last drop in an already full cup of coffee that has now spilled over.  The fortunate part about this holiday season is that we have another 11 months to reflect on what went wrong with the holiday season and plan ahead for the next one, with the hope that it will be more right than the last one.  However, as obsessive as we are with planning and consumption, I think we need to take a few steps back and walk into the wild we call reality, where we are dealt with the problems society is facing that we keep ignoring: environmental pollution, global warming, poverty and unemployment, crime and social pathologies, historic and natural places being destroyed by modernization and consumption, and our education system getting tanked in favor of profits.  I think if everyone can do something for the benefit of others, then we all can appreciate what we have and walk away from consumption at any cost. This includes being heavily influenced by the media and not being able to see things from our own perspective. It also includes being informed of the events happening in the world and learning a small bit of our world every day, gathering experience wherever it is needed, and feeling good about giving charity instead of taking all the time and not being happy at all.

Only then when we take a look at the wild side of life and contribute to the good will we learn to appreciate the true meaning of the holidays, and we can share our experiences with others come next Christmas. By then, we will not have to worry about when and where to decorate the Christmas tree let alone plan where we want to park at a shopping center on Black Friday just so we can obtain the gift of our wish. Maybe we will not to have to worry about presents at all, as the true meaning of Christmas is to share our love and ideas with others and having a great time, that is in front of a natural tree that is put up right before or on Christmas Eve.

2011 Christmas Market Tour: Dresden Part I General Information

Frauenkirche and the Christmas Tree

There is an old stereotype that many Americans go by when they hear of Germany, which is beer, bratwurst and Bavaria. Everything else is backwards and is not worth the time or money to visit. This was the stereotype I had encountered among my compadres during my days at my alma mater in Moorhead, Minnesota (Concordia College) and learned during a month long seminar on public policy when we visited Munich and Berchtesgaden. So it is no wonder why the Christmas markets in Nuremberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Munich are so popular among the Americans passing through the region.  Little do they realize is the fact that even though these markets- and in particular the one in Nuremberg- may be the most marketed and beloved by so many people, there is one Christmas market in Germany that tops the one in the district capital of Franconia in terms of size, diversity and even popularity.

Go three hours to the northeast by train on the Franconia-Saxony Express and you will end up in Dresden. With a population of over 400,000 inhabitants and located on the Elbe River, Dresden is the capital and largest city in Saxony. While it may be the meeting point for multi-culture and technology- thanks to its proximity to Poland and the Czech Republic and two technical institutions (the Technical University of Dresden and the Dresden Institute of Science and Technology), it is Germany’s crown jewels with regards to history and architecture as they both go hand in hand.  But when the holiday season comes around, millions of people from all over the world flock to this city of crown jewels to visit the Christmas market.  From the columnist’s point of view after visiting the place, the Christmas markets in Frankfurt and Nuremberg (which I saw last year) may be big in the eyes of the residents living there, but in Dresden, the Christmas market is huge! And when one sees all the places connected to this historic and most popular Christmas market in Germany, one can only say it is awesome!

Dresden’s Christmas market is the oldest in the world with the first one dating as far back as the 900s. The Striezelmarkt, located in Dresden’s Altmarkt, is the oldest annual market in Germany with its origins dating as far back as 1434. There are eight different markets throughout all of Dresden’s immediate city limits and dozens more in the city’s suburban areas, making it one of the largest Christmas markets in Germany. And given the various themes and settings of each market, one does have the right to boast about it being perhaps the most multi-cultural of Germany’s Christmas markets, overshadowing the Nuremberg Christmas market by a long shot.

Given the size of the Christmas market in Dresden, there is really no choice but to cut them down to bite-size articles so that the reader can picture what the place looks like from the eye of both the columnist and the photographer. I will start with the Christmas market in general, which will feature the specialties that are offered in Dresden, using the smaller markets as examples- namely, the market at Dresden-Blasewitz, the corridor between Dresden Central Railway Station and the Striezelmarkt (but minus the latter as there is a separate article on that) and the one in front of the Residential Palace. The second article will feature the Medieval-style Christmas market, located in front of and along the Frauenkirche (Church of the Ladies) when facing the Elbe. The third article will deal with the Christmas market at Dresden-Neustadt, while the last article will explain about the Striezelmarkt, located in the Altmarkt.

 

 

Christmas market at Residential Palace

DRESDEN- RESIDENTIAL PALACE:

Walking towards the Elbe River and the promenade that runs alongside the river, if one wants to walk into or around the palace on the left side towards the Augustusbrücke, one will be greeted with a market similar to the one at Weimar’s Theaterplatz in terms of size, which features local specialties from Saxony. In particular, one can take advantage of the pastries from a bakery in Pulsnitz. Established in 1909, the Gräfe Pastries Company produces a wide array of pastries going beyond the beloved Dresdner Stollen, a fruit cake coated with powdered sugar, and Saxony’s only version of Lebkuchen (Gingerbread biscuits). It produces and sells a wide array of honey bars, Spitzen (small bars with filling in them) and Baumkuchen (a donut-shaped stacked cake with a chocolate covering). If one thinks that they taste the same as the ones at the Christmas market in Nuremberg, think again. Each Christmas pastry tastes different in each region and the one in Dresden is one that is unforgettable. That combined with a cup of Dresdner Glühwein (mulled wine) makes an afternoon lunch (Kaffeetrinken) a memorable one. The market at Residential Palace serves as a break spot for people touring the historic buildings or visiting the other markets in the city and is one that is a must-see if one wants to try the specialties from Saxony.

 

Schiller Garten Restaurant (right) and Blaues Wunder Bridge (left) at the Blasewitz Market Place

DRESDEN- BLASEWITZ:

This is one of a dozen examples of suburban communities holding a Christmas market during one or two weekends, but during the rest of the holidays, is a farmer’s market offering local specialties that is typical for the suburb.  This includes goods from local meat butchers, bakeries and the local produce stands. What is so special about this market apart from the Christmas tree?  Simple.  Apart from the  surroundings consisting of historic buildings dating back to the 1800s with its ornamental appearance, the market is located next to one of Dresden’s beloved bridges, the Loschwitz Bridge (a.k.a Blaues Wunder or Blue Wonder/Miracle), an 1894 cantilever bridge spanning the Elbe River that is famous for two reasons: 1. Legend has it that when one painted the bridge green, it turned to blue when the sun shone on it, and 2. A last ditch effort to diffuse the explosives- set by the fleeing Nazis during the last month of World War II in an attempt to prevent the oncoming Russian soldiers from marching into the city- was successful and the bridge was spared from becoming a pile of twisted metal and rubble. One can see the bridge today either from the market or from the terrace of the Schiller Restaurant located on the southeast end of the structure.

 

Christmas Tree at Dresden Central Station: the starting point of the Christmas Market along the Corridor

DRESDEN CENTRAL STATION AND CORRIDOR:

When getting off the train at Dresden Central Station, one will be greeted by a gigantic Christmas tree that is in the station building. Yet it is not the only greeting you will receive when you leave the station enroute to the city center. Just outside the the entrance to the station and along Prager Strasse to the Striezelmarkt one will be greeted with a row of Christmas market huts located along the corridor. If one chooses not to take the tram to Pirnaischer Platz (which is the stop closest to the Christmas markets at Altmarkt and in front of the Frauenkirche), one can walk straight to the Altmarkt along the corridor where  one can see the huts lining up on each side, offering specialties and merchandise pertaining to the city of Dresden. This includes Radeberger Beer, merchandise pertaining to the professional soccer team Dynamo Dresden, or souvenirs from the city. In either case, one can easily try the local specialties before entering the city center or pick up something to remember on the way out of the city, as a way of showing the friends and family back home that they were at the Christmas market in Dresden.

Going to Part II, the market at Frauenkirche……

Christmas Market Tour 2011 Nr. 1: Rothenburg ob der Tauber

 

This is the first stop on the Flensburg Files’ Christmas Market Tour for 2011

The first stop on the Christmas market tour for 2011 is a small Bavarian town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Located southwest of Nuremberg in the district of Ansbach, Rothenburg may look like a typical small German town on the outside; especially when you get off the train. It takes only five minutes to travel from Steinach to this town. The town of 11,025 inhabitants does have a special place in the hearts of many tens of thousands of tourists from all over the world, when one walks about 5-10 minutes from the train station, which is its historic city center. This is perhaps one of only a handful of city centers left in Europe, which is fortified all around and whose wall and towers date as far back as the Medieval Ages.  Yet the town came so close from becoming rubble at the end of World War II that had Major Thömmes of the German not agreed to surrender to the Americans under John Devers, who surrounded the entire town, it would have ended up like Dresden and unfortunately the unique features of the town would have been lost forever. It would not have even been considered a place to stop during the holidays as it would have been rebuilt to a point of no recognition. That plan to escape being completely annihilated was the worst of the close calls the town had since its creation in 970. There were wars in 1167, 1408, 1520, 1552, 1631-48 and the earthquake of 1356 which inflicted damage on the city and its people.  But once the town was annexed into the state of Bavaria, the age of tourism and preservation of the city took shape.

Today’s town center resembles exactly that of the one that was bustling with activity in the 13-1500s. It has two sets of fortresses- the one that was  built in 1172 and passes through the White Tower, Markus Tower and Röder Arch- consisting of the oldest building in the city Zur Hölle (In Hell), created by the monastery in the 1100s- and an even larger one in 1204 to accommodate a larger population and passes through  gates of Kobolzellar, Würzburg and Klingen and the towers of Siebers and Röder. The churches dominate the inner city with the likes of St. Jacob’s, Franciscan, St. John’s, St. Wolfgang’s. There’s also one of the most gothic city halls one will see in Germany (which was built in the 1200s, and lastly the buildings that have existed since the 1300s and have been restored to make it look like the ones that contributed to the success of the city as an international point of trade during that time. One has to take into account that two of the major roads intersected in Rothenburg, making it the international place of commerce: the one from Munich and points to the south to the ports of Hamburg and beyond, and the east-west route connecting France and Frankfurt in the west and Dresden and Prague in the east. That meeting point has recently been shifted to present-day Nuremberg in the form of the Autobahn motorways connecting Prague and Frankfurt on the east-west axis, and Flensburg/Hamburg and places in Austria (west of Munich) on the north-south axis. The end result is the town that has since lost its importance as an international trading point but has embraced itself in tourism thanks in part by the attempts to preserve it and make it attractive for everyone.
Especially at Christmas time.

As a general rule for Christmas markets in a small German town, they usually take place on only one weekend and offer just the basic localities. They are not as representative as some of the ones that are common, like Nuremberg, Frankfurt, and Dresden, just to name a few. One would be lucky to attract just a handful of tourists from outside the district (Landkreis)- that is unless you live in the Rhein corridor between Frankfurt and Cologne and people spend a few hours at the markets in Bingen, Neuwied and Lahnstein, just to name a few. Rothenburg is the exception to the rule for the Christmas markets take place from the last week in November til right before Christmas Eve. However, if one chooses to pick a better time to visit the city and not deal with the overcrowding and the overbooked hotels during that time, then between Christmas and New Year is perhaps the best choice to visit the city for there is a lot to see and one still has the feeling of Christmas when exploring the historic city center.  This was what I felt, when my wife, daughter and a couple friends from the US visited the town a couple Christmases ago, while touring northern Bavaria.
This leads me to the question of what is there to see when one wants to forego visiting the city between Christmas and New Year. My answer is plenty. I decided to put together a nice program for you to tour the city and still enjoy a bit of Christmas. You have to be forewarned of the fact that it takes 2-3 days to tour the entire town and absorb the heritage that Rothenburg has to offer, let alone imagine yourself living in the town during the Medieval times.
Start off by having a nice breakfast at one of the fanciest old-time bed and breakfasts in the old town, like the Pension Birgit, where we stayed- a typical German breakfast consisting of meat and cheese slices on a roll along with real Nutella chocolate spread (made in Germany and not in New Jersey by Kraft Foods) and homemade jam.  Then take a nice tour around the two walls of the old town, passing through each tower and getting the feel of what it was like being the guard of one of the towers and enjoying the view from both the outside as well as the inside the city.  Some of the interesting sites worth seeing include the Wolfgang Gate and Church, once deemed as a place of refuge by those whose villages north of the city were threatened with attack by the invading armies.  Then there is the Röder Gate and Tower, which is the main entrance point from Ansbacher Strasse, the main road that connects it to the station and one that serves as an awesome overture for tourists before entering the old town.  When Kobozellar Tower and Gate and the wall connecting the Reichstadthalle provides a person with a view of the steep Tauber Valley and the gardens that line up along the hillside. One can see the Double-Bridge (a 1328 stone arch bridge) and the Kobozellar Castle and church from up above. The castle was a place of quarantine for those affected by the Plague that wiped out over half the population in the 1300s. And lastly, there is the  Spital Bastion, with its seven gates that made entering the old town from the southwest rather torturous for any visitor or invader.


After a couple hours of walking, stop at one of the finest cafés in town for a cup of coffee and a snowball. Snowballs are a signature of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, consisting of cookie dough rounded into a ball together with various chocolate fillings, and covered in sugar, chocolate or other toppings.  I was introduced to them in 2002 while at the Christmas market in Jena with my wife but neither of us had an idea where it originated until coming to Rothenburg, even though one can also find them at the market in Nuremberg. Having one of them will get a tourist full in a hurry- as they are way too luscious to pass up- but they give you enough energy needed for the next round of touring in the old town- the museums.

While one will learn a lot of Medieval Times and how Rothenburg played a role in it through the Crime Museum or the Imperial City Museum, at the heart of the Old Town; especially at Christmas Time are the Christmas Museum and the Doll and Toy Museum. The Christmas Museum is open every day of the year- even on Christmas Day- and has a gallery of decorated Christmas trees from all over the world as well as those resembling the trees that were decorated in the past, both in Germany and the US as well as elsewhere. It provides the tourist with a special holiday feeling regardless of when he/she visits the place. Furthermore it is a place where one can learn about Christmas and its origins.  These are even more so when walking through the Christmas Village, located right next to the museum and featuring the works of Käthe Wohlfahrt. Both of these places, located in the Herrengasse next to the town square represent a special point in the old town where Christmas runs year round, and after visiting the two places, tourists will have a lot of creative ideas of how they want to make their house more Christmassy- meaning away with the tacky stuff on the houses and embrace Christmas with a truer meaning.
Not far from Herrengasse is the Doll and Toy Museum, where 200 years worth of dolls from Germany, France and other places are on display for people to see and awe from. Many are handcrafted and appear to have their own life when looking at them, which is impressive from a tourist’s point of view.


After eating a traditional Franconian (or even a Medieval-style) dinner at one of the restaurants in the Old Town (and there are over two dozen to choose from), the day should be wrapped up with a tour of the town with a Night Watchman, who speaks many languages and has the voice of doom in him that makes the tourists think they are watching a Halloween thriller on TV, narrated by the guide.  But he provides the tourists with some interesting facts about the city that not many people knew about beforehand, like how salt was used as a commodity for transaction during the Medieval Age, how the town helped the poor lurking both inside and outside its gates, how outdoor plumbing during the 1300s would not be acceptable to today’s standards, and most shocking: where the children’s song “Ring Around the Rosie” originated from! Let’s just simply put it this way: it is ok to sing it when the child is small, but please do not tell him/her how the song was created unless he/she is old enough to swallow it! The guide who led the tour while we were there in 2009 has done this work for over 20 years, and judging by his experience in this profession and how he led this tour, one can tell that the longer he has been doing the guides, the more experienced he is with getting the tourists involved, and the more he has become part of the culture and heritage of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, that a tour guide with him is a must for anyone happening to pass through the town.
When finishing the tour of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, one will receive impressions of the town and its history that the experience will be shared with those who love history and want to visit the town. While Rothenburg is one of the hot spots to visit during the holiday season because of its Christmas market, it is a must-see place to visit year round for the tourists from all over the world because of the awesome architecture that the city has worked hard to preserve and the unique features that the city has to offer. One of those is Christmas, which can be found year round in the Herrengasse, for apart from its Medieval heritage, that is what Rothenburg ob der Tauber stands for; especially now as the holiday season takes hold on all aspects of life and people are preparing for holiday travel with family and friends, some choosing this town as the point of destination.

Useful links to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (including facts about Käthe Wohlfahrt):

http://www.rothenburg.de/index.php?get=171

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rothenburg_ob_der_Tauber

http://www.wohlfahrt.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%A4the_Wohlfahrt

http://www.weihnachtsmuseum.de/e/home.asp?spr=d&a=10

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

Guttenberg Update: Germany’s Most Spectacular Resignations

Willy Brandt ans Fenster- The hotel across from the Erfurt railway station where Chancellor Willy Brandt met Erich Honecker in 1970 and spoke in front of a crowd of thousands. The champion of Ostpolitik resigned in 1974, but left a legacy that still exists today. Photo taken in March 2011

As recently as this past Saturday, there was a very intriguing article that was published by Germany’s tabloid magazine “Bild Magazin” that dealt with Germany’s 100 most spectacular resignations by some of the country’s most renowned celebrities. This was in connection with the most recent resignation of another celebrity, Germany’s most beloved politician and now former defense minister, Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, which Thomas de Maiziere, the former Interior Minister has taken over his post while thousands of demonstrators throughout Germany on Saturday rallied behind the embattled CSU politician picked to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.

While going through the article, I was amazed at who stepped down but also the reasons for them calling it quits. Some were understandable; others were scandalous; the rest were just dumb mistakes costing them dearly or just really dumb reasons- in either case, the Germans were not impressed with that at all. I decided to disect this article and pick out the celebrities that some of you know and categorize them based on the Top 5 of the most spectacular resignations up until Guttenberg’s exit, but not including Edmund Stoiber, who was mentioned too many times already. Then I chose five honorably mentioned candidates and two wild card candidates among the German celebrities. Each of the resignations will include a small comment on the part of yours truly. So without further ado, here we go.

THE TOP FIVE RESIGNATIONS IN GERMANY:

1. Horst Köhler, German President- From the 23rd of March, 2004 until his resignation on 31 May of last year, he held the second highest post next to the German Chancellor, a post in which Johannes Rau his predecessor once held. Despite his success in bringing unity to Germany, involving the troops in foreign countries such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and strengthening ties with Israel, he did not get the respect that he had expected from the German population and to a certain degree, the Dream Coalition (CDU and FDP) and therefore, he stepped down in May 2010. It was too bad, as he was really good at providing families with a good fireside speech around Christmas time and on New Year’s Eve. Tough call for someone holding a prestige office, who did a good job, but dissatisfaction in a job like that because of such circumstances does call for a change in scenery, and someone like Christian Wulff, the former minister of Lower Saxony, to take over.

2. Erich Honecker, Chair of the SED Party in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany)- now part of Germany- From 1970 until 18 October, 1989, he led East Germany, and every classroom and workplace had a portrait of the SED Party Chair for people to look at and praise. He was famous for his comments “The Berlin Wall is going to last for another 100 years,” mentioned in January 1989 and “”Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of socialism,” an excerpt from an adage by August Bebel he used during his speech on the occasion of the GDR’s 40th Birthday on 7 October, 1989. However the progress towards democracy was too strong for East Germany to withstand and it only lasted until the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989. Honecker did not even last before that as he was removed on 18 October. The official reason was his poor health. However, literary sources indicated that he was forced out thanks to influence by Michail Gorbachev, who coined his famous words, “Life punishes those who wait,” also at the 40th anniversary celebrations.  Egon Krenz took over and allowed for life to change course in the interest of both West and East Germany with the opening of the Wall and its eventual Reunification, one of the best events of all time. As for Honecker,  he eventually fled to Chile to avoid arrest and prosecution by the German government, where he died in 1994.

3. Willy Brandt, Chancellor of (West) Germany 1969-1974- Willy Brandt will always be remembered for his Ostpolitik policies, designed to improve relations between East and West Germany. This included a direct visit with Erich Honecker and a speech from the window of his hotel in front of the railway station in Erfurt in 1970, plus winning the Nobel Peace Prize a year later. Unfortunately, like Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, Brandt’s popularity as Chancellor dropped to the floor when it was revealed that his personal assistant, Günther Guillaume was arrested for being an East German spy. Brandt resigned from his post on 6 May, 1974, with Helmut Schmidt taking over from there, but he remained as the chair of the SPD until 1987. He died five years later. Still many places in Germany and Europe are named in his memory because of the legacy he left behind. This includes the hotel in Erfurt across from the central railway station, where Brandt spoke to a large crowd in 1970 (Named Willy Brandt ans Fenster- Willy Brandt at the Window). Even the university renamed the institute of political science The Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, a name that has been carried since 2009.

4. Walter Mixa, Bishop of the Augsburg (Bavaria) Cathedral- This was a classic example of a scandal involving the Catholic Church in Bavaria, which costed this gentleman his post as well as his post as the military bishop in Germany- child abuse scandal plus fraud involving taking money from an orphanage. At least a dozen scandals involving priests and bishops popped up in this traditionally Catholic state in the past two years, raising the question about the credibility of the Church in that region, plus the moral values that exist as a whole. Furthermore there are some speculations that Pope Benedict XVI may be involved, even though he has not raised this issue nor has there been enough evidence to indict him as of present. More scandals in Bavaria? To be continued…..

5. Thomas Gottschalk, actor- At 61, the person had a nice well-rounded career as an actor, was a spokesperson for the Haribo gummibears  as well as moderator of his TV show “Wetten, dass….” (I bet you that….). That was until a freak accident involving a stuntman attempting to roller blade over an oncoming car left him paralyzed and Gottschalk’s career in limbo. On 12 February, 2011, he stepped down, taking responsibility for the accident and apologizing to his audience. Perhaps he took a lesson from Clint Eastwood, when he quoted in the second Dirty Harry film: “Man’s gotta know his limitations.”

HONORABLY MENTIONED  RESIGNATIONS:

1. Margot Kässmann, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover and Head of the Evangelical Lutheran Chuch of Germany (EKD)- The 52-year old from Marburg (Hesse) had a promising future until she was caught driving under the influence of alcohol in February 2010. She resigned from both posts after that. Smooth move, wasn’t it?

2. Wolfgang Petry, folk music singer- Celebrities can be sick and tired of being a star to a point where they just want to call it quits. While we’re seeing that with the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer in American football (NFL) who claims he has more than enough money that he can walk away and never play for the team again, he probably took that line from this German folk music singer. Petry suddenly stepped away from the scene in 2006 after many years of singing, claiming he had enough of the show business. What he’s doing now is unknown at present.

3. Rudi Voller, former German national soccer team head coach- Sometimes (but not always) great players make bad coaches. This was a textbook example. While Voller excelled as a soccer player for Bayer Leverkusen and helped the German national team win the World Cup in 1990, he could not convey his success as a coach to his players and resigned after Germany was eliminated in the 1st Round of the European Championship in 2004. A consolation however was the fact that the team did finish second in the World Cup, years earlier, so all was not lost for him. He now is athletic director for his former team, Leverkusen.

4. Jürgen Möllermann, Minister for Agriculture; President for the German-Arabian Society; Chair of the FDP in North Rhein-Westphalia- A problem child for the politicians, Möllemann got himself in trouble for using the ministry’s paper to apply for a job at a company of his relative’s in 1993, which costed him his post as Minister for Agriculture under Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Tax evasion on various counts plus his anti-semite comments during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2002 led to a legal hunt by the police and other authorities. However, before he could be arrested, he died in a tragic parachutte accident on 5 June, 2003; it is unclear whether his death was an act of sabotage, an accident, or suicide attempt. The case has not been solved as of present.

5. Axel Schulz, boxer- Having a successful career as a boxer and picked to be a heavy favorite to beat Vladimir Klitschko in 1999, everyone was expecting him to win the EM Boxing match, right? Not unless you have life insurance! Not only did Klitschko beat him romped him in the boxing ring through a technical knock-out in September 1999, but Schulz resigned right away after the match. Despite a comeback attempt in 2005, he never won any international titles, despite many attempts to win the belt in his 17 year career, counting his six year hiatus between 1999 and 2005.

WILDCARDS:

1. Gregor Gysi, Economics Minister for the City of Berlin- Resigned for using the bonus miles on his company car for private purpose in 2002. And this for a city that has been broke for years…..

2. Marlies Mosiek-Urbahn, Family Minister for the State of Hesse- Resigned from her post because she divorced her husband in 2001, and it affected her credibility as minister. Curious.

While Germany has been and is still famous for its high quality products and service, a strong health care and social welfare system, and for greats like Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, it cannot escape the scandals that have been growing by the numbers in the past two years. Regardless of whether they come from Bavaria, Hesse, or even the northern parts of Germany, they have been leaving questions about the credibility of the politicians in the Bundestag among Germans and those looking in from the outside. Yet the problem is universal, as one can see the scandals going on in the US and other Anglo-Saxon countries and they are even weirder than what I mentioned here. But the question is, should we follow their lead or clean up our reputation and lead by our example. This is the question that will come up in the upcoming elections in 2013, together with another question: Do you elect someone by popularity but marred by scandal or do you go with someone unknown but gets the job done anyway?  Since the identity of the US is in question because of the number of crises that has erroded its credibility as a superpower, countries like Germany are stepping up to set an example for others to follow. But that is accompanied by these scandals that can and will potentially hinder that success. The best solution to this problem is to judge what is right and wrong and act accordingly. Only then will one find out whether that decision was the right one to begin with. And that decision will affect those who look up to countries like Germany, as a role model, a teacher, and a mentor of high morals and principles….

Links:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14895170,00.html

(Update on the Guttenberg Scandal)

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14891914,00.html

(Demonstrations for Guttenberg’s Return to Politics)

http://www.bild.de/BILD/politik/2011/03/05/guttenberg-bis-voeller-die-100-spektakulaerste-ruecktritte/koehler-schulz-milli-vanilli-friedmann.html

http://www.bild.de/BILD/politik/2011/03/07/100-spektakulaere-ruecktritte-teil-zwei/karriere-enden-die-aufsehen-erregten.html

(Der Bild’s 100 most spectacular resignations in detail- and in German!)

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