Since 3rd October, 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany has been in existence, featuring the states of the former West Germany and those of East Germany (or better known as the German Democratic Republic). This includes the largest state, Bavaria, which is as big as the entire state of Iowa but is also the richest of the 16 states. We also have Baden-Wurttemberg and Hesse, two of the most populous states and known as the hot spots for jobs. Then we have the former East German States of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Brandenburg, and Mecklenburg-Pommerania. And lastly, we have the city-states of Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin, the third of which is the nation’s capital. Then we have Saarland, one of the poorest states in the union and the source of the recent proposal brought forth by Minister Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Her proposal: to reduce the number of states to six to eight instead of the original 16 states. The source: The Solidarity Pact, which runs out in less than five years.
To summarize: the Solidarity Pact, signed into law in 1990, required that the rich states, namely in case, Bavaria, Hesse and Baden-Wurttemberg to provide financial support to the other German states, to ensure that the states can be provided with enough capital to survive and avoid a financial disaster, similar to what we saw with the Great Crisis six years ago in the US and the EU. Yet Hesse and Bavaria do not want to carry the burden of these states anymore and with Saarland having the highest debt of any state in Germany, it is not surprising that Kramp-Karrenbauer is proposing such measures, one that is deemed radical and absurd among conservatives, especially in Bavaria, but given the trend in the European Union with states giving up more of their autonomy for a rather transparent one, it is not a surprise. This is especially given the attempts of states to cooperate together to consolidate their resources.
Let’s look at the former East Germany, for example. Since 2004, consolidation in the private sector as well as cooperation within public sector has been under development. This includes the merger of the health care insurance provider AOK in Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, as well as cooperation and consolidation attempts among academic institutions at the universities in these three states. Furthermore, cooperation between Berlin and the state of Brandenburg in the private and public sectors have resulted in ideas and ways to integrate the capital into Brandenburg. Even a referendum was put up to a vote, which was rejected by Berliners and Brandenburgers alike. In both examples, it is clear that because of the substantial demographic changes that have been witnessed since German Reunification in 1990, combined with poor job market possibilities that the long-term goal is to consolidate the states into one entity. That means Berlin would belong to Brandenburg and thus lose its city-state status, yet it would still be the national and state capital, a double-task that is not welcomed by many in both areas. As for the other states, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia would become Mitteldeutschland, with either Leipzig or Dresden being the capital and the other “former” state capitals becoming the seats of the districts. This concept is also not welcomed by many in these regions because of the potential to lose thousands of jobs in the consolidation process, combined with the closing of several institutions in the public sector. Attempts have already been tried with the university system in these three states, which were met with protests in the tens of thousands.
But the problems do not lie just in the Berlin-Brandenburg area, let alone the Mitteldeutschland area. The attractiveness of the states of Bavaria, Baden-Wurrtemberg and Hesse has resulted in a shift in population and businesses to these regions from areas in northern and eastern Germany, thus causing a strain in the social resources available in both areas. Northern states are battling high unemployment and social problems, whereas southern states are struggling to keep up the demand for housing. While the Solidarity Pact has had its advantages, especially in the eastern part of Germany, where cities like Halle (Saale), Leipzig, Dresden, Erfurt and Berlin have undergone a major transformation from becoming run-down Communist cities to modern cities with historic nostalgia (reliving the days before Hitler took power and brought Germany to a blazing inferno known as World War II), there is still work to be done in terms of dealing with problems of unemployment, influx of immigration and the struggles to accommodate people, attracting jobs for all and improving education standards in school as well as in the university. The solidarity pact was a good project, but with states on both sides of the former Cold War border struggling to relieve the burden of debt and social problems, Kramp-Karrenbauer’s plan just might be that remedy Germany really needs. With less autonomy because of its interwoven policies of the European Union, there is really no need for all 16 states to function individually, receiving money from the rich states in order to survive.
This leads to the question of how to consolidate the German states. As it would be absurd to give up its city-state status, Berlin should remain an individual entity, receiving its funding from all the German states, but being ruled by the federal government- not the city government itself. It has been done in Washington, DC, as well as Monaco and Singapore. Losing its city-state status would be as preposterous as Washington becoming part of either Maryland or Virginia. James Madison and his forefathers would rise from their graves and make sure that proposal would never happen. So, as Germans would say it: “Finger weg vom Berlin!” As for Hamburg and Bremen, their financial and social woes have put a strain on their resources in general. Hence a merger with another German state would be both inevitable and beneficial.
But how to consolidate the other states is very difficult because the financial resources lie in the south and west of Germany. Henceforth it is impossible to anchor the rich states with the poor ones, with the possible exceptions of Bavaria merging with Saxony and Thuringia, Hesse merging with North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony and Baden Wurttemberg merging with Saarland and Rhineland Palatinate. That would still leave the problem with Schleswig-Holstein, the three German city-states, and the remaining states that had once been part of East Germany because no financial beneficiaries would be found to govern the region. Therefore anchoring the rich with the poor is out of the question. Also out of the question would be the old historic borders, where we have one large state of Saxony (instead of Upper, Lower and Anhalt Saxony), Thuringia becomes part of Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia takes over Rhineland Palatinate and Saarland, and Baden Wurrtemberg takes Hesse. Financially, the equilibrium would point clearly to the fourth region proposed here, thus putting the others at a mere disadvantage. Ideally would be to combine geography and finances so that the equilibrium is firmly established and everyone would benefit from it. That means, instead of having 16 states, one could see three giant German states and Berlin having its own district. While this proposal would be even more radical than that of Kramp-Karrenbauer’s, given the current situation in Germany, this alignment may be inevitable as financial and domestic problems as a result of lack of resources come to a head in 20 years at the most.
Here’s one of the proposal that should be considered:
Süddeutschland: Consisting of Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Brandenburg. Capital would have to be in the central part of the new state, such as Erfurt, Leipzig or Nuremberg. Munich would have its own city-state status.
Norddeutschland: Consisting of Hesse, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Pommerania, Hamburg and Bremen. Capital should be located in Hamburg, Hannover or Lübeck. Frankfurt would keep its financial headquarters in tact.
Westdeutschland: Consisting of Baden-Wurttemberg the states along the Rhine, including Saarland. Capital would be in Cologne. Stuttgart would be one of the district capitals along with Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, Freiburg im Breisgau, Coblence and Saarbrücken.
One can go with Kramp-Karrenbauer’s proposal of 6-8 states, but it should be noted that if two states consolidate, one should be the stronger one supporting the weaker one(s) but as long as the resources are pooled and the people will benefit from the merger. The last option would be to abolish all 16 states and have one Germany which has control over the entire country. This may be too communistic for the taste of many people, and some people may compare this to the period of the Third Reich. But with Germany being more and more part of the European Union, that option may also be brought onto the table in German Parliament.
But to sum up, the idea of having less German states is the most viable option in order for the German states to remain healthy. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s idea may sound absurd, but it may become inevitable as Germany becomes more integrated into the EU, which may be more of a blessing than a curse. The question is how to redraw the bounderies. What do you think? Should Germany be reduced in half? Perhaps in three giant states? How would you redraw the boundaries of the Bundesrepublik? Share your thoughts here as well as in the Files’ facebook pages and help Kramp-Karrenbauer push her agenda to the politicians in Berlin keeping in mind the risks and benefits the proposals may bring.
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.
Further updates on the flooding can be found here:
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:
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:
Photos of Flooding:
“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 email@example.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:
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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……
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):
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.