Lake Crystal, Minnesota. May 7th, 2014. A 58-year old woman was travelling home in a thunder storm after a long day in the massage business, taking care of customers located away from her office in Fairmont. She was heading westbound on a major highway connecting Mankato with Windom and was just passing Lake Crystal when the scare of her life happened! Lightning struck her SUV, a Chevy Blazer, disabling the vehicle and with it, the automatic lock system set in the lock position! As she called for help on her mobile phone, lightning struck again, setting the vehicle on fire!! She was trapped and tried frantically to set herself free! At the same time, a police officer and a driver nearby, saw the blaze and ran as quickly as possible to the burning car, with the officer breaking the window on the passenger side and both men pulling her out of the car! And just in time too, as the vehicle exploded just as they were getting to the squad car! A video of the event can be found here:
While the driver survived with only scratches and bruises, the vehicle was a total loss, but it lead to some questions, which included the main one: How could this happened and could this have been avoided?
In Germany, such an incident is very rare to find, namely because of its tough regulations for the vehicles. In particular, the TÜV. Known as the Technischer Überwachungsverein, this organization was founded in 1866 in Mannheim under the name Gesellschaft zur Ueberwachung und Versicherung von Dampfkesseln (or The Association for the Inspection and Safety of Steam Engines and Boilers) in response to the numerous steam engine explosions in what is now Bavaria, Thuringia and the Ruhr Area in North Rhine-Westphalia. Its success in five years time in reducing the number of accidents prompted the conversion from a private organization to a state-run entity in 1871, the same year Germany was established, with several key members like Walther Kyssing overseeing the organization. Starting with 43 TÜVs, the numbers have been reduced through consolidation to five: TÜV South, TÜV North, TÜV Thuringia, TÜV Rhineland and TÜV Saarland, with one located in Turkey, France and Austria.
TÜV has regulations for all engines and appliances to ensure that they work properly and the consumers are not harmed with potental defaults. This also applies with automobiles as well, as federal and European laws require that all cars are inspected accordingly so that they are operating according to regulations.
“It applies to automatic locks in cars,” says Vicenzo Luca, Head of Corporate Communications at TÜV South, located in Munich. The agency is the largest in Germany, with 19,000 employees and serving Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg. “While automatic locks are allowed in Europe, they are inspected to ensure they function properly.” One has to be careful with the role of TÜV for they are not the ones with the regulations outright. “The law-giving authority is the European Commission and in Germany the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA) in Flensburg, and not the TÜV organisiations,” Luca states in an interview with the Files. This leads to the question of how TÜV works in today’s Germany. If asked how TÜV works, using the South organization as an example, it would be explained like this, according to the interviewee:
“TÜV SÜD is a global technical services company made up of the INDUSTRY, MOBILITY and CERTIFICATION Segments. Its service portfolio comprises the areas of testing, inspection, auditing, certification and training. TÜV SÜD brings people, technology and the environment together – ensuring lasting, sustainable results and adding value.
Founded in 1866 as a steam boiler inspection association, TÜV SÜD has evolved into a global, future-oriented enterprise. Over 22,000 staff continually improve technology, systems and expertise at over 800 locations in over 50 countries. By increasing safety and certainty, they add economic value, strengthening the competitiveness of their clients throughout the world.
In the INDUSTRY Segment, TÜV SÜD’s suite of services spans support for the safe and reliable operation of industrial plants, services for infrastructure and the real-estate industry and the testing of rolling stock, signalling systems and rail infrastructure. In the MOBILITY Segment, TÜV SÜD’s experts carry out periodict technical inspection of vehicles and emission tests and support automotive manufacturers in the design, development and international approval of new models and components. The CERTIFICATION Segment covers services aimed at ensuring the marketability of consumer, medical and industrial products and the certification of processes and management systems across all industries.”
In other words, no certificate is a no-go. When owning a car in Germany, “…..German law regulates that cars have to be inspected the first time after 36 months after initial registration, added Luca. “The Subsequent inspections are every 24 months.”
After the first three years, the car has to be inspected- afterwards, every two years. If there is a reason behind the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with their cars, it is not only because they should look nice, it is because they should function and given the TÜV approval according to law. But apart from locks, the TÜV inspects the following car parts:
- Exhaust system
- Lighting/electrical systems
- Pedals, seats, seat belts
- Electronic safety systems
During the inspection, when flaws are discovered in the car, car owners are required to fix these flaws or risk losing the vehicle altogether while paying hefty fines. According to Luca, ” Flaws have to be fixed within a four-weeks-time and then the car has to be re-inspected. The fine for driving without valid inspection varies by the time the inspection is overdue. From 2 to 4 months, 40 Euro. From 4 to 8 months, 60 Euro. More than 8 months 75 Euro. If the car is a serious danger for road safety, the police can withdraw it immediately from circulation.”
If looking at the cars on America’s freeways today, looking at the appearance of them alone, three out of four would be removed from the highway, for having bumbers attached to the car via duct tape or black-colored exhaust fumes from the tail pipe are not allowed. Owners of half of the remaining 25% of the cars would be forced to fix the cars or face fines and comfiscation by the police. This leads to the question of how important it is to have the cars inspected. According to Luca, it is important to have the cars inspected through TÜV because, “The third-party-inspection adds substantial value to road-safety in Germany, as conflicts of interest are avoided. As the inspecting organisations do not draw any financial benefit from a possible reparation of a car, the owner can rely on a neutral judgement. On the other hand garage owners can proove to critical car owners that a reparation is required.” Yet, while regulations are universal in Europe, each state has its own set of inspections that fulfill the guidelines. “Within the EC periodical technical inspections are part of the road safety program, says Luca. “The inspections and the periods vary from state to state, but basically the have the same goal.”
TÜV regulations apply for all vehicles with a cubic capacity of more than 50 ccm, meaning trucks, trekkers, motorcycles and trailers, according to Luca. Yet no inspection guidelines apply for bicycles, although from the author’s point of view, it would not hurt as some of the components, including gears, bike chains and lighting should work properly if bikers commute on a daily basis, like the author does. But perhaps in a few years, a TÜV guideline will be enforced and the bike shops will profit from new customers needing their bikes inspected and fixed to fulfill guidelines. A similar guideline already exists in Switzerland, together with a vignette, insurance to protect the bikes from damage or theft.
With more vehicles on the road than 10 years ago, the importance of inspections is increasing not only for the safety of the driver but of others on the road as well. And while such an inspection is costly, it will benefit the driver and the car. Especially when the driver wants to avoid an incident like it happened in Lake Crystal last year. While it is unknown who is at fault for the technical defect which almost took the life of the driver, it is almost certain that with inspections like what is being done with TÜV, chances of such a freak incident will decrease. This was the mentality that Germans had when creating the inspection organization for steam engines and boilers 140 years ago, and it is the mentality that exists today, which justifies high quality products, especially when it comes to cars, a prized good for a German household. <3
The author would like to thank Vicenzo Luca for his help and photos for this article.
After a long hiatus, the Files is taking you back to Minnesota and the German-named villages. Just like with the villages of Bergen and New Trier, the next stop will look at the largest of the 12 villages in Minnesota that carries a name that is common in Germany, comparing the US town with the one straddling the Danube River at the borders between Baden Wurrtemberg and Bavaria.
New Ulm was one of the first villages established after the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was signed in 1851, which allowed the settlers to claim lands in the southern half of the state of Minnesota. The town was established in 1854, four years before the state entered the Union. The German equivalent, Ulm, dates back to the time of the Germanic tribes of the 11th Century. Yet thanks to the Napoleon Conquest combined with the rise of King Ludwig II, the city was subsequentially split along river lines in 1810. On the BW side, there is Ulm, on the Bavarian side, Neu-Ulm. Yet both the German communities and the one in Minnesota have parallel lives.
Before looking at the two communities further, here’s a Guessing Quiz for you to try out. One of which features a Mystery Building question. Without further ado, here are a few questions for you to try, with the answers to be given once the article is published:
Mark which cities has what for a place of interest, either with NU-G (Ulm/Neu Ulm, Germany), NU-US (New Ulm, US) or both.
Hermann the German Monument
Professional soccer team
American-style street patterns
Streets named after American celebrities
Fachwerkhäuser (as seen in the picture)
Canals that merge with a major river.
MYSTERY BUILDING: This building, features a water tower with a red-white checkerboard pattern located next to a shed. While the building is being used for residential purposes, the water tower is out uf use at the present time. The question is when this water tower was built and what was its original purpose? One clue to help: This is located near the Institute of Technology of Neu Ulm, in an area where the US Army was once stationed until 1991. What else do we know about this?
GUESSING QUIZ: This tower is located at the north end of New Ulm’s business district. What is its purpose? What is the name of the tower and who built it?
Both cities had their share of conflicts and celebrities. Can you name at least one conflict that each town faced? Can you identify two people from each town that became celebrities and in what way?
Good luck with the guessing attempts. The answers will follow.
Note: The bridges from both towns will appear in separate articles in the sister column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Each place has its share of history with these crossings.
To start off this article, let’s play a bit of Truth or Dare, looking at the three scenarios below and daring you to do the following:
- You have your students find a newspaper article and write a brief summary to be presented in a social studies class. One of them finds an article on the recent shooting of nine African Americans in a South Carolina and the plans of the southern states to retire the Confederate flag. After presenting the summary, you as the teacher, in an attempt to spark a discussion in class, jump in to speak about the importance of the Confederate flag in American history and the need to keep it flying, unaware of the fact that half of your class consist of African Americans plus one of your pupils comes from a white supremist family…..
- You start off a debate about the question of wearing headscarves in the classroom of a predominantly Catholic school because of a debate in the Bavarian parliament about banning them in schools. This despite the fact that you have three Muslims and two Indians out of a total of 25 pupils in the classroom…..
- You and your class just finished reading the book and watching the film “The Perils of Being a Wallflower,” and start a question for discussion about the question of homosexuality, stating the benefits of being gay. The catch: Three of your pupils are homosexual, four pupils are opposed to homosexuality for religious reasons, five pupils find the topic too sensitive to talk about and keep mum, while the rest of the 20 pupils in your group…..
It is really hard to start a discussion about controversial topics, like the ones mentioned above. This especially holds true in a foreign language classroom, like English. However, to play the Devil’s Advocate and state an argument in an attempt to start a discussion is like playing with matches. If you don’t strike it properly or near something flammable, and it produces a flame that you don’t want, you better hope you and your house are both properly insured. In other words, to start off a discussion by stating an opinion to the students in order to start a conversation could possibly result in you (as the teacher) coming under intense fire and later scrutiny by students, parents, and even the school principal.
It does not mean that you cannot play the Devil’s Advocate in the classroom. In fact, stating an opinion, be it your own or that taken from a source can provoke some form of discussion from the classroom, bringing out some ideas and thoughts from your fellow students and maybe even producing a few questions for further consideration. If you choose the right topic for the right audience, you may end up having one of the most productive sessions with your group. The right topics could include the ones mentioned above, the first of which is a current event that happened just recently. Current events would be the best brain food for such an activity. Yet a controversial topic based on a film or book, as mentioned in the third example would also be a good platform to take a side and spurn a discussion.
The caveats involved in being the Devil’s Advocate include these key elements:
1. The students: Your class will have a heterogeneous mixture of people coming from different ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds as well as those who have certain preferences. You cannot introduce an activity like this without having gotten to know your group for a long period of time. And even then, you need to make a very careful judgement as to which topic you wish to provoke a discussion with, keeping the risk of a possible fall-out in mind. Therefore, as a teacher, I would wait a few months before even trying this activity out on them.
2. The environment: What is meant by environment is the school, the policies that are in place and the “unwritten” rules that you do not see on paper but that you have to be aware of. This ranges from the way teachers teach and discipline their students, to the apparel to be worn, to the mentality of both parties- meaning their views on topics deemed sensitive to the school. It is possible that there is a sense of inflexibility as to what topics should be talked about in the classroom. Sometimes conformity is the safest way to avoid confrontation, so choosing a topic and deciding whether the Devil’s Advocate is appropriate is one to be taken quite seriously.
3. The materials available for use: This is even trickier, especially if you are teaching in an American school, because of a wide array of ever-growing number of books and films that have made it to the Red List- namely those not to be used in the classroom. While it is sometimes necessary to use certain materials to cover a topic before trying to be the Devil’s Advocate, you as the teacher have to be careful as to using the materials that are approved by the school. Sometimes in order to play it safe, I go by the rule of “When in doubt, check it out.” That means ask your colleagues if the materials you plan to use for this particular exercise is ok or not.
4. You as the teacher: There are two types of passion to be aware of while standing in front of the board presenting new topics. There is the passionate type, where the teacher loves to work with the topic and the students. Then there’s the passionate type where the teacher has an opinionated topic to enforce on the class. This is the danger of playin the Devil’s Advocate- one gets too carried away with the topic. This has been seen too many times in school and even at the university. When you force your ideas onto someone, you will certainly have a stampede on your hands when the majority opposes it forcefully. In my humble opinion, playing the Devil’s Advocate is not suitable for these types of teachers if they cannot keep their passionate opinions to themselves.
To make it short and concise, being the Devil’s Advocate in order to start a conversation on a controversial topic is possible to do, but it takes a balance of a good student-teacher relationship, a good multi-cultural environment, a good but controversial topic to discuss, a good piece of literature and/or film (if necessary) and a good enough information about the school and its sets of guidelines- written and non-written, in order to pull it off. Even if you don’t play the Devil’s Advocate and state two different arguments to a controversial theme while allowing the students in groups to discuss among themselves, you are also running the risk of having some heated debates in the staff room. The risks are high, but the risks are even higher if you don’t try this in your classroom.
Because school is a place for personal development, allowing students to grow beyond their limits. If we are obsessed with manual learning, testing them constantly, students will become robots as adults- programmed to do what was taught in school. We should allow the students to progress at their own pace, think for themselves and allow them to be creative in their own environment, challenge what is not right and what they think is in the right, and lastly, be themselves. Activities like these should serve as thought-provoking and challenging. Not to enforce one’s opinion on another. To to close, I would like to ask the teachers when they should play the Devil’s Advocate in the classroom and which topic is suitable for this activity. If they have done this already, what were the results and why?
Any stories, place them here or in the Files’ facebook pages.
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.