The Problem with Soccer in Germany Part 2: Fan Behavior- How the German Soccer Leagues should crack down on fan violence

Could basketball and handball surpass soccer as the most favorite sport to watch in Germany? It may be the case, after watching this basketball game between Bayreuth and Oldenbourg in the German Basketball Premier League in Dec. 2010. Bayreuth lost a heartbreaker on its home court 85-84.

Going to a soccer game on a Saturday at a German soccer stadium is a ritual for at least 10 million fans. For 90 minutes they enjoy the company of their friends and family, cheering for their favorite team, booing at the referees for making a wrong call, singing and supporting their team with slogans and fan waving, and when their favorite team scores the winning goal, they race to the entrance of the locker room, cheering and congratulating the team on a job well done.
Yet looking at soccer in Germany this year, the scene presents a rather different story. Instead of cheering for their team, fans are taunting them even if they lose, throwing firecrackers and smoke bombs in the stands and on the field. Fights are breaking out between the fans of both teams, while some are chasing the fan bus, throwing stones at the windows and harassing the driver. And the most climatic event to signal the end of Premier League Play was on 16 May in the relegation play between Hertha BSC Berlin and Fortuna Duesseldorf, when thousands of fans stormed the soccer field to celebrate Duesseldorf’s promotion to the top flight league and Berlin’s relegation to the second tier league- but with two minutes left in regulation! It took 20 minutes to bring the fans back to their seats before the game could continue, which had contain so much chaos, and as a consequence, involved the German government afterwards. While the team from Hertha filed a complaint and demanded that the game be replayed, it fell on deaf ears on the part of the German Soccer Federation (DFB) and the DFB Supreme Court. Still, it is a cause for alarm in Germany as the problem with fans, the team and even the law enforcement has reached a point where tougher measures will have to be made before the start of the 2012/13 season.
Normally one will see such fan behavior in American sports, as millions of viewers have seen some events that have led to questions about the role of fans and athletes. The best example can be found in the event on 19 November, 2004 at a basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, where a brawl among the players gave a fan an incentive to throw an object at Ron Artest, who raced into the stands to beat him up. Other fans and players jumped in and a minute later, the court was loaded with people throwing punches and kicking each other. The game was called off with less than a minute left. Artest and at least 10 other players other received suspensions of up to a year; the fan instigating the attack was banned from attending any professional basketball games at the place where the brawl took place- Detroit-for life.
In Germany, many people take pride in the country’s sports, whether it is handball or basketball. While watching a game in each sport in the last two years- a basketball game in Bayreuth (Bavaria) and a handball game in Flensburg, the mood of the fans was spectacular, as there was cheering and jeering, people meeting new people, and there were no firecrackers thrown in the sporting complexes, let alone fans running onto the court to hinder a game. Even the cheerleaders and the DJs managed to involve the fans and provide them with a spectacular show, to make the trip to the game worthwhile. An example of such sportsmanship between the fans and the players, were found in a game between SG Flensburg-Handewitt and Gummersbach on 27 April, 2011, a game which Flensburg won in a seesaw match 29-25.

Yet the fan problem in German soccer has become so dire that the DFB, German soccer leagues, the federal government, police and its labor unions, and other parties are coming together this summer to discuss ways to crack down on fan violence. Already conclusive is the fact that fines and sanctions against teams, whose fans instigated the violence, have had very little effect on curbing the violence. Banning fans from attending any soccer games, as has been stressed by German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich after the disastrous  game between Duesseldorf and Berlin may not be the most effective as fans can find creative ways of entering the soccer stadium masquerading as someone else and causing trouble there as well. The police and its union have strongly recommended that each of the 54 top flight teams and the DFB provide security fees and take points off the standings for teams instigating the violence. Yet many teams may not afford high fees for security, and for some who are cutting costs in order to compete, security is one of those aspects that has been on the chopping block.
The most viable solution to the increase in fan violence is to combine all the variants and add a five-year ban from competing on the national and international level, leaving them stuck in the Regionalliga (the fourth league) to set an example for other teams to clean up their act and be square with their fans, while at the same time, demand that each team entering the top three leagues to have strict security measures in place for every game and tournament. This includes taking finger prints and facial scans from each fan entering a sports stadium and having a database for them so that they can be tracked, scanning them for all forms of firecrackers and any materials that could potentially cause a fire, and even involving the German military at places where violence is the norm at the soccer games. In the case of the 2012 season so far, that would mean cities like Frankfurt and the surrounding areas, Cologne, Berlin, Dresden and Karlsruhe, where reports of violence have been recorded the most, would have military presence.  A record of the violence during the 2011/12 soccer season can be found here. The last part is a common practice in regions prone to violence, like the Middle East and Africa, yet it seems like the trend has arrived here, which makes more law enforcement through the police and army a necessary and not a luxury.  Should teams not afford strict security measures, they would not be allowed to compete in the top three leagues.
In the event that violence breaks out during or even after the soccer game, a “Three Strikes and You’re Out” rule should be enforced on all teams, keeping track of the record of violence committed by fans of the teams as well as scrutinizing the teams that are unable to control them. First strike means fines in the six digits and three points taken off, second strike means doubling of fines and six points taken off and the third strike means automatic relegation one league lower. If the event happens the fourth time, a five-year ban should be imposed. This rule is based on a law in the US dealing with drunk driving that was passed in the 1990s, which exists in most of the states- first strike meaning heavy fines, second strike meaning revoking the driving license and the third strike meaning jail time, in some cases, permanently. Yet its origins come from America’s favorite past time sport, baseball.  A ban from attending any soccer game for those committing the violence should be enforced, but the responsibility of keeping order at a soccer game lies solely with the two teams competing with each other. Therefore, one should consider the punishment for each insubordination a punishment for all involved.  While these measures are probably the harshest and it may contrabate the Constitutional Laws, resulting in the involvement of the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe on many occasions, but given the sophistication of the violence committed at German Soccer games, if even the German government is stepping up pressure for action, then the situation is at the point where inaction is no longer an option.
If there is a silver lining to all the violence, especially at the end of the season, it is fortunate that there have been no deaths or severe injuries reported. But it takes a tragedy to change that. It may not be the one similar to the infamous soccer stadium fire at Bradford City (in the UK) 0n 11 May, 1985, but one death will change the way we think about the game of soccer in Germany. We have already seen that in other places, as one can see with the violence at a soccer game at Port Said in Egypt on 1 February of this year, where over 70 people were killed. Unfortunately, Germany has taken one step closer to the danger zone and should the violence persist by the time the whistle blows to start the next season, we could see our first casualty recorded, regardless of which league game it is. When that happens, it will change the face of German soccer forever to a point where if there is a soccer game, the only way we will see it is on TV…….. as a virtual computer game!

 

 

Flensburg Files Fast Fact

Thestadium fire at Bradford City was (supposedly) caused by someone dropping a cigarette into the wooden bleachers full of rubbish, causing a fire that engulfed the stadium in less than five minutes. 56 people died in the fire and over 260 were injured. The fortunate part was the fact that no barriers to the soccer field were in place, like it is in today’s soccer stadiums in general, which allowed most of the fans to escape through the soccer field. It was a tragic end to the team’s promotion to the second tier of the British Premier League. The stadium was rebuilt in several phases (finishing in 2001), including replacing the wooden bleachers with steel and concrete. Since the fire, a ban of wooden bleachers have been enforced both in Britain as well as the rest of Europe.

 

Flensburg Files’ Fragen Forum:

After reading this article and watching the clips, here are a couple questions for you to mull over and discuss with other readers:

1. How would you approach the problem of fan violence in soccer stadium? Which measures are the most effective in your opinion: fines and other sanctions against teams, finger print scanning and keeping a database of the fans, point reduction in the football standings, banning teams with fan trouble from competing in certain leagues, or a combination of some of the measures? If none of the suggestions work, what would you suggest?

2. Do you think handball and basketball will surpass soccer in Germany in terms of popularity? Or will soccer remain a household name, like America has its household name sports of American football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey?

3. Do you think fan violence is a universal problem in sports or is it focused on selective sports?

 

Please submit your answers in the Comment section, which is here after this article.  Thanks and looking forward to hearing from you readers!

 

 

 

 

 

More Trains and More Space, Please!

A busy and chaotic scene at Hamburg Central Station. Taken on 31 July on the busiest day of the summer season as many people took to the highways and tracks to head to their vacation destination.

 

Here is a sight that I hope that I will never see again: An ICE train departing Hamburg enroute to Copenhagen becomes overcrowded the second the doors open. You try and find a seat you had reserved at a train station in Jena three weeks before, only to find that it is occupied by a mother with two children. It is not a problem considering the fact that the announcer informed the people waiting at the platform that reservations made on the train were considered null and void. That would make a world of sense if learned that all schools in Germany were out for the summer and that  every family with their dog or cat would hit the road or track for their destinations to the Alps, Turkey, or parts of Scandanavia. However the situation becomes unbearable when people are standing side by side in the aisle and on the seats and too close together, resembling a typical ride on the Tokyo subway. To relieve the congestion, the conductor of the train forces the people to take the Regional Express train to Lübeck, which is also the stop on the ICE. It makes sense for only a short time, but does not alleviate the problem when you see a person who makes his spot in one of the closets next to the Bord Restaurant, sitting on top of his luggage. When asked whether he comfortable in that very narrow encasement, he replies with “At least I can sit.”
There are two pet peeves I have with the German Railways (Die Bahn). The first is its customer unfriendliness, especially when it comes to parents with children (please see my article on Single and Business Bahn). Others would disagree with me and say that trains arriving late would be their pet peeve. In a way I would agree if I was one of those commuters going to work at the university as an English lecturer and had an early morning class at 8:30 in the morning, meaning I have to be off to work at 7:00 in the morning in order to make it on time. However, a delay may work as a blessing if there is something very important to do for work before a certain deadline.
There is the other pet peeve which both the Germans and I would have a fun time talking about and that is overcrowded trains. No matter where you go, which train you use (ICE, InterCity or Regional Services), what time of year you travel by train, or what you have for luggage or people travelling with you, Die Bahn has a chronic problem with overcrowding trains. And no matter how hard they try to alleviate the problem, it seems that the problem has worsened within the last five to ten years because of the preference for trains over automobiles- and this goes beyond the increasing price for gas and compulsory automobile inspections taken annually.
If we look at the train demographics for a second, we can see two main north-south arteries (Munich to Berlin and Basel to Hamburg via Frankfurt (Main), three east-west arteries (Dresden to Frankfurt (Main), Berlin to Cologne via Magdeburg and Dusseldorf and Passau/Vienna to Basel via Munich, Ulm and Stuttgart), plus numerous important blood vessels going to key cities, like Cologne from Frankfurt, Copenhagen/Flensburg from Hamburg, Rostock from Berlin and Kaiserslautern/Saarbrücken from Frankfurt(Main).  If a major shortcoming was to take place, such as a storm shutting down the stretch, a train stalling due to a malfunctioning airconditioner, or even a delay of 20 minutes due to overcrowding because of people getting on or off the train (all of which have occurred countless times), then the situation is like a person having a massive heart attack with minutes away from keeling over and expiring if help is not sought in blitzschnell speed. When that happens, pretty much everyone suffers, regardless of whether a passenger misses a flight to Africa, or misses an important meeting with clients and his job is therefore on the line, or if he misses an exam for one of the subjects at the university and he fails the course.  If one lives in Germany as long as I have (twelve years come September 2011), then he/she will have been late at least twice a month- one of which would have consequences as far as meeting deadlines and making appointments are concerned.
The hardest hit areas are the stretches starting in Munich heading north: one heads to Hamburg via Nuremberg, Würzburg, Frankfurt (Main), Göttingen and Hannover; the other heads to Berlin via Nuremberg, Jena and Leipzig. Barring the landscape the two lines have to go through (in particular the latter stretch as it has to go through mountains between Nuremberg and Jena), when boarding the train- in particular the InterCity and ICE, it is always full and despite reservations head of time, there is no guarantee one can sit down in his reserved seat unless he is as aggressive as Happy Gilmore. And when the seat is reserved, then one has to deal with a lack of space as his passenger sitting next to him also needs space to breathe.  The worst is when having luggage and one has no choice but to place them either on the steps or in five different areas of the train. This has occurred with me many times when travelling along this stretch heading to Flensburg and recently to Copenhagen to catch my flight to the USA. If you count the other persons who are travelling with you and are really agitated at the overcrowding, then you can be sure of some potential fireworks going off right there….
Fortunately, measures are being taken to ensure that travelling by train is easier. First and foremost, new tracks are being laid so that one set is designated for ICE service and the other for regional train service. This was done with a stretch between Freiburg (Breisgau) and Karlsruhe and has alleviated the overcrowding a bit. On the Frankfurt-Hamburg route, some stretches are being built north of Göttingen as well as in the metro areas of Hannover and south of Hamburg even as this article is being written.  Another is constructing newer, faster stretches so that passengers can reach their destination quicker and more comfortably. While that has worked on the Hamburg-Frankfurt route between Göttingen and Würzburg, this is being done with the new route between Berlin and Munich, detouring through Ilmenau, Erfurt and Halle (Saale) enroute to Leipzig.  However one has to take into consideration such projects should not be done at the expense of sacrificing original routes, as is the plan by Die Bahn with the new route being constructed- after 2017 no ICEs will pass through Jena and its neighbor to the north, Naumburg (Saale).  Instead both routes should be open and the two types of services (InterCity and ICE) should take turns using the two routes, while respecting the other available services at the same time. This has been done in Hesse with the routes connecting Frankfurt and Cologne as well as the stretch between Mannheim and Karlsruhe. For the stretch between Frankfurt and Cologne, there are two routes one can take: the ICE route via Limburg and Montabaur  and the InterCity/ICE route via Coblence. For the other, one can go straight to Karlsruhe from Mannheim or take the route through Heidelberg and Heilbronn with ICE. Why should it not work for the two stretches going through the state of Thuringia? It would be a win-win situation for Die Bahn as well as the cities of Erfurt and Jena.
This brings me up to two suggestions that are worth considering to ensure more efficiency and less hassles for passengers. Apart from building new stretches and ensuring that the old ones maintain their services to the customers, one should consider utilizing stretches that are less travelled and used by regional services. There one could add some long-distance services to the routes to ensure that passengers have the same satisfaction in service as the ones travelling along the heavily travelled routes. The other is building more trains and reinventing/ reusing types of trains for use on the least travelled routes. While Die Bahn is working on building more InterCity trains to replace the ones that have serving passengers for 20-30 years, the success of the ICE-diesel trains connecting Hamburg and Denmark via Lübeck and Flensburg should force the German train concern to reconsider the idea after they discontinued the service between Dresden and Nuremberg via Bayreuth in 2003. While that stretch is rife for the reintroduction in the ICE-diesel, the stretches between Chemnitz and Göttingen via Gera, Jena, and Mühlhausen and between Cottbus and Berlin are examples of many where the ICE diesel trains could benefit the people in those areas.
The overcrowding of trains and the sometimes overutilization of the routes is a sign that more and more people are using the trains and leaving the cars at home. It is understandable because of the high gas prices combined with the taxes and annual compulsory inspections that have to be paid. Therefore Die Bahn has to react accordingly to accommodate the increasing numbers, even if it means having to put more trains on the existing routes and build new ones so that one will not have to deal with the pet peeve of overcrowding and being forced to stand for long stretches. More trains and better service is better, even if trains come more often and have to keep to a slower speed limit. Passengers will understand and plan accordingly. It is better than finding a place to sit for three hours  at any cost, which was the case with the passenger who sat on his suitcase in the small closet on the ICE to Copenhagen.

The City of Lights

In the next month, the Flensburg Files takes you back to the border town in Germany as well as some of the surrounding areas in Schleswig-Holstein and neighboring Denmark. Some of the columns will be written in cooperation with its sister column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. This article is the first installment of the series by the columnist and photographer.

 

St. Jürgen's Cathedral taken from the west end of the harbor. Photo taken in April, 2011

 

 

Revisiting the town for the first time since Pentecost, I’ve already found a few nicknames that makes this city a unique place to visit, let alone live there, if the opportunity knocks. Apart from it being a border town, as it borders Denmark and is next to its neighboring city of Padborg, the city is the birthplace of rum and still is a powerhouse in that area, despite its loss of significance in the past two decades. An American counterpart exists in Minnesota, which a commentary will be written about it at a different time. It is a very popular place for clippers and sailboats, as they cruise along the Fjord and provide some impressions from many who are fascinated by them. When I was there last year, I considered Flensburg as a City of Solitude, where people go to find their inner piece and reflect on themselves. One can also add that it is a City of Solidarity, where friends meet and prosperity exists no matter where you go. Part of that was due to its coexistence of Germans, Danes, and other foreigners alike. In other words, it is truly multicultural where you witness several languages and cultures, and experience the history that makes the city of nearly 90,000 special.

The author on his latest visit over Easter found a brand new nickname that makes Flensburg what it is: The City of Lights!  While the city may look like any other city when you enter it, with all of  shopping areas and freeways tangenting its way around the city. However, when you drive in the direction of the city center, past those areas, past the very large but vacant EXE Center, which hosts many events including outdoor concerts and flea markets, and head down the hill towards the harbor, you will know what I’m talking about.  Both sides of the harbor are well lit that it not only presents passersby with some unqiue attractions worth stopping to visit, but also (especially with the areas along Roter Strasse and right on the harbor’s edge), it resembles Flensburg as a place where everyone goes out on the town until the wee hours in the morning. It may not be like the bigger cities, like Berlin, Leipzig, or Frankfurt (Main), but the town never sleeps at night, unlike some of the towns its size, including Bayreuth or Eisenach.  No matter where you go at night, there is always something going on at the harbor area.

 

Flensburg's skyline at night- it is just as active as its looks. Photo taken in April, 2011

 

 

While it is impossible to describe every aspect of Flensburg at night, as it would take up a library’s worth of the column, the author decided to choose the most important pics worth seeing (with a few notes) to show how attractive the City of Lights is and how lively it is, no matter where you go. So without ado, here it goes:

1. St. Jürgen’s Cathedral: This is one of the first sites you will see when entering the city center and harbor area, as it overlooks the area from the east end of the harbor on the hill. The second tallest building behind the city hall (built in the 1960s), one can be awed in its beauty from a distance, regardless of the time of day. However, up close and personal, you can see why people flock to this unique historic place of interest.

 

All photos here were taken in April 2011

 

 

2. Roter Strasse/ Norderstrasse: The 2 kilometer stretch beginning at the Nordertor and ending at the Sudermarkt provides the tourist with a shopping mall-like atmosphere at night regardless if all the shops are open or not. A lot of the places along this stretch show their true colors at night that it would be a sin not to photograph them. This includes the former sugar factories and rum distilleries along the Rum and Sugar Mile, the Nordermarkt, Marienkirche, and Alte Post, located between the bus depot and Sudermarkt

 

Roter Strasse

 

 

Nordermarkt

Marienkirche next to Nordermarkt

Altes Post Building- a former post office now converted into a bank. Photo taken in May 2010

 

 

3. The Harbor Front. Between the Roter Strasse and the harbor front on the west end is bustling with activity at night, as a dozen restaurants, bars and eateries attract a huge crowd through the wee hours of the morning. Most notable include Hansen’s Restaurant and Brewery, Piet Henningsen, and a pair of Irish Pubs located in the vicinity of the bus depot. This is a complement to the other activities that can only be done in the daytime, such as boating, swimming and and city tours. The only time of the day in which the city lies empty in this section is early in the morning between 4 and 6am, except on the days of rest, where in this case, many people elect to sleep in a couple hours more.

 

East side of the harbor with the Goethe School in the background

West end of the harbor with the Marienkirche sticking out.

Hansen's Brewery and Restaurant- one of Flensburg's finest local diners located on the western edge of the harbor.Â

 

 

 

4. Goethe, Christian-Paulsen-Skole and Altes Gymnasium Schools.  The first is located not far from the St. Jürgen’s Cathedral; the other two are on the west end, with the second one being a Danish School. All have recently been in the limelight; especially at night, where one can see all three of them from the tip of the harbor or from the north end near Murwik. All of them have one thing in common and that is its pride in educating the city’s population.

 

Goethe School- taken from the hill near the Catholic Church

Altes Gymnasium High School

The Paulsen Danish School

 

 

 

Then there are some other night pics that are worth mentioning even though they don’t fall into the four categories. There is a reason for these shots, as they will be explained in each pics.

Goldene Lillie near Sudermarkt

 

The St. Nicolas Church

Former Matz Distillery now a police station and hotel.

 

 

 

While Flensburg may be a really attractive place at anytime of the year, one wonders if the city really stands out as a tourist attraction and place to party at night, then the question is what would the city look like when the Christmas markets come to town at the end of the November and stays there until right before Santa Claus comes to town…  We’ll find out eventually. In the meantime, let’s do some window shopping along the Rum-Sugar Mile, shall we?

 

Guttenberg Resigns- A consequence for cheating

After two weeks of being bombarded with news headlines involving his plagarism scandal, an increasing chorus of politicians, academics and even people in general demanding that he relinquishes power, and a further erosion of power among the Dream Coalition consisting of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democrats (FDP) and of course, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s credibility for supporting him from the start, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on Tuesday announced his resignation from not his post as minister, but from all political functions in Berlin.  He cited that the decision was the most painful in his career, but he claimed that his resignation was not just based on the plagarism scandal that has rocked the German parliament “Bundestag” in the past two weeks, but because he was unable to fulfill his functions any further.

The reaction was well received by those who claimed that Guttenberg was no longer a credible man at his post and that his resignation was long since overdue.  This included not only the oppositional parties of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Socialist Party (Die Linke) and the Greens, but also tens of thousands of academics at German universities, 23,000 of whom presented a petition to Chancellor Merkel demanding that he step down as soon as possible.  Even some members of the Bavarian sister party, the Christian Socialists (CSU), lost respect for the 39-year old who was the front runner to become the next German Chancellor, if and when Merkel decides to step down. What is next for Guttenberg is unknown, but after the University of Bayreuth last week revoked his PhD title for not citing the sources in his thesis properly, it began a chain reaction where many people, including even his own supervisor  of the thesis Prof. Peter Häberle of the University of Bayreuth lost respect for Guttenberg and distanced themselves from him, joining the ranks of those who wanted him to step aside and let someone else take over.

While his resignation was not accepted by many Germans per say, according to recent polls, this was the second Bavarian politician to resign from a top post (regardless of state or national level). As mentioned in the previous column, Bavarian prime minister Edmund Stoiber stepped down in September 2007 amid his own set of scandals and a year later, the CSU lost absolute power in the state elections for the first time in over 20 years.  With Guttenberg stepping down as defense minister in Berlin, could this happen with the Dream Coalition in the coming elections in 2013, where we have the return of the Christmas coalition, consisting of the SPD and Green parties?  This remains a distinct possibility; especially after Angela Merkel had been supporting Guttenberg from the time the scandal broke out two weeks before until he finally decided to call it quits, thus damaging her credibility as the German Chancellor, a trend that is comparable to two infamous scandals in the USA, which plagued two presidencies: the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s under the administration of President Warren G. Harding and the Watergate Scandal of 1973-4 under President Richard Nixon. Harding died of food poisoning in 1923 before he could be indicted on fraud charges, while Nixon became the first president to resign in 1974, right before Congress was going to impeach him. Both scandals did damage the credibility of the Republican party to a point where in the long term, the voters turned to the Democrats as they were more credible; Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and Jimmy Carter in 1976.  In this case, since plagarism is a serious crime which can result in the revocation of the title or even prison time, the “Googleberg” Affair (as many have coined the term) involving the now resigned defense minister could create a chain reaction, which could bring down the Dream Coalition in two years’ time. The only way to reverse the trend is if Merkel finds a way to win back the hearts and minds of the Germans and remove the stain, which has been caked into the fabric of Germany and will take lots of time and efforts to remove.

From my personal point of view, a person who commits a serious crime like plagarism, no matter what the excuses are, deserves to spend some time in solitary confinement, thinking about the actions and considering the situation where “sleeping up the career ladder” can produce some dire consequences for himself, the people who pampered him up the ladder, the institutions he worked for, and the people whom he hurt through cheating along the way. Once a person commits a crime like plagarism, his career is dead in the water, and he may want to think about a new career which would suit him better than the one he had. At the same time, he should learn from this experience the hardest way possible so that it is never committed ever again. The harder the labor in solitary confinement, the easier it will be to have this incident and the lesson learned from it engraved in one’s head forever.

So what will happen with Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg now that he has thrown in the towel after being grilled in the Bundestag, losing his PhD title, giving the University of Bayreuth and all of Germany a bad reputation, and finally losing face to the German people? Who knows? I know the University of Bayreuth will need to clean up its reputation as a result of this mess, although speaking from my experience working there as a teacher, political games have always dominated the quality of education the students really deserve.   Germany will have to rely less on Bavaria as a role model for politics as it has been plagued way too much by scandals in recent years and needs to reexamine and revamp its political, social and education systems, in order to produce not only the best and brightest people but those who are honest, moral and earn their degree through hard work, a set of personal ethics and solidarity to others- helping those in need be just as successful. The country has 15 other states with just as good or even better politicians as those in Bavaria. The social infrastructure is just as good or even better, and there are a lot of other aspects that people like about those states and this goes beyond the stereotype of Germany: Vita Cola, Frankfurt, Thuringian Bratwurst, Flensburger Beer, CEBIT Conference in Hanover, Volkswagon, Audi, Soccer, Deutsche Bahn,  Forests, …. you get the picture.

I did have an opinion by one of my former students at the University of Bayreuth, who claimed that he will eventually become the next chancellor of Germany, despite stepping down as defense minister. I beg to differ on this for I have a question to pose to those who still support him: “Would you elect someone like Guttenberg, whose reputation has been permanently damaged beyond repair because of the plagarism scandal, to be the next German Chancellor, just because of his popularity, or would you elect someone who is unknown but has a clean record and can get the job done for the country?” Think carefully before you answer that question and go to the polls, should that be the case that Guttenberg is in the running for the highest office in Germany. Chances are, ethically speaking, who you vote for reflects on your own character and ethical values, and that will impact others who want to have the same lifestyle as you have at present….

Links:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/01/german-defence-minister-resigns-plagiarism

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/interaktiv/8287832-3.html

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/8287421.html

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6454809,00.html

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/03/01/germany.politics/index.html?hpt=T2

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/02/world/europe/02germany.html?_r=1&hp

Truth or Dare? The Guttenberg Story

Here’s a question worth pondering: Which of the professions in the world allows a person to lie the most and get away with it- that is as long as he is not caught doing it fearing that if so, he would face naming and shaming from the outside, ruining his career permanently? Before you read further, guess at the top three professions, have a nice look at the photo below, and then read my comments after that…..

OK, there is an explanation to me choosing this photo which I will get to in just a bit.

But let’s have a look at our answers, shall we? It is very obvious that weathermen and salesmen would be the most likely targets for being the biggest liars around. After all, weathermen predict the forecasts falsely about 75% of the time- hence the usage of modern day technology, which even then is not 100% accurate. I don’t want to get into the subject of salespeople, as there are many Willie Lowmans out in the world that deserve a door being slammed in the face for presenting products they claim are 100% flawless, when they are anything but that. I personally even slammed the door in the face of a vacuum salesman one time- after one second of looking at him and his product and telling him “NOT INTERESTED!”- but not before he yelled in desparation “….BUT YOU HAVEN’T GIVEN ME A CHANCE TO INTRODUCE MYSELF!!!”

The third profession, which I put it way at the top of my most despised profession list are the politicians. Why? Because everytime we elect someone for the post for the benefit of positive change, that person turns out to be one of those people- liars who screw us out of money and honesty, who do not have integrity and their own code of ethics, and who just talk the talk instead of walking the walk.  Honesty is a commodity that is underrated these days, yet we need it in order to have order in society. But who are the most honest people in today’s society? Definitely not the politicians!

In the United States, it is common to have scandals that can potentially destroy a career of a politician and even his own domestic life. Look at Watergate and Richard Nixon’s downfall. Look at Bill and Monica and how President Clinton was impeached- then pardoned. Look at George W. Bush and John Kerry and their behavior during the Vietnam War- one averts the draft, the other was mocked for improper conduct where he didn’t deserve the medals of honor. Then we have the infamous sex ring scandal at the Minneapolis International Airport and Senator Larry Craig’s famous statement “I am not gay and never have been!” Only to retract it a week later. And finally the Argentinian mistress scandal costed Mark Sanford his political career, let alone his own marriage.  But what about allegations involving plagarizing a doctorate thesis?

It is a foregone conclusion that plagarism is indeed a crime punishable by being stripped of his title to even prison time. This is something that Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is facing at the moment as he is the target of a plagarism scandal in Germany! That’s right, Germany, the place where high quality, hard work, and honesty are the norm and frequently asked by those who look up to the country as a role model. That is unless you are a politician and from Bavaria on top of it!  Guttenberg, who has been defense minister for Germany since the “Dream Coalition” (consisting of the Christian Democrats, Bavarian Christian Socialists as well as the Free Democrats) took power in 2009, has taken his political career, which started in Bavaria and had blossomed to date, to the tip of the iceberg. This is thanks in part to questions from the opposition involving the involvement of German troops in Afghanistan (where 23 of the 48 soldiers, who were killed since 2002, have occurred since 2009), as well as  the scandal involving a mutiny on a ship in November and other forms of misconduct involving the German army on its home turf. His downfall may occur should the state prosecutors determine that the allegations involving him plagarizing his thesis, which he wrote at the University of Bayreuth, located in Upper Franconia in northern Bavaria, an hour away by train north of Nuremberg.  The university is currently reviewing his thesis and will decide what course of action to take in the coming days.

While Guttenberg has decided to temporarily relinquish his doctorate title until the investigation is finished, he and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has his backing all the way, may find that they and even the Dream Coalition will have more to lose than meets the eye. While the majority of the German population, including even the students of the University of Bayreuth, support him, it might change should it reveal that he indeed violated the codes of conduct involving writing a thesis, including using the sources properly.. In the eyes of the opposition (consisting of the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Left), that would be unethical and no person without a set of morals, let alone a doctorate title should be running the post as defense minister. Guttenberg is running a parallel course to his elder Bavarian counterpart, Edmund Stoiber, who was prime minister of Bavaria and head of the Bavarian Christian Socialists until 2007, when he was forced to relinquish both his posts. Reason: Many scandals involving his opposition to Angela Merkel’s candidacy as chancellor of Germany in 2002 and 2005 respectively (because she was from the eastern part of Germany- Saxony,  to be exact), the policies of former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder between 1998 and 2005 when he lost the elections, his comments claiming that Germany should be like Bavaria, and lastly sexual harassment involving a former party member Gabriele Pauli. The last point, the harassment scandal involving Pauli, who was a representative of Furth (located near Nuremberg) at that time, resulted in the ultimatum for Stoiber: either step down or face a putsch. Fortunately, he took the first approach and left both his posts in September 2007. He is no longer active in politics.

Should the allegations involving his plagarism be substantiated, Guttenberg will set off a domino effect that would be potentially damaging to Bavaria as a whole and fatal to his political career, let alone to his Dream Coalition, and to a certain extent, Chancellor Merkel, who has been riding high on support since coming to power in 2005. Damaging to Bavaria because many states look to Bavaria as a role model because of its strictness in its institutions and policies. Some of the policies that have been introduced in other states use a similar approach that is used in Bavaria, despite the opposition. However, Bavaria has already been plagued by scandals in recent years, which has led to many to question its credibility regarding ethics, as it seems to run a double-life: say one thing but do the opposite. And this definitely includes the sex scandals involving the Catholic Church. It will be damaging to the Dream Coalition and to Chancellor Merkel as the support for the Opposition will skyrocket to a point where a change in power could occur in 2013, and many of the politicians’ careers may be over should the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats lose the majority of the parliamentary seats of the Bundestag. Part of the blame for the downfall will lie solely on Guttenberg, whose career may be in shambles. Already, many media sources and politicians have written him off as a candidate for chancellorship, should Merkel decide to call it quits. It will be most likely that he will step down as defense minister if it is revealed that he misused the sources and lied about his credibility of his thesis altogether.

The coming days will reveal whether Guttenberg will have a chance to ride out this storm of controversy or sink like the Titanic. In either case, he is walking in the shadows of danger where looking just straight ahead is no longer an option, as one can see in the photo posted here. One has to look in all directions to ensure that there is no danger lurking about. Only then will the person will reach the light and will see his own shadow from above instead of being in the shadow of uncertainty, which can be proven fatal if one makes a wrong move.

THE FLENSBURG FILES WILL KEEP YOU POSTED ON THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS ON THE GUTTENBERG PLAGARISM SCANDAL. STAY TUNED!

Useful links:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14850899,00.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl-Theodor_zu_Guttenberg

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

German Christmas Market Pics 4: Bayreuth

Overview with the Christmas tree Photo taken in December 2010

After putting up with the overcrowding visitors at one of the most popular Christmas markets in Germany, the next stop on the Christmas market tour is an hour to the north in a small and quiet town of Bayreuth. The capital of the region Oberfranken (Upper Franconia) is located not far from the source of the Main River, which slithers its way for over 400 kilometers down to the mouth of the Rhein River in the twin cities of Wiesbaden and Mainz (both are west of Frankfurt/Main).  Like Jena, Bayreuth is one of those forgotten cities where people pass through enroute to either Berlin or Munich along the North-South corridor A9, and there is a good reason for that. Bayreuth is one of the biggest sleeper towns in Germany with most of the recreational possibilities located in the Fichtel Mountain region to the north and east. Its population consists mainly of those ages 40 and up and even though its main attractions include the university and the places associated with Jean Paul and Richard Wagner, the town almost always sleeps early every night of the year. That means after 7:00pm, when the stores close their doors for the evening, the whole city center becomes silent in a fashion resembling Steven King’s “The Langoliers”- the silence when walking through its main street Maximilianstrasse is as eerie as it gets.

However, not all of Bayreuth is as silent as the airport where the passengers were stranded in, like in the film “The Langoliers.” There are two time periods in the year where the city of 70,000 inhabitants is the liveliest (that is, if you subtract the basketball season in the winter time and the professional basketball team BBC Bayreuth). The first one is in July, when the Wagner Festival takes place at the Festspielhaus, located on the hill overlooking most of the city. The second one is the Bayreuther Weihnachtsmarkt, which takes place the same time as the market in Nürnberg. Like the lighted garland which runs along the Maxmilianstrasse through the city center, the Christmas market consists of booths running along the main street beginning at the west end where the Hugendubel book store and the Karstadt department store are located and ending at Sternplatz on the east end, where the bar complex Winterdorf is located. While most of the booths close up early at 7:00pm every night, the Winterdorf part of the Christmas market is open until late into the night- far later than the Glühwein booths at the Christmas market in Erfurt, which really took me by surprise given the fact that Erfurt is three times as big as its Franconian counterpart and has a very stark contrast in terms of its liveliness as a whole. If one wants to try all the concoctions in the world, ranging from Feuerzangenbowle in a cup to Winter Dream, to Nürnberger Glühwein (see the attached links for the recipes of each) then Winterdorf is the place to be, where the female  bar attendants are nice looking and customer friendly, and the reunions with old friends and colleagues take place. I had the opportunity to meet up with my friends and former students at the Winterdorf, as I taught for two years at the university and they were my regular customers in all the English classes I taught there. It was a fun time as we talked about our lives in English and provided each other with some laughs and memories of the times together in the classroom, drinking all the beverages possible. Many of them I still keep in touch with through all forms of communication, as I made a difference in their lives during my two years in Bayreuth, and they made my stay a memorable one.

But aside from all the memories, another reason for nominating Bayreuth as one of the pics is its improvement with regards to city planning. In the past five years, the Maximilianstrasse was converted from an underground bus station with through traffic on the surface to one which presents some unique lighting and sculptural designs with two thirds of the street now being converted into a pedestrian and bicycle zone. The bus station is now located just off the bypass Hollernzollern Ring, which runs along the Main River. During the time I was in Bayreuth, much of the street was ripped apart for the beautification process, and most of the small shops at the Christmas market were relocated along the side streets. The entire stretch of shops between the west and east ends was completely blocked off. When I visited the market this time around, it was a whole different story. New lighting, new trees lining up along the streets, and the stretch of small shops was reestablished, making the Bayreuth Christmas one of the most hidden treasures that a person has to take a couple hours to see. While many students have claimed that Bayreuth has only Richard Wagner to offer and that the city should do more to improve its image, they are only half right. Little do they realize is that Bayreuth does offer one thing that will make their stay a wonderful one, which is its Christmas market. After all, it is the place where friends meet and/or reunite and for those without a partner, one might get lucky there….

And now the last stop on the Christmas Market tour, which requires a good 400km trip down along the Main River in one of the most popular metropolises in Europe, Frankfurt am Main. But before that, here are some recipes of beverage mixes worth trying for the holidays….

Feuerzangenbowle:

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

Winter Dream:

http://www.channels.com/episodes/show/12678283/How-To-Make-The-Amaretto-Sunset

Glühwein (EN: Mulled or Spiced Wine):

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

Reference to the Langoliers:

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

More pics:

West end overlooking the book store and old town hall.

Winterdorf at Sternplatz on the east end of the market

Inside Winterdorf, where the drinks run wild and the guest are even wilder.

Ah yes, the Feuerzangenbowle!

Christmas Markets in Germany! The Holiday pics for 2010

Classic example of a typical German Christmas market

Well, it is that time of year again! Christmas is creeping upon us and we are in a mad rush to buy as many presents for as many relatives and friends as possible. We have Christmas letters to rush. In cases like yours truly, there are lists to make regarding what to pack for the trip home to family and friends and a trip itinerary to put together.  Each country has its own holiday tradition which takes place before and during Christmas. In the US, the holiday season starts with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, where half the population lines up in front of shopping malls and retailers at 6:00am in the morning and fight tooth and nail to get that perfect gift for their loved ones. Families decorate their houses and lawns with Christmas lights and other decorations, and in some cases, there are holiday decoration contests to see which house is the most decorated of the entire neighborhood. Where no contests exist, there are people who love to tour the neighborhoods and are in awe with the bright colors and the designs.

In Germany, we are just as festive but in a different way. Sure we have the Christmas tree, although we usually do not decorate it until the 24th of December. We do some Christmas caroling throughout the holidays, like in the USA- even on the 6th of January in Bavaria. We have the Christmas pyramids, where the candles are lit causing the top wings to spin. We have incense men and houses, where the scent of Christmas roams around the house. But what is very typical during this time of year in Germany are the Christmas markets that occupy the market squares of over 6000 cities for one month, from the end of November until Christmas Eve. No matter where you go, you see a lot of Christmas goodies that are served during this time, from “Bratapfel” (baked apple) to roasted nuts, domino steins to gingerbread cookies, Thuringian bratwurst to roasted chestnuts….. Each Christmas market has its own theme. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is known as the oldest known Christmas market in Germany. The most common Christmas market is located in Nürnberg, which carries the name Christkindlsmarkt. But there are multiple numbers of Christmas markets in big cities, like Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg. And Christmas markets in border cities, like Flensburg, Saarbrücken, Aachen, and Basel bring in people from outside Germany to try all the specialties that are available.

How different are the Christmas markets from one another? The author of the Flensburg Files has introduced Holiday pics, where five Christmas markets have been chosen and the author will visit them and put a small impressionist summary together to provide the tourists with a chance to visit them the next time he/she decides to visit Germany, be it this year, the next or sometime in the near future. The top five pics of 2010 are mostly centrally located in Germany, however, other Christmas markets, like the ones mentioned above are high on the author’s places to visit list in the next couple years.  Two states have two Christmas markets located near each other, which are Thuringia and Bavaria. They consist of the ones in Jena and Erfurt (Thuringia) and Bayreuth and Nürnberg (Bavaria). The fifth one is located in one of the most multicultural cities in Europe and also the most populated metropolis  in Germany in terms of population density, Frankfurt (Main) in Hesse.  All but Bayreuth have a population of more than 100,000 inhabitants, but like the cities themselves, each Christmas market has its own identity that helps shape the cities to what they are. We all know about Nürnberg’s popularity but the question is to what extent is Nürnberg’s Christmas market so popular in comparison with the other four candidates? Bayreuth is famous of Richard Wagner but the market in this small town makes it a treat for those visiting or even studying there (Bayreuth has a university which has contributed greatly to the city’s development). While Jena remains the central hub for the optical and technology industry in the easter part of Germany, every day at 5:00 in the afternoon, the brass plays the holiday tunes that make the Christmas market the most memorable for the people there. And then we have Erfurt, which combines traditional and medieval Christmas markets into one which tells a story to those enjoying a Glühwein (mulled or spiced wine) and a good old fashion Thuringian bratwurst.

But there’s more to the Christmas market in Erfurt than meets the eye, as the city’s Christmas market is the first candidate on the holiday pics list to be given honors and a standing ovation from those who either have seen it many times, like the author has, or who want to see it very badly because their friends and relatives have seen it, as is the case with many people the author knows who are reading this column right now.

So without further ado, here we go with a tour of Erfurt’s Christmas market…..