Showdown at Fehmarn

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The Beltretter Petition Drive at the Burg Market Square. Photo taken in August 2016

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Petition Drive to Stop the Construction of the Tunnel at Puttgarden in Full Gear; Discussion about the Fehmarn Bridge’s Future is on.

BURG/ FEHMARN- For the second time in three years, I had a chance to take a trip to the German Island of Fehmarn, located between Denmark and the state of Schleswig-Holstein, connected by the Migratory Route Highway connecting Copenhagen and Hamburg. Astonished by its beauty and the hospitality the people there gave us our last time, for my family and me, which also includes a friend of ours and her daughter, Fehmarn appears to be the place to go to relax, swim, run along the coast with the wind in our faces and bike to our favorite places for fish with fried potatoes Holstein style.

Yet on this trip it was totally different. Different in a way that the inhabitants of the island are divided over a mega-project that is coming to cross the island- the noise that is comparable to the noise one see along the Migratory Route, which seemed to have increased since our last visit. When visiting the state of Schleswig-Holstein, especially in the eastern part, one will see a blue X every second house along with its slogan, a Christmas light set depicting the Fehmarn Bridge at every fourth house, and this van with the Belt Retter slogan on there, lined up with hundreds of people talking to representatives of the group fighting to stop the project from happening, and signing petitions in the process.  The scene is getting brighter and bluer as the weeks come along….

…..and for a good reason!

Since my visit in 2014, I’ve been covering the events on Fehmarn, which involved not only the island’s future, but also that of the Fehmarn Bridge. To recap on the situation, the Danish Government have been cooperating with the German authorities regarding the construction of the multi-track/lane tunnel connecting Puttgarden (GER) and Rodby (DK), thus eliminating the need for ferry service. The tunnel would feature two tracks accomodating long-distance trains as well as six lanes of motorway traffic, creating a total width of one kilometer including the property acquisitions. At 20 km, it would be touted as the longest tunnel in the world that would serve automobile traffic. At the same time, German government authorities in Berlin and Kiel as well as the German Railways are working together for a new bridge on the south end, spanning the Fehmarn Sound- replacing the island’s iconic span which is the first of its kind ever built.  At the moment, transportation authorities have deemed the 1963 bridge to be functionally obsolete and at the end of its useful life. According to the latest reports from LN-News in Luebeck, planning is in the works to have a new iconic span resembling the Golden Gate Bridge to be discussed and possibly voted on. If approved, construction could start in 2018 and be finished in 10 years.

 

The current situation during the visit:

The Belt Retter movement has been gaining steam in the past weeks, with organizers and supporters collecting signatures and letters of petitions in much of Schleswig-Holstein- in particular, the eastern half and of course, Fehmarn Island itself. Tens of thousands of signatures have been collected online, as well as in person at the markets and other events. I was lucky to stop at the Belt Retter site at the market square in Burg during our visit to talk to the representatives there, and get some information on the latest with the Puttgarden-Rodby Tunnel (aka Belt Tunnel). The Danish government, which has been keen on moving forward with the project, had previously rejected an earlier proposal for the tunnel last year because of approximately 249 errors in the design and concept, according to officials of the organisation I talked to at the market. After reworking the project, a new proposal was submitted back in June by the coordinators of the project, LBV Luebeck and Femmern A/S, and now the clock is ticking on the part of the locals, the Belt Retter organisation and all other parties opposed to the plan, who had previously petitioned to stop the first draft and succeeded last year. Between now and August 26th, you have an opportunity to submit your petition online or through contact with the representatives of Belt Retter, who will then forward that onto a committee that will feature representatives of the tunnel project, environmental and legal experts, local, regional and state representatives and others involved with the project, who will review it and take further measures. Possible legal measures, such as lawsuits and court order injunctions are on the table should it become a necessity.

Attempts are also being made regarding ways to preserve the Fehmarn Bridge. Rehabilitating the bridge for continual use has been ruled out because of the cost intensitity, but also because it is predicted that the bridge’s lifespan would be prolonged by only 30 years. However, such rehabilitation techniques have been tried on several bridges made of steel, including the steel wiring that is also found on the Fehmarn Bridge. The findings: such rehabilitation can prolong the life of a bridge by up to a century, counting maintenance and other essentials. Already done was the Bay Bridge and (also) the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, this is also being conducted on the George Washington Bridge in New York City, built in 1938 under Swiss Engineer Othmar H. Ammann. Crying wolf over the potential failure of the bridge, as was stated by authorities of the government in Berlin and the German railways, the issues of rust, especially seen by the author while revisiting the bridge this year is only minor. Bridge rehabilitation experts would also agree that rehabilitation would be cost effective, saving taxpayer money by up to half the cost for a new bridge. In other words, and as I signed my petition against the project, I even noted, the movement to stop this mega-project with the tunnel should also include rehabilitating the Fehmarn Bridge.

Opinions are split down the middle among those who are vehemently against the project because of the negative environmental and economic impact as well as those involving tourism and culture and those who are in favor because of the need to modernize the infrastructure and bring in more tourism. It can even be found with the two different stickers at a souvenir shop at Suedstrand in Burgtiefe with the blue X and green check marks, the latter being for the project. Protests from different factors, including the Scandlines (which operates the ferry between Puttgarden and Rodby) have increased loudly in numbers, opposing the entire project. While those supporting the project say that it is a necessity and will come anyway, the Danes are becoming more and more sceptical of the tunnel concept because of the exploding costs for surveys, legal issues and the redesigning of the system. Many have joined the movement on the German side, which has increased tremendously since my last visit.  While it is expected that the construction of the tunnel is to begin in 2020 and last 10 years, should the petition become a success for the second time, it might derail the entire project, putting it on ice indefinitely.

And with that, hopefully in the eyes of locals and people attached to Fehmarn, a return to normalcy which includes accessing the island by two-lane traffic or ferry, coaxing passers-by into stopping on the island for a visit and vacation. This is something you cannot do with a mega-project that would cut the island into two if proponents have their way.

Do you want to stop the project, click here to read the information and sign the petition. Contact details are available if you need further information. The information is in German, but you can talk to someone with English or Danish knowledge if you have any questions. It takes 2-4 minutes to do and consists of multiple choice questions that are user friendly.  If you’re still not convinced that the project cannot be stopped, go to the wordpress version of the Flensburg Files. There, you can click on the gallery with pics of the places visited this year with some comments on my part.

Checkout the articles written about the Fehmarn Bridge Situation including the bridge, by clicking here, here and here.

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The Flensburg Point System: 60 years of Ensuring Safety in Germany

A surprise awaits you around the corner. Photo taken in February 2011

A situation where no one should be in but it is unavoidable: a driver travels on the Autobahn 10 encircling the capital of Germany, Berlin, going 20 kilometers per hour over the speed limit (the maximum allowed is 120 kmph) and talking to a business partner on his cell phone. Suddenly right before turning off to head north on 115 in the direction of Charlottenburg, one of the city’s suburbs, he is blinded by a flash and almost puts his car into the ditch. However, he only fishtailed before straightening the car out on the entrance ramp and continuing onto his destination at a company located on Kufurstendamm near the center of the city, Mitte.  A week later at his home in Wolfsburg in Lower Saxony, home of Audi and Volkswagon, he receives a letter from the Berlin police department with his picture on there, looking very concentrated on his conversation with his business partner- a tall bleach blond female, with whom he had lunch, followed by completing that business proposal that no one really knows about- with his cell phone in his hand. According to the report, he went 150 kmph and was talking on his cell phone while driving- as proven in the photo. End result: 70 Euro fine, plus a point in the Flensburg system. Plus because of his record of wreckless driving and several violations in the past 2 years, he had accumulated 18 Flensburg points resulting in him relinquishing his driver’s license until he takes a course in disciplinary driving. “This is impossible!” he said and he vowed to contest that to the police and if needed, to the Department of Motor Vehicles (Das Kraftfahrzeugamt)  in Flensburg.

The Flensburg Point System is one of the most complex systems ever developed in the modern world. Introduced as a concept in 1957, it was designed to promote safety on Germany’s highways, as the country has always been known for fast cars, like BMW, Audi, and Volkswagon, a complex Autobahn network designed to get drivers to their destinations as quickly as possible, and fast drivers who want to show off their muscle with their car in front of the women. However, with the expansion of the Autobahn network combined with new innovation of cars to make them run faster, there are also drivers who use and abuse their cars and the roads, sometimes even shamelessly. The Flensburg Point System is designed to keep the drivers in line and have them obey the laws that are in effect; furthermore it stresses the importance of safety to the public as a whole.

How the system works is complex but can be explained in simpler languages. The point system is based on a  catalogue developed by the Department of Motor Vehicles where each offense committed by the driver is categorized based on severity. The more severe the crime, the higher the fine a person has to pay, and the more likely a person will receive a point in his personal file, which is stored at the office in Flensburg.  Some examples of such traffic offenses that occur in Germany include the following:

  • Going 25 kmph over the speed limit of 50 inside a town like Itzehoe: One must pay 80 Euros and will receive a point in the file.  If it was over 70 kph, then it is 480 Euros in fines, 4 Flensburg points and the driving license is revoked for three months.
  • Using the shoulder as a passing lane on an Autobahn in the direction of Würzburg: 75 Euros and 2 Flensburg points.
  • Driving down the wrong way on a divided highway (or dual carriageway) in Jena: 75 Euro fine and 4 Flensburg points
  • And for those who love to talk on their cell phones while driving: If caught, you are obliged to pay 40 Euros and you earn a Flensburg point in the process. Even if you are a cyclist and you get caught, you still have to pay 25 Euros but you do not receive any Flensburg points.

The point system is also used for reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol, where a person could earn as much as 7 Flensburg points, together with fines of up to 2000 Euros, loss of one’s driving license for up to five years, and even spend some time in prison.  So for example, we go back to the first example with the gentleman who was photographed for speeding while using the cell phone in the direction of Berlin’s suburb of Charlottenburg and we imagine he did have some wild concoctions with the bleach blond lady while talking business, like the B-52, Bloody Mary, Black Triangle, and/or the Flensburger Aquavit, and decides to drive back to his home in Wolfsburg. He starts weaving uncontrolably along the Autobahn 2 in the direction of Magdeburg when he is caught by the police near the town of Burg. After taking a breathilizer test, it was revealed that his blood alcohol level was 1.2, which is 10 times the legal limit. The end result (apart from being taken into custody): 7 Flensburg points, loss of his driving privileges, a massive fine, and 5 years probation. The loss of his driving license could span from the minimum of 6 months to five years, but it could also be permanent, should he have a horrible driving record. Had he been in an automobile wreck with that high alcohol content, he could face prison time plus civil action from those affected by his buzz driving.  In simpler languages, consumption of alcohol will cost you 7 points no matter the amount, plus more money out of your pocket- a “good” weight loss incentive for those wanting to dare this tact, which I personally would not do.

This leads to the question of how much is enough in terms of racking up the Flensburg points. As mentioned at the beginning, the man who raced to his meeting with the bleach blonde partner but was caught on camera for speeding and phoning had 18 points and therefore had his driving privileges revoked because he reached his maximum point value. How the point system is tallied is based on a category created by the Department of Motor Vehicles which is listed below:

1-3 Flensburg Points-  No sanctions

4-8 Flensburg Points- Voluntary driver’s training

8-13 Flensburg Points- Warning and recommendation to participate in the Voluntary driver’s training

14-17 Flensburg Points- Compulsory driver’s training

18 or more Flensburg Points- Loss of Driving License

One can actually reduce the number of Flensburg Points by taking part in the driver’s training seminar in order to improve the driving skills, or taking part in other forms of programs provided by the law enforcement agencies. The reduction of points depends on the number of points the driver accumulated. For example, if one has 7 Flensburg points, he can take part in the driver’s training and have 4 points taken off his record (which means he has 3 points in the end). If he has 12 Flensburg points, he can only deduct 2 if he participates in the program. This can only be done once every five years, but the points stay in the records for two years if and only if no other traffic offenses occur during that time.

If compared to the system in the USA, the Flensburg system is valid for all of Germany and as there are almost 50 million drivers in the country, their records are kept centrally in Flensburg and all traffic offenses are reported and sent there by the local authorities and the state department of traffic safety. This is impossible to do in the US given the size and population and therefore, the responsibility of regaulating the traffic laws and keeping track of the person’s records lies directly with the state governments, except when a person moves out of state, in which case, the records are transferred from the previous state of residence to the one where a person lives in. It is also obligatory for Americans to change their driving licenses when moving as unlike the German driving license (where there is just the biographical information and the place of origin on there), the American equivalent has the residing address of the license holder. In fact the only form of identification that is universal in the US is one’s passport, which can be used for showing ID when entering and exiting other countries. The problem with that is the fact that only half the US population holds a US passport, like yours truly. In Germany, the driving license serves as an ID card as well, except for the passport, which is required of all Germans (and Europeans in that matter since the country is part of the European Union), and can be used as ID both in and out of Germany.

And while Germans still indulge in alcohol, and in particular their beloved beer, the driving under the influence law is also universal, for the intention is to promote responsibility to those who enjoy a good wine but also have to drive. It is not like in many “dry states” where it is a sin to drink and drive. In many states like Iowa, Utah, and places in the Bible Belt (states located in the Central Plains, like Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and the like), one can pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines just for having a drop of alcohol in one’s blood, while driving. For many it is considered paranoid and invades one’s own personal rights. But yet to many, alcohol consumption is considered a sin, even if a person is allowed to start drinking legally at the age of 21, which is five years older than those who drink alcohol in Germany. But the alcohol issue is another topic to be discussed at another time.

In celebration of 60 years of the Department of Motor Vehicles in Flensburg and to tout the success of the Flensburg Point System, an attempt to fool the public took place on April Fools Day, where there was a claim that there would be a giveaway in the point deductions to all drivers- 60,000 to be exact. This was retracted as a joke, but to many people, this attempt to fool the public into believing that the point system was providing indulgences to those who committed the gravest offenses was considered not appropriate. To the Evangelical Church, it was part of the religion. To many, having something like this would be a slap in the face of German culture, as the Flensburg Point System is part of the German culture and such indulgences would allow drivers to get away with “murder.”  In the end, the joke was on those who took part: the radio stations, the ministers of transportation, and even the Department of Motor Vehicles, which initiated the joke. However, it makes the author wonder how one could make the April’s Fool Joke more appropriate and not lead to discussions like it was presented on many forums. Sometimes jokes like this are best left alone and not carried out.

In the almost 12 years that the author has been residing in Germany, there was only one time that he was caught, which was for biking on the streetcar tracks going along the shared space corridore between the railway station and Domplatz cathedral in Erfurt, Thuringia’s capital, five years ago. While I was fined, I received no Flensburg point. However, had I listened to music while biking, I can guarantee you a point would be given, as some of my students have already received. While the violation is questionable as many cyclists have done this, the Flensburg Point System shows how effective traffic laws and safety are in Germany. And while some issues have arisen and become a major concern, like texting while driving, biking while listening to music, driving while phoning with your cell phone and “buzz driving”, the Flensburg Point System has adapted to these changing trends with the slogan: never mess with laws. Obey them for your sake and for others as well.  And while the police can apprehend many who are caught violating the traffic laws, for those who have gotten away with traffic violations so far, others have shown and should show others who wish to be reckless that whatever manoever is attempted is one that is illegal. Obey the laws and avoid the Flensburg points. And yes, point giveaways are fattening. They can be deducted by earning them through education, period!

Useful links:

https://www.kfz.net/autorecht/punkte-flensburg/

http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/bussgeldkatalog/so-funktioniert-das-neue-punktesystem-35765670.bild.html

 

Note: Black Triangle is a mixture of Coca-Cola or Vita Cola, a Czech or Eastern European beer and Vodka. It is named after a region in Eastern Germany where Saxony, Poland and the Czech Republic meet (nearest towns are Usti Na Ladem and Zittau), where it was infamous for its air pollution during the Cold War, thanks to its extensive use of nuclear power and fossil fuels.

Author’s Note: Since the publication of the Flensburg Point System in 2011, the reform has taken place, with the new point system being in place since May 1, 2014.  More information can be found here.