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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Germans and Demonstrations: What We Want is Color; What We Don’t Want is a Union

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Protest, the right to express our opinion, our objection, our own dismay to something that does not fit. Derived from the Latin word meaning to testify for something, protests are designed to deliver a message, whether it was objecting to a decision of a local mayor to demolish a historic landmark in favor of a shopping mall, demanding a change in government because of a corrupt leader, putting pressure on companies to increase wages and improve working conditions or as seen in the pics here, rejecting certain people because of their threat to their societal infrastructure.

Germany leads the way in the number of protests and their variety of themes. No matter when the politicians speak, no matter if it is spontaneous or planned, no matter how many policemen are involved, and no matter how extreme, when a demonstration takes place, the entire city is shut down and isolated from the rest of the world. The demonstrations take place in many forms. We have the May Day demonstrations and with that, also demonstrations by workers’ unions, demanding better pay and working conditions. This form occurs most frequently, no matter where. Then we have the most popular, which are the environmental demonstrations, featuring sit-ins, blocking and chanting for no nuclear storage facilities, international trade deals harming the environment and no pollution, period.

Then we have the most current, which are the demonstrations involving refugees and right-wing extremism.

For more on that and to see pictures of a typical protest, click here to continue……

 

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In School in Germany: Teaching Environmental Sciences

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It’s a day like no other: a simple walk in the woods on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the spring time. The leaves on the trees are budding, the moss and the pine needles are getting greener, and the skies are blue with a few clouds in the air. Mushrooms are growing on the trees and the lake is as blue as the reflections in the sky. One used to go swimmimg there in the past, but not anymore. Why? Too much run-off has produced algae that is occupying most of the lake, suffocating the life out of the fish and marine life that once thrived there.

Then there is a walk along the beach in the US. Going barefoot, one person steps on a ripped tin can and cuts herself deep. The can was buried 3/4 of the way in the sand. Plus there were bags and other non-perishables nearby. Not far from there, we see a river that has not seen a drop of rain for months since its one-time torrential downpour with the consequences being as dire as in this picture below:

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One should also not forget the infestation of grasshoppers and locusts thanks to the drought that also resulted in nearby forest fires that destroyed a once-popular tourist attraction….envir2

These are just the classic examples of how unaware society has been with regards to the environment around us. With the recent events unfolding in front of our eyes: the illegal killing of the lion in Zimbabwe, governments signing leases to oil companies to explore for oil in very sensitive natural preserves, rain forests being decimated in square kilometers per day, to even the German and Danish governments pushing to have a megatron-style expressway and high speed rail line run through a small but vulnerable island, one has to ask himself: are we aware of what we are doing to our flora and fauna?  Some people think it is the work of God and even one person mentioned recently that we are already facing Armageddon. But even God is the one who is displeased with how His world, which He created in seven days, according to the book of Genesis. Yet do we want to face Armaggedon by continuing to be greedy and ignorant?

There is a saying that is worth noting: The best time to educate is when the baby is in his diapers. If there was one class in school that should be introduced at all costs, it is environmental sciences. And when? As soon as the kid enters school. And how long? If kept as a core requirement, like reading, writing and math, all the way through high school.

But how do we introduce this to the class? And what should we teach them that is relevant to this topic?

Children should be gradually introduced to this topic by showing them the importance of our environment: the trees, flora and fauna, water and especially, food. They should be taught the importance of reusing and recycling goods rendered useless, planting trees and taking care of the vegetation, eating healthy organic foods, not buying goods coming from sensitive environmental areas, like the rain forest, or derived from endangered animals and lastly, learning how important the Earth is to them and the next generation. As they later become an adolescent, themes, such as pollution, climate change and destruction of habitat, can be introduced so that they can implement their knowledge and talk about these topics- even more so when they are current events. Very important is taking a look at the measures already in place to help our environment, whether it is the use of renewable resources, like bio-gas, wind, water and sun, saving energy or even using alternative forms of transportation instead of the car, like the train.  Some factors, like anthropology, sociology and natural sciences could be mixed in there to ensure that when graduating from school, they would have a sufficient amount of knowledge and common sense to take action to stop the global warming process, which is progressing faster than expected.

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Example of a renewable energy source: converting compost and manuer into energy: bio-gas, as seen on a farm in central Thuringia

At the moment, no laws exist regarding the requirements of this class, let alone incorporating it into the core curriculum. Reasons are pretty standard: not enough funding and support, too much focus on the testing requirements, too much opposition from the lobbyists and even politicians, and lastly, falsified information from the media, claiming that global warming is a natural process. (and if you are one of those believers, you better quit reading this right now and start praying!)

Yet there are some factors that a recent article published (click here) that should provide enough incentive for lawmakers and educators to at least consider bringing this matter to the table:

2015 is the hottest year on record with record-setting forest fires and destructive flooding causing trillions of dollars in damages to property. Every year means a new record for temperatures and the like. The number of species has dwindled by up to 80% over the last 30 years. Migration has put a strain on social resources in developed countries. Germany alone expects to receive a record 800,000 immigrants by year’s end, and the country is already having problems finding homes for them, let alone people willing to accept them. And lastly, our natural resources are dwindling, despite claims of them being around forever. If we look at fracking in the United States and the poisoning, earthquakes and destruction of the flora and fauna for the sake of oil, none of the facts are in dispute.  Yet if one still believes that global warming is a natural process and a class on environmental sciences is needed, then perhaps watching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and in particular, the destabilizing and eventual destruction of Genesis (esp. after the Enterprise is imploded through self-destruction) might convince you otherwise.

In either case, the facts remain clear in our society: mankind does not know what to do to stop global warming and we need to educate ourselves in order to find ways to stop the process and ensure that our planet is livable for generations to come. The best solution is to educate ourselves and our children to ensure that in the end, instead of having a planet that is dried up and not livable that we have a planet like this:

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or this:

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If you want that, then please, write to your politicians, lobby your teachers and principals (or headmasters), start a demonstration, and advocate the need to learn about Mother Nature as a full class and core requirement. Think about your future and that of the next generations. Only then, when we educate ourselves properly will we have a future like this and not what we’re seeing in the western two thirds of the US right now, which really resembles the destruction of Genesis in the Star Trek film.

Thank you for your support.

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Umweltzone (Environmental Zone)

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Before we go into another topic on the environment in the classroom, I decided to throw out a question for you to answer. In every German city, including Ulm, where I photographed this picture, we have signs like these popping up on the streets before entering the city center: the “Umweltzone” signs with a color-coded symbol indicating what is “frei” (allowed) and what is not. Sometimes these signs are accompanied with a bike and pedestrian trail sign, indicating a trail running alongside the streets. The Flensburg Files Frage für das Forum is: What does the Umwelt sign stand for, including the color-coded signs? What other signs have you seen that are similar/ in connection with this topic?

Place your comments, photos and suggestions here or in the comment section in the Files’ facebook page. The answer will come very soon. Happy Guessing! 🙂

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In School in Germany: Is President Obama too American?

Frage für das Forum:  Is President Barack Obama too American or too International?

Two years left until he finishes his second and final term as President of the United States and soon, we will be looking at the legacy of President Barack Obama. Once loved by many Americans and Europeans alike because he was a symbol of hope in the midst of the second worst economic crisis in the history of the US, he is now a target of criticism from the same people who voted him into office.

Here’s a latest example which will provide room for discussion at home over the Fourth of July weekend and latest when social studies teachers talk about his legacy in the classroom:

During the final exam at the Gymnasium where I’m doing my practical training, also known as the Abitur Exam, as it is the key exam needed for entrance to college, one of the students took part in the oral portion of the exam (consisting of both written and oral parts) in the subject of English, and was asked about how she thought of Barack Obama and his presidency. After mentioning the positive aspects, such as health care, employment programs and stricter environmental policies, the negative aspect she pointed out was the fact that Obama was too “American” because of his support of the NSA activities- Spygate- which has damaged relations between the country and Europe.

Too American?  And on the US side, he is considered too much of a socialists, something that is common even on the international scale, if we look at some of the countries that have socialist-like governments, like France, Greece, etc.

In the past five years, President Obama has tried to bring the US and Europe closer together, which includes trade policies, adopting health care and environmental policies, and the like. This has made many Americans feel that he is too international and demand that the US return to the policy of Exceptionalism- every man for himself, no matter the circumstances. Yet from the European perspective, American is trying to exert its influence on the European front, which goes beyond the NSA-Spygate scandal. One of the hottest issues at the moment is the American’s attempts of importing genetically modified foods, which is banned by the EU and rejected by Europeans who have been used to eating organic foods. In other words, the Europeans do not mind what America does as long as they are not forced to do what they want them to do.

This leads to the question worth considering and even talking about: Is President Obama a true American or an Internationalist? Or even better if one wants to criticize his policies and the effects on US-European relations: Is Obama too American or too European, and what are your reasons? Speaking from an expatriate’s point of view, there are enough arguments supporting both criticisms although Obama should keep focusing on the policies at home, as they are still in need of being addressed. This includes the policies involving education, environment, food, and even health care, for the policies passed so far still need some improvement.

But seriously, if you want to judge his legacy and criticize him, which side would you take? Is he too American or too European? Maybe he is just a one-man show? What do you think?  Think about this and consider this question for your next meeting or even social studies class. You’ll be amazed at the different opinions you’ll get.

The Flensburg Files and sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to wish the Americans both at home and abroad a Happy Fourth of July. Enjoy the fireworks and the celebrations honoring the declaration of independence and the creation of a new nation, which took 13 years of blood, toil and tears to make.