500 Years of the 95 Theses Celebrated in Germany

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Magdeburg Cathedral, one of the places where Martin Luther spread his influence. Photo taken in 2011

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BERLIN/ERFURT/ LUTHERSTADT-WITTENBERG- You see me, and we see you. The slogan for the 36th annual Day of Christianity (Kirchentag), which ended yesterday with an open-air church service on the field along the Elbe River in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg.  Located between Leipzig and Berlin, Wittenberg was the central stage for Martin Luther, who was a professor of theology 500 years ago- a revolutionary who posted the 95 Theses on the doors of the church in the city with its present-day population of over 30,000 inhabitants. It is this city, where the two-day event commemorated the historic event, which reshaped Christianity and created the church that still bears its name.  Over 400,000 visitors participated in the four-day event, which started in Berlin, but also featured regional events in cities where Luther had its strongest influence: Leipzig, Erfurt, Weimar, Jena, Eisleben, Halle and even Magdeburg had festivities from Thursday to Saturday for Christians, tourists, families and people wanting to know more about Luther and his interpretation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Wittenberg alone, roughly 120,000 visitors converged onto the field along the Elbe River and at the city center, to take part in the evening light show and open air reflections on Saturday, followed by an open-air church service on Sunday. Despite the sweltering heat, people had an opportunity to listen to the sermons as well as the discussion forum, one of which involved newly-elected German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who took over for Joachim Gauck in February this year.

In Berlin, where over 245,000 visitors took part in the festivities, especially at Brandenburg Gate, the events marked the welcoming back of former US President Barack Obama, who, together with Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized Donald Trump’s policy of isolation with his plan for building the Wall to Mexico and isolating the country from its international obligations.

And as for the regional places, according to reports by MDR, the numbers were much lower than expected. In Erfurt, Jena and Weimar alone, only 42,000 visitors attended the events from Thursday to Saturday. However, the events were overshadowed by warm, summer weather, the Handel festival that began in Halle, the relegation soccer game between Jena and Cologne, where the former won the first of two games, and lastly, the Luther events at the aforementioned places in Berlin and Wittenberg.

This was noticeable during my visit in Erfurt on Friday with my wife and daughter. There, despite having over a dozen booths, podium discussions in several churches, tours of the churchs’ chapels and steeples as well as several plays and concerts and a pilgrimage from Stotternheim to the city center, the majority of the visitors took advantage of the beautiful weather for other activities.  It had nothing to do with attempts to recruit and convert people to become Lutheran on the spot. One should not interpret Luther and his teachings like this. In fact at a few sites that feature plays and musicals for children, such as Luther and Katharina as well as the Luther Express where children learned about Jesus during each of the four seasons, the layout and preparations were simple but well thought out with no glorifying features and some informative facts presented, which attracted a sizable number of people in the audience (between 50 and 60).

The lack of numbers might have to do with the fact that despite Christianity dominating Germany at 59%, only 28% consists of Lutherans in general. In the US, over 46% consists of Protestants, of which 26% are Evangelicals. 71% of the population are Christians. Given the low number of people belonging to the church, the United Lutheran Church Association of Germany (EKD) and other organizations worked together to make the Luther festival informative, attracting people from different denominations so that they know about Luther’s legacy both in Germany as well as above. It doesn’t necessarily mean that membership is obligatory. Much of the population are sceptical about the beliefs in Jesus, which is one of the reasons of why a quarter of the 41% are aethesists or agnostics. This leads to the question of why Christ is not important to them while at the same time why people in Germany elect to join the church. This question I had touched on in a conversation with one of the pastors of a local church, which will be brought up in a later article.

Nevertheless, when summarizing the events of this weekend, it was deemed a success in many ways. It provided visitors with a glimpse of Luther’s legacy, especially in Wittenberg, where his 95 Thesis was the spark that started the fire and spread to many cities in the region. It also brought together friends and strangers alike, Christian and non-Christian to remember the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Lutheran Church we know today, branches included. Exhibits on Luther can be found in Wittenberg but also at the places where Luther played a key role. For more, please click here to see where you can visit the sites.

You can also read up on the pilgrimage of six people, who marched on Lutherstadt-Wittenberg for the events by foot, bike or even boat, camping along the way. Each pair started their tour from Erfurt, Eisleben and Dessau-Rosslau, respectively. Here you can find their stories.

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ICE-Line Erfurt-Leipzig/Halle(Saale) Open to Traffic

Galloping Gertie (the author's bike) and the ICE-T train at Leipzig Central Station. Photo taken in Dec. 2015
Galloping Gertie (the author’s bike) and the ICE-T train at Leipzig Central Station. Photo taken in Dec. 2015

 

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ERFURT/LEIPZIG/HALLE(SAALE)- It took 25 years of planning, of which 19 years of construction and delays, but now, the new ICE Train Line has become a reality. Several prominent politicians, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, the ministers of Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt and the CEO of the German Railways (Die Bahn) were on hand at Leipzig Central Station to open the new rail line between Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle to rail traffic. According to information from German public radio/TV MDR, the ceremony featured two special ICE-T trains, carrying invited guests, travelling side-by-side from Erfurt to its final destination in Leipzig, where they were greeted by hundreds of people including those involved in the 2.9 billion Euro project. “The new ICE line is a gift for the 25-years of German unity,” said Merkel at the ceremony in Leipzig. Thuringian minister Bodo Ramelow considered this day a historic one and the line would turn Thuringia into a economic hub.  The Erfurt-Leipzig/Halle line is part of the project to connect Berlin and Munich via Erfurt and the Thuringian Forest, and the northern part is half of the two-part project, which will start serving passengers beginning on Sunday. The southern part from Erfurt to Nuremberg via Suhl is expected to be completed in 2017, even though all of the bridges and tunnels have been completed already.

The opening of the northern half of the new line will mark the beginning of the end of long-distance train service for Weimar, Naumburg and Jena, for Weimar will lose its ICE stop by year’s end and will have InterCity trains stopping in the city. Jena and Naumburg will still have their ICE stops until the end of 2017. Afterwards InterCity trains are expected to serve the two cities with Jena-Göschwitz train station to become Jena Central Station and serving InterCity lines between Karlsruhe and Leipzig (after 2023) and between Chemnitz/Gera and Cologne (after 2017). Also planned after 2017 is ICE to Berlin from Jena twice a day. The cities will also lose its night train network, as Die Bahn plans to decommision the City Night Line service altogether by 2017. A CNL line connecting Prague and Berlin with Basel and Zurich runs through Naumburg, Weimar and Erfurt. Whether another international line connecting Paris and Moscow via Erfurt will use the new line or the old one remains open.

 

Halle(Saale) Central Station. Photo taken in Dec. 2015
Halle(Saale) Central Station. Photo taken in Dec. 2015

Here are some interesting facts to know about the northern half of the ICE line between Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle:

  1. The new rail line is 123 kilometers long, which is half the distance needed with the older line going through Weimar and Naumburg
  2. One can reach Leipzig in 40 minutes and Halle (Saale) in 35. This is half to a third as long as with the old line, counting the stops, regardless of what type of long-distance train used.
  3. The trip to Berlin from Frankfurt (Main) is reduced by up to 50 minutes.
  4. ICE Trains travelling the new line can maximize their speed to 300 kilometers/hour (187 miles/hour)
  5. The opening of the line will also usher in the ICE-Sprinter connecting Berlin with Frankfurt with stops in either Erfurt or Leipzig. Before, the Sprinter travelled north to Hanover before heading east to the German capital.
  6. Seven bridges and two tunnels serve the new line. The longest tunnel is the Finnetunnel, which is 6.9 kilometers long and located at the border between Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt near Bad Bibra. The longest bridge is the Saale/Elster Viaduct, located south of Halle (Saale) near Schkopau. The 8.5 kilometer long bridge features a 6.4 kilometer long viaduct (Leipzig-bound) crossing the two rivers and the 2.1 kilometer long branch viaduct going to Halle (Saale). The viaduct is the longest of its kind in Europe.
  7. Freight trains can also use the new line, but will be restricted to night time use only due to less train traffic.
  8. Die Bahn plans to install a automated man-less train system on the line in the future- most likely when the entire line is finished in 2017. Basically, trains would be operated automatically from the train stations, and can stop automatically when problems arises. The Shinkansen high-speed train in Japan is the only system known to have this function.
  9. Citizens in Halle (Saale) will benefit from the connection as its train station is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
  10. The opening will mark the total completion of the renovation of Leipzig Central Station, which included an underground tunnel connecting the station with the Bavarian railway station south of the city, and the introduction and expansion of the City Lines (S-bahn) connecting the city with Bitterfeld, Halle, Geitahin, Altenberg and Zwickau.
  11. The opening of the line will also usher in the introduction of the Abellio train service to serve Erfurt and points to the east. Abellio is owned by the Dutch Rail Services.

 

Erfurt Central Station after the snow storm in December 2010
Erfurt Central Station after the snow storm in December 2010

More information on the ICE-Trains can be found here. Otherwise, here’s a question for our travellers: which is better: train lines that get you to your destination directly without any chance of seeing much of the view because of speed and time or train lines with stops in between to provide some scenic views? It depends on which line has to offer, but what is your view?

 

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Germany into Darkness

Total Eclipse shadows the entire state, as 80% of the moon covers sun. 100% covers extreme Western Europe and the North Atlantic.

BERLIN/ERFURT/COLOGNE- As many as 70% of the German population or 50 million took advantage of the gorgeous weather and, armed with their cameras, smart phones and specialized sunglasses, photographed the sun as the moon covered up to 80% of it, putting the country into partial darkness. Despite worries that the eclipse could wreak havoc on the electirical power systems because Germany is mostly dependent on solar energy, it was reported that there were no problems and everything was running well as if nothing happened. The eclipse occurred at 10:42am Berlin time, almost an hour after the process started, and ended shortly after 12noon. The area where people could get the best view of the eclipse was in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony. However, people in other German states had an opportunity to see the moon cover 70-75% of the sun.

This included the city of Erfurt in central Thuringia, where the moon covered up to 75% of the sun, making it resemble on the one hand, the moon at first quarter mode, but on the other hand a full moon. In other words, there was the brightest first quarter on record, if one looks at it from an astronomer’s point of view.  The clear weather made it difficult to purchase specialized sunglasses, which you can wear to look up to the sun at the time of the eclipse, for many drug stores, pharmacists, glasses dealerships and optometrists ran out of stock up to two days prior to the event. This was the exact opposite of the last partial solar eclipse that occurred in 2005. There, rainy weather hindered any chances of viewing this rare event, thus dropping sales for these eye protectors dramatically.

While I was unable to purchase this pair of sunglasses, I did find one to use with an optometrist, whose shop was located at Erfurt’s city center, Anger- located between city hall and the train station. Although the pair was for lending and sharing purposes, I took the opportunity to wear them, while at the same time, cover the lens of the Pentax camera I had in my possession in an attempt to get a close-up look at the eclipse. Normally you are not supposed to get a direct shot at the eclipse for two reasons:

  1. The photo would turn out the same as it were without the eclipse- beautiful sunny skies just a little dimmer and
  2. Most importantly, looking directly at the sun at the time of the eclipse is very dangerous, for the rays could cause irreparable damage to the cornea, thus causing damage or even blindness.

As a tip one can get a selfie of the eclipse with the back towards the sun or simply leave it and have a look at the eclipse through TV and internet. However, even though I did get some shots of the places in Erfurt at the time of the eclipse (not to worry, I did this with my eyes looking down), I experimented by placing the specialized sunglasses over the lens of the camera, then zoomed in manually as far as it could go.

The result:

Photo taken in Erfurt at Anger just minutes before its peak
Photo taken in Erfurt at Anger just minutes before its peak

 

Unless you have had many years of experience in photography as I have had (I’ve been photographing since I was 11 years old), and you are daring enough to do this, this author does not recommend doing this- at least not without supervision. In order to get a shot like this, you need a special lens equivalent to what I used in order to get a shot like this. All other options are useless, for they would end up like the pic below- at the peak of the eclipse:

Erfurt Cathedral (Erfurter Dom) at the peak of the eclipse without the glasses. Not to worry, the author stared down while taking this shot.
Erfurt Cathedral (Erfurter Dom) at the peak of the eclipse without the glasses. Not to worry, the author stared down while taking this shot.

 

Whether a pic like this can be done like this with a special lens is doubtful for you may not get the picture you need. Admittedly though, it is worth experimenting, but if and only if the next opportunity arises, which for a solar eclipse like this one, it is rare. For many of us, this is perhaps the last time we will ever see one like this as the next one to come to Germany will be in 66 years. A partial eclipse in Germany will come again in 2022.  However the next total eclipse to reach the US will be in two years’ time. So for those who are hunting for the next solar eclipse (and I’m sure there are groups out there who are crazy about solar eclipses), mark this on your calendar at least, even though one may come beforehand.

But even not, for many like yours truly, this experience was once in a lifetime, which has now been crossed off our bucket list.

Author’s Note:

The Flensburg Files has an album on the solar eclipse in Germany through facebook, which you can click here to view. The Files’ is accepting photos taken by other photographers- amateur and profis alike- to be added to the album. If you have a photo or two to contribute, please send it to Jason Smith either through facebook or via e-mail at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Please cite your name and the place where the photo(s) took place. The purpose of the album is for other viewers to see. Thank you for your help in this matter.

 

Highlights of the solar eclipse are also available through the following sources:

MDR Info (Video of the Solar Eclipse) in D: http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/video260046_zc-e9a9d57e_zs-6c4417e7.html

Deutsche Welle (Highlights of the Solar Eclipse) in EN: http://www.dw.de/cloudy-skies-obscure-solar-eclipse-in-much-of-europe/a-18330146

MDR Info (Gallery of the Solar Eclipse in Germany) in D: http://www.mdr.de/galerie/mdr/thumbnails.php?album=73

Tagesschau (Information and pictures of the Solar Eclipse) in D: http://www.tagesschau.de/sonnenfinsternis-165.html 

 

 

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In School in Germany: English Exams

 

To start off this entry, here is a question for all educators teaching foreign languages: Does your school offer foreign language proficiency exams? If so, for which grades (Germ.: Klasse) and what do these exams consist of?  For those who do not have a foreign language exam, should schools offer it and if yes, for which foreign languages and why?

As part of the European Union, it is expected that students learn at least English and French in addition to their native language. Germany is no exception as the two languages are stressed in the classroom as early as possible. And with that, tests (sometimes with certificates) are administered to test the knowledge of the foreign language as well as the skills developed during their time in school and later in college- namely, listening, reading, oral, and written. Grammar serves as a bridge connecting these skills and is only taught and tested in the classroom.

I have had the privilege to participate in every single English proficiency exam, both as an administrator as well as an observer, looking at the degree of difficulty, the structure and other elements that are either beneficial or a setback to the success of the students. In other words, I have been around the block. For teachers who are about to enter the field of foreign languages at school or at the university, and for students who are going to school or to the university in Germany, here are the exams that you will most likely expect to face while in Germany. Please keep in mind, these exams are meant to foster the development of the students and are not meant to pass or fail them, yet there are some differences that you should keep in mind, speaking from experience.

Besondere Leistungsfeststellung (BLF):  This exam was introduced in 2004 in response to the massacre that had occurred at the Guttenberg Gymnasium in Erfurt two years earlier. There, the person instigating the shooting spree (where 16 people were killed before he took his own life), left school without a degree, one of many reasons for his revenge. The massacre resulted in massive reforms in the education system and with that, the introduction of stringent requirements, including the BLF Exam. This exam can be found in Thuringia, Hesse and Saxony, but will most likely be found in other German states in the future. The BLF applies to subjects in German, Math, Science and a Foreign Language, in particular, English.  Students in the tenth grade are required to take the BLF exam and have the entire year to prepare for it through classes and other work. This includes a year of intensive English classes, where they have the opportunity to focus on current events and cultural issues and improve on their writing, reading, listening and speaking skills.  When the exam occurs close to the end of the school year, students are assigned to their examiners, and the dates are chosen by the administrators. Most of the time, they will be assigned in groups of two or three and are given 30 minutes of preparation time before the exam, as they will be given a topic to do their presentation in. These topics are sometimes based on their preferences in the class, so one can expect a presentation on US culture-related themes, for example because of their preference.

The exam is orally based and consists of three parts: The first part is small talk, where the examiner asks the students some questions about school life, their future and their favorite interests. The second part features a presentation from each student of the group of 2-3, based on the topic given for preparing. And in the third part, the students are given a scene where they play out a scene. The exam takes 30 minutes and students are given a grade in the end. That grade will represent half of the total grade for the subject for that particular year.  Judging by the observations, students taking this exam are more flexible in the first part than in the rest as they have the ability to use the vocabulary and speak freely than in the other two parts. Most mistake-prone is in the second part with the presentations, where they are forced to stick to the topic and use the vocabulary pertaining to it. Add the grammar to that and for a tenth grader, it can be very difficult if there are some areas lacking.

 

Abitur English:  Going up a notch is the Abitur exam, taken by those in the 12th or 13th grade who are on their way out of the Gymnasium and heading to college or the real world. The oral portion exam is structured like the BLF- meaning three parts with one of the parts requiring  preparation time of 30 minutes before the time of the exam. In that part, the student is given a text to prepare. This usually goes first as a way of “dumping him/her into icy cold water.” Well, it is not that cruel, but the student has  to answer the (unexpected) questions provided by the examiner that have to coincide with the text to test the reading comprehension- and with own words.  The second and third parts of the exam comprises of conversation testing listening and oral skills, with the second part focusing on current events and the third part focusing on personal questions, etc. This includes future plans, high school life and other topics dealing with one’s life.  The grade of the oral exam is combined with the grade of the written exam, which is usually given prior to the oral part. Students have a chance to choose which subject to do the Abitur, yet the final grades will influence the decision of the universities in Germany to admit or reject the applications. In other words, be aware of the Numerus Clausus when you want to apply for a degree program at the university, for if you do not have a 1,3 or better, you may not be admitted to the program of your choice.  One more thing: The Abitur Exam means A-level exams in English and are applicable in Germany.

 

UNICERT:   Developed by the Technical University of Dresden, the UNICERT exam applies to college students studying in the field of business, sciences, law and humanities. Students can receive the certificate with the grade level of I-IV, pending on which university offers what level of UNICERT certificates and what level of difficulty for languages. That means level I applies to A-B1 language niveau according to the European Language Reference, whereas level IV is up to C2 level.  For example, the University of Bayreuth (Bavaria), where I taught English for a couple years offers UNICERT up to level four, whereas the University of Halle (Saxony-Anhalt) only offers UNICERT up to level two.  The UNICERT is perhaps one of the most rigorous of exams, for in order to receive a UNICERT Certificate, students not only have to attend certain numbers of accredited English classes and pass the courses, but as soon as they obtained enough credits for the UNICERT exams, they have to achieve the highest possible score for the four-part exam, each part featuring reading comprehension, listening comprehension, oral communication, and essay writing based on a given theme.  While both reading and listening feature questions to answer, in listening comprehension, you listen to the audio clip twice before answering the questions. In oral communication, the format is the same as in the Abitur and BLF Exams- 30 minutes of preparation time with a text with possible questions to be answered followed by 30 minutes of small talk, text questions and current event questions.  Speaking from experience, while students think the UNICERT is really difficult, the teachers find preparing each and every theme for the given parts to be really difficult, for the themes must fit to the students’ field of study as well as the current events, especially if the theme suggestions are rejected, altered or accepted with reservations by other members of the language institute. But that is a different topic to be saved for a lousy day of teaching.  UNICERT exams are found at many German universities, as well as those in Austria, Switzerland, France and the Czech Republic, yet they are frowned upon as being insufficient for proof of language skills for the future jobs. That is why one will see UNICERT-accredited universities mostly in the southern half of Germany, as well as Saxony, Hesse and Berlin, but are rejected in the  northern half in states, like  Hamburg, Lower Saxony Mecklenburg-Pommerania and Schleswig-Holstein, cities like Cologne, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf, and at almost every technical university and university of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen).  But it does not mean that at these institutions where UNICERT does not exist that there are no exams to test the language proficiency of the students, as will be seen with the TOEIC.

 

TOEIC: TOEIC, which stands for the Test of International Communication is the most internationally recognized exam to be administered both in academia as well as in the business environment. It was first developed in the 1970s by the US-based Educational Testing Services and features two part: The Listening-Reading Test and the Speaking and Writing Test. The former features multiple choice questions and live conversations with people of different cultural backgrounds and speaking different dialects. The exam lasts 2 hours and a person can receive up to 900 points. The latter features 20 minutes of oral communication and 60 minutes of writing, and the person can receive up to 400 points. The exams are ordered by the institutions and as soon as the exams are completed, they are sent to the language testing center, where they are corrected and evaluated, and the certificates are sent to the institutions and/or examinees. Yet prior to the exam, preparation classes are required, where materials pertaining to TOEIC are used almost exclusively. One can present additional materials to class as long as they are relevant to the subjects that are covered for the exam. This makes the TOEIC the most centralized of exams and also the strictest, for guidelines must be met in order for the exam and the certificates to be valid. This is speaking from experience of a teacher who has a TOEIC Examiner License for over 4 years now.  Unlike UNICERT, teachers wanting to administer TOEIC must complete training at a language center and take some additional courses to update your knowledge of TOEIC. These can cost some money, but the training is worth it. TOEIC can be found at almost all the Fachhochschulen, universities that do not have UNICERT, and several business institutions. They are open for both students and adults alike, including those who are unemployed and are changing careers.

Note: TOEIC rivals the exams administered by Cambridge University and Trinity School of London as they follow similar guidelines, yet these exams can be found at the universities and institutions of continuing education (Volkshochschulen). More information about the TOEIC can be found here

 

So which exams are the toughest? Speaking from experience as a teacher, the exams can be compared to a flight of stairs a person has to go up in order to succeed. That means for students, the BLF is perhaps the easiest and the first step, whereas the UNICERT is the most difficult. Abitur and TOEIC are right in the middle. But this is in regards to the degree of difficulty that is expected. However, from the teacher’s point of view, the TOEIC is perhaps the easiest as there is little preparation time and the materials are provided. It is just a matter of following the units and ensure that you have an agenda to follow for the students in order to achieve the unit. The UNICERT is the most difficult for you need to develop the test and course curriculum yourself. While the course portion is not a problem if you are doing that individually and develop your own guidelines that fits the UNICERT requirements, when you work together with your colleagues at the university, you can run into several conflicts which can turn a harmonious relation into guerrilla warfare, which could make working together be a discord, and most times, the students taking the exam suffer in the end. But if asked which certificate would be most suitable for any job after school, then clearly the TOEIC would be the choice, for the Abitur is only a bridge to entering college and may be difficult to be accepted by the employer, and the UNICERT is restricted to Germany and the European stage.  But before proving your knowledge of a foreign language like English through certificates, it is best to work with the language so that you have enough confidence and skills mustered to pursue the Abitur, UNICERT or TOEIC. It is given that a proficiency exam, like the BLF will be given in the 10th grade. But for the others, the best way to master this success is interaction with others with native-speaker knowledge or even the native speaker him/herself. Sometimes a trip to that country for half a year will do the trick. 😉

 

What about other foreign language proficiency exams in the schools? Apart from BLF, what other exams exist in the German Bundesländern? Place your comments here or in the Files’ facebook page or send the author a line at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Don’t forget to share your thoughts about foreign language proficiency exams in the US, as mentioned at the beginning of this article.

 

 

 

 

Newsflyer: 11 June, 2014

Unknown photographer. Used in connection with article found here: http://www.erh.noaa.gov/er/lwx/lightning/va-lightning.htm Public Domain

Giant Storm Causes Widespread Damage throughout Germany.  World Cup in Brazil in Full Gear.  Hamburg SV Handball Team Finished?

Getting off the train this morning at Erfurt Central Station in central Thuringia, passengers received a shock of their lives, as the sounds of thunder and lightning made the state capital sound like warfare going on. Pick any war in the last 20 years and it was reenacted by mother nature. And this in addition to heavy rains that flooded streets and brought the vehicular infrastructure to a complete standstill for a time.  But this was the overture to the series of storms that occurred over the course of two days, ending today, which is comparable to Hurricane Kyrill in February 2007, and caused severe damage throughout all of Germany. More on that and a pair of sports-related items in the Files’ Newsflyer.

Video of the Storm

Kyrillian-sized storm cripples Germany:

Local Flooding in Cologne, Rostock and Berlin. Downed trees in the Ruhr River area, northern Hesse and Saxony-Anhalt. Train services suspended. Power outages everywhere. This was a familiar sign when Kyrill brought all of Germany to a complete standstill in 2007. Yet with the storm system sweeping through Germany yesterday and today, it brought back memories of the event. Sweltering heat gave way to golfball-sized hail, high winds and torrential downpour that caused critical damage to many cities throughout Germany. Fallen trees and flooding caused several raillines to suspend services, including the hardest hit area, the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the German railways suspended all services statewide yesterday for the fourth time since 2007. Officials there are predicting services to return to normal by the weekend. Stations in Essen, Dusseldorf and Cologne were cut off from the rest of the rail network. Raillines between Berlin, Hamburg and places to the north and west were either closed down or rerouted. Over 100,000 travelers were stranded or had to find alternatives, which didn’t fare better with motorways being blocked due to downed trees and other objects.  Damage is estimated to be more than $135 million. News sources are predicting a clean-up effort taking up to more than a week to complete; this includes restoring the infrastructure affected by the storm. More information and photos can be found here.

Hamburger SV Handball Team to Fold?

Once deemed as the one of the powerhouses of German handball, especially after winning the Champions League Title last year, the handball team from Hamburg’s days as a Premere League team may be numbered. Faced with a 2.7 million Euro deficit (ca. $4.4 million), no president since the resignation of Andreas Rudolph in May and with that, the team’s main sponsor withdrawing its financial support, the team was denied entrance to the first and second leagues. Its last attempt to save face and be allowed to play next season in the Premere League is to overturn the decision by the German Handball League through the arbitration panel. The decision should take place on Wednesday. Should the panel uphold the decision or Hamburg withdraw its appeal, the team will be forced to play in the Regional League (3rd League) in the next season. In addition, the team will not be allowed to participate in the European Cup in the next season, despite finishing fourth in the standings. Melsungen would replace the spot left vacant. And lastly, the team will most likely file for bankruptcy, which could lead to the club being liquidated, should no one step in with money to help them. Such a free fall would be catastrophic, as Hamburg has competed well against the likes of the 2014 Season and German Cup champions, THW Kiel, as well as Berlin, Rhine-Neckar Lions, and the 2014 Champions League winners, SG Flensburg-Handewitt. More information can be found here.

World Cup begins tomorrow

Germany and the US are two of 32 teams that will go head-to head with the competitors beginning tomorrow. The 2014 FIFA World Cup will take place in Brazil at 12 several locations, with the Championship to take place on July 13th in Rio de Janeiro. For the first time since 1930, all the teams winning a World Cup will participate in the competition (Argentina, England, France, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Germany).  Spain is the returning champion, having edged the Netherlands in the 2010 Cup. This is the fifth time the Cup is taking place in South America, which has been won by teams from that continent the last four times. That means Brazil is the heavy favorites to take the Cup. More interesting is the pool play, in particular, Group G, where the US and Germany are in. They are scheduled to meet on 26 June in Recife. The stakes are high for the head coaches of both teams, who are both looking for their first World Cup title. Jurgen Klinnsmann is being criticized for the American team being Europeanized, which could be his downfall if his team does not make it. Joachim Loewe is hoping that winning the title will improve his chances of a contract extension before 2016. With both teams hobbling with players banged up from regular season competition, it will be interesting to see how the match will turn out, let alone, who will go far in the Cup. More on the Cup to come in the Files. If you want to know more about the tournament, click here for details.