Green Invasion at the Expense of the Liberals

"Huh? What's that I hear?" Photo taken in December 2010

Politics is like going through a natural cycle: You have two main parties where one party takes over the podium because of a concept that makes sense, only to find that it does not make sense to the public. In the end that party is replaced with the other one- its opposition- because it has a better idea. However it does not please the public, so it is removed in favor of the party they had unseated previously. This badminton match which includes all the grunts, ranting and raving, and political trash talking, continues until another party comes to bring down the political forum with a digger and bulldozer. When this happens, everybody knows about it and runs for cover- even the deer are affected as they are the most sensitive to change and noise and run when they feel change is inevitable.

It is unclear what to make of the recent state elections in Germany, where the Dream Coalition- the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Liberals (FDP)- are losing support as rapidly as one loses sand through his own fingers. After being routed in Hamburg on 20th February, failing to overtake the Social Democrats in Rheinland Palatinate, being forced to form the Grand Coalition with its rival party the SPD after losing the majority in Saxony-Anhalt, and being unseated as the majority party of Baden Württemberg after 60 years in power (the last three elections being on 27 March), change is becoming more and more inevitable as a long 2 years is ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel for two reasons:

1. She lost her right hand politician and potential successor to the throne, Guido Westerwelle on Monday, as he announced that he was stepping down as the head of the FDP after 10 years in power and was not going to step in for Angela Merkel effective immediately. While he will continue on as foreign minister until the next elections in 2013, the opposition and members of his own party are pushing that he resigns from that post as well and leave politics after the poorest showing in the state elections in its history, where the party did not even make the 5% mark in Saxony-Anhalt and Rheinland Palatinate and barely made it over the mark in Baden Württenberg, making him as the scapegoat. While health minister Philipp Rösner, who is of Vietnamese origin and one of the youngest ministers in the German Bundestag, is poised to take over Westerwelle’s duties, a power struggle is inevitable as the Liberals are struggling to find an identity which would be appealing to the voters. This is sensible given the fact that almost two years ago, the party had 11% of the votes in the federal elections, which was enough for the Dream Coalition with the CDU. Before that it was averaging 8-10% of the votes in the state elections.

2. There is a new party that is taking the spotlight away from the two majority parties, the SPD and the CDU, in the form of the Greens. When Winfried Kretschmann takes over as Prime Minister of Baden Württemberg, he will become the first Green Party member to be elected to this post, let alone the first Green to hold a major post since Joschka Fischer was Foreign Minister and Gerhardt Schröder’s vice Chancellor during the years of the Red Green Coalition in Berlin (1998-2005). How Kretschmann, who originates from Sigmarigen near Lake Constance and the co-founder of the Greens in his homestate claimed his post is simple: In the state elections, even though the CDU was able to obtain the majority of the votes with 39%, the Greens got 24.1% of the votes and the SPD got 23.2%. The FDP only got 5.3%. As a result, the SPD and Greens created the Red Green Coalition, making it the majority ruling party. As a general rule, the party with the majority votes in the coalition also nominates the candidate to run the state, which was the Green candidate Kretschmann. While he may not be the next Jesse Ventura ( the professional wrestler who won the governatorial elections inMinnesota as an Independent Party candidate in 1998 and held that post for 4 years), he is the symbol of what could be the Green Revolution, as the party has become clear winners in the state elections thusfar, winning an average of 8% of the parliamentary seats in the four states, a gain of 7%. This includes a 15% gain in Baden Württemberg, 10.8% in Rheinland Palatinate, 3.6% in Saxony Anhalt, and 1.6% in Hamburg. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the parties where they have been losing seats and votes in the last decade, with the FDP taking the brunt of the losses. The reasons for the trend is two fold. First and foremost, in light of the triple disaster in Japan- consisting of the Earthquake, Tsunami which completely obliterated everything in its path in the northeast part of the country, and the Nuclear Disaster at Fukushima which is on the level with Chernobyl in 1986- the party is pushing for the complete phasing out of nuclear power and 100% reliance of renewable energy by 2040. This includes phasing out all nuclear power plants one by one, something that the CDU and FDP have been opposed to even after the disaster in Japan, which has angered many people in Germany and elsewhere. Secondly it wants to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emmissions by 40% to 1990 levels by 2020, by introducing strict policies to encourage more electric and fuel-efficient cars and introducing other incentives to conserve energy. These are the main reasons to go along with other policies they have involving agriculture and family policies, something that many people are dissatisfied with the current trend by the Dream Coalition.

With three more state elections on the horizon (Berlin, Bremen, and Mecklenburg-Pommerania), the trend is pointing clearly towards the Greens, as the party looks at creating another Red-Green Coalition in Berlin and Bremen with the possibility of having another Green mayor in Bremen and Berlin, which would make history as the first city-states to do that. While the Greens have the votes to do that in Bremen, Berlin is banking on Renate Kunast, a former Agriculture Minister during the Schröder days who is now the minister of nutrition and diet, to pull off the unthinkable, like in Baden Württemberg. As for the Greens in Mecklenburg-Pommerania, the northeasternmost state in Germany, the party is looking at clearing the 5% barrier for the first time in a decade, while finding ways to squelch the most hated Nationalist Party (NPD) in the process. The party had only 3.6% in the last elections of 2006 in comparison to the 7.1% the NPD had.

As for the FDP, they are being looked upon as guidance to help the Grand Coalition through the most difficult times. While Westerwelle is no loner leading the party and may even leave politics, even with a new party leader, some fundamental changes need to take place in order for it to become a credible party. Should it fail to find a platform to attract the voters, there is a danger that the party may lose more than just its identity. It is possible that the FDP may bring down the CDU, thus marking the elections of 2013 as a watershed for the Coalition, as the campaigns of Merkel and company many fall on deaf ears of voters who demand change in the form of a new government, new policies, and a term that is rarely heard of these days in the world of politics, a new set of ethics; especially in light of what happened in Japan with Fukushima and its implications on the energy and environmental policies, touted as one of the best in the modern world, thanks to contributions by the Greens.

Useful Links:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14950846,00.html

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14963869,00.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamburg_state_election,_2011

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saxony-Anhalt_state_election,_2011

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhineland-Palatinate_state_election,_2011

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baden-W%C3%BCrttemberg_state_election,_2011

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.

Guttenberg Update: Germany’s Most Spectacular Resignations

Willy Brandt ans Fenster- The hotel across from the Erfurt railway station where Chancellor Willy Brandt met Erich Honecker in 1970 and spoke in front of a crowd of thousands. The champion of Ostpolitik resigned in 1974, but left a legacy that still exists today. Photo taken in March 2011

As recently as this past Saturday, there was a very intriguing article that was published by Germany’s tabloid magazine “Bild Magazin” that dealt with Germany’s 100 most spectacular resignations by some of the country’s most renowned celebrities. This was in connection with the most recent resignation of another celebrity, Germany’s most beloved politician and now former defense minister, Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, which Thomas de Maiziere, the former Interior Minister has taken over his post while thousands of demonstrators throughout Germany on Saturday rallied behind the embattled CSU politician picked to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.

While going through the article, I was amazed at who stepped down but also the reasons for them calling it quits. Some were understandable; others were scandalous; the rest were just dumb mistakes costing them dearly or just really dumb reasons- in either case, the Germans were not impressed with that at all. I decided to disect this article and pick out the celebrities that some of you know and categorize them based on the Top 5 of the most spectacular resignations up until Guttenberg’s exit, but not including Edmund Stoiber, who was mentioned too many times already. Then I chose five honorably mentioned candidates and two wild card candidates among the German celebrities. Each of the resignations will include a small comment on the part of yours truly. So without further ado, here we go.

THE TOP FIVE RESIGNATIONS IN GERMANY:

1. Horst Köhler, German President- From the 23rd of March, 2004 until his resignation on 31 May of last year, he held the second highest post next to the German Chancellor, a post in which Johannes Rau his predecessor once held. Despite his success in bringing unity to Germany, involving the troops in foreign countries such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and strengthening ties with Israel, he did not get the respect that he had expected from the German population and to a certain degree, the Dream Coalition (CDU and FDP) and therefore, he stepped down in May 2010. It was too bad, as he was really good at providing families with a good fireside speech around Christmas time and on New Year’s Eve. Tough call for someone holding a prestige office, who did a good job, but dissatisfaction in a job like that because of such circumstances does call for a change in scenery, and someone like Christian Wulff, the former minister of Lower Saxony, to take over.

2. Erich Honecker, Chair of the SED Party in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany)- now part of Germany- From 1970 until 18 October, 1989, he led East Germany, and every classroom and workplace had a portrait of the SED Party Chair for people to look at and praise. He was famous for his comments “The Berlin Wall is going to last for another 100 years,” mentioned in January 1989 and “”Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of socialism,” an excerpt from an adage by August Bebel he used during his speech on the occasion of the GDR’s 40th Birthday on 7 October, 1989. However the progress towards democracy was too strong for East Germany to withstand and it only lasted until the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989. Honecker did not even last before that as he was removed on 18 October. The official reason was his poor health. However, literary sources indicated that he was forced out thanks to influence by Michail Gorbachev, who coined his famous words, “Life punishes those who wait,” also at the 40th anniversary celebrations.  Egon Krenz took over and allowed for life to change course in the interest of both West and East Germany with the opening of the Wall and its eventual Reunification, one of the best events of all time. As for Honecker,  he eventually fled to Chile to avoid arrest and prosecution by the German government, where he died in 1994.

3. Willy Brandt, Chancellor of (West) Germany 1969-1974- Willy Brandt will always be remembered for his Ostpolitik policies, designed to improve relations between East and West Germany. This included a direct visit with Erich Honecker and a speech from the window of his hotel in front of the railway station in Erfurt in 1970, plus winning the Nobel Peace Prize a year later. Unfortunately, like Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, Brandt’s popularity as Chancellor dropped to the floor when it was revealed that his personal assistant, Günther Guillaume was arrested for being an East German spy. Brandt resigned from his post on 6 May, 1974, with Helmut Schmidt taking over from there, but he remained as the chair of the SPD until 1987. He died five years later. Still many places in Germany and Europe are named in his memory because of the legacy he left behind. This includes the hotel in Erfurt across from the central railway station, where Brandt spoke to a large crowd in 1970 (Named Willy Brandt ans Fenster- Willy Brandt at the Window). Even the university renamed the institute of political science The Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, a name that has been carried since 2009.

4. Walter Mixa, Bishop of the Augsburg (Bavaria) Cathedral- This was a classic example of a scandal involving the Catholic Church in Bavaria, which costed this gentleman his post as well as his post as the military bishop in Germany- child abuse scandal plus fraud involving taking money from an orphanage. At least a dozen scandals involving priests and bishops popped up in this traditionally Catholic state in the past two years, raising the question about the credibility of the Church in that region, plus the moral values that exist as a whole. Furthermore there are some speculations that Pope Benedict XVI may be involved, even though he has not raised this issue nor has there been enough evidence to indict him as of present. More scandals in Bavaria? To be continued…..

5. Thomas Gottschalk, actor- At 61, the person had a nice well-rounded career as an actor, was a spokesperson for the Haribo gummibears  as well as moderator of his TV show “Wetten, dass….” (I bet you that….). That was until a freak accident involving a stuntman attempting to roller blade over an oncoming car left him paralyzed and Gottschalk’s career in limbo. On 12 February, 2011, he stepped down, taking responsibility for the accident and apologizing to his audience. Perhaps he took a lesson from Clint Eastwood, when he quoted in the second Dirty Harry film: “Man’s gotta know his limitations.”

HONORABLY MENTIONED  RESIGNATIONS:

1. Margot Kässmann, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover and Head of the Evangelical Lutheran Chuch of Germany (EKD)- The 52-year old from Marburg (Hesse) had a promising future until she was caught driving under the influence of alcohol in February 2010. She resigned from both posts after that. Smooth move, wasn’t it?

2. Wolfgang Petry, folk music singer- Celebrities can be sick and tired of being a star to a point where they just want to call it quits. While we’re seeing that with the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer in American football (NFL) who claims he has more than enough money that he can walk away and never play for the team again, he probably took that line from this German folk music singer. Petry suddenly stepped away from the scene in 2006 after many years of singing, claiming he had enough of the show business. What he’s doing now is unknown at present.

3. Rudi Voller, former German national soccer team head coach- Sometimes (but not always) great players make bad coaches. This was a textbook example. While Voller excelled as a soccer player for Bayer Leverkusen and helped the German national team win the World Cup in 1990, he could not convey his success as a coach to his players and resigned after Germany was eliminated in the 1st Round of the European Championship in 2004. A consolation however was the fact that the team did finish second in the World Cup, years earlier, so all was not lost for him. He now is athletic director for his former team, Leverkusen.

4. Jürgen Möllermann, Minister for Agriculture; President for the German-Arabian Society; Chair of the FDP in North Rhein-Westphalia- A problem child for the politicians, Möllemann got himself in trouble for using the ministry’s paper to apply for a job at a company of his relative’s in 1993, which costed him his post as Minister for Agriculture under Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Tax evasion on various counts plus his anti-semite comments during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2002 led to a legal hunt by the police and other authorities. However, before he could be arrested, he died in a tragic parachutte accident on 5 June, 2003; it is unclear whether his death was an act of sabotage, an accident, or suicide attempt. The case has not been solved as of present.

5. Axel Schulz, boxer- Having a successful career as a boxer and picked to be a heavy favorite to beat Vladimir Klitschko in 1999, everyone was expecting him to win the EM Boxing match, right? Not unless you have life insurance! Not only did Klitschko beat him romped him in the boxing ring through a technical knock-out in September 1999, but Schulz resigned right away after the match. Despite a comeback attempt in 2005, he never won any international titles, despite many attempts to win the belt in his 17 year career, counting his six year hiatus between 1999 and 2005.

WILDCARDS:

1. Gregor Gysi, Economics Minister for the City of Berlin- Resigned for using the bonus miles on his company car for private purpose in 2002. And this for a city that has been broke for years…..

2. Marlies Mosiek-Urbahn, Family Minister for the State of Hesse- Resigned from her post because she divorced her husband in 2001, and it affected her credibility as minister. Curious.

While Germany has been and is still famous for its high quality products and service, a strong health care and social welfare system, and for greats like Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, it cannot escape the scandals that have been growing by the numbers in the past two years. Regardless of whether they come from Bavaria, Hesse, or even the northern parts of Germany, they have been leaving questions about the credibility of the politicians in the Bundestag among Germans and those looking in from the outside. Yet the problem is universal, as one can see the scandals going on in the US and other Anglo-Saxon countries and they are even weirder than what I mentioned here. But the question is, should we follow their lead or clean up our reputation and lead by our example. This is the question that will come up in the upcoming elections in 2013, together with another question: Do you elect someone by popularity but marred by scandal or do you go with someone unknown but gets the job done anyway?  Since the identity of the US is in question because of the number of crises that has erroded its credibility as a superpower, countries like Germany are stepping up to set an example for others to follow. But that is accompanied by these scandals that can and will potentially hinder that success. The best solution to this problem is to judge what is right and wrong and act accordingly. Only then will one find out whether that decision was the right one to begin with. And that decision will affect those who look up to countries like Germany, as a role model, a teacher, and a mentor of high morals and principles….

Links:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14895170,00.html

(Update on the Guttenberg Scandal)

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14891914,00.html

(Demonstrations for Guttenberg’s Return to Politics)

http://www.bild.de/BILD/politik/2011/03/05/guttenberg-bis-voeller-die-100-spektakulaerste-ruecktritte/koehler-schulz-milli-vanilli-friedmann.html

http://www.bild.de/BILD/politik/2011/03/07/100-spektakulaere-ruecktritte-teil-zwei/karriere-enden-die-aufsehen-erregten.html

(Der Bild’s 100 most spectacular resignations in detail- and in German!)

Bergen, Minnesota

Welcome to Bergen

After a brief hiatus due to non-column related commitments, we are now back on track to start you on the tour of the German-named villages in Minnesota. We’ll start off with the first town on the list, which is more of a village than a town, but in any case it is worth a visit if one wants to take a small one mile detour off US Hwy. 71 going from Jackson north to Windom in southern Minnesota. Bergen is one of the smallest villages in Jackson County, yet it does have a unique history that is worth noting to the tourist. The village was founded by Norwegian immigrants in 1895 and became the center of dairy commerce in its own locality with the opening of the cremery in 1897. This meant that farmers in the northern and eastern part of the county could bring in their milk for processing and sale.  While it was in business for only 40 some years, the village became popular with the Bergen General Store, which started the same time as the cremery. It provided food and clothing to nearby farmers, and it later included a gas station and a post office. It was and still is to this day the only store in the village with a store-front window. It is still in business today as it now sells antiques and collectible items, something that would entice someone to turn off the main highway and stop in for a few minutes. After that, one can go across the county road going through the village heading north into Bergen Bar and Grill, a small tavern and restaurant that is a popular place for the 30+ inhabitants and nearby farmers to this day. While I have not been in there because it was closed at the time of my visit on a cold but blue December afternoon, one could imagine a nice meal with a glass of Grain Belt beer while sitting outside, talking to some friends, watching the cars pass by and having a nice view of the village and its small but noticeable stream meandering its way past the village to the south, Elm Creek. That is- when it is in the summer time.

The Bergen Store: Photo taken in Dec. 2010

About a couple kilometers to the west of Bergen is the Bethany Lutheran Church, which can be seen from the highway looking west. While the brick building has existed since the late 1920s, the congregation was one of three in the locality that had existed since 1867, but eventually consolidated into one by 1920. The church still serves the village of Bergen and all points to the east to this day and provides one with a picturesque view of the landscape; especially along Elm Creek. Bergen is one of those forgotten villages that is tucked away in the valley where no one can see it. This is partly due to the fact that the main highway, US 71 was rerouted more than 60 years ago and what serves the village now are two county roads. However, follow the signs and head a couple kilometers down hill and you’ll see a village that is still intact and anchored with businesses one may never hear about unless you are told about it by some locals or you figure it out for yourself. In either case, this Norwegian town is one place that is worth a stop, even if it’s for a few minutes’ rest.

Bethany Lutheran Church: Photo taken in Dec., 2010

This leads to the first of many Richard Halliburton Geography Guessing Quizzes. A couple weeks ago, I posted a true and false question which stated: There is only one other Bergen in the world and that is the one in Norway.

The neighborhood of Bergen: Photo taken in Dec., 2010

If you answered false, you are right. There are 13 countries in the world where Bergen exists, apart from the most popular of them in Norway, which is the second largest city behind Oslo, with a population of 260,000 inhabitants. One can find a Bergen in Poland, Czech Republic, Canada, Belgium, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, and Canada, just to name some of the countries mentioned here. Interesting enough, one can find as many as 16 towns in Germany carrying the name Bergen. This includes five in Bavaria, two in Saxony and Lower Saxony respectively, and one near Frankfurt on the Main  in Hesse. The last one was the scene of the battle of Bergen, which took place between the French under Marshall de Contades and the Allies (British and the Kingdoms of Prussia and Brunswick) under Herzog Ferdinand on 13 April, 1759. Unfortunately, the Allies lost the war to the French but there would be many more battles to come as it was part of the 7-Year War between the French and the Allies. Bergen later merged with Enkheim and is now part of the city of Frankfurt with its main feature worth seeing being the Marktstrasse- with its typical old-fashion buildings- and the city hall. The Nazi Concentration Camp Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank died shortly before the British liberated the camp in 1945, was located near Bergen in the district of Celle in Lower Saxony. The largest of the 16 towns known in Germany is the one on the island of Rügen in Mecklenburg Pommerania. With the population of 23,000 inhabitants, it is one of the oldest in the state, dating as far back as 1232 when the Slavic tribes settled in the town on the island. After being conquered by the Danes, the Swedes, and the Prussians, Bergen became part of the German empire under Kaiser Wilhelm I when it unified in 1871, and despite being part of the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War, it is now part of Germany since 1990, together with the rest of the former East Germany. Much of its architecture dating back to 1200s exist today and it is one of the major stops enroute between Binz and Stralsund; especially thanks to the Stresalsund Bridge, which opened in 2004 to relieve the traffic congestion along the dam, located nearby.

Elm Creek south of Bergen: Photo taken in Dec., 2010

Bergen is one of the most popular used names for a town in the world. However, these towns vary in their history and population and they are worth visiting when you get a chance. While there is a theory that stated that Bergen is associated with the Norwegian or even Scandinavian culture and their influence, based on the historic background and in the case of Germany and the Benelux Region (Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands), the geographical location to their northern neighbors, more research is needed to confirm that the Scandinavians had their influence on the region, even though some of that is proven already; especially with the one in Minnesota.

RICHARD HALLIBURTON GUESSING QUIZ ON THE NEXT VILLAGE TO VISIT ON THE TOUR: NEW TRIER

Question 2. Which country sought to conquer the city of Trier (in Germany) many times and eventually suceeded? Please include the year it happened!

a. Poland

b. France

c. Denmark

d. Spain

e. None of the above

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…..