March Madness regarding Moving

Back in the late 1970s when basketball was predominantly a men’s sport, sports columnist Brent Musberger coined the terminology March Madness,  which pertained to the NCAA college basketball tournament that took place every year in March. 64 teams took part in the no-holds barred basketball tournament where the men were separated from the boys, where most college basketball coaches compete to see who can grow grays in their hair the most and the quickest and who can see who can retain their voices before winning the basketball title. Over time, the women joined the fray with their own tournaments and the result is as many as 200 million viewers in the USA and abroad watching at least one basketball tournament in its entirety and betting for their own team to win it all, in both the men’s bracket as well as the women’s.
We do have another form of March Madness in Germany, but not in the form of basketball or any sports for that matter. It is with the moving.  Normally in Germany, the majority of the population is not inclined to move much. If one is born in a region, it is expected that the person stays in that region for life because of friends, family and permanent employment (which is hard to find nowadays). While that trend is leaning towards the American attitude of moving, which is “Mobility and Flexibility is Everything,” that is mostly for people in their early 20s and 30s, who are single or have a partner and have nothing that could anchor them in one particular location. This is because when one gets older, one settles down and takes whatever is offered to them and is thankful for the job.  But when the move takes place, it is more hassle than it is worth in the short term. In the long term however, it was worth every cent if one stays in one spot for a long time.
If there is one month where most of the moving takes place in my experiences as an expatriate living in Germany, it is in March. Why?  It is during the time where the need for greener pastures, more space and a new beginning in one’s life converge into one. It may be because of new job opportunities or the need of a new place in general. It may be because the summer time is solely kept free for vacationing in various places in Europe or North America (for example). For students, it is because the winter semester is much shorter than the summer semester. There is an average of 1-2 months free during the winter break and 3-4 during the summer break. While there is no spring break at German Universities, where students go to exotic places for booze and babes, like many American students often do, many German students take advantage of the free time in March to move to a new location.
Even now as I write this, many streets in the cities are partially corralled off to make way for the movers to arrive with ladders to bring down and load the furniture and other belongings from the top floor of a five-story apartment into the vans to be relocated to another destination. Much of the furniture has to be disassembled before loading and reassembled in the new apartment. One has clutter to sort through and throw out, as well as books to pack in boxes seven layers high- high enough to reach the ceiling. When there is a child in the midst, one has to try and keep him/her occupied and out of trouble.  And often if there is no help, then you are on your own and it becomes even more difficult to get things done especially because of a tight work schedule you have to deal with , resulting in packing until the wee hours of the morning every day.  And at last when all of the belongings are in the new apartment , one has to please the tenants of the old apartment by tearing down the wall paper, re-wallpapering the rooms and making it spic and span. Many people mop the floors before the movers arrive, which does not make any sense because they would be trampled on anyway and is therefore considered a waste of time.
But when all this is done, during the madness of March, it is no wonder why many people just simply stay put and take whatever job may be available to them but does not fit to their own career portfolio. It is a big difference whether a person travels light with as little as possible just to chase after their careers in places like Buxtehude, Stuttgart, Passau, Rostock, Weimar, Dresden,….. or if a person decides to ditch his career and does something different in order to create a permanent home- a nest where the children can grow up and graduate from school in one city and where one can do his/her time at a company or agency for 35 years until retiring with a nice juicy pension to live from.   The move may be a lot of hassle, but we have our purposes for a bigger and nicer home, which in the end, after spending tens of thousands of dollars and Euros in expenditures for renovation, new furniture and moving, it will definitely pay off and we can live happily ever after.

Wulff steps down. Is the End of the Dream Coalition near?

 

At the beginning of the year, I submitted a piece on the changes scheduled to take place in 2012, which included the end of many eras, like the Euro and Germany’s Dream Coalition.  This included German President Christian Wulff stepping down because of his usage of the public’s money and private investments on his own indulgences.  On Friday, he did just that.
In a move that was expected by many political analysts and people closest to the German President, Wulff, beleaguered by the pursuit of prosecutors and media alike and fresh from the latest setback he endured in Hannover, submitted his resignation as President effective immediately, resulting in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cancellation of her trip to Italy and early return to Berlin to hand pick the next president. This came as the request to lift his immunity against any forms of litigation was granted, providing prosecutors with a golden opportunity to take him to court and convict him. While the move was swifter than expected, it does raise questions about the future of the Dream Coalition and its ability to govern the country between now and the elections next year.  Given the slew of scandals involving many of Merkel’s cabinet members, the rash decay of the FDP (Free Democrats) after suffering the most number of humiliating defeats in the party’s history last year, and the search for the second president in the chancellor’s career, one might consider the fact that the reign of the Dream Coalition may be over with earlier than expected. Why?
Let’s compare the predicament of the Dream Coalition with that of the Red-Green Coalition (consisting of the Social Democrats and the Greens) under Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder, which ran the country from 1998 to 2005. Both regimes got off on the fast foot and provided some rounds of success through their policies that reformed the job market and reduced the unemployment rate. The Dream Coalition went further by allowing Merkel to take the lead in straightening the European Union out in terms of its fiscal crisis, which is ongoing especially since Greece just recently received another 130bn Euros in relief funds to alleviate its own crisis.  Yet as the years went on, the public started figuring out that some of the policies that were in place was to their disadvantage, and many politicians were removed from office because of dissatisfaction. With the Red Green Coalition, it was because of its inability to reduce the unemployment and its paltry sets of policies, such as the Hartz IV social welfare policy. For the Dream Coalition, it was because of its stance on nuclear power, which up to the Fukushima disaster, they were staunch supporters of that energy. Furthermore, the scandals that affected the politicians- in particular the plagiarism scandals- has eroded the confidence of the public in the government, even though the latest Political Barometer still shows the majority supporting Merkel and her party, the Christian Democrats, despite sustaining losses in key German states last year.  Wulff’s downfall may signal the change that Germany needs to steer itself (and the rest of Europe) in the right direction for three reasons: 1. It would mark the first time in modern German history that a Chancellor has to appoint a President twice during his/her regime. While the President plays a figurative role by showing the outside world that Germany also has a president, one must not forget that he is the number two man should something happen to Merkel.  2. While the economy has been doing well despite sustaining some substantial blows caused by the ongoing financial crisis, people are questioning the way Germany has been handling its domestic policies in comparison to the foreign policies. While the government has been providing support to business and to European countries, as a consequence, austerity packages have been introduced, cutting aid to state-run institutions, such as universities, health care facilities, and other governmental offices, resulting in strikes and protests within the last two years. This has affected many people on multiple fronts and discouraged others from taking state jobs that pay little and provide only limited contracts. Lastly 3., the strive to return to morals and honesty has been picking up steam, despite the pleas from many supporters to have the likes of Karl Theordore zu Guttenberg to return despite his resignation from office because of plagiarism. These two key words (morals and honesty) are very common in American society for many politicians caught for their social ills (like extra marital affairs, homosexuality, etc.) are defamed by the public and forced out of office.  While this type of behavior is almost uncommon over here in Germany, using the public’s money for indulgences and investing in private funds, while at the same time threatening the media with naming and shaming if it exposes the secret, is indeed morally wrong. It is just as wrong as plagiarizing a doctoral thesis or sexually harassing a state employee, the other two offences that are common over here.  One has to ask whether Merkel is covering up the bad deeds, not paying attention to the inner-political strife, or both, but it does show significant weakness in her ability to rule the country.
The loss of Wulff to his successor Joachim Gauck as President combined with the restlessness of the Free Democrats and its question of identity are two key blows that she may not be able to swallow. While it is easy for her and the rest of the party to strongly encourage politicians with their own set of scandals and ills to resign from their post in the interest of the German population, it will not solve the problem of how the Chancellor will lead the country between now and the elections next year. Facing a crisis of her own and the growing uncertainty regarding 2012 as a whole, the easiest and most effective approach is to dissolve the Dream Coalition and have early elections this year. It was done by Gerhard Schroeder in 2005 when his coalition broke apart after a string of defeats and other mishaps. Perhaps Merkel should learn from her SPD opponent and make the right decision. Only then will Germany (and all of Europe) will go into the right direction with a new set of policies and especially a new set of morals for the public to follow.

FLENSBURG FILES FAST FACT: Joachim Gauck is not officially the President of Germany, at least not yet. According to the German Constitution „Grundgesetz“ (EN: Basic Law), a candidate must be decided by the majority of the ruling party and the opposition. Gauck was nominated by the Dream Coalition together with the Social Democrats and the Green Party on the Opposition side. The Left-wing party abstained and is pursuing its own path. On 18 March, a Federal Convention will take place, where 1000 members (from the federal and state governments) will submit their vote for their new president. If there is no absolute majority after the first two votes, then the candidate may be endorsed through the third and fourth voting process, where the plurality of votes are casted. That means if no majority is found for Gauck, another candidate may be endorsed and could possibly win the post. The process is complicated as a lot of politicking is involved.  If the president wins the post, he will hold this office for five years but can be reelected once after the first term. At president, Horst Seehofer is acting head of state until the Convention takes place on the 18th. As a general rule, when a president steps down, the German government has 30 days to elect a new president through this Convention.

Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/President_of_Germany
http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15759222,00.html

http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15747820,00.html

 

Germanarctica!

Normally at about this time of year, there would be snow ranging from six inches to a foot in the northern parts of the US and all of Canada, while Europe would thaw early because of its mild winters where temperatures are above freezing and if there is snow, then only in the mountain regions of the Alps and to a certain degree some mountain regions in the southern half of Germany, like Little Switzerland in southern Saxony and northern Bavaria and the Black Forest in Baden Wurttemberg. Not this winter!

If there is a sure sign that climate change is in full swing, here is a short one sentence summary to describe what we are still going through: It is spring in the US while Europe has converted itself into its own form of Antarctica, or as the title puts it, Germanarctica. In the past week, temperatures here in Europe have plummeted by up to 40°C from a balmy 10° above zero and lots of green to -30°C and snow cover, forcing many people to seek warm shelters and travellers to reconsider their plans as many airlines and railines have been crippled. At the time of this entry, as many as 400 people have died of cold exposure, most of them being the homeless and residents with either no heating or one that malfunctioned.  It is unknown how many have died in Germany except reports have indicated at least a dozen bodies have been found, but according to Deutsche Welle, the hardest hit area seems to be the Ukraine and points to the south and east. 135 dead have been reported in the country with more to come as many areas in the south and east are not only trying to survive the cold but also dig out of snowfall of up to a meter (3 feet) high in Serbia, Bosnia and Romania, just to name a few areas.

While this cold snap is nothing compared to the cold snaps that occurred last winter and even more so in 1994 to 1997 (where Tower, Minnesota broke its own record by posting a low of -60°F (-51°C) in 1996), it is bad enough that many places in Germanarctica have set records for low temperatures. A couple nights ago, no city in Germany, not even the northern part could escape temperatures of at least -20°C, with some places in Hamburg and Kiel reaching -28°C. Even the waterways, like the Elbe, Danube, Rhein and the Main are frozen solid thus suspending shipping indefinitely. And the cold snap has not been kind to diesel-operated cars, as many of them have not functioned properly because of the fuel’s inability to adapt to the cold. This has forced many to carpool or take the train, the latter of which are either overpacked or delayed by up to an hour.

To provide you with an example of how bad this cold snap has been here in Germanarctica, I conducted an experiment involving pouring  salt water in a cup and setting it outside. While theory has it that salt water never freezes over, despite putting excessive amounts of salt in the water, this weather proved the theory dead wrong, for the salt water did freeze over within a span of eight hours! This is how severe the weather has been, and sadly it will continue for another week before we finally see a sign of spring weather.

Surprisingly though, the salt water experiment did get the author to think whether the cold snap could freeze alcohol, as bad as it was. Trying that experiment, it was proven that it was not the case (which fits to the argument that alcohol never freezes, even in this extreme cold weather), and combining it with the salt water, it can even reduce the ice to water. In case if one runs out of salt or sand for the sidewalk and has a bottle of vodka in their possession, one might want to think about that as an alternative, although be forewarned: alcohol, like salt, needs time to work and should be added a few hours before leaving.

NOTE: Over 30,000 were taken to the hospital for frostbite and many villages in the southeastern part of Europe have been buried with snow to a point where many residents were cut off from the world completely. Work is in progress to dig the villages out.

Links:   http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15725176,00.html

http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15722472,00.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower,_Minnesota

2012: The Year of Reckoning

If there is a year where judgement day will take place, where our actions of the past will determine our fate in the future and where justice will be served once and for all, this year is it and for a good reason. Many sources on both sides of the Atlantic have already touted 2011 as the worst year to date, as scandals hit the airwaves, many politicians were exposed for their wrongdoing, many countries faced default as they spent more than they could save, and most of the public was led to a false sense of security, resulting in protests against Wall Street in the US and other financial institutions in Europe and elsewhere, and the Arab Spring, which is already in its second year.  While 2011 exposed all forms of lies and deception, 2012 will definitely be the year of the truth- where people responsible for the scandals and corruption will be brought to justice, old institutions will collapse and a new world order will be created, and the public will finally start getting what they deserved (and what they have been longing for since 2000), which goes beyond the color of money and other forms of financial security.

Many have gone by the Mayan assumption that 2012 will be the year Earth ceases to exist and that we will all perish on 21 December, 2012. Speaking from our past experience with Y2K and Nostradamus and its connection with 11 September 2001, this theory will never happen in practice. It will be business as usual and we will all celebrate Christmas and ring in 2013, so you can rest easily. Yet we will see fundamental changes in our way of life as many institutions will cave into the pressure by the majority who have perceived them to be corrupt and dysfunctional. What has already occurred in the Middle East and North Africa will make its way to Europe and the Americas, both legally (through the election process) and illegally (through the coup d’ etat).  It may not be like the hot summer of 1968, but it could be even hotter both literally as well as in the context.  Here are some examples of changes that we may see in this year:

The End of the Euro and the Return of the Deutsche Mark:  This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the Euro, yet there is nothing to celebrate about given the events that occurred in the last year. Countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and now Italy have more debt than what their Gross Domestic Product can handle. France might follow and Germany is stretched at the breaking point after dishing out its share of money to help Greece. And now the UK wants to protect its British Pound and its own interest. It is hard to believe that the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, which were supposed to bind the 27 countries together (17 of which have the Euro currency), are becoming null and void, but given the problems the European countries are having to keep their fiscal policies in order, it is a sad reality. Despite attempts by Germany, France and now Denmark (which leads the European Parliament for the first six months of this year) to stabilize the Euro, elections in France and possibly elsewhere will make every attempt very difficult, if not impossible. Prediction: The Euro will fall and the national currencies, like the German Mark and the French Franc will return, but European policies will remain intact albeit as a loose-leaf political federation.

The End of the Dream Coalition: The sound defeat of the Free Liberals, combined with the scandals involving many members of the Christian Democrats and the lack of satisfaction among the Germans because of the Euro Crisis may spell the end of Angela Merkel’s regime as Chancellor of Germany. Already before the end of 2011 another scandal emerged with an ugly face involving the German President Christian Wulff as he was accused of obtaining a loan from a private bank, which has gotten the Opposition furious and the media happy to defame the former minister of Lower Saxony. Should he step down as president, it could create implications for possible early elections, which would not be a first in modern history. The last early elections of 2005 brought down Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder and perhaps a beleaguered Merkel could face that possibility that her coalition may not last to the scheduled federal elections in 2013.

 

The End to Washington politics: Perhaps the most pivotal event taking shape in 2012 is not the Olympic Games in London, even though the city will be touted as the first one to host the Games five times since the inception in 1896. It will be the Presidential elections in November that will remake Capitol Hill and break the deadlock that has given President Barack Obama headaches in the past two years. Health care, the debt ceiling, spending cuts, reinforcing the nation’s infrastructure, and finding ways to reduce the unemployment has caused the Republicans and Democrats to harden their stances and the public to lose respect for Washington altogether. Even the President’s performance is considered appalling in the eyes of many Americans. Yet the challengers from the Republican side of the spectrum have not been able to come up with a clear cut plan as to tackle the problems the country has been facing since the Recession started in 2008. Unless the deference of responsibility ends and there is a unified plan to handle the problems that have been left behind from the era of President George W. Bush, we could see a very hot summer over the US which could change the landscape of the US once and for all. There are three ways that could happen: a Revolution like in 1968 marked by protests and violence, a Revolution of 1848 that includes overtaking Washington and New York, or a Revolution of 1936 in Spain, which marked the beginning of the three year civil war. None of these options are desirable. Prediction: Change will come to America but only through a President with a plan and the ability to relate to the needs of the Public and a Congress that will support every policy the President has to tackle the problems that are keeping the country from becoming the best.

 

The End of Big Oil and its influence: This theory may be far-fetched but is possible in practice. After facing lawsuits because of oil disaster after oil disaster (including the 2010 Disaster off the Gulf of Mexico and the most recent disaster in northern Spain), the increasing interest in renewable energy and electric automobiles and people becoming fed up with the monopoly, increasing oil prices and its cozy relationship with politicians, the influence of the big oil companies will diminish due to regulations and the need to keep their influence in check, something that people have been asking for since 2001 but have not had their wishes respected until now.

 

The End of Ignorance to the most pressing environmental problems:  If the world ever was to come to an end on 21 December 2012, it will be because of the natural disaster of apocalyptic proportions, similar to what was seen in The Day After Tomorrow. While 2011 was touted as the wildest weather in recent memory with unprecedented snowfall and blizzards, combined with flooding and extremely hot temperatures, this year will most certainly be considered hotter and wilder. Already, both the northern half of the US and all of Europe (minus the Alps) set the record for the warmest December in recent memory with a green and brown Christmas, and 2012 started off with spring weather in Germany and all places to the north. If one follows the trend, a warm December means a January full of hurricanes and an extremely hot summer with high humidity and storms. This was certainly the case in Winter 2006/07 in Germany, where a warm December was followed by hurricane Kyrill, which devastated northern Europe, brought travel to a total standstill, and coined the word kyrillize. If people do not realize the gravity of the situation with global warming and take action, no one will and the consequences will be unthinkable.

 

And finally….

The End of Rush Limbaugh and Biased Media: In the past 10 years, we have seen the media veer away from becoming a neutral medium where people receive their regular dose of 60 minutes of news on the local, national and international levels and divulge into far left and far right media, influenced by  celebs like Rachel Madow and Keith Obermann (left) and Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh (right). With this divisive influence comes the split in family structure and value where members have been taking sides on certain issues and the ignorance of the most pressing issues that have been mentioned above.  Fortunately, thanks to the likes of CNN and the BBC, German public TV, like N24 and ARD, social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and lastly online blogs and columns, like this one, we are starting to see the influence from the extremes diminish. This is good as many people are really tired of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who has harassed one celebrity too many too much. Earning six years worth $400 million to host his own talk show, he has influenced the public with his own version of the news to a point where many have believed his propaganda and have tried to encourage others to refer to him for guidance. Whoever says that Michael J. Fox is faking his Parkinson’s Disease and that oil is a renewable resource must be way too insane to write a column or speak on the radio. Once the elections of 2012 are finish, we will also see the downfall of many people like him and the return to reality and real news with neutral information, something that will definitely help us become more informed and indeed smarter.

 

But before seeing what 2012 will really bring us, there are some memos worth noting that will help determine whether or not the theories brought forth will come true.

 

FLENSBURG FILES NEWS FLYER:

Operation Wulff:  The background to the credit scandal involving German President Christian Wulff is as follows: During his time in office, he obtained a home loan from a private bank with low interest rate to purchase a house, which is considered illegal according to German law. He tried to avert the scandal by not mentioning it in his Christmas speech or in any of his interviews and apparently threatening the yellow press and other newspapers, which is also considered illegal. Support for Mr. Wulff is waning and it may be a matter of time before Chancellor Merkel will be forced to elect a new president- another torpedo hit to a Dream Coalition that has been battered with scandals since 2009.

Link: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15642945,00.html

Farewell to Arms?:    2011 was also a record year of deaths of famous people world wide, including those who passed on either shortly before or during the holidays. Among them include Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic who led the revolution of Czechoslovakia (a.k.a. Velvet Revolution) in 1989 and granted a Velvet Divorce from Slovakia in 1993. He was president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992 at the time of the Velvet Divorce and the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. He died on 18 December at the age of 75.  Dutch actor Johannes Heesters, a popular figure in the German film industry famous for Die Fledermaus (the Bat), Bel-Ami, and the Otto series passed away peacefully on Christmas Eve at the age of 108. And Kim Jong Il of North Korea died on 17 December after a long illness at the age of 70. He is succeeded by his son Kim Jong un as leader of the country and hope is still there for the country to lay down its arms and hostility and embrace peace, although it still remains many kilometers apart. All three figures were controversial in one way or another because of political spats that were considered inappropriate in the public’s eyes, yet deep down realized that peace was important and to a certain degree have set the precident for the next one to enusre that peace and prosperity dominate the global playing field for the next generation.

Links: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6683647,00.html (Havel)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Heesters (Heesters)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Jong-il

 

The Drive to End Nationalism in Germany: In response to the recent terrorist attacks by the right wing extremists in central and eastern Germany, the drive to consider the prohibition of the NPD in Germany is gaining steam, even though critics consider this futile and will fail at the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe. It is unclear if and when this will happen, but in order to successfully ban the party, one might want to consider rewriting the constitution, written while Konrad Adenauer was in power in the 1950s, and state that all parties that stress the importance of xenophobism, nationalism or nazisim are forbidden, and that law enforcement should be reinforced to ensure that the law is kept. A discussion on this can be found here:

Link: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15597828,00.html

 

Lowest Unemployment in 20 Years in Germany: Despite the Euro-Crisis, Germany had a record year as far as employment is concerned. During all of 2011, an average of 2.7 million Germans were unemployed, an average percentage of 8%.  Of which, 10.5% came from the eastern half of the country and 5.6% from the western half. This is the lowest since 1991, the first year of a reunited Germany.  Despite a slight increase of 67,000 people in December, the total number for the last month was 2,78 million. In addition, the Gross Domestic Product rose by 3% for the whole year, making it one of the most productive countries in the world. Unfortunately, despite the rosy numbers, dangers lurk for 2012 as the crisis in Europe may eventually drag Germany down thanks to cuts in programs and the country’s budget and companies’ planning on laying off employees, which could result in an increase in the number of unemployed. This was already announced by Chancellor Merkel during her Christmas Eve address, televised on German TV. It is unclear whether she will be right on her predictions or if Germany will buck the trend.

Links: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15642176,00.html

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/alos100.html

 

Double Storm to pummelt Europe: For those wanting to celebrate Epiphany this weekend and take down the Christmas tree, one will have to calculate Ulli and Andrea crashing the party and leaving a mess for Europeans to clean up. On Tuesday, Ulli produced winds as high as 150 kmph (75 mph) in places along the North Sea coast and the Harz Mountain region in northern Thuringia and parts of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, uprooting trees, tearing roofs off houses and creating traffic chaos. Thursday and Friday, the storm’s sister will wreak havoc on the region with much higher wind gusts, combined with hail and snow in many areas, making it one of the strongest storms since Kyrill invaded Europe in 2007. More information will come soon.

Link: http://www.ndr.de/regional/wetter327.html

 

 

BUGA- The German Garden and Horticulture Show 2011: Koblenz

(Written as a co-column with sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles)

A Cathedral in the midst of flowers and flora

People take pride in gardening, a pastime where they plant whatever they want, make their houses and apartments attractive enough for others to admire and envy, and present their prized product at various competitions at the local, state, and even national level, be it at a local festival or a county or state fair. Gardening provides people with a chance to enjoy the great outdoors, meet new people and be creative, no matter how.

In Germany, this is especially noticeable despite the close quarters residents have to endure. While private property in Germany may be a quarter of the size of that of the US on average and the majority of the population live in apartments and duplexes, the people there treat gardening like it is sacred, and experiment with various plants and vegetation even if they originate from places far away. And when it comes to an event like the German Garden and Horticulture Show (a.k.a. BUGA), people flock there to see the finest plants and vegetation from all over the world.

Founded in 1951, the event takes place every two years and serves as a trio function. The first is to encourage cities and regions to spruce up their land and cityscapes and make it attractive for people visiting or wanting to live there. The second is to provide additional income for the tourism industry and encourage the areas to use it to improve areas for people to see. And lastly, environmentally speaking, it provides people with an opportunity to showcase how the host cities/regions make their landscapes more energy efficient and environmentally safe. An example of how these theories come into practice is the 2007 BUGA in Gera and Ronneburg in eastern Thuringia, where the former lead mine near the latter host town was converted to a large park with lots of vegetation for people to enjoy. The city of Gera reshaped itself from a run-down former Communist town into one that presented a classic example of how history and modernization harmonize with each other with renovated ornamental buildings, former East German buildings being reused for recreational purposes and a revamped infrastructure which featured two new train stations and several new bridges along the White Elster River, including the Textima Suspension Bridge at Hofwiesen Park Park and the Dragon’s Tail Bridge near Ronneburg.

For the city of Koblenz, this year’s BUGA is a special one for the community of over 106,000 inhabitants. Established between 18 and 10 BC,  the city is home to the German Corner (Deutsches Eck), where the Rhein and the Mosel Rivers meet. This is the site where the city center was created by the Teutonic Order in 1218, and the statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I. was created in 1897 and reestablished again in 1993 after he was knocked off his horse during World War II.  There is the old town with many churches and buildings dating back to the Renaissance- almost all of which have been restored and are livelier than ever before. The Ehrenbreitstein castle, located on the east end of the Rhein opposite the city provides tourists with awesome views of the city and the deep river valley, known as the main corridor for shipping traffic between the Alps in northern Switzerland and the mouth at the North Sea near Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The newly restored castle with its large gardens is one of the largest castles to be seen along the mega-river.  All three of these areas were the venue of the flower and horticultural exhibits with the Ehrenbreitstein and the old town hosting multicultural events held almost every day between April and the weekend of 16 October.  Koblenz is the first city in Rheinland-Palatinate to host the 30th biannual event, even though it is the third largest city in the state behind Trier and Mainz (the state’s capital).

Yet if one is not interested in the large garden display with observation deck at Ehrenbreitstein, the flower garden at Deutsche Eck or some of the culture events occurring in the city center, there is plenty to do and see while in Koblenz. Take for instance the tour of the castles  along the Rhein and Mosel Rivers, for example. One can take a 2-3 hour boat trip to see the likes of the Marksburg and Stolzenfels along the Rhein and the Thurant and Metternich  along the Mosel while at the same time, enjoy a typical Rheinland-Palatinate meal and a Königsberger beer, locally brewed at the company just outside the city. This is one of the things that one must do; especially when the weather is schizophrenic like it was during the visit recently. And while there may be some people who want to crash the party while intoxicated, like it was the case during the boat tour, the trip with the wild breeze hollowing through the Rhein is worth every minute of the trip, together with a little bit of brain food on the history of the region.

Doing some comparison between this year’s BUGA and that of 2007 in Gera and Ronneburg, one can see stark contrasts with regards to the city and landscapes and the way the government on the local level worked to bring the BUGA to their venues.  Gera and Ronneburg for the most part was built from the ground up with some places being rebuilt to look more attractive for the tourists.  The park near Ronneburg used to be the site of the former lead mining facility which emitted harmful fumes in the air and whose chemicals seeped into the ground water, causing pollution never before imagined, and cutting short the lives of thousands of workers and those living in surrounding areas by up to 30% because of various forms of cancer and other respiratory diseases. It took more than 15 years and hundreds of millions of Euros to clean up the facility and convert the area into a place of recreation not only for the BUGA but afterwards. This included turning areas that were altered through strip-mining into artificial valleys filled with plants and wildlife, which support the creek going past the former site and into Ronneburg. Three bridges were constructed in and around the areas, two of which span the newly built valley including the Dragon’s Tail Pedestrian Bridge, one of the longest in the state of Thuringia.

With this year’s BUGA, it represents a mirror reflection to the one in 2007 as the infrastructure and the architecture of Koblenz has already been provided. It is more of the question of making a name for itself and bringing out the best in the city and its heritage.  Up to 500 million Euros (or $710 million) was spent sprucing up the city center and Ehrenbreitstein Castle by renovating the buildings, redesigning the streets to make it more pedestrian friendly and in cases, like the castle on the hill of the Rhine, rebuild in many places so that the guests can ooh and aah at the city and the river valley from up above. There was little need to renovate the train station, like in Gera and Ronneburg, and there was no need to build new bridges as the existing ones serve traffic over the Rhine and Mosel, including the Balduin Bridge, a stone arch bridge over the Mosel that has been in service since the 14th Century.  As a bonus, a cable car line runs from the Deutsche Eck directly over the Rhine and up to Ehrenbreitstein.  As a finish product of all the renovating that was done to the city, one will be amazed at the beauty the city has to offer, not only on the outside but also on the inside. While one will find the likes of the Residential Palace, the Church of our Lady and the city center of Münzplatz inspiring on the outside, one will feel like walking into the city’s past and seeing what the city was like in the Renaissance Age, even though much of the city was in fact severely damaged and destroyed in many parts during World War II.

When the 2011 BUGA ends during the weekend of October 14-16,  all the newly renovated places will become the care of the local government, whose responsibility will be to upkeep them and prevent them from becoming something similar to the prairie flower “Hour of Fame.” This means that the places that have been newly established from the old or constructed from scratch must be maintained in order to prevent negligence and vandalism. The difficult part about this task is the financing for the maintenance of these places. This is one problem that Gera and Ronneburg have with the park with the Dragon’s Tail Bridge, as attempts to sell it to private groups have failed up to now due to lack of funds and interest from the tourist. The future of the place at the moment is in doubt.  What the city of Koblenz must avoid is following a path similar to what happened as a result of the “BUGA-Hangover-Effect.” The difference between the two venues is clear and works to Koblenz’s advantage quite well. Tourism is well-established in the city thanks to its heritage and its proximity to the Rhine and Mosel Rivers and the places that are offered within spitting distance of the city. Also helpful to the city is the fact that events like the Christmas Market (which takes place from 18 November to 22 December this year) will draw in more tourists and revenue, which means more flexibility in terms of keeping the places clean and looking like they were during the BUGA.  This is something that is still being worked on in Gera and Ronneburg, as the venues are looking for ways out of two problems that they have at the moment- reshaping the city and landscapes and population loss as many people are emigrating away from the region for better job prospects. Both of these have resulted in the loss of revenue that is badly needed.

While Koblenz will be left to run its course, the next two BUGAs in Germany will be in the northern parts of the country. In 2013 the event will take place in Hamburg. It will be the fourth time the city hosts the event (the last one being in 1973 ), but the city of 1.5 million inhabitants- the second  largest city and  city-state in the country- is transforming itself both architecturally as well as infrastructurally, from an industrial port to one which holds character regarding its heritage as well as one that is working on becoming a carbon neutral city, like Copenhagen. Already the International Building Expo has been working on reshaping the cityscape of the city center known as Hafen City and its southern suburb of Wilhelmsburg, with the goal of having the area ready to take on many garden-lovers and environmentalists in two-years’ time. After that event, it moves southeast to the Havel region in the state of Brandenburg in 2015. That region is rich with forests and lakes, and with Berlin and Potsdam located nearby, people will have more than what they bargained for with this year’s BUGA in Koblenz.

There are many ways to look at the BUGA this year and how Koblenz has benefitted from it. Given its location and its heritage, the city benefitted from the surge of tourists and revenue, which can be used for future projects. The city has already taken advantage of the event by showcasing its finest plants and flowers, while presenting the treasures of the city- the old town (with its churches and the Residential Palace, the Deutsche Eck, and the Ehrenbreitstein Castle to those who want to see it. And for those like yours truly and the people who accompanied me on the trip, the incentive is there to see the region again, while at the same time, see if Hamburg and the Havel region can copy the successes displayed by this year’s BUGA in Koblenz. We will have to see when travelling to the next one.

FLENSBURG FILES FAST FACTS:

  1. While at Ehrenbreitstein Castle, there was a showcase on forests in Germany and the facts are rather interesting to note. Despite being just a tad bit bigger than Thuringia and smaller than Hesse, Rheinland-Palatinate is tied with Hesse with the largest percentage of forests existing in the state with 42%. Bavaria comes in third with 36% and Thuringia with 23%. Schleswig-Holstein is last with only 10%, which also ranks it second to last if one includes the three city-states (Bremen has only 5%).
  2. Interesting Facts about Koblenz’s places of interest- The Ehrenbreitstein was first built in 1000 AD, extended while under the control of the Archbishops of Trier 20 years later, destroyed by the French in 1801 after a long siege, and rebuilt massively using its original foundations in 1816-32. Much of the castle was rebuilt after World War II which includes three new additions, one of which houses an eatery. Apart from the beautiful courtyard, the castle today holds two museums (Rhein and the state) and hosts numerous events both inside as well as outside at the amphitheater.

 

Just south of the city there is the Stolzenfels Castle, which was built in the 13th Century. Napoleon I donated the ruins to the city in 1802, which then gave it to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia in 1823. It was rebuilt under his control from 1836 to 1842. Much of the castle was rebuilt using the design from the one built in the 13th Century but was destroyed during Napoleon’s siege of the city in 1801.

 

The Residential Palace overlooking the Rhein was the last building that was contructed before the French Revolution, as it was built for the last Prince-Elector of Trier from 1777 to 1786. It was completely destroyed during World War II but was rebuilt from scratch in 1951. Most of the public offices are now housed here today. Distinctive of the palace is the beautiful court facing the city (was filled with flowers and a beautiful pool) and the promenade facing the river to the east, where a statue of Josef Görres (1776-1823), a prominent Koblenzer overlooks the river. Görres was an elementary school teacher, writer for the city’s newspaper, and a philosopher.

A Link to Koblenz’s bridges and its association with the BUGA 2011 can be found here: http://thebridgehunter.areavoices.com/2011/10/28/buga-the-german-garden-and-horticulture-show-2011-koblenz-and-the-citys-bridges/

Photo gallery:

Ready, Set, Water!

 

Koblenz Old Town

 

Löhrstrasse Shopping Corridor

 

Münzplatz at night

 

"Die Tafel" Long Table at the front gardens of the Residential Palace

 

Pool at the Residential Palace

 

Residential Palace

 

Flowers at the Residential Palace

 

Pool of flowers at the front court of the Residential Palace

 

St. Kantor Basilica

 

Statue of Josef Görre at the Residential Palace

 

Stolzenfels Castle

 

Marksburg Castle at Braubach

 

Colorful array of flowers at Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

Colorful array of flowers at Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

Cactus exhibit at Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

Tomato display at the greenhouse at Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

Overview of Koblenz from Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

Liebfrauenkirche from Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

The outer walls of Ehrenbreitstein Castle

 

The old and new sides of Ehrenbreitstein Castle: This was the amphitheater where outdoor events took place

 

Ehrenbreitstein Castle looking east

 

Newly built section of Ehrenbreitstein: Here is where the state museum, food court, and tourist information center are located

 

Deutsche Eck (German Corner): Where the Mosel (above) and the Rhein (below) meet

 

Close-up on a marigould at the west entrance to the Residential Palace