New ICE-Line and ICE City Erfurt Opens

ICE-T train stopping at Erfurt Central Station. Photo taken in March 2017

New High-Speed Line Opens after 25 Years of Planning and Construction. Erfurt and Leipzig to become ICE Cities. 80 ICE trains expected in Erfurt daily.

BERLIN/ MUNICH/LEIPZIG/ERFURT/COBURG/JENA- It took the signing of former (now late) German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s signature to allow for the project to begin- 25 years ago. That in itself was as historic as US President Dwight D. Eisenhowers signature in 1956 to launch the US Interstate Highway System. It took 25 years, from the time of its signature until the time of its completion, costing over 12 billion Euros, and resulting in 37 bridges- including the 8.6 kilometer long Elster-Saale Viaduct near Halle (the longest in Germany)- two dozen tunnels and the complete makeover of five different stations- the main ones of which are in Erfurt and Leipzig.

And now, Frankenstein has come to life!  🙂 The new ICE line between Berlin and Munich has opened. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Richard Lutz (CEO of the Deutsche Bahn), German Transportation Minister Christian Schmidt as well as the primeministers of the states of Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia plus many celebrities were on hand to open the ICE-Line as a pair of ICE-3 trains passed through the new stops of Nuremberg, Erfurt, and Leipzig-Halle as they started from Munich and ended in Berlin. The ceremony happened today with the grand ceremony taking place at Berlin Central Station.

With that new line, not only will the cities of Leipzig and Halle will profit from the long-distance trains stopping there on a daily basis, but also the ICE City Erfurt in central Thuringia, where as many as 80 ICE-trains will stop to board people on a dail basis travelling on the N-S axis between Berlin and Munich via Nuremberg, as well as between Dresden and Frankfurt via Leipzig on the W-E axis.  Along the N-S axis, one can travel between the German and Bavarian capitals in just over four hours, two less than its current travel. Between Dresden and Frankfurt, it is expected that trains passing through Erfurt will need only three hours instead of the normal five.  Planned is the new ICE-Sprinter connecting Berlin with Munich with a stop only in Erfurt. That stretch will take only under four hours.  Another is planned for Halle-Munich and Nuremberg-Berlin, each of which will take less than three hours.

Prior to the opening of the new ICE line, a person needed over six hours along the line that went through Naumburg, Jena, Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Bamberg. That line will be relegated to Regio-trains which will be a total inconvenience to people living in Jena and points to the east. With that will mark the end of long-distance service for the first time in over 115 years. The state of Thuringia is working with the Deutsche Bahn to provide better access, which includes a new long-distance InterCity station in Jena to be opened in 2024.  (More on that here).  The ICE line will mean more development for Erfurt, as the ICE-City plans to build a new convention center and series of hotels and restaurants around the station to better accommodate customers and visitors to Erfurt.

ICE-4. Photo by Martin Lechler

The new line will mark the debut of the newest ICE train, the ICE 4, which will travel alongside the ICE 3 from Munich to Berlin. The ICE-T will continue to serve between Dresden and Leipzig (for more on the train types, click here).  At the same time, the older two models will be phased out bit-by-bit after having travelled tens of thousands of kilometers for over 25 years. The newest models can travel over 300 km/h and has compartments for bikes, available upon reservation.

While the new line, scheduled to be part of the train plan come 10 December, will compete with the airlines and automobile in terms of travel time, there is a catch that many people do not like: From Berlin to Munich, one will have to pay at least 125 Euros one-way, 40 Euros more than with the present route. Despite having more Regio-trains providing access to Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle from Jena and elsewhere, it will become an inconvenience when it comes to changing trains and having to rush to the nearest ICE train with very little time left.

Still it is up to the Bahn to decide how to adjust to the situation as it plans to allow for time for people to adjust and get used to the new line. After a year or so, it will make some adjustments to better serve customers who are out of reach of the new line. By then, one will find out whether the billions spent on this project was worth its salt.

Video on the VDE8 Project- the ICE Line Berlin-Erfurt-Munich:

And a map of the new line:

Interesting Facts About Germany: Teddy on the Road- the History of the Gatso

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While travelling along the highway visiting some friends in Leipzig a while back, I had a chance to listen to the German news and the traffic report, where they report accidents, speeding and even broken-down vehicles when I was taken aback from a phone call made to a radio station that, like Leipzig, is located in the same German state of Saxony. With my passenger next to me we were snickering when we heard a typical Saxon living near the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) calling in by saying the following:

“Auf der B 175 in Glauchau gibt es einen Teddy auf der Fahrbahn zwischen Jerisau und Gesau.”  (EN: On Highway 175, there is a Teddy on the road between Jerisau and Gesau in the City of Glauchau)

A Teddy? My first reaction to my passenger, who is also from the region but nearer to Stollberg was one for the ages: “A Teddy as in Teddy Bear?”

A burst of laughter followed. 🙂

Looking at the pictures very carefully, can you envision a Teddy on the highway? Regardless of size?

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It was at that time that I realized the importance of learning a foreign language because you can pick up a lot of local words that you will almost never find in a dictionary. This especially applies to Germany, for there are several regions speaking different dialects and using different words. In this case, it was Saxon German (Sächsisch Deutsch) and even more so, Erzgebirgisch.

My colleague, after a couple minutes of a good laugh, later explained that a Teddy was in reference to the Blitzer. The Blitzer, translated into English, means a simple photo radar gun/device or traffic control camera. In British, it is nicknamed the Gatso.  Can you imagine Gatso the Teddy using a radar gun to catch speeders, as this is the purpose?

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Even with the advancement of technology, where cameras are becoming smaller and easier to use, combining it with the fact that the bear is “mounted” to an electrical circuit box and the eyes are a but too small for the camera lens, this is a tall order to see such a furry creature take pictures of cars, their plates and the drivers.

However, this device can do the trick! 🙂

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For over 60 years, the German Gatso has been responsible for controlling the way people speed on streets and major highways. According to Article 3 of the German Traffic Control Laws (Strassenverkehrsordnung), the responsibility for these devices falls to the law enforcement authorities on the state and federal levels. All it takes is a yellow flash when driving too fast and a ticket from the local police with the license plate and a facial reaction which helps police identify and fine the speeder, while at the same time, make the speeder feel exceptionally embarassed by looking at not only the facial reaction at the time of the incident, but also the amount of money owed for it.

In some cases, you receive a Flensburg point for the incident (see the story behind it here.)  The first Blitzer was introduced in Essen in 1956 and since then, one can find one for every 30 kilometers on average in the country; one for every kilometer on average in the city.  One can find them everywhere: on sidewalks, hidden in trees and railings, as bins on the street or at bus stops, and sometimes as living beings as seen below:

Laser guns and squad car cameras were later introduced with Düsseldorf being the first city to use them in addition to the Blitzer in 1959. Since the 1990s, both the eastern and western halves of Germany have reported such Blitzers on the highways by having radio teams track them down and report them on air. However, other drivers exercise the right to call in if they see one. The purpose there is to inform the driver where they can take their picture- and pay a hefty price for it.

Anybody wanting to try this better have a good explanation for the judge……   😉

Traffic cameras have been used in the US and UK, but it is rarer in the former. Arguments against the use of the Gatso are the question of effectiveness in detecting the speeders- especially when radar jammers are used by speeders while those going only 2-3 miles per hour are caught. This is where the accuracy question comes in. Furthermore, debates over liability for the use of the equipment for traffic combined with the unwillingness of speeders to pay due to protest has made the Gatso very unpopular. In fact, cities that have introduced these cameras were forced to take them down after a couple years due to claims of them collecting revenue instead of providing safety for the roads. To sum up, there are no laws that enforce the use of Gatsos unless on the local levels, but these are feeble- opposite of the laws in the Bundesrepublik.

Blitzers have been used not only on German Autobahns, but also in areas of communities, where speeding and even car accidents have been reported by law enforcement authorities. They are also useful for construction areas where traffic is heavy. Blitzermarathons are also popular, for on weekends and holidays, these cameras are used extensively by the police to control the speeding on the streets, and with lots of success. Aside from vehicle inspections and pulling over traffic violators, Gatsos have generated as much revenue and reputation as law enforcement itself- to protect the drivers and encourage proper driving habits, but also to protect others on the highway affected by the driver.

And so keeping this in mind, I would like to offer this advice to all drivers in Germany and other neighboring European countries: when you hear about a Teddy, Blitzer, Gatso or camera on the highway you’re travelling, or see one in the vicinity, check your odometer, lead up from the pedal, and respect the grey bear! After all, unlike real bears, like grizzlies, blacks and polars, they can save your life. Plus they make for a great (but cheap) photo opportunity with a professional photographer- but not from the guy in the blue and white suit with a police squad car or the people from Flensburg. 😉

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Have you hugged your Teddy, lately? 😉

 

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Gatso is short for the Gastometer BV, a device that was invented by Dutch racecar driver Maurice Gasonides in 1958 but for the purpose of monitoring his speeding, not for controlling it. The first devices were introduced in the Netherlands and  British Commonwealth in the 1960s where film was used. It was later advanced to use ultra-red lighting in the 1980s. It went digital in the 1990s where data from the photos can be taken through the contral computing system at the police precinct and printed out for use. More information can be found here

 

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500 Years of the 95 Theses Celebrated in Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Germany Quiz 8: Part II

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After getting warmed up with the Sächsisch Deutsch, as shown in Part I of the Quiz (click here to get to the page) Part II takes us to the state of Saxony itself. Having spent quite a few months there as well as having a few contacts from all over the state, I found that there is more to Saxony than meets the eye. If you ask someone who has yet to visit Germany (or even has passed through there once) the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Germany, 90% of the respondents would say Bavaria. Sure, Bavaria is home of the beer, the Oktoberfest and the sports club Bayern Munich. It would be considered the German version of Texas and would better off being on its own if the likes of Edmund Stoiber and Horst Seehofer had it their way.  😉  

However, we have the German version of California in the state of Saxony- yes, that’s right, Saxony! 🙂

Saxony used to be part of the Kingdom of Saxony, which includes present-day Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony. Since 1990, it has become a free-state after having spent 40 years being part of East Germany and having been divided up into districts.  With the population of 4.1 million inhabitants, Saxony is the birthplace of many products that we use everyday, both at home as well as on the road. Many personalities that have become famous and placed their names in the history books were either born in Saxony or have passed through leaving their mark. The Christmas market got its start in Saxony, most of the automobles we know started its business in Saxony because of its proximity to the mountains and its natural mineral resources. And most recently, many professional sports teams are climbing their way up the ladder in soccer, handball and even basketball! 

Now that’s a lot right there about the state! 

But what do we know about the state? This is where Part II of the quiz comes in. Dividing it up into general information, personalities and its infrastructure (which was difficult enough as is, by the way), this guide will give you a chance to test your knowledge and do some research about the state, especially if you wish to visit the region someday.  As Saxony is the where many people made their inventions, especially for the household and for the highway, a part III will be devoted to the inventors. 

But for now, let’s test our knowledge and get to know the Saxe, shall we? 🙂  Good luck!

Author’s Note: Only the first half of the quiz will be shown here. To see the entire quiz, you need to go to the Files’ wordpress page. Click here to access it. 

 

General Information:

What is the capital of Saxony?

Leipzig               Meissen                   Zwickau                Dresden                 Görlitz           Wilkau-Hasslau

Which city in Saxony does NOT have an equivalent in the USA? Mark all that apply.

Dresden          Zwickau          Zittau              Leipzig           Meerane         Waldenburg

Which city in Saxony does NOT have a sister city in the USA?

Glauchau      Dresden      Freiberg     Leipzig    Zwickau   Riesa

Which rivers do NOT flow through Saxony?

Elbe             Mulde                Saale            Neisse              Danube

Which city does NOT have nearby lakes/reservoirs? Mark all that apply.

Leipzig                   Glauchau                  Plauen                 Meissen                Reichenbach

Which city does NOT have a castle or palace?

Zwickau            Dresden             Leipzig        Glauchau        Markkleeberg      Schneeberg

Which city in Saxony is located at the Polish-German border and is named in both languages?

Zittau         Bautzen          Oberlausitz           Cottbus        Görlitz       Grimma

Which city is the hub of the porcellain industry- you can see their products at the pottery markets throughout all of Germany?

Meissen             Riesa             Hoyerswerda           Werdau           Crimmitschau            Leipzig

T/F: The village of Amerika (near Penig) was created in 1839 and was based on the founder’s visit to the USA.

Germany has one of the oldest race tracks in the country, where race cars and motorcycles convene yearly to this city in Saxony……

a. Görlitz               b. Hohenstein-Ernstthal                     c. Leipzig       d. Hoyerswerda

Which of the two cities in Saxony were the site of the infamous beer war in 1731?

  1. Werdau and Crimmitschau
  2. Meerane and Glauchau
  3. Zwickau and Aue
  4. Leipzig and Halle

Mark the following cities that have a brewery with a check mark and circle the cities that have a liquour distillery.

Chemnitz              Meerane                Zwickau             Leipzig                   Dresden              Plauen                  Reichenbach         Zittau

The Black Triangle, infamous for years of pollution and environmental destruction caused by strip mining, consists of three states meeting near which town in Saxony?  Identify the three states and choose which city.

The three states: ______________,  __________________, & ___________________

The city:

  1. Bautzen
  2. Görlitz
  3. Zittau
  4. Dresden

 Hint: A beverage named after the region and this city, consisting of  (10%) vodka, (40%) Vita Cola and (50%) Czech beer was created by the author in 2005.

Which cities are served by the ICE-train line?  Which ones will be served by the InterCity line beginning in 2023?

Dresden            Chemnitz            Leipzig              Glauchau           Riesa               Bad Schandau

T/F: The Leipzig-Dresden Railline, the first railroad line ever built, was completed in 1839

Mark the following cities that have a professional soccer team (1, 2 and 3rd leagues) with an X, a professional handball team (1st and 2nd leagues) with a check-mark, and check-mark the cities that have an American football team.

Aue        Dresden         Leipzig          Meerane        Zwickau            Chemnitz           Glauchau

T/F: FC Dynamo Dresden is the only team from Saxony that has defeated FC Bayern Munich in a soccer match.

How many soccer teams does Leipzig have, including the Red Bull Team?

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Information about the Christmas markets in Saxony:

The oldest Christmas market known to man can be found in which city?

a. Dresden    b. Leipzig    c. Bautzen       d. Nuremberg             e. Glauchau

The origin of the Stollen (the German fruit cake with raisins and powdered sugar) originated from which city?

a.  Plauen   b. Naumburg (Saale)    c. Dresden      d. Rochlitz      e. Flöha

The shortest Christmas market in Germany can be found in this city?

a. Glauchau     b. Crimmitschau     c. Werdau       d. Meerane     e. Aue

Which region in Saxony was the birthplace of the Schwipbogen (Christmas arch)?

a. Ore Mountains      b. Vogtland        c. Lausitz Region       d. Black Triangle

T/F: Customary of a Christmas market in Saxony is the parade of miners in the villages Ore Mountains.  If true, name at least one town that does host this.

T/F: Räuchermänner were common but rare decorations during the East German Communist era.

T/F:  Pulsnitzer Kekse is a cake with a jelly filling that can be found at a Christmas market in Saxony.

Which Christmas market does NOT have a castle setting?

a. Wolkenburg          b. Glauchau         c. Zwickau                  d. Crimmitschau                             e. Waldenburg

 

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Leipzig Book Fair Sets New Record

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LEIPZIG- There are two ways of looking at the new record that was set at this year’s Leipzig Book Fair (Buchmesse). According to information provided by public radio station MDR, about 208,000 visitors paid homage to the convention during the weekend of 23-27 March, which takes place at the Leipzig Messe, breaking the 200,000 mark for the first time ever. About 285,000 people attended the largest in-city book events in Europe- Leipzig Liest (Leipzig is Reading), where restaurants, libraries and other public places held reading lectures by guest authors. Over 3,400 events occurred this past weekend, which is also a new record. And even the Manga convention, where tens of thousands can dress in costumes and buy products made in Japan, saw the mark of 100,000 guests get cracked by as many as 5,000. Over 2,500 booths filled all five convention halls, ranging from publishers, teacher organizations, media firms and even the antique book stores in and around Leipzig to electronic gaming companies, food vendors selling foreign goods and even costumes shops. Over all, people took advantage of both the spring-like weather and the start of Daylight Savings Time to make a pilgrimage to the Buchmesse to check out some cool items. 🙂

There are two ways to look at the record. The first one is based on the traditional way, where the stereotype of books being part of the German culture and true and more stressed than ever before. A while back, I had written about how Germans treat their books like the Bible, having shelves full in their homes and collecting even more books to read and share with others (this article can be found here.) Regardless of age or profession, everyone took their share of opportunity at the books, picking out their favorites as well as some interesting books worth taking home with, regardless of where.

As for the second way, that has more to do with the Manga convention than the book fair itself. While Lithuania was this year’s guest at the convention, and much of the literature was found in the second convention hall, the Manga convention in the first hall featured booths laden with Japanese-style comics, fashion clothing, electronic goods and even food- all coming from Japan. A lot of events dealing with this theme, including the costume contest, were also found in the hall, which explained the reason why one in ten people dressed up as Japanese comic figures. Many scenes at the Book Fair resembled scenes in such American films, such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Space Jam. It felt like being in a Hollywood studio, either at Warner Brothers or Universal. It was……simply……awesome! 😀

Together with my wife and daughter, we hit the market on Saturday, the peak day of the convention and came away with some great books. Even some books commemorating Martin Luther’s 95 theses, whose 500th anniversary celebrations are in full swing. These books will be highlighted in the later articles. In the meantime, we wanted to give you some highlights of the events at the Buchmesse, which you can click here and it will take you to the facebook version of the Files. There, you can see what you can expect from a really great book convention in Germany and plan for the one in Frankfurt (Main) in October. The 2018 Leipzig Book Fair will take place 15-18 March. In case you want some tips on how to plan ahead,….. 🙂

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  1. While the Leipzig Messe (convention center) is easily accessible by S-bahn (light rail) especially from Leipzig Central Station, some long-distance trains also provide you with direct access. When booking for the next Leipzig Buchmesse, talk to the ticket personnel at the train station regarding some deals. However, be forewarned for the trains can get crowded in the afternoon hours.
  2. Book a hotel as early as possible and plan an overnight stay. Especially in the months before the Buchmesse, hotel prices can skyrocket by as much as 500%. So instead of an overnight stay for 50 Euros a night, you could pay up to 450 Euros at the time of the book fair. Look for the best deal and ask a friend living in Leipzig to stay a night. It will help a great deal.
  3. Although family rates for the book fair are really affordable (this year’s rate was 37.50 Euros), it is highly recommended to visit the Manga first- and in the mornings. The reason: In the afternoon and early evening, it can be awfully crowded- and exhausting if there is not much air inside the convention hall.
  4. Check out the rest of Leipzig for a weekend. While the readings and lectures are good, spending time in the city as well as its parks are even better. It’s OK to buy a good book, go to Clara-Zetkin-Park and read for the rest of the afternoon, while enjoying the best in Japanese snacks. My tip for the next convention. 😉

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