Axel Slams Deutschland

View of Flensburg’s skyline from the Restaurant Heimathafen. Photo taken in December 2016. This area as well as at Hafenspitze and along Schiffbrücke were all underwater

Record Flooding along the Baltic Sea Coast- Flensburg, Hamburg, Lübeck, Wismar and Rostock among others underwater

Snowfall in most of Germany- heaviest in Saxony and Brandenburg

Pure Chaos on the Roads

Arctic Blast to Follow

FLENSBURG/CHEMNITZ/USEDOM- Much of Germany is cleaning up from a hurricane that broke 10-year old records along the Baltic Sea Coast, while others are bracing for one of the coldest spells in over seven years. That is the theme of the Low Pressure front Axel, as the weather system wreaked havoc through much of Germany yesterday and last night.  High winds combined with storm conditions resulted in water levels along the Baltic Sea coast to rise above the dikes and flood barriers, causing widespread damage. The hardest hit areas were in the Lübeck area as well as areas in Mecklenburg-Pommerania. According to information from NDR and SHZ, high waves overwhelmed dikes in areas, like the island of Usedom, destroying houses and businesses and flooding streets. The historic districts of Wismar and Lübeck were blocked off as many streets and pedestrian paths were underwater. Even Hamburg was not spared from the flooding and damage as much of its market Fischmarkt was underwater. The same applied to Rostock and Kiel, where automobiles were diverted away from their respective business districts. Cars parked along the water were flooded and/or swept away in Flensburg, Kiel and Lübeck while businesses and residents experienced flooding in their basements and ground floors. Flood levels surpassed those set in 2006 and 2002, respectively- an eye-opener to many who had expected less.  To see how bad the situation was, here are some samples:

More information can be found here:

http://www.shz.de/regionales/schleswig-holstein/panorama/gesperrte-strassen-volle-keller-sturmflut-2017-hinterlaesst-schaeden-an-der-ostseekueste-id15756981.html

http://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/Schwerste-Ostsee-Sturmflut-seit-2006-trifft-Norden,wetter2644.html

The storm front has also affected much of Germany with up to a foot of snow (30 cm) to be seen in the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) in Saxony, Thuringian Forest and the mountain regions in Bavaria. Low-plain areas also received some snow, but with that, ice and the result of numerous accidents. Over 200 accidents were reported in Saxony, according to the Free Press in Chemnitz, including many in Chemnitz and Freiberg as well as along the Motorway 4.  Like along the Baltic Sea coast, high winds in places like the Harz Mountains in Saxony-Anhalt and the Fichtel Mountains in Bavaria resulted in blowing snow and fallen trees. Here are some samples of the events in that region:

 

More information:

http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/vermischtes/schneesturm-mittelgebirge-100.html

http://www.freiepresse.de/NACHRICHTEN/TOP-THEMA/Sachsen-Weiter-Behinderungen-durch-Schnee-und-Glaette-artikel9802250.php

While the storm front Axel will leave Germany by Friday, the system will bring another component many in Germany are preparing for: icy-cold temperatures. With temperatures going down to as far as -25°C, many places in Germany will experience cold weather in this fashion for the first time since early 2012, with records expected to be broken. After four winters with above-normal temperatures and some tropical Christmases, Old Man Winter is making a comeback with a vengeance, and right after the holiday season is over. That is unless you celebrate Epiphany, like in Bavaria and parts of Saxony-Anhalt. Then tomorrow will be a treat for children and families starved of white holidays. 🙂

In School in Germany: Immigration

Here’s a question for all teachers in the German school system and social studies/ history  teachers in the American schools:  How much do you teach your pupils about the history of immigrants- in particular, German immigrants?  How do you approach this topic in terms of teaching method, focusing on a time period in history as well as garnering interest in the topic? And lastly, how much information do/can you provide to your group?

As you recalled a couple articles ago, I presented you with some questions about this particular topic for you to answer, to challenge yourself and learn a couple new items that you have never heard about before.  But this article is about German immigration in general and how important it is that this topic is integrated into the learning curriculum.

Many years ago, I visited Ellis Island, during my 1.5 week stay in New York City, to learn more about this topic and how Germans represented one of the majorities of the population that moved to the new world. Part of this had to do with the fact that my mother’s family is primarily German, originating from Schleswig-Holstein (and in particular, Stein near Kiel, according to genealogy research). Also important was the fact that prior to my trip, I had discovered,  in my parents’ garage, a trunk and on it, the maiden name of my mom’s ancestors that had immigrated to the United States in 1898 and eventually settled down on a farm south of Ellsworth, at  the Minnesota-Iowa border. This sparked my interest in knowing more about how Germans immigrated to the US, the reasons behind their strive towards something new and how they survived over there (and are still prospering today).

Ellis Island. Both photos taken by boat in 1997

The immigration wave of the Germans started in the 1840s before the Great Revolution of 1848. At that time, much of Europe, which featured the Habsburgs (The Austro-Hungarian Empire), Prussia, Russia and France had their own set of oligarchs who favored the church and the powerful over the common people. With violent clashes over food and poverty, plus the strive to put an end to this type of rule in favor of democracy, many of the immigrants boarded ships bound for the States and after several stops along the way, settled down in regions in today’s Rust Belt (the former steel regions extending from Illinois to Pennsylvania), as well as parts of the Midwest, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North Dakota. Much of their traditions, including their food, such as the hamburger and sauerkraut, the German language and its usage in literature and books, and even the villages were named after those from Prussia and Habsburg. Over 400 villages and towns were created with German city names, like Frankfort, Hamburg, Hannover, Berlin, and the like. Even some of the smaller towns in Germany had their names incorporated in the US, such as Flensburg, Schleswig, Lubeck, Kiel, Weimar, Jena and Trier. There was even the city of Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota that was named after Otto von Bismarck, the founding father of Germany, which was established in 1871. German culture prospered until World War I when President Wilson declared war on Germany in 1917 after a telegram was intercepted promising Mexico portions of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California if it entered World War I against the US.  For a period of three years, German culture was suppressed in a way that all traditions and even the usage of the language was prohibited.  Literary works by Schiller and Goethe were banned. The hamburger was renamed Liberty Steak; the sauerkraut, Liberty Cabbage. The Germans were perceived as evil in the eyes of many other immigrants, including the Italians, Irishmen and Russians, and conflicts broke out as a result.

After the war was over and the Versailles Treaty was signed, immigration to the US was limited because of the Red Scare- the Communist movement that had plagued Europe and parts of the US since the Bolshevist Revolution of 1917. Germans tried to escape the misery their country was facing, first through the hyperinflation during the Weimar Republic and later with the rise of Adolph Hitler but were faced with limitations both internally as well as externally. It would not be until after the second World War when the gates were reopened wide and many who wanted to leave and had the resources did.

Today, traces of German culture can be found in the US through foreign languages in public schools, the foods which have become somewhat commercialized, like the beer and hamburger, and the communities that still bear the German names. Some festivals can still be found in those communities, like the Oktoberfest in New Ulm in Minnesota.  Yet do we talk much about immigration in the schools?  Sadly, I have to say no.

Why?

We seem to have drifted away from topics like this one because of the strive to streamline education at the expense of the most important ones, like history, culture and politics. Foreign languages have also taken a hit, as schools in the United States are focusing solely on Spanish while leaving the rest behind- something that is angering the neighbors to the north, Canada, where French is the official second language behind English. While business and technology are two important elements needed to get a well-paying job, other aspects, like the ones mentioned, are just as important for they provide students with an insight to other countries and their culture and history.  Looking at it from a historian’s point of view, taking these humanity aspects seriously can enable the student to learn about him/herself and the surroundings and identify him/herself based on their own family history and how it contributed to the history of their countries.
Yet even when we discuss about humanities, like history and culture, in schools, we seem to have left out the meat of the topics for discussion. Reason for that are the limitations with regards to the subjects to be taught for certain grades- both in Germany, as well as in the USA. The time constraints regarding how and when to teach these subjects have forced many teachers to prioritize which subjects are important and which ones should be left out. Unfortunately, those that are left out are usually not taught unless in academia, if at all.

Immigration is one of those aspects that should be brought to the table at an early stage. There are many reasons for this argument, but I will mention only two, as they are the most important in my opinion. The first is immigration is like a bridge, connecting one’s old home with their new home. People who immigrated to other countries collected many impressions and stories to share with their relatives and friends back home. Many of these impressions and stories deal with comparisons between their new home and their old one, as well as suggestions as to how to improve their old region. While some of the immigrants returned to their old homelands, some remained in their new homelands forever, creating families of their own.  In the case of German immigration, it is typical to find many German families settling in clusters in either a community or region. An example of which can be found in an article written in 2010 about New Trier in Minnesota, which you can click here.

The second argument behind teaching immigration in school is because it played a key role in the development of the countries the immigrants originated from and the countries where they eventually settled down.  In the case of Germany, the emigration of Germans from Prussia and Habsburg resulted in the need to reform the countries respectively, unfortunately through the usage of violence, as was seen in the Revolution of 1848. Eventually the situation stabilized with the creation of a German state in 1871, which provided the solidarity and sound structure of a democratic state many people had envisioned two decades before but were realized by Bismarck.  In the case of German immigrants in the US, their  previous experiences before immigrating over, combined with their innovation and thinking has helped shape the US as it is today.  It is not hard to find Germans in America, who had made a difference, whether it was Henry Kissinger’s role as Secretary of State under Nixon and how the US scaled back on its mission of containment and opened their doors to relations with Russia and China, or John Roebling and his design of the wire suspension bridge, a few examples of which still exist today. Kissinger originated from Fürth (north of Nuremberg) in Bavaria, while Roebling emigrated to Pennsylvania from Mühlhausen in Thuringia and established the town of Saxonburg.

How the topic should be taught in the classroom is fully up to the teacher, but some of the small aspects mentioned here will help students know about the importance of immigration, even more so when it is discussed in the classroom in schools in Europe, and in this case, Germany.  This is where the article ends with a small anecdote: Ignore the smallest details and you will ignore the most relevant. Give them something small to think about and it will make a big difference as far as learning is concerned.

And now, some interesting Flensburg Files’ Fast Facts, which you will find in the next article…..

More Trains and More Space, Please!

A busy and chaotic scene at Hamburg Central Station. Taken on 31 July on the busiest day of the summer season as many people took to the highways and tracks to head to their vacation destination.

 

Here is a sight that I hope that I will never see again: An ICE train departing Hamburg enroute to Copenhagen becomes overcrowded the second the doors open. You try and find a seat you had reserved at a train station in Jena three weeks before, only to find that it is occupied by a mother with two children. It is not a problem considering the fact that the announcer informed the people waiting at the platform that reservations made on the train were considered null and void. That would make a world of sense if learned that all schools in Germany were out for the summer and that  every family with their dog or cat would hit the road or track for their destinations to the Alps, Turkey, or parts of Scandanavia. However the situation becomes unbearable when people are standing side by side in the aisle and on the seats and too close together, resembling a typical ride on the Tokyo subway. To relieve the congestion, the conductor of the train forces the people to take the Regional Express train to Lübeck, which is also the stop on the ICE. It makes sense for only a short time, but does not alleviate the problem when you see a person who makes his spot in one of the closets next to the Bord Restaurant, sitting on top of his luggage. When asked whether he comfortable in that very narrow encasement, he replies with “At least I can sit.”
There are two pet peeves I have with the German Railways (Die Bahn). The first is its customer unfriendliness, especially when it comes to parents with children (please see my article on Single and Business Bahn). Others would disagree with me and say that trains arriving late would be their pet peeve. In a way I would agree if I was one of those commuters going to work at the university as an English lecturer and had an early morning class at 8:30 in the morning, meaning I have to be off to work at 7:00 in the morning in order to make it on time. However, a delay may work as a blessing if there is something very important to do for work before a certain deadline.
There is the other pet peeve which both the Germans and I would have a fun time talking about and that is overcrowded trains. No matter where you go, which train you use (ICE, InterCity or Regional Services), what time of year you travel by train, or what you have for luggage or people travelling with you, Die Bahn has a chronic problem with overcrowding trains. And no matter how hard they try to alleviate the problem, it seems that the problem has worsened within the last five to ten years because of the preference for trains over automobiles- and this goes beyond the increasing price for gas and compulsory automobile inspections taken annually.
If we look at the train demographics for a second, we can see two main north-south arteries (Munich to Berlin and Basel to Hamburg via Frankfurt (Main), three east-west arteries (Dresden to Frankfurt (Main), Berlin to Cologne via Magdeburg and Dusseldorf and Passau/Vienna to Basel via Munich, Ulm and Stuttgart), plus numerous important blood vessels going to key cities, like Cologne from Frankfurt, Copenhagen/Flensburg from Hamburg, Rostock from Berlin and Kaiserslautern/Saarbrücken from Frankfurt(Main).  If a major shortcoming was to take place, such as a storm shutting down the stretch, a train stalling due to a malfunctioning airconditioner, or even a delay of 20 minutes due to overcrowding because of people getting on or off the train (all of which have occurred countless times), then the situation is like a person having a massive heart attack with minutes away from keeling over and expiring if help is not sought in blitzschnell speed. When that happens, pretty much everyone suffers, regardless of whether a passenger misses a flight to Africa, or misses an important meeting with clients and his job is therefore on the line, or if he misses an exam for one of the subjects at the university and he fails the course.  If one lives in Germany as long as I have (twelve years come September 2011), then he/she will have been late at least twice a month- one of which would have consequences as far as meeting deadlines and making appointments are concerned.
The hardest hit areas are the stretches starting in Munich heading north: one heads to Hamburg via Nuremberg, Würzburg, Frankfurt (Main), Göttingen and Hannover; the other heads to Berlin via Nuremberg, Jena and Leipzig. Barring the landscape the two lines have to go through (in particular the latter stretch as it has to go through mountains between Nuremberg and Jena), when boarding the train- in particular the InterCity and ICE, it is always full and despite reservations head of time, there is no guarantee one can sit down in his reserved seat unless he is as aggressive as Happy Gilmore. And when the seat is reserved, then one has to deal with a lack of space as his passenger sitting next to him also needs space to breathe.  The worst is when having luggage and one has no choice but to place them either on the steps or in five different areas of the train. This has occurred with me many times when travelling along this stretch heading to Flensburg and recently to Copenhagen to catch my flight to the USA. If you count the other persons who are travelling with you and are really agitated at the overcrowding, then you can be sure of some potential fireworks going off right there….
Fortunately, measures are being taken to ensure that travelling by train is easier. First and foremost, new tracks are being laid so that one set is designated for ICE service and the other for regional train service. This was done with a stretch between Freiburg (Breisgau) and Karlsruhe and has alleviated the overcrowding a bit. On the Frankfurt-Hamburg route, some stretches are being built north of Göttingen as well as in the metro areas of Hannover and south of Hamburg even as this article is being written.  Another is constructing newer, faster stretches so that passengers can reach their destination quicker and more comfortably. While that has worked on the Hamburg-Frankfurt route between Göttingen and Würzburg, this is being done with the new route between Berlin and Munich, detouring through Ilmenau, Erfurt and Halle (Saale) enroute to Leipzig.  However one has to take into consideration such projects should not be done at the expense of sacrificing original routes, as is the plan by Die Bahn with the new route being constructed- after 2017 no ICEs will pass through Jena and its neighbor to the north, Naumburg (Saale).  Instead both routes should be open and the two types of services (InterCity and ICE) should take turns using the two routes, while respecting the other available services at the same time. This has been done in Hesse with the routes connecting Frankfurt and Cologne as well as the stretch between Mannheim and Karlsruhe. For the stretch between Frankfurt and Cologne, there are two routes one can take: the ICE route via Limburg and Montabaur  and the InterCity/ICE route via Coblence. For the other, one can go straight to Karlsruhe from Mannheim or take the route through Heidelberg and Heilbronn with ICE. Why should it not work for the two stretches going through the state of Thuringia? It would be a win-win situation for Die Bahn as well as the cities of Erfurt and Jena.
This brings me up to two suggestions that are worth considering to ensure more efficiency and less hassles for passengers. Apart from building new stretches and ensuring that the old ones maintain their services to the customers, one should consider utilizing stretches that are less travelled and used by regional services. There one could add some long-distance services to the routes to ensure that passengers have the same satisfaction in service as the ones travelling along the heavily travelled routes. The other is building more trains and reinventing/ reusing types of trains for use on the least travelled routes. While Die Bahn is working on building more InterCity trains to replace the ones that have serving passengers for 20-30 years, the success of the ICE-diesel trains connecting Hamburg and Denmark via Lübeck and Flensburg should force the German train concern to reconsider the idea after they discontinued the service between Dresden and Nuremberg via Bayreuth in 2003. While that stretch is rife for the reintroduction in the ICE-diesel, the stretches between Chemnitz and Göttingen via Gera, Jena, and Mühlhausen and between Cottbus and Berlin are examples of many where the ICE diesel trains could benefit the people in those areas.
The overcrowding of trains and the sometimes overutilization of the routes is a sign that more and more people are using the trains and leaving the cars at home. It is understandable because of the high gas prices combined with the taxes and annual compulsory inspections that have to be paid. Therefore Die Bahn has to react accordingly to accommodate the increasing numbers, even if it means having to put more trains on the existing routes and build new ones so that one will not have to deal with the pet peeve of overcrowding and being forced to stand for long stretches. More trains and better service is better, even if trains come more often and have to keep to a slower speed limit. Passengers will understand and plan accordingly. It is better than finding a place to sit for three hours  at any cost, which was the case with the passenger who sat on his suitcase in the small closet on the ICE to Copenhagen.

Winter is officially here in Germany!

Krämerbrücke in Erfurt after the snow storm Photo taken by Jason D. Smith

This morning was supposed to be an ordinary morning for yours truly as he was heading to work at the University of Applied Sciences in Erfurt. A quick ride on my bicycle “Galloping Gertie” and a half hour drive until I reach my workplace in time to teach the first of three groups of students. However little did  I realize is that the half-hour trip became an hour trip as “Gertie” plowed her way through drifts upon drifts of snow, and the driver had to make sure he was not slipping and sliding around on his way to work. Adding insult to injury was the fact that additional snow was falling right in my face. In the end, instead of looking like one of the Norwegian Nordics making their way through the forests in the north on skis, I ended up looking like Frosty the Snowman. Needless to say winter is officially here in Germany, and despite getting only a fluff of snow to satisfy the giddiest of visitors at the Erfurt Christmas Market last Wednesday, this snowfall was a small gift from the folks in the Midwest of the US, who got nailed with over a foot of snow in many places including Ohio, Indiana, and Minnesota, just to name a few, a few days earlier. Many who left Thuringia and other places in central Germany, including Franconia, Vogtland, and other places to the east for a day, came back with an awfully big surprise this afternoon, as the snowstorm crippled traffic in every aspect, including those in the cities, like Erfurt, Jena, Leipzig, and Magdeburg, just to name a few. People driving on the German Autobahn had to figure in delays due to accidents and icy conditions. Trains were late due to rail lines being snowed under. And people like yours truly, who bike to work on a regular basis, had to treat their bikes like 4-wheel drive pick-up trucks, plowing through the snow and keeping on the trails because it was icy in many places. Areas that were spared snow, like in places in the north, including of course, the City of Solitude-Flensburg- are surely going to receive a dose over the course of a couple days, with waves battering the shores of cities along the Baltic Sea, including Kiel, Lübeck, and Rostock. In the end, when the storm ends and the cold weather kicks in, with temperatures dipping as far below the freezing mark as possible, it will make the Christmas Markets throughout all of Germany look even more Christmassy, with spiced wine (Glühwein) and other hot drinks selling like hot cakes. Furthermore, it will beautify the landscape in ways that people will take advantage of it through a bunch of pics with their cameras. This is especially the case with old Medieval bridges, like the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt, the only bridge of its kind left in Europe. And finally, it will present commuters with an adventure on the roads as they will be dealing with patches of ice as long as the ice skating rink. Let us just hope that there will be enough salt to go around, unlike last winter when cars slid around on the streets in ways that would amuse the ice-skating greats, such as Kati Witt.

As for “Galloping Gertie”, the bike which I’ve had since May of this year, has passed the first endurance test of the season, with more yet to come. After all, the bike is made in Germany by Diamant,  but regardless of the make, I’m thankful that she can get it done for me when I need it the most; especially in the winter time.

Snow cover on the expressway in Erfurt- Photo taken by Jason D. Smith
Snowfall adds to the already snow-covered bike trail.

Useful links (both in German):

http://www.shz.de/nachrichten/top-thema/article/111/sturmflutwarnung-fuer-die-ostsee.html

http://www.otz.de/startseite/detail/-/specific/Schnee-sorgt-fuer-Behinderungen-300590483