Joachim Gauck to Step Down in 2017

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The current German president will not run for a second term in 2017 citing health reasons.

BERLIN- 2017 is expected to be the super year for German politics. The German federal elections will take place and Angela Merkel is expected to run for an unprecedented fourth term as Chancellor, despite mounting opposition from many politicians especially with regards to the refugee crisis.

2017 will also be the year of the Presidential elections in Germany.

Since yesterday, members of the German political parties have been looking for a replacement for Joachim Gauck, who announced that he will step down as German President after only one term. The reason behind his decision was due to health reasons. Gauck turned 76 years old this year and is one of the oldest active politicians to date.

When Gauck was elected in 2012, no one really knew who he was and what he stood for. Hence a summary of his life and times before 2012 can be seen here. Fast-forwarding to the present, there are a few items worth adding to his storied career which included:

Solidarity and Rememberance: Gauck will be remembered for showing solidarity to the country’s neighbors and allies. In particular, the importance of a strong European relationship with countries like France is of utmost importance, as both countries fought to near death in World Wars I and II. Gauck and French President Hollande commemorated several events in connection with these two gruelsome events serving as a reminder that war has never been an answer, and that out of the ashes comes world peace and unity, which is fragile but one that if maintained through cooperation and friendship can be eternal as the flame itself.

Refuge and Hope: Despite strong opposition from the right and the CSU, Gauck during a speech at the Intercultural Week in September 2015 was impressed at the way Germany welcomed refugees from the regions in the Middle East that are still at war. While he addressed the concerns of the resources being exhausted in Europe, his words showed that Germany always has an open door to those who seek refuge, even for a short time, because of its openness, the people’s open hearts and minds, as well as the flexibility and ideas to help the refugees feel at home. His support paved the way for new opportunities for new fields of work both for refugees as well as for those living in Germany who are looking for a job in their field, be it a German teacher or a social worker.

Champion of Human Rights: Whether it was addressing the issue at the United Nations in Geneva or boycotting the 2014 Olympics in Sochi as a way of showing political disdain to Vladimir Putin, Gauck was a champion of human rights, criticizing the policies that worked to the disadvantage of of the common public. Having a person who survived World War II and the Cold War and experiencing segregation based on his religious faith by the East German government Gauck used this experience to show that people of different backgrounds should be treated equally. This includes issues such as rights for homosexuals, people of different religions and of course, the refugees in Germany.

Great Historian: Perhaps the biggest sticking point is the acknowledgement of Germany’s recognition of the Armenian genocide in 1915-16 committed by the Ottoman Empire, which included present-day Turkey. As many as 1.5 million Armenians were killed through massacres and death marches. The Armenian diaspora had been campaigning to have the event be considered genocide by other nations. Germany, which fought alongside the Ottoman Empire in the losing effort but there was no evidence indicating its involvement, recognized it thanks to efforts by Gauck and later the German government. Unfortunately it did create a sticking point for a political freezing of relations between Germany and Turkey as its president Erdogan has denied such a crime. Whether Turkey will change its mind will most likely hinge on the country’s next leader and how he will lead…

There are many more accomplishments to add but these are the key points where one can say Gauck did a great job for a man of his age and stature. That his decision to step down in 2017 may have received mixed results, but it is understandable for sometimes even the best accomplishments come in small spurts. And when it is time to quit, then it is best to quit while fit. And when he leaves Bellvue Castle in Berlin in February, he will exit with a standing ovation from people from all forms of life:

 

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Here are a couple questions worth thinking about:

1. How will you remember Joachim Gauck as German President?

2. What are your expectations for your next German president? (Remember: The role of German president and the US President are totally different as the former is a statesman and the latter leads the country)

Add your thoughts in the comment section as well as in the Files’ facebook page. Even if one of the two questions is answered, the Comment section is like a guest book, where you are free to write your thank yous and other comments to Herr Gauck for what he has done since taking office.

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Germans and Demonstrations: What We Want is Color; What We Don’t Want is a Union

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Protest, the right to express our opinion, our objection, our own dismay to something that does not fit. Derived from the Latin word meaning to testify for something, protests are designed to deliver a message, whether it was objecting to a decision of a local mayor to demolish a historic landmark in favor of a shopping mall, demanding a change in government because of a corrupt leader, putting pressure on companies to increase wages and improve working conditions or as seen in the pics here, rejecting certain people because of their threat to their societal infrastructure.

Germany leads the way in the number of protests and their variety of themes. No matter when the politicians speak, no matter if it is spontaneous or planned, no matter how many policemen are involved, and no matter how extreme, when a demonstration takes place, the entire city is shut down and isolated from the rest of the world. The demonstrations take place in many forms. We have the May Day demonstrations and with that, also demonstrations by workers’ unions, demanding better pay and working conditions. This form occurs most frequently, no matter where. Then we have the most popular, which are the environmental demonstrations, featuring sit-ins, blocking and chanting for no nuclear storage facilities, international trade deals harming the environment and no pollution, period.

Then we have the most current, which are the demonstrations involving refugees and right-wing extremism.

For more on that and to see pictures of a typical protest, click here to continue……

 

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A Women’s Only Train Compartment?

A Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn Train at Leipzig Central Station awaiting departure to Chemnitz. Photo taken in February 2016
A Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn Train at Leipzig Central Station awaiting departure to Chemnitz. Photo taken in February 2016

 

Imagine this scenario: You travel on a regional train from Leipzig to Chemnitz, but wanting to get off at Geithain for an interview for a teaching post at a local school. The train has seven coaches like the picture above, but are mostly full of passengers. You try to find a seat somewhere so you can practice your presentation to give to the interview panel. You walk through one coach full of children returning to a school in Bad Lausick after a field trip to a popular church in Leipzig. Another coach is full of football hooligans from RB Leipzig as they prepare to crash the party in a friendly match with Chemnitz FC, taking place in the evening, the next two coaches are full of passengers, but one male is spying on a woman in the next coach you are entering, which is full of women and children. The sign says for women as well as children up to 10 years of age only.  You see mostly women occupying the seats, ranging from nuns and teachers to businesswomen and mothers nursing babies. You find it awkward but decide to pass on to the next coach, where you finally find a seat. Two seconds after you sit down, the aforementioned male predator sits next to his prey and pries her privacy open, only to get the “Blauste Wunder seines Lebens”- in other words, the biggest but most unpleasant surprise of his life (I’ll leave the scene up to the women to complete the story to their liking). 😉

Then the light bulb goes on!  Having a women’s compartment on the train is a great idea, but is it really worth it and why?

This experiment is being attempted by the Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn (MRB), where such a compartment mentioned in this situation is being reserved for women and children. Unless granted, men are not allowed to sit in the compartment reserved for this group. The experiment is intended to make the female passengers feel safer while traveling, according to a statement by the MRB. Other countries have similar coaches reserved only for women, such as Japan, Indonesia, Egypt, Brazil, Mexico and India, while Great Britain is experimenting with reserving areas of the public transport trains, street cars and busses for women. While the goal is to protect women from being sexually harassed or assaulted, this measure presented by MRB has nothing to do with that, nor the incident on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, where over 1000 reports of women being sexually assaulted were made. Only one person has been charged. The attacks have sparked a backlash against refugees coming to Germany, as many assailants originated from the Middle East and Africa, according to the reports. Many refugees have been harassed and assaulted by right-wing extremists, their places of lodging were set ablaze, and the right populist party Alternative für Deutschland has been gaining success and votes as their anti-immigration policies have gained enormous support and traction.

Yet the idea of having a women’s only compartment on trains have sparked emotional outrage between those who are for such measures and those who consider it absurd. The article and question for the forum posted on many facebook pages including that of the Files’ have been met with mixed results. Proponents of such a measure believe that it would serve as place of refuge against people who are potential predators, giving them a warning of not to cross into their territory unless (….). Some who have supported this either experienced such incidents in person or know someone who has encountered such a person. Opponents claim that by designating areas solely for women would be going back to the age of segregation, where every facility was divided up between White people and Black people only, resulting in the likes of Rosa Parks breaking the barriers on the bus and Martin Luther King Jr. having a dream in his historical speech in Washington in 1963. Some people responded sarcastically by proposing everyone wearing burkas and having a men’s only cars, which had existed in Saudi Arabia until just recently. Others claim that such an arrangement is not enough and that more police protection and stiffer penalties are needed to keep predators and stalkers away. This includes longer sentences in prison and heavier fines. The German government has introduced tough measures to deport refugees committing such crimes, yet psychological counseling is patchy and only a fraction of the population, both victim and perpetrator alike, receive treatment, regardless of country of origin.

This leads to the question of the effectiveness of such a designation in the trains. Speaking from personal experience traveling in the family compartment of an ICE Train such designations are crowded and unwelcomed by “normal” passengers who believe that the safest and most convenient way to travel is by car. A 2011 article explains why (click here). Furthermore, should it be successful in the MRB, how can other railroad providers designate them in their trains, as the newer models are either double-decker InterCitys or sleaker Abellios, both of which have a major caveat, which is space availability, especially if other passengers have bikes to take with (another article written in 2011 on bike space can be found here).  The intentions are there, but better is civil courage either by standing up and saying NO or having others nearby stand up and help by shooing the person away. Then the person should be reported and tough(-er) measures will help him understand the meaning of NO! There are many reasons why women say no, and an article written by a columnist explains the meaning and reason why NO is used and many times ignored (click here)

Inspite of the opinions from all sides, the question will be whether this new experiment will be the norm for all rail services in the future, or if it will become a fad and other measures to protect people regardless of gender and ethnic background. Right now, the experiment is being tried on the trains traveling between Leipzig and Chemnitz along the Black-and-Blue Line, which connects the two with Halle and Magdeburg, each city having a storied history with their soccer teams and rivalries. If successful, it is expected to be expanded to other lines, and eventually to other train services, including the Bahn.

But is it really necessary?

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1. Do you think having a women and children’s coach in the train is appropriate? Why or why not? Make a list of advantages and disadvantages before answering, apart from the ones mentioned in the article.

2. Does your country have similar arrangements to the one being performed by the MRB? How does it work?

3. What measures does your home country have to protect women from predators and stalkers? Have they worked to date?

4.Using the two pictures below, how would you envision a women only compartment? Keep in mind that the double-decker train is an InterCity train with 10-12 coaches and the Abellio is a regional train similar to the MRB but has only one whole coach that can seat up to 300 passengers. Use your imagination. 🙂

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Germany Goes Far Right in Three States

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Right-wing populist party Alternativ für Deutschland enters state parliament in Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Wurttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate with double-digit results in state elections, Grand Coalition fails in RP and SA, Greens win in BW but needs help, Chancellor Merkel in serious trouble

BERLIN/STUTTGART/MAGDEBURG/MAINZ- The winds of change are being felt across Germany, the day after the state elections in the states of Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Wurttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Yesterday’s state elections featured a “Kantersieg” on the part of the Right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), as the Frauke Petry-led party, critical of European policies as well as the open-door policies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding refugees, stormed into the state parliamentary scene with 24% in SA, 15% in BW and 12% in RP.

In SA, the AfD is now the second strongest party in parliament, which is forcing minister Reiner Hasseloff to scramble to find a new coalition, for his partner party the SPD finished with 10% of the votes (finishing fourth behind the Left and AfD- its worst results in state party history), which is not enough to continue with the Grand Coalition. Another party looking for a new partner is the SPD in RP, where state minister Malu Dreyer is looking for a new coalition to replace the one with the Green party, as it barely made the 5% hurdle with enormous losses in the elections. Dreyer declared that all parties will be in talks except the AfD.

Winfried Kretschmann and his Green party can continue governing in Stuttgart, but despite maintaining a 31% vote in state elections, the AfD sliced into the voting scene, thus making the absolute governing of Baden-Wurrtemberg impossible. Talks are underway to provide support from the CDU, SPD and even the FDP to form either a traffic coalition or similar constellations. The results of the elections you will find here.

The statues and the National Theater with flowers on memory of the victims of the terror attacks in Paris.
The statues and the National Theater with flowers on memory of the victims of the terror attacks in Paris.

 

 

End of the Line for Angela Merkel?

Already, a coup d’ etat is brewing among the Christian Democrats and the Christian Socialists as calls for Chancellor Merkel to change course regarding the refugee policies are growing louder. Leading the pack is Horst Seehofer, the state minister of Bavaria, who blamed Merkel and her policies of allowing refugees to live in Germany, even for a short period of time, for the disaster in the three states. He stated in Bavarian channel BR “We should tell the public that we understand the results and will draw the consequences.”

Also in Visier was SPD director Siegmund Gabriel, who had to answer some difficult questions of how his party finished with the worst results in history. The SPD is partner of the CDU in Germany.

Despite statements by Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen claiming that the refugee issue is a European problem and that Merkel’s policies should remain on course, after increased attacks on planned housing throughout Germany, with a focus on parts of east half, combined with protests between supporters of the AfD and opponents and even internal strife within the CDU, it is a matter of time before the temperature hits the boiling point and Berlin suffers from the longest summer in modern history. And while we have no politically-motivated violence, as being practiced by Donald Trump in the US at the moment, making the US elections become the next 1968, if measures are not taken to either justify or modify the refugee policies as well as contain the increase in right-wing extremism, the German public may end up in a similar fix as in the US- and unless Merkel is forced to call for early elections, the next national elections are in two years!

 

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In light of the recent disaster in Saxony-Anhalt, Rhineland Palatinate and Baden Wurttemberg, what will happen next and what should Chancellor Merkel do? Vote here and feel free to comment:

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAST FACTS: In the last survey, where the question of whether the slogan “Wir sind das Volk” should be eliminated by law, two thirds of the voters favored keeping the slogan, while 13% would like to see a law protecting the slogan from abuse while discussing this in the classroom. Only 20% voted for the law. More on the vote and its origin here.

 

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“Wir sind das Volk” als illegale Ansage?

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“Wir sind das Volk!-” literally translated as We are the People: A phrase that is universal. We stand together as one group, one republic, to all mankind.

Although its origins date back to the time of the 1848 Revolution and it was used during the Third Reich, this phrase was introduced during the Leipzig Demonstrations in 1989, protesting against the East German regime and their control over their rights and passage to the west. The peace demonstrations were the key to opening the Berlin Wall on 9 November of that year.  It resonated when the population of both Germanys demanded that there is only one Germany. Germany was reunited a year later on 3 October. You can imagine what the phrase meant during that time:

 

Fast-forward to the present, and we see the phrase being used in a totally different way:

In the past three months conflicts involving the housing of refugees in Germany have reached their boiling point where we have seen people taking arms against the will of politicians. Especially in the German state of Saxony, attacks against planned apartments for refugees have been reported in cities, like Dresden, Chemnitz and Freiberg, but also in smaller communities, like Meerane and Bautzen.

The videos posted here consist of a fire at a former hotel reserved for refugees in the town of Bautzen. People there tried to hinder the firemen from putting out the blaze. In Clausnitz, a suburb of Chemnitz, a bus full of refugees heading to a shelter, was blocked by numerous protesters. Both times, the phrase “Wir sind das Volk!” was used.

This has resulted in numerous reactions from politicians and others on state and national levels, ranging from disappointment to appalling. The phrase has been used very often and in an increasingly way during the PEGIDA demonstrations as well as with the right-wing extreme groups.

This has resulted in the need to question this phrase. While “Wir sind das Volk” is used to unite the people for a better Germany that is free and democratic, it appears that this phrase is increasingly being used for patriotic purposes, which in German terms can be compared to the Third Reich and Hitler’s greeting “Sieg ****!”  This phrase has been declared illegal since 1945 because of its association with Hitler and the atrocities he and his people did against millions of people of his disliking.

While Germany prides itself on its culture and technology, especially both after 1945 and German Reunification, it is a country that takes its pride seriously and does not use patriotic slogans as much as the US does, for it brings back memories of this dark period. In case one is wondering, for the US, we have “One Nation Under God, Indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for All,” as our patriotic slogan. Given our religious beliefs and how they have shaped our history, this is justified.

However, the phrase “Wir sind das Volk,” is becoming one that should be deemed illegal because of its misinterpretation in the eyes of the PEGIDA and those opposing housing and helping refugees. It has become a phrase that is enhancing a German nationalism that the majority of the population does not want at all- a nationalist state where Aryanism is the norm.

And contrary to the fact that immigrants and refugees have helped develop Germany into an economic power, especially when dating back to the 1950s where labor shortages were noticable because of the after-effects of the war, opponents seem to not care about these benefits which far trumps the cleansing of the German population with this slogan “Wir sind das Volk.” And in the eyes of the typical German, this is not what Germany is about.

Keeping all this in mind, this leads to a plea to the German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe and to Chancellor Angela Merkel: Do away with the slogan and replace it with a more neutral but friendlier version, like “Wir sind Deutschland! Ihr seid (herzlich) wilkommen!” or “Wir sind Deutschland! Wir sind eins!”

As Germany has become a melting pot with lots of multiculture, I think such a slogan will have a more international taste than the slogan, which I now have added to the ones not to be spoken in Germany ever again, let alone to any German. It will present more of a sense of home to the people who really, and desparately need one, even if it is for a limited time. If you think this will work, then carry it out. I’m sure every person living in Germany and having listened to the events happening recently will be greeted with a proactive decision.

ODER?

What do you think? Should the slogan “Wir sind das Volk” be considered an illegal one and banned by law, similar to that forbidden slogan used by Hitler?  Why or why not?

Place your votes here but you are also free to explain (in German or English) why you feel one way or the other.

 

 

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And to the people who committed the atrocities against the refugees or have supported PEGIDA: As I’m a Christian of mixed faith (Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist), allow me to quote a couple passages worth considering before you join another demonstration or hinder the right of others to live in your neighborhood:

Romans 14:1-4 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Mark 12:31 – And the second [is] like, [namely] this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

It doesn’t matter where the people come from, it does matter as to accept them into their community and integrate them, for they have a future like we do, and a right to live as we do. Think about it. And purgatories do exist, indulgences not!