The German-named “Superwahljahr 2011” (Super Elections of 2011- if one wants a rough translation) reached its climax on Sunday, as half of the 2.5 inhabitants of the city-state and Germany’s capital of Berlin went to the polls and voted to keep Klaus Wowereit (Social Democrat- SPD) in power as the mayor. His toughest challenge now is to find a new coalition partner that will help govern the city. His party’s coalition partner, the left-wing Linke Party was unable to obtain enough votes to continue the Red-Coalition and therefore, the Social Democrats have the option of having the Greens as a partner to form the common Red-Green coalition, which can be found in states like Rheinland Palatinate, Bremen and Baden-Wurttemberg (the third state of which brought the state’s first Green prime minister to power). The other option would be to join the Christian Democrats (CDU) to form the Grand Coalition which has dominated the political scene in Germany in states like Mecklenburg Pommerania, Thuringia, and Saxony-Anhalt. Talks began Monday and speculation points to the Red-Green coalition although some issues have to be resolved first in order to ensure that continuity and transparency exists. One of the issues on the table is the extension of the city-autobahn 110 through the southern and easter end of Berlin’s city center The Greens are against the proposal, the SPD are for it.
As for the voting results, the SPD remained a powerful party with 28.5% of the votes, followed by the CDU with 23.4%, the Greens with 17.6%, the Linke with 11.7%, the Pirates Party, a newcomer to the elections with 8.9% and the FDP with 1.8%. The new make-up in the Berlin city senate will consist of 47 seats for the SPD, 39 for the CDU, 29 for the Greens, 19 for the Linke, and 15 for the Pirates. A pair of notes to point out from the Berlin elections:
The end of the FDP?
After recording five losses in a row and losing its presence in the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Pommerania, Rheinland-Palatinate and Baden-Wurttemberg, the liberal democrats once again failed to reach the 5% hurdle to stay in parliament in Berlin. As a consequence, talks are underway in the German government and within the FDP regarding the party’s future. The party has been marred with scandals this past year (including that involving plagiarism), and the miserable results have led to the resignation of Guido Westerwelle as the head of the party in May. While Philip Röseler, currently Minister of Finance has taken over his place, he has come under fierce fire from his counterparts of the CDU for the party’s lack of direction and the resulting poor performance. With the FDP losing influence, it could spell doom for the Dream Coalition of the CDU-FDP under the direction of Chancellor Angela, who may have to consider early elections in order to find a more suitable coalition partner to lead the country. German elections will take place in 2013 unless early elections push it up to next year, the second time in 7 years that has happened. Should that be the case and the losses continue to mount, the FDP may disappear from the political landscape within five years, and with it, its campaign for free markets and less regulations.
What is the Pirate Party?
Founded in 2005 and headed by Sebastian Nerz, the Pirate Party has raised some eyebrows among Germans, after it made the 5% hurdle and will make its debut in Berlin’s city parliament. The Pirate Party is the most independent of the common parties serving the country for its campaign platform is simple but down to earth; especially for the younger generations born after 1975. Most of the themes covered during the elections are those that were not discussed thoroughly among the common parties (the main ones dominating the German political landscape). This includes unlimited access to public transportation in Berlin, loosening up of copyright regulations, free internet access for all, improving basic rights among Berliners, and more importantly, reforming the government so that they are transparent and there are no loose ends in the regulations. These topics have been a major agenda for the party for they feel that they have not been discussed in detail by the government. This is especially true with basic rights, as Nerz mentioned in an interview that some of the laws requiring surveillance and reducing the rights of citizens were not thought through thoroughly nor discussed with the public. Whether the party will be successful or not depends on how Nerz and company will push through their agenda when they enter the city hall for the first time. They have five years to show their true colors and perhaps win the hearts and minds of those who never thought they would take that step.
FLENSBURG FILES FAST FACT: There are 29 countries that have their own Pirate Party. In Germany alone, apart from having one serving the country, two state pirate parties serve the states of Hesse and Bavaria. In the United States, while there is no official party serving the country, there are two state Pirate parties that exist in Massachusetts and Florida. An international Pirate Party was founded in Brussels, Belgium last year.
It was a perfect day out in the small market square called Fischmarkt (Fish Market) in Erfurt, the state capital of Thuringia in central Germany. All was quiet for the entire day- that was until 3:00 in the afternoon on the 6th of March, when the square was filled to the brim with people dressed in red and white, green and black, and neon yellow vests with a red, black and white warning sign that says Soziale Schieflage (Social Inequality) on the back. While there are many specialty restaurants and ice cream parlors surrounding the square, these people were not at Fischmarkt to eat and socialize. They were lining up in front of the historic Erfurt City Hall, a gothic style building dating back to the Renaissance Era, which lights up in shades of orange at night. And while they were celebrating International Women’s Day, honoring the millions of women in the world who contribute their time and energy in their work either in the public or private sector, the gathering went beyond honoring the women carrying the pink and red roses they received in their honor.
Oh no, this went well beyond that. On this day, at least 2,500 demonstrators gathered to march on the Staatskanzlei (State Chancellery Office) to demand better pay and working conditions. This not only consisted of those who teach at various education institutions, like the public schools and universities, but also those working in the forestry, police department, and other public works facilities. Every single union representing each sector was on hand to deliver one message to the politicians in Thuringia and all of Germany, which was “we want a pay increase of 3% plus an additional 50 Euros in our wallets,” and “we want unlimited contracts so that we can settle down in our jobs and not roam around like nomads,” and “we want to have a family friendly environment so that we can establish our existence,” and “we are not willing to go to the western part to work,” and lastly “we want to be paid just as much as our counterparts in the western parts of Germany!” The writing was on the wall, the sidewalks at the Staatskanzlei and Fischmarkt, and on the faces of many who were disgruntled that the debate over reforming the public sector and the pay has been dragging on for over four years and now the agreement must be settled before the end of the week at the absolute latest. Should it not be settled beforehand, it is possible that strikes could take place before the end of the month at the earliest, with the hardest hit area being the educational sectors, where the teachers could walk off the job, leaving the students without someone in front of the blackboard to teach.
As the people march toward the Staatskanzlei to present the demands, one has to think of how well off Germany has been in terms of its economy in the past year and a half, with a growth in the gross domestic product of 2.3% for all of last year and the constant decline in the unemployment rate since Angela Merkel took over as chancellor in 2004- that is minus the slight decline during the financial crisis of 2008-09. Yet still, cuts in financial support for the public sector, including the universities, have been in the works for over a year, with the purpose of reducing the inflation rate to comply with the standards introduced by the European Union in 1999. This has sparked protests that have been ongoing since the middle of last year throughout all of Germany, including the state of Thuringia, where a massive protest involving over 7,000 students took place in November in Erfurt, demanding that the state not slash the budget by 20% and sack employees at the same time. While the budget cuts were passed anyway, the working conditions of those working in the public sector were now the top agenda for the following reasons: The workers were getting less pay, some sectors had to shed people (including the police force), universities are offering only limited contracts forcing many to emigrate to other regions should they run out, and the population is aging rapidly- the babyboomer generation is retiring, and there are not enough positions to fill due to poor pay in the eastern part in comparison with the western part. Furthermore, the distribution of wealth between the private and public sectors has been uneven for a long time, with the public sector receiving the lesser end of the stick. Henceforth, the march on the Staatskanzlei was deemed a necessity, in order to guarantee better pay and working conditions before the agreement on reforming the public sector is settled.
And as the Bonga, Conga, and Madal players lead the pack of demonstrators across the City Hall Bridge, one could also imagine what the situation would look like if Germany was like the United States at the moment, where talks of abolishing the collective bargaining deals with the unions in Wisconsin might play out throughout the rest of the country, and how students and pupils may suffer from it, if they have teachers, professors, and other lecturers standing in front of the classroom knowing that they are being paid less, having to use that money to pay for health insurance and other social expenses where it is automatically taken out and in a really small percentage of our paychecks in Germany, and knowing that their institutions are using teaching materials dating back to 20 years ago, as they cannot afford to buy up-to-date material- something that is unheard of in Germany and other places in Europe and the rest of the world. But yet the countries still look to the US as a role model for cutting back on the budget for the purpose of increasing consumption; something that is foreign to many who believe that this is short term thinking and would decrease their standard of living, something that is noticeable in the US no matter where you go. Â Should these cuts continue, then there is a danger that only a small elite few will receive the education that is usually provided to everyone from kindergarten up until college, this leaving the rest to fend for themselves. Then there is the danger, which social padagogue Pestalozzi claimed that the uneducated will become beasts who cannot be controlled. Therefore, he claims that it is important to teach the children as early as possible so that they become civilized as adults. Apart from the basics (like reading, writing and mathematics), his includes the introduction of social sciences, as it is important to know about one’s country and background in order to know onesself better, and sciences to allow those who want to develop new products and scientific theories to do so. Â The question is how effective are these cuts? According to scholars and writers, like Fareed Zakaria, they do nothing but hinder the success of the countries in comparison to those, like the ones in Scandinavia Southeast Asia and the Benelux Region who have ranked in the top ten for the past decade. As for the US and the rest, they’re slipping to the 15-25th ranking in sciences, mathematics, reading, writing and humanities. With this danger, the question is whether this concept is efficient or should a person look at other alternatives? In the eyes of the demonstrators, scholars, students, and teachers, those who demand a higher quality of education and something in return for what they are providing to those wanting to learn something interesting and important, this cost cutting concept is not working.
As the protesters finally arrived at the Thuringian Staatskanzlei, located about a kilometer from the starting point of the demonstration at Fischmarkt, the number of demonstrators picked up and the motivation grew as they demanded an explanation from the politicians and the state employers of why they cannot get a 3% increase in their salary plus additional money to deal with the increasing costs, while at the same time the economy is expanding and businesses are hiring people. But unlike the November demonstrations in front of the state parliament building south of the train station, no politician came to answer the questions that were posed by the union leaders, let alone listen to the demands and the reasons for them. Were they away on business or were they unwilling to listen? One may never know. But one fact is for sure and that is the longer the state ignores the pleas of those working in the public sector, the more voices demaning change will grow until the demands are met. This is the mentality that has worked well with unionized workers in many sectors, including the locomotive drivers who went on strike many times for higher incomes, and actually received at least a lion’s share of the demands by the German Railways and other private railway companies. Can this work for the public sector and especially in the education sector, as the students need some stability in a teacher who stays for longer than two years and is paid just as much as his counterpart in the western part? The question will be answered in the coming days, as union leaders and the state will sit down and come up with a good bargain that everyone will be happy with. At the moment, there is an impasse, but it cannot last forever.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Thuringia was not the only state that took to the streets to protest for equal and better pay plus better working conditions. On this day, almost all of the eastern states- Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, and Mecklenburg-Pommerania experienced similar demonstrations in their capitals (Dresden, Magdeburg, Potsdam, and Rostock) but in the tens of thousands. In Dreden alone, over 20,000- mostly educators on all levels- marched onto the capital complex and protested all afternoon, effectively shutting down schools for the day. At the present time, negotiations between the finance minister of Lower Saxony and chief negotiator of the public sector of Germany Hartmut MÃ¶llring and the labor unions representing the education sector, public service (police, street maintenance, forest service, etc.), the public health sector, the finance sectors, and other institutions belonging to the public sector. The hardest hit areas are in the public health and education sectors due to the aging population and lack of opportunities for the younger generations because of poor pay. Both sides claim that the offers brought to the table are unrealistic, however MÃ¶llring believes that a compromise can be brought up before the debate comes to a close.
INTERESTING FACT I: The Public Sector, consisting of over 4.5 million state-owned employees, is the largest employer in Germany and covers the above mentioned sectors. This includes those working at Germany’s 370 universities, 9 of them are located in Thuringia. Â The debate over unequal pay between the west and east has been a key issue since German reunification in 1990 as workers in the eastern part are being paid less than their western counterparts. Furthermore, the demand for structural reforms in the pay system has been on the table as well, as many claim that the old system, which the east adopted from the west is outdated. Â The plan is to equal the pay between west and east and modernize the system so that everyone has the right to work in the public sector and stay there for a longer period of time because of improved working conditions.
INTERESTING FACT II: In connection with the budget cuts and the need to disable and even eliminate unions, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker wants to eliminate collective bargaining between the public sector and the employees and labor unions in order save money. The state, like almost every state in the union has a budget deficit in the billions of dollars. This has prompted Democratic senators, opposed to voting on the bill, to flee the state in exile, as the Republicans have the majority of the state congress (House of Representatives and the Senate). This has effectively and perpetually delayed any attempts to vote on the measure, which some fear will result in the union being disbanded and the public sector doing with the employees what they please, which would include eliminating health care benefits, pay cuts, and even layoffs. The governor has threatened massive layoffs in the public sector, should the Democrats not return to the capital to vote on the measure, and the people- many of whom have been protesting in the hundreds of thousands outside the state capital building in Madison- are getting the ball rolling for recall elections of many Republican politicians and even the governor. Other states, including California, are watching this closely as they might mull this possibility to trim their debts as well. Germany has not gone that far, but anything is possible in the world of free enterprise and consumption at the expense of some of the basics we need in order to function as a society: education, health and human services, and all means to provide care and safety for the public.
Here’s a question worth pondering: Which of the professions in the world allows a person to lie the most and get away with it- that is as long as he is not caught doing it fearing that if so, he would face naming and shaming from the outside, ruining his career permanently? Before you read further, guess at the top three professions, have a nice look at the photo below, and then read my comments after that…..
OK, there is an explanation to me choosing this photo which I will get to in just a bit.
But let’s have a look at our answers, shall we? It is very obvious that weathermen and salesmen would be the most likely targets for being the biggest liars around. After all, weathermen predict the forecasts falsely about 75% of the time- hence the usage of modern day technology, which even then is not 100% accurate. I don’t want to get into the subject of salespeople, as there are many Willie Lowmans out in the world that deserve a door being slammed in the face for presenting products they claim are 100% flawless, when they are anything but that. I personally even slammed the door in the face of a vacuum salesman one time- after one second of looking at him and his product and telling him “NOT INTERESTED!”- but not before he yelled in desparation “….BUT YOU HAVEN’T GIVEN ME A CHANCE TO INTRODUCE MYSELF!!!”
The third profession, which I put it way at the top of my most despised profession list are the politicians. Why? Because everytime we elect someone for the post for the benefit of positive change, that person turns out to be one of those people- liars who screw us out of money and honesty, who do not have integrity and their own code of ethics, and who just talk the talk instead of walking the walk. Â Honesty is a commodity that is underrated these days, yet we need it in order to have order in society. But who are the most honest people in today’s society? Definitely not the politicians!
In the United States, it is common to have scandals that can potentially destroy a career of a politician and even his own domestic life. Look at Watergate and Richard Nixon’s downfall. Look at Bill and Monica and how President Clinton was impeached- then pardoned. Look at George W. Bush and John Kerry and their behavior during the Vietnam War- one averts the draft, the other was mocked for improper conduct where he didn’t deserve the medals of honor. Then we have the infamous sex ring scandal at the Minneapolis International Airport and Senator Larry Craig’s famous statement “I am not gay and never have been!” Only to retract it a week later. And finally the Argentinian mistress scandal costed Mark Sanford his political career, let alone his own marriage. Â But what about allegations involving plagarizing a doctorate thesis?
It is a foregone conclusion that plagarism is indeed a crime punishable by being stripped of his title to even prison time. This is something that Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is facing at the moment as he is the target of a plagarism scandal in Germany! That’s right, Germany, the place where high quality, hard work, and honesty are the norm and frequently asked by those who look up to the country as a role model. That is unless you are a politician and from Bavaria on top of it! Â Guttenberg, who has been defense minister for Germany since the “Dream Coalition” (consisting of the Christian Democrats, Bavarian Christian Socialists as well as the Free Democrats) took power in 2009, has taken his political career, which started in Bavaria and had blossomed to date, to the tip of the iceberg. This is thanks in part to questions from the opposition involving the involvement of German troops in Afghanistan (where 23 of the 48 soldiers, who were killed since 2002, have occurred since 2009), as well as Â the scandal involving a mutiny on a ship in November and other forms of misconduct involving the German army on its home turf. His downfall may occur should the state prosecutors determine that the allegations involving him plagarizing his thesis, which he wrote at the University of Bayreuth, located in Upper Franconia in northern Bavaria, an hour away by train north of Nuremberg. Â The university is currently reviewing his thesis and will decide what course of action to take in the coming days.
While Guttenberg has decided to temporarily relinquish his doctorate title until the investigation is finished, he and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has his backing all the way, may find that they and even the Dream Coalition will have more to lose than meets the eye. While the majority of the German population, including even the students of the University of Bayreuth, support him, it might change should it reveal that he indeed violated the codes of conduct involving writing a thesis, including using the sources properly.. In the eyes of the opposition (consisting of the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Left), that would be unethical and no person without a set of morals, let alone a doctorate title should be running the post as defense minister. Guttenberg is running a parallel course to his elder Bavarian counterpart, Edmund Stoiber, who was prime minister of Bavaria and head of the Bavarian Christian Socialists until 2007, when he was forced to relinquish both his posts. Reason: Many scandals involving his opposition to Angela Merkel’s candidacy as chancellor of Germany in 2002 and 2005 respectively (because she was from the eastern part of Germany- Saxony, Â to be exact), the policies of former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder between 1998 and 2005 when he lost the elections, his comments claiming that Germany should be like Bavaria, and lastly sexual harassment involving a former party member Gabriele Pauli. The last point, the harassment scandal involving Pauli, who was a representative of Furth (located near Nuremberg) at that time, resulted in the ultimatum for Stoiber: either step down or face a putsch. Fortunately, he took the first approach and left both his posts in September 2007. He is no longer active in politics.
Should the allegations involving his plagarism be substantiated, Guttenberg will set off a domino effect that would be potentially damaging to Bavaria as a whole and fatal to his political career, let alone to his Dream Coalition, and to a certain extent, Chancellor Merkel, who has been riding high on support since coming to power in 2005. Damaging to Bavaria because many states look to Bavaria as a role model because of its strictness in its institutions and policies. Some of the policies that have been introduced in other states use a similar approach that is used in Bavaria, despite the opposition. However, Bavaria has already been plagued by scandals in recent years, which has led to many to question its credibility regarding ethics, as it seems to run a double-life: say one thing but do the opposite. And this definitely includes the sex scandals involving the Catholic Church. It will be damaging to the Dream Coalition and to Chancellor Merkel as the support for the Opposition will skyrocket to a point where a change in power could occur in 2013, and many of the politicians’ careers may be over should the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats lose the majority of the parliamentary seats of the Bundestag. Part of the blame for the downfall will lie solely on Guttenberg, whose career may be in shambles. Already, many media sources and politicians have written him off as a candidate for chancellorship, should Merkel decide to call it quits. It will be most likely that he will step down as defense minister if it is revealed that he misused the sources and lied about his credibility of his thesis altogether.
The coming days will reveal whether Guttenberg will have a chance to ride out this storm of controversy or sink like the Titanic. In either case, he is walking in the shadows of danger where looking just straight ahead is no longer an option, as one can see in the photo posted here. One has to look in all directions to ensure that there is no danger lurking about. Only then will the person will reach the light and will see his own shadow from above instead of being in the shadow of uncertainty, which can be proven fatal if one makes a wrong move.
THE FLENSBURG FILES WILL KEEP YOU POSTED ON THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS ON THE GUTTENBERG PLAGARISM SCANDAL. STAY TUNED!
Despite having to put up with overcrowding trains as well as trains arriving two hours later, I did make it to the last Christmas market on my places to visit list- in Frankfurt am Main. Â A couple of interesting points about Frankfurt that one should know about: First and foremost, there are two Frankfurts- one in the western half of Germany in the state of Hesse, and one in the far eastern part of the state on the border to Poland. When the Iron Curtain sliced the two Germanys into two resulting in 45 years of hostility between the Communists and the Westerners, the people in the eastern part of Germany (known at the time as the German Democratic Republic) could not imagine that region to not have a town called Frankfurt. Therefore, they fought to keep the name Frankfurt, which after the Reunification of 1990 became known as Frankfurt an der Oder.Â Both Main and Oder are rivers that flow through the cities respectively.Â Another point about Frankfurt am Main that is well-known is the fact that the city is the third largest in Germany (in terms of the population), is the headquarters of the European Central Bank and the German Stock Exchange (DAX), but yet despite being the largest city in Hesse with a population of over 600,000 (minus the metropolitan area), it is not the capital of the state. That honor goes to the one of the Twin Cities straddling the Main and Rhein Rivers, Wiesbaden (ironically, its sister on the other side of the rivers, Mainz is the capital of Rheinland Palatinate).
The Frankfurt Christmas Market, which is located along the Main River at RÃ¶merplatz between the St. Paul’s and St. Nicolas Cathedrals was touted by many as the cream of the crop with regards to the Christmas markets in Germany- even more popular than the NÃ¼rnberger Christkindlsmarkt. Yet still, despite its size and various shops located in three different areas around the two churches, the market still offers the same goods as the ones in Nuremberg and Erfurt, which doesnâ€™t really make it that spectacular to begin with. Furthermore, for those who are claustrophobic, most of the area is located in tight quarters, which does not provide for some breathing room to manoever; especially when it is on a Saturday, when most of the people do their Christmas shopping. It is even more depressing when the weather is gloomy, as it was the case when I visited the market. And finally, for those wanting to stay longer at the Christmas market- meaning beyond closing time for most shops- so that they can enjoy their last cup of GlÃ¼hwein, they are more or less screwed for when the clock strikes 9:00 at night, the shops and food/drink areas close almost simultaneously! It is not like in Bayreuth, where Winterdorf is open longer than the shops, or in Erfurt where every food and beverage stand is open longer than the shops (even at Domplatz). This caused some considerable anger among those wanting to grab one more GlÃ¼hwein or visit one more food stand only to find that the lights are shut off and the windows and doors hastily shut right before their eyes! I found the experience to be rather disappointing for someone who has visited the market for the first time but has seen other Christmas markets that were more flexible and relaxed than this one. I can imagine when the market is open and in full action that a person can get a considerable amount of aggression after a short time, which is easily comparable to the market in Nuremberg although the latter is more genuine than the one 3 hours to the west (by train, that is). For a person living in or near Frankfurt and does not like to travel that much, this market will provide people with a taste of typical German goods, although almost all of them originate from the south and far northwest of the city. However, if one wants to see a real market and find genuine goods, than they should look elsewhere as there are enough places to go around. It does not mean that a person should avoid the Frankfurt Christmas Market altogether. One could use the place as a venue for meetings over GlÃ¼hwein and pretzels or other local specialties from Hesse and the surrounding area. The people at the stands would benefit from listening to all kinds of negotiations that take place in front of them, while at the same time, listen and learn the different languages, such as English, French, Spanish, Arabic, etc. It is also a place for any last minute Christmas shopping ideas, although you have to put up with some elbowing and some lectures on how to â€œbe polite,â€ which is something that many in Frankfurt have forgotten about. But like the city itself, the Christmas market is something that you see only once and never again. It is like living in the city- you only live there for a short time and then you move on to greener pastures unless you are: 1. A naturally born city slicker, or 2. You were born and raised in Frankfurt and you would never trade it in for anything else.
With that said, I went back to the hotel where I could try and get a good nightâ€™s rest before taking off for home, which is in the great state of Minnesota. As I was going back by light rail and subway, I was thinking of the events that occurred earlier in the day, where I befriended a German police officer who originates from Saxony but works in Frankfurt, and her company I got while drinking a coffee and a GlÃ¼hwein, while waiting for the next ICE Train to get us to where we wanted to be. I thought to myself that good company from someone you never met before can create paths that you never knew existed. Seeing the Christmas markets in Germany are only a side dish to having some good company from your family, friends, and people you meet along the way. There are times in your life that people come in and out and donâ€™t think about who you really are until theyâ€™re gone. However there are some who come into your life and stay there because you are who you are and they like you for that. This was probably the most rewarding effects when you go to a certain event or place, like the Christmas market in Germany.