2012: The Year of Reckoning

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

And finally….

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

 

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

 

FLENSBURG FILES NEWS FLYER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Single and Businessman Bahn: No Children Allowed!

ICE Train on the Berlin-Munich route at the Saale River Bridge near Grossheringen (Thuringia)- Photo taken in June 2011

 

 

 

 

After getting bombarded with non-column-related commitments in the last weeks (which explains my reason for my absence from the Flensburg Files) and almost losing it in the entire process, I decided to flee the world of academia and all the proliterian politics that went along with that and spend my Pentecost weekend at the Baltic Sea again, this time in the northeast corner of Germany on the island of Usedom, where I was able to enjoy a good dip in the water and a good bake in the sun for the entire time I was there, no matter where I went.

Going roundtrip by train to this destination was a bit of a challenge, though. While I had to put up with crowded people going north to my destination, feeling scrunched after being surrounded by women sitting across from and next to me on the first leg going from Erfurt to Berlin via Halle and a bit displaced sitting in the supposedly good carriage provided by the Deutsche Bahn on the EuroCity to Züssow (where I got off to board my train to Usedom), even though the Czechs provided more luxurious and sexier coaches and food, going back to Erfurt was an experience not worth forgetting, but worth writing about.

On the stretch from Berlin heading south via ICE, I saw an incident which if one has a child like I do, one can relate to it. In the children’s compartment of the train, which was a small room about 4m long and only 1 meter wide, a mother with a 2 ½ year-old daughter were boarding the train and wanted to move the baby carriage to the Bord Restaurant, which was next door, as there was some free space there and the little one wanted to play around in the child compartment. The ticket personnel, who saw this, ordered the mother to bring the carriage back into the compartment claiming that it was not allowed to park it in the Bord Restaurant and that there was enough space to store it- IN THE CHILDREN’S COMPARTMENT!  Why do I have the last ones in capital letters? Well, to elaborate more about the children’s compartment further, I should provide you with a further but brief description so that you have an idea what I’m talking about:

  1. Over half the space in the children’s compartment consisted of seating, which is almost impossible to reserve in advance- unless you book half a year in advance; almost like booking your plane ticket for a Trans-Atlantic flight.
  2. There was limited possibilities for children to play with their toys, let alone use the playground equipment provided on the train- there was one rocking horse and a puzzle board, whose pictures were missing. By the way, one should mention that it was made by a very popular puzzle company named Ravensburger.
  3. Most irritating was the fact that the armrest was all made of wood and NOT padded. That combined with the fact that the seat was right next to the rocking horse, it provided less space for the child to move around and more risk of a child bumping his/her head against the armrest, even if it is adjusted.

It was at this point that I concluded that the German railways should change its name from the Deutsche Bahn to the Single and Businessman Bahn (SBB) for its lack of sensitivity to the increasing needs of families with children. While one cannot use SBB, as it has been taken by the Swiss, they and some of the neighboring countries have done much better in terms of accommodating the needs of families.  Since the German government has introduced incentives to encourage parents to have children in 2006- by providing more financial incentives for mothers to stay at home to care for their children for 2-3 years as well as allowing fathers to stay home while the mother is working- the birth rate in Germany has increased in the last three years to its current rate of 8.3 out of 1000, up from its lowest rate in history in 2009 at 8.18 per 1000. While that puts the country still near the bottom of the rankings (the USA has a birth rate of 13 for every 1000, ranking it at 153rd), it does not reflect on the difference in regions where the baby boom is taking place. In the eastern and northern parts of Germany, the rates are much higher than those in the western part. Aware of the fact that the German population is slowly dying off (with one statistic from 2006 claiming that this far-fetched prediction will happen in 2080), there has been an attempt to try and increase the birth rate to offset the aging population.

Yet still, when looking at the current situation and the ICE incident as an example, it shows that Germany is not ready for change and more so for encouraging families to have children, despite initiatives by the government. For instance, jobs are going to regions in the western part of the countries, in places like Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart, and the Ruhr Region (where Cologne, Duesseldorf and Dortmund are located), where housing is scarce and expensive and the environment is child-unfriendly. More women are choosing a career over children, fearing that maternity leave would mean being a stay-at-home mom forever.  And when it comes to even the tiniest conveniences, like travelling by train for example, Germany falls flat on its face, although the country does a very good job in providing as much green as possible for children to go out and play, such as parks and other natural places along certain bodies of water.

It is logical that a train should not be converted into a jungle gym for children. But by the same token, more space for families with children is needed; especially on long trips when children become bored and ancy to a point where they do not sit still in the end. Children should be allowed to walk around and play with other children while they endure many hours of travelling. In order to do that, I do have a few suggestions that might be useful:

  1. Replace the wooden armrests with those made of cloth for more protection against head injuries

  2. Fewer seats and more space in the children’s compartment of all ICE trains, while at the same time,

  3. Add another compartment in the ICE train making each one have two of them

  4. Provide more space for baby carriages so that the children’s compartment is not used as a parking lot

  5. Empower the families to ensure that the train crew keep to the rules and respect the wishes for more space for the children.

The problem with these plans is the fact that many of these trains will be replaced with the new InterCity trains, which will be larger, with half of them being double-decked. The first ones will be rolling out by 2013. Other ICE models, like the one in the picture above will be modernized to prolong its service life even more. Whether these suggestions will be considered remains to be seen. But it is a foregone conclusion that should the Deutsche Bahn continue with its current policies, then families will resort to the last form of transportation that is really expensive (because of gas prices), which is the car. Then the DB can change its name to SBB, for after all, most of the passengers are either single, a couple with no children, or businessmen who love to travel in comfort. This will make neighboring countries shake their heads; especially the Danes in the north, as their trains are more spacious and more child-friendly than that of the Bahn. Perhaps a trip with their trains to Copenhagen and points to the north and east will testify to that argument. If not convincing enough. then I’m sure the French, Swiss, and even the Englishmen can help in that department.

 

Now that I’m finished bashing the Bahn, it’s now time for some rum……

 

Some useful links:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,3804991,00.html

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,4527195,00.html

http://www.indexmundi.com/germany/birth_rate.html

 

The Flensburg Point System: 60 years of Ensuring Safety in Germany

A surprise awaits you around the corner. Photo taken in February 2011

A situation where no one should be in but it is unavoidable: a driver travels on the Autobahn 10 encircling the capital of Germany, Berlin, going 20 kilometers per hour over the speed limit (the maximum allowed is 120 kmph) and talking to a business partner on his cell phone. Suddenly right before turning off to head north on 115 in the direction of Charlottenburg, one of the city’s suburbs, he is blinded by a flash and almost puts his car into the ditch. However, he only fishtailed before straightening the car out on the entrance ramp and continuing onto his destination at a company located on Kufurstendamm near the center of the city, Mitte.  A week later at his home in Wolfsburg in Lower Saxony, home of Audi and Volkswagon, he receives a letter from the Berlin police department with his picture on there, looking very concentrated on his conversation with his business partner- a tall bleach blond female, with whom he had lunch, followed by completing that business proposal that no one really knows about- with his cell phone in his hand. According to the report, he went 150 kmph and was talking on his cell phone while driving- as proven in the photo. End result: 70 Euro fine, plus a point in the Flensburg system. Plus because of his record of wreckless driving and several violations in the past 2 years, he had accumulated 18 Flensburg points resulting in him relinquishing his driver’s license until he takes a course in disciplinary driving. “This is impossible!” he said and he vowed to contest that to the police and if needed, to the Department of Motor Vehicles (Das Kraftfahrzeugamt)  in Flensburg.

The Flensburg Point System is one of the most complex systems ever developed in the modern world. Introduced as a concept in 1957, it was designed to promote safety on Germany’s highways, as the country has always been known for fast cars, like BMW, Audi, and Volkswagon, a complex Autobahn network designed to get drivers to their destinations as quickly as possible, and fast drivers who want to show off their muscle with their car in front of the women. However, with the expansion of the Autobahn network combined with new innovation of cars to make them run faster, there are also drivers who use and abuse their cars and the roads, sometimes even shamelessly. The Flensburg Point System is designed to keep the drivers in line and have them obey the laws that are in effect; furthermore it stresses the importance of safety to the public as a whole.

How the system works is complex but can be explained in simpler languages. The point system is based on a  catalogue developed by the Department of Motor Vehicles where each offense committed by the driver is categorized based on severity. The more severe the crime, the higher the fine a person has to pay, and the more likely a person will receive a point in his personal file, which is stored at the office in Flensburg.  Some examples of such traffic offenses that occur in Germany include the following:

  • Going 25 kmph over the speed limit of 50 inside a town like Itzehoe: One must pay 80 Euros and will receive a point in the file.  If it was over 70 kph, then it is 480 Euros in fines, 4 Flensburg points and the driving license is revoked for three months.
  • Using the shoulder as a passing lane on an Autobahn in the direction of Würzburg: 75 Euros and 2 Flensburg points.
  • Driving down the wrong way on a divided highway (or dual carriageway) in Jena: 75 Euro fine and 4 Flensburg points
  • And for those who love to talk on their cell phones while driving: If caught, you are obliged to pay 40 Euros and you earn a Flensburg point in the process. Even if you are a cyclist and you get caught, you still have to pay 25 Euros but you do not receive any Flensburg points.

The point system is also used for reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol, where a person could earn as much as 7 Flensburg points, together with fines of up to 2000 Euros, loss of one’s driving license for up to five years, and even spend some time in prison.  So for example, we go back to the first example with the gentleman who was photographed for speeding while using the cell phone in the direction of Berlin’s suburb of Charlottenburg and we imagine he did have some wild concoctions with the bleach blond lady while talking business, like the B-52, Bloody Mary, Black Triangle, and/or the Flensburger Aquavit, and decides to drive back to his home in Wolfsburg. He starts weaving uncontrolably along the Autobahn 2 in the direction of Magdeburg when he is caught by the police near the town of Burg. After taking a breathilizer test, it was revealed that his blood alcohol level was 1.2, which is 10 times the legal limit. The end result (apart from being taken into custody): 7 Flensburg points, loss of his driving privileges, a massive fine, and 5 years probation. The loss of his driving license could span from the minimum of 6 months to five years, but it could also be permanent, should he have a horrible driving record. Had he been in an automobile wreck with that high alcohol content, he could face prison time plus civil action from those affected by his buzz driving.  In simpler languages, consumption of alcohol will cost you 7 points no matter the amount, plus more money out of your pocket- a “good” weight loss incentive for those wanting to dare this tact, which I personally would not do.

This leads to the question of how much is enough in terms of racking up the Flensburg points. As mentioned at the beginning, the man who raced to his meeting with the bleach blonde partner but was caught on camera for speeding and phoning had 18 points and therefore had his driving privileges revoked because he reached his maximum point value. How the point system is tallied is based on a category created by the Department of Motor Vehicles which is listed below:

1-3 Flensburg Points-  No sanctions

4-8 Flensburg Points- Voluntary driver’s training

8-13 Flensburg Points- Warning and recommendation to participate in the Voluntary driver’s training

14-17 Flensburg Points- Compulsory driver’s training

18 or more Flensburg Points- Loss of Driving License

One can actually reduce the number of Flensburg Points by taking part in the driver’s training seminar in order to improve the driving skills, or taking part in other forms of programs provided by the law enforcement agencies. The reduction of points depends on the number of points the driver accumulated. For example, if one has 7 Flensburg points, he can take part in the driver’s training and have 4 points taken off his record (which means he has 3 points in the end). If he has 12 Flensburg points, he can only deduct 2 if he participates in the program. This can only be done once every five years, but the points stay in the records for two years if and only if no other traffic offenses occur during that time.

If compared to the system in the USA, the Flensburg system is valid for all of Germany and as there are almost 50 million drivers in the country, their records are kept centrally in Flensburg and all traffic offenses are reported and sent there by the local authorities and the state department of traffic safety. This is impossible to do in the US given the size and population and therefore, the responsibility of regaulating the traffic laws and keeping track of the person’s records lies directly with the state governments, except when a person moves out of state, in which case, the records are transferred from the previous state of residence to the one where a person lives in. It is also obligatory for Americans to change their driving licenses when moving as unlike the German driving license (where there is just the biographical information and the place of origin on there), the American equivalent has the residing address of the license holder. In fact the only form of identification that is universal in the US is one’s passport, which can be used for showing ID when entering and exiting other countries. The problem with that is the fact that only half the US population holds a US passport, like yours truly. In Germany, the driving license serves as an ID card as well, except for the passport, which is required of all Germans (and Europeans in that matter since the country is part of the European Union), and can be used as ID both in and out of Germany.

And while Germans still indulge in alcohol, and in particular their beloved beer, the driving under the influence law is also universal, for the intention is to promote responsibility to those who enjoy a good wine but also have to drive. It is not like in many “dry states” where it is a sin to drink and drive. In many states like Iowa, Utah, and places in the Bible Belt (states located in the Central Plains, like Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and the like), one can pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines just for having a drop of alcohol in one’s blood, while driving. For many it is considered paranoid and invades one’s own personal rights. But yet to many, alcohol consumption is considered a sin, even if a person is allowed to start drinking legally at the age of 21, which is five years older than those who drink alcohol in Germany. But the alcohol issue is another topic to be discussed at another time.

In celebration of 60 years of the Department of Motor Vehicles in Flensburg and to tout the success of the Flensburg Point System, an attempt to fool the public took place on April Fools Day, where there was a claim that there would be a giveaway in the point deductions to all drivers- 60,000 to be exact. This was retracted as a joke, but to many people, this attempt to fool the public into believing that the point system was providing indulgences to those who committed the gravest offenses was considered not appropriate. To the Evangelical Church, it was part of the religion. To many, having something like this would be a slap in the face of German culture, as the Flensburg Point System is part of the German culture and such indulgences would allow drivers to get away with “murder.”  In the end, the joke was on those who took part: the radio stations, the ministers of transportation, and even the Department of Motor Vehicles, which initiated the joke. However, it makes the author wonder how one could make the April’s Fool Joke more appropriate and not lead to discussions like it was presented on many forums. Sometimes jokes like this are best left alone and not carried out.

In the almost 12 years that the author has been residing in Germany, there was only one time that he was caught, which was for biking on the streetcar tracks going along the shared space corridore between the railway station and Domplatz cathedral in Erfurt, Thuringia’s capital, five years ago. While I was fined, I received no Flensburg point. However, had I listened to music while biking, I can guarantee you a point would be given, as some of my students have already received. While the violation is questionable as many cyclists have done this, the Flensburg Point System shows how effective traffic laws and safety are in Germany. And while some issues have arisen and become a major concern, like texting while driving, biking while listening to music, driving while phoning with your cell phone and “buzz driving”, the Flensburg Point System has adapted to these changing trends with the slogan: never mess with laws. Obey them for your sake and for others as well.  And while the police can apprehend many who are caught violating the traffic laws, for those who have gotten away with traffic violations so far, others have shown and should show others who wish to be reckless that whatever manoever is attempted is one that is illegal. Obey the laws and avoid the Flensburg points. And yes, point giveaways are fattening. They can be deducted by earning them through education, period!

Useful links:

https://www.kfz.net/autorecht/punkte-flensburg/

http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/bussgeldkatalog/so-funktioniert-das-neue-punktesystem-35765670.bild.html

 

Note: Black Triangle is a mixture of Coca-Cola or Vita Cola, a Czech or Eastern European beer and Vodka. It is named after a region in Eastern Germany where Saxony, Poland and the Czech Republic meet (nearest towns are Usti Na Ladem and Zittau), where it was infamous for its air pollution during the Cold War, thanks to its extensive use of nuclear power and fossil fuels.

Author’s Note: Since the publication of the Flensburg Point System in 2011, the reform has taken place, with the new point system being in place since May 1, 2014.  More information can be found here.

Guttenberg Update: Germany’s Most Spectacular Resignations

Willy Brandt ans Fenster- The hotel across from the Erfurt railway station where Chancellor Willy Brandt met Erich Honecker in 1970 and spoke in front of a crowd of thousands. The champion of Ostpolitik resigned in 1974, but left a legacy that still exists today. Photo taken in March 2011

As recently as this past Saturday, there was a very intriguing article that was published by Germany’s tabloid magazine “Bild Magazin” that dealt with Germany’s 100 most spectacular resignations by some of the country’s most renowned celebrities. This was in connection with the most recent resignation of another celebrity, Germany’s most beloved politician and now former defense minister, Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg, which Thomas de Maiziere, the former Interior Minister has taken over his post while thousands of demonstrators throughout Germany on Saturday rallied behind the embattled CSU politician picked to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.

While going through the article, I was amazed at who stepped down but also the reasons for them calling it quits. Some were understandable; others were scandalous; the rest were just dumb mistakes costing them dearly or just really dumb reasons- in either case, the Germans were not impressed with that at all. I decided to disect this article and pick out the celebrities that some of you know and categorize them based on the Top 5 of the most spectacular resignations up until Guttenberg’s exit, but not including Edmund Stoiber, who was mentioned too many times already. Then I chose five honorably mentioned candidates and two wild card candidates among the German celebrities. Each of the resignations will include a small comment on the part of yours truly. So without further ado, here we go.

THE TOP FIVE RESIGNATIONS IN GERMANY:

1. Horst Köhler, German President- From the 23rd of March, 2004 until his resignation on 31 May of last year, he held the second highest post next to the German Chancellor, a post in which Johannes Rau his predecessor once held. Despite his success in bringing unity to Germany, involving the troops in foreign countries such as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and strengthening ties with Israel, he did not get the respect that he had expected from the German population and to a certain degree, the Dream Coalition (CDU and FDP) and therefore, he stepped down in May 2010. It was too bad, as he was really good at providing families with a good fireside speech around Christmas time and on New Year’s Eve. Tough call for someone holding a prestige office, who did a good job, but dissatisfaction in a job like that because of such circumstances does call for a change in scenery, and someone like Christian Wulff, the former minister of Lower Saxony, to take over.

2. Erich Honecker, Chair of the SED Party in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany)- now part of Germany- From 1970 until 18 October, 1989, he led East Germany, and every classroom and workplace had a portrait of the SED Party Chair for people to look at and praise. He was famous for his comments “The Berlin Wall is going to last for another 100 years,” mentioned in January 1989 and “”Neither an ox nor a donkey is able to stop the progress of socialism,” an excerpt from an adage by August Bebel he used during his speech on the occasion of the GDR’s 40th Birthday on 7 October, 1989. However the progress towards democracy was too strong for East Germany to withstand and it only lasted until the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989. Honecker did not even last before that as he was removed on 18 October. The official reason was his poor health. However, literary sources indicated that he was forced out thanks to influence by Michail Gorbachev, who coined his famous words, “Life punishes those who wait,” also at the 40th anniversary celebrations.  Egon Krenz took over and allowed for life to change course in the interest of both West and East Germany with the opening of the Wall and its eventual Reunification, one of the best events of all time. As for Honecker,  he eventually fled to Chile to avoid arrest and prosecution by the German government, where he died in 1994.

3. Willy Brandt, Chancellor of (West) Germany 1969-1974- Willy Brandt will always be remembered for his Ostpolitik policies, designed to improve relations between East and West Germany. This included a direct visit with Erich Honecker and a speech from the window of his hotel in front of the railway station in Erfurt in 1970, plus winning the Nobel Peace Prize a year later. Unfortunately, like Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, Brandt’s popularity as Chancellor dropped to the floor when it was revealed that his personal assistant, Günther Guillaume was arrested for being an East German spy. Brandt resigned from his post on 6 May, 1974, with Helmut Schmidt taking over from there, but he remained as the chair of the SPD until 1987. He died five years later. Still many places in Germany and Europe are named in his memory because of the legacy he left behind. This includes the hotel in Erfurt across from the central railway station, where Brandt spoke to a large crowd in 1970 (Named Willy Brandt ans Fenster- Willy Brandt at the Window). Even the university renamed the institute of political science The Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, a name that has been carried since 2009.

4. Walter Mixa, Bishop of the Augsburg (Bavaria) Cathedral- This was a classic example of a scandal involving the Catholic Church in Bavaria, which costed this gentleman his post as well as his post as the military bishop in Germany- child abuse scandal plus fraud involving taking money from an orphanage. At least a dozen scandals involving priests and bishops popped up in this traditionally Catholic state in the past two years, raising the question about the credibility of the Church in that region, plus the moral values that exist as a whole. Furthermore there are some speculations that Pope Benedict XVI may be involved, even though he has not raised this issue nor has there been enough evidence to indict him as of present. More scandals in Bavaria? To be continued…..

5. Thomas Gottschalk, actor- At 61, the person had a nice well-rounded career as an actor, was a spokesperson for the Haribo gummibears  as well as moderator of his TV show “Wetten, dass….” (I bet you that….). That was until a freak accident involving a stuntman attempting to roller blade over an oncoming car left him paralyzed and Gottschalk’s career in limbo. On 12 February, 2011, he stepped down, taking responsibility for the accident and apologizing to his audience. Perhaps he took a lesson from Clint Eastwood, when he quoted in the second Dirty Harry film: “Man’s gotta know his limitations.”

HONORABLY MENTIONED  RESIGNATIONS:

1. Margot Kässmann, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover and Head of the Evangelical Lutheran Chuch of Germany (EKD)- The 52-year old from Marburg (Hesse) had a promising future until she was caught driving under the influence of alcohol in February 2010. She resigned from both posts after that. Smooth move, wasn’t it?

2. Wolfgang Petry, folk music singer- Celebrities can be sick and tired of being a star to a point where they just want to call it quits. While we’re seeing that with the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer in American football (NFL) who claims he has more than enough money that he can walk away and never play for the team again, he probably took that line from this German folk music singer. Petry suddenly stepped away from the scene in 2006 after many years of singing, claiming he had enough of the show business. What he’s doing now is unknown at present.

3. Rudi Voller, former German national soccer team head coach- Sometimes (but not always) great players make bad coaches. This was a textbook example. While Voller excelled as a soccer player for Bayer Leverkusen and helped the German national team win the World Cup in 1990, he could not convey his success as a coach to his players and resigned after Germany was eliminated in the 1st Round of the European Championship in 2004. A consolation however was the fact that the team did finish second in the World Cup, years earlier, so all was not lost for him. He now is athletic director for his former team, Leverkusen.

4. Jürgen Möllermann, Minister for Agriculture; President for the German-Arabian Society; Chair of the FDP in North Rhein-Westphalia- A problem child for the politicians, Möllemann got himself in trouble for using the ministry’s paper to apply for a job at a company of his relative’s in 1993, which costed him his post as Minister for Agriculture under Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Tax evasion on various counts plus his anti-semite comments during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2002 led to a legal hunt by the police and other authorities. However, before he could be arrested, he died in a tragic parachutte accident on 5 June, 2003; it is unclear whether his death was an act of sabotage, an accident, or suicide attempt. The case has not been solved as of present.

5. Axel Schulz, boxer- Having a successful career as a boxer and picked to be a heavy favorite to beat Vladimir Klitschko in 1999, everyone was expecting him to win the EM Boxing match, right? Not unless you have life insurance! Not only did Klitschko beat him romped him in the boxing ring through a technical knock-out in September 1999, but Schulz resigned right away after the match. Despite a comeback attempt in 2005, he never won any international titles, despite many attempts to win the belt in his 17 year career, counting his six year hiatus between 1999 and 2005.

WILDCARDS:

1. Gregor Gysi, Economics Minister for the City of Berlin- Resigned for using the bonus miles on his company car for private purpose in 2002. And this for a city that has been broke for years…..

2. Marlies Mosiek-Urbahn, Family Minister for the State of Hesse- Resigned from her post because she divorced her husband in 2001, and it affected her credibility as minister. Curious.

While Germany has been and is still famous for its high quality products and service, a strong health care and social welfare system, and for greats like Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, it cannot escape the scandals that have been growing by the numbers in the past two years. Regardless of whether they come from Bavaria, Hesse, or even the northern parts of Germany, they have been leaving questions about the credibility of the politicians in the Bundestag among Germans and those looking in from the outside. Yet the problem is universal, as one can see the scandals going on in the US and other Anglo-Saxon countries and they are even weirder than what I mentioned here. But the question is, should we follow their lead or clean up our reputation and lead by our example. This is the question that will come up in the upcoming elections in 2013, together with another question: Do you elect someone by popularity but marred by scandal or do you go with someone unknown but gets the job done anyway?  Since the identity of the US is in question because of the number of crises that has erroded its credibility as a superpower, countries like Germany are stepping up to set an example for others to follow. But that is accompanied by these scandals that can and will potentially hinder that success. The best solution to this problem is to judge what is right and wrong and act accordingly. Only then will one find out whether that decision was the right one to begin with. And that decision will affect those who look up to countries like Germany, as a role model, a teacher, and a mentor of high morals and principles….

Links:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14895170,00.html

(Update on the Guttenberg Scandal)

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14891914,00.html

(Demonstrations for Guttenberg’s Return to Politics)

http://www.bild.de/BILD/politik/2011/03/05/guttenberg-bis-voeller-die-100-spektakulaerste-ruecktritte/koehler-schulz-milli-vanilli-friedmann.html

http://www.bild.de/BILD/politik/2011/03/07/100-spektakulaere-ruecktritte-teil-zwei/karriere-enden-die-aufsehen-erregten.html

(Der Bild’s 100 most spectacular resignations in detail- and in German!)

Guttenberg Resigns- A consequence for cheating

After two weeks of being bombarded with news headlines involving his plagarism scandal, an increasing chorus of politicians, academics and even people in general demanding that he relinquishes power, and a further erosion of power among the Dream Coalition consisting of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democrats (FDP) and of course, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s credibility for supporting him from the start, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on Tuesday announced his resignation from not his post as minister, but from all political functions in Berlin.  He cited that the decision was the most painful in his career, but he claimed that his resignation was not just based on the plagarism scandal that has rocked the German parliament “Bundestag” in the past two weeks, but because he was unable to fulfill his functions any further.

The reaction was well received by those who claimed that Guttenberg was no longer a credible man at his post and that his resignation was long since overdue.  This included not only the oppositional parties of the Social Democrats (SPD), the Socialist Party (Die Linke) and the Greens, but also tens of thousands of academics at German universities, 23,000 of whom presented a petition to Chancellor Merkel demanding that he step down as soon as possible.  Even some members of the Bavarian sister party, the Christian Socialists (CSU), lost respect for the 39-year old who was the front runner to become the next German Chancellor, if and when Merkel decides to step down. What is next for Guttenberg is unknown, but after the University of Bayreuth last week revoked his PhD title for not citing the sources in his thesis properly, it began a chain reaction where many people, including even his own supervisor  of the thesis Prof. Peter Häberle of the University of Bayreuth lost respect for Guttenberg and distanced themselves from him, joining the ranks of those who wanted him to step aside and let someone else take over.

While his resignation was not accepted by many Germans per say, according to recent polls, this was the second Bavarian politician to resign from a top post (regardless of state or national level). As mentioned in the previous column, Bavarian prime minister Edmund Stoiber stepped down in September 2007 amid his own set of scandals and a year later, the CSU lost absolute power in the state elections for the first time in over 20 years.  With Guttenberg stepping down as defense minister in Berlin, could this happen with the Dream Coalition in the coming elections in 2013, where we have the return of the Christmas coalition, consisting of the SPD and Green parties?  This remains a distinct possibility; especially after Angela Merkel had been supporting Guttenberg from the time the scandal broke out two weeks before until he finally decided to call it quits, thus damaging her credibility as the German Chancellor, a trend that is comparable to two infamous scandals in the USA, which plagued two presidencies: the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s under the administration of President Warren G. Harding and the Watergate Scandal of 1973-4 under President Richard Nixon. Harding died of food poisoning in 1923 before he could be indicted on fraud charges, while Nixon became the first president to resign in 1974, right before Congress was going to impeach him. Both scandals did damage the credibility of the Republican party to a point where in the long term, the voters turned to the Democrats as they were more credible; Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and Jimmy Carter in 1976.  In this case, since plagarism is a serious crime which can result in the revocation of the title or even prison time, the “Googleberg” Affair (as many have coined the term) involving the now resigned defense minister could create a chain reaction, which could bring down the Dream Coalition in two years’ time. The only way to reverse the trend is if Merkel finds a way to win back the hearts and minds of the Germans and remove the stain, which has been caked into the fabric of Germany and will take lots of time and efforts to remove.

From my personal point of view, a person who commits a serious crime like plagarism, no matter what the excuses are, deserves to spend some time in solitary confinement, thinking about the actions and considering the situation where “sleeping up the career ladder” can produce some dire consequences for himself, the people who pampered him up the ladder, the institutions he worked for, and the people whom he hurt through cheating along the way. Once a person commits a crime like plagarism, his career is dead in the water, and he may want to think about a new career which would suit him better than the one he had. At the same time, he should learn from this experience the hardest way possible so that it is never committed ever again. The harder the labor in solitary confinement, the easier it will be to have this incident and the lesson learned from it engraved in one’s head forever.

So what will happen with Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg now that he has thrown in the towel after being grilled in the Bundestag, losing his PhD title, giving the University of Bayreuth and all of Germany a bad reputation, and finally losing face to the German people? Who knows? I know the University of Bayreuth will need to clean up its reputation as a result of this mess, although speaking from my experience working there as a teacher, political games have always dominated the quality of education the students really deserve.   Germany will have to rely less on Bavaria as a role model for politics as it has been plagued way too much by scandals in recent years and needs to reexamine and revamp its political, social and education systems, in order to produce not only the best and brightest people but those who are honest, moral and earn their degree through hard work, a set of personal ethics and solidarity to others- helping those in need be just as successful. The country has 15 other states with just as good or even better politicians as those in Bavaria. The social infrastructure is just as good or even better, and there are a lot of other aspects that people like about those states and this goes beyond the stereotype of Germany: Vita Cola, Frankfurt, Thuringian Bratwurst, Flensburger Beer, CEBIT Conference in Hanover, Volkswagon, Audi, Soccer, Deutsche Bahn,  Forests, …. you get the picture.

I did have an opinion by one of my former students at the University of Bayreuth, who claimed that he will eventually become the next chancellor of Germany, despite stepping down as defense minister. I beg to differ on this for I have a question to pose to those who still support him: “Would you elect someone like Guttenberg, whose reputation has been permanently damaged beyond repair because of the plagarism scandal, to be the next German Chancellor, just because of his popularity, or would you elect someone who is unknown but has a clean record and can get the job done for the country?” Think carefully before you answer that question and go to the polls, should that be the case that Guttenberg is in the running for the highest office in Germany. Chances are, ethically speaking, who you vote for reflects on your own character and ethical values, and that will impact others who want to have the same lifestyle as you have at present….

Links:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/01/german-defence-minister-resigns-plagiarism

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/interaktiv/8287832-3.html

http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/8287421.html

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,6454809,00.html

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/03/01/germany.politics/index.html?hpt=T2

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/02/world/europe/02germany.html?_r=1&hp