Flensburg Point System Reform: A necessity for travel in Germany?

The Flensburg Point system in Germany is one of the most well-structured and categorized systems used to track and crack down on reckless drivers on the roads as well as determine the severity of the traffic offenses committed, whether it is speeding, driving while texting, or causing an accident. In its 63rd  year, it has reduced the annual number of accidents by at least 50% and has taken tens of thousands of drivers unfit for driving off the roads.
Yet, despite the successes, the point system is in the process of being reformed, sparking criticism from all sides of the spectrum who believe that the reform is the least of the problems of the German.  In a nutshell, the value of the points given to the driver per offense has been halved. Meaning for example, instead of two points for speeding, the driver would receive one point. For serious offenses which warranted seven points combined with heavy fines and revocation of the driver’s license, they would be reduced to two points. However, it does not mean that the people can commit more traffic offenses and get away with not paying a fine or being forced to retake driver’s training in order to get their licenses back. The maximum number of points needed before losing the driver’s license would also be reduced from 18 to eight, and the points collected in the old system would be calculated into the new system accordingly. Even the amount of time to work off the points in the Flensburg file (Verjährungsfrist) will be extended. Up until now it took a year to work off a point. According to the new rules, it takes two, while two points can be worked off in three years. The main intention, according to the Minister of Transportation, Peter Ramsauer, is to have more transparency with regards to the regulations and how the point system should be used per offense.
Yet opposition from the automobile clubs, the German police and even members of the oppositional party disagree with these new guidelines. Apart from the fact that the changes in the point system were unnecessary, many believe that the reforms that took place served as a distraction to the major problems facing travelers in Germany, which have become sophisticated and difficult to handle. This includes the problems with driving under the influence of alcohol, driving while on the cell phone and a new phenomenon that originated from the US but has made its way to European soil, texting while driving, which is considered an offense both in the US as well as in Germany. By laxing the Flensburg Point system, critics claim that it will give (potential) offenders an incentive to break the laws on the road, in particular with regards to speeding, which is common on German highways, especially the Autobahnen (German Motorways).
Despite being dependent on public transportation and bike (as I live in a city with 120,000 inhabitants), there are some times where travelling by car is necessary, and judging by the observations, reforming the system can only be necessary if and only if certain traffic offenses that were not very common 20-30 years ago are becoming a major problem today.  If there was a ranking of the most common traffic offenses common to German standards today, it would be ranked as the following:

Speeding and reckless driving
Driving while under the influence of alcohol
Distracted driving (not concentrating because of loud music or lack of sleep)
Driving while talking on the cell phone
Driving while texting.

In US standards today, driving while texting is the number one offense followed by driving while talking on the cell phone, and law enforcement officials have increased in numbers on many major highways in the last three years and have not hesitated in ticketing and jailing someone for speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol. This has resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of these incidences over time and drivers really watching it while driving- being overly careful to ensure that the money earned through their jobs do go for paying the fine or even worse, paying for court costs. In Germany, it is totally different.
We are faced with a double-edged sword on German roads today as we are seeing two sets of trends that could negatively impact the way we drive. The first one is that we are seeing more people going mobile- meaning that more people are commuting away from their homes in order to get better pay elsewhere. This includes many people living in the northern and eastern parts of the country but working in the southern half of the country, in places like Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemberg, Hesse, Rheinland-Palatinate, and Saarland, just to name a few. While train service has become more and more difficult to come by, the only way to work for many is by car and therefore, there is the trip home late Friday night and back to work on Monday morning, the times where most of the accidents take place. This also applies to people travelling by car on business trips and having to arrive at their destinations punctually to avoid being looked down upon. As many of us know, Germany prides itself on being the most punctual, so being there 15 minutes before an appointment is more preferred than being there only a minute before.

In addition to that trend we are also seeing another trend where distracted driving is causing some massive problems on the roads. This includes driving while texting, driving while on the cell phone (a very common offense for the last 6-7 years) and unchecked aggression towards other drivers and even cyclists. While the first and third portions of the offense have been included in the Flensburg point system, the second offense will have to require some investigating for although it is not common to do this on the roads, the trend is definitely rising.  Given the difference in dimensions of the roads between the USA and Germany despite some highways and Autobahnen being widened for safety purposes, one cannot afford to  commit these offenses unless they risk an accident and the consequences that follow (loss of driver’s license in accordance to the Flensburg point system, legal action and possible legal sanctions).
With the simplicity of the point system, as Ramsauer is planning, it will be more difficult to determine the degree of the traffic offense, let alone the consequences of the traffic offense. Instead the German government should look at other incentives to discourage traffic offenses and encourage safe driving habits. Reforming the Flensburg point system is definitely not a way to improve transparence, but increasing the point value for traffic offenses that have become more sophisticated (while at the same time, increase penalties for each offense and offer compulsory courses to encourage better driving habits) will definitely force drivers to think about their actions on the road and change their habits accordingly. After all, safe driving can also save lives, as there are more than 35,000 traffic fatalities in the European Union, a number that can be reduced even further.

While Ramsauer plan to open an online three-week forum about the changes in the Flensburg Point system beginning in May, he should not be surprised if he receives any criticism towards the reforms being carried out; especially from other countries that do not have such point systems, like the US but could use a similar system to crack down on traffic offenses, including distracted driving and aggression towards other drivers. Perhaps a pair of Flensburg points given to a driver for giving another driver the bird and three for texting while driving will give American drivers an incentive to think before taking action on the road. But before President Obama can think about introducing such a system, he must first watch the developments over in Germany before deciding whether it would make sense on America’s roads or not. With reforms becoming more confusing than simple, Ramsauer will have a rather difficult time to sell his reform plan to those, who like me believe that there are no problems with the Flensburg Point System and that it should be left as is.

The website with the forum on the Flensburg Point System Reform can be found here: www.punktereform.de.  (Available from 1 May on)

Gutenberg 10 years later

26 April 2002- the day that will be remembered as the day that Germany stood still and watched in shock as a 19-year old stormed a high school Gutenberg Gymnasium in Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia, and gunned down 12 students, three teachers and a police officer before taking his own life a short time later. For many people, as peaceful a country as Germany was, one would not expect a massacre similar to the one at Columbine High School in Colorado three years earlier. But the incident has changed the way people think about Germany, its education system and its strict gun regulations. Ten years later, the massacre is still in our memory and despite attempts to try and stem the violence and reinforce the gun regulations, Germany has become another America but on a smaller scale. We have issues involving xenophobia and right-wing extremism, despite attempts to integrate new people into the German culture while at the same time encourage tolerance of other cultures.  People put at a disadvantage socially are taking their vengeance out on others, as was the case in Winnenden (Baden-Wurttemberg) and Ansbach (Bavaria) in 1999.  Despite attempts to crack down on violent video games and pornography, the loopholes are still open.  And despite the preaching of civil courage- people stepping in to stop the crimes- many still stay behind the curtains and ignore the help of others, being insensitive.

So what is there to do? Absolutely nothing? If that is the case, then we are just as guilty as the perpetrators who committed the crimes and should deserve the same penalties for not helping the victim as the person who attacked him/her in the first place.  Since the incident, we have learned to not walk past the people in need of help but to help them whenever possible, despite their background. We have taken a stand against hatred, xenophobia and anything that is morally wrong. We have found ways to make life favorable to people, no matter where they go (in school, on the streets and at home). We have found ways to avert potential crimes. But we have also found ways to cope with loss and learn from it, as this is the case on this day.  We have become more interconnected with each other than ever before, while at the same time look for answers- Why did this happen? What have we done to deserve this? What can we do to help make sure that such a crime never happens again, neither here in Germany nor the US, nor elsewhere?

Up until now, these questions have yet to be answered and they cannot be answered alone.

The Flensburg Files would like to dedicate this column in memory of the people, whose lives were lost in the Guttenberg incident 10 years ago, with the hope that we can look at what is wrong with society and ask ourselves why is this wrong and what we can do to make society better for everyone and ensure that an incident like this (and other similar acts) do not happen ever again.

Link to the anniversary of the massacre (in German): http://www.mdr.de/mdr-info/amoklauf-erfurt114_zc-885afaa7_zs-5d851339.html

The Light Shines On Forever: A Tribute to Thomas Kinkade


It’s the light, Thom, that’s what lasts. The leaves are transient. They grow, turn green, turn red and die, but behind them the light lasts forever.- Peter O’Toole (from the film The Christmas Cottage)

Each of us is here for a reason. Whether it is to fulfill a certain dream or God’s plan. Whatever it is, each of us has a special gift for the world, which makes people happy.  Yet many of us do not realize it until someone comes into our lives and uncovers it for us. When that happens, we paint the most vivid colors of life and make people happy at the same time. Through our special gift, we influence others to embrace life and allow their gifts to blossom, like the bud on the tree that is starting to bloom, making the world greener and a nicer place for others to enjoy. And when we leave, we are not forgotten, for even if the leaves whither and fall, the legacy will last forever, the light will stay lit, and someone else will pick up where the other one left off.

Thomas Kinkade was known as the Painter of Light. But how he managed to rise to stardom has a story that goes beyond the lighted streets of Placerville, California. Born in a family where his father left him and his brother at a very young age, his mother kept the family together and went through tough times. But somehow Thomas wanted to be an artist. It was just a question of who can open him up to the world and show him. This is where Glenn Wessels came in. Born in South Africa in 1895, Wessels and his family moved to California, where he became a painter, painting modern western art, creating murals for community centers, and in the end, presenting his own form of art to the students at University of California-Berkeley, the University of Washington, and several small colleges in the San Francisco Bay area. He met Kinkade while at Berkeley, and passed his knowledge down to him in order for the artist to paint about life from where he sees it.

“My mission as an artist is to capture those special moments in life adorned with beauty and light. I work to create images that project a serene simplicity that can be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone. That is what I mean by sharing the light,” Kinkade stated once for his website. Kinkade’s paintings resembled a Kodak moment that every photographer would dream of capturing if he had the right camera, the right lighting and the right style of photography. It was almost like he was painting a live scene but with more enlightenment and liveliness than it would be, had it been on print. It was like time was standing still and the opportunity came for someone to paint it with the purpose of presenting a sort of realism combined with expressionism. From a point of view of a photographer and journalist, the works of Kinkade far outweigh the majority of photos taken by photographers, which present itself in various forms of expression and light. We are not talking about the photos for the World Press, as the majority of them present a realism in the darkest form with war photos and events that shape society in not the best of advantages of the people. These were photos taken live by photographers who got the lone opportunity before having to flee the bullets, bombs or other bastards who wanted to either shoo them or shoot them. What we are talking about is when a person photographs a certain event in the evening that is full of lights, like a Christmas market, a soccer game, or any campfire event involving family, Kinkade found a way to capture that particular moment that he saw fit and used the brush to bring the scene more into life. It was like a photo that was make with a paint brush, only better.  It is very difficult to explain this phenomenon, but when the Los Angeles Times wrote an obituary about the painter’s death, the journalist presented some of the very best of his works, which can be clicked on here.

Unfortunately, apart from complaints about his conduct with employees and other people (some of which he denied), Kinkade was a target of criticism by many who believed that his paintings were too religious, using a certain formula which is the same for all of his paintings. Even Joan Didion, another contemporary artist and critic wrote that a typical Kinkade painting “featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel.”  Others believed that Kinkade was diluting the quality of his paintings through mass-marketing. One can see books and calendars with Kinkade’s paintings on them at any book store world wide. Yet despite the critics, Kinkade did touch the hearts and minds of millions of people, even his own critics who admired him. “He expresses what he believes and puts that in his art. That is not the trend in the high-art world at the moment, the idea that you can express things spiritually and be taken seriously,” stated Jeffrey Vallance in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. It is understandable that Kinkade was conservative and a devoted Christian, but if there were any types of religious formulas and codes in his paintings, it would be difficult to see them, at least when looking at the paintings up close. Each one had a theme for itself and they were expressed from the painter’s point of view to a point where others had the opportunity to awe and interpret them in any way shape of form.

If one asks a photographer or a painter what started them into their profession, regardless of whether it was full time or part time, four out of five times, one will hear the name Thomas Kinkade come out of his/her mouth. Kinkade was not only a big influence in the world of contemporary art, but he also inspired us to look and appreciate the surroundings we have and capture the moment either under the lens or with a paint brush. While many of us are still grieving and inquiring more about his loss- he died on 9 April at his home in San Francisco at the age of 54- the light did not go out forever. It is still burning, even stronger in saluting him for his work and waiting for the next Painter of Light to pick up where he left off.

In closing, I would like to ask each of you to look at the outside world and your surroundings and ask yourselves “What do you see?” Look closer and if you see something that you love, capture it.  Chances are more likely that if you see something that you love, others will take notice. If you do not, then do not worry, someone will help you show you the way. Kinkade’s success in my opinion was based on looking at what he sees in life and capturing that moment for others to see. Part of that had to do with having the right people to push him to be successful like Wessels. But the other part has to do with what he sees in life and how he can captivate it for others to see and interpret. For any photographer and painter entering the field, you should take this advice and see what is in front of you and what you have. Only then will you know how to be the person you want to be.