Berlin Writes History in Soccer

The Stadium Altere Försterei, where FC Union Berlin plays at home. Photo taken by Christian Liebscher via wiki-Commons 

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FC Union Berlin advances to the German Bundesliga for the first time ever after ousting VFB Stuttgart in the Relegation Round.

BERLIN- In the end, only the strongest survived. The strongest in terms of nerves but also in coherency. The strongest is the one that makes history. This was done last night with FC Union Berlin. After a 2-2 draw against VFB Stuttgart, who had been sitting in 16th place during almost the entire 2018/19 Bundesliga season, all the iron men could have done is put the iron curtain in place- literally in front of goalkeeper Rafal Gikiewicz  and let Stuttgart fire their shots- to the left, to the right and right into the goalie’s hands. And while the offense was on autopilot, a 0-0 tie was enough for Berlin to make history.

For the first time ever FC Union will play in the premier league this upcoming season, competing with the likes of Bayern Munich- fresh off its seventh consecutive title but poised to lose its top two players in Frank Ribery and Ariel Robben- the Robbery Duo- similar to the Killer Bs of the Pittsburgh Steelers in American football before Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown left the team after the 2018/19 season and its lone B- the quarterback, Ben Rothlisberger. It will be facing other teams with multiple years of experience and armed with deep pockets for 1st class players, such as Frankfurt, Dortmund, Hoffenheim and Bremen. And while Freiburg, Cologne and Augsburg may be push-overs, like it was with Hamburg SV during its time in the second tier (winning 2-0 and tying 2-2), Union Berlin will have two rivalries to contend with:

  1. Inner-City Rivalry: FC Union Berlin will have to contend with Hertha BSC Berlin, which has been in the premier league for all but two seasons since 1997. While FC Union Berlin has had many soccer rivalries in the German capital, even during the Cold War era, this one will be the battle of the iron fists that will attract tens of thousands, and whose victories will be very close. While FC Union lost a close one 2-1 on 3rd September, 2012, the two teams finished tied at 2-2 on 11 February, 2013, the last time the two played. When the rivalry continues this upcoming season, it will be the first inner-city derby in the Bundesliga since the 2010/11 season with Hamburg vs St. Pauli.
  2. East German Rivalry: Apart from its western city rival, FC Union will have to contend with Leipzig. But not the Leipzig that many soccer historians are accustomed to. While Union and VfB Leipzig’s rivalry attracted thousands of fans during the 1980s and 90s, the Leipzig they will be facing is one that will have a new (and fiery) head coach and a talented group that is regrouping after losing the 2019 German Cup to Munich and finished third in the regular season- meaning RB Leipzig. Even they have played three games, FC Union has yet to beat Leipzig, having lost two and tied one- but all in 2015 and 2016.

FC Union Berlin will be the sixth East German team to be in the top league in almost three decades- the others were Dynamo Dresden, Hansa Rostock, VfB Leipzig (now FC Lok), Energie Cottbus and Hertha. It is the 56th team in history to reach the top tier. And after years of toil and disappointment, the team has entered chartered waters bound to make history. The team has the largest fan club in German soccer and its culture is implanted in Berlin soccer, with a stadium that has hosted soccer games, Christmas events and concerts and crowds that come to enjoy the game and not rampage it, like in some cities. This was noticeable with last night’s relegation game with Stuttgart- it ended in celebration and with no incidences! One could blame Stuttgart for its shortcomings, which will land them in the second league for the first time in three seasons, but the timing of FC Union Berlin’s rise to the top could not have come at a better time. All it needed was unity and the team got it.

And should this unity continue in the upcoming Bundesliga season, then FC Union Berlin will be making even more history as it climbs in the rankings at the expense of those who have been there for years. Seven years ago, one wondered whether professional soccer will return to the east. With first Leipzig and now Berlin, that question has been answered.

 

Congratulations to FC Union Berlin on making it to the big leagues! 🙂

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FC Union Berlin won the relegation based on the “Goal Away from Home” rule. This means the team that has scored more goals “away from home” wins, if the total goals scored by each team are otherwise equal. This is sometimes expressed by saying that away goals “count double” in the event of a tie. In this case, Berlin won against Stuttgart based on that rule by a score of 2-0 because of the 2-2 draw in Stuttgart. 

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From the Attic: Bonn- the Birthplace of the German Constitution 1949

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BONN- On this day 70 years ago, the German Constitution was ratified, thus ushering in the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland). It was the first democratic government since the Weimar Republic, which was created in 1919 but lasted only 14 years. It also brought in its first chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who until 1998, became the longest tenured chancellor in modern German history, having served from 1949 until his resignation in 1963. Bonn was its capital until 1994, when it was moved to Berlin, five years after East and West Germany reunited. Since 1999, all federal Offices and the German parliament are conducted in Berlin.

While Germany has some Milestones to celebrate, it is interesting to see how the West German government ratified the Constitution, which still remains in use and is discussed to this day (See the previous article on it here.). Two “Exemplars” on its ratification can be found in this article below; the first produced by the British channel Pathé, the other in German by Zeitzeuge Portal, which includes interviews with historians and political scientists in German. In either case, they are both interesting to see the reaction to the creation of West Germany from local and outsider perspectives.

Enjoy! 🙂

Pathé (UK):

 

Zeitzeuge Portal:

 

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Germany at 70: The Constitution

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May 23rd, 2019. On this day 70 years ago, the West German government, together with the western allies of the US, France and Great Britain ratified the German Consititution, a set of basic laws that are binding and foster equality, freedom of speech and Democracy. The basic laws were the basis for establishing a democratic state, the first since the Weimar Republic of 1919. And unlike the Republic, which was dissolved with the rise of Adolf Hitler, who ushered in the era of Naziism 14 years later, the German Constitution has become the solid rock, one of the examples of how Democracy works even to this day, despite going through the hardships in the sense of politics, society and the economy.  This was even adapted by the former East German government in 1990 as part of the plan to reunify the country.

While there are booklets in many languages that have the Basic Law of Germany, there are some questions that are still open as to how it works in comparison to those in other countries, the US included. This documentary, produced by a bunch of American scholars, gives you an in-depth coverage and discussion to the laws that exist. Albeit Long, one can skip to some of the laws discussed or just simply play it in ist entirety. For those wishing to live in Germany in the future, even temporary, this is rather useful.

Enjoy the documentary! 🙂

 

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Speed Limits in Germany: Should they be enforced nationally?

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Entering the Autobahn in Hamburg. Photo taken in March 2017

It is one of the main anchors of German culture. It is a place where you must try when visiting Germany. It is also one where if you don’t know how to take care of yourself, you could end up endangering yourself and others too. It’s the German Autobahn. Introduced over a century ago and expanded during the 1930s, the Autobahn became the quickest way to get from point A to point B. It also became the shortest way to get to your destination. With its famed unlimited speed limits, as seen on the signs, you can get from Munich to Berlin in five hours without any traffic jams; seven when going from Cologne to Dresden. In some cases, travelling by the Autobahn is faster than traveling by train, especially when the Deutsche Bahn (DB) has to handle delays and cancellations on a daily basis. 70% of all Autobahns in Germany do not have a speed limit, whereas speed limits are enforced in blackspots, construction areas and in big cities, and they limit based on the density of traffic on the highways.

Sadly though, it is one of the deadliest places to drive because of reckless driving, disobeying traffic regulations, disregarding other road-users and sometimes, poor conditions on the pavement themselves. In comparison to other European countries, the German Autobahn has the highest fatality rate of all the member states, plus Great Britain. The rate of deaths on the Autobahn per 1000 kilometers is 30.2%, according to data provided by the European Union. The European average is 26.4%. Per billion kilometers, the fatality rate in Germany is 1.6 is double that of Great Britain’s. Comparing that with the US, the fatality rate per mile is still less but the rate may become on par with the Americans in a few years. On 25 of the most dangerous interstate and federal highways in the States, the average death rate is 0.62 per mile. Along the six deadliest, the rate per mile is 0.9!  Given the increase in cars on German Autobahns, combined with distracted driving and even reckless driving, the statistics are sobering.

 

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Attempts were made in January 2019 to introduce a “blanket-style” speed limit on all German Autobahn to ensure that people obey the speed limits. The reason for the proposed enforcement is to ensure that drivers stay within the limit and not race with speeds of up to 250 km/h (in the US: 155 mph.  While this proposal was dead on arrival in the German parliament, it doesn’t mean that it cannot be resurrected at a later time. There are several arguments for and against a nationwide speed limit:

Proponents for the Speed Limit Opponents of the Speed Limit
Other countries in Europe have them: Poland has the 140 km/h limit (85 mph). The Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and Austria, have the 130 km/h (80 mph) limit (which had been proposed by the German government) Belgium and Switzerland have a 120 km/h (75 mph) limit.

 

A map of the countries with the speed limits can be found above.

The enforcement of the speed limit would increase the cost for mobility in Germany, especially with the subsidies involving e-cars, tax hikes for gas, introducing incentives to replace old diesel cars with newer ones conforming to standards and enforcing a ban on diesel cars in big cities.
“Reducing speed limits would bring down the number of fatalities, which is one in four-“  an argument presented by Michael Mertens, Chair of the German Police Officers Union in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Money should be spent on expanding public transportation services, such as trains and busses, as well as bike trails for they provide healthier choices.
He adds further: “By even reducing the speed limit to 130, it would help prevent serious accidents and tailbacks (traffic jams)” To add to his argument: A report showed that 2018 was the worst year regarding traffic jams as over 745,000 were reported, an average of 2000 per day. This was a 3% increase since 2017. The Autobahn is a tourist trap and visitors to Germany would like to experience driving the Autobahn and stop at well-known rest areas and eateries along the way.
Speed limits would reduce carbon dioxide emmissions- in 2017 alone, 115 million tons of CO2 released in the atmosphere in Germany came from cars. The rate has increased steadily since 1990. Reducing the speed on the Autobahn would hurt car sales, especially with the likes of BMW, Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen, etc.

 

A report on mobility was expected to be released at the end of March, outlining the details on how Germany can reduce carbon dioxide emissions without being penalized millions of Euros by the authorities in Brussels. Already the government has come under fire for admitting that its goal of reducing emissions by 8% by 2020 would not be reached due to several factors, including weening itself off of coal by 2038, lacking support for European measures to tackle climate change and the like. Yet the report is expected to include the enforcement of speed limits on Germany’s Autobahn system. While a general speed limit already in place on most streets and two-lane roads, the question is why not introduce it onto German highways, just like in every other state?

This is where the question between culture and conformity come to mind- Are we ready to rein in speeding at the cost of tradition or do we have bigger environmental issues to tackle and speeding “…defies all common sense,” as mentioned by German Transportation Minister, Andreas Scheuer?

 

 

Questionnaire: Should Germany enfore its speed limit on its Autobahn system? If so, what speed is acceptable?

Feel free to vote and also write your thoughts in the comment section. Click on the highlighted links to read more about the speedlimits. 

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  1. According to German Traffic Laws, drivers are allowed to speed up to 100 km/h on all roads and 130 km/h on expressways and designated stretches of the German Autobahn. When in town, the speed limit is 50 km/h unless posted. Some speed limits allow for 60 km/h.

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2. Beware of the magic number! The 60 km/h limit is the most commonly used speed limit in Germany, used on many different occasions. One will find it inside the city,  on speed limit signs designated for trucks (although the maximum speed is 80), and in construction zones- even on Autobahns.  The second most common speed sign is the 70 limit, which is found in cities but is required at all highways intersections.

3.  Blackspots are defined as areas that are most proned to accidents. They can be found construction sites as well as areas along the highway- curves, intersections, built-up areas in the city and other dangerous spots where accidents  most often occur.

 

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Genre of the Week: The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen

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There’s no place like home, both on Earth as in Heaven.  When desparation strikes, hope comes when one least expects it, even during the holidays. And in the case of this Genre of the Week, when one falls, hope lies with the next kin, one who is closest to the fallen.  Hans Christian Andersen wrote the Match Girl in 1845 while staying at the Gravenstein Castle near Sonderburg along the Flensburg Fjorde and the main theme of this short story was this symbol of hope in the face of desparation and in this case, death.

The story takes place during the holidays, towards New Year’s Eve. There, a young girl tries to sell matches to make money. She comes from a broken home and is afraid to return, fearing that her father would beat her. Shivering from cold and suffering from early onset of hypothermia, she seeks shelter in a pair of abandoned houses. There, she tries to warm up by using the matches, even though it was strictly forbidden. With each match, she sees a small light and a voice calling her name. When the flame goes out, she lights another match, and after a couple of them, the entire handful. She finds her grandmother, who had cared for her when she was little, her home, which was warm and filled with food, joy, laughter and love, and steps into that world as the flame goes out. The girl succumbs to hypothermia, but smiling because she is in a better place.

The story has been interpreted multiple times over the years by several countries. Even Walt Disney produced an animated film twice- in 1940 as part of the Fantasia series which was scrapped and as a standalone in 2006, which garnered several awards.  In Germany, there were two different films based on the story by Andersen. This one was produced by Joé in 2012:

and this film in 2013 by public TV stations RBB and ARD as part of the series “Sechs in einem Streich” (Six in one Stroke), which started in 2011 and has continued ever since. In this version, a girl (Inga) and a boy (Emil) are living in an orphanage which is run by a ruthless headmaster, who abuses children and is greedy. After coming away with only a couple Thaler, Inga gives the money to Emil and sends him to the orphanage, while Inga keeps the remaining matches and tries desperately to sell them with no avail. She seeks shelter in a home that she had lived with her parents before they died, lights the matches only to see her parents again and she eventually joins them while she perishes peacefully from the cold. The small Emil befriends the police guard named Emil, who takes pity on the kids and in the end, arrests the headmaster of the orphanage. Years later, the younger Emil takes over the orphanage and makes it great again, thanks to help from the community. The making of this latest film, which has garnered a pair of accolades already since its release is below:

The entire film can be seen here.

All of this happens at Christmas time, both as children as well as when Emil takes over the orphanage, years later.

There are many themes that can be taken away from the two film examples but it is best to allow the reader to watch them and get some impressions of his own. From the author’s point of view, the two stories follow closely to what Andersen wrote but with different situations, each one better than the other in terms of bringing hope home to those who need it.

If there is a list of stories and songs that relate to Christmas but not based on the Hallmark classics, then this one should be on the list of things to read (and filmwise, watch). It has all the elements in there that make the holiday seasons and even beyond a special one.  And hence, the Files’ first Genre of the Week for 2019.

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Christmas Market Tour 2018: Plauen (Vogtland)

Our last stop on the 2018 Christmas market tour keeps us in the state of Saxony but takes us way out west, to the wildest of west, namely the Vogtland. The reason we say this is for three reasons: 1. The Vogtland region is laden with rich forests, a large number of reservoirs and lakes and hills. For some of the rivers in the region, such as the White Elster, Zwickau Mulde, Eger and other notable creeks, the region is their starting point. 2. The region is rustic with wooden houses along the countryside, buildings with wooden facades, etc. Despite it being a part of East Germany with its communist housing, the region has a lot of attractions, competing with the likes of the Fichtel Mountains in Franconia (Bavaria), Thuringian Forest and even the Ore Mountains (Czech and German sides). 3. As far as activities are concerned, the Vogtland is filled with outdoor activities year round, including skiing, horseback riding, biking and hiking, just to name a few. And lastly, the Vogtland is the archrival to the Ore Mountain regions in terms of woodcrafting. Especially with regards to Christmas arches (Schwibbogen), pyramids, and other figurines typical of Christmas, the Vogtlanders pride themselves on their work and there has been a debate as to which regions these products were made, let alone their origins.

But that is for another time.

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The largest city in the Vogtland is our focus of the Christmas market and is one that has a tradition and a history. Plauen has a population of 65,400 inhabitants and is the second closest city in Saxony to the Czech border behind Oberwiesenthal. At one time, the population had been hovering over 120,000 inhabitants before the two World Wars decimated much of it. Since 1945, it has been under the mark and decreasing steadily as people have emigrated away for better jobs in neighboring Bavaria and in bigger cities. It is 30 kilometers northeast of the nearest city of Hof (also in Bavaria) but 45 kilometers southwest of Zwickau. The White Elster River as well as the Syra and Mühlgraben flow through the city, and the city is rich with historic bridges, big and small, spanning them in and around the city. They include (in the city) the Friendensbrücke, the second oldest known bridge in Saxony in the Alte Elsterbrücke (built in 1228) and the brick stone viaducts at Syratal and Elstertal. The Göltzschtalbrücke, which is located 10 kilometers to the north, is the largest viaduct of its kind ever built.  Apart from three federal highways, Plauen is also served by the Motorway 72, as well as three different raillines, including the Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate, the Elster route going to Gera and Leipzig as well as the Vogtland route going to Cheb (CZ).

Despite having lost 75% of its buildings during the waning days of World War II through ariel bombings, much of Plauen’s architecture has been rebuilt to its former glory and still functions for its original purposes. This includes several churches, such as the Johanniskirche, Lutherkirche, and Pauluskirche, the Nonnenturm, the castle ruins of Schloss Plauen, the two city halls- one built in 1385; the other in 1922 which features a tower with clock- and several other historic buildings flanking the two market squares- Altmarkt and Klostermarkt.

Plauen has a lot to take pride in- its green hills and valleys, its beer, its theater and  orchestra, but it is world famous for its Plauener Spitze, a type of pattern fabric that is carefully orchestrated by needles and other cutting tools. An example of such a Spitze can be found here:

Source: Tex8 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons
Inspite of this, Plauen is also famous for its Christmas market, which is the largest in the region. It covers three-fourths of the city center, covering Altmarkt, extending along Obere Steinweg and Rathausstrasse, part of Klostermarkt and ending at the shopping center Stadtgallerie. Yet most of the shopping and eating possibilities can be found at Altmarkt and the shopping center. Because of parking issues, only the tree and some street performances were found during my visit at Klostermarkt.

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At Klostermarkt

Another area in the city center that was somewhat left out was the area around the church, Johanniskirche. While church services commenorating the birth of Christ, combined with concerts, were taking place there, the lot was empty with no cars around. Given its size, there could have been some potential to have some religious exhibits and/or booths in and around the church to encourage people to visit them before or after visiting the church. This was something that was found at some other Christmas markets, most notably in Glauchau and Zwickau as well as in some places in Berlin, Dresden and Nuremberg.

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Johanniskirche and Kirchplatz, next to Altmarkt

To summarize in that aspect, the space availability for Christmas market booths and events is somewhat misaligned and the focus should be less on consumption and more on the holiday and religious traditions that Plauen offers and what is typical for the Vogtland region. That means aside from the church area, Klosterplatz should be filled in a bit with some booths and other holiday events and less glamour for the shopping area for Christmas markets are an outdoor event and not indoor.  A note to some of the city planners for future reference.

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Stadtgallerie Shopping Center

Aside from this, the market itself features a combination of shopping possibilities in the Stadtgallerie and traditional products and foods in the Altmarkt. Both market appear to be well-decorated, with the Stadtgallerie having somewhat too much glamour with the Christmas decorations, thus creating more traffic for shoppers than what is needed at the market itself. Again, an imbalance that needs to be corrected. The Altmarkt itself is perhaps the nicest of the Christmas market in Plauen. The booths consist of small mahogany huts made with real wood from the Vogtland region, all decorated with spruce and pine tree branches as well as other forms of decorations. There are several picnic tables and benches, all made of cut-up wood; some of them have shelters in case of inclimate weather.

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Altmarkt

Much of what the Christmas market at Altmarkt offers is local specialties, such as the woodwork products made in the Vogtland, such as the pyramid, Christmas arch, incense products and figurines that are religious based. For eateries, the market offers not only local foods and drink, but also some international products. Most popular at the market include the Bemme- a bread with fat and pickles, in come cases with liver sausage. Then there is the Baumkuckenspitze, a layered, donut-shaped cake covered in chocolate; some of which with a thin-filling. Holzofenbrot that is cooked in a wood-burning oven is one that is most recommended, and one of the booths had a mixture of both local and international specialties. Especially in the cold weather, these bread products with are really good and filling.

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As we’re talking about international specialties, the market offers products from the Middle East and parts in Europe. Included in the mix is from the Netherlands, where I had a chance to try different kinds of Gouda cheese- those that are sometimes 2 years old and more than ripe. Regardless of what kind, the cheese is highly recommended, and the salespeople selling them, we had a chance to talk about different cultures between Germany, the US and the Netherlands. Their booth features a good place to chat, where even Father Christmas and the angel can entertain themselves over cheese:

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Apart from two different pyramids- one of which is over a century old, one can also spend time at the Spitzenmuseum at the older city hall, which by the way provides a great backdrop to the market together with the tower of the newer city hall, which one can tour the place and enjoy the view of the city and its landscape.

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Christmas tree on the side of the Old City Hall/ Spitzenmuseum with a century-old pyramid

Plauen’s Christmas market features a combination of culture and history all in a historical setting. Culture is in reference to the local products that are offered, especially at the Altmarkt, and history is in reference to the historic setting the market has- to the south, the church and to the north, the two city halls. The market is well-visited and is not so crowded, although my visit was after the first Advent. Yet the magnet of the shopping center next door does raise some concern as to how to balance out the visitors and better utilize the space of Plauen’s city center. Having open but unused space makes a city center rather empty, especially at the time of the Christmas market. However, when planned better and through cooperation with retailers and property owners, Plauen can have a well-balanced Christmas market that is well-balanced in terms of visitors but also whose themes would make it attractive to visitors coming from Saxony, Germany, Czech Republic and beyond……

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Rathausstrasse going to Stadtgallerie

Photos of the Plauen Christmas Market can be viewed via facebook (click here) and Google (click here)

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