Photo Flick 89 Nr. 10: Hof Central Station

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Photos taken in August 2017

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The next stop on the photo tour along the Inner-German border is a train station that played a key role through every era of railroad history in eastern Germany. First built in 1848 and expanded in 1880, the Hof Central Railway Station is a key strategic point for the region of Franconia and Vogtland. Considered by the German Railways (the Bahn) as a Category 3 train station, Hof Central Station is the starting and stopping point for all regional railroad services coming from Bavaria in the south and Saxony in the north. Prior to 2012, it had been a throughfare station because of regional trains passing through from Nuremberg and Bayreuth enroute to Zwickau, Leipzig and Dresden. Thanks to the electrification of the line between Zwickau and Hof via Plauen, the northern line now operated by Transdev going to Dresden; the Bahn operates the portion of the line going south.

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As in the beginning, Hof was a central point for all trains passing through for it was a hub serving rail services to Munich in the south, Leipzig and Berlin in the north and Cheb (Eger) in the Czech Republic. Even some of the now abandoned raillines, like the Triptis-Marxgrün Line, found its place in Hof. Sadly though, after the end of World War II, Hof Central Station became an inner-German border station, just like it is today. All rail service from the south and west ended in Hof and those who wish to travel further to Leipzig and Berlin had to switch trains and use Transit Trains provided by the East German government. Sometimes passport and customs controls were necessary if you wanted to travel to East Germany, yet most of the action was done by East German border guards at the train station Gutenfürst.

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The scrutiny of passport and people checks were nothing new when traveling in East Germany. Because the East Germans had to pay for reparations, many kilometers of tracks were removed because of the steel needed for other (military) purposes. This was the case for the rail lines north of Hof as some of the small lines were abandoned with some of the crossings between East and West barracaded. Along the main lines to Dresden and Leipzig, many stretches were one-track only instead of two, like in the time before World War II. From 1945 to 1989, the only way in and out of East Germany through Hof was via the Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistral Route, which is still in use as of today.

Fast forward to 1989 and the time before and of the Fall of the Wall. Thousands of residents from East Germany started fleeing the country and its brutal regime under Erich Honecker. This was a reaction to the opening of the Iron Curtain between Austria and Hungary on 27 June, 1989. To obtain a visa to travel to West Germany, they had to go to the German Embassy in Prague, for travel to the Czechoslovakia without a visa was allowed through an agreement between officials in East Berlin and Prague. Travel to Poland had already been blocked thanks to Polish elections earlier in 1989 which ushered in democracy and brought the ouster of its dictator and his officials. With thousands of East German refugees sitting on and near the grounds of the embassy, politicians from Czechoslovakia, the two Germanys and the Soviet Union had to act quickly to stem the flow of refugees fleeing East Germany for the west. An agreement was reached on 30 September, 1989 to allow the refugees to go to West Germany but first going through East Germany. Hans-Dietrich-Genscher made the announcement at 6:58pm local time, only to be greeted with cheers, tears and relief in both Prague and here in Hof.

The first set of refugees boarded a train later that evening and took the 254 kilometer trip through Saxony, via Bad Schandau, Dresden, Karl Marx Stadt (Chemnitz), Plauen and Gutenfürst, arriving at 6:54am on October 1st in Hof. Between 5200 and 5400 people left the country. The second set of refugees arrived four days later with as many as 8000 people on board the trains. It was after that, that more trains carrying refugees would follow suit, putting pressure on the East German regime to open the gates that had separated Germany and Berlin into two for too long. At the time of the Fall of the Wall, as many as 25000 residents had fled by train to West Germany through Hof. Hundreds of thousands of more people would follow when cars started crossing the borders on 9 November to receive their Welcome Money and buy the goods they had been deprived of. Only a fraction of those who fled to the West have ever returned. It was an escape from the repression by the likes of Honecker, who had vowed to keep the Berlin Wall standing for another 100 years but had been dethroned for losing touch with reality.

Enter post-1989 Germany.  Attempts were made to convert Hof into a central hub for train services making it a throughfare station, just like in Leipzig or Berlin. This included the introduction of Inter-City and ICE-Trains along the Magistral Route between Nuremberg and Dresden. Sadly though, due to the age of the locomotives, combined with environmental concerns (air pollution), and the reconstruction of some of the tracks, the Bahn moved to eliminate that service by 2004 and instead has worked to electrify the key lines in order to make it a throughfare station again. The project has been slow going and is expected to be finished by 2030 with a line going along the Magistral branching off to include Bayreuth and Marktredwitz. Another one is expected to connect Regensburg.

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Still, a lot has to be done to make Hof a central hub again. The station building has a lot of charm regarding its architecture and interior design that makes it a popular place to visit. The Main Hall, with its columns and the coats of arms from Bavaria and Saxony was restored to its original glory and has become a waiting area with a book store, Yorma’s Eateries and a place to dine while waiting for the train. The Royal Waiting Room has also been restored and a restaurant and conference room have taken its place. Still, the front entrance of the station as well as the restrooms are awaiting restoration and revitalization as they have fallen on hard times and need to updated to meet the increasing needs of the passengers who pass through. With its architectural character that had been a blessing, the first beacon of light for the East Germans that fled the run-down buildings and Communist-style „Plattenbau“ highrise apartments with a bland and boring taste, the station in Hof has seen better days, for creases and wrinkles from 1989 are noticeable. That the restoration has been ongoing since that time is a given.

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Walking through the halls of Hof Central is like walking back into time, where I was one of many greeting the refugees that had gotten off that train from Prague to flee the eastern half and its years of neglect. Many filled with tears and joy and excitement. It is almost like the scene in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where the opressed had no choice but to leave for greener pastures inspite the rebellion to overthrow the oppressors. Like in the book, there were two different types- one to overthrow the Nazi Regime under Hitler and one that overthrew the communists  who had defeated Hitler but imposed their will on others for their benefit. While many have fled for good, never to return except for some reminiscence, others returning to the former East have seen lots of changes for the better.

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For many, Hof Central Station was the Symbol of Change that was needed to end the divide, bring Democracy and peace to the People and subsequentially reunite Germany. It is the same Hof Central Station that should serve as a reminder of the efforts taken to Change the landscape and the lessons that should be learned, which is to maintain Democracy and ist principles and never again have what Germany had dealt with in the past. This goes well beyond its structural character, which trickles down to even its lighting.

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Berlin Wall: Keeping the Memory Alive

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Germany has had some problems keeping the memories of the past alive. This goes back to the end of World War II and the topic involving the German Question: “Who are We?” and “What can History teach us from this ordeal.”  While we struggle to keep the memorials devoted to the Holocaust alive to remind ourselves of what happened during Hitler’s Reign of Terror, others elect to eradicate it- either because it was too traumatizing to even talk about it (the German Population suffered as much as the Jews and Minorities that were persecuted and suffered in concentration camps) or because it is considered  “harmlos”, something that is a typical genocide because other countries have witnessed it and the people who lived through this have long passed.

The same holds true for the time after the War, as two Germanys were divided for another 45 years, 21 of which was through a series of concrete walls, barbed wiring and border guards, ordered to shoot escapees on site, who wanted to flee to the West. During the time of East Germany, the people were under surveillance by the Stasi and tortured if they were suspected of not behaving like a communist.

While many of the people living during that time are beginning to pass, we’re being confronted with keeping the memories of 1989 alive. It was an iconic moment, for the Walls that cut Germany and its capital Berlin into two have come down, yet thanks to the increase of development through urbanization and modernization, much of the memories of the Wall and the Events that led its the Fall are starting to fade, being pushed into the backburner. People born on or after 1989 have little recolection of the events that ushered the new republic of Germany and with that, the new world order, as far as Democracy is concerned.  For many, they have the mentality of “History is History; It’s the Future we’re concerned with.”

In this documentary, Richard Quest of the American news network CNN looks at the Berlin Wall in the present and two generations with different mindsets: those who have experienced it and those who were born afterwards. The goal is to bridge the gap between the two so that this important event is passed down to the next generations in order to understand the significance of the event. This was produced in 2012 as part of the series Future Cities.

Link: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/business/2012/03/26/future-cities-berlin-quest-urban-landscape.cnn

 

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Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

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Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. Photo by Kristin Krahmer

 

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From art exhbitions to dance performances, here are 10 ways to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the event.

Source: Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

 

Furthermore, a conference talking about the Fall of the Berlin Wall and its implications 30 years later will take place this Weekend in Berlin.

Details: http://www.berlinwall30.de/index.php?en_conference_agenda

And for a solid week, celebrations will be taking place in and around Berlin to celebrate this Special Occasion.

Details here:  https://www.visitberlin.de/en/event/30th-anniversary-peaceful-revolution-fall-wall

Even if it’s for a day or two, the trip to Berlin for the celebrations is worth it. 🙂

 

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Photo Flick 89: Nr. 9

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Many segments of the Berlin Wall still exist today, serving as a reminder of the city’s past, together with that of Germany, before and after the Fall of the Wall in 1989. One of the examples that a tourist in Germany must see is the East Side Gallery. This 1.4 kilometer stretch runs along the River Spree and Mühlenstrasse between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, going from Oberbaumbrücke to the Railway Station Ostbahnhof.  The former Wall was converted into an open-air Gallery in 1990 with the goal of mixing history and art into one.  Since that time, as many as 120 artists from around the world have displayed their works along the wall, where special themes are displayed, from the Time of the Wall to the Strive for Peace. Pop culture themes are also included in this gallery.  Here’s a sample courtesy of a friend and former high school classmate of mine from Minnesota, Kristin Krahmer, during her recent visit with her family. More examples and the history behind the Gallery can be found here.

Enjoy! 🙂

 

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Photo Flick 1989 Nr. 7: Hirschberg- Untertiefengrün

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Saale River Crossing connecting Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün built in 2009. Photos taken in May 2019

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My father and I had an argument once over how Germany was bordered when I was a child growing up during the 1980s. He claimed a concrete wall surrounded only West Berlin while I claimed that there was also a concrete wall that divided the country into two.

Apparently, we were both right, especially when we look at the towns of Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün, located on the Thuringian-Bavarian border, with the former town in Thuringia. The two towns are separated by the River Saale (Sächsische Saale is the official name) with Hirschberg having the majority of the population (2200 inhabitants). By the same token, however, the small Bavarian community with 130 residents seems much more modern than its crossborder neighbor.

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Untertiefengrün taken from the bridge. 

According to history, the town of Hirschberg was first mentioned in the 12th century and had already built a castle and courtyard used for trading of livestock and crops. Untertiefengrün was first mentioned in the 14th century but became part of the community of Berg (Oberfranken) in 1978. Before the Berlin Wall existed, Hirschberg was well-known for its leather products, for a factory had existed for over 500 years, producing shoes, bags and leather pants, even during the times before 1989. In 1992, the factory went bankrupt and was forced to shut down. The entire 16 hectares of property was torn down, four years later. What’s left of the factory, became a museum for the town’s history and a park with lots of greenery.

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The Green Zone, where the border once stood. On the left is the River Saale; on the right, the road that used to be a Wall keeping people from fleeing to Bavaria

When people first think of Hirschberg in terms of German history, they think of the infamous East German border crossing complex located at where the Motorway 9 betwen Berlin and Munich is now located. The complex was located on the northern end of the Rudolphstein Viaduct, approximately five kilometers west of Hirschberg.  Yet as one digs even deeper into the town’s history, one can see that the town really suffered a great deal after World War II. When the war was over, the Soviets took over Hirschberg as part of their zone (which became the GDR or East Germany), whereas the Americans took Untertiefengrün. This is where the history of the Saale River crossing comes in.

 

1699-1948:

History books and postcards pinpointed the first crossing as being made of wood and built in 1699. Most likely it had been rebuilt many times over the course of 226 years due to wear and tear, combined with potential ice jams that damaged the structure. In 1925, a contract was let to build a concrete bridge. It featured a two-span arch design that was closed spandrel but whose arches featured step-like curves instead of the usual straight-line design.  The bridge was in use until right before the end of World War II, when Nazi soldiers, fleeing the encroaching American troops, detonated the bridge. At the conclusion of the war, only one of the two arch spans existed. American troops quickly built an improvisory span to temporarily connect Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün. However, this crossing was shortlived. Fearing the population drain caused by many residents fleeing Hirschberg and subsequentially, the Soviet Zone (later, the GDR), the bridge was subsequentially removed a short time later. Border fences were going up beginning in 1948 and culminated with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

 

1961-1989:

The Wall separating the two communities at the Thuringian-Bavarian border went up at about the same time as the Berlin Wall, but on the Hirschberg side of the River Saale! That means people could no longer flee to Bavaria unless by car and through the border crossings at Juchhöh-Töpeln via Fernstrasse 2 south of Hirschberg. The Rudolphstein Viaduct, rebuilt in 1966, became option number two if residents were clever enough to smuggle their way through without being caught, or spied upon beforehand. It later became the lone option after the closure of Fernstrasse 2 at the border.  It was double torture for almost a half century- not being able to cross freely,  let alone not being able to swim nor fish in the River Saale. While Hirschberg was still producing leather during this dark period (under the auspisces of the GDR government), these were dark times.

 

1989:

Fast forward to 30 December, 1989. It was over a month and a half since the Fall of the Wall and at 8:00am that day, another improvisory bridge was built at the location of the former crossing. Hundreds of residents crossed the bridge into Bavaria and back at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Their crossing was back, and the walls have come down. Yet it also marked the beginning of changes to come. Many who were scarred by the Wall and the attempts to be controlled by the government were the first to flee to the West. Others left when the leather factory closed down two years later.  It became the Bridge of Opportunity for many looking for a better life elsewhere, while leaving the dark past behind them for good.

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2019-present:

Fast forward to 2019, 30 years after the Fall of the Wall. A permanent crossing over the River Saale is 10 years old- a concrete slab bridge with Warren Truss railings. The towns of Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün are united. But things are much different now. Changes in the economic structure combined with globalization has turned the two communities into “ghost towns.”  One can see people walking the streets, farmers harvesting their crops despite the droughts that have devastated Europe in its second year. Church bells are ringing. But on both sides of the River Saale stand dozens of empty buildings. Remnants of schools and the leather factory still stand on the Hirschberg side. Cafés and hotels that used to host American troops and tourists on the Untertiefengrün side are empty with “For Sale or Rent” signs on the windows waiting for the next tenants to take over.  While the former German border crossing at Rudolphstein Viaduct has become restaurants, hotels and service stations hosting thousands of commuters, truckers and tourists daily along the Motorway 9, the communities of Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün, once divided by the Wall along the Saale, have their bridge back but have long become forgotten communities that withstood the test of time, even when divided.

After many years of hardship caused by the division of Germany into two, the two communities are going to sleep now, hoping that the next generations that come will appreciate what the two have to offer, aside from their history, which is vast farmland with lots of hills and a deep, heavily forested River Saale- no longer a border between East and West but a river where people can hike and bike along it, swim or fish in it, and take pictures, all without the dangers of being watched.

 

More photos of Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün based on my visit can be found here:

Link to Google Pics: https://photos.app.goo.gl/Uzw9UKy1fUgrVuQu8 

There is a website devoted to the former border between East and West Germanys, photographed in the 1980s. To access the website, click here. Some pics of the border and crossing in Hirschberg are included there. 

 

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Photo Flick 1989 Nr. 6: The Train Station at Probstzella (Thuringia)

Probstzella Train Station. Photo taken by Störfix in 2008 (WikiCommons)

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After Checkpoint Bravo and Glienicke Bridge at Potsdam, the next set of photos takes us down to Thuringia again, but this time to the border train station Probstzella. With a population of 1300 inhabitants, the city was located right in the middle of the inner-German border, which separated Thuringia and Bavaria. In the time before World War II, it used to be a popular railroad hub as it served traffic going west towards the Rennsteig Mountains, south towards Lichtenfels and north towards Jena and Leipzig. The existing train station at Probstzella dates back to 1885, when the line between Saalfeld (south of Jena) and Lichtenfels opened to traffic. The line going to the Rennsteig Mountains via Sonneberg opened to traffic in 1913 but was closed down by 1997.

It is at this station where the East German government took the most difficult task in keeping its citizens from emigrating to Bavaria. Because the town was located deep in the mountain areas with steep valleys heavily populated with forests, the government undertook the most massive efforts in the town’s history.  For instance, because the town was right in the middle of the 5-kilometer No-Go Zone, much of the residents at the border were forced to resettle inwards in an attempt to cut ties with their neighbors in the south and escape over the border.  The rail line between Jena/Saalfeld and Lichtenfels was reduced to one track  between Probstzella and the Bavarian border at Lauenstein- a stretch of 1000 kilometers.  And lastly, the train station at Probstzella was extended to include a border control building right next to the train station complex, plus many tracks that were heavily guarded by patrolmen on the East German side. From 1952 until November 12th, 1989, passage between Bavaria and Thuringia via Probstzella was restricted in accordance to the interzonal regulations that had existed during that time.

When the border reopened to traffic on 12 November, 1989, the train station in Probstzella lost its entire meaning. There, passengers could travel freely between Bavaria and Thuringia without having to be stopped at the border control station and sometimes held in the waiting room for hours before either being allowed to pass or being turned back. It was at that time that decisions needed to be made regarding the train station and the border control building. The 1885 station building was sold to a private group with the full intention of constructing a East German museum devoted strictly to the history of the station during that time. That was opened on 6 November, 2010, one month after Germany celebrated its 20th birthday. The border control building however was demolished in 2009 because the structural integrity was compromised due to its deteriorating state.

The remains of that building were converted into a memorial. Consisting of two sets of waves plus a stretch of fencing used to keep the people from leaving East Germany, this memorial was erected in April 2010. It is now a park for cyclists and tourists wishing to learn more about the history of the border that had separated the two Germanys for almost half a century.  The memorial is across the rail tracks from the train station, which now houses a museum. The station is considered a historical monument by the state of Thuringia.  The photo gallery enclosed here is the train station and former border control point as was taken in May 2010, during a bike tour through the Franconian region. From Saalfeld to Kronach, I had an opportunity to enjoy the nature of the mountains and forest but also learn about the history of this area, especially the border that had once kept people away from the western half but today, people can pass right through. Once a stopping point, Probstzella has become a forgotten place with a place in German history.

 

Gallery:

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  1. The interzone border agreements was introduced by the four powers that controlled and rebuilt Germany in 1945: The USA, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. It implied that residents were only allowed to leave their zones if they received special permission from the garrison of the occupied countries. This was eliminated by the creation of West Germany by the Americans, British and French forces in 1949, yet the Soviets tried many attempts in keeping the residents in their zone, culminating with the closing of the border and simultaneously, the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The Interzonal Transit Agreement of 1972 between the governments of East and West Germany allowed for the laxing of restrictions, whereby residents who were on business or retired and wanting to visit family in the west were allowed to leave but for a given time span. That expired when the borders opened allowing free passage on 9 November, 1989.
  2. At the border at Lauenstein, there used to be a welcome station for those who entered Bavaria from Thuringia. It featured a train station and a restaurant on the road parallel to the tracks. The station has been decommissioned and is now privately owned, whereas the restaurant was operating at the time of the visit.
  3. The former border was eventually converted into a stretch of green trees, known as the Green Zone. This initiative was started in 1991 with the purpose of repopulating the trees and other forms of vegetation. At the same time, it was also a marker of the border that had separated the two Germanys. In one of the pics, there was such a strip shown draping the mountains at Lauenstein.
  4. Today’s rail service still serves Probstzella but only on the north-south axis. Currently, regional service between Jena and Nuremberg via Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Bamberg operate under three different providers, including the Deutsche Bahn, agilis and Erfurter Bahn. At one time, ICE-trains passed through Probstzella from 2000 until December 2017. Nowadays, only a pair of InterCity (IC) trains between Leipzig and Karlsruhe pass through. However, plans to reactivate the Fernverkehr (long-distance lines) are in the making. By 2023, a dozen IC-trains per direction are expected to use the line again, with the goal of making the Leipzig-Karlsruhe line the primary route, but also providing 2-trains-a-day-service between Munich and Berlin via Jena, Saalfeld and Lichtenfels, which the ICE trains had used before being relegated to the new line which now runs through Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle.

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German Parliament (Bundestag) Shoots Down Speed Limit Law

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German Bundestag voted unaminously to uphold the country’s limitless speeding on its motorways, raising questions on the country’s path towards a greener climate

BERLIN- Germany is the only industrialized country where people can speed as fast as they can on the country’s Autobahn (motorway/freeway). It’s a part of their culture, especially with the likes of Volkswagen, Opel, Audi and BMWs racing as fast as 250 km/h (120 mph) along long stretches.  Over 70% of German motorways have no speed limits. The 30% that do have it come from traveling in and around cities and metropolitan areas, as well as in built-up, high risk areas.

On Friday, the German Bundestag voted unanimously to uphold this classic tradition. The bill to put a cap on speeding on all of Germany’s motorways to 130 km/h (80 mph) was shot down by a vote of 498 to 126. Only seven ministers abstained from the vote. The bill was introduced by the Green party in January due to the high number of accidents on its motorways combined with the increase in air pollution caused by too many (speeding) cars on the highway.  Anton Hofreiter, Leader of the Alliance ‘90 / The Greens in the Bundestag, said that speed limits in Germany were “long overdue” and called on ministers to vote in favour for the sake of the environment and road safety. “Those who want to make motorways safer and the traffic flow more smoothly must back a speed limit,” he told press shortly before the vote.

Opponents of the bill claimed that having a nationwide speed limit is not an effective way to reduce emissions caused by transport. Even Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer has since dismissed the idea as “[defying] all common sense.”  Cem Ӧzdemir, the Green party chair of the Committee on Transport, had accused Scheuer of “defending a transport policy from the day before yesterday. ” Yet in response to the rejection yesterday, he stated “As is so often the case with Greens proposals, we present them, and eventually there’ll be a majority behind them.” The measure didn’t even receive the support from the German federal government, consisting of the Grand Coalition of the CDU and SPD, as it had rejected the proposal when it was introduced in January.

The outright rejection of speed limit laws makes Germany the only country in the European Union with no speed limit on its motorways. As seen in the map above, most European countries have a 130 km/h speed limit with neighboring Poland having a 140 speed limit. Germany is also the only industrialized country in the world where people can speed as fast as they want, dwarfing even the speed limits of the US and Canada.

The rejection also raises questions of the direction of the German government in terms of environmental policies. Even after Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future Movement and her subsequential visit to Brussels and New York, German policies in reducing carbon emissions have proven to be weak and not effective. The 54 billion Euro package was passed last month and featured dozens of measures to encourage phasing out the use of coal and gas and introduce electric cars and cheaper rail travel. Germany’s goal is to reduce its emissions to 55% of the 1990 levels by 2030 and become carbon-neutral by 2050. The measure has been met with a sandwich of criticism from environmentalists claiming that they were not enough and opponents saying the measures are too expensive and will do more harm than good for the economic state.

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With the rejection of the speed limit laws, the Greens will have to go back to the drawing board to find creative ways to reintroduce the laws. But with Chancellor Merkel not seeking another term in 2021 and uncertainty with both the SPD and CDU in the near future, the proposal will most likely have to wait until a new chancellor is in power and a new coalition is built. By that time, the Greens will have more support than at present, even on the European scale. The EU will most likely amp up pressure on Berlin to take action on this issue. And the next chancellor will be more favorable to the safety of motorists and the environment which will make speed limits more a reality then than it is right now.

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