Leipzig Book Convention 2018: No Record but Lots of Suspense

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LEIPZIG-  If there is one theme that would sum up the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention this past weekend, it would be suspense. While members of the committee had expected another record year with a possible 300,000 visitors, that mark was missed by a long shot and for the first time in six years, the number of visitors at this year’s convention had decreased. 271,000 visitors went to the convention that took place from 15th to 18th March, a decrease of 14,000 from last year’s number of 285,000.  But despite the decrease, there was a lot of suspense in this year’s convention, which goes beyond the theme of Romania as the guest country. Here are some examples based on the author’s annual visit together with family members:

Snow and Cold- The decrease in numbers had a lot to do with Old Man Winter’s last grasp. Snow and blowing snow, combined with extreme cold temperatures brought vast parts of central and northern Germany to a near standstill, with parts of Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia taking the brunt of the storm.  Frozen overhead lines and crossing points were additional factors that led to the shut down of the main railway stations in Leipzig and Halle (Saale) and the cancellation of train services spanning seven German states and points to the east. This led to overfilled streetcars and buses to the Messe Convention. Adding traffic jams on the major highways also because of blowing and drifting snow and many who wanted to go to the book convention decided to stay home- at least until the sunniest day of the convention, which was the last day (Sunday). But even then, the one critique point that seems to be the problem in Germany is snow removal, where much of the parking lots were still unplowed when guests arrived on Sunday, undoubtedly the peak of the four-day long convention.

Fighting the Right- Another factor affecting the numbers is the increase in the number and influence of the far-right media. Several publishing companies producing such propaganda in newspapers and books were present, mostly in Hall 3. This included Compact and Neue Stimmen, a pair of most prominent magazines that have ties with the far right groups including the Pegida, National Party (NPD) and Alternative for Germany (AfD), the third of which is currently in the German Federal Parliament as an opposition to the newly created Grand Coalition with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats.  Especially on Friday and Saturdays clashes broke out between the far right and far left, resulting in police involvement and arrests. As they wanted to avoid massive conflicts like it happened at the 2017 Book Convention in Frankfurt/Main, it was met with partial success for despite measures to prevent violent outbreaks, the far right, with its anti-democratic and anti-European policies kept many away because of their strive to commit strife. On the flip side, several prominent authors who have written about right-wing terrorism and its threat to democracy were on hand. One of them, Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad, won the European book prize for her work on Anders Breivik, a far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in two separate attacks in 2011. People like Seierstad believe that right-wing extremism has been on the rise since then, including her home country.

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Peaceful Co-existence- While the snowstorm and the far-right made waves in the media, one aspect that was seldom touched was religion. In Hall 3 there was a section where Christianity and Islam were in peaceful co-existence of each other. At least four booths with publications and newspapers on Islam and another seven on Christianity were found clumped together with people gathering to both sides of the aisle. Interesting was how the two religions attracted the people. On the side of Islam, people came in droves because of their interest in the religion and the literature that pertained to it. This is disregarding how it was written- which was either German or Arabic with a couple English examples.  This included the Islam Newspaper in German, which judging by my observations, has a lot of culture and history, but go along the mentality of the Native Americans as described by historian Dee Brown: “We are still here.” Why? Because of attempts to suppress their culture by the domination of Christianity and the western way of life, one can see that Islam still exists and the impression is that they are open to anyone wishing to learn at least a bit of the religion. There had been fears that the religion would dominate the European landscape. That is not true. The people of Islam wish to have a sort of peaceful co-existence that has not existed for a long time, for many since the time before the Arab Spring of 2011 which led to millions fleeing the war-torn areas. On the other side, Christianity was presented in a marketing fashion. While on the way to the main entrance of the convention, we were greeted by hippie-style Christians who gave us a free coupon to one of the booths that was giving away books dealing with stories involving Christ, philosophy and the existence of God. Another booth was continuing the Martin Luther celebrations of 500 years ago by illustrating the printing press used to produce the 500 Theses written by Luther. And then there was Christianity in the form of music and schools that offer both. Target language was both German and English and they attracted a fair number of people. Yet despite the moderate increase of younger people joining Christ, the numbers have decreased on a global scale thanks to corruption, sex abuse scandals and attempts to associate Christianity with far-right figures, such as US President Trump. One can see the desperate attempts to convince people to join by giving away books upon leaving the Buch Messe- and seeing tons being discarded in garbage cans in the parking lot. It does appear that if Christianity was to regain its original form, it may need to separate itself from politics and reinvent itself by adapting to the needs of today’s generations, a step that has been taken in some aspects, like homosexuality, but in others- like tolerance- it’s having problems doing.

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Blocks at the Manga–  While the Manga exhibition, located in Hall 5, attracted its typical individuals, which included superheroes, waitresses in short skirts, aliens, and people dressed up in outfits dating back 125 years ago, one has to look more carefully at the trends that a person can find. While the theme from last year  was lighting in Japan, this year’s theme seemed to be boxes and its several shapes, designs and sizes. No matter whether they were lunch boxes, jewelry boxes or even mini-storage boxes or even designer boxes  found at booths like the Sega games, it was a real treat just to see these boxes while looking at the products typical of Japan, which include stuffed animals, sweets, games, books and even dishware, just to name a few.

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Thinking Scandanavia- To round off our tour of the Buchmesse, we have some literature recommendations worth noting. One of the unique aspects of the convention was found at the international book section in Hall 4 and in Scandanavia. Consisting of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finnland, the themes most commonly written by authors in the region  consists of mysteries, tourism, mental well-being and lastly photography. Two books that represent fine examples of such works is a Danish work by Meik Wilking entitled The Little Book of Lykke: The Path to being the Happiest People in the World, which focuses on the Danish secret to being the happiest society in the world. This includes the way of life, physical and mental well-being, mentality towards materialist items and money as well as the power of the bicycle.  Another is a collection of night-time and sometimes underwater photography by Finnish author Petri Juntunen entitled “At the Heart of It All,” where he brings the new meaning of photography to light, as he focuses on relicts and other non-life forms that are shone down by a ray of light, showing the interest from above.

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To sum up the visit and the highlights, the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention may have not set any records this year, yet judging from the news and my own observations, one could not get enough of the suspense that was presented, both positively as well as negatively. Still, as themes, such as religion, extremism, social and cultural issues and current affairs (such as environment and climate change) become the everyday norm, such book conventions like in Leipzig and also in Frankfurt/Main will need to adapt in a way that these issues are addressed and people understand them and take action. This action should also include putting an end to hate and violence, a commodity that has always been a burden to society but one that seems to become a universal problem on all fronts, especially since the end of 2015. It is only hoped that the next book convention will bring about constructive themes and discussion instead of propagizing hatred and inequality based on things we don’t like.

The next Leipzig Buchmesse will take place  from 21st to 24th March 2019. To see more photos of the Buchmesse, please click here as it will take you to the Files’ facebook page and its photo album. Please feel free to add your photos and impressions of the Buchmesse. We love to see them. 🙂

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FlixBus to Enter “Fernverkehr”-Market as FlixTrain

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One of the former Locomore train cars to be used by FlixTrain  WIkicommons

Munich-based bus provider to offer long-distance train services to compete with German Railways- The Bahn. Expansion is expected.

MUNICH- “Actually, for us is the train like a big bus.” When the CEO of FlixBus Jochen Engert mentioned this in an interview with the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, the first thing that came to mind is how to get passengers from point a to point b on the tracks without getting nickeled and dimed by the German Railways- The Bahn. When FlixBus was established in 2011, its primary goal was to provide travelers with an affordable and painless way to get them where they want to be, while on the highway.  Today’s FlixBus covers 80% of all bus markets in Germany, providing 120,000 daily connections to over 1,000 destinations in 20 countries, from Bucharest to Bordeaux, Kiel to Milan and from Luxembourg to Prague, with stops big cities like Berlin, Hanover and Frankfurt, as well as smaller ones like Jena, Bamberg and Wolfsburg, just to name a few.

While FlixBus is making its American debut this April, providing residents along the West Coast with the signature modern green double-decker busses that Europeans are accustomed to, the company is making a splash on the railways. In a railroad market where the Bahn predominates long-distance rail services with its white, black and red ICE-trains and InterCity services, as well as its red and white Regio-trains, passengers are going to see the light green trains, known as FlixTrains competing beginning in April. At a cost of 10 Euros per single ticket, passengers can travel on the Flixbus going up to 200 km/h (125 mph)- equivalent to most IC-trains and the older ICE-trains between Berlin and Stuttgart as well as between Hamburg and Cologne. The plan is to have 28 stops available for up to four trains traveling in each direction per day on both routes.

The routes are somewhat familiar for they had been used by other private train services. Locomore was the first to provide daily services from Berlin to Stuttgart via Wolfsburg, Fulda and Frankfurt/Main. Starting in December 2016 until its insolvency in May 2017, Locomore operated one train in each direction, stopping at 18 stations. It had planned new routes between Berlin and Binz, Berlin-Hanover-Cologne-Bonn and Frankfurt-Augsburg-Berlin. In August 2017, the Czech-based Leo-Express and FlixBus acquired Locomore’s assets and have started painting the Locomore trains green to show ownership of the services. The trains will be run under FlixTrain by April. The Hamburg-Cologne line used to be an independent entity  known as HBX, where trains stopped in Osnabrück, Düsseldorf and Essen. The HBX was acquired by FlixBus and will start operating under FlixTrain at the end of March.

While this FlixTrain experiment will be done gradually (starting with two trains in each direction per day), the plan is if successful, the Flixtrain will provide more trains on these two routes and expand to include more cities in the near future.  The caveat behind this expansion is twofold. Firstly, despite its generous offers of: long distance trains at 200 kph at a price equivalent to a trip by FlixBus, coaches with an eatery, children’s playground and air conditioned seating, free Wifi and films and ordering tickets online or with an app, it will be difficult to lure passengers away from their loyal Bahn or car because of the advantages both has, plus private trains have as many problems with train delays and technical issues as other train services, both private and public.  Secondly the provider would have to choose carefully which cities to expand their services to for many reasons: 1. The train engines would need to be compatible with the track as some areas are not electrified, 2. They will need to be aware of the other trains that serve the cities and their customers and 3. The train’s availability on a daily basis may present some problems as private trains tend to have a difficult time sharing the track with the competitors.

But despite the possible setbacks of Flixtrain, there are some lines that couple possibly benefit from the expansion should business be successful and people turn to them instead of the Bahn and its reputation of being late most of the time and having overpriced tickets. Some potential candidates include:

Saale- Route (Leipzig-Jena-Saalfeld-Bamberg-Nuremberg)- Especially residents in Jena, Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Naumburg have suffered a great deal since the ICE-train was rerouted onto the new Berlin-Leipzig/Halle-Erfurt-Nuremberg-Munich line in December 2017 as they had to face taking Regio-trains to Erfurt or Leipzig just to catch the next available long-distance train. Despite efforts to have faster Regio-Express trains available by December 2018, it may not be enough for many  who have already invested a year’s salary in a new car. With FlixTrain, it could serve as a medium to long-term fix for people going to either Berlin or Munich without changing trains.

Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate- It has been 16 years since the last ICE-train has served this route and plans to electrify the line has been really slow-going- the requirement for having a long-distance train. Yet if diesel locomotives are available this would be a temporary fix until the electrification is finished. For people in Bayreuth, Hof, Zwickau, Glauchau and Chemnitz, having a FlixTrain would be a blessing as they could arrive at their destinations in time that is much quicker than with the motorway, which runs parallel but is beset with traffic jams caused by accidents and narrow four-lanes. Currently MRB-Rail operates the Hof-Dresden portion and the Bahn the rest, both as RegioTrains.

MDV Route- Consisting of the lines Leipzig-Naumburg-Weimar-Erfurt, Chemnitz-Glauchau-Gera-Jena-Weimar-Erfurt and Erfurt-Kassel-Dortmund-Cologne, the route has similar problems with electrification as the Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg Magistrate but between Weimar and Glauchau. Still the route has potential for attracting passengers who have been forced to deal with mostly RegioTrains and a pair of InterCity trains per day.

Schleswig-Holstein-Express- Connecting Hamburg with Flensburg via Rendsburg, this route has rarely seen Fernverkehr since the Bahn pulled its ICE-trains off the tracks three years ago and Germany and Denmark allowed the inter-rail agreement to run out at the end of 2016. The trains have operated regionally but people would benefit more with long-distance rail services between Hamburg and Denmark via Flensburg with the option of extending southward. As an alternative one could route a train through Kiel before entering Flensburg, yet a pair of bridges will need replacement and the tracks need to be added.  FlixBus already has bus connections in Scandanavia and could benefit with a pair of FlixTrain services going through Denmark.

North Sea Route: As the North Sea region in Schleswig-Holstein is very popular, especially during the summer, this route between Hamburg and Sylt via Husum would be beneficial for a FlixTrain. Originally, this route was operated by Nord-Ostsee Bahn Rail before it went bankrupt in 2014 and was taken over by the Bahn. Yet many customers are dissatisfied with the old-timer trains and the service of the Regio-Trains. Plus only a handful of IC-trains connect Sylt with Frankfurt on a daily basis.

These are the top five routes FlixTrain should pursue if it is successful and decides to expand. There are other routes to consider, yet one has to think about the advantages and disadvantages to having a cheap train service with the same services as the Bahn’s. Therefore to conclude, here are a couple questions to think about (let alone comment on):

  1. Would you prefer FlixTrain over the Bahn (or other rail services)  if it was to come to your town?
  2. Which rail routes, aside from the five mentioned ones, would you like to see FlixTrain using and why?

 

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Blizzard Buries Flensburg and northern Germany

 

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The Day After Tomorrow: The Roter Strasse near Nordertor after the Blizzard. Photo taken by Yasin Keremoglu

Over 30 centimeters (One foot) snow brings city and region to a standstill turning it into Little Switzerland

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FLENSBURG- For the children, it was like in Switzerland- a foot of snow that fell within 48 hours and the end result: instead of time in the classroom at school, it was time to build snowmen and go sledding. For the parents, it was a day off from work only to be spent digging out. For the grandparents, it was the reenactment of the Great Blizzard of 1978/79 that crippled the entire region while others were ringing in the New Year at Times Square in New York.

Over a foot (30 centimeters) of snow fell across much of the northern part of Germany on Thursday and Friday, featuring snow drifts as high as 2 meters, as well as blowing snow, high winds and extremely cold temperatures going as far down as -15°C!!! The hardest hit area was in and around Flensburg and the northern parts of the Frisia region, where the blizzard brought every form of life to a complete standstill. Train and bus services were shut down, thousands of people were stranded on the motorway and roads leading into and out of the region. Schools cancelled classes for the rest of the week and businesses closed down during that timespan as well. Basically everyone was snowed in and could not go anywhere unless they had sleds or could brave the cold on snowshoes.

To give you an idea how bad it was, here are a few photos and clips of the situation in Flensburg:

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The storm was in connection with an even larger system that brought over a foot of snow to Scandanavia and Britain, but also in southern European states. It also brought  extremely cold temperatures to large regions in central Europe including Germany, where regions in the Alps and Ore Mountain regions saw temperatures going no higher than -10°C during the day but dipping as far down as -30°C at night. According to the last report by Deutzsche Welle, 48 people had perished during that time as of 28 February.

The good news is this weekend, much of the system will disappear and much milder temperatures will melt most of the snow away. However it will not come without a price, as ice storms are expected for much of Germany, which will make digging out of the snow masses much more difficult. But come next week, spring will be at our doorsteps and families can plan for Easter, as it will come sooner than expected. 🙂

 

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New ICE-Line and ICE City Erfurt Opens

ICE-T train stopping at Erfurt Central Station. Photo taken in March 2017

New High-Speed Line Opens after 25 Years of Planning and Construction. Erfurt and Leipzig to become ICE Cities. 80 ICE trains expected in Erfurt daily.

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BERLIN/ MUNICH/LEIPZIG/ERFURT/COBURG/JENA- It took the signing of former (now late) German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s signature to allow for the project to begin- 25 years ago. That in itself was as historic as US President Dwight D. Eisenhowers signature in 1956 to launch the US Interstate Highway System. It took 25 years, from the time of its signature until the time of its completion, costing over 12 billion Euros, and resulting in 37 bridges- including the 8.6 kilometer long Elster-Saale Viaduct near Halle (the longest in Germany)- two dozen tunnels and the complete makeover of five different stations- the main ones of which are in Erfurt and Leipzig.

And now, Frankenstein has come to life!  🙂 The new ICE line between Berlin and Munich has opened. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Richard Lutz (CEO of the Deutsche Bahn), German Transportation Minister Christian Schmidt as well as the primeministers of the states of Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia plus many celebrities were on hand to open the ICE-Line as a pair of ICE-3 trains passed through the new stops of Nuremberg, Erfurt, and Leipzig-Halle as they started from Munich and ended in Berlin. The ceremony happened today with the grand ceremony taking place at Berlin Central Station.

With that new line, not only will the cities of Leipzig and Halle will profit from the long-distance trains stopping there on a daily basis, but also the ICE City Erfurt in central Thuringia, where as many as 80 ICE-trains will stop to board people on a daily basis travelling on the N-S axis between Berlin and Munich via Nuremberg, as well as between Dresden and Frankfurt via Leipzig on the W-E axis.  Along the N-S axis, one can travel between the German and Bavarian capitals in just over four hours, two less than its current travel. Between Dresden and Frankfurt, it is expected that trains passing through Erfurt will need only three hours instead of the normal five.  Planned is the new ICE-Sprinter connecting Berlin with Munich with a stop only in Erfurt. That stretch will take only under four hours.  Another is planned for Halle-Munich and Nuremberg-Berlin, each of which will take less than three hours.

Prior to the opening of the new ICE line, a person needed over six hours along the line that went through Naumburg, Jena, Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Bamberg. That line will be relegated to Regio-trains which will be a total inconvenience to people living in Jena and points to the east. With that will mark the end of long-distance service for the first time in over 115 years. The state of Thuringia is working with the Deutsche Bahn to provide better access, which includes a new long-distance InterCity station in Jena to be opened in 2024.  (More on that here).  The ICE line will mean more development for Erfurt, as the ICE-City plans to build a new convention center and series of hotels and restaurants around the station to better accommodate customers and visitors to Erfurt.

ICE-4. Photo by Martin Lechler

The new line will mark the debut of the newest ICE train, the ICE 4, which will travel alongside the ICE 3 from Munich to Berlin. The ICE-T will continue to serve between Dresden and Leipzig (for more on the train types, click here).  At the same time, the older two models will be phased out bit-by-bit after having travelled tens of thousands of kilometers for over 25 years. The newest models can travel over 300 km/h and has compartments for bikes, available upon reservation.

While the new line, scheduled to be part of the train plan come 10 December, will compete with the airlines and automobile in terms of travel time, there is a catch that many people do not like: From Berlin to Munich, one will have to pay at least 125 Euros one-way, 40 Euros more than with the present route. Despite having more Regio-trains providing access to Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle from Jena and elsewhere, it will become an inconvenience when it comes to changing trains and having to rush to the nearest ICE train with very little time left.

Still it is up to the Bahn to decide how to adjust to the situation as it plans to allow for time for people to adjust and get used to the new line. After a year or so, it will make some adjustments to better serve customers who are out of reach of the new line. By then, one will find out whether the billions spent on this project was worth its salt.

Video on the VDE8 Project- the ICE Line Berlin-Erfurt-Munich:

And a map of the new line:

Jena Says Adé to the ICE Train

Photo courtesy of Bahn Ansage

The last ICE high speed train leaves Jena at 9:00pm on December 9th. Regio-Trains to pass through after December 10th. Future of Long-Distance Train Service Questionable.

JENA, GERMANY-  It has been in the making for over 25 years, the same time as the introduction of the ICE Train along the Saale River Rail Line through Jena, Saalfeld and Lichtenfels connecting Munich and Berlin. Come December 10th, the new ICE Line connecting Erfurt with Bamberg will be open to traffic, and thus the completion of the multi-billion Euro project which features high-speed trains going up to 350 km/hrs. from Berlin to Munich via Leipzig, Erfurt and Coburg.

And with that, a bitter farewell to the service going through Jena. Despite protests and events designed to convince the Deutsche Bahn (DB) Rail Service to continue with the train service once the new ICE-line opens, the train service provider has decided to pull the plug on long-distance train services, which provided passengers with service to both major cities without having to change trains.

From December 2017 onwards, only regional trains will be passing through Jena on both the N-S and W-E axes, thus providing longer travel times to the nearest train stations that serve ICE-trains. To provide a pair of examples: With Regio-Service to Leipzig, it takes up to 90 minutes due to stops at every single station. With the ICE-train, it would have taken less than an hour. Going to Nuremberg, one needs three hours with the ICE. With Regio, it would be an additional two hours. Even if one takes a Regio-train to Erfurt to catch the ICE-train, one needs a half hour just to get to Erfurt.  Reports have indicated that Jena will get the worst end of the bargain in the history of the city’s rail lines and some have compared the service to that of 80 years ago.

IC trains to debut in Jena come 2019

But there is a silver lining to the deal. DB has not completely abandoned long-distance train services, and the state government under Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow is stepping in to provide support for the people in Jena affected by the new ICE rail line. There will be one ICE-train going to Berlin, which leaves at 5:30am every weekday morning and arriving back in Jena at 9:30pm. An Inter-City (IC) train connecting Leipzig with Karlsruhe will pass through Jena on a daily basis, but mainly in the afternoon. Come 2019, InterCity trains will pass through Jena, on the W-E axis, providing service to Gera (east) and Cologne via Erfurt and Kassel (west). This will be a first since 2002, the last time an IC train has passed through. By 2023, it is planned that IC-trains will pass through Jena on a two-hour basis going on the N-S axis between Leipzig and Karlsruhe.  Yet this will not be enough to soften the blow of residents who had been used to travelling with long-distance trains from Jena and need better services.

This is where Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow stepped in, during a conference in Jena on 29 November. The state will provide over 33.9 million Euros between the end of 2018 and 2024 for long-distance trains connecting Jena and Leipzig to ensure that passengers can reach their destinations faster than what is expected. In addition to that, a brand new Central Station in Jena is being planned in the southern suburb of Burgau, where all trains can stop for passengers. Alone with the second proposal came a massive amount of criticism from opponents who claim that with six train stations in Jena it was not necessary to construct another train station. Furthermore, Jena has a long-distance train station in Jena-Paradies, which was built in 2003. Work is already in the making to convert another station, Jena-Göschwitz, into a long-distance train station. Already the train station building is being renovated so that people can wait inside or pick up their food. In addition, the platforms are being rebuilt to include elevators and other handicap-accesses.

Older version of the IC, most of which are owned by Locomore

With the Bahn not committed to long-distance trains along the N-S axis before 2023 and the small number of IC-trains passing through on the W-E axis daily (three in each direction), all using the stops currently used by Regio-Express trains, Ramelow will have to look at private train providers to fulfill the promises of the residents of having long-distance trains between the end of 2018 and 2024. Already on the radar include Locomore, which is owned by Czech provider Leo Express and German bus provider Flixbus. Despite having gone through bankruptcy last year, train services are being reintroduced for lines connecting Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Berlin, competing with DB’s long distance lines in terms of pricing and services. It is very likely that Locomore could take over the former ICE line between Bamberg and Leipzig, thus providing residents in Jena and neighboring Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Naumburg rail service until 2024.

Also in the running is Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn (MRB), which has expanded services in Saxony and could even reintroduce the Inter-Regio train connecting Leipzig with Jena, with an option of going to Bamberg. The Inter-Regio was last used in 2002 and functions as an Inter-City train with a snack bar and compartments for bikes.  Unlike the IC, college students could use the train with their student ticket, which is a big plus. Currently one Regio-Express line serves the Nuremberg-Hof-Chemnitz-Dresden Magistrate, starting in Hof.

Then there is the ALEX Rail, which serves lines connecting Munich with Landau, as well as Regensburg and Hof, mostly operated using diesel trains. If extended from Nuremberg to Leipzig it would provide passengers with direct service to Nuremberg and could thus switch onto the ICE-train to Munich, Frankfurt (via Wurzburg) or Vienna.

All options are currently open, but one variable is certain, due to the adjustment period with the new ICE-line, especially with regards to the pricing and the train access, as well as construction along the N-S axis both south and north of Jena and the planned electrification of the line along the W-E axis which will connect Weimar and Jena first before heading eastward towards Gera and Glauchau, residents of Jena and areas along the N-S axis will have to face the inevitable: the DB is committed to Regio-services in the short and middle terms. Already planned is more Regio trains connecting Jena with Erfurt as well as Jena with Halle(Saale) to provide more access to the ICE-stations. In addition, Erfurt Bahn is seeking to extend its Peppermint Line to Jena, enroute to Possneck via Orlamünde. Currently, the line connects Sommerda (north of Erfurt) with Grossheringen (near Naumburg). Should the plan to realize long-distance train services be in the cards, chances are most likely Jena will have to face prospects of either hand-me-down ICs from DB or Locomores in order to accommodate services.

And this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for many who are reliant on the train services. Instead of dealing with multiple train changes and delays while waiting at small train stations with little or no services, many are thinking of investing in a set of wheels and calculating traffic jams on Germany’s Autobahn. Given Jena’s proximity to two of the busiest Autobahns (M9 between Berlin and Munich and M4 between Cologne and Dresden), this would make sense and would even fulfil the prediction once made by OTZ Newspaper Columnist Tino Zippel: In the end, DB will have invested billions for the new ICE-rail line……. and for the automobile.

On the map below, you can see the illustrations based on the information in the article.

 

Jena has six rail stations on both axes. On the N-S we have Jena-Zwätzen, Jena Saalbahnhof and Jena Paradies, the last being the ICE stop. On the W-E, we have Jena-West and Neue Schenke. Both lines cross at Jena-Göschwitz, which is currently being remodeled to become the new Jena Central Station, where all long-distance trains are scheduled to stop. Each station is heavily connected by city bus and street car services, which stops an average of every 10 minutes on a daily basis; 20 minutes on weekends.

 

A farewell ceremony to the ICE-train is scheduled for 9 December beginning at 7:00pm. A flashmob similar to people saying farewell to AirBerlin (when it ceased operations in October) will take place at 9:00pm, when the last ICE stops in Jena Paradies. Details here.

For information on the new train schedule, especially for those wishing to visit Jena can be found via DB here.

Panoramic view of Jena Paradies ICE Station. Built in 2003, this station will soon lose its ICE-stop after 9 December. Photo taken by Michael Sander

2017 Christmas Market Tour: Preview

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The huts are open. The mulled wine is flowing into the cups. Seasons greetings are being sung in front of Christmas trees. And new local goods are being introduced to tourists and regular visitors. This means the Christmas markets in Germany are officially open. And for yours truly, this means I will be on the road, profiling the best and finest of Christmas markets in Germany.  🙂

This year’s Christmas market tour is very unique for its main focus is on history and tradition. History because of the interest in typical holiday traditions in the past in comparison with the future. And tradition because of the interest in comparing the family traditions in the past and present. We know that the Christmas markets originated from eastern Germany and most of the popular figures- the Christmas Pyramid, the Lighted Christmas Arch and the incense people were mostly made in the Ore and Fichtel Mountain regions in Saxony and Bavaria. But while we know our Christmas markets based on the ones from the western half of Germany, which includes Nuremberg and Munich, plus the Christmas traditions, which are typical in the same region, we don’t know much about the history of the ones in the eastern half, which had been under Communist rule until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Germany reunited a year later.  We know that Christmas was more or less not focused on Christianity per se because of the government’s crack down on religion. We also know that despite having wooden products made in the Ore Mountains be sold in markets in the western part but not to the people in the region. However, what makes Christmas in the former East Germany unique from the ones we’re accustomed to?

We can start with a pair of commercials that were produced during that period and focused on Christmas and shopping. The questions we have are the following:

  1. What is meant by Konsum in general and how was it used here? Was it a store or propaganda?
  2. What were the themes behind these commercials?
  3. What gifts were common during that time?
  4. How do you perceive the commercials in comparison to the ones accustomed to from an outsider’s perspective?

Have a look at the two examples:

 

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A lot of themes were picked up during my last tour in Saxony, in places like Glauchau, Zwickau, Chemnitz, Leipzig and even Freiberg, which leads to the decision to find out more about Christmas during the Communist era. This includes items like Christmas songs, food, incense men, and other items. Therefore, this year’s tour will take us deep in the heart of the Ore Mountains in hopes to find out exactly how Christmas was celebrated before 1989 and what traditions from the past are still alive today.

Many of these factors will be integrated into the markets I visit, yet there are some factors that will be produced in separate articles, whether it is in a form of interviews, short summaries, video examples or other genres. The bottom line is to compare the tradition of eastern Germany to that of the western counterpart and allow ourselves to decide which tradition was better.

So sit back, relax and havge a look at my tour and findings that will help you (re)define the meaning of Christmas. 🙂

Stay tuned! 🙂

Note: Public Radio Station MDR is also doing coverage on Christmas in Eastern Germany, picking up from a few years ago with their podcasts. Click here for previous broadcasts and stay tuned for news coverage that will come beginning December 1st and will be added here.

 

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End of the Line: Angela Merkel

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Twelve years ago, German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, faced with growing pressure from the opposition and within his own perty, especially his party the Social Democrats lost one state after another in the state elections, initiated a vote of confidence to determine whether he has the support to continuing governing the country with the Greens or if he should hold new elections. After three years of power during his second five-year term, he was considered an obstructionist, and many voters were dissatisfied with his governing of Germany. He failed and was forced to hold elections which he eventually lost to the current governing leader, Angela Merkel and her party, the CDU.

Fast forwarding to the present, it appears that Lady Chancellor’s days are about to end, and very quickly. After her party lost over 150,000 votes (or 8.6 percent) in the September elections- many going to the Free Liberals (FDP) and the right-winged Alternative for Germany (AfD), she faced the second strike on November 19th, when talks to form the Jamaica coalition- featuring the FDP and the Greens- failed  after Christian Lindner, head of the FDP, walked out of the talks in Berlin and reinterated this comment:

“It’s better to not govern than to govern wrongly.”

With this, the Federal Republic of Germany is in the worst crisis since 1982, when the vote of no confidence was initiated against Helmut Schmidt, which formed the coalition of CDU and FDP and vaulted Helmut Kohl into the governing seat as chancellor, and thus ruled for an unprecedented 16 years, thus breaking Konrad Adenauer’s record for the longest regime in modern German history.

Given the current situation with Merkel, the family of the late chancellor Kohl can now rest easily. His record will remain untouched.

Merkel is running parallel to British Prime Minister Teresa May. The lady with the iron fist is getting rusty. Merkel is 63 years old and despite her successes during her years as chancellor, she is facing increasing opposition from not only within members of the Bundesparliament and Bundestag, but also among the voters. Like May, Merkel ran the platform in the federal elections as if she was unphased by the attacks made by the candidates, most notably from Martin Schulz from the SPD and Frauke Petry of the AfD. However the results of the elections revealed that Merkel has lost touch on many of the issues affecting Germany, and to a larger extent, Europe and the rest of the world. This includes issues involving refugees, the environment, lack of funding for infrastructure, education and other domestic issues, and most recently lack of unity among Germany’s neighbors, even though her relationship with the US is on the rocks because of actions by the President (Trump), not Merkel herself.

With the Jamaica coalition finally dead, and despite pleas by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to concentrate more on building a government and take responsibility for the voters, the writing is now on the walls of Brandenburg Gate: We must redo the elections again.  This may be a dangerous  choice, as the AfD will surely gain more votes and even have a chance to win the elections. This is why Alexander Gauland and Alice Weigel have celebrated the failure of the Jamaica and even have called for Merkel to step down. However, with the polls showing almost two thirds of the population favoring new elections, this may be inevitable.  Adding insult to injury is the SPD’s constant refusal to create a Grand Coalition with the CDU, claiming they feel like a back-up plan to Merkel should she and her party be caught in a “Schlammasse.”

Both Martin Schulz and Andrea Nahles have stated that new elections are acceptable especially for voters.   The same echo applies from the Left, and even the Greens find the new elections as the best alternative.

While Merkel has the option of ruling with a minority- together with the Greens- the chances of her winning that, let alone ruling with a minority successfully are very slim, bordering on the nil scale, especially as she would have a larger opposition as she would have had had the Jamaica been formed. And with growing dissatisfaction as to how to handle the delicate issues, it makes a person wonder if age is already catching up to her and her rule of power combined with her lack of flexibility on these issues makes her an obstructionist and a hindrance to the success of the CDU and its relationship with the sister party, the CSU. It is a well-known fact that the average age of the politicians in the two parties is between 56 and 58 years, with some even in their late 60s. Yet, as one can see with Saxony’s prime minister Stanislav Tillich’s planned resignation in December and the hand-over to Michael Kretschmer, a 42-year old, there are enough younger politicians ready to take over the reigns of the party and make better, more efficient decisions than the older generations.

So let’s look at the scenario very carefully:

Merkel wins the chancellorship through direct elections presented by President Steinmeier but would rule with a minority government.  Her only chance to get a majority is with a coalition with the SPD (and possibly Greens), which Schulz and Nahles both refuse.

She calls for new elections, which takes place in Spring 2018, but not after having a very intensive and sometimes violent campaign, especially the latter from members of the AfD. The votes come in and how would this fare out?

The AfD has a real chance to win the elections but if and only if with an absolute majority (at least 45% of the votes) for it would fail to govern without a partner otherwise. None of the other parties will join.

The CDU wins but with an absolute majority as well, as it cannot partner with other parties except maybe the Greens.

The SPD may have a real shot of winning and forming a Red-Red-Green coalition with the Left and Greens. This could be Martin Schulz’s lucky day especially with a younger group of politicians from each party.

The results could be the same on the second go-round and then the parties would need to rethink their mandates and policies, conceding many to form a universal coalition (everybody but the AfD).

 

But in order to have any chance of a stable government to rule Germany for the next five years, one thing is certain: It must be done by the younger generations as they are more universalists and aware of the issues than the older ones. These are the ones who were taught to listen- and they have listened to the needs of the people.  There is no need to shake up the establishment in Berlin (and the EU in Brussels). There just needs to be a new leader to take Germany to the next level.

Angela Merkel has done her part. It is now time for her to step aside and let others take over; people who are younger and brighter and have better ways of repelling the xenophobes and greeds of the world.  Only then will not only the CDU and CSU but also the other parties have a chance to become successful in the long term.

So for now Ms. Merkel, it has been a pleasure. Happy Retirement and Thank You for your service for Germany, Europe and the rest of the world. 🙂

Facts about  the minority and reelection process can be found here.  Information on the failure of the Jamaica coalition and the consequences can be found via ARD here

 

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