2017 German Federal Elections: A Preview

Germans go to the polls on 24 September to elect their new Chancellor- A lot of questions still exists

After the US, Dutch and French elections, the German elections, which will take place on 24 September 2017, will be the decisive factor on how Germany will be governed for the next four years. Yet like the Presidential Elections that brought Donald Trump to power, this election will decide the fate of the European Union as well as the rest of the world, going forward, as there are several factors that will influence the voters’ decision on which party should rule the Bundestag in Berlin. Furthermore, given Germany’s economic, social and political leverage on Brussels as well as the United Nations, people are praying that whoever is elected Chancellor will be the one that will shape the country and take it into the direction that is the most desirable both nationally as well as globally.  Factors influencing the political decision among the voters include:

Germany’s role in terms of environmental policyamong other things, renewable energy, climate change and protecting flora and fauna

Germany’s role in terms of refugee policy, which includes integration of those qualified to live in the country and quick deportation of the unqualified and criminals

Germany’s role in international relations, especially within the EU and with the US. While President Trump would rather have Frauke Petry of the AfD (even though she is now on maternity leave) instead of the incumbent Angela Merkel of the CDU, Germany is trying to shore up relations with countries still loyal with the EU, while fighting fires caused by the far right governments of Poland, Turkey and Hungary, as well as Great Britain’s Teresa May.

Germany’s role in domestic policies and how it can close the ever continuing widening gap between the rich and the  poor, as well as improve on the country’s education system

Even more important are some thought provoking questions that are on the minds of all Germans, Americans living in Germany (including yours truly) and other foreigners living in Germany, for whoever rules the country for the next four years will have an impact on the lives of others, for each party has its own agenda that is different than that of the policies of Chancellor Merkel up until now. For some parties, this election could be make or break because of their struggle to win support. Here are some questions that are of concern as we bite our nails and worry about 24 September:

  1. Will Angela Merkel win her fourth term, thus be on the path to break the longest power streak of serving 16 years, set by the late Helmut Kohl (1982-1998; he died in June of this year)?
  2. Will the Martin Schulz Effect save the Social Democrats (SPD) or mark the beginning of the end of the centralist party?
  3. Will the Free Democratic Party return to the Bundestag after breaking the 5% barrier?
  4. Are too many windmills too much for the Greens?
  5. Will the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) continue its winning streak and roll into parliament? If so could it even overrun the CDU and even govern Berlin?
  6. Will the Leftist Party (Linke) serve as the counterpunch to the AfD or will it need help?
  7. Will this election mark the last for the Nationalist Party of Germany (NPD)?

These questions will be answered through my observations of the election, which will be after the tallies are counted and we know which parties will form a coalition and elect our next leader. We need to keep in mind that the German elections are different than the American ones as we elect two parties- one primary and one as second vote, and the new Chancellor is elected after a coalition is formed between two or more parties. Currently, we have the Grand Coalition, which features Merkel’s CDU and the SPD. Yet we have seen coalitions with other smaller parties. A party can have the absolute majority if more than 50% of the votes are in their favor.

To better understand the multi-party system, there are a pair of useful links you can click onto, which will provide you with an insight on the German election system. Both are useful for children, and both are in German, which makes it useful to learn the language.

Checker Tobi:  http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Die-Checker/Checker-Tobi-extra-Warum-w%C3%A4hlen-wichtig/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=39903768&documentId=45989192

logo! on ZDF: https://www.zdf.de/kinder/logo/bundestagswahl-aktuell-100.html

Fellow American collegial column Leipzig Glocal produced an article on the multi-party election system and the number of parties that could run in the elections. Details on that can be found here:

http://leipglo.com/2017/09/19/federal-elections-2017-party-roll-call/

While I cannot vote on the count of my American citizenship (though ideas of switching sides have lingered since Trump’s elections) like other American expats, I can only stress the importance of going to the polls on the 24th. Your vote counts because we are at the crossroads. Can we do it, like Merkel said with taking on the refugees in 2015? Or can we afford to experiment and if so at what price? Only your vote will make a difference. So go out there and vote. And allow me to comment once there is a new Chancellor, be it another four years of Merkel (and the flirt with Kohl’s record) or with someone else……

Viel Glück und Glück auf! 🙂

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500 Years of the 95 Theses Celebrated in Germany

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Magdeburg Cathedral, one of the places where Martin Luther spread his influence. Photo taken in 2011

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BERLIN/ERFURT/ LUTHERSTADT-WITTENBERG- You see me, and we see you. The slogan for the 36th annual Day of Christianity (Kirchentag), which ended yesterday with an open-air church service on the field along the Elbe River in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg.  Located between Leipzig and Berlin, Wittenberg was the central stage for Martin Luther, who was a professor of theology 500 years ago- a revolutionary who posted the 95 Theses on the doors of the church in the city with its present-day population of over 30,000 inhabitants. It is this city, where the two-day event commemorated the historic event, which reshaped Christianity and created the church that still bears its name.  Over 400,000 visitors participated in the four-day event, which started in Berlin, but also featured regional events in cities where Luther had its strongest influence: Leipzig, Erfurt, Weimar, Jena, Eisleben, Halle and even Magdeburg had festivities from Thursday to Saturday for Christians, tourists, families and people wanting to know more about Luther and his interpretation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Wittenberg alone, roughly 120,000 visitors converged onto the field along the Elbe River and at the city center, to take part in the evening light show and open air reflections on Saturday, followed by an open-air church service on Sunday. Despite the sweltering heat, people had an opportunity to listen to the sermons as well as the discussion forum, one of which involved newly-elected German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who took over for Joachim Gauck in February this year.

In Berlin, where over 245,000 visitors took part in the festivities, especially at Brandenburg Gate, the events marked the welcoming back of former US President Barack Obama, who, together with Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized Donald Trump’s policy of isolation with his plan for building the Wall to Mexico and isolating the country from its international obligations.

And as for the regional places, according to reports by MDR, the numbers were much lower than expected. In Erfurt, Jena and Weimar alone, only 42,000 visitors attended the events from Thursday to Saturday. However, the events were overshadowed by warm, summer weather, the Handel festival that began in Halle, the relegation soccer game between Jena and Cologne, where the former won the first of two games, and lastly, the Luther events at the aforementioned places in Berlin and Wittenberg.

This was noticeable during my visit in Erfurt on Friday with my wife and daughter. There, despite having over a dozen booths, podium discussions in several churches, tours of the churchs’ chapels and steeples as well as several plays and concerts and a pilgrimage from Stotternheim to the city center, the majority of the visitors took advantage of the beautiful weather for other activities.  It had nothing to do with attempts to recruit and convert people to become Lutheran on the spot. One should not interpret Luther and his teachings like this. In fact at a few sites that feature plays and musicals for children, such as Luther and Katharina as well as the Luther Express where children learned about Jesus during each of the four seasons, the layout and preparations were simple but well thought out with no glorifying features and some informative facts presented, which attracted a sizable number of people in the audience (between 50 and 60).

The lack of numbers might have to do with the fact that despite Christianity dominating Germany at 59%, only 28% consists of Lutherans in general. In the US, over 46% consists of Protestants, of which 26% are Evangelicals. 71% of the population are Christians. Given the low number of people belonging to the church, the United Lutheran Church Association of Germany (EKD) and other organizations worked together to make the Luther festival informative, attracting people from different denominations so that they know about Luther’s legacy both in Germany as well as above. It doesn’t necessarily mean that membership is obligatory. Much of the population are sceptical about the beliefs in Jesus, which is one of the reasons of why a quarter of the 41% are aethesists or agnostics. This leads to the question of why Christ is not important to them while at the same time why people in Germany elect to join the church. This question I had touched on in a conversation with one of the pastors of a local church, which will be brought up in a later article.

Nevertheless, when summarizing the events of this weekend, it was deemed a success in many ways. It provided visitors with a glimpse of Luther’s legacy, especially in Wittenberg, where his 95 Thesis was the spark that started the fire and spread to many cities in the region. It also brought together friends and strangers alike, Christian and non-Christian to remember the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Lutheran Church we know today, branches included. Exhibits on Luther can be found in Wittenberg but also at the places where Luther played a key role. For more, please click here to see where you can visit the sites.

You can also read up on the pilgrimage of six people, who marched on Lutherstadt-Wittenberg for the events by foot, bike or even boat, camping along the way. Each pair started their tour from Erfurt, Eisleben and Dessau-Rosslau, respectively. Here you can find their stories.

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New Traffic Lights to Show Solidarity

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FLENSBURG- Traffic Lights, especially in the sense of pedestrian signal lights, are one of the key elements one will find in Germany. Especially in the eastern half of Germany, where traffic lights resembling a man in the hat walking (when green) and halting (when red),  that tradition can be found in almost every city and community. And even in cities, like Erfurt, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin, designers have come up with their own concoction to amuse the pedestrians and bikers having to wait for cars to pass. Thanks to its 55+ year history, the pedestrian figure has become a household name, that cities in the western half are replacing their “Denkmal” style standardized lights. Even a shop in Weimar and Berlin sell these “Ampelmännchen” as merchandise.

This trend is also happening in Flensburg but in a rather unique fashion.

Just recently, city officials replaced their “Denkmal” lights with those representing a unique form of solidarity- that of two figures of the same sex.  When walking along Holm to the intersection with Große Strasse (Rathausstrasse), one will find two homosexual couples holding hands with a heart above it. Red represents the lesbians stopping for traffic, green represents the gay men walking across. An interesting design that has caught the attention of several pedestrians and bikers, young and old alike.

But why such a light?

In connection with the International Day against Homophobia, city officials and organizations representing homosexuals are making a statement in showing solidarity for the same-sex couples who are often discriminated based on their sexual preferences. In the United States alone, according to statistics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 20% of crimes that occurred in 2013 had been motivated by sexual preferences and that homosexual couples are twice as likely to be attacked than people of different color or religion. The massacre at a homosexual disco hall in Orlando, Florida in June of last year, where 51 people were killed, brought the issue of discrimination of homosexuals to the forefront. Especially during the Presidential race in 2016, vulgar language against homosexuals were used by Donald Trump, which provided more fuel for the hate machine.

But in Flensburg, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Germany with 110,000 people, the largest Danish minority in the country and one of the largest number of refugees as well, people are making a statement. “The traffic light is a persistent symbol for respect we demand,” says Simone Lange, mayor of Flensburg. She pointed out that the crime rate against homosexuals has quadrupled over the last year. In an interview with the Flensburg Tagesblatt, “It is more serious than we think and people really need to talk about this.”

One of the people spearheading the efforts is Nicolas Jähring, who is chair of the organization Schwusos and one of the members of the German Social Democrats representing the city. His advocacy for having the traffic lights installed in the city center was met with failure last year, only to have it approved by the state ministry of transportation this year under special circumstances. To him, it is a symbol but there is more meaning to it. “It fosters reflexion and we would welcome people who accept this.”

Flensburg is the third German city to have at least one homosexual traffic light in operation. Hamburg has had them since 2015, and Munich only temporary for the Christopher Street Day celebrations. Yet its forefather is in Vienna, where since its introduction, the number of homosexual traffic lights are blooming.  While it is unlikely that more traffic lights like this one will pop up in the rest of Flensburg, it will indeed serve as a symbol of solidarity for couples who choose the non-conventional form of relationships. Even if many people consider this permanent installment just a traffic light, it will serve as an example for other cities to follow- not just in Berlin, Leipzig, Frankfurt or even Dresden, but also in cities in the United States, where support for homosexual couples are at an all time high, despite attempts by the current Trump administration, as well as fundamental evangelicals and hate groups to either cleanse them of “their unnatural behavior” or eliminate them altogether.

It is hoped that it is not the case, and people are taking this seriously, as we see in the interview conducted by the Danish newspaper Flensborg Avis.

 

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A depiction of what the lights looks like, courtesy of Inga Joblonsky.

 

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Leipzig Book Fair Sets New Record

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LEIPZIG- There are two ways of looking at the new record that was set at this year’s Leipzig Book Fair (Buchmesse). According to information provided by public radio station MDR, about 208,000 visitors paid homage to the convention during the weekend of 23-27 March, which takes place at the Leipzig Messe, breaking the 200,000 mark for the first time ever. About 285,000 people attended the largest in-city book events in Europe- Leipzig Liest (Leipzig is Reading), where restaurants, libraries and other public places held reading lectures by guest authors. Over 3,400 events occurred this past weekend, which is also a new record. And even the Manga convention, where tens of thousands can dress in costumes and buy products made in Japan, saw the mark of 100,000 guests get cracked by as many as 5,000. Over 2,500 booths filled all five convention halls, ranging from publishers, teacher organizations, media firms and even the antique book stores in and around Leipzig to electronic gaming companies, food vendors selling foreign goods and even costumes shops. Over all, people took advantage of both the spring-like weather and the start of Daylight Savings Time to make a pilgrimage to the Buchmesse to check out some cool items. 🙂

There are two ways to look at the record. The first one is based on the traditional way, where the stereotype of books being part of the German culture and true and more stressed than ever before. A while back, I had written about how Germans treat their books like the Bible, having shelves full in their homes and collecting even more books to read and share with others (this article can be found here.) Regardless of age or profession, everyone took their share of opportunity at the books, picking out their favorites as well as some interesting books worth taking home with, regardless of where.

As for the second way, that has more to do with the Manga convention than the book fair itself. While Lithuania was this year’s guest at the convention, and much of the literature was found in the second convention hall, the Manga convention in the first hall featured booths laden with Japanese-style comics, fashion clothing, electronic goods and even food- all coming from Japan. A lot of events dealing with this theme, including the costume contest, were also found in the hall, which explained the reason why one in ten people dressed up as Japanese comic figures. Many scenes at the Book Fair resembled scenes in such American films, such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Space Jam. It felt like being in a Hollywood studio, either at Warner Brothers or Universal. It was……simply……awesome! 😀

Together with my wife and daughter, we hit the market on Saturday, the peak day of the convention and came away with some great books. Even some books commemorating Martin Luther’s 95 theses, whose 500th anniversary celebrations are in full swing. These books will be highlighted in the later articles. In the meantime, we wanted to give you some highlights of the events at the Buchmesse, which you can click here and it will take you to the facebook version of the Files. There, you can see what you can expect from a really great book convention in Germany and plan for the one in Frankfurt (Main) in October. The 2018 Leipzig Book Fair will take place 15-18 March. In case you want some tips on how to plan ahead,….. 🙂

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  1. While the Leipzig Messe (convention center) is easily accessible by S-bahn (light rail) especially from Leipzig Central Station, some long-distance trains also provide you with direct access. When booking for the next Leipzig Buchmesse, talk to the ticket personnel at the train station regarding some deals. However, be forewarned for the trains can get crowded in the afternoon hours.
  2. Book a hotel as early as possible and plan an overnight stay. Especially in the months before the Buchmesse, hotel prices can skyrocket by as much as 500%. So instead of an overnight stay for 50 Euros a night, you could pay up to 450 Euros at the time of the book fair. Look for the best deal and ask a friend living in Leipzig to stay a night. It will help a great deal.
  3. Although family rates for the book fair are really affordable (this year’s rate was 37.50 Euros), it is highly recommended to visit the Manga first- and in the mornings. The reason: In the afternoon and early evening, it can be awfully crowded- and exhausting if there is not much air inside the convention hall.
  4. Check out the rest of Leipzig for a weekend. While the readings and lectures are good, spending time in the city as well as its parks are even better. It’s OK to buy a good book, go to Clara-Zetkin-Park and read for the rest of the afternoon, while enjoying the best in Japanese snacks. My tip for the next convention. 😉

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Flensburg Second

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Since Donald Trump has taken office as President of the United States, he has been keeping his promise of ensuring that America goes first before all other countries, thus upsetting not only his counterparts in Europe and Asia, but also his fellow countrymen at home and even some members of his own party, many of whom have close ties with relatives and businesses abroad.  In either case “America First” has become the cliché that has become the norm in a globalized society.

It’s just so funny that other countries, regions and even cities have caught onto the trend and countered the President with their versions of being first.  Coined Being Second, organizers have put together a video, highlighting the best places the countries have to offer to the President, along with the attitudes and culture of people, showing him the dos and don’ts when visiting the country- if he visits a country before being removed from office by the latest, 2020. 😉  Besides Germany (see the video below), videos have been produced by the likes of Denmark, Portugal, Switzerland, Italy, India, Kazahkstan and Luxembourg. Even the region of Frisia has a video of its own!

But can you imagine a city taking up the task of challenging Trump? The city of Flensburg did just that. A group of residents decided to produce a video about the rum port prided with its history, culture and way of life that “might suit the president,” should he decide to travel to this small but lively town. Here is the official video:

Needless to say, the video has gone viral since its post onto youtube yesterday, thus breaking the ranks and becoming the first city to pride itsself as being the counterpart to this America First trend. 🙂

It makes a person also wonder if other states AND EVEN communities, both in Germany and Europe as well as in the States and elsewhere are willing to step up to challenge to say Community First and not America, or America First and Community Second. In Germany alone, there are enough examples to put together, whether they are states, like Schleswig-Holstein, Saxony, Thuringia, and North Rhine-Westphalia. Bavaria, Zugspitze and Baden-Wurttemberg have already released their bragging rights. 😉  Cities, like Berlin, Munich, Leipzig, Dresden and Hamburg can step up to the plate.

As big as the cities are, they are very diverse and have unique places to visit worth noting. Yet, as small as Flensburg is (it has 100,000 inhabitants minus the city’s neighbors and suburbs, any small community can do it. It’s just a matter of looking at the community’s identity, what it has to offer for places and cultural events and lastly, showing them what to do and not to do.  There are enough examples one can imagine filming, whether it is Fehmarn and its unique places, Halle and its association with Luther and Haydn, Bayreuth and its history with Richard Wagner, Erfurt and its charming historic buildings and its bratwurst. Anything is possible. Just let the imagination go wild. 🙂

And with that in mind, allow the author to end with a Denkfoto, allowing you to sit with a good local beverage in your hand while enjoying the view of Flensburg’s skyline from the now Heimathafen Restaurant at Hafenspitze. Enjoy and good luck with your film project! 😀  Looking forward to seeing more on this.

Remember: This challenge similar to what was presented is open for anyone wishing to beg to differ in Trump’s America First Comment.

Flensburg Sunset

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Der Ammann Preis für historischen Brücken: Die Wahlen beginnen

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Glienicke Brücke zwischen Potsdam und Berlin. Fotografiert in 2010

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Jedes Jahr um diese Zeit, verleiht der Online-Kolumn The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles der Preis namens Othmar H. Ammann Awards. Der Preis wurde für sechs Kategorien gegeben, unter anderem: Beste Beispiel einer restaurierten Brücke, Erbe des Lebens, Mysteriöse Brücke (ohne Information aber eigenartig), Tour Guide einer Stadt/Region mit vielen Brücke, eine geheimnisvolle Brücke und Brücke des Jahres (In English: Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge, Lifetime Achievement, Mystery Bridge, Tour Guide, Best Kept Secret and Bridge of the Year).

Ab jetzt und bis zum 6. Januar (Heilige Drei König Tag) haben Sie die Gelegenheit, ihre Lieblingsbrücke in den gegebenen Kategorien zu wählen. Clicken Sie auf die Links zum Ballot in the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles and lassen Sie wählen. Außer der Kategorie Mysteriöse Brücke (nur vier Stimmen werden erlaubt) gibt es keine Grenze welche Brücke von Ihnen gewählt wird.  Die Information ist in der englischen Sprache, aber die Bilder sind ebenfalls genauso wichtig und schöner.

BALLOT:

Part I

Part II

Die Gewinner werden am 11. Januar bekannt gegeben. Da viele deutsche Brücken im Rennen sind, ist es wichtig, die Information auf Deutsch zu geben, damit alle im deutschsprachigen Raum die Gelegenheit haben, die Brücken zu wählen.  Im Fall von Fragen od. weiter Information, bitte wenden Sie an Jason Smith unter der Adresse: flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.

Viel Spaß beim Wählen von der Flensburg Files und The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles! 🙂

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RB Leipzig Atop of the German Bundesliga in Soccer

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FC Bayern Munich dethroned of top spot for the first time in almost one and a half years.

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DORTMUND/LEIPZIG- Before this weekend, two questions were burning in the hearts and minds of soccer fans in Leipzig, Munich, Dortmund and Leverkusen. The first one is how long the team of FC Bayern Munich can stay on top, having conquered the top spot for 39 soccer matches and 425 days. The second one is whether the team’s closest competitor, RB Leipzig would overtake Munich, given its record-breaking debut in the German Bundesliga. After all, the team had previously set a record for winning the first six matches and being undefeated after ten matches (the three ties included) as a newcomer from the second league.

Both questions have been answered thanks to Leipzig’s victory over Bayer Leverkusen on Friday and Borussia Dortmund’s victory over FC Bayern Munich a day later. Leipzig became not only the first team since Dortmund to take over first place, but also the first East German team to reach the top since Hansa Rostock did that in 1991.

The highlights of the game in short:

Leipzig   3:2    Bayer Leverkusen

Leipzig and Leverkusen were deadlocked during much of the game, with the latter taking the lead twice until the 67th minute, when Emil Forsberg tied it up. 14 minutes later, Willi Orban sealed the deal with a shot of his own. It was then the defense and the team’s goalie that made sure the lead was never relinquished. Leverkusen had the ball for most of the game, but it shear luck and strategie that has now kept Leipzig the lone undefeated team left in the Bundesliga. Details here.

Bayern Munich    0:1     Borussia Dortmund

As expected, Bayern Munich came out aggressive and played the black and gold team as if they owned the game. However it was Dortmund that figured them out and came out attacking during the game. While the game ended in a 1:0 victory in favor of Dortmund, it was a relief for many, including coach Thomas Tuchel who explained that it was a narrow-escape. After Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the lone goal in the 11th minute, it was up to the rest to keep the red-white-blue team in check, as it could not find any answers. Details here.

With Leipzig now holding the top spot in the Bundesliga, the question now is will they be there to stay or will Munich take revenge and reclaim the top spot? There’s still a month left until they meet for the first time on 21 December. In the meantime, there is still a lot of soccer left in this season.

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This latest development in German soccer has led to a pair of questions for you to think about before 21 December:

The last time Leipzig won a national league soccer title was in 1903. But this record may fall after this season. Therefore…..

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