Germany at 70: The Constitution

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

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

Enjoy the documentary! 🙂

 

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Speed Limits in Germany: Should they be enforced nationally?

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Entering the Autobahn in Hamburg. Photo taken in March 2017

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Photo Flick 13

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This photo flick gives us a true meaning of the classroom learning exercise known as “Think, Pair and Share.”  All you need are two chairs, a table, a notebook with pen and a good environment to brainstorm and exchange ideas, like this art exhibition room in a district in Dresden’s Neustadt, taken in April 2019. 🙂

 

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TED Talk: The Disarming Case to Act Now on Climate Change by Greta Thunberg

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There have been some talk about the Fridays for the Future Demonstrations and all of the advantages and disadvantages of students walking out of school to demonstrate for climate change. On one side of the spectrum, skipping classes to demonstrate has had a resounding effect on politics and policies of each country, forcing governments to reconsider their laws and heed to the demands of the demonstrators. There are enough examples, big and small, that support this argument, including the top three that I have:

  1. The college demonstrations in the US against the Vietnam War- Starting in 1968, these demonstrations, albeit bloody, resulted in President Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to run for a second term in office. He was replaced by Richard Nixon, who wound down the war efforts by withdrawing troops and contributing to brokering a deal between North and South Vietnam. The war ended when the North Vietnamese troops captured Saigon and the rest of South Vietnam in 1975, hours after the last US troops left.
  2. The Monday Night Demonstrations in East Germany- Starting in September 1989, the demonstrations that started every Monday evening at St. Nicholas Church ended up becoming a nationwide demonstration demanding change to a communist system that was considered broken. The end result was the downfall of Erich Honecker on 19 October and the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November. In the end, the peaceful protest also marked the beginning of talks for a reunified Germany, which happened on 3 October, 1990, and the domino effect that led to the end of Communism in 1991.
  3. The Parkland Massacre Demonstrations of 2019- After a shooting spree that resulted in the deaths of 17 people at a high school in Florida, a group of high schoolers started a protest to address the use of guns in the US and the lobby group NRA. The end result is a shift in tide from the right to have guns to the right to protect our children, even if it means voting out every single NRA supporter who rejects stricter gun laws.

But by the same token, many teachers and parents, as well as some politicians feel that skipping school to protest climate change is just a waste of time and that time should be spent discussing this in the classroom.

But as you can see in the TED-Talk speech by 16-year old Greta Thunberg, there has been too much talk and too little action. Many turn a blind eye for the sake of popularity and money. Too much  money has been wasted for conferences and speeches. And when the situation becomes unbearable where even the youngest generation walks out to protest the changes in our environment which are slowly becoming irreversible, then the time for talk is over and the time to act is now. The talk looks at the origins of the Friday for the Future demonstrations and how it has evolved since she started the walk-out process at her high school in Sweden.

Watch or listen to this speech and ask yourself what can be done to stop the destructive changes that are taking place to our planet. There are enough things to be done without talking about it.

 

 

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TED Talk: Poverty- The Lack of Cash Not Character

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While we have been talking about the fall of capitalism and countries in Europe introducing a general income for all, some of us wonder if there is a correlation between poverty and intelligence, or poverty and health. While there have been many (and sometimes important) studies that definitely confirm the latter, there is very little written or even spoken about the former.

That is until a TED-talk session in 2017, where Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, debunks the claim that poverty and intelligence are related. Bregman specializes in the history of economics and society and has done talks and written many pieces in this field. In this TED talk session, Bregman claims that the correlation relating to poverty has more to do with one lacking cash for the basic necessities: food, education, shelter and clothing, and less with the character of the person him-/herself. Even the brightest persons in the world happen to be poor. As a result, he pushes for a national general income for all program to encourage people to have these necessities and not treat them as a luxury. Interestingly enough, it was introduced in the Netherlands in the 1970s and produces surprising results.

Details are in his speech. Watch it and ask yourself if a general income for all would be of advantage to your country’s population and if so, how?

 

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Documentary: Deaths in Despair: The End of the American Dream

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A while back, I wrote an essay on the American Dream and how it has changed over the past half decade to a point where it has become diverse in many ways, shape and form. In theory one can achieve the dream through hard work. In praxis, however, it is a totally different league. And especially within the last decade, this American Dream has become more and more materialistic, divided based on money, power and even social, ethnical and cultural backgrounds, and especially since Donald Trump has taken over, more dysfunctional than at any time in American history.

No wonder why these dystopian variants are leading to the breakdown of families and friendships, the rise in violence and in many cases, as we can see in this documentary below, the rise in the rate of suicides. Nobel prize-winning economist Angus Deaton, and his wife, fellow Princeton Prof. Anne Case, have traveled together with Wall Street Journal’s Jason Belini from coast to coast to find out what is leading to the disappearance of the American Dream, and how it is impacting other countries in many ways, shape and form. In this 10-minute documentary, produced by Moving Upstream, the three take a look at this and whether suicide and other social pathologies are causing this almost seven-decade long dream to become a memory.

Watch this clip and have a look at the questions you can discuss below. For the American expatriates residing overseas, like yours truly, this is definitely worth watching and discussing for elements of the American Dream are impacting other countries, including those you are living in.

 

 

  1. What has changed in the American Dream over the past decades?
  2. What variants could benefit keeping the American Dream alive?
  3. Aside from the suicide rate, what variants are contributing to the death of the American Dream? 
  4. If there was a luxury that you had growing up as a child (be it 30 years ago or more) that you miss in today’s society, what would it be and why?
  5. If you were the president of the US and had to look at the problems facing America, especially in this clip, what would you do to make the lives of Americans better and help them fulfill their happiness?
  6. How is the American Dream affecting other countries? 
  7. How is social media affecting American society?
  8. Is it true that the high rate of suicide in the US is negatively affecting the American Dream? If not, what other factors are contributing to its demise? 

 

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Photo flick Nr. 1

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This is the first of many to come in the Files’ series on Photo flicks, where one photo, taken by the author, is displayed for the reader to look at and analyse. This activity is good for dinner table and classroom discussions, especially if you want to look at the current events and the like that are affecting society on both sides of the ocean.

This is the first one, taken in Pittsburgh during the author’s visit in the Summer 2018. What and how can you interpret this? Feel free to discuss in person or online.

Good luck! 😀

 

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