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

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Merkel Hangs On But Trouble On Horizon

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Christian Democratic Party still holds the cards despite record losses. Free Democrats (FDP) back in the Bundestag, the Right-winged Alternative for Germany (AfD) enters national politics as the third strongest party. 

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BERLIN- The German Federal Elections of 2017 will go down as one of the most controversial elections in modern history. While we have seen government coalitions being taken down because of the vote of no-confidence- the last one being in 2005- there has not been a time where the election campaign has been hotly contested, sometimes even corrupt as this one.  Before looking at the reasons behind this argument, it is best to look at the results.

Summary:

Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU remains the most powerful of the political parties in Germany, having garnered 32.9% of the votes, according to the polls. Unfortunately, that is a loss of 8.6% from the results in the 2013 Elections. Its coalition partner, the Social Democrats, barely finished second with 20%; with the loss of 5.1% of the votes, they set a new low for the number of votes. The director of the party, Martin Schulz, declared at the close of the polls that his party would no longer work together with Merkel’s party, thus forcing the chancellor to look for new partners to rule the country. A very difficult task given the fact that third place finisher, the AfD, finished with 13% of the votes. The party’s candidate, Alexander Gauland, vows to chase Merkel’s government and her policies, especially with regards to refugees and the environment. Gauland is one of many in the party who wishes to bring back policies once carried out by Adolf Hitler during his time in power, minus the holocaust. While Merkel will definitely discard the AfD and has vowed to win back the voters who have left her party for the far right during her next four years in office, she has the possibility of forming a coalition with the Greens (who won 8.9%), FDP (who returned to German parliament after a four-year absence with 10.6% of the vote) and the left-wing party Die Linke (which got 9%).  Most likely will Merkel form a Jamaika Coalition with the Greens and the FDP but according to information from German public channel ARD, all three parties would have to work together to create a joint mandate on several points. Given their hard stance on several issues, this will be rather difficult to achieve. But in order for the coalition to be realized, some compromises and sacrifices may be needed in order for the coalition to work for the next four years. Merkel will most likely face not only one but two sets of opposition. Apart from the AfD preparing to attack her policies at every possible convenience, she will have the far left in the Linke and SPD to contend with, especially with Martin Schulz, who tried to play down her policies during his campaign, but to no avail.

Critique Points:

So what exactly went wrong with the 2017 Campaign? Everything possible, but it would be difficult to point everything out without having to type until seven in the morning, so I will focus on one aspect and that is how the campaign was run.

Firstly, the campaign was very Americanized. Instead of including the parties in the debates, especially on television, it was merely a divorce battle between two coalition partners, the SPD and the CDU. Nothing from the Greens, FDP, Left, AfD and others that were running. Surely with the other parties taking part in the debates, we would have a better idea on the stances of each one plus their plan on how to tackle the problems facing Germany.

Secondly, there was only one TV debate with, as mentioned in the last point, just the two coalition parties. Normally in a multi-party elections, there would be more than one TV debate- better three: two with the main four parties and one with the remaining parties, pending on their performance in the Bundestag. Even in the past, there were at least two TV debates. And with that TV debate between Merkel and Schulz, it turned out to be the German version of the Hillary vs. Trump debate: 100% mudslinging and not getting to the point with the debate at hand. No wonder why Martin Schulz wanted a second TV debate as there were several themes not discussed during the first debate. A big plus for him.

Thirdly, the focus was for the most part on the refugee crisis and what went wrong. Merkel has been sandwiched between Schulz’s accusation of her not doing enough for them and the accusation of the AfD and even the sister party the Christian Socialists (CSU) in Bavaria for not enforcing restrictions on the number of refugees entering the country. There was almost no space for themes that are bigger than that, such as climate change, trade agreements with North America, the EU, the widening gap between rich and poor, etc.  While Merkel and Schulz were wrestling it out politically, the AfD fed off the lack of selection and frustration of the voters who eventually went for them to begin with.

Fourthly, there should have been a TV debate with the AfD, period. Following the Beutelsbach Consensus for Political Discussion in the Classroom (enacted in 1977), having Gauder, Höcke or even Petry as a spokesperson in the debate against Merkel, Schulz and other candidates would produce discussions for all to watch with the purpose of bringing out whatever they have for plans should they be elected. As chaotic as the party has been due to political struggles and controversial remarks from members of the party, this party could be a one-term party unless they have a clear platform that will win over voters, which the only platform they have up until now is to throw out the immigrants in favor of the uneducated- something that was seen 84 years ago.

Fifthly, the last argument has resonances from America’s elections last year: The election was based too much on fame and picking apart the candidates and not on the themes concerning the German and European population. We have Merkel whom many think she’s too old and naive. We have the Schulz effect which is like buying Levi’s jeans just because it is a brand. We have Petry who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We have Göring-Eckhardt, who is the brains but not the support. OK, to be blunt, we have several flavors of Dithmarscher Beer but they all taste the same! And that is what we see with our candidates, period!

What Happens Next?

It is clear that Merkel will start her fourth term and is on course to outgovern Helmut Kohl before the next elections in September 2021. It is also clear that Schulz’s declaration of the divorce from the CDU and going on the opposition is final and that Merkel has just the Greens and FDP to form a coalition. The question will be how she will manage two different oppositional groups: the AfD, who will do everything possible with its 13 representatives in parliament to make her life very difficult, and the SPD and Linke, who will use all measures possible to fight the AfD and keep Merkel in check. For the first time since 1945, we have a right-wing party in power with a potential to repeat history, but this legislative period will feature three factions fighting it out in the German parliament: the far-right, the far-left and the traditional center. This will make things very difficult for Merkel’s coalition to pass any policies agreed on that would satisfy the population.  It is certain that Merkel cannot afford to ignore the AfD and has already declared to win back voter who had left her party to join the far-right. But in order to do that, Merkel will not only have to change her mandate and appease the voters, but she will have to face the AfD directly, consistently, at every possible convenience and especially, proactively.  She will not be able to be passive to the party as she did during the elections and even before that.  She will need to present themes that are complicated for the AfD to comprehend, let alone far-left. And she will need to use all legal measures possible to ensure that there is order in Berlin. She doesn’t need to be Margaret Thatcher, but in order to succeed in the next four years, she will need to go away from her passive approach and go on the proactive to ensure that her policies get through and her oppositions are in check. Only then will she be certain to break Kohl’s record and keep her party the CDU’s reputation as the party that shaped Germany. All other approaches would have fatal consequences for Germany, Europe and Democracy, in general.

For more on the election results, please check out ARD online, which will show you the results and the predictions of what will happen in the coming months. Link:

http://www.ard.de/home/ard/ARD_Startseite/21920/index.html

 

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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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Mystery Building Nr. 5: A Silo or An NSA Complex?

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Photo taken in July 2016

In the run-up to the next quiz series on Thuringia and Saxony, I came across a phenomenon that will spark a discussion regarding what this structure really is. Located between the towns of Altenburg and Gössnitz on the Thuringian-Saxony border, this building is located smack in the middle of corn and wheat fields with a few trees surrounding it. It is difficult to tell how high or wide this building is. We do know that despite it sitting on the drifting hills which includes the valley of the Pleisse River and its tributaries, the building is high enough to be seen high above the trees from the train travelling on the line connecting Gera and Gössnitz, like in the picture below:

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Ibid.

It is also tall enough that a person can photograph it from a distance of over 25 kilometers, as seen in the photo at the beginning of this article.  That was taken near the Thomas Müntzer Siedlung, located south of Hauensdorf and east of Lehndorf.  Keeping this in mind, let’s estimate the height to be at least 30 meters.

It appearance is rather spooky as the base features a cylindrical shape, but the top quarter has a spherical appearance with pentagonal patterns. Separating the two shapes, both of whom have a grayish green color, is an observation deck which a person can access with a flight of stairs zig-zagging its way to the ground. A housing complex is located just to the north of the tower.

This leads to one of three theories:

  1. Central Intelligence Tower: The tower is part of the central intelligence complex, which collects information for use. The design would make the most sense, given the fact that spying has been part of the livelihood of the people living in the region. Altenburg was part of the former East Germany, and the Honnecker Regime cooperated with the Soviets regarding collecting information from the western half of Europe as part of the plan to protect its borders from a nuclear attack. With the events involving the Berlin Wall, Prague Spring and the NATO Weapons stationed in West Germany before Reagan, having a tower in the middle of nowhere served as a out-of-sight complex protecting the East Germans. To keep them from fleeing to the West, it was probably used as a spy tool to keep them in tact and within their borders.  Since Germany and America’s NSA have an agreement on data-collecting, the tower probably has been used since 1989 for that purpose- especially now because of the potential threat from Russia and the terrorists, something that many people on both sides don’t agree with. Privacy has become more and more tabu these days because of the willingness of Berlin and Washington to pry open the activities of their normal citizens…..
  2. Water Tower: The tower is nothing more than a water tower, collecting and storing water for the towns along the Pleisse and its tributaries. Logistically speaking, this would make the best sense as the region is surrounded by farmland, and water is needed to foster crop-growth. Perhaps despite its unusual design, the water tower was conceived out of the “spy tower” after 1989 after it was rendered useless. As many water towers have different shapes, especially after a lengthy discussion about the water tower in Glauchau (see article for more), this idea may not be far from the truth.
  3. Communal Silo: The same applies for the silo concept, where crops are stored there. What would support the argument here is the housing surrounding it, resembling a farmstead. What would make this argument redundant is the fact that silos are rare in numbers in Germany. Unlike in rural America, where one in two farmsteads have at least one silo, in rural Germany, it is most likely one in 10,000 because of the population density, combined with limited space for farming. If a silo exists, then most likely as a communal one owned by the city of Altenburg.

There could be other opinions to this, like an army complex, power plant, grain elevator, etc., but having an unusual shape makes these arguments questionable. This leads to the question of what exactly this tower is, when it was built and for what purpose, and lastly, is it still in use.

Any ideas? Feel free to comment…… 🙂

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Facts about Germany: Pfandsammler

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Ladies and Gentlemen, meine Damen und Herren: Introducing an all new video game, which you can download and play on your laptops and apps. It is a game which you can play with as many participants as possible. The object is to collect as many bottles as possible before getting caught by the police or security guards. The point values are based on the number of bottles collected as well as the size and value per bottle. Player with the most number of points wins the contest.

It’s better than any Pac-Man game you will ever see.

 

It’s Pfandsammler!  😀

 

The beauty of this game is you can play it anytime, anywhere! You can even watch the professionals do it- from students wanting to make an extra Buck by walking the grounds of the park, to a group of unemployed people working for a collection agency asking students for their empty bottles, to even the sportiest business person rummaging through garbage cans while running on the platforms of train stations. You can even adjust your settings based on the city of choice- from Hamburg to Lahr; Frankfurt to Ulm; Jena to Buxtehude. Each city has its own obstacles to overcome to get the best bottles without dealing with your enemies, which include police officers, security guards, janitors, paranoid citizens, or you can create your own custom-made enemy.

The game is free and you can get off any street in a German community. Just ask your nearest bottle collector where to get this unique game. Open to all ages! 🙂

 

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Bottle-collecting is something a non-native of German will not see on the streets of Germany. Even Americans would frown upon the logic of a person asking you for your bottle once you drink up the last drop of Club Mate cola (the one seen in the picture above). After all, they do take pride in having their bottles and aluminum cans recycled at the nearest recycling center or grocery store for the price of 5-15 cents per recycled item, pending on which state you redeem them. At some centers where cans are taken, a person could come away with an average of 25 cents a can, thus receiving a bundle of money when giving them 10 bags full of crushed cans! As a child growing up in Minnesota, my father and I would do just that, only to splurge what we received for the cans on ice cream cones, a can of Coke each and Polish sausages! Those were the days. 🙂

Yet as a German, or (in my case) as a long surviving American expatriate who can never get enough German culture, bottle collecting in Germany is considered the norm. While Germany does not have as many aluminum cans in mass amounts as in the United States, most of our beverages we see can be found in plastic or glass bottles. Yet while one can get away with a 25 cent can of Red Bull, when redeemed through the beverage collector machine at a grocery store, the prices of the bottles vary on material and brand. That means as far as glass bottles are concerned, a bottle of Flensburger beer is worth 15 cents, while a small bottle of Budweiser is eight cents its worth. For plastic bottles, they’re worth more. A 1.5 liter bottle of water is worth 25 cents when redeemed at the store. A one liter bottle of a local beverage: 15 cents. Yet when buying a six-pack of water, you can receive as much as one Euro fifty cents back when you bring them back to the store for a refund.

And this is why many people take advantage of bottle collecting, not just because of necessity, but because one can earn a lot of money through a day’s work of reaching into garbage bins, asking people for empty bottles, climbing over walls to get a crate of empty cans, or even grab some out of the woods. Wherever they may find the best of luck, they will take the risk and collect what they can. While some people don’t mind the collectors doing their jobs- many even talk to them and listen to their stories- others see them as a nuisance and have taken action to ban them from various facilities in many cities, such as Berlin and Hamburg, for example.  And while the majority of these bottle collectors consist of unemployed people living off social welfare, there are some who just do it not just for the hobby of it, but just to get the best buck out of a bag of bottles.

And therefore, my word of advice: if you see someone rummaging through looking for empty bottles or offer to take yours, you will see why. Denying them is fruitless for if one thinks logically, no matter who gets to keep the bottle, they eventually make it to their final destination: the beverage collector machine and eventually, the recycling center. And is it worth fighting over 25 cents when we have enough to go around, but the collectors don’t? Think about it…. 😉

Club Mate is a cola made with mate extract and has less sugar than most energy drinks. It has several different flavors and can be found in all stores and even at the cafeterias at German universities. Founded in 1924, it has a website, which you can click here.

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And yes, I challenge the next computer programmer to develop the game that is mentioned here. It makes an excellent competitor to Pac-Mac and Super Mario Brothers. So go ahead and let everyone know once the game is created and on the market. Go ahead now…. Just get it done! 😉

Facts about Germany: German Bureaucracy

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OK everyone, let’s be honest for a couple seconds. What is the number one annoying habit in Germany that you would love to see eliminated?  After living in Germany for over 17 years, there is one that has been number one on my hit list and it is the B-word.

BUREAUCRACY!!!

Bureaucracy is the engine of German efficiency. It helps keep the country running and people out of trouble. It ensures that people reach their goals legally and with no incident. It also gives people a daily dose of Aspirin, courtesy of Bayer, because of the number of papers to fill out, the search for information in a computer filled with letters from a can of Spaghetti-Os soup, the excessive travelling needed for an apostille (with -th, by the way) needed for a wedding, and the countless stops at a small local unknown church to pray intensively for the nightmare to stop.

Despite all the articles written about German bureaucracy (most of which you’ll find at the end of this article), the one variant that will never be replaced is the system where you look at a government official in the eye, when she provides you with an Amtsdeutsch (governmental German) word that you, as a normal person, don’t know the simple German equivalent. Or when you watch people at the Zollamt (customs office) walk around like Borgs bitching about politics while waiting for a package from the US- searched with contents confiscated because of their illegality. Or when you receive a response to a complaint saying “Das ist ein Käse!” (equivalent to This is Bullshit!)

In other words, you cannot escape German bureacracy, period! No matter how the Chancellor reforms the system, you must prepare for the red-tape version of the decathelon and have your endurance tested, let alone your sanity.

I found seven types of bureaucracy that are typical of Germany. As you live longer in the country, it is most likely that you will encounter one type each, at least once; more if you are a student, businessperson or a person about to marry someone in Germany. There are no known remedies to get around them. You just need to be clever and witty, calm and cool, and diligent and strong as steel to get through them. In the end, despite the grey hairs and the bruised ego, you will be wiser and stronger than when you enter the first office you see, asking for a form. 😉

 

Carousel-Style: This style of buraeucracy comprises of a person who is sent around to every single office to take care of a form- a way of deferring him/her to authorities, most of whom are unwilling to process the person’s request. Sometimes it is referred to a slingshot if Office A sends a person through several agencies before ending up back at the same office a couple hours later. An example of this:

Darius wants to apply for a German as a Foreign Language Class at a university in Hanover. He asks Ms. Schmidt, only for her to send him to five different offices who refuse to process his request (beginning with Mrs. Jürgensen, then Ms. Schneider, Mr. Neste, Ms. Mulder and lastly Mr. Kahn) before the last person sends him back to Ms. Schmidt, who reluctantly processes his application. Wonderful sling-shot as seen in a Star Trek film above!

Mine-Style:  This type of bureaucracy runs along the lines of Wile E. Coyote being blown to pieces while pursuing the Road Runner. A person is ambituous in starting a business only to fall into several traps because of certain guidelines to be fulfilled, let alone fees and taxes to pay and additional forms to fill out along the way. Half of German start-up businesses as well as individual pursuits of degrees and career ladders end up failing because of the lack of awareness of the mines that are in the way, ready to blow up. That is the main reason why Germans are really cautious in any affairs on the business and personal level- they have been there at one point of their lives.

 

Goal-Line-Stance Style: Named after a defensive play in American football, this style of bureaucracy consists of a request of forwarding an application to an agency via its subordinates being not only rejected, but sent back to the person requesting him/her to do it on one’s own. It’s a way of telling the applicant that they are too lazy to walk the 100 meters to the point of destination and they would enjoy having the applicant to drive 30 kilometers to the subordinates to do the job. This happened to me once when I requested the international office of a German university to forward a request to the student services center, only for them to send the request back via mail, asking me to do it myself! This despite the fact that instead of wasting 2 extra days, the person at the office could have walked the 50 meters to the destination to drop off the letter. Talk about irony for an institute wanting to be student and family friendly, especially to foreign students! However, such stances are common in many cases, so please have a couple extra envelops, stamps and running shoes ready should you deal with this type and fail….

 

Hanging Chad/ Cliffhanger Style: Also known as the Härtefälle, this type of bureaucracy is one to avoid at all costs if you are pressed for time and need a form submitted within a day or two of the deadline, before your own “judgement day.”  Here, you submit the form to a worker, only for him/her to forward the request to the superiors, despite pleas to hurry. Why? The form must be approved before the deadline although there is a clause denying that request. This applies to students wanting to apply for a third attempt of an exam in a subject or changing a subject after failing an exam twice, risking the possibilities of getting expelled from college. This is standard practice at a German university, especially for students pursuing a teaching degree. It is like a cliffhanger because your future depends on whether a form you desperately need approved will be accepted or not. Apart from the Härtefälle at a German university, examples of such burearcracy can be found with visa forms, last minute requests to book hotels and some emergencies, like this story, just to name a few. The terminology is named after a dispute over which chads should be accepted in the voting ballot in Florida during the infamous 2000 US Presidential Elections.

 

Collapsing Bridge Style: Your plan to succeed is like crossing a bridge. You may never know when it collapses. This style of bureaucracy presents some surprises that keeps you from achieving your goal because there are some missing components needed to realize your goal that you either don’t know about or you want to try to circumvent- in both times, failing in the process! It can happen during any course of the process, whether it is through wedding planning, immigration or even during your studies, just to name a few.

Take for instance your first state exam for education. You register for the exam for English and History, take part of the former and complete the education portion, but have to change the latter to Social Studies. Despite having completed your semester of practical training, you need to complete another semester for Social Studies. While German law requires you to register for the subjects studied, you cannot continue taking the exam for English until the practical training in Social Studies is completed, thus pushing your finish time back a semester or two. Annoying if you want to finish and earn some cold hard cash teaching, but there is a reason for spending a couple hours looking at the Prüfungsordnung (Studies Guidelines in this case) before embarking on the painstaking task of getting that teaching license!

 

Jesus Christ Lizard Style- This type of bureaucracy is the exact opposite of the Collapsing Bridge style, only to imply that shortcuts and other incentives are provided to ensure that a form you are filling out or a process that is taking place is completed quicker and easier than expected. However, these shortcuts are not taken for granted and you must have proof that warrant a walk on water. For instance:

Cora applies for a Master’s Studies program in Anglistik-Amerikanistik at a university in Berlin and finds that she needs 60 credits of classes in liguistics, cultural studies, history, literature and political science- all of which have to be taken in sequential order in accordance to the Prüfungsordnung. Fortunately, she majored in Political Science and English and thanks to the credits accrued, the examiner’s office accredited her points and allowed her to start at a higher semester, taking upper level classes instead of the lower ones for anything dealing with English and Political Science.

However, this type of bureaucracy can occur if there are other circumstances that warrant it, such as the lines at the US border controls, where at all international airports, there is an express line for Americans and an ordinary line for the “other bunch.” This is just one of many examples of the style named literally after lizards walking on water, as seen in the film above.

Maze Style- This is perhaps the longest and most tortuous process a person can ever go through. Here, one has to go through every office and agency, filling out every paper and paying every fee in order to achieve your goal. Sometimes it requires trips covering hundreds of kilometers in order to obtain a single form. If you marry a German in Germany and are a non-German, prepare for a trip to Berlin for a couple of forms at your consulate, as well as a trip to the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner’s Office) for your three-year visa, which eventually turns into a permanent residency if you remain married after three years. It is more complicated when applying for a work visa or even an asylum because of proof that you have a job awaiting you or come from a war-torn region and pose no threat, because of the time needed for the forms of both to be approved.

 

What stories do you have involving bureaucracy in Germany? Share it here or on the Files’ facebook pages. In the meantime, check out the links involving German bureaucracy below and enjoy reading more about this unique feature and annoyance that will never go away:

http://www.dw.com/en/germans-and-bureaucracy/a-16446787

http://www.thelocal.de/20130814/51391

http://www.economist.com/node/2127649

🙂

 

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Year of the Beer Day 11: Reichenberger Schankbier

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Day 11 (Monday) of the beer tasting marathon takes us to an unknown beer brand that was found by accident while shopping for some brands to try out. How often can a person find a beer in a grocery store like this one: The Reichenberger Helles Schankbier, a typical example of a tap beer one can find in Germany- yet one that is RARE to find?

Sometimes an unknown beer can be the greatest beer when drinking it to the last drop. This is one of them. The brewery itself is an unknown which makes this a rather mysterious beer to try. The Karlex Group, which is based in Berlin and founded in 1991, is the maker of this rare beer. Yet there is nothing much to say about the group at all, let alone if the Reichenberger had existed prior to the Fall of the Wall. If anybody would like to share some information on the history of the Reichenberger beer, please feel free to send me a line or add your info to the comment section at the end of the article.

What I can say about the tap beer is that it is much better and much more balanced in terms of taste and aroma than the Retter I had tried a couple days earlier. While the straw color is atypical of the tap beer (it’s usually gold in color), the beer has a very intensive but balanced flavor, combining the malt flavors of grain and a bit of nut and herbal hops. It had a really persistent head upon pouring it into the glass and has a lot of carbination , yet the beer has a real freshness in it which makes drinking it at a party a joy. Not bad for craftmanship there. 🙂

Grade: 1,7/ A- : Nothing more to add about the beer except its missing history and its rarity. The beer has a potential to expand further if the brewery wishes to market it, but sometimes an unknown can be a great thing. Try the beer and check it out for yourself. 🙂

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