EN: From November 2nd on, we must, unfortunately according to Merkel’s legal guidelines close our fitness studios. We are very sorry. We do not accept this decision and will therefore use all measures possible to appeal.
12 million voters train in 8800 fitness studios in Germany for their physical and general well-being, as well as 240,000 employees work there to provide for their families. And we have to close unnecessarily,even though there are no confirmed cases of Covid-19? We do not understand because there is no scientific evidence. All figures and facts point otherwise.
We hope for your support and solidarity in the coming Corona months!
A sign of frustration that is best compared to a cup of coffee that gets fuller to the brim. This fitness studio, where this sign was located, is not the only place that is facing the brunt of the shutdown due to the Covid-19 epidemic, let alone the fitness sector. Other sectors have had to express their frustration over the “senselessness” of the closures without having done the research on how Covid-19 is being transmitted and where people can easily be infected by it. This includes the eatery and hotel sectors, the entertainment and events sectors, and even the vendors who had hoped for at least some business during the time of the Christmas market but had to fold when they were cancelled due to the dangers of being infected.
It’s a sign that the patience is running extremely thin, while others have lost them and have either given up on their business or are looking for channels to vent out their frustrations and find ways to make their voices heard.
Upon seeing this sign, one of the first reactions was that the owner is probably looking forward to next year’s federal elections and will take his anger out by voting for the party that was opposed to the lockdown to begin with. There are two parties that have indeed put pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel and her coalition to scale back and let the businesses run despite the epidemic: the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) and the FDP (Free Democrats). The elections are scheduled to take place in September 2021 and even though Merkel is expected to retire from politics and has announced she is stepping down, her political party CDU and its coalition partner SPD will be put to the test in the face of voters whose mixture of reactions consists of those who are satisfied with the Corona policies and those who are not.
And this takes us to the current situation: With the number of daily infections still steady at between 12,000 and 18,000 since the November 2nd Lockdown Light, the restrictions are expected to be extended into January, with the exception of Christmas time, where families can still celebrate but under certain guidelines. Information can be found here.
And with that comes the race between patience and aggression. The vaccines are being made available but with 82 million residents in Germany, the innoculation will last a year, as with the restrictions even though they may be lifted by next spring. Social distancing and masks will be mandatory as well as possible restrictions of businesses, including this fitness studio.
And that may be the last drop that sends the coffee over the rim.
We know the frustration but imagine if you have 30 customers coming a day during the epidemic under normal conditions and next year you lose a third of them to Covid-19, and with that a third of your yearly profit…..
The chancellor has honed the CDU’s appeal to a wide range of voters – but suddenly the future of her party is in doubt Consider this, and in our time: a leftist political animal who thrives in one of the most hostile environments in contemporary Europe. After Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal and Mayor…
While Chancellor Angela Merkel has been praised for her handling of the Corona Virus in Germany, her days in office will eventually be numbered. In 2021 a new chancellor will be elected and the Christian Democrats are at the crossroads in terms of which direction it should go after Merkel steps down. It has already produced three Chancellors with over a half century of experience making Germany as it is today (Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Kohl and soon, Merkel herself). Here’s an analysis by Thomas Meaney that shows some possible scenarios- many of them we have see glimpses of this year already.
It’s a typical day in Berlin. Specifically, in the Reichstag Building at Brandenburg Gate. Politicians from both sides of the spectrum- the ruling coalition on one hand and the opposition on the other- convene to discuss (and dispute) laws and regulations designed to keep people safe and regulate businesses to make Germany a better and more attractive place for residents and visitors. There are some critiques and sometimes political insults- especially against the right-winged Alternative for Germany (AfD). But nonetheless, business is professional and the laws are passed or rejected without much fanfare.
That is unless it’s Ash Wednesday and you find yourself in Bavaria.
Every year, each political party to their quarters in Bavaria. There, the boxing gloves go on, the beer is flowing from the barrels, the crowds go wild and each of the prominent politicians have at it on the mikes- free-wheeling insults thrown at other political parties and certain people, complaining about the problems that Germany is facing and trying to rile up a jam-packed audience who in the end jeers, boos and hollars at them, while holding up the beer steins, the beer filled to the brim and spilling over.
Every year since 1946, Germany has held its annual Political Ash Wednesday rallies, where parties gather to Bavaria to unload their frustrations that had been brewing for the past 364 days. Yet the origin of this event goes a lot further back- specifically, the 16th century. In 1580, farmers convened on this day to the market square Rossmarkt in Vilshofen/Danube to discuss and complain about the current events and other items affecting their business. The politics of Bavaria and later the German empire were added to the mix in the 19th century. Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party (NSDAP) used this day to convey his message of a pure Germany, which garnered thousands of supporters and paved the way to his claiming power in 1933. He kept the tradition until World War II broke out.
After the war, the tradition was revived in 1946 and in the same city as in the past. For the first six years, the Bavarian Party (BP) was the only party that kept to its original tradition, yet in 1952, the Christian Socialists (CSU) joined the fray as an attempt to steal away supporters from the BP. The Social Democrats joined the rally in 1965 with their own agenda, but being held at Wolfersretterkeller in Vilshofen. As of today, eleven parties have held this traditional rally in Bavaria but in different cities:
Free Democrats (FDP): Joseph-von-Fraunhofer-Halle in Straubing
Green Party: Landshut
Left-wing party „Die Linke”: Passau
Ökologische Partei (ÖDP): Passau
Pirate Party: Straubing
The CSU has held their rally at Dreiländerhalle in Passau since 2004 as it can hold up to 6000 guests. Passau has become the main attraction for the rallies for half the parties have met there to express their colorful views to their delegates and supporters.
However, the Political Ash Wednesday events can also be found on the national level. For the past two decades, one can find such events in Apolda (Thuringia), Marne (Schleswig-Holstein), Volksmarsen (Hesse), Fellbach (Baden-Württemberg), Recke (NRW), Demmin (MV), Biberach an der Riss (BW) and Wallerfangen (Saarland). Biberach is the meeting point for the Greens and Wallerfangen for the Linke. The Christian Democrats (CDU) have held such events in more than one of the aforementioned cities.
If there is a comparison for Political Ash Wednesday, one could do so with the Presidential Campaign in the United States in general. We mustn’t add Donald Trump in the mix for he is the “krassest” of examples for political insults and making fun of people in the most degrading fashion. Subtracting him, the Presidential Campaign does not include the beer but it does include complaining about the situation affecting the country and playing down the other candidates’ promises of making it better for everyone. It does include strong messages that arouses the masses and encourages them to support their candidates. For the political rally in Germany on this special day, it solely has to do with addressing the problems and the “problem children,” which strengthens the German (and to a certain degree, European) stereotype of complaining, daily, profusely and professionally. It makes a complaining choir sound like a discord, especially if one has too much to drink.
If one needs an idea how a Political Ash Wednesday works, have a look at a couple examples for you to listen to. Examine their views, their facial reactions and gestures and the crowds that roar over the events.
Then look at a typical US Presidential Campaign Rally:
And then look at Donald Trump:
If there is one thing that they have in common, it’s in connection with the GIF-pic at the beginning of the article. It had been originally been planned to beused to talk about Hamburg’s governmental elections and the successful attempts to solidify the existence of the SPD and Greens and the (near) ouster of the FDP and AfD in response to the scandal in Thuringia. Then after watching the speeches on this Ash Wednesday, it came to this commonality that is typical of politics in general: Politicians may be the biggest role model for the public and they debate on laws that are supposed to help people. They are the ones that hold the torch. Yet on a day, like Ash Wednesday, they go unplugged, strip down, and show their teeth, bashing anyone trying to dethrone them.
If Ash Wednesday is the day for using the witty tongue and creative insults, they come but once a year in politics. This means we don’t need a day for bitching and complaining, unless you are the typical German politician who holds it in until this special day, then lets loose over a stein of beer. Since we have this, Bavaria will forever be in the minds of many who use this day to unwind and unload.
And with that, raise your beer steins and “Prost!”
The Bavarian Party, which re-established the Political Ash Wednesday Rallies, still exists as a party. Yet unlike its heyday in the 1940s, when it garnered 21% of the votes and rivaled the Christian Socialists (CSU), it has averaged only 2% of the votes since the 1970s. Today only three districts are controlled by the BP. Its main platform is an independent Bavaria as a country and not part of Germany. This has been rejected by the CSU and other parties.
German Bundestag voted unaminously to uphold the country’s limitless speeding on its motorways, raising questions on the country’s path towards a greener climate
BERLIN- Germany is the only industrialized country where people can speed as fast as they can on the country’s Autobahn (motorway/freeway). It’s a part of their culture, especially with the likes of Volkswagen, Opel, Audi and BMWs racing as fast as 250 km/h (120 mph) along long stretches. Over 70% of German motorways have no speed limits. The 30% that do have it come from traveling in and around cities and metropolitan areas, as well as in built-up, high risk areas.
On Friday, the German Bundestag voted unanimously to uphold this classic tradition. The bill to put a cap on speeding on all of Germany’s motorways to 130 km/h (80 mph) was shot down by a vote of 498 to 126. Only seven ministers abstained from the vote. The bill was introduced by the Green party in January due to the high number of accidents on its motorways combined with the increase in air pollution caused by too many (speeding) cars on the highway. Anton Hofreiter, Leader of the Alliance ‘90 / The Greens in the Bundestag, said that speed limits in Germany were “long overdue” and called on ministers to vote in favour for the sake of the environment and road safety. “Those who want to make motorways safer and the traffic flow more smoothly must back a speed limit,” he told press shortly before the vote.
Opponents of the bill claimed that having a nationwide speed limit is not an effective way to reduce emissions caused by transport. Even Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer has since dismissed the idea as “[defying] all common sense.” Cem Ӧzdemir, the Green party chair of the Committee on Transport, had accused Scheuer of “defending a transport policy from the day before yesterday. ” Yet in response to the rejection yesterday, he stated “As is so often the case with Greens proposals, we present them, and eventually there’ll be a majority behind them.” The measure didn’t even receive the support from the German federal government, consisting of the Grand Coalition of the CDU and SPD, as it had rejected the proposal when it was introduced in January.
The outright rejection of speed limit laws makes Germany the only country in the European Union with no speed limit on its motorways. As seen in the map above, most European countries have a 130 km/h speed limit with neighboring Poland having a 140 speed limit. Germany is also the only industrialized country in the world where people can speed as fast as they want, dwarfing even the speed limits of the US and Canada.
The rejection also raises questions of the direction of the German government in terms of environmental policies. Even after Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future Movement and her subsequential visit to Brussels and New York, German policies in reducing carbon emissions have proven to be weak and not effective. The 54 billion Euro package was passed last month and featured dozens of measures to encourage phasing out the use of coal and gas and introduce electric cars and cheaper rail travel. Germany’s goal is to reduce its emissions to 55% of the 1990 levels by 2030 and become carbon-neutral by 2050. The measure has been met with a sandwich of criticism from environmentalists claiming that they were not enough and opponents saying the measures are too expensive and will do more harm than good for the economic state.
With the rejection of the speed limit laws, the Greens will have to go back to the drawing board to find creative ways to reintroduce the laws. But with Chancellor Merkel not seeking another term in 2021 and uncertainty with both the SPD and CDU in the near future, the proposal will most likely have to wait until a new chancellor is in power and a new coalition is built. By that time, the Greens will have more support than at present, even on the European scale. The EU will most likely amp up pressure on Berlin to take action on this issue. And the next chancellor will be more favorable to the safety of motorists and the environment which will make speed limits more a reality then than it is right now.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
A couple years ago, I had a political discussion with another expatriate residing in Germany about Angela Merkel’s willingness to open the gates of Germany to refugees fleeing the regions of Syria, Iraq and North Africa- areas that were decimated by war- just so they can start a new life in a different place, where they can be peaceful and not have to worry about war. A couple days ago, after having posted my preview of the German elections, where Angela Merkel is making a quest to run for her fourth term (and break Helmut Kohl’s record in the process), that same person asked me if her policies of allowing refugees into Germany have done the country good or not, especially with the social and cultural problems that they may have, which were his reasons for opposing opening the gates. We all remember her comments in an interview with Anne Will that has carried a lot of weight around Berlin:
and this in addition to her persuasion of her counterparts to not be afraid of the refugees but to help them…..
But in order to answer that person’s questions, I’m going to take the Taylor Mali approach and give it to him with a little history- not about her or the refugees, but about her party, the Christian Democrats and their slogan “Wir schaffen es!”
Since the creation of the Bundesrepublik in 1949, the CDU has had a chancellor ruling Germany for 48 of the 68 years of its existence. Of which, if we count Merkel in the mix, three different politicians have ruled the country for 42 of the 48 years! Before Merkel, the previous CDU chancellors had been the late Helmut Kohl, who ruled from 1982 until his defeat in the hands of Gerhardt Schroeder in 1998. The first chancellor of Germany, Konrad Adenauer, ruled what was then West Germany from 1949 until his resignation in 1963. He died four years later at the age of 91, having won the Award for eldest statesman to ever govern a country. The secret to the successes of the CDU under these three people had been until now made their promises of “Wir schaffen das!” (translated bluntly as We Can Do This) realized through calculated risk-taking, realizing the consequences of these actions and providing a buffer zone between external factors on one hand and Berlin and the rest of the country on the other. It is like the game of chess- the situation is presented on the chessboard, and it is up to the politicians to take the risk that will produce the maximum result to their favor, while figuring in the possible consequences that could happen. Of course any foolhardy move could be fatal, as we are seeing with many far-right politicians in eastern Europe, Turkey, North Korea, the UK and even the US. But each chancellor has had their longest chess game during their time in office; each of which has its own theme. Let’s have a look at each legend’s ability of making it work and bringing Germany to fame.
“Wir schaffen das allein!”
When Adenauer took office on 15 September 1949, Germany was still in recovery mode after having been in shambles because of World War II and was all alone with the European countries and the US all hesitant in building any relations with the country. Furthermore, Germany was already split between the democratic western half that had been occupied by the Americans, British and French and the eastern half that was controlled by the Soviets. While Germany was considered a chessboard between communism and democracy, Adenauer began to redevelop the country economically, thus making it the economic miracle and later the powerhouse of western Europe with one of the lowest unemployment rates in history (averaging around 2%). The population got jobs and could spend money on new items, including the TV and modern furniture. His policies were based on liberalism and thus showed Germany’s willingness to ally with the US, Britain and other western countries, thus making the country’s integration into the United Nations, NATO and the European Economic Community easier to achieve. His mentality of “Wir schaffen das allein” (we will do it alone) had to do with the fact that Germany’s metamorphisis from a state in shambles to an economic miracle with a modernized socio-economic infrastructure and westernized institutions with policies that are based on conservatism and no experimenting with anything that is new and foreign. Even the elections of 1957, which he won his third term in office, his campaign slogan of “No Experiments!” won overwhelming support because of three factors that led Adenauer to win the hearts and minds of the German population: 1. The reestablishment of relations with neighboring France which used to be the country’s archenemy. With that came the reintegration of the Saarland and the recognition of minorities on both sides of the border. 2. Despite having zero interest in reuniting with East Germany or even having contact with the communist regimes, Adenauer made agreements with the Soviets to release as many as 10,000 Germans who were prisoners of war, so that they could return home. That combined with encouraging immigration from parts of the Middle East and Asia to fill in the gaps left behind by the fallen soldiers contributed to Germany’s success as a country as a norm. And thirdly, the people followed Adenauer’s policies because they enabled them to restart their lives again and not allow for external influences and military conflicts to rule and ruin their lives again. If it meant integrating people from outside willing to work in the country- making them open-minded- make it so. Adenauer’s idea was in order to make the country a powerhouse again, it must work to restore its identity while mending ties with and reassuring other countries that it is different than the Germany under Hitler: It was not power-greedy but a democratic country willing to cooperate for similar causes. Anything that is fattening or potentially risky- anything that does not match Adenauer’s vision of Germany- was simply left behind. This was the reason why Adenauer went with his slogan West Germany first, then we’ll talk about the East. His hard-line policies against Communism combined with his willingness to grow together with other countries made him the most influential politician of modern German history.
“Wir Schaffen das Miteinander:”
If there was one description that would best fit Helmut Kohl, the chancellor who came into power after the fall of Helmut Schmidt in 1982, it would be that he was the Face of Europe, not just a Unified Germany but simply a Unified Europe. While Kohl was perceived as folksy in terms of his appearance and manner, his ability to be eye-to-eye and down-to-earth with many of his international constituents made him more of an international celebrity than that of his German counterparts in Bonn, which was the federal capital during his 16 years in office. It also helped him in terms of working together with his international colleagues for two of the most important goals on his agenda: To end the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and to reunify West Germany with its eastern counterpart. While the former was beginning to unfold from within, thanks to the revolutions in the east that toppled the Communist leaders and quickened with the Fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November, 1989, the latter Kohl proceeded to do through cooperation with Soviet leader Mikail Gorbachev, US President George Bush Sr., British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand. Despite the hesitation that was expressed by Mitterand and the rejection that was made clearly by Margaret Thatcher, Kohl’s actions in reuniting Germany within a year between the Fall of the Wall and the date of 3 October, 1990 (which we still celebrate this date today) received full support and cooperation from Gorbachev and Bush Sr. for several reasons:
Kohl acknowledged that he had no intention of expanding his country to include the Suedetenland in western Czech Repubic and areas in Poland that had once belonged to Germany before 1945. This Oder-Neisse Agreement confirmed the eastern border and resulted in good relations with the two eastern neighbors.
Kohl agreed that Germany would be a full participant in NATO and the European Economic Community (later the European Union) just like it was when it was West Germany. Furthermore, it would maintain strong economic and political ties with ist allies and be ready to play a larger role on the international stage.
Kohl provided start-up funding and financial support for the former eastern states. With much of the industries in ruins, Kohl presented a program to encourage business development, modernization of the infrastructure, educational support and further education training for the unemployed and reform the retirement system- all with the purpose of bring it up to the level of the western half. This process has been long and painful, but it has been working to the advantage of People in the East; especially the younger generations born right before the Fall of the Wall.
With a reunified Germany, Gorbachev and Bush Sr. agreed that having a Cold War no longer made sense. Gorbachev wanted the eastern countries to go their own way, and Bush provided those who were trapped behind the Iron Curtain with an opportunity to have a better life without the political connections and influence from the state security police. All they needed was someone in Germany with the same point of view and they found that in Kohl.
The German Reunification and the concessions needed to make that a reality came with criticism from within the German Population and his own Party, the CDU, claiming that the process went too fast and that many displaced Germans from the east were unable to reclaim their regions back. Furthermore, the recession of 1995 as a result of the cost for Reunification resulted in the rise of unemployment. Yet when looking back at this, Kohl looked for the people who were willing to go through with the plan of reunification, taking all the risks that are involved and cementing the Germany that we know today. With that in mind, the idea of “Wir Das Miteinander ,” became “Wir Schaffen Das Zusammen” over time, for whatever the crises, Germany was able to pull through with the support of its people, the CDU and its allies from outside.
Helmut Kohl was given a European send-off at the time of his death on 16th June, 2017 at the age of 87. The procession, which was on 1 July, took place in Strausborg and Speyer, where he was interred.
“Wir Schaffen Das:”
It is very difficult to describe this theme with Angela Merkel without having to overlap on her counterpart’s slogan, but perhaps it doesn’t need a preposition to describe how she has overcomed her challenges as Chancellor and key player in the CDU. Merkel was presented with three challenges that reshaped her party, Germany and the population during her 12 years in Office. First was keeping Europe together and the Americans happy, something that for Germany as a central power in the EU it could be done by pulling on the leash of the members- in writing. Yet in the praxis, especially in the past 3-4 years, some member countries have tried to go their own way, especially in terms of the refugee policy and the deficits of some countries. The next was satisfying the Americans and finding common ground to carry out the policies that affect both countries and the rest of the world. This depended solely on who was in the Oval Office, and while she has isolated Donald Trump because of his erratic behavior (just like the other countries who have followed suit), her relations with George Bush Jr. was lukewarm at best but with Barack Obama, it was a dream team. 🙂 From an American expatriate’s point of view, Merkel achieved a lot with the right people in Washington, which has been received as a blessing, especially when it comes to the environment and the conflicts out in the Middle East, which has been ongoing for seven years now. And while we are on the theme with environment, there is the refugee crisis and her handling of it, which makes it the third and most important point. The logic behind her policy of “Wir schaffen das” was quite simple: regions in the north and east needed workers and experienced professions because of the younger people moving to cities in the western and southern parts. The population balance in Germany has been very unequal since 1990 with the population in the north and east getting older, despite attempts to modernize the region. With this decline came the brain drain and the best way to end it is to fill in the gap with people wishing to live and work in Germany, even if it was for a limited time until they were able to return home. Learning from Adenauer’s success in bringing in immigrants and integrating them and Kohl’s success in restructuring the eastern half of the country, Merkel sent them to the regions where work was waiting for them, along with a better life. This has been met with partial success mainly because of the lack of forthcoming to accept them among residents in regions who are older, inflexible and lack the basic knowledge needed to get to know and even help them. This is one of the reasons for the creation of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), one of the main challengers that Merkel has faced and will be dealing with for years to come. However, if asked for why immigration has been successful in Germany, I can look at personal success stories of families who have taken German classes to get by, young people getting training at companies to learn a profession and even refugee children getting along with school children. Granted one doesn’t need to be best friends, but by having a peaceful co-existence and helping out when needed is something that Merkel had in mind, which has been a success if one subtracts the likes of the far-right.
Taking a look at the three politicians in summary, one can see how Germany has been shaped. It is a country whose population has been taught to be calculated risk-takers, while at the same time, be open to not only people from different cultures and backgrounds, but also to the changes that are taking shape and affecting the Bundesrepublik. The idea of “Wir Schaffen Das,” regardless of form and circumstances has something to do with the will to try something new but doing it with insurance. That means the risks will be taken under one’s own conditions and with the assurance of a Plan B if all else fails. Many of the policies carried out by the CDU had been tried and true, learning from the successes of the forefathers and implementing them adaptedly to the situation. Germany has learned to adapt to the situation by looking at the options carefully, calculating the risks and benefits and carrying it out with some insurance protection. Adenauer knew the risks of forming relations with other countries and rebuilding Germany and ensured that Germany wanted to be part of the international theater, by accepting the conditions imposed, bringing home the prisoners of war and encouraging immigration to repopulate the country. Kohl knew the risks of German reunification and came up with a comprehensive plan to satisfy its neighbors and the population, especially in the East. Merkel knew the risks of integrating the refugees and the opposition from both within the EU and its own country. Still she found ways for immigration to work in a convincing way. Whenever there were the risks, they were calculated and carried out in an attempt to create a balance that satisfies everyone.
And this has made it difficult for candidates, like Martin Schulz (SPD), Christian Lindner (FDP), Frauke Petry (AfD) and others to overcome the German Iron Lady and the rock which has become the CDU.
Thanks to this notion of “Wir Schaffen Das,” Germany has become what it is- a nation that loves calculated risks, just as much as the people who live there- which includes the refugees, expats and other immigrants. There is still a lot of challenges ahead, but should Merkel win term number 4, it will most likely be due to the success of her in general, her party, and the forefathers who helped shape Germany to what it is today. If Merkel breaks Kohl’s record for longetivity as chancellor, then her theme will most likely be “Wir haben das geschafft.”
Better have that sherry and champaign ready for Merkel’s fifth term on 26 September, 2021. 😉
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 policy– among 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 policiesand 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:
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)?
Will the Martin Schulz Effect save the Social Democrats (SPD) or mark the beginning of the end of the centralist party?
Will the Free Democratic Party return to the Bundestag after breaking the 5% barrier?
Are too many windmills too much for the Greens?
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?
Will the Leftist Party (Linke) serve as the counterpunch to the AfD or will it need help?
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.
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……
Right-wing populist party Alternativ für Deutschland enters state parliament in Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Wurttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate with double-digit results in state elections, Grand Coalition fails in RP and SA, Greens win in BW but needs help, Chancellor Merkel in serious trouble
BERLIN/STUTTGART/MAGDEBURG/MAINZ- The winds of change are being felt across Germany, the day after the state elections in the states of Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Wurttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Yesterday’s state elections featured a “Kantersieg” on the part of the Right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), as the Frauke Petry-led party, critical of European policies as well as the open-door policies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding refugees, stormed into the state parliamentary scene with 24% in SA, 15% in BW and 12% in RP.
In SA, the AfD is now the second strongest party in parliament, which is forcing minister Reiner Hasseloff to scramble to find a new coalition, for his partner party the SPD finished with 10% of the votes (finishing fourth behind the Left and AfD- its worst results in state party history), which is not enough to continue with the Grand Coalition. Another party looking for a new partner is the SPD in RP, where state minister Malu Dreyer is looking for a new coalition to replace the one with the Green party, as it barely made the 5% hurdle with enormous losses in the elections. Dreyer declared that all parties will be in talks except the AfD.
Winfried Kretschmann and his Green party can continue governing in Stuttgart, but despite maintaining a 31% vote in state elections, the AfD sliced into the voting scene, thus making the absolute governing of Baden-Wurrtemberg impossible. Talks are underway to provide support from the CDU, SPD and even the FDP to form either a traffic coalition or similar constellations. The results of the elections you will find here.
End of the Line for Angela Merkel?
Already, a coup d’ etat is brewing among the Christian Democrats and the Christian Socialists as calls for Chancellor Merkel to change course regarding the refugee policies are growing louder. Leading the pack is Horst Seehofer, the state minister of Bavaria, who blamed Merkel and her policies of allowing refugees to live in Germany, even for a short period of time, for the disaster in the three states. He stated in Bavarian channel BR “We should tell the public that we understand the results and will draw the consequences.”
Also in Visier was SPD director Siegmund Gabriel, who had to answer some difficult questions of how his party finished with the worst results in history. The SPD is partner of the CDU in Germany.
Despite statements by Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen claiming that the refugee issue is a European problem and that Merkel’s policies should remain on course, after increased attacks on planned housing throughout Germany, with a focus on parts of east half, combined with protests between supporters of the AfD and opponents and even internal strife within the CDU, it is a matter of time before the temperature hits the boiling point and Berlin suffers from the longest summer in modern history. And while we have no politically-motivated violence, as being practiced by Donald Trump in the US at the moment, making the US elections become the next 1968, if measures are not taken to either justify or modify the refugee policies as well as contain the increase in right-wing extremism, the German public may end up in a similar fix as in the US- and unless Merkel is forced to call for early elections, the next national elections are in two years!
In light of the recent disaster in Saxony-Anhalt, Rhineland Palatinate and Baden Wurttemberg, what will happen next and what should Chancellor Merkel do? Vote here and feel free to comment:
FAST FACTS: In the last survey, where the question of whether the slogan “Wir sind das Volk” should be eliminated by law, two thirds of the voters favored keeping the slogan, while 13% would like to see a law protecting the slogan from abuse while discussing this in the classroom. Only 20% voted for the law. More on the vote and its origin here.
During my trip to Flensburg in May 2010, I did a pair of bike tours along the Flensburg Fjord, a bay area that is part of the Baltic Sea and enclaves the border city. On one day I toured the south end, finishing up at the eastern most point of the peninsula at Holnis. On another day, I toured the northern end, going through Denmark and biking past many small Danish towns en-route to my final destination of Sonderburg. On the way to the university city of 30,000 I stopped at a particularly interesting fast food stand in Sonderhavn called Annie’s Kiosk. This small stand resembles the appearance of a Dairy Queen ice cream stand in the United States during the 1960s and 70s and may not seem to offer anything spectacular in terms of its outer appearance. Yet one should not judge the book by its cover, especially when thousands of tourists- consisting of bikers, boaters and passers-by- stop at this restaurant daily. Apart from offering a wide array of typical Danish goods, like ice cream, Annie’s Kiosk serves the finest hotdogs in all of Europe. It is unknown what the secret ingredient of the hotdogs is let alone all the dressings you can put on there. But if compared to any hotdog served at a soccer or baseball game, Annie’s tops them all.
But there is an underlying reason why I’m starting this column with Annie’s. While the restaurant does not have any franchises neither in Denmark nor in Germany, it is possible that an Annie’s may be coming soon to a city near you. But if that was the case, it would not be in Sonderburg, Flensburg or even Schleswig, but in Kiel- the capital of Schleswig Holstein. A historic moment occurred during the state elections on 6 May 2012. Apart from Peter Carstensen, the former minister stepping down after ruling the state for seven years and calling it quits as a politician for the CDU, a change in guard occurred as the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Danish Party (SSW) managed to garner enough votes to form the Danish coalition. Yesterday the coalition contract was signed and today, the new administration under minister Torsten Albig will take office, making Schleswig Holstein the only state in Germany that has a coalition that is not traditional of the coalitions that are common in German politics (like the Red Green coalition, the Grand Coalition, the Jamaica Coalition with the FDP, etc.).
What makes the SSW different from the other parties in Germany? Founded in 1948, the party, which is headed by Flemming Meyer, represents the Danish minority that is living in the state, as between 15% and 20% of the population have a Danish background. The majority of them live in the former Duchy of Schleswig, which was once part of Denmark before 1866. The region consisted of the western two thirds of Denmark and the northern half of Schleswig Holstein. Since the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the northern half belongs to Denmark while the southern half belongs to Germany with a border located at Flensburg dividing the two regions. An agreement in 1955 between Germany and Denmark recognized the former region and its minorities and provided exceptions to the norm. Border controls no longer exist. The two divided regions are part of the EuroRegion and take part in cooperative efforts to foster economic growth. The Danish minority is allowed to construct schools in the northern half of Schleswig Holstein, and lastly, in accordance to the state laws of Schleswig Holstein, the five percent hurdle does not apply to the SSW Party. This means even if the SSW receives 3% of the votes in the state elections, they are allowed to participate in the state parliament, which is not the case for any political parties originating from Germany.
So what does the SSW Party have to offer in comparison to the traditional parties and why did the coalition with the SPD and Greens work out? For instance, they favor equality, not only within the gender but among people with ethnic and regional backgrounds. Therefore allowing foreigners to work for longer periods of time, providing equal pay for men and women, and stressing the importance of multi-culture especially among their people, like with the North Frisans, the Danes and the Germans are very important to them. Integration through establishing a general schooling system but providing free education to all are especially important. Unlike this concept, which is based on a Scandinavian model, the school system in Germany consists of elementary school followed by the separation of students into the Gymnasium (high school for those attending college), Realschule (for vocational training) and Hauptschule (for those wanting to work after 10th grade) after the sixth grade year. The party has been pushing for reforms of the education system for many years, stressing the need for education (both in and beyond school) to be user-friendly. The job market must be more flexible and family friendlier, according to their policies. This includes not laying off people in the event of an economic crisis, like we saw in 2008-9 and are still feeling the effects from it, but also cooperating with the schools to allow families to spend time with their children. They do favor improving the infrastructure to make the delivery of goods easier and safer. One of the projects they support is the extension of the West Coast Autobahn A 23, which starts in Hamburg and currently terminates in Heide. Some improvements are being made near Itzehoe but the plan is to upgrade the main highway B5 north of Heide so that vehicles can access the freeway. And lastly, environmental policies is based on the concept of regeneration of nature. That means existing areas that contain flora and fauna should be left alone and areas that were occupied by industry in the past should be given back to the nature. This includes supporting reforestation and establishing wildlife refuge areas.
The three parties agreed to focus on three main aspects during the five-year administrative period they have in Kiel: Social Equality, Education and Energy Reforms. Unlike the previous regime, where cuts in spending for social and education programs were frowned upon by the public, more money will be invested in programs that will help the residents succeed. The traditional German school systems will slowly but surely be integrated into a general school system similar to the Danish model. Energy policies will consist of producing more renewable energy than using it, while at the same time, ween its way away from coal, fossil fuel and nuclear energy. Even the underground storage of carbon dioxide was rejected by the public and is not in the program of the coalition. The West Coast Autobahn will be improved and extended, while another motorway A20, which starts in Prenzlau in Brandenburg and currently terminates near Lübeck in eastern Schleswig Holstein, will be extended to terminate at motorway A7 north of Hamburg by 2017. And lastly, the goal of allowing 16-year olds to vote before the next state elections in 2017 is also on the table. A brief overview of the plan can be found here.
Should the plan work to the advantage of the newly created coalition, it will not be surprising if Schleswig Holstein becomes greener, more culturally integrated and worker friendlier than it is right now. It is clear that these policies will make the state become more attractive, not only to the Danes living in the north but also elsewhere in Germany. Unlike some regions in the northern and eastern parts of Germany, the state has a consistent population growth of 2% annually, but the unemployment is about the same as the national average of 8%. But with this new set of policies to be implemented, it will not only make the northern half of the state with its minorities happy, but also the rest of Schleswig Holstein. And it would not be surprising if one day, we will find an Annie’s Kiosk somewhere in the state, along with the rest of the Danish delicacies, which many of us look forward to when visiting and living in Schleswig Holstein.