The Fight to Save Fehmarn Island from Progress

Fehmarn Bridge side view new

Co-produced with sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles

FEHMARN, GERMANY-   Last fall, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles did a segment on the preservation of the Fehmarn Bridge, the first bridge in the world that carries the now popular basket-handle tied arch bridge span. The battle is part of the series where residents of Fehmarn Island are fighting with both the German and Danish governments to stop a project where the Migratory Bird Route, connecting Hamburg and Copenhagen, would be widened- both the highway and the railway. This includes new bridges to replace the Fehmarn Bridge and a tunnel on the opposite end connecting Puttgarden (D) and Rodby (DK). And lastly an industrial areal was planned for the island.  Unfortunately, despite the Areal being blocked earlier this year, the European Union, according to reports from the BBC, has given Denmark the green light to start the construction of the tunnel, by providing 589 million Euros in the next four years for the project.

Yet while the Danes are prepared to start work beginning this fall, residents of the island and the surrounding area along the Baltic Sea coast are up in arms against the project and have started their own initiative to stop the project.

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Tourists and locals have seen the blue X’es popping up in neighborhoods, along highways and beaches and even in the skies between Hamburg and Lübeck and the island itself. The Blue-X Initiative was adopted by the groups Preserve Fehmarn and Beltretter, with the purpose of showing support for preserving the island and stopping the project from taking place. Almost one in every three households have this on their lawns as a way of demonstrating solidarity against the project. And there are many reasons for this initiative:

1. The construction of the tunnel would coincide with the expansion of the highway and rail line going through the island as well as the construction of the new Fehmarn Bridge, resulting in the island becoming a construction site. As small as the island is, and with the economy being dependent almost solely on tourism, analysts predict a loss of up to 800 million Euros (or close to $1 billion) in revenue during the time of the construction because of loss of tourism and commerce, plus additional money to improve the island’s imagery once the project was completed, which could take years to complete.

2. The project would involve a loss of sensitive vegetation and marine life that would be immense and possible irreplaceable. This includes the plan to scrap the underground tunnel similar to the Euro-Tunnel connecting France and Great Britain in favor of one above the sea floor, similar to the Oresund Bridge and Tunnel between Copenhagen and Malmö (Sweden), which could be devastating to marine life alone. The width of the construction area between Puttgarden and Fehmarn Bridge would average approximately five kilometers. The maximum width of the island is only 21.8 kilometers- and this given the size of the land to be 185 squared kilometers!

3. Some discreptancies in the environmental and economic impact surveys conducted by Denmark have resulted in rechecking the figures. Alone with the economic impact survey released in January 2015 led to a debate on the credibility of both the Danish government, the conglomerate spearheading the tunnel initiative Fehmarn A/S, and even the European Union. While both Denmark and the EU claim that the new crossings would produce a revenue of 4-5% of the gross domestic product in the region or approximately 3.48 billion Euros ($5.5 billion), other surveys indicate that the loss of revenue through construction combined with years of recovery, the new crossing would net an annual loss of 6.7 billion Euros ($8.2 billion). For the residents on the island, the risk would be too high to take.

4. While there is a one-track rail line that is suitable for transport between Hamburg and Copenhagen including the time needed to cross via ferry, there is another border crossing at Flensburg and Padborg, where they feature a freeway and a two-track rail line connecting Hamburg with Aarhus with a arm going to Copenhagen via Odense. At the present time, improvements are being made in the Flensburg area to make the crossing more attractive. While the logic behind expanding the line through Fehmarn is there, little do government authorities realize that Fehmarn is a vacation and natural area whose need for a freeway/ two-track crossing on both ends of the island would devastate the natural habitat and impact tourism negatively. In other words, better to go through Flensburg if you wish to stay on the freeway going to Denmark and not stop to go swimming.

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While officials in Denmark are preparing to start building the tunnel from the Rodby end, officials in Germany are in the process of discussing the project with many parties involved. This after the application for the construction of the new Fehmarn Bridge, new freeway and tunnel was submitted to the state ministry of transport. The communities affected will have a meeting in September, followed by the environmental groups, including BeltRetter in November and residents affected by the construction afterwards. The ministry will then review the opinions and information provided by those affected before making their decision- a process that could take up to a year.  Proponents of the project have already received a backing from The German Railways (The Bahn) and German Minister of Transport Alexander Dobrindt, the former wanting to expand and electrify its rail line to run more ICE-Trains on there.

But with the opposition towards the project crystalizing and spreading beyond the region, problems will most likely excaberbate over the course of two years, especially when the blue X’es sprout up everywhere making the area as blue as possible. Since blue is the sign of clear water, the water people deserve to swim in and marine life to inhabit, it also is a sign of preserving things as they are. With more initiatives coming up and more support pouring in, there is a chance that the project could be stalled further or even scrapped. If this is the case, then there will still be some work to be done with its current infrastructure to keep it up to date, but residents will breathe a sign of relief, for having a mega-highway for the sake of expanding commerce is not necessarily what they want. In fact with all of information on the negative impacts, combined with questions involving the credibility of the sources, this project in the end will do more harm to the region than good. This is something no one is willing to gamble on.

The Flensburg Files and the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles are proud to support the initiative to preserve Fehmarn Island and its places of interest. Both columns will provide you with further updates on the latest involving the project. If you wish to take part in the initiative and want to donate for the right cause, please click on the following links. There you have information on how you can help.

Beltretter

Bewahrt Fehmarn (Preserve Fehmarn)

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FF new logo1  &  bhc new logo jpeg

Special thanks to Mirko Kaminski for the use of the photos, as well as Karin Neumann and Hendrick Kerlen for their help in contributing some valuable information for this story.   

In School in Germany: Teaching Geography

This class is the first of many in the series on topics that should be taught in US schools from the point of view of the teacher observing classes at a German school. The first topic deals with Geography.

OK fellow Americans (and especially fellow Iowans and Minnesotans), before we get started with the subject of classes that should be taught, here are a few questions that you should try and answer.

1. Peaches are an important commodity in Egypt. True or False? If false, what crops grow there?

 

2. __________, ____________, ____________, ______________and ___________ are the  minerals that can be found in Minnesota. Of which, _______________ is still being mined there in the ___________________ Iron Range

 

3. What is the capital of Palau?  aPonce          b. Melekeok      c. Koror                               d. Kauai               e. Kuala Lumpur

4. Honey is produced in Canada. True or False? If false, what is produced there?

T/F   False: ____________________________

 

5. Which country has the highest crime rate in the world? Why?

a. Mexico        b. Germany       c.  USA                 d. Russia              e. China               f. Poland

 

6. Which province in the Ukraine joined the Russian Federation earlier this year and which ones want to join?

a.: __________________; b.: ______________________________________________

 

7. The Rust Belt, consisting of the states of O___________,W___________V _____________, P____________________, and I______________ and the cities of I______________, P__________________,P _____________________,C ________________,C _____________ received its name because of what industry that existed between 1860 and ca. 1970?

a. Steel             b. Tobacco          c. Iron                   d. corn                 e. wood               f. both a&c

 

8. Rice is grown in Iowa. True or False? If false, which US state grows rice?    T/F, If false, ________________________________

 

9. Which Eastern European Countries became part of the Warsaw Pact in 1955? Hint: there are seven countries not counting Yugoslavia?

 

10. Catholicism is the predominant religion in which German states?

 

11. Albert Lea, Minnesota was named after an explorer who founded the region. True or False?    T/F

 

Do not look up the answers, but try and guess at them, either on your own or in the Comment section. The answers will be provided in a different article. Yet if you cannot answer any of the questions, then chances are you should have either visited or paid attention in Geography.  Geography is part of the curriculum in the German classroom, yet it is one of core classes that is often ignored in the classroom in other countries, or are included as a tiny fraction of the curriculum of social studies, together with history, politics, and independent living. Yet one goes by the assumption that Geography is about maps, countries and capitals. In Germany, it goes much deeper than that, as I observed in the classroom during the Praxissemester. This is what a person can expect from a Geography class:

Using a student’s guide, in this case, Diercke’s Geography book, whose volumes consists of regions, the class has an opportunity to focus on a country and its profile based on the following aspects: landscape, population, industry/economy, resources, geology, culture, societal issues, environmental issues, places of interest, and politics (governmental system and its function and flaws).  Each aspect has its own set of vocabulary words pupils need to learn, both in German as well as in English. Each one has its own graphs and diagrams, as well as certain skills pupils are expected to learn, such as presenting an aspect, analysis, comparisons of certain aspects, as well as research and presenting facts, just to name a few.  While some of these skills can be taught in other subjects, such as foreign languages as and natural and social science classes, the advantages of geography are numerous. Apart from knowing the vocabulary and the places, pupils are supposed to be prepared to know about the regions, for they can be useful for travel, any projects involving these countries, and cultural encounters with people from these countries profiled in the classroom.

Keeping this in mind, let’s look at the example of the session I sat in, with Japan.  Some of us have some knowledge about the country, apart from the Fukushima Triple Disaster of 2011 (Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Meltdown) that the Japanese have been recovering from ever since. And for some of the older generations, Japan was the champion in the electronics industry in the 1970s and 80s, mastering the Americans and Europeans before the economy took a double nosedive in the 1990s and in the mid-2000s. Yet in the session, pupils became acquainted with the Japanese industry and its ironic environmental policies, looking at the competition of the automobile industry between the Japanese and the Americans in the form of presenting a comparison and a profile of each of the automobile companies in Japan. In addition, a discussion of Japan’s secret problem of environmental pollution was presented, using the facts from Diercke and some additional materials deemed useful for the discussion. With 127 million inhabitants on a small island, whose topography comprises of 80% mountains and 20% flatlands, it is really no surprise that the country has suffered from its overpopulation, yet the topic was brand new to the students, even though it was covered previously when discussing about China, Japan’s archrival.

The class is required in the Gymnasium, yet the curriculum varies from state to state. In Thuringia, it is one year with one region, beginning with Europe. The American aspect is usually covered in the 11th grade and, pending on the Gymnasium, some aspects are offered in English, with the goal of getting the pupils acquainted with the English vocabulary. While English has become the lingua franca and is used everywhere, one could consider adding Spanish, French, and a couple Asian languages (in vocabulary terms) into the curriculum as much of the world also have countries that have at least one of the above-mentioned languages, including Latin America and Spain, where Spanish is predominant.  This way, pupils have an opportunity to be acquainted with terms rarely seen in the primary language unless translated, which loses its meaning.

This leads to the question of why geography is not offered either solely in American schools, or maybe they are being offered but only rarely. Speaking from personal experience, many schools have different sets of curriculum where Geography is placed at the bottom of the food chain, especially with regards to it being integrated into social studies. And its focus: Only North America and in particular, the United States, where the country’s history, social aspects and political systems are discussed. Current events and presenting them in writing and orally are found in these social studies classes, thus encouraging pupils to research and present their topics, yet most of the events are found in the US and Europe, and there is rarely any mentioning of countries outside the regions.  Some schools had the opportunity to be hooked up to Channel One, where news stories were presented for 20 minutes in the morning, during its heyday in the 1990s. Yet too many commercials and controversies have prompted many schools to protest or even break ties with the network, even though it still exists today after a decade of changing hands.  By introducing a year or two of Geography at least on the high school level, plus tea spoons on the lower level, it will enable pupils in American schools to be acquainted with the rest of the world and the key areas that are worth knowing about. It will save the embarrassment of not knowing some places outside the US, as I witnessed in a pair of stories worth noting:

 

1. A professor of political science at a college in Minnesota draws a map of Europe, placing the Czech Republic above Poland and Hungary in the area where Austria was located- in front of a pair of foreign exchange students from Germany who were grinning in the process. Of course this was the same professor who chose Munich and Berchtesgaden over Berlin and Interlaken over Geneva and Berne for a month-long seminar tour on Public Policy, where every capital of Europe was visited except for Austria, Poland, the Iberia region and Benelux. But that’s a side note in itself.

 

2. My best friend and his (now ex-) girlfriend meet me and my fiancée (now wife) at that time at a restaurant, where she boasted about going to Europe for a music concert. Yet when asked where exactly (which country and city), she could not answer that question- only proudly responded with “But we’re going to Europe!”

 

3. Then we had many questions and assumptions that East Germany and the Berlin Wall existed. One was wise enough to mention during a phone conversation that the reason he could not reach a relative in eastern Germany was that the East German Housing Development had blocked telephone access from America. And this was 10 years ago, I should add.

 

There are enough reasons for me (and others) to add that justify the need to offer a compulsory Geography class in American schools. While the core requirements are being introduced in the American school system, it is unknown whether Geography is part of the core. If not, then it is recommended, for the class does have its advantages, as mentioned here.  While geography contests and individual work will be stressed by those opposing the idea of teaching Geography, the main question to be asked to these people are “Are you willing to learn something about another region and the culture before encountering them, or are you willing to be ignorant and be foolish in your attempts to encounter other cultures without learning about them first?” Speaking from experience, I would rather take the safe path than one unknown and fall into several traps in the process. But that’s my opinion.

We have our man for the job! Now let’s get to work! Thoughts on the US Elections

A replica of his office when he was president located at the Truman Presidential Library. Photo taken in August 2011

What does it take to become the President of the United States? And what does it take to ensure that the man you voted for is elected to office?

These are the questions I’ve been asking myself ever since watching the elections this morning at 4:00am in the comforts of home in central Germany. After voting by mail a few weeks ago, watching the TV debates and then the climax of President Obama taking the swing state of Ohio and with that the elections, all I can do is breathe a sigh of relief and say that it’s finally over. We have the right man for the job. We chose one who will continue his path of patching up ties with our neighbors, fixing a series of systems that are broken down and in dire need of reforms (health care, Medicare, education, social system, just to name a few), and providing Americans and people abroad with a sense of hope in the form of job growth and trade, improving the environment and saving what is left of our cultural and historical heritage, and providing peace and good will both within America and to the rest of the world.

The 2012 elections will go down as the most expensive in modern history, but it will go down as the most vulgar and in the end, the most unpopular among the people both in the States and around the world. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent to overwhelm the public with ad campaigns, slamming each candidate and providing promises that were empty, miscalculated, and irrelevant to the real problems we are facing. Even the debates between Obama and Romney and between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan depicted a professional wrestling match with each person throwing barbs and flies toward each other. Comparing that to a real wrestling match with the likes of Sara Del Ray and Awesome Kong, they were anything but entertaining.  While Main Street was being plastered with the campaign signs on every building and Rush (fatso) Limbaugh engulfing the radiowaves, it made us feel that we were being forced to vote against our will, when in all reality, we just wanted the facts: Who will handle the issues that affects us? Who will take us out of the worst crisis since the Great Depression? And most importantly, who will make the United States the world superpower like it should- setting examples for our European, African and Asian counterparts to follow?

The decision today marked a turning point. We#ve turned away from the billions of dollars spent on the campaign (almost all of it came out of our own pockets), all the vulgar language that alienated many people regardless of background, and the issues that have cut families into pieces and destroyed friendships and voted for someone who really will get the job done- one who started the process and will finish the job by the time he leaves in four years. We found someone with a great track record, despite the shortcomings, and especially one who is honest and patient, and willing to work with the people on the many issues that we have yet to settle.

The lists of tasks to be completed may be a mile (or 2km) long but if there is one piece of advice to give to the president it’s this: Aim high and let the Heavens take care of the rest.

The Flensburg Files and its sister column, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to congratulate President Barack Obama on his victory and wish him the best of luck in the next four years. No matter how different our views may be, we are right behind you all the way to the end. Let’s hope the opposition will do the same.

Annie’s Kiosk Coming Soon to Schleswig Holstein

Annie's Kiosk in Sonderhavn. Photo taken in May 2010

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.

 

The flag of Schleswig-Holstein Photo taken in May 2010