New ICE-Line and ICE City Erfurt Opens

ICE-T train stopping at Erfurt Central Station. Photo taken in March 2017

New High-Speed Line Opens after 25 Years of Planning and Construction. Erfurt and Leipzig to become ICE Cities. 80 ICE trains expected in Erfurt daily.

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BERLIN/ MUNICH/LEIPZIG/ERFURT/COBURG/JENA- It took the signing of former (now late) German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s signature to allow for the project to begin- 25 years ago. That in itself was as historic as US President Dwight D. Eisenhowers signature in 1956 to launch the US Interstate Highway System. It took 25 years, from the time of its signature until the time of its completion, costing over 12 billion Euros, and resulting in 37 bridges- including the 8.6 kilometer long Elster-Saale Viaduct near Halle (the longest in Germany)- two dozen tunnels and the complete makeover of five different stations- the main ones of which are in Erfurt and Leipzig.

And now, Frankenstein has come to life!  🙂 The new ICE line between Berlin and Munich has opened. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Richard Lutz (CEO of the Deutsche Bahn), German Transportation Minister Christian Schmidt as well as the primeministers of the states of Bavaria, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia plus many celebrities were on hand to open the ICE-Line as a pair of ICE-3 trains passed through the new stops of Nuremberg, Erfurt, and Leipzig-Halle as they started from Munich and ended in Berlin. The ceremony happened today with the grand ceremony taking place at Berlin Central Station.

With that new line, not only will the cities of Leipzig and Halle will profit from the long-distance trains stopping there on a daily basis, but also the ICE City Erfurt in central Thuringia, where as many as 80 ICE-trains will stop to board people on a daily basis travelling on the N-S axis between Berlin and Munich via Nuremberg, as well as between Dresden and Frankfurt via Leipzig on the W-E axis.  Along the N-S axis, one can travel between the German and Bavarian capitals in just over four hours, two less than its current travel. Between Dresden and Frankfurt, it is expected that trains passing through Erfurt will need only three hours instead of the normal five.  Planned is the new ICE-Sprinter connecting Berlin with Munich with a stop only in Erfurt. That stretch will take only under four hours.  Another is planned for Halle-Munich and Nuremberg-Berlin, each of which will take less than three hours.

Prior to the opening of the new ICE line, a person needed over six hours along the line that went through Naumburg, Jena, Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Bamberg. That line will be relegated to Regio-trains which will be a total inconvenience to people living in Jena and points to the east. With that will mark the end of long-distance service for the first time in over 115 years. The state of Thuringia is working with the Deutsche Bahn to provide better access, which includes a new long-distance InterCity station in Jena to be opened in 2024.  (More on that here).  The ICE line will mean more development for Erfurt, as the ICE-City plans to build a new convention center and series of hotels and restaurants around the station to better accommodate customers and visitors to Erfurt.

ICE-4. Photo by Martin Lechler

The new line will mark the debut of the newest ICE train, the ICE 4, which will travel alongside the ICE 3 from Munich to Berlin. The ICE-T will continue to serve between Dresden and Leipzig (for more on the train types, click here).  At the same time, the older two models will be phased out bit-by-bit after having travelled tens of thousands of kilometers for over 25 years. The newest models can travel over 300 km/h and has compartments for bikes, available upon reservation.

While the new line, scheduled to be part of the train plan come 10 December, will compete with the airlines and automobile in terms of travel time, there is a catch that many people do not like: From Berlin to Munich, one will have to pay at least 125 Euros one-way, 40 Euros more than with the present route. Despite having more Regio-trains providing access to Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle from Jena and elsewhere, it will become an inconvenience when it comes to changing trains and having to rush to the nearest ICE train with very little time left.

Still it is up to the Bahn to decide how to adjust to the situation as it plans to allow for time for people to adjust and get used to the new line. After a year or so, it will make some adjustments to better serve customers who are out of reach of the new line. By then, one will find out whether the billions spent on this project was worth its salt.

Video on the VDE8 Project- the ICE Line Berlin-Erfurt-Munich:

And a map of the new line:

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Wir Schaffen Das: How the Christian Democrats Have Made German History

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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.

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Konrad Adenauer (1949-1963) Photo courtesy of the German Archives (Bundesarchiv)

“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.

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Helmut Kohl (1982- 1998)           Archiv für Christlich-Demokratische Politik (ACDP)

“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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Angela Merkel (2005-present)  Photo by Armin Linnartz

“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.

Summary:

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. 😉

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To the Americans who are frustrated with Donald Trump

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Dear Fellow Americans,

We understand that half of you voted for Donald Trump because you wanted change in Washington.

We understand that half of you voted for Donald Trump because you never wanted to see Hillary Clinton as President because of her own set of scandals.

We understand that half of you voted for Donald Trump even though your original wish was to vote for Bernie Sanders.

And lastly, we understand that you voted for Donald Trump because of his slogan of making American great again.

Going past the halfway point, our question to you is how do you feel?

Do you think that Donald Trump has exceeded your expectations?

Do you think that Donald Trump is unifying the country?

Do you think that Donald Trump is creating more jobs than you wanted?

Do you think that Donald Trump is the man to run the country?

 

Now be honest…………………..

 

These are rather simple questions, but they are questions that should get you to think about it for awhile. And maybe when all the answers come up with “No he hasn’t,” you can maybe do something about it.

Let us explain what the role of the President of the United States really is, so that you understand. The role of the President is:

To unify the country, regardless of ethnic, religious and social background

To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and condemn any group that tries to undermine this important document that has served this country for 230 years

To react swiftly to situations that harm the country’s population, regardless of background

To encourage people to move and live in the country, regardless of where they came from, and contribute to making America greater

To be sensitive to the feelings of the people and the issues affecting the country, including climate change and other environmental issues

To make sensible decisions that benefit everyone and not the select few, which includes issues involving health care, environment, economic growth and especially education

To foster growth for the country in not only the four aforementioned points but others as well

And lastly,

To ensure that equality is protected among the population, given to all and protected for all who live in the country.

 

The incident that occurred in Charlottesville on 12 August and the President’s reactions that happened afterwards showed the truest colors a person can ever show. It shows that:

Donald Trump has been abusing his power for his own political and business interest, not that for the American population

Donald Trump has been supporting the far right all along. It goes beyond having the likes of Jeffery Sessions, Mike Pence and Steve Bannon in the Oval Office; it includes supporting Neo-nazis and Ku Klux Klan groups who idolize Adolf Hitler and wish to reenact what would be the Fifth Reich in the US. Speaking from history, we saw how Hitler’s obsession led to war, destruction of biblical proportions and eventually the reconstruction of Europe thanks to you, France, Britain and the Soviet Union. While this took six decades, imagine taking that same road with the States, and how long that would take……

Donald Trump is bringing to the country what Hitler brought to Germany, Mussolini to Italy, Franco to Spain, Idi Amin to Uganda, Gaddafi to Lybia, Pinochet to Chile and Organia to Argentina, which is a one-person dictatorship, surrounded by family and people within his closest circle. The process of systematically dismantling the freedom of speech, especially with the media is one of many examples of Trump’s work. Another is attempts to eliminate programs that benefit the population, even those who voted for him.

Donald Trump is everything a person does not want. Unlike Obama, Trump is a sexist, bigamist, racist, egoist, fundamentalist and nationalist swine, whose greed and corruption will lead to the destruction of this country, as well as families, relationships, friendships, colleagueships, partnerships and one’s own self-identity. He made supporters naiive like sheep and he’s now slaughtering them, one by one.

And lastly, Donald Trump is the worst example of how people should behave towards one another. While fights and hatred are making the country as bloody red as possible, the role of the President is to enforce the laws and show people how to be decent to one another. If you don’t know what decency is, you might want to look at this speech by Morgan Freeman:

 

After reading all this, you are probably wondering “What the hell have I done?” We are all wondering that too.  While eliminating monuments that embody the Confederacy may be a solution, but it is only a short-term one. People distancing themselves from Trump is only a dressing to the problem and they will eventually come back to Trump after a while. If there is one solution to the problem, it’s this: impeachment followed by new elections.

Seriously!

Every constitution has a clause, let alone a history of “snap elections” (click here to read about it). We had three such elections, the last one has produced 12 years of success in Angela Merkel, who is bound to break the record of longetivy set by the late Helmut Kohl. While no such elections have happened yet in America on the federal level on the part of the Vice President being the successor, it does happen on the state level for governors, senators and even representatives.  Given the corruptiveness of the current administration (if we even can say that), perhaps it is time to write some history for your country.

How?

Contact your local senator, representative and any politician who is sick and tired of seeing Donald Trump use and abuse this precious office, which should represent the American public. Tell them that you deserve better in a leader of your own country, who also should lead the rest of the world in all other global affairs. Tell them the elections were rigged and we need someone who is not bought as president. Tell them even when Trump leaves, we will never be happy with Mike Pence or anyone else in line to take office. Snap elections are simple as 1-2-3. Trump is impeached and is gone. Pence calls for new elections for 2018. New candidates to do real campaigns. Elections to take place at the same time as the congressional ones. Very simple, even if you transcend the law.

By doing just what is described, you will have a leader who will save the country from disaster, mend the ties that are broken among families and friends and among people of different backgrounds. You will have someone who will right the country and work together with Congress and the Supreme Court while defending the rights of others. You will have someone who will be with the people, for the people and supporting the people.

It’s difficult to do, but giving someone who doesn’t need the White House a chance is no longer an option. Therefore, it’s time to write some history to get things right for once. If you’re not convinced, Jesus is by your side pushing you to do the right thing.

So just do it!

Thank you for your attention. God bless you and your blessed, beloved country.

Sincerely,

The people of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, with support from the EU, other countries in the world and lastly, your American ex-patriots.

 

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A Tribute to Helmut Schmidt

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Former German Chancellor handled the RAF Affair and the NATO Double-Pact during his regime (1974-1982) dead at 96.

HAMBURG- Helmut Schmidt, whose political career lasted for over 60 years both in and outside government and left a positive image for Germany in terms of international and domestic policies has died. Schmidt passed away this afternoon at a hospital in Hamburg after complications from a surgery in September to remove a blood clot. He was 96 years old. Schmidt was a member of the German Social Democratic Party from 1946 until 1982, which included his roles as Minister of Defense  (1969-1972), as well as Minister of Economics and later Finance (1972-1974), all under Chancellor Willi Brandt. When he resign amid an espionage scandal in 1974, Schmidt took power as German Chancellor and ruled the country with a coalition featuring his party and the Free Liberals. Schmidt became the only Chancellor to lose his office through a Vote of No Confidence on 1 October, 1982, thus ushering in the era of Helmut Kohl of the Christian Democratic Party. The reason was the FDP’s alliance with the CDU, which made Schmidt a lame duck. Kohl still holds the record of being the longest reigning Chancellor, ruling for 16 years until 1998. During his time in power, Schmidt championed the strengthening and expansion of politics on the European level, including the introduction of a European currency (which was eventually introduced in 1999 and replaced the German Mark in 2002), as well as fostered domestic spending to help the unemployed, expand health insurance, and pass health and safety laws. He put an end to the reign of terror caused by the group Red Army Faction, and his policies involving the Cold War, led to the NATO Double-Track Policy, where mid-range missiles were stationed in West Germany, causing protests in many cities. Schmidt was loved and hated by many within and outside Germany because of his policies and his comments on certain events, especially on the international front. However, after he stepped down in 1982, Schmidt became an avid writer and editor, having been co-publisher of the German newspaper Die Zeit and authored several books, mainly focusing on politics and his memoirs about his time in Bonn and Hamburg. However, there are a few more facts that we don’t know about Schmidt. And therefore, we have the:

Large Blog ImageFAST FACTS:

 

  1. Upon his death, Helmut Schmidt became the oldest living former chancellor, having outlived Konrad Adenauer by five years. Adenauer died in 1967 at the age of 91. He has also outlived the oldest former US Presidents, Gerald Ford (1972-76) and Ronald Reagan (1981-88), both of whom lived to be 93 years old. They died in 2006 and 2004, respectively.
  2. During the Great Flood of 1962, which hammered Hamburg and the state of Schleswig-Holstein, Schmidt, who was Hamburg’s senator, initiated moves by taking charge of the Federal Police and the Germany Army and directed them to the flooded areas, rescuing people stranded on top of houses and providing aid where needed. This overstepped boundaries and led to a change in the German Constitution which forbade the use of federal forces unless deemed a necessity. The flooding and natural disasters were added as a necessity in 1968.
  3. Schmidt was an avid pianist, having recorded music for several composers from the 1980s on.
  4. Schmidt was an avid smoker, having smoked heavily, both privately as well as in public and especially on TV shows. This was his signature for his character which was carried all the way to the end, despite controversies involving him violating smoking bans.
  5. Schmidt was the automatic go-to guy to talk to when asked about several political themes, both on the German as well as the international fronts. This included his views on the environment, whose opposition to shutting down nuclear power plants and his comment on global warming being hysterically overheated stirred a lot of controversies, but conceded that a population explosion is the biggest threat to mankind because of the potential exhaustion of resources. He was on many talk shows, having been interviewed in German and English.
  6. He was the focus of a Loriot caricature in the 1970s, when he was at his height of popularity amid several scandals and incidents affecting Germany.
  7. Schmidt’s interest in politics came during his experience serving the Army during the Third Reich and witnessing a trial that was considered biased and brutal, as the Nazis ordered the execution of conspirators responsible for trying to assassinate Adolf Hitler, including Claus von Stauffenberg, whose streets in many cities were later named in his honor.

Helmut Schmidt, despite the controversies and the opposition from others, was considered the elder statesman with open arms. Whenever he was asked about certain political current events, he was quick to provide some food for thought, something for people to think about and discuss, something for politicians to think about before enacting or vetoing any measures being debated first in Bonn and later in Berlin. Schmidt was considered the face of Germany in the 1970s but is really the face of European politics and international affairs, for his policies and advocacy for a more European model of politics, while ensuring that countries are able to keep their sovereignty and maintain a democratic regime in tact. Cooperation was for him the key to a peaceful environment, something that was anything but that during the Cold War, but was later carried out when relations between the United States and the Soviet Union warmed up and eventually, when the two divided Germanys became one in 1990. Schmidt made and maintained ties with many politicians, many of them are still alive today. But despite warnings of smoking being unhealthy, Schmidt was unphased by it, for smoking was still for the intellectuals, and he provided that no matter where he went or who he talked with. Schmidt will be missed for his character and his guidance in international affairs, especially now, when we have bigger issues affecting Germany and we have to go on without him, or at least with the lessons he gave us.

Schmidt is survived by his daughter, Susanne, who has followed his father’s footsteps by working for Bloomberg Television, but is preceded in death by his wife Hannelore “Loki”, who died in 2010, and his infant son.  Leb wohl Herr Schmidt und vielen Dank für Ihre Beiträge und Mithilfe. Gott segnet Sie.

Helmut Schmidt Highlights:

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The Mid-Term Elections in the United States: At the Crossroads or the Beginning of a Revolution? Views from an Expatriate

Author’s note: This belated entry was due to non-blog related commitments plus I wanted to look at  the elections from multiple perspectives before I decided to chime in, with the goal of keeping to my policy of neutrality with this topic. This includes not voting in the mid-term elections as it would not make much of a difference in the current US policies both domestically and abroad.

Which way will Americans go, as indicated by this sign near Sünderup (near Flensburg). Photo taken in May 2010
"Which way will Americans go?"; as indicated by this sign near Sünderup (near Flensburg). Photo taken in May 2010

Well, it’s finally over. The election signs lining up along the streets of the residential districts have been taken down and put away. There are no more people going door-to-door to get the neighbors to vote for one party or the other. The cannons used to fire mud and soot at the candidates have been decomissioned. And most importantly, the people have spoken. The second of November, 2010 will go down in the history as the year of change- change in the political landscape as the era of the Democrats and in particular, the Kennedys have come to an end in place of full Republican dominance of the House of Representatives, the neutralization of the Democrats in the Senate, and the era of the Bush and Palin Dynasties arising over the dome of the Capitol, like the rising sun. Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and the people at Fox News, who have all been in hiding since the elections of 2008, which brought President Barack Obama into power and resulted in the dominance of the Democrats on Capitol Hill, have now used the political flaws of the Obama administration and exploited the president’s youth and inexperience to influence the voters to “roll back America” and make his life virtually a living hell for the next 2 years. Using the old philosophy of too much governance, a socialist-controlled health care system, the unnecessary need for high-speed rail and most importantly, high unemployment, the people have said “no!” to change in their pockets and voted for change on the political scene.  From a point of view of the American who has resided here in Germany since 1999, this ring is all too familiar, as we had an episode happen in the German elections last year.

There, the Social Democrats (SPD) were ousted in a brutal way, as the voters voted for “The Dream Coalition”, consisting of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Free Democrats (FDP). But this was despite the fact that this was the same SPD that considered Helmut Kohl of the CDU too old to govern the country and voted him out in 1998 in favor of Gerhardt Schröder and the coalition with the Green Party, only to find that they got the shaft in 2005 through the emergency elections that brought Angela Merkel to power and created the dysfunctional Grand Coalition, consisting of the SPD and CDU. This coalition was replaced in 2009 with the Dream Coalition that kept Ms. Merkel in power and brought FDP Chairman Guido Westerwelle into the limelight, both at the expense of the SPD.  In both cases, the voters did not need the radical talk show hosts, like Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow to show their displeasure of the SPD and found ways to bring the CDU back into power in its entirety, which has since then enjoyed the fruits of prosperity as the unemployment is low, the country is experiencing the highest growth in the gross domestic product in the world, and there is a sense of economic stability in the Bundesrepublik.

Whether this change of power in the US will help avert another round of recession and follow the success of the Germans remains questionable. But the results of the mid-term elections has led me to asking this one simple question, and that is “Why?”  To answer that, I will look at the results from the view points of the Republicans and the Democrats before I proceed to interpret the implications of the mid-term elections. These are based on the discussions I’ve had with friends and family members from both sides of the big pond, as I try and make sense out of the whole deal. Let us start with the Republicans as they have been highly demanding the need for change:

REPUBLICANS’ ARGUMENTS

There are many reasons why many people voted for the conservatives this time around. Many of the reasons that I’ve read and heard about can be bundled up into three main categories: The strive to keep the American Dream alive, The strive to put a cap on governmental spending, and finally most importantly, the strive for jobs but definitely not in areas that will not be beneficial in the long term. The first argument requires a brief explanation for those wanting to know what the American Dream means from an expat’s point of view. The American Dream stresses the importance of independence- the development of onesself and his own successes, while at the same time, have a family, house, career, and own car at an early age (say 25 years). It is what my late grandmother used to say: “Every man for himself.” And one must not forget the obligation to go to church on Sundays to pray and socialize.  The problem with the American Dream is the fact that it is dying, from a conservative’s point of view, for reasons that there are not enough jobs to go around, there are too many regulations that restrict the activities of Americans, and that the government has been spending too much money on projects they claim are not needed and less money on the necessities. This includes spending too much on the health care system which many perceive to be functioning well and on high speed rail which many don’t want in the first place.  The American Dream can only survive when there is less governmental involvement and more freedom to be independent, innovative, and successful.  The second category definitely deals with too much money spent on projects that are not necessary. This includes the investment in renewable energy, high speed rail, and rehabilitating the health care. Renewable energy is understandable, but high speed rail to accomodate a handful of people is considered a waste, and health care, according to many, is a complex system which requires some incremental fixes, but not an overhaul to make it look like a European system. And last but not least, jobs. Many have touted the success of their own businesses and the ability to hire new people. Others are frustrated that there are no jobs to go around because they claim that either the immigrants have taken them or many companies have either outsourced their facilities or have relocated out of country. Many have pointed their fingers at Obama for allowing the unemployment to increase to 10% (although that argument is questionable). Others have taken job losses well and treated it like it was normal. In either case, many claim that with the Republicans in power, there is a potential for the economy to take off right away, like it was the case with the administration of Bill Clinton when the Republicans took control of  the entire Congress in 1994. To sum it up, many wanted the Republicans to come to power because they wanted the US to be the US and not like anybody else. That means as Ronald Reagan put it, the government is evil and should be tamed by the private sectors and the American people, which is the secret recipe of keeping the American Dream alive.

DEMOCRATS’ ARGUMENTS

The arguments of the liberal voters, on the other hand, represent a global awareness of issues affecting the US and the rest of the world. This includes global warming which in comparison with the conservatives, is a real issue that needs to be addressed post haste in order to ensure that the next generation would have the same quality of life as this generation. Henceforth many have embraced renewable energy technology, which would bring in jobs, and high-speed rails, which would relieve traffic congestion and pollution. Furthermore, many have seen the flaws of the health care system, which still exists even after the bill to overhaul it was passed. And lastly, many have seen the American Dream disappear forever, as the entire system is broke, thanks to the wrecklessness of the Bush administration, allowing for deregulation and free-wheeling politics in the hands of the big corporations, a trend similar to the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression that followed in the 30s. The reemergence of the Republicans in Congress through the mid-term elections was a big slap in the face as many see the problems President Obama has inherited as something that cannot be fixed overnight, nor within the first four years of office. More disappointing to the liberals is the fact that they see the US as going backwards into time and not moving forward, like the Europeans and Chinese. Hence the country is lagging far behind in the advancement of technology. Some have given up hope and are looking for an opportunity to flee the country, a place where they claim have way too many conservatives who are narrow-minded and ignorant of what is going on around them.

THE AUTHOR’S ARGUMENT

I recently read an article in “Der Spiegel” magazine about the crumbling American Dream and how the mid-term elections have been based on hatred because of all of the problems Americans are facing; including unemployment, homelessness, and an economy that is struggling to create at least a handful of jobs. The author of the piece claimed that all of this was the result of years of neglect of the real issues that are going on and too much focus on the American Dream and ways to keep it alive, even on credit. From my personal point of view, if there was an American Dream, for some reason it is at the crossroads in terms of its own future. The mid-term elections is like a revolution that is in the making. We’ve seen a lot of revolutions that have been carried out because of the need of change in authority and structure. The 1848 revolution brought down oligachy in many places in Europe (minus the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires) and brought social changes to improve the well-being of the continent’s inhabitants. The revolution of 1917 introduced communism in Russia, which spread throughout Europe and triggered counter-revolutions in the 1930s in France and Spain, 1953 in East Germany, 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Prague (former Czechoslovakia), and 1980 in Poland. The revolution of 1969 in the US was two-fold as demonstrators not only challenged the rule of authority of the older generations but also balked at the Vietnam War.

If the mid-term elections did serve as the modern version of 1969, then a revolution was long overdue. The country is divided up like never before, with the rich getting richer, poor getting poorer, extremists becoming more extreme and fundamentalists becoming more fundamental. We are seeing people taking sides in ways that was never dreamt of 20 years ago. The conservatives are carrying Sarah Palin’s book “Going Rogue” like the Bible, while trying to teach others to be “non-socialists”.  Liberals are trying to knock some sense into these people with well-known facts about the real issues, while keeping themselves informed on these issues through CNN, Minnesota Public Radio, and the BBC to help justify their arguments. Never before have I seen the barriers being built up between these two sides and strengthened and armed for any attack. These differences have torn families and friends apart and are eating away at the fabric of the Constitution, which was created to establish democracy and protect the rights of the people. While the need to put aside the differences has been stressed and the President- facing even greater odds- is ready to compromise with the Republicans, it is impossible for Americans to come together and work on the issues that have been plaguing the country since George W. Bush took office in 2001. In fact, the differences will intensify, sparking a revolution between the conservatives and the liberals, the most dedicated Christians and the non-Christians, the rich and the poor, the Minorities and the Caucasians, which will reshape the way the United States looks like as a whole and will alter the American way of life forever.  The only solution to this deep division is to do what the author of “Der Spiegel” article suggested in the end: “Be inventive and look for ways to succeed.” In this case, we need to find innovative ways to return to civilization, tear these walls down, open the gates, and look at reality from a neutral perspective. Once we all know what is wrong with today’s picture, we can take our course of action and find ways of solving the problems we are facing today, which is as big as Mt. Everest. But no problem is too big to handle, and we will thank ourselves once we determine which direction we will take and what measures we can use to make America what it is- for us and for our children and grandchildren.

It’s just a matter of starting right now…….


Link to article (in German): http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/index-2010-44.html