BERLIN — The newly elected premier of Thuringia called for the dissolution of the state assembly on Thursday after Chancellor Angela Merkel said his election with support from her party and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) was inexcusable. Thomas Kemmerich, a little-known liberal Free Democrat (FDP) in the eastern state of Thuringia, on Wednesday […]

via Call to dissolve state assembly as Merkel steps into row over far-right — National Post

24 hours after having been elected, state prime minister Thomas Emmerich (FDP) has announced his resignation and called for the dissolution of parliament, clearing the way for new elections. Whether this will change anything or not remains to be seen. Details via link above.

The Files will continue to keep you posted on the latest unfolding in Germany and in Thuringia.

 

FlFi10

FlFinewsflyer new

“The AfD is here to stay!” The Failure of the Minority Government in Thuringia and its Implications for the upcoming 2021 Elections in Germany

erfurt

Erfurt, Germany. February 5th, 2020. Four months after the State Elections, which saw the far-left party Die Linke receive the majority of the votes, but not enough votes to continue the Red-Red-Green Coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens, the chance for a minority government under incumbent Prime Minister, Bodo Ramelow was buried. The new Prime Minister is Thomas Kemmerich- from the FDP (Free Democrats).  After five years of leftist governing, the State of Thuringia has taken the sharpest right  possible, creating an earthquake that is being felt all the way to Berlin. And with that, one party is setting the stage for a potential upset in 2021, the year German Chancellor Angela Merkel steps down and elections for a new Chancellor will take place- namely the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD).

The far-right party has been making waves by entering the state parliament in each of the elections of 16 German states.  Yet with Kemmerich as the new state minister, even though he comes from the FDP, the AfD effectively has entered unchartered waters, but whose history runs parallel to the events that brought down the Weimar Republic in 1933.  Erfurt is swallowing another bitter pill- its second in a week’s time after its professional soccer team, Rot-Weiss-Erfurt folded due to lack of liquidity. But this pill is one that has the potential to be as deadly as the hemlock that Socrates was forced to drink as part of his death sentence.

In other words, Germany and its democracy are both starting to die. The pill was taken thanks to the AfD’s successful plot to bring an unknown person into power from a party that had just entered the parliament after achieving the 5% vote needed and had only four representatives in Erfurt after the elections on October 27th.  How did this happen?

It was easy as this: Despite signing the agreement with the Left, SPD and Greens to continue with the coalition, a prime minister for Thuringia was needed, hence the in-house elections. Of the votes to be casted by 90 representatives, one must have the absolute majority of votes the first two of three rounds- meaning 46 out of 90. Ramelow got most of the votes in the first two rounds but was shy of the mark each time. In the third and decisive round, where the simple majority would’ve sufficed for Ramelow, the AfD, who had nominated a candidate of their own, threw their support behind Kemmerich instead, and together with the Christian Democrats (CDU), pulled off the most controversial upsets never seen since the Fall of the Weimar Republic.  While Kemmerich has signaled no interest in a coalition with the AfD, thousands of demonstrators and politicians have cried foul play, with all but the AfD demanding an explanation- and new elections. Even authorities in the CDU in Berlin including party chair Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer have turned on the Thuringian CDU for their plot with the AfD to oust Rammelow and have therefore demanded new elections.  As of this post, Kemmerich has rejected calls for it.

Why is the AfD so dangerous? One name to answer: Björn Höcke, who heads the party in Thuringia. Many have dubbed him as Hitler 2.0 for his controversial remarks aimed at refugees, immigrants and the Jewish community.  According to the BBC, Mr Höcke sparked an outcry when he condemned the decision to place the Holocaust memorial in the heart of Berlin, describing it as a “memorial of shame”. He, like his party colleagues, have pressed for restrictions on the freedom of speech and the elimination of foreign languages in favor of just German and would rather see a GEXIT, like it happened with Boris Johnson’s BREXIT out the EU, which will certainly mark the beginning of the end for the United Kingdom as Scotland prepares to campaign for independence and Northern Ireland ponders unification with Ireland, an EU member. Attempts to oust Höcke have failed, resulting in some members leaving the party.  Yet with this victory in Erfurt, many in the AfD are making the point very clear: We are here and we will prevail, no matter how you isolate us.

Imagine what will happen in 2021, when Merkel leaves to enjoy her much-deserved retirement after having ruled Germany for as long as Helmut Kohl and Konrad Adenauer. The elections will take place and the majority of the voters put their ballots in favor of the AfD. It was bad enough that the party came in third in the 2017 national elections and in second in over a third of the elections in the German states. The damage caused by the concerted efforts by the AfD, FDP and CDU in Thuringia to bring Kemmerich into power as prime minister has raised some questions about the identity of the FDP and CDU and its potential to cozy up to the AfD and their far-right policies. Especially the hardest hit is the CDU for the party, with its center-right conservative mentality but is known for its tolerance towards foreigners living in Germany, as many voters, dissatisfied with Merkel’s policies, have left the party and taken refuge for the AfD, mistaken by their false sense of security. Even if the AfD was to finish in second, it will still find ways to collude with the CDU, FDP or other parties as a way of gaining power. Can you imagine the likes of Höcke, Alexander Gauland, Alice Weidel and Frauke Petry taking over Berlin and ruling over Germany?

If not, and thankfully, the majority has still learned from what happened under Hitler, then it is up to each and every single party who is opposed to the AfD to do something. The AfD is here to stay and we need to deal with it. The only way to do so is the following:

  1. Reinvent yourselves. Each party must break with tradition and find new platforms that counters the AfD’s but also appeals to each age group.
  2. Stay calm and be creative in countering any anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant and even anti-German comments and plans by the AfD or anyone the the party supports. Ripping up speeches in public after a president addresses the nation and throwing flowers on the ground at the feet of a newly elected prime minister are considered counterproductive. What is productive is what the party can do to outmanuver the AfD, regardless of themes being talked about on the state and national levels.
  3. Most importantly, find someone who has the capability to fill the shoes of Madame Chancellor at the quickest and most professional way. Having celebrity status to add to the political experience is an accessory compared to the most important element needed for Germany- public image. Without public image- appearance, eloquence and the ability to move the public, the candidate will be half the image. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Margaret Thacher were all successful because of the element that we seem to lack- public image.

In this day and age, looking at the current trend in the UK and USA, facts and figures are no longer enough. The right-wing virus is too strong for that. Complaining and mudslinging is a waste of time. This was something the Democrats in Washington have learned the hard way with Trump being acquitted of all charges in the impeachment hearings- the same day this debacle happened in Erfurt. What Germany needs very badly now is someone with the image and the iron fist to put an end to the dominance of the AfD and put it out of commission, once and for all. It starts in Berlin, in 2021. Once a prominent person is in place and restores order, the AfD will die off like the terrorist group, the RAF.

Like in the US with the Presidential elections this year, 2021 will be the year of decisions for the Bundesrepublik Deutschland. We’ve seen what happened in Erfurt. If nothing is done, we will see this happen again in Berlin with the federal elections. And we will end up rewriting history on how German democracy perished because of the likes of Gauland, Höcke, Weidel and Petry.

flefi deutschland logo

 

RWE Out of Profi German Soccer

Ariel view of Steigerwald Stadium, home of Rot-Weiss Erfurt. Photo taken in 2007 by Tom Kidd for WikiCommons

FleFi Sportsflyer Header

Professional Soccer Team shuts down after failure to find Investor to save the Team.

ERFURT, GERMANY- “I died twice this week. This is especially hard. We’ll Need everything to cope with this.” These were the comments from Robin Krüger in an interview with the Thüringen Allgemein Newspaper after learning the fate of the traditional soccer team in the capital of Thuringia on Tuesday.  After struggling to find an investor to  keep the team running, since filing for bankruptcy in 2018, and failing even with the last-minute attempt to find a solution, the profi-soccer team Rot-Weiss-Erfurt is officially no more. The announcement to de-register the team from the Regionalliga Nord was made by the insolvency administer Volker Reinhardt yesterday afternoon at 3:00pm and was made official shortly afterwards. As a consequence, all games played by the team to date have been annulled and Erfurt is the first team to be demoted down to the Oberliga, the fifth league in the German soccer league food chain. That league features mainly teams from Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, in comparison to the other league, which features teams from the whole northeastern corner of Germany- which used to be East Germany.

The team’s misfortunes began in March 2018, when the team filed for receivership due to a lack of funding and investors. At that time, Erfurt was in the 3rd National League of the German Football Federation (DFB) and as a consequence, it was relegated to the Regionalliga Nord, effectively ending a 10-year run on the national level. It was hoped that with the new start in the league and with the creation of a limited corporation run by an investor found at that time, the team could return to national prominence. Unfortunately, towards the end of last year, the investor was unable to pay the players and head coach, resulting in them pulling out. Reinhardt attempted to look for help through other investors and even the City of Erfurt, neither of them were successful.

With the folding of the profi-soccer team, the remaining soccer players would have a chance to find another soccer team to play the remaining 2019/20 season. At the same time, the Rot-Weiss Erfurt organization can work on a new concept to eliminate a deficit of over 1 million Euros they are facing at present without being liquidated. The last team that was liquidated was Sachsen Leipzig, which happened in 2012. It also had played in the Regionalliga but never had the taste of national football as Erfurt had, during its 55-year history, which includes two seasons in the second tier of the German soccer league since 1990. Furthermore, Rot-Weiss Erfurt had one stint in the UEFA in 1991. On the state level, it had been on par with FC Carl Zeiss Jena in the Thuringia Cup for over a decade, playing for the cup. Prior to that, it had played in the East German Oberliga, having won two seasonal championships and finishing second in the East German Cup in 1980, losing to its cross-state rival, Carl Zeiss Jena.

The loss of Rot Weiss Erfurt is a bitter one for those who have followed the team through the years and watched the rivalry with Jena, the lone Thuringian team still playing on the national level in the 3rd league as of present. Every Saturday, the city center would be plastered with red and white banners, the main colors of the soccer team, with loyal supporters of the team flocking to Steigerwald Stadium, located on the south end of the city in the Governmental District (Regierungsviertel). This will be missed, along with the games that made the crowd scream and the city heard.

With the folding of the soccer team, there is a glimmer of hope for RWE as it starts at the very bottom. The organization can build a new team to play in the Oberliga come next season, assuming there is enough capital. They can still play in the Steigerwald Stadium, which will be a blessing. The youth club (Nachwuchszentrum) will remain for now, as the youth can learn to play soccer. It will be the same youth that will carry the name Rot Weiss Erfurt if they survive the worst of times as they are doing right now. For the city set to host the German Garden Show (BUGA) in 2021, Erfurt and soccer go together like bread and butter. It’s just not the same without RWE, let alone profi-soccer, something we will not see for a while.

 

fast fact logo

Erfurt has not been the lone city suffering from soccer misfortunes. Another Regionalliga rival, Wacker Nordhausen, filed for insolvency in November after carrying a massive debt the Team could not handle. It received a nine-point penalty and could also face a demotion if there is no plan to save the team. FC Carl Zeiss Jena is on the brink of going down to the Regionalliga after a very poor performance during the soccer season. It currently is in last place.

LINKS:

Information on Rot-Weiss-Erfurt can be found here:

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/FC_Rot-Wei%C3%9F_Erfurt

As well as the folding of the club:

https://www.mdr.de/sport/fussball_rl/rot-weiss-erfurt-muss-spielbetrieb-einstellen-100.html

 

FlFi10

Photo Flick 1989 Nr. 7: Hirschberg- Untertiefengrün

IMG_20190506_175912431_HDR
Saale River Crossing connecting Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün built in 2009. Photos taken in May 2019

FlFi PF

Co-written with  bhc-logo-newest1

My father and I had an argument once over how Germany was bordered when I was a child growing up during the 1980s. He claimed a concrete wall surrounded only West Berlin while I claimed that there was also a concrete wall that divided the country into two.

Apparently, we were both right, especially when we look at the towns of Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün, located on the Thuringian-Bavarian border, with the former town in Thuringia. The two towns are separated by the River Saale (Sächsische Saale is the official name) with Hirschberg having the majority of the population (2200 inhabitants). By the same token, however, the small Bavarian community with 130 residents seems much more modern than its crossborder neighbor.

IMG_20190506_180012786_HDR
Untertiefengrün taken from the bridge. 

According to history, the town of Hirschberg was first mentioned in the 12th century and had already built a castle and courtyard used for trading of livestock and crops. Untertiefengrün was first mentioned in the 14th century but became part of the community of Berg (Oberfranken) in 1978. Before the Berlin Wall existed, Hirschberg was well-known for its leather products, for a factory had existed for over 500 years, producing shoes, bags and leather pants, even during the times before 1989. In 1992, the factory went bankrupt and was forced to shut down. The entire 16 hectares of property was torn down, four years later. What’s left of the factory, became a museum for the town’s history and a park with lots of greenery.

IMG_20190506_180654726_HDR
The Green Zone, where the border once stood. On the left is the River Saale; on the right, the road that used to be a Wall keeping people from fleeing to Bavaria

When people first think of Hirschberg in terms of German history, they think of the infamous East German border crossing complex located at where the Motorway 9 betwen Berlin and Munich is now located. The complex was located on the northern end of the Rudolphstein Viaduct, approximately five kilometers west of Hirschberg.  Yet as one digs even deeper into the town’s history, one can see that the town really suffered a great deal after World War II. When the war was over, the Soviets took over Hirschberg as part of their zone (which became the GDR or East Germany), whereas the Americans took Untertiefengrün. This is where the history of the Saale River crossing comes in.

 

1699-1948:

History books and postcards pinpointed the first crossing as being made of wood and built in 1699. Most likely it had been rebuilt many times over the course of 226 years due to wear and tear, combined with potential ice jams that damaged the structure. In 1925, a contract was let to build a concrete bridge. It featured a two-span arch design that was closed spandrel but whose arches featured step-like curves instead of the usual straight-line design.  The bridge was in use until right before the end of World War II, when Nazi soldiers, fleeing the encroaching American troops, detonated the bridge. At the conclusion of the war, only one of the two arch spans existed. American troops quickly built an improvisory span to temporarily connect Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün. However, this crossing was shortlived. Fearing the population drain caused by many residents fleeing Hirschberg and subsequentially, the Soviet Zone (later, the GDR), the bridge was subsequentially removed a short time later. Border fences were going up beginning in 1948 and culminated with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

 

1961-1989:

The Wall separating the two communities at the Thuringian-Bavarian border went up at about the same time as the Berlin Wall, but on the Hirschberg side of the River Saale! That means people could no longer flee to Bavaria unless by car and through the border crossings at Juchhöh-Töpeln via Fernstrasse 2 south of Hirschberg. The Rudolphstein Viaduct, rebuilt in 1966, became option number two if residents were clever enough to smuggle their way through without being caught, or spied upon beforehand. It later became the lone option after the closure of Fernstrasse 2 at the border.  It was double torture for almost a half century- not being able to cross freely,  let alone not being able to swim nor fish in the River Saale. While Hirschberg was still producing leather during this dark period (under the auspisces of the GDR government), these were dark times.

 

1989:

Fast forward to 30 December, 1989. It was over a month and a half since the Fall of the Wall and at 8:00am that day, another improvisory bridge was built at the location of the former crossing. Hundreds of residents crossed the bridge into Bavaria and back at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Their crossing was back, and the walls have come down. Yet it also marked the beginning of changes to come. Many who were scarred by the Wall and the attempts to be controlled by the government were the first to flee to the West. Others left when the leather factory closed down two years later.  It became the Bridge of Opportunity for many looking for a better life elsewhere, while leaving the dark past behind them for good.

IMG_20190506_180520669_HDR

2019-present:

Fast forward to 2019, 30 years after the Fall of the Wall. A permanent crossing over the River Saale is 10 years old- a concrete slab bridge with Warren Truss railings. The towns of Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün are united. But things are much different now. Changes in the economic structure combined with globalization has turned the two communities into “ghost towns.”  One can see people walking the streets, farmers harvesting their crops despite the droughts that have devastated Europe in its second year. Church bells are ringing. But on both sides of the River Saale stand dozens of empty buildings. Remnants of schools and the leather factory still stand on the Hirschberg side. Cafés and hotels that used to host American troops and tourists on the Untertiefengrün side are empty with “For Sale or Rent” signs on the windows waiting for the next tenants to take over.  While the former German border crossing at Rudolphstein Viaduct has become restaurants, hotels and service stations hosting thousands of commuters, truckers and tourists daily along the Motorway 9, the communities of Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün, once divided by the Wall along the Saale, have their bridge back but have long become forgotten communities that withstood the test of time, even when divided.

After many years of hardship caused by the division of Germany into two, the two communities are going to sleep now, hoping that the next generations that come will appreciate what the two have to offer, aside from their history, which is vast farmland with lots of hills and a deep, heavily forested River Saale- no longer a border between East and West but a river where people can hike and bike along it, swim or fish in it, and take pictures, all without the dangers of being watched.

 

More photos of Hirschberg and Untertiefengrün based on my visit can be found here:

Link to Google Pics: https://photos.app.goo.gl/Uzw9UKy1fUgrVuQu8 

There is a website devoted to the former border between East and West Germanys, photographed in the 1980s. To access the website, click here. Some pics of the border and crossing in Hirschberg are included there. 

 

FlFi logo alt new

Photo Flick 1989 Nr. 6: The Train Station at Probstzella (Thuringia)

Probstzella Train Station. Photo taken by Störfix in 2008 (WikiCommons)

FlFi PF

After Checkpoint Bravo and Glienicke Bridge at Potsdam, the next set of photos takes us down to Thuringia again, but this time to the border train station Probstzella. With a population of 1300 inhabitants, the city was located right in the middle of the inner-German border, which separated Thuringia and Bavaria. In the time before World War II, it used to be a popular railroad hub as it served traffic going west towards the Rennsteig Mountains, south towards Lichtenfels and north towards Jena and Leipzig. The existing train station at Probstzella dates back to 1885, when the line between Saalfeld (south of Jena) and Lichtenfels opened to traffic. The line going to the Rennsteig Mountains via Sonneberg opened to traffic in 1913 but was closed down by 1997.

It is at this station where the East German government took the most difficult task in keeping its citizens from emigrating to Bavaria. Because the town was located deep in the mountain areas with steep valleys heavily populated with forests, the government undertook the most massive efforts in the town’s history.  For instance, because the town was right in the middle of the 5-kilometer No-Go Zone, much of the residents at the border were forced to resettle inwards in an attempt to cut ties with their neighbors in the south and escape over the border.  The rail line between Jena/Saalfeld and Lichtenfels was reduced to one track  between Probstzella and the Bavarian border at Lauenstein- a stretch of 1000 kilometers.  And lastly, the train station at Probstzella was extended to include a border control building right next to the train station complex, plus many tracks that were heavily guarded by patrolmen on the East German side. From 1952 until November 12th, 1989, passage between Bavaria and Thuringia via Probstzella was restricted in accordance to the interzonal regulations that had existed during that time.

When the border reopened to traffic on 12 November, 1989, the train station in Probstzella lost its entire meaning. There, passengers could travel freely between Bavaria and Thuringia without having to be stopped at the border control station and sometimes held in the waiting room for hours before either being allowed to pass or being turned back. It was at that time that decisions needed to be made regarding the train station and the border control building. The 1885 station building was sold to a private group with the full intention of constructing a East German museum devoted strictly to the history of the station during that time. That was opened on 6 November, 2010, one month after Germany celebrated its 20th birthday. The border control building however was demolished in 2009 because the structural integrity was compromised due to its deteriorating state.

The remains of that building were converted into a memorial. Consisting of two sets of waves plus a stretch of fencing used to keep the people from leaving East Germany, this memorial was erected in April 2010. It is now a park for cyclists and tourists wishing to learn more about the history of the border that had separated the two Germanys for almost half a century.  The memorial is across the rail tracks from the train station, which now houses a museum. The station is considered a historical monument by the state of Thuringia.  The photo gallery enclosed here is the train station and former border control point as was taken in May 2010, during a bike tour through the Franconian region. From Saalfeld to Kronach, I had an opportunity to enjoy the nature of the mountains and forest but also learn about the history of this area, especially the border that had once kept people away from the western half but today, people can pass right through. Once a stopping point, Probstzella has become a forgotten place with a place in German history.

 

Gallery:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

fast fact logo

  1. The interzone border agreements was introduced by the four powers that controlled and rebuilt Germany in 1945: The USA, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. It implied that residents were only allowed to leave their zones if they received special permission from the garrison of the occupied countries. This was eliminated by the creation of West Germany by the Americans, British and French forces in 1949, yet the Soviets tried many attempts in keeping the residents in their zone, culminating with the closing of the border and simultaneously, the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The Interzonal Transit Agreement of 1972 between the governments of East and West Germany allowed for the laxing of restrictions, whereby residents who were on business or retired and wanting to visit family in the west were allowed to leave but for a given time span. That expired when the borders opened allowing free passage on 9 November, 1989.
  2. At the border at Lauenstein, there used to be a welcome station for those who entered Bavaria from Thuringia. It featured a train station and a restaurant on the road parallel to the tracks. The station has been decommissioned and is now privately owned, whereas the restaurant was operating at the time of the visit.
  3. The former border was eventually converted into a stretch of green trees, known as the Green Zone. This initiative was started in 1991 with the purpose of repopulating the trees and other forms of vegetation. At the same time, it was also a marker of the border that had separated the two Germanys. In one of the pics, there was such a strip shown draping the mountains at Lauenstein.
  4. Today’s rail service still serves Probstzella but only on the north-south axis. Currently, regional service between Jena and Nuremberg via Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Bamberg operate under three different providers, including the Deutsche Bahn, agilis and Erfurter Bahn. At one time, ICE-trains passed through Probstzella from 2000 until December 2017. Nowadays, only a pair of InterCity (IC) trains between Leipzig and Karlsruhe pass through. However, plans to reactivate the Fernverkehr (long-distance lines) are in the making. By 2023, a dozen IC-trains per direction are expected to use the line again, with the goal of making the Leipzig-Karlsruhe line the primary route, but also providing 2-trains-a-day-service between Munich and Berlin via Jena, Saalfeld and Lichtenfels, which the ICE trains had used before being relegated to the new line which now runs through Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle.

FlFi logo alt new

 

Photo Flick: 1989 Part 2

img_20190710_193112087_hdr1060169771889394455.jpg

This next Photo Flick in connection with the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall takes us to the Drei-Freistaaten-Stein.  Here is where the states of Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia meet. The marker is legendary for this is the exact location of previous kingdoms and countries. The original marker was placed here in 1840, marking the boundaries of the following Kingdoms: Saxony (KS), Bavaria (KB) and Reuss (FR). The agreements with KS and KB was made on 13 August, 1840 and with FR on 23 October, 1854.  While the Kingdoms were folded into the German Republic under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck in 1871, the boundaries were divided again after World War II, with Thuringia and Saxony going to the Soviet Union and thus becoming part of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Bavaria went to the US and it eventually became part of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).  From 1949 until the Fall of the Wall in November 1989, this area became part of the Death Strip, with armed guards patrolling both Germanys with the East German guards trying to keep people from fleeing to Bavaria. One can see the markings of what was the border when walking to the monument after parking  at the site between Grobau (Saxony) and Münchenreuth (Bavaria). What used to be barbed wire fences, ditches, watch towers and concrete paths has now become a green strip of land, aproximately 500 meters wide. The concrete  paths where tanks and jeeps used to drive on has become part of the hiking trail that runs along the former border. And even though the ditches still exist, they are being covered with trees and other vegetation.

img_20190710_190658148_hdr3540982964211406309.jpg

And of the marker?

It still exists but in a different form. A new marker and picnic area was created and opened to the public in November 2007. The initiative was spearheaded by the State of Thuringia and supported by the other two states. There, a marker duplicating the one from 1840 was created and placed in the middle of a concrete triangle panel which spans a ditch but points at the direction of each of the three states. Each side, representing a state, has a bench and refuse can.  What surrounds the three state corner nowadays are windmills and cornfields, plus some wind as the area is on higher elevations near the Fichtel Mountains.  It’s a quiet place to reflect on the past and present, but also provides a great view of the entire Vogtland Region.

img_20190710_193249041_hdr6441010242471896530.jpg

More on the history of the marker can be found here.

 

FF new logo

Photo Flick Nr. 15/ Mystery Place

59941645_2418008814896420_8462417012981760_o

Co-written with sister column, bhc-logo-newest1

During a recent hike along the Thuringian/Bavarian border, I happened to find this interesting place: a picnic area on the Thuringian side with a gorgeous view of Bavaria and the River Saale. Little did I realize that there had been four rusty steel fence posts- I-beam style- that was found at every single corner of the picnic area; behind the bench and the table.

I bet the Soviet troops had just as much fun with the picturesque view before 1989.

What was here before this picnic area was established?  Tell us about it. This was found between the Rudolphstein Viaduct (an article can be found here) and the village of Sparnberg, located 1 km west of the bridge and 3 km west of Hirschberg.

 

 

Task: Make a story about this scene.  🙂

 

flefi-deutschland-logo

Cool Christmas Ideas 1: Mind Games

IMG_20181201_141008819_HDR

Christmas has become the time where electronics have dominated our lives, literally. It seems that wherever we go, we always find that nothing works without the use of robots, internet or any sort of technology. Everything is all run electronically and we don’t have to use our brain. Did you know that we use only 30% of our brain on a daily basis, and we don’t know what for, aside from the basic motor skills, the usual routines and the like. The rest of the brain mass left aside is inert, like a vegetative state. With that majority we have our creativity, our logic and the problem-solving skills both on paper as well as in praxis. In other words, we have more convenience than logic

This leads to the question of what gifts are available that will train the person’s logic and challenge them with problem-solving WITHOUT the use of any sort of computer or electronics, whatsoever?

IMG_20181201_121922150

Enter two woodworkers who have teamed up to create some “hands-on” toys and other games for families to enjoy. The first one is Constantins Rätsel Werkstatt, located in Liel (Schliegen) in Baden-Württemberg. Its founder, Jean-Claude Constantin is a staunch opponent of massive production, internet sales and “big business” and as a result, he has used his expertise in woodworking, combined with the use of Querdenken (logical thinking) and a philosophy of human-to-human interaction to create some unique handmade games and other items which will lead people to spend time to break the codes, unlock the most impossible locks and solve some hard problems.

Joining him in the creation of some unique games is a woodworking firm deep in the heart of the German state of Thuringia called Kokolores Knobelwerkstatt. Founded in 2016, the company has a hand full of workers who have been supported by Constantin in creating some mind-boggling games, following his concept but having a lots of fun doing that and presenting people with a challenge at the Christmas markets.

Currently based at the Christmas markets in Wiesbaden, Mainz and Jena, there is a chance that if the sales are successful that they could expand to add a few Christmas markets, although the principle is to make the presence on a low scale to encourage people to visit their booths. There are enough reasons to do that.

Mazes, games that unlock “secret passages”, boxes with specials keys, locks that take a genius to unlock, and all kind of wild games- all of them have a duo purpose: to reactivate and make use of one’s logical thinking skills while requiring some creative thought and lots of luck, but also to give a person a chance to work with them with a lot of fun and passion for hours on end. All of them are handmade and put together with a lot of thought and passion to it.

I could go on forever talking about them and my experiences, combined with that that my wife and daughter both had, but it would take a couple more pages to write about the highlights. Plus it would spoil the fun for others wishing to find that perfect but challenging gift. Plus apart from what the cashier at the Christmas market in Jena mentioned: “They are really cool activities that you can spend hours of fun with,” it would be nice to allow others to go to the booths and try for themselves. So henceforth, have a look at the pics and if you are in the area of Jena, Mainz or Wiesbaden, go to the booth at their respective Christmas markets and give them a try. You will never go wrong with finding a present that requires the “natural” e-brain of a human to do the work and train it, instead of the plastic and metal version we see every day in front of us on our desks.

You will thank them for it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

FlFi Christmas 2018

German Christmas Market Tour 2010: Erfurt

The Main Christmas Market at Domplatz at sundown.

Well here I am, on the road again, this time to hunt down the finest Christmas Markets in Germany, and the first one on my to visit happens to be the one not far from my backyard, in the state capital of Thuringia, Erfurt. There are a lot of interesting points of interest which makes Erfurt one of the most preferred places to live. It has the oldest bridge in the state and the last of its kind in Europe with the Krämerbrücke; it has one of the largest cathedrals in Germany the Erfurter Dom, and it has two universities each located on opposite poles of the city with 250,000 inhabitants (minus the suburbs). But when it comes to Christmas time, all of the city is wild and crazy in its Christmas market. For those who have never visited the eastern part of the country, apart from trying its regional specialties, like Vita Cola (equivalent to Coca Cola) and Born mustard, one should take at least a half day to visit the Christmas market in Erfurt.

Basically, the Christmas market is divided up into three different segments. There is one in the city center known as Anger. This is strategically located next to the shopping center Anger 1 and it is easily accessible by street car as the two main lines meet here. Going a bit further to the north, one will see another segment of the Christmas market at Wenigermarkt, which is located next to the Krämerbrücke at the east entrance to the structure. There and on the bridge itself, one will find the local specialties in terms of beverages and food, including a local chocolate store, which makes Brückentruffels (thimble-like chocolate lazmoges which melts in your mouth and not in your hand) by hand. But the main attraction is 10 minutes by foot to the west, where the Erfurter Dom is located. 250 square meters of food, folks, and fun are all located right in front of the steps going up to the doors of the cathedral. One can try almost everything at the booths, from Langos (a Hungarian specialty), to Eierpunsch (heated egg nog with whipped cream), to the local Glühwein (mulled or spiced wine). My favorite of these specialties are the Erfurter Domino Steine.

Source: SKopp, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To understand what a Domino Stein is, it is a chocolate covered pastry cube with a spread of filling inside it. Germany is famous for its western kind of Domino Stein, made in Lübeck (which is east of Hamburg and Flensburg) and Aachen (which is west of Cologne and Düsseldorf near the border to France). This is made with a thick layer of marmalade sandwiched with pastry on the bottom and marzipan (an almond-flavored paste) on top. However despite the fact that this type of Domino Stein was part of the East German culture and was deemed irrelevant in the eyes of many who just wanted to see a reunited Germany without the socialist mentality, the Erfurter version of Domino Stein exists at the Christmas market in Erfurt! The pastry is not so sweet and there is only a thin layer of marmalade sandwiched between two layers of pasty and covered in chocolate made locally! When I first tried it back in 2001, I fell in love with it right away. Recently, while having an Erfurt English Roundtable at the Christmas market, there were many students who had never tried this specialty before. Therefore, it was my duty to take them there so that they can taste it. Many of them really liked it and some wanted to buy them to take it home with them to share with their families. I usually take 3-4 bags of them to the US when I spend Christmas with my family in Minnesota as they too relish at trying something that is not common over there and can rarely be found in Germany.

But even if you don’t want to try the Erfurt Domino Stein or any of the specialties there, the landscape at Christmas time in Erfurt, and the holiday joy that goes along with that is something that you must see. One can get a picturesque view of the main Christmas market at Erfurter Dom at any hour of the day. Even when the Christmas market closes at 9:00pm at night and the booths are closed up waiting to be opened again the next day, there are still many people who celebrate over Glühwein and another Thuringian specialty that is very common, the Thuringian bratwurst, as the lights on the huts and the Christmas tree keeps shining through the night, the steam from the chestnut locomotive continues to emit the smell of holiday incense, and the cathedral is lit up to a point where one can see it from the plane when taking off or landing at the airport in Bindersleben (a suburb to the north and west of Erfurt).

Going through the Christmas market at any time of the day, one will hear the bartender of the Glühwein booth holler at the top of his lungs “Ich habe Trinkgeld bekommen!” (I got a tip) every five minutes, or listen to local musicians play on the streets or in the shopping center Anger 1. Going into the cathedral, one can pay their respects to their loved ones by lighting a candle or see an annual Christmas tree display in the church cellar.  And lastly, one can also see friends and family gathering at the tables of the booths, drinking a Glühwein and reminiscing about the past, talking about the present, and thinking about the future; especially when it comes to children and grandchildren. In either case, if there is an unwritten rule when it comes to visiting the eastern part of Germany, never forget to visit Erfurt; especially at Christmas time, because that is where the Fs are: food, family, friends and especially, fun!

Entrance to the Wenigermarkt part of the Christmas Market from Krämerbrücke
Stores and huts lining up towards the Anger 1 Shopping Center in the city center
Christmas tree overshadowing the huts at the Main Christmas Market at Domplatz
The Christmas tree and the chestnut locomotive oven in the middle of the Main Market at Domplatz

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.

flfi-newsflyer-logo-new

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: