Yet another fight in relation to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin Saturday, Apr 29 2006 

Spiegel reports today that a new fight has started regarding the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. In the late 1980s there was a large discussion if it should even be built. Then how it should be built.  Once built, there were discussions on if coffee trucks should be allowed and if school classes are allowed to hop over the stelae.  Two security guards are supposed to keep them from doing so, but the kids still hop around.

The newest discussion involves a cafeteria being built next to the memorial. Critics find that it might impact the dignity of the Field of Stelae, whereas proponents find this solution more dignifying than having mobile coffee trucks.

 

While some feel that there should be no food sold at the memorial, others just find the size of the pavilion being built too large.  I cannot image a discussion like this arising in the United States. Almost all museums, memorials and the like sell some type of food in cafes and so on. And why shouldn’t they?

 

Chernobyl Memories Saturday, Apr 29 2006 

Yesterday, hundreds of people marched towards the memorial build for the first victims of the disaster in Chernobyl. Exactly 20 years after the reactor accident in Chernobyl, I can still remember how I felt when we got the news. I was in kindergarten at the time and everyone was called inside and told we had to wash our hands and could not go outside and play anymore, because a nuclear accident had happened. It was 1986 and the cold war was still going on. Even though, I had no real idea at the time of what the cold war was, I heard about it a lot. Everyone was very scared and no one knew if Ukrainian authorities had really been honest as to the extend of the accident. The media and government warned people of the winds and rain that might carry radioactive particles. Produce, dairy and other products might be contaminated. For a child, this all was very hard to understand. I remember walking down the street and I saw my neighbors digging in their front yards. When I asked them what they were doing, they said that they had to rip out all their lettuce and other vegetables because they were contaminated. When I found out what nuclear energy really was, I was afraid to turn on my bedroom light for days.

For ten days, regions of North and Western Europe were radioactively contaminated and hundreds of thousands of people had to be relocated. According to a WHO study, about 9000 people died as an immediate reaction to the radiation. A Spiegel article points out that environmental activists point to more than 100 000 deaths. The reactor was enclosed with a concrete sarcophagus, which however is brittle. Even to this day, the Chernobyl accident is often referred to by nuclear energy opponents.

What I find unbelievable is that people actually are taking tours to the area as part of a tourist excursion. They pay about $200 for the day trip and are able to view the site. The area is still contaminated; this is why guests are not allowed on the lawn for example.

Every time a Castor transport, which contains nuclear energy waste, would pass my town, activists would chain themselves to the rails and protest the movement of this still radioactive material, which was to be stored about one hour away. It was stored underground; however, if a plane would crash close to that site, it would absolutely damage the storage area and result in serious health risks for the close by population. The rate of leukemia actually started to go up in children that lived close to the storage area. These are some of the reasons why many Europeans are so opposed to nuclear energy, especially in Germany. I personally believe that there are better ways to provide energy such as wind, water and solar energy.

Thursday, Apr 27 2006 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited with President Vladimir Putin today as part of her trip to Russia. The reason for her visit with Putin was the tension developing around the energy delivery from Russia to the European Union.

 

According to a Focus magazine article Putin wants to focus the oil and gas deliveries towards Asia instead of Europe, which he knows depends on Russian oil and gas. The reason for this is the ongoing debate about unfair access to the European market. (See Gasprom Story)

The original agenda of her visit was to strengthen the strategic partnership between Russia and Germany. Merkel and several business delegations as well as economists traveled to Tomsk in Siberia to discuss research, development, education and youth.

German Economy finally picking up? Wednesday, Apr 26 2006 

Der Tagesspiegel reports that the economic climate index is at a 15-year high this month. The index is calculated by the IFO-Institute in Munich by polling 7000 firms on their current situation as well as their future outlook.

 

The reasons for the high index can be traced to export businesses as well as wholesale and the building industry, while retailers were rather pessimistic regarding the future of Germany’s economy. .

 

However, many experts such as Jürgen Pfister, economist for the Bayerische Landesbank, think that this positive index will not continue to hold. Higher oil prices and a higher value added tax will take their toll.

Tuesday, Apr 25 2006 

An Atlantic Review post points out that both President Bush's Chief of Staff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Chief of Staff are alumni of the American Council on Germany. Both Bolton and de Maiziere were members of the Young Leaders Program, though one year apart from each other. a Tagesspiegel article finds that this connection might help Angela Merkel plan her trip to DC in May. 

Gyurcsany Reelected in Hungary Sunday, Apr 23 2006 

Ferenc Gyurcsany and his social-liberal coalition is the first post cold war administration to be reelected in Hungary. The rightist-conservative party FIDESZ-MPP clearly lost the race. Due to the Danube flood waters, the current administration was able to show that they are able to solve domestic problems which might have influenced their vote positively. It seems that Hungary, which joined the EU in 2004, is moving into a more stable future.

 

 

Signs of a new ‘Cold War’? Saturday, Apr 22 2006 

European Union delegate Elmar Brok thinks that what is happening in regards to the Gasprom threat is the start of a cold war with new methods. CEO Alexej Miller of the Russian energy giant Gasprom has threatened to reduce its energy delivery to Europe, if the EU was to interfere with Gasprom’s expansion to the European market.  

 

Russia provides 24 per cent of Europe’s natural gas and the European commission is now discussing diversification possibilities as they realize their dependence.

While Germany is likely to negotiate with Gasprom, Britain seems to dissent the further involvement of Gasprom in Europe. 

 

 

20 years after Chernobyl and still no lessons learned Wednesday, Apr 19 2006 

I remember being told to wash my hand after playing outside, to not drink milk or eat lettuce for a while, after the reactor accident in Chernobyl. Each April discussions start not only about the victims of Chernobyl, but also about nuclear energy in general. This year, 20 years after the catastrophe, the numbers of victims affected by the radiation are still unclear. Elisabeth Cardis who researched the health effects of the Chernobyl accident for the WHO told Spiegel magazine that in a larger perimeter around the reactor, about 9000 deaths occurred. A WHO source says that there might be up to 20 000 deaths throughout Europe caused by the radiation. However, the further away one moves from the reactor, the harder it is to estimate the true effects. To me the numbers are outrageous either way and just to think of all the people whose children were genetically deformed or still born. I think that it is vital to come up with better sources of energy in order to prevent such a disaster in the future.

Merkel to change German EU policy towards Eastern Europe Monday, Apr 17 2006 

According to a Welt article, Chancellor Angela Merkel will be using the German EU presidency in 2007 to bring Eastern Europe closer to the EU. This includes energy policies as well as general foreign policy objectives.

Merkel also wants to revive the debate regarding a European Constitution. However, according to a recent poll by “Reader’s Digest European Trusted Brands” 87 per cent of Germans find that there is too much bureaucracy within the EU and 83 per cent find that subsidies are distributed unfairly. 79 per cent agree that Germany’s payments to the European Union are too high and 61 per cent think that they do not get enough information regarding the EU. 67 per cent of all Europeans agree that there is an information deficit.

Protests against the “Bombodrom” Monday, Apr 17 2006 

 

Spiegel online reported that today about 12 000 people demonstrated against a planned military use of the former Soviet training area Wittstocker Heide just north of Berlin. Discussions have been going on for 14 years regarding the use of the area. Protesters held up signs saying: “No Bomb” and “Who trains for attacks, wants to attack”. Easter demonstrations in other cities had similar themes, such as in Frankfurt where protestors demanded: ‘We don’t want new wars, don’t spend money on armament” or in Berlin protesters ask for disarmament instead of social welfare cuts. The message is clear: Why spend millions of Euros on arms and military expenditures when millions are unemployed.

Germany’s Comeback? Saturday, Apr 15 2006 

High unemployment, economic stagnation and the many failed economic and social reforms had spread a sense of pessimism thoughtout Germany. Accoroding to a Times article Germany is finally coming out of its economic slump and moving into a more positive-looking future. Roger Boyes, the Berlin correspondent for The Times writes:

…this week the dubious title of Sick Man of Europe was handed, without great ceremony, from Germany to Italy, and in Berlin at least there was palpable relief. With chaos in Rome, a nervous crisis in Paris and with the Blair era drawing to a close, Germany is emerging as Europe’s rising star.

and

Corporate Germany has been changing faster than the rest of the country. It is now enough for a company to threaten to move a factory to Poland for German workers to abandon a wage dispute. As a result, the unions have become pussy cats. The average number of days lost annually through strikes (nine days per 1,000 workers) is significantly lower than in France (129) or Italy (82).

Productivity is up and the work ethic is back. “We’re like the English now,” says Frau Lindner. “We work hard and we play hard.” She is planning two further holidays this year: one to France and one to America.

And no wonder: the money is suddenly there. Average senior managerial salaries are now €251,000 (about £176,000), just behind Britain and well ahead of France (€116,000).

When speaking to friends and family in Germany, this new era of optimism and economic upturn has not quite reached them, at least not yet.

Nine years in jail for “honor killing” not enough Thursday, Apr 13 2006 

On February 7th 2005, the Turkish immigrant Ayhan Sürücu, the youngest of three brothers, shot his sister Hatun dead: three bullets in the head. Why? Because she wanted to decide for herself in life and that, according to the family, violated their honor. According to Sueddeutsche Zeitung, though the prosecution believed that all three brothers were involved, a court in Berlin has decided to only sentence the 20-year old Ayhan and let the older brothers (25 and 26) go out of lack of evidence. Though prosecutors wanted to see all of them behind bars, they are now wondering if trying the 20 –year old under juvenile law (which allows for lower sentences if the defendant is less than 25 years of age) is appropriate. Honor killings have shocked many in Germany, and with this case, some are asking for a change in law, which would allow prosecutors to try Ayhan Sürücu under regular criminal law, putting him behind bars for life. I think this would be a good start, but it seems that the larger problem lies within the inadequate integration of the over 2 million Turks living in Germany.

Thursday, Apr 13 2006 

Refuge in Europe Wednesday, Apr 12 2006 

Each year thousands of refugees take a journey from Africa to Europe. They try to travel the more than 1000 kilometers from Mauritania to the Canary Islands in little wooden boats and many of them have paid up to 2000 dollars trying to get there, between 600 and 1700 have paid with their lives just last year. Since Morrocco has upped its security, the Mauritania route is getting more popular. According to a Spiegel, the Red Crescent organization estimates that in 2005 about 4700 illegal immigrants came to the Canary Islands, whereas in 2006 so far, there were already 3800.

Matthias Platzeck resigns as head of SPD Wednesday, Apr 12 2006 

Dialog International has a very interesting post on the resigning of Matthias Platzeck, who has been the head of the social democratic party (SPD) in Germany for the past five months. It states that:

This leaves the party in disarray, as it struggles to carve out a distinct identity within the Red-Black Grand Coaltion. Platzeck's replacement is the popular Kurt Beck who is the state premier of Rhineland-Palatinate.  Beck has a strong trade-union background and should appeal to the SPD base. But Platzeck's advantage was that he came from the East, where the SPD desperately needs to find votes. Whether Beck can succeed there is questionable. Franz Walter had a long piece in the Tageszeitung where he chronicles the long, slow demise of the SPD in the eastern states – which historically were a stronghold for the old Social Democratic Party. The old SPD lost its identity when it was forced to merge with the KPD to form the SED unity party in the GDR.  After the reunification, those who might have been attracted to the SPD were pushed aside

 

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