Monday, September 28, 2009

Thoughts on the German Election

Sunday was the big day. Although the conservative CDU lost a lot of seats, they retained enough to stay in power. Merkel will definitely remain chancellor. The SPD had its worst election since 1960, garnering 11% less than the last election 4 years ago. The big winner is the FDP, the Free Democrats (kind of like libertarians), who increased their percentage by about 5%. The CDU and FDP together have an easy majority (Schwarz-Gelb, or black-yellow, is what their coalition is called, named after the colors of the respective parties). Guido Westerwelle, their most well-known candidate and an open gay, will probably be foreign minister. The 4th strongest party is now Die Linke, a party of socialists and former east German communists. Although the Greens are only the 5th strongest, they had a very successful election, crossing the 10% threshold for the first time in their history.

The election was not a very exciting one: many Germans felt that the debate lacked substance. Consequently, many abandoned the two big parties (CDU and SPD) and opted for the smaller parties; and voter turnout was lower than normal, only about 70%, about 7% lower than 2005. There were really only two possible outcomes: a black-yellow coalition, or a continuation of the coalition between the CDU and SPD. Neither option is that exciting for those of us on the left, but having the SPD in power is admittedly better than having the FDP. The CDU and FDP both want to extend the life of Germany's nuclear power plants.

However, some people seem happy that the SPD was ousted, because it will force them to change their party internally and hopefully push them back towards the left.

Burg Eltz

Sunday was election day here in Germany, but apparently they don't do the whole "get out the vote" thing that we do in the states. So we went for a short hike to Burg Eltz, a castle near the beautiful Mosel (or Moselle for you Francophiles out there!) River.

Here's the castle in all its glory. Pay no attention to the scaffolding behind the curtain! Yes, they are in the process of renovating the castle. Inside it was pretty sweet, but unfortunately you're not allowed to take pictures. There was all kinds of old furniture and weapons (the castle itself was built in the 12th century). What is singular about this castle is that it has never been attacked, and thus it is in very good condition. The castle was used as a luxury retreat and is thus not in a strategic location, but rather in the middle of the woods. Also, a family still owns the castle and actually lives in it!

Here's a view of the castle from which you can't see quite as much scaffolding!

An introduction of my host family is LONG overdue! From left to right you see Dieter, his wife Tina, their daughter Laura, and her boyfriend Stefan. Dieter works for the city of Koblenz in its environmental protection department (yes, a whole city department for environmental protection! And Koblenz is only about 100,000 people). One thing he does is help schools build solar panel roofs, and he showed me some around town. Sunday was also Dieter's birthday, so they had a birthday/election party. Tina teaches computers and IT at a local school. Laura is 18 and still in school; she hopes to work in the hotel or tourism business. Stefan is in school training to be an electrician.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Castle and Roman Aqueduct

Even though I'm still a little sick, I had enough energy today to go visit a castle from the Middle Ages and a Roman Aqueduct, both of which are close to Koblenz. The castle is called Stolzenfels ("Proud Cliff") and was built atop Roman ruins in the 1200s and has since been used as a sort of retreat for kings and princes.Here is an up-close view of the castle. Unfortunately we weren't allowed inside because it is being renovated.This is a view from above of the castle's STABLE. Wtf? In the Middle Ages, even the horses had an effin' castle! I want a castle!
Here's yours truly in front of the castle doors. They're just lucky I left my battering ram in my other pants.
As usual, I can't resist the urge to get artsy-fartsy with my camera. These flowers at the castle were really beautiful, and, luckily, it had just rained.
Here is my group and I at a very old Roman Aqueduct. If I remember correctly, it is about 1800 years old! It's interesting that the Romans built it here -- it doesn't serve the city Koblenz, and we also don't know where it ends. It was probably used as a resting point for military units. Also, it is very close to the Rhein River. However, apparently river water wasn't good enough for the Romans, so they built this aqueduct to get fresh spring water. I wonder if they bottled it and sold it for an exorbitant price as well?
Here we are in the aqueduct! Unlike other Roman aqueducts, this one is below ground. I forgot why, but I think that they wanted it to remain completely undisturbed for some reason.And here I am climbing out. Afterwards we went to a festival in a nearby village called Rhens and had some homemade cake and local wine.

My first day at school. . .

So, Friday was my first day at my school. Just to make things difficult, I was sick the whole day. The principal invited me to accompany her and the teachers on an outing which consisted of walking through the woods and visiting a local university. Not a lot fun when you've got a sore throat!

On the plus side, I got to know a lot of the teachers, and they are all incredibly nice (the principal is too). However, I have a feeling that the head English teacher has no idea what to do with me. I emailed the school a couple times during the summer and the principal forwarded my email address on to him, but he never got in contact with me. On Friday I asked him what my schedule will be; that is very important, because I have to commute to the school via the train. He has no idea. He says he has to ask the other English teachers if they need an assistant or not. OK, that makes sense, but they've known SINCE EARLY JUNE that I was coming. Oh well. He is a nice guy too so hopefully everything will work out.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Protest against nuclear power in Berlin!

On Saturday I took a bus to Berlin with Greens from around Rheinland-Pfalz to protest nuclear power. Germany's 20 or so nuclear power plants are set to be decommissioned in the 2020s, but the conservative CDU (Christian Democrats) and FDP (Free Democrats) partys want to extend the deadline. Right now the CDU is in power, and the FDP is the third most powerful party in the German Bundestag. About 40,000 people took part in the protest, which wound its way through the middle of Berlin, around the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. It was amazing! Not only was it really energizing, but I got to see some of the German Greens' top candidates.
Here's me in front of a HUGE line of tractors that were part of the protest. It stretched all the way down the entire street from the Brandenburg Gate to the Victory Column. My flag reads: Nuclear Power? No thanks! in German.This is the walking part of the protest along the Spree River. The girl who is looking backwards with the green flag is my host-sister Laura.
These are some the leaders of the German Greens. The guy in the green Hoody is Jürgen Trittin, former environmental minister and leader of the Greens in the German parliament. The woman next to him is Renate Künast, also a former minister and member of parliament. Their sign reads: "Black-Yellow? No thanks!" Black is the color of the CDU and yellow the FDP. It's possible that the two parties could form a coalition if the both do well on election day, which is Sept. 27. But that probably won't happen, because the CDU has already lost a lot of seats in a few provincial elections which took place last week.This the protest as it makes its way past the Brandenburg Gate.I just had to take a picture of this guy! His sign says: "I am the biggest. Radioactivity improved me. Thanks!!"To cap off a very exciting day, as we took a break while driving back we were greeted by a stunning rainbow.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Boats on the Mosel River

Thursday, September 3, 2009

German Green Tea and Hookahs

Last night I attended what I dub a "German Green Tea." Every month, the Greens in Champaign-Urbana host a discussion about a topic, usually led by an expert in that particular field, and we call it a Green Tea. What I attended was basically the same thing: the local Greens brought in one of their representatives from the Bundestag to give a presentation about the development of poverty in Germany. Although I couldn't understand quite everything, it was very interesting. Basically, in Germany, as in the USA, the chasm between rich and poor is widening and the upper class controls an increasing share of the country's wealth. To combat this problem, the German Greens emphasize making education available for all and school reform. German schools typically let out early in the afternoon, or the students have long breaks between classes and thus go home for awhile. The Greens would like to have an all day school day.

Afterwards I went out with some of the Greens for beers and little hookah smoking! I tried a hookah for the first time. Although I probably won't make a habit out of it, it was interesting and definitely a lot more fun (and aromatic!) than cigarettes.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


I arrived in Koblenz yesterday and am staying with a wonderful family, the Schulzes (Dieter and Tina, and their daughter Laura). I will post a picture of them sometime. I didn't see much of the city yesterday, but today I accompanied Dieter to his office and then walked around the city core a little bit and the riverfront.

This is the Koblenz Rathaus, or City Building, where Dieter works in the environmental/energy department. It used to be a monastery, and part of it still is. It is on one side of a nice square with a fountain and is in the Altstadt, the old part of the city where there are a lot of shops and restaurants, as well as old buildings.

Koblenz is famous for being located on "Das Deutsches Eck", the German corner, which is the confluence of the Rhein and Mosel rivers. This is a monument of some king on the corner. It's quite huge, with two sets of steps that lead up to the statue.

This is the Balduinsbruecke, a very beautiful stone arch bridge on the Mosel River.

And finally, this the Schulzes' apartment building. The apartment itself is quite spacious and has two balconies, one of which looks onto the Rhein, which is only about 100 ft. from the building.