Here’s a little-known East German vehicle that’s actually amazing

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Here’s a little-known East German vehicle that’s actually amazing
An original Simson Schwalbe in the colour “Bieber Braun,” or beaver brown. Photo: Shelley Pascual.
While the Trabant is a car made in East Germany that’s known for being noisy, slow and extremely polluting, the Simson Schwalbe – a moped from the GDR – is a wondrous vehicle that comes with lots of advantages.

I don’t own a house or a car, but I am a proud Simson Schwalbe moped owner – an original one at that. (Several modern versions have been produced of late).

Purchased four years ago in mint condition from an elderly man in a small town close to Bremen, it’s probably the best investment I’ve ever made.

Built in 1985 in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), it’s older than me. But of all the years I’ve had it now, it’s never let me down.

For about two years, aside from the wintertime, I drove it every day to work and back – about 20 kilometres. In addition to its durability though, there are many more reasons why owning a Schwalbe is so awesome.

Firstly, it’s fast. With an engine size of 50 cubic centimetres, the Schwalbe can go up to 60 kilometres per hour, which stands in stark contrast to newer mopeds.

With a standard driver’s license in Germany, you’re technically only entitled to drive a moped with an engine size of 50 cubic centimetres at a maximum speed of 45 kilometres per hour. Many scooters produced nowadays are designed as such and the Schwalbe is an exception.

The Schwalbe is also rather easy to fix yourself, which means it’s cheap to maintain if you’re handy.

My partner is an engineer and he’s been able to repair our Schwalbe on multiple occasions instead of us having to take it to the shop. For instance, we once saved an estimated €50 when he changed the gasket of the moped himself.

According to him, the Schwalbe is engineered in such a way that it is simple and compact, lending itself very well to being fixed by amateurs. He says that there are lots of helpful tutorial videos online for Schwalbe repairs that even people who aren’t good with their hands can follow (like me).

A further benefit for those that do choose to get their hands dirty is that parts for the Schwalbe are very accessible as there’s a pretty huge after-sales market for the model, too. By comparison, getting your hands on spare parts for a Vespa moped is much more difficult.

Not only is maintenance cheap, the cost of driving a Schwalbe is relatively low.

When I was driving it to work every day, petrol cost up to €32 per month – about half of what I would’ve had to pay if I had gotten a monthly transit pass. Not to mention insurance only costs around €40 a year.

Hitting the open road. Photo: Shelley Pascual.

But none of these advantages top the best thing about owning a Simson Schwalbe, which for me is the unique experience it offers.

Before I owned one, I never knew what it was like to ride down the street on a two-wheeler and to turn people’s heads. People often give me the thumbs-up sign with big grins on their faces as I’m out for a ride on my Schwalbe.

I also had never before been stopped by random strangers in parking lots who, fascinated by my moped, started asking me questions about the Schwalbe such as its age, where it’s from and how I got my hands on it.

This kind of thing happens quite often whenever I’m out on my trusty steed; it’s shown me that not all Germans despise small talk, particularly when it’s on the topic of something interesting or meaningful to them.

So sure, it’s great that the Schwalbe’s reliable, fast and cheap in terms of maintenance and petrol costs. The fact that just over one million Simson Schwalbe vehicles were produced in the GDR is pretty cool, too. This means that it’ll likely get harder to get your hands on an original as each year passes.

Nowadays you can spend anywhere from €500 to €1,000 for a second hand Schwalbe (we spent €1,000 on ours) and up to €2,000 for a fully restored one.

The only potential downside I’d say about the vehicle is that it’s manual rather than automatic. This meant it took me a few days to learn how to drive it and about two weeks until I felt confident driving it.

Still, the pros definitely still outweigh the cons. Another pro is that it can carry up to two people.

What this means is that you can share the experience of joyriding on a Schwalbe at 60 kilometre per hour speeds through the countryside with someone else – one of my all-time favourite pastimes.


Source  :  The Local Germany

How a knife-edge state election could help Merkel build her fourth-term government

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How a knife-edge state election could help Merkel build her fourth-term government
Angela Merkel and state premier Stephan Weil in Lower Saxony in 2015. Photo: DPA.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, freshly re-elected but with no clear majority, is hoping for a regional poll victory on Sunday for her conservatives before she starts perilous coalition talks next week.

After 12 years at the helm of the EU’s top economy, the veteran leader faces one of her toughest challenges yet – a political poker game with two very different players that could drag on well into 2018.

The goal is to form Germany’s first coalition government grouping Merkel’s restive conservative camp, the liberal and pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the left-leaning and environmentalist Greens.

If they fail to reach an agreement – a distinct possibility, given their stark policy differences – Merkel would have to call fresh elections, months after she won the September 24th polls with her party’s lowest score in decades.

But before Merkel launches into those nightmare negotiations next Wednesday, she once more hits the campaign trail to support her Christian Democrats (CDU) in the western state of Lower Saxony.

“The goal is a strong CDU,” declared Merkel ahead of a string of stump speeches in Germany’s fourth most populous state, which is home to auto giant Volkswagen.

Her party is running neck-and-neck there with the governing Social Democrats (SPD) – who are badly in need of a win after a heavy defeat at the national level that sent its leader Martin Schulz into opposition.

“A victory in Lower Saxony is important for Merkel because it would strengthen her and show that her party can still win state elections,” said Oskar Niedermayer of Berlin’s Free University.

Political scientist Michael Broening said a state-level win would “throw a lifeline” to party chairman Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament.

It would also “reassure a struggling party that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that the future holds more than just a role in the opposition,” said Broening, of the SPD-linked Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Looming conflict

Days before the Lower Saxony election, the outcome was unpredictable after the CDU under challenger Bernd Althusmann lost an early lead to poll around even with the SPD, at 32 to 34 percent each.

The snap election was forced when the government of SPD state premier Stephan Weil lost its wafer-thin majority due to the defection of a lawmaker of its coalition partner the Greens to the CDU.

Whatever omen the Lower Saxony poll brings for Merkel’s party, it is a sideshow to the big game she will focus her energy on after, forging a ruling alliance for her fourth-term government.

The strange grouping has been dubbed “Jamaica” because the parties’ colours match those of the Caribbean country’s flag – black for the conservatives, yellow for the FDP, and green.

In coming weeks, their leaders will not just haggle about ministerial posts but also red-line policy issues that are sometimes diametrically opposed.

The CDU’s Bavarian allies the CSU have signalled a tough stance on immigration to win back voters who have drifted to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The FDP, who made a comeback after a dismal previous governing stint in the shadow of Merkel, have signalled they will oppose any steps to revive Europe that will unduly burden German taxpayers.

The Greens, more welcoming to refugees, and proponents of European “solidarity”, will push signature issues on climate and renewable energy likely to be opposed by the more pro-business parties.

Setting the tone of looming conflict, the CSU’s Alexander Dobrindt has warned the Greens that “we won’t tolerate any left-wing nonsense”, earning him a sharp rebuke from that party’s Katrin Goering-Eckardt for his “bad-mouthing” a potential governing partner.

All players are highly reluctant to make major concessions, said Niedermayer – the FDP because it has previously wilted in Merkel’s shadow, the Greens because they face their environmentalist base and the CSU because it must win Bavarian elections next year.

“So, I’m still very, very sceptical,” said Niedermayer.

“But of course it is also clear that all sides are under great pressure. Because the alternatives – a minority government or fresh elections – are something the German people do not want.”

Source  :  The Local Germany

Water waste! Tenant leaves taps in flat running for entire year

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Water waste! Tenant leaves taps in flat running for entire year
Photo: DPA
A man in the north German town of Salzgitter left all the taps in his apartment running for an entire year. His landlord only noticed when he received an enormous bill from the water company.

The man left the water running in his sink, bath and toilet, using up roughly seven million litres in water. This strange act of wastefulness meant that he overshot the city’s average water usage per person of 44,000 litres by quite some margin.

Only when the landlord received a demand for an additional payment of €10,800 from their water company did they notice that something might be wrong. The landlord called the police, also fearing that there was a leak in the pipe system.

The police report from Friday states that the man initially refused to let them into the house. He then threw punches at the officers and lightly injured three of them. They were only able to overpower him through the use of tear gas.

The 31-year-old was placed in a psychological ward after being examined by a doctor. In the days leading up to the police raid he had blocked the drains in his house leading to extensive water damage in the building.



Source  :  The Local Germany

Former AfD leader Petry sets up new party, hoping for more success than predecessor

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Former AfD leader Petry sets up new party, hoping for more success than predecessor
Frauke Petry. Photo: DPA
The former chairwoman of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), Frauke Petry, has established the Blue Party, aiming to win over voters disenchanted by the far-right direction of the AfD.

Petry confirmed to Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) on Thursday that she had set up the new party.

“Blue stands for conservative as well as liberal politics in Germany and Europe. Blue is the colour that the Christian Social Union first made politically popular in Bavaria. So it has appeal across the country,” she said.

According to election officials the Blue Party was registered on September 17th, a week before the national election.

The 42-year-old told RND that she had lost hope in the AfD at the party convention in April when “it became apparent that the party had given a free hand to idiocy.”

Petry dramatically announced that she was leaving the AfD at a press conference the day after the September 24th election. The conference, given by the four most senior members of the party, was meant to be a celebration of the AfD winning 12.6 percent of the national vote.

But Petry stood up her party colleagues by announcing she would leave the party caucus in the Bundestag (German parliament) and walking out of the room. Days later she confirmed she would also leave the party itself.

Her resignation set off a wave of desertions in the ranks of the far-right party by politicians in state parliaments. In the past two weeks 11 other AfD politicians have left party caucuses in three state parliaments, while one other Bundestag MP has left the party.

Petry is not the first AfD leader to have left the party over its ever more radical direction. Party founder Bernd Lucke walked away in 2015, saying that he had “created a monster”. He subsequently set up the ALFA party (since renamed the Liberal Conservative Reformers), which did not run for election in September after abject results in recent state elections.

Source  :  The Local Germany

Frankfurt’s iconic Goethe Tower burns to ground in early morning blaze

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Frankfurt's iconic Goethe Tower burns to ground in early morning blaze
The tower ablaze. Photo: DPA
The Frankfurt Goethe Tower was one of the financial city’s most popular attractions and Germany’s tallest wooden observation tower. Early Thursday morning the fire service were called to the scene and had no choice but to let it burn.

At 3.20 am Thursday morning, the fire department was called to the Goethe Tower in Frankfurt am Main after “numerous emergency calls.”

By the time the emergency services arrived, the flames were burning so high that the 43-metre tall wooden tower was considered too dangerous to extinguish, so the fire service secured the surrounding area and tried to prevent the fire from spreading.

The tower is located in the Sachsenhausen part of town and according to Frankfurt city figures is the tallest wooden observation tower in Germany.

It was named at its opening in 1931 for the centenary of the death of iconic writer, naturalist and academic Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

According to a spokesperson for the fire service, Thorsten Brückner, the more than 80-year-old tower “collapsed and couldn’t be saved.”

In the early morning, 10 metres of the tourist attraction were still on fire and only four supporting columns remained standing.

It is still unclear whether the cause of the fire was arson but Brückner ruled out an electronic defect as the cause. It is also unknown where on the tower the blaze began, but investigations cannot begin until the fire is completely out.

It is estimated that the few remaining embers will have to be extinguished over the course of the day. Only then can detectives and experts pick apart the rubble and begin to uncover exactly what happened.

Around 60 firemen were called out to the scene to control the fire, but the situation could have been even worse if the fire had occurred earlier in the year.

“Luckily it isn’t the peak of summer,” said Brückner, explaining that flying sparks could ignite on contact with the dry forest floor and cause more considerable damage.

The emergency services successfully managed to prevent the flames spreading to the Frankfurt city forest and cooled down the land around the tower to protect adjacent buildings, all the while maintaining a safe distance from the blaze.
Lord Mayor Peter Feldmann (SPD) was clearly affected by the news and is calling for the tower be rebuilt.
“The material damage can’t be quantified,” said the fire service spokesperson, “the sentimental damage, however, is enormous.”


Source : The Local Germany

Lufthansa buys up lion’s share of Air Berlin’s planes

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Lufthansa buys up lion's share of Air Berlin's planes
Photo: DPA
Germany’s biggest airline Lufthansa will buy up more than half of the aircraft of its bankrupt competitor Air Berlin, chief executive Carsten Spohr said on Thursday.

The deal has sparked controversy in the European aviation sector, with the German government facing accusations it helped steer the process under a plan to build the Frankfurt-based carrier into an all-conquering juggernaut.

Germany’s largest airline will snap up some 81 of Air Berlin’s 144 aircraft and take on 3,000 of its 8,500 staff, Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said in Berlin, hailing it as a “great day” for his company.

Lufthansa is set to sign its deal with Air Berlin at noon local time (1000 GMT).

Air Berlin is “continuing to negotiate today” with Easyjet, the other bidder chosen for exclusive takeover talks with a Thursday deadline, a spokesman told news agency DPA.

Spohr said that Easyjet was interested in between 20 and 30 of Air Berlin’s medium-range aircraft.

Lufthansa has yet to say how much it will pay under the deal, but Spohr told newspaper Rheinische Post Thursday that the group would invest 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion) related to the takeover.

He added that 80 aircraft was the largest addition to Lufthansa’s fleet that competition authorities would accept.

European authorities must now decide whether to give Thursday’s deal a green light, in a process that could take “several weeks or months,” Air Berlin chief executive Thomas Winkelmann said last week.

In the meantime, the carrier will operate flights as a subcontractor for the buyers, as insolvency rules forbid it from operating flights on its own account after October 28.


Air Berlin triggered bankruptcy proceedings in August after losing a cash lifeline from its biggest shareholder Etihad Airways.

Its aircraft have been kept aloft by a 150-million-euro ($178 million) emergency loan from the German government while details of the breakup were worked out.

A crowd of German and international investors and competitors lined up after the bankruptcy was announced, with an eye not only on Air Berlin’s aircraft but also its coveted takeoff and landing slots at the country’s crowded airports.

In the race for exclusive talks, Lufthansa and Easyjet reportedly beat out IAG – owner of Iberia and British Airways – and three bids of between 500 million and 600 million euros apiece from private investors.

Irish low-cost airline Ryanair stayed out of the bidding as its outspoken chief Michael O’Leary denounced a German “stitch-up” designed to favour Lufthansa.

And Bavarian businessman Hans Rudolf Woehrl claimed the government was favouring the creation of a Lufthansa “monopoly” by rejecting out of hand offers to take over Air Berlin whole.

“It’s right that carriers who haven’t been able to make ends meet are disappearing from the market,” Spohr told Rheinische Post, pointing to Britain’s Monarch, Italy’s Alitalia and now Air Berlin.

Nevertheless, “competition will intensify in Europe and worldwide,” he said, adding that he expects “falling prices” for passengers in future.

Spohr also stressed that “it’s in the German interest to have a strong national airline” with worldwide connections.

Lufthansa also used a briefing paper earlier this month to take a swipe at Ryanair, arguing its complaints were “an attempt to distract from their own problems”.

The Irish company’s chief operations officer stepped down this month after Ryanair was forced to slash thousands of flights up to March, mainly owing to a shortage of pilots.

As bosses wrangle over their grand strategies for the sector, unions complain that many of Air Berlin’s staff face an uncertain future.

Winkelmann dangled “good job prospects for around 80 percent of our colleagues” with Lufthansa and Easyjet when the exclusive talks began.

Air Berlin pilots called in sick en masse in September in a protest against the lack of information, but they will benefit from a stripped-down recruitment process at Lufthansa – hungry for aircrew for low-cost subsidiary Eurowings.

The company has organised job fairs for other staff in cooperation with local governments, other big German firms and the federal employment agency.

Source  :  The Local Germany

Record-breaking new cable car for tallest mountain in Germany near completion

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Record-breaking new cable car for tallest mountain in Germany near completion
A view from Zugspitze inside the old cable car. Photo: DPA.
Operation of the new cable car which will take visitors up the 2,962 metre-high Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, is set to start in about ten weeks’ time. But not everyone is looking forward to it.

The new cable car in the Bavarian Alps, which will replace an old one that was widely considered a technical masterpiece and had been in use for nearly 54 years, is going to break three world records.

No other cable car on the planet spans further than the 3,213 metres from the base to the mountain top station. No other pendular cable car has a 127 metre-high steel stay or can carry up to 600 people an hour, either.

Construction work is a few weeks behind schedule due to weather conditions. But as planned, “the cable car will run on December 21st,” said plant manager Martin Hurm.

A few days ago, the last of the four suspension ropes for the two cabins at the top station was pulled in and secured. “That was an exciting moment,” said Harald Raich, chief fitter of Swiss cable car company Garaventa.

With the help of the old cable car’s suspension ropes, in the previous days the new suspension ropes had been pulled up to the top at 200 metres per hour. Aside from some interior work, the station at the bottom of the mountain is finished.

About 100 people are working hard to get have the cable car operating on time. The construction site at the top station is particularly busy; with snow and at temperatures around freezing, workers have been wearing thick clothing, some of them secured with ropes at dizzying heights.

The tallest crane in Germany has also been in place at the peak to help provide workers with supplies.

Workers at the construction site at the top of Zugspitze. Photo: DPA.

Nowhere yet to be seen on site though are the new gondolas for the cable car, which are meant to be made up mainly of glass and characterized by transparency. Hidden and wrapped with a protective cover at the bottom station, security personnel guard them at night.

Around 550,000 visitors make their way up to Zugspitze each year. But after the new cable car is introduced, building operator Bayerische Zugspitzbahn Bergbahn AG hope to see 600,000 guests visit each year. The new cable car cost around €50 million to build.

But not everyone is happy about the potential rise in Zugspitze’s visitor numbers.

Toni Zwinger, future landlord of the Munich mountain hut operated by the Deutscher Alpenverein (German Alpine Association) at the top of the mountain, does not doubt the necessity of the new cable car. Though he wonders how the region, which is dominated by tourism, will be able to deal with even more people.

For Zwinger, potential problems could arise in the valley, where he states traffic jams between Munich and Garmisch-Partenkirchen are already an issue.

“The two tunnels to relieve traffic congestion in the two cities are far from being completed,” said the 31-year-old.


Source  :  The Local Germany