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Posts tagged with: Berlin

A rail postcard from Forst (Lausitz)


Dear Violeta*,

I’m a regular long distance rail traveller, and when things used to go wrong with EU-wide rail I would write postcards here on my blog to your predecessor, Siim Kallas. You can find old postcards from Hendaye, Göteborg and Liège. This is my first postcard to you, but I fear it will be one of many.

wreath-smallToday I was at Forst (Lausitz), on the German-Polish border. This was a sad, and very special trip, for it was the very last ever departure of the EuroCity “Wawel” train between Berlin and Wrocław (Breslau). Trains have been running between those cities for 161 years, or about 50000 days, but today was the last one. A wreath was laid at the station in Cottbus to commemorate the final departure, and a saxophonist played a lonesome tune on the platform.

Berlin and Wrocław were, of course, previously in the same country, and indeed it took less than four hours between them in the 1930s. If today they were still in the same country I rather suspect the service between the two would not be axed.

How does that make you feel as the European Commissioner responsible for transport?

The EU is supposed to make Europe grow together, not apart. But now all the passengers on this connection will have is a poxy bus. I cannot imagine anyone ever laying a wreath to mourn the final departure of a bus.

The final train was, I suppose, fittingly depressing. Two carriages were missing from the train, and the heating and doors were broken on one of the other carriages. The train left Berlin 15 minutes late.

European rail of course cannot go on like this – if rail is to be viable it needs to build on the joy and comfort of the train, and focus on passenger comfort. The bus that will replace the train has on board wifi, but very few EU-wide rail services do.

What, I wonder, are you doing about this as Commissioner?

Some low-cost changes to infrastructure could improve things a lot at the German-Poland border, as Michael Cramer MEP explains (PDF here) – have you made the case for this to Mr Juncker in for his €315bn investment package?

Anyway, until next time, have a good weekend and safe travels. There are people out there that want EU-wide rail to work, and we’re hope you do too!

* – Violeta Bulc is European Commissioner for Transport. More about her here. Photos from the last trip on EuroCity Wawel can be found on Flickr here.

Review: Raleigh Nightflight 8G Men 2013

NightflightA year ago, immediately after moving to Berlin, I made one of the biggest single purchases I’ve ever made – a new bicycle, a Raleigh Nightflight 8G Men 2013, purchased from Radhaus Pankow for €649 (recommended price: €799). For 2014, Raleigh released a slightly updated Nightflight 2014, and I presume will do the same in 2015, but with so many features in common I think it is still worthwhile to write up my experience.

It is worth noting that I bought this bike, rather than any other, not out of any sentimental reasons (my father grew up near Nottingham, the original home of Raleigh bikes – although this bike is actually made in Germany), but because it offered the best features for the price. I was looking for a fast city bike, without suspension forks, and with a hub dynamo, LED lights, mud guards, and pannier bag rack.

Overall – 9/10
This is the best bike I have ever owned, by some distance – admittedly compared to previous city bikes I have owned that cost half the price. It is always good to ride, and does everything you might ever require of a city bike, and is reassuring to know I can jump on it and it will be reliable and functional every time. I have had no serious problem with the bike, and use it at least every other day. Continue Reading

Volksentscheid Tempelhofer Feld – what’s happening?

A concise summary of what is happening with the Volksentscheid Tempelhofer Feld (Tempelhof Field Referendum) was hard to find in English. So this is my effort to write one, to help explain this rather complicated issue. At the end I’ll give my personal view.

What’s happening?
On 25th May 2014 a Volksentscheid will decide the future of Berlin’s now closed airport, Tempelhof, and its field – Tempelhofer Feld. Two questions are on the ballot paper.

Who has the right to vote?
Anyone with the right to vote in the Land of Berlin, i.e. same as for the Berliner Abgeordnetenhaus. EU citizens do not have the right to vote on Land level in Germany and so cannot vote on the Volksentscheid.

Why is there a Volksentscheid about this?
The initiative 100% Tempelhofer Feld gathered signatures to stop the plans of the Berlin Senate to build on parts of the edge of the field. 174000 citizen signatures (I think 10% of the eligible voters in Berlin?) were required to force the issue to a referendum – the campaign succeeded in gathering 223000 signatures by 13 January 2014, and hence the referendum had to happen. The Senate opted for 25th May, the same day as the European Election, for the vote. This initiative aims to keep Tempelhofer Feld 100% as it is – i.e. no building at all – and this is the first question on the referendum – Yes means keeping Tempelhof as it is. No means you are open to some building plans.

What else is on the ballot?
There is a second question on the ballot, and this one is rather confusingly known as 100% Berlin. This question is whether to approve the exact building plans put forward by the Senate or not.

What about turnout?
A referendum in Berlin is approved if 25% of eligible voters approve it – so, for example, 50.1% in favour, on the basis of a 50% turnout, would be enough for an approval. If this amount is not reached, even if the result is a Yes, means the issue can be decided by the Senate.

What happens with each combination of results?
YES to Q1, and over the 25% hurdle, and either YES or NO to Q2 – means nothing will be built on Tempelhofer Feld.
YES to Q1, but not over the 25% hurdle, and either YES or NO to Q2 – means the decision is back in the hands of the Senate.
NO to Q1, and YES to Q2, and over the 25% hurdle – Senate proceeds with its building plans.
NO to Q1, and YES to Q2, but not over the 25% hurdle – Senate can legally proceed with its plans, but may be less determined having not achieved decisive public backing.
NO to Q1, and NO to Q2 – Senate can legally proceed with its plans, but has little public support. Argument about the plans would continue, not least about the form of the building plans.

Further reading
Summary from Berliner Zeitung, January 2014, in German.
100% Tempelhofer Feld campaign, in German.
Wikipedia on the Volksentscheid, in German.
RBB on the process to collect the signatures, in German.
Press release from the Senate explaining their quest for Yes on Q2, in German.

My own view
If I had a vote (I hold a UK passport, so do not have the right to vote – annoying as I live less than 1km from the airport), I would personally vote NO and NO, even though my party – the Grüne – are arguing for YES and NO. The idea to preserve the field exactly as it is currently is wrong in my view – there is no proper way to maintain it, and I do not want it to just degrade. I’ve made the case for this here – Berlin has too much poorly maintained green space. But I am also not in favour of the Senate’s plans – an even more complete focus on low cost housing would be welcome, and I am not convinced of the need for a major library. As someone OK with some building in principle, but not in favour of the Senate’s plans, a NO and NO would be the only option.

The power of a title to make a picture go viral: “Politicians discussing global warming” by Isaac Cordal

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For the last 5 days the picture shown above has been shared far and wide on Twitter (link to the tweet), and to a certain extent on Facebook too. The title “Politicians discussing global warming” and the stunning picture match perfectly. I too was one of the people who retweeted the tweet a few days ago.

Then I thought “Ooh, it’s in Berlin, let’s find it!” But Googling it just found websites talking about the tweet. It prompted me to wonder whether the picture was indeed real, and some debate among friends of mine – including some Berlin residents – on Facebook ensued.

Determined to get to the bottom of it, I downloaded the picture, and ran it through “Search by image” on Google’s image search. Hey presto, the original picture – from the artist Isaac Cordal’s photo stream on Flickr. But with one important difference – the original is entitled “electoral campaign”, and while it was in Berlin it was from 2011! You will not find it today on Gendarmenmarkt as far as I know.

The interesting conclusion here is that the picture, with the title “Politicians discussing global warming” as tweeted above, is immensely more powerful than entitled “electoral campaign”, and that is the reason for its reach now as far as I can tell. I wonder whether it was Nigel Britto who first applied that title? Anyway, it’s an interesting little case!

(thanks @benteka and @ManagerYin for contributing to my thinking that informed this blog entry)

The future of #EUtweetup – I need your help

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 10.01.19First the simple bit: the very short term future of #EUtweetup is that the next tweetups will be on Monday 17th February in Brussels, and Wednesday 19th February in Berlin. The Berlin tweetup will be at Gorki Park from 1800 (details same as last time).

But what about #EUtweetup Brussels? Here I need your help.

The event has grown into a large and remarkable network, and hence I think it’s time to reflect on what the future of the event actually should be, and where it ought to be held.

The idea was to be an informal get together for people who had previously only debated EU politics together on Twitter. There is hence, in my view, no need for an agenda or any sort of speaker. The event needs to allow people to come and go as they please throughout the evening. Also as the event has no organiser or budget as such it needs to be easy enough to do – just a free reservation of a place, and then some tweets to announce it.

However for me there are two main outstanding questions, and for this I need you assistance. Please answer the two polls below, and/or comment below!

Currently #EUtweetup in Brussels happens on an ad hoc basis – it’s when Anthony Zacharzewski or I happen to be in Brussels, and we organise it. Should we keep it ad hoc, or should we set a date – second Wednesday or third Thursday of the month or something? Maximum one a month is plenty I think though.

When should #EUtweetup happen?

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#EUtweetup has been at 3 main locations – James Joyce on rue Archimède, London Calling on Place de Londres, and Café des Epices on Place Jourdan. Neither the James Joyce nor London Calling serve food, while Café des Epices is too much of a restaurant. Some sort of compromise – where food is served as well as it being a pub – would be best. Old Oak and Kitty O’Shea’s at Schuman have been suggested to me as alternatives, although the pub quiz on Monday’s at Old Oak means the days a tweetup works there are narrower. I think one preferred location makes sense, with the opportunity to go elsewhere from time to time.

Where should #EUtweetup happen?

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EU freedom of movement. This actually matters.

blogging-laptopHere I sit writing this blog entry on a Sunday night in Berlin. The Kreuzberg streets outside my window are quiet now; earlier today they were thronged with people in the January sun. I do not know where those people were from who were passing outside my window – Berlin, Germany, who knows where else. But those were my people. This is my city.

I do not altogether know why I feel at home here, but I do. And I know that better than any bureaucrat who would have to make a judgment on a visa or a work permit ever will. I am an EU migrant. I am not a scrounger, I am not living off the German state, yet conversely I am not a mega-rich investor either. I am a reasonably qualified, reasonably earning, reasonably living person wanting to find their way in life like anyone else. Only I want to do that in Berlin, rather than the UK. I am also not a classical ‘expat’ either – I speak German, I work in German, and I even have a Haftpflichtversicherung and I care about Datenschutz.

But I hold a British passport having been born in Newport in South Wales, and yet thanks to perhaps the most extraordinary thing the EU has done I have the right to be here in Berlin. It is not only goods, services and capital that can cross EU borders, but ordinary people too, free to pursue their goals and their dreams across more or less a whole continent. That’s an extraordinary and beautiful thing.

So when any politician or any colour or any nationality attacks freedom of movement it hurts. It hurts me, and it should hurt every single one of us 2.2 million holders of UK passports who live in other countries in the EU. Each and every one of us would have to go and prove to someone in some government office somewhere that we are allowed to stay where we actually want to be. To prove we are allowed to stay where we’ve invested our time, our futures, whatever those may be. Where we can be artists, or pensioners enjoying our retirements, or students, or freelancers, or bankers, whatever we want, and that is our choice.

That is my story. That is EU freedom of movement. This stuff actually matters.

How to find a flat in Berlin

moving-boxesI moved to Berlin on 26th October 2013, and now, less than 3 months later, I am already living in my second flat. I’ve gathered an enormous amount of knowledge through the two flat searches, and this blog entry is a summary of my learning. Do comment below, or tweet me, if you have comments, corrections or amendments – this blog entry should become some sort of living guide.

1. Introduction
2. Mieten or untermieten, or a WG (Wohngemeinschaft)
3. Prerequisites for renting a flat
4. Searching for a flat – criteria
5. Searching for a flat – location
6. Searching for a flat – websites
7. Flat visits
8. Making an offer
9. Payments
10. Moving in, and afterwards
11. My own story Continue Reading

Why I’m in favour of building on parts of Tempelhofer Feld / Tempelhof Flughafen

The former Tempelhof Airport is one of Berlin’s extraordinary places. The former airport is a huge open space in the city, and is larger even than Tiergarten (the park / forest further north in the city). Slow Travel Berlin has an excellent history of the airport and the field in English here.

I now live less than a kilometre from the northern side of the field, and as an inline skater the old runways are perfect for training.

Yet there are plans for Tempelhofer Feld – to build on some parts of it. And actually, I agree with the plans, and do not support the Bürgerinitiative 100% Tempelhofer Feld that wants to keep the field exactly as it is.


Firstly, the plans are limited, and build on the edges of the field. A map of what is planned where can be found here. The vast majority of the field will stay open, and the main part and runways will remain as they are. Secondly, the plans are for mixed developments, including a school and kindergarten, and not only for luxury flats. Third, this part of Berlin has an excess of green space, and little of it is well maintained – Hasenheide and Viktoriapark are both just to the north of Tempelhofer Feld, and both are in a rather poor state. Leaving those parks, and Tempelhofer Feld as well, to fall into further disrepair is no good.

In short: Berlin needs more, and more affordable, housing, and it needs better maintained and not necessarily more green space in the city. That, for me, is why limited building on the edge of Tempelhofer Feld makes sense.