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Posts tagged with: Berlin

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!

Time
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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Location
#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.

Contents
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.

Why?

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.


New year, new #EUtweetup – 9th Jan in Berlin, 15th Jan in Brussels

2014 is going to be quite a year for the EU. It’s election time! And will we all toast the end of José Manuel Barroso’s political career? And Ashton too? And might election turnout increase to a level higher than Viviane Reding’s hair?

Anyway, these, and any other EU question, serious or otherwise, will be debated in more than 140 characters at the first two EU tweetups of the year:

Thursday 9th January, from 1800 onwards – Berlin
Gorki Park Café
Weinbergsweg 25, Mitte (map)

Wednesday 15th January, from 1800 onwards – Brussels
James Joyce Pub
rue Archimède 34 (map)

If you can’t find us, or want to know if we’re still there, have a look at #EUTweetup.

For those that have never been to a Tweetup before, the idea is quite simple: come along, have a beer, and talk in real life with folks you have otherwise been debating with on Twitter. There’s no agenda, it’s informal, people come and go. But we’ve had a good few dozen people coming along to tweetups, so it can’t be bad!


Why I’m leaving the Labour Party, and joining the Grüne in Germany

IMG_3772-smlI’m an intensely political person and it has been that way for a long time. I joined the Labour Party in the UK as a 16 year old, before I was even old enough to vote. This means I have spent more than half my life in the Labour Party, which is rather scary (background on why I joined can be found here).

But today is the last day, for now at least. I am leaving Labour, and joining the Grüne (Greens) in Germany. The Direct Debit to Labour has been cancelled, and the online form to join the Grüne has been sent off.

So why am I making this move?

Don’t burn your bridges” my mother said to me by e-mail when I told her, but that is most definitely not my intention. My decision is as a result of a combination of personal and political circumstances that I hope to be able to explain, and my decision was taken in the best of faith.

Firstly the personal level. I moved to live in Berlin three weeks ago. I do not know what the future will hold, and how long I will stay in Berlin. But I cannot see anything that is going to entice me back to live in the UK any time soon. Berlin is home for now, and home means being politically active where one lives. Unlike my time in Brussels where the expat / EU environment prevented engaging locally, and Copenhagen, where language did, in Berlin I can actually do local politics.

When it comes to the politics of it, I feel I have been steadily moving away from Labour for some time. It is not that I necessarily think the party is doing the wrong things strategically, but more that its direction and mine have parted. When it comes to EU matters, civil liberties and the surveillance state, the environment, and tax and spending, I feel my own positions are further away from Labour’s than they have ever been. “So fight to change it from within!” has always – rightly – been the refrain from friends in the party in the past. But from Berlin I cannot do that effectively, or even hope to do so.

To put it another way, the party now brings me less than it has ever done, and I conversely bring less to it than I have ever done either.

At an organisational level I have concerns about Labour too – not least in the way it selected its MEPs, and seeing a ghost of European Parliaments past at the very top of one list makes me deeply sad. The party talks the talk of being open and modern, but it is a long way from walking the walk.

I hope the dozens of friends I have in the Labour Party understand my decision. I am the same person, I have the same ethics which I hope are the reason these people are friends of mine, not that we just happen to have been in the same clan.

So why then am I joining the Grüne in Germany?

It is in part motivated by the circumstances outlined above – that I want to be able to be politically active in Berlin, my current home. Of course this would be possible without any sort of party political affiliation (and I suppose I could have stayed in Labour passively – paying my money but doing nothing like so many party members). But for me that is not an option. I want to nail my ideological colours to the mast, and also my remaining belief in the value of representative democracy necessitates a belief in vibrant and functional parties.

So which party should I join? Unfortunately I find the SPD, Labour’s sister party in Germany, to be retro and uninspiring. The SPD has not been able to adequately define itself for a decade, and rightly suffered at the recent Bundestagswahl. Its approach to negotiations to form a Grand Coalition with the CDU, with the same old faces back once again, does not motivate me at all. The party is also not at the cutting edge when it comes to transparency, openness, and online engagement.

The Grüne, by contrast, are better both politically and when it comes to how a party should work internally. They have more of the answers to vital environmental questions than any other party does, and for me that is a strong point in their favour. Hell, I am obsessive about trying to travel in a green way, so I am actually practising what they preach on that crucial issue anyway. The Grüne’s more open and transparent processes – most recently the #GreenPrimary at EU level – are better than the procedures in other parties. I also know some super people in the Grüne – from old friends like Jan Seifert to more recent acquaintances like Malte Spitz and Franziska Brantner. These are people I can work with.

I have no idea where my membership of the Grüne will take me – I have no specific aim, no plan. It feels like the right thing to do, here and now, and I am going to learn plenty of fascinating things if nothing else!


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