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Berlin or Frankfurt for World Cup parade?

This article first appeared in The Local Germany.

If they win the World Cup – and that “if” has become smaller after beating Brazil – Germany must choose between Berlin and Frankfurt for their victory celebration. The debate is already heating up. Which one should it be?

Berlin was famously described as “poor but sexy” by its own mayor and Frankfurt’s reputation is the opposite – wealthy but perhaps a little dull.

Both cities are now facing off over where Die Mannschaft should celebrate if they win Sunday’s World Cup final.

The German team celebrated its last two World Cup trophies in Frankfurt’s Römer square. The players were on the balcony of city hall while thousands of fans cheered them below.

But when Germany came third in the 2006 World Cup, the team went straight to Berlin to celebrate. They picked the same place to party after coming second in the Euro 2008 football championship.

Despite the final not taking place until Sunday, the debate has already started over where to host the World Cup parade.

A tongue-in-cheek article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung argued Germany’s banking centre was the obvious choice.

Berlin has no jobs, it argued, before pointing out this could actually be an advantage for the capital as it would mean plenty of people would be free to attend the victory celebrations.

Frankfurt’s claim is not only rooted in the history of 1974 and 1990. The women’s national football team celebrated their last championships at the Römer.

And the historic square’s timber-framed facades and Frankfurt’s city would make for an idyllic setting, reminding the world Germany has more to offer than its capital.

But Berlin supporters point to their fan mile, which stretches west from the Brandenburg Gate, and has become the unofficial centre of German fan culture in the last few years.

After the semi-final victory, Twitter users said they had spontaneously booked tickets to Berlin to see the victory parade at the Brandenburg Gate.

So what do you think? Should the German team continue the tradition and celebrate in Frankfurt or go with the times and come to Berlin?

Flood of goals hit firms’ World Cup giveaways

This article first appeared in The Local Germany.

Businesses in Germany which tried to tap into the nation’s World Cup fever with free giveaways and discounts for every goal have been left counting the cost after Germany’s 7:1 rout of Brazil.

Bars had to give away hundreds of litres of free beer and bakeries were left without buns after customers took full advantage of their goal-related offers.

Büsch Bakery, a chain in North Rhine-Westphalia, offered its customers a free bun for every German goal throughout the World Cup. It was a risk-free affair until the goal fest against Brazil in the semi-final on Tuesday night.

“I don’t have exact numbers yet but we gave away hundreds of thousands of buns,” manager Dirk Jonack told The Local on Thursday.

“We had nothing left,” he added. Many customers had to put up with vouchers because there was simply no stock left.

Asked whether he secretly hoped a potential German victory in the final would be a little closer, the football fan in Jonack took over.

“Not really. A big victory over Argentina would be wonderful,” he said.

Free beer

When Schraders Bar in Berlin promised its customers “rivers of free shots” for every goal before the game on Tuesday night, its owners did not expect that more than 1,000 glasses would be handed out during the game.

“We had to mix more,” manager Christian Wojtek told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper.

In what could be a good omen, the bar will make the same offer for Germany’s final against Argentina on Sunday.

A restaurant in Hamburg is looking forward to Sunday night, too, but has not said whether it would offer fans the same deal it did on Tuesday.

For every German goal, the up to 1,500 guests of Landhaus Walter in Hamburg’s Stadtpark were promised 50 litres of beer.

At the end of the night, 350 litres of beer had been given out, the Hamburger Morgenpost reported.

Good vibes                                    

A store for erotic toys in Berlin, meanwhile, limited its World Cup discount on a vibrator. Customers of the Fun Factory on Oranienburger Straße were told they would get ten percent off per goal but not more than 50 percent in total.

Ringk garden centre in Brakel probably wished it had made a similar move. Customers there got 70 percent off all products – ten percent for every goal.

The resulting stampede of garden enthusiasts brought traffic to a halt in the North Rhine-Westphalia town of 23,000, reported Westfalen-Blatt.

“It was very stressful but our customers were of course happy,” an employee told The Local on Thursday.

She said no decision had been made yet on whether the offer would be repeated for the final on Sunday.

Brewery “Dampe” in Essen promised its 300 guests shots for every German goal.

“At some point my co-workers just put the boxes on the bar and told our guests: Help yourself,” employee Karin Flemming told Der Westennewspaper.

And online health food retailer Schneekoppe, was forced to apologize to customers. Its servers were unable to cope when customers wanted to make the most of Schneekoppe’s 60 percent discount – ten percent per goal capped at 60 percent.

“Due to the great popularity of our World Cup offer, technical difficulties may occur,” a note on the website said.

‘I got screwed’

But while most businesses took Tuesday’s result and its consequences in their stride, a fashion store owner in the Hessian town of Groß-Gerau was audibly annoyed when they spoke to The Local.

Tabloid newspaper Bild reported the store had advertised the same ten-percent offer but limited it in retrospect to 50 percent on the morning after the game.

Owner Christine Gärtner disputed that version on the phone with The Local. “Bild completely screwed me,” she said. When asked for her account, Gärtner demurred.

“I absolutely don’t want to say anything more about this topic,” she said, sounding like she could not wait for the World Cup to be over.

Football-free fun: Berlin’s French-German Fest;

This article first appeared in The Local Germany.

Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle signed a reconciliation pact between France and Germany in 1963. Berlin’s first French-German Festival happened the same year – and yet Felix Reimer isn’t sure this sugary Volksfest was quite what the two statesmen had in mind.

If Adenauer and de Gaulle ever hoped the spirit of friendship across the Rhine would ever weaken national football allegiances, they were to be disappointed.

Not one person The Local talked to at Berlin’s annual French-German Volksfest on Wednesday afternoon had any doubt Germany would beat France in the World Cup quarter final on Friday evening.

Football, however, barely played a role at this, the 52nd event of its kind in the German capital.

In fact, it may be one of the biggest World Cup-free zones existing in the city at this moment.

But that didn’t stop the hordes of day-trippers descending.

Roll up for your free space mouse

“I like this, this is fun,” a showman assured those entering the fairgrounds.

He sold lottery tickets at the “Lucky Post” and had a special offer: For buying an XXL lottery bag, containing 60 individual tickets, they would also get a free space mouse.

The space mouse, a stuffed toy, looked like an unfortunate cross between a high rodent and a character from the US adult cartoon series “South Park.”

Numerous places offered hamburgers, hot dogs, candyfloss and every conceivable type of wurst. Crepes and frog legs were also available to fans of the French cuisine who looked hard enough, although typical German fairground fare dominated the food options.

With little connection to France apparent, most people seemed to be there for the various rides.

Visitors streamed from bumper cars to a roller coaster with a massive Marilyn Monroe statue, or queued up to hang upside down at 48 metres in a giant 360° swing.

One merry-go-round took those who dared up to a height of 60 metres.

On the ground, their screams were barely audible.

From Bavaria to Brittany

At least two ghost houses tempted visitors in from the bright sunshine.

The “Valley of the Kings,” featuring decorations in the style of ancient Egypt (where French revolutionary leader Napoleon Bonaparte had spent some time, after all) seemed to be people’s favourite.

The ghost train “Dance of the Vampires” was quieter, despite offering a spooky train ride.

The “French village,” advertised as a festival highlight, was not so easy to find.

Arranged around a wooden windmill with an ale house on the ground floor, its fake half-timbered facades could have represented any region from Bavaria to Brittany.

Ultimately, it was the clichéd French music blaring in the background convinced your reporter he was in the right place.

The festival takes place on Berlin’s official fairground on Kurt-Schumacher-Damm. It is easily accessible by car via the A111 motorway separating it from Tegel Airport or by bus via U-bahn stations Jakob-Kaiser-Platz or Kurt-Schumacher-Damm. Entry costs €2, rides are extra.

 

Berlin’s refugee protest: ‘This is a police siege’

This article first appeared in The Local Germany.

Police have sealed off an area of Berlin for almost a week after part of the Kreuzberg district became the centre of the city’s latest conflict between refugees and authorities. The Local meets those affected by the ongoing operation.

On Monday at midday, the atmosphere on the corner of Kreuzberg’s Ohlauer Straße and Reichenberger Straße was tense but quiet.

Police continued to block access to a former school, the Gerhart-Hauptmann-Schule, where around 40 people are holed up on the roof of a building which has been occupied by refugees for 18 months.

Inside the cordoned-off zone, streets were empty and many businesses closed.

Only residents who could identify themselves were allowed past police checkpoints. A driver claiming to own a small business in Lausitzer Straße had to turn his car around after a loud argument with several police officers.

Klara Iraki, who lives nearby, complained that she had been prevented from visiting a friend in Reichenberger Straße. She told The Local she did not understand why authorities wanted to move the refugees out. “The school has been empty for years,” she said.

Iraki was also sympathetic of the refugees’ situation. “They were already traumatized when they came here. I don’t like how they’re being treated,” she said.

Posters and banners in the area were critical of the authorities. One poster demanded to let the refugees stay in the school.

Another attacked the Green Party, which leads Kreuzberg’s local government -“Green Politics: Eviction, corruption, divide and rule,” it said.

A third banner, lowered from a window in Reichenberger Straße, proclaimed: “The problem is called racism.”

That view was shared by protesters sitting outside the Falken-Apotheke, a pharmacy just a few metres away from the police cordon. Part of a crowd of about 40 people, they said they had been there every day since 900 policemen blocked the streets last Tuesday.

“The police operation is excessive,” said Conny, a member of the group who would only give her first name. The others agreed, while a young girl drew in a colouring book at their feet.

Conny questioned why police did not rule out clearing the refugees on the roof by force. “They [the refugees] will jump if there’s an eviction,” she said.

Racist police?

The protesters also repeated claims made by the refugees in a statement on Sunday that some police officers had shown racist behaviour.

“They were watching us from another roof and waving, not only with handcuffs, but also with bananas,” the statement said.

Petra and Thomas, two employees inside the pharmacy who preferred not to give their last names, were also critical of the police’s behaviour.

Petra described an incident last Thursday when four people toppled a barricade outside the pharmacy.

“Police immediately got their batons and teargas out,” Petra said.

Most days, she felt the protest resembled a funfair. “There are families with buggies, not radical people,” she said.

“I would understand it if it were a dangerous situation,” said Thomas about the massive police presence. “But this is being treated like a siege.”

Both noted the effect the cordon had on local businesses. They had been unable, they said, to buy breakfast or lunch from their favourite snack bar across the street.

The cafe, located 50 metres behind the barricades, appeared deserted on Monday, its blinds closed and chairs stacked up in front of it.

Meanwhile, at cafes in surrounding streets, customers sat outside and enjoyed the sun.

Green Party MP Hans Christian Ströbele, who represents Kreuzberg, continued his mediation efforts on Monday.

He spent several hours inside the school on Sunday with a proposal from the local council and returned to hear their response, he said on his Facebook page.

“We hope for an agreement” with the authorities, said a man who gave his name as Muhammad Ali.

He told The Local he spent some time inside the school a few months ago after coming from Sudan, via Italy, to Germany. He returned to Berlin to support friends who were still in the building.

Asked whether he was optimistic a long-term solution would be found, he shook his head.

Another protester, Omar Amadu, had his own doubts: “This democracy is not a real democracy,” he claimed.

Amadu said he came to Germany six months ago from Niger, crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy, and has since lived in Berlin without documents.

Berlin’s top police officer told state lawmakers that police would only oust the refugees from the building if asked to by local authorities. But the head of the local police union has demanded the immediate clearing of the school.

Police cleared the vast majority of the around 200 refugees in the former school last Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Tuesday, President Joachim Gauck, meanwhile, called for a review of the European Union’s refugee policies. “A common European refugee policy not only has to protect European borders but also human lives at European borders,” he told an audience at the Evangelical Academy in Berlin.

Gauck did not specifically address the situation at Gerhart-Hauptmann-Schule.

First round of staff cuts to hit Life Sciences, Medicine and Dentistry

The University’s senior management has informed staff that a review of undergraduate teaching in the College of Life Sciences and the College of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing will likely mean cuts to staff numbers.

University Secretary Dr. Jim McGeorge said in an email, which was sent to staff today, that the University Court had approved the review last month.

DUSA Media first learned about the impending staff cuts to both colleges after the Court met in February, but agreed to hold the story until the University had informed staff.

Back then, McGeorge told DUSA Media that the Court expected “a reduction of around ten staff” as the result of changes “to modernise and re-develop the Life Sciences, Medicine and Dental undergraduate degree programmes.”

McGeorge also confirmed to DUSA Media that the Court had agreed that “a reduction of between 80 and 120 academic staff posts is required” across the University, a number that had been reported earlier by The Courier. He cautioned, however, that “the precise target number will only be established when the further proposals come to Court in April.”

In his email to staff, McGeorge said: “The Colleges will establish a consistent approach to management and delivery of all teaching and scholarship for biomedical and life sciences undergraduate teaching across the University, including the delivery of MBChB [Bachelor of Medicine/Surgery] and BDS [Bachelor of Dental Surgery] science teaching.”

He said the University hoped staff in both Colleges could be reduced without layoffs, including through the voluntary severance scheme the Court approved last month. “Full details of the scheme are to be finalised after consultation with the campus unions,” McGeorge added.

McGeorge also told staff that changes in other areas “will be subject to consultation through Senate and School and College Boards, and also with the campus unions.”

Student reps slam University over staff cuts

The Student Representative Council has called on the University to explain what consequences it will have for them when up to 120 members of academic staff are cut.

An SRC resolution said that “the University’s communication on the issue has been nothing short of disastrous” and that “students are left in the dark about the consequences the cuts will have on their education.”

The resolution went on to state: “With five to ten percent of academic staff positions on the chopping block, consequences are inevitable. The University has failed to tell students which schools will suffer the most, whether entire courses could be shut down, and how an already overworked academic staff is expected to serve students.”

A University spokesman reacted by pointing to the Court’s statement made last week and Principal Pete Downes’ presentation during a special SRC meeting, and said there would be a letter from the Principal to staff and students today.

The spokesman added: “As already explained in the University’s previous statements, detailed plans surrounding the voluntary severance scheme will be taken forward to the next meeting of Court in April. Staff and students will be made aware of those plans as and when they have been fully developed.”

In a separate motion, proposed by Psychology School president Martin Béll, the SRC called on the University to provide graduates with life-long email addresses. Current @dundee.ac.uk email addresses are usually closed six months after a student graduates from the University. SRC reps and the University’s IT department will work together on the issue in the near future.

The SRC met on Tuesday right after DUSA’s annual general meeting. President Iain MacKinnon updated students on his Exec’s activities since taking office in July. MacKinnon also presented a report on DUSA’s accounts for the year that ended on 31 July 2013, which showed DUSA made a loss of £113,000. He said DUSA is expected to make a surplus for the current year.

After issues in previous years, this year’s general meeting had been overhauled. The quorum was reduced significantly, and unlike last year, when the meeting banned selling The Sun in DUSA premises, the meeting did not discuss any motions, as these will now be decided upon during next month’s referendum process.

Like the SRC, DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you already knew that. The author is an SRC member and proposed the staff cuts motion.

Dundee students vote against Scottish independence

In a mock referendum held on Tuesday, students at the University of Dundee voted against independence.

Students were asked the same question that will be on the ballot for the official referendum in September, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” 319 students participated in the mock referendum. 58.6 percent (187 students) said “no” in response to the question, with 40.4 percent (129 students) voting “yes”.

DUSA President Iain MacKinnon said in a statement: “It’s great to see so many students engaged in politics at the University with hundreds voting in this referendum. The vote was a lot closer than many people expected and shows that there is still a lot to play for. I hope that the students who voted here today continue getting involved in politics and, for those who are able, vote in the real referendum in September.”

Students were given the chance to cast their vote in DUSA’s foyer during the day. The mock referendum, which had been advertised across campus in the past few days, was part of DUSA’s efforts to raise political awareness among students. Dundee City Council were on hand on Tuesday to register any students who had not yet done so.

DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you already knew that.

Union calls for protest against University staff cuts

In reaction to proposed staff reductions at the University of Dundee, the Dundee University College Union is calling on staff and students to lobby the University Court. The Court is scheduled to discuss the plan, which the union calls “divisive and ill conceived”, during its meeting later today.

DUCU president Janice Aitken said in a statement to DUSA Media: “It is clear that his proposal is not in the best interests of students, who have already noticed the significant reductions in staff available to teach and support them.”

She invited students to join staff the rally at 1 PM in front of the Bonar Hall.

Aitken said there were better ways for the University to improve its finances: “One way could perhaps be to re-examine the College structure that is very heavy on highly paid senior managers who do not directly contribute to the quality of student experience.”

She also said the union had written Court members to express its concerns. “We are also asking for a much more transparent examination of the finances in the University in terms of why staff costs are being blamed for the lack of surplus even though spending on staff has gone down considerably over the last few years,” she added.

DUSA has not yet taken an official position on the issue, although many SRC members questioned the plan when University principal Pete Downes addressed the council last Tuesday.

DUSA’s president, Iain MacKinnon, declined to comment on the rally.

MacKinnon, who as president of DUSA sits on the Court, said: “I will be at Court on Monday ensuring that the [University’s] senior management team properly justify any actions which they are proposing, and making sure that they are sincere when they state that the student experience will not be affected.”

MacKinnon said he and Marija Tasevska, the independent member of Court, will ensure that the Court hears students’ concerns.

Citing ambitious plans, Downes defends staff cut plans

This article first appeared on DUSA Media.

University principal Professor Pete Downes has confirmed the University will set up a severance scheme to reduce academic staff and defended the losses as necessary for Dundee’s 25-year plan to become Scotland’s leading university.

“We are proposing that we open a voluntary severance scheme for academic staff,” Downes said. “And we’re also proposing a small change management programme in one area of the University, which will lead to a small number – probably no more than about ten – [of] staff losses.” He added, “It would be disingenuous to say that it’s our intention that that’s where that ends.”

The Courier reported earlier this week the University was looking to cut 150 academic staff. While stating that The Courier’s article contained “inaccuracies”, Downes said it would not be appropriate for him to discuss how many employees and which academic programmes will be affected by the plans.

The University Court, the governing body responsible for staff and finance matters, will consider the scheme during its meeting on Monday. Although the Court might issue a statement after that meeting, crucial details will likely not be available until April.

Explaining why the University’s senior management considered the cuts necessary, Downes said: “We always envisaged that [the vision] would require us to do some quite difficult things … in part financially, to support investment in the most important areas of the University.”

He added, “The aim and purpose of what we’re trying to do is to ensure that the University can invest in its future.”

Downes, along with Professor Karl Leydecker, the vice-principal for learning and teaching, and Dr. Jim McGeorge, the University secretary, addressed a special meeting of the Student Representative Council (SRC) on Tuesday night. Originally scheduled to update student representatives about the University’s progress in implementing its vision, the meeting was overshadowed by The Courier article.

In his presentation, Downes focused on the University’s efforts to improve the student experience as a key part of the “Transformation” strategy. He said the institution already benefits from the “excellent reputation” of Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA), and that both sides are working to further strengthen their partnership.

Downes said the University wanted to increase the subvention with which it supports DUSA, and was working on improving the availability of timetables. He also said further investment in the Library and more space for DUSA’s Premier shop were among the plans for the near future.

In the discussion following the presentation, student representatives were mostly critical of the University’s plan to reduce staff. They pointed out that current students are unlikely to benefit from the long-term vision while feeling its drawbacks now, that prospective students could shy away from accepting a place at Dundee in the light of recent news, and that many staff members already put in extra hours to get their work done.

Downes defended the plans, saying that the cuts would be accompanied by reviewing whether curricula could be simplified and workloads redistributed. “There are clear areas where [the University’s] performance is significantly less than … the other institutions with which we compare ourselves.”

“If we look at the income that our staff generate, and divide that by the number of academic staff, we are a long way below our nearest competitors. So we’re being unproductive in certain respects,” Downes said. He singled out research income and attracting students from overseas as areas in which the University was below the benchmarks.

Leydecker added, “There are some areas where we don’t have enough staff. We need to be able to release some resource to make those investments and improve the student experience and the support environment that we have. We can’t do that at the moment because we don’t have the headroom to do it.”

The two Court members elected by students – DUSA President Iain MacKinnon and an Independent Court Member Marija Tasevska – did not comment during the SRC meeting. Both are bound by the body’s confidentiality rules.

DUSA Media is part of DUSA, but you already knew that. The author is an SRC member.

Psychology dean Trevor Harley to step down

The dean of the School of Psychology, Professor Trevor Harley, has announced that he will leave his post at the end of July. “I’ll still be here, but just doing more of what I want to do: writing, research, comedy, public awareness of science and psychology… the list could go on and on,” he said on the school’s Facebook page.

In an email to DUSA Media, Prof Harley said his decision, which he had announced internally a few weeks ago, was not related to yesterday’s news about University staff cuts. Asked whether he would stay at the University, he said: “Definitely staying here (unless another institution comes along offering me much more money for much less work, of course).”

Prof Harley said his biggest success as dean, a position he held for eleven years, was “hiring many tremendous new staff, who are young and energetic, from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and increasing the number of female academics in the School.”

Explaining his work on his staff profile page, he said: “I work primarily on the psychology and neuropsychology of speech production, and the representation of word meaning. I focus in particular on lexicalisation, the processes whereby we turn thoughts into sounds.”

In addition to his academic work, Prof Harley is known for his standup comedy, including a gig during the Fringe in Edinburgh last year.

Martin Bell, Psychology’s school president, said: “Psychology students will be greatly saddened to see him step down as dean. He has been a fantastic figurehead within the school who makes a real effort to engage with students from the very beginning of their degree, a rare quality which has inspired the admiration of everyone that has studied here during his term.”

Asked about the timeline for appointing a successor, a University spokesman said the process would start shortly.