Category Archives: News/Stories

German military draws up 450-million-euro wish list

by DW

Germany’s under-equipped military, the Bundeswehr, wants to spend hundreds of millions on new weapons. Some of the money will go toward leasing drones from Israel, but first the government needs a new budget.

Amidst criticism that the Germany’s military hardware is fast becoming obsolete, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen will ask the government for a massive cash injection to update its equipment.

According to a list obtained by two German newspapers, von der Leyen is requesting 450 million euros ($553 million) for 18 separate items. A defense ministry spokesman said the Bundeswehr would present its procurement requests to the Bundestag “soon.”

“We hope that the material situation of the Bundeswehr will be improved,” Defense Ministry spokesman Holger Neumann said at the government’s Monday press conference.

Part of the money is intended for upgrades to Germany’s Puma tanks and maintenance of its NH90 helicopters. Money would also go toward a nine-year contract to lease Heron TP drones capable of carrying arms — all in all the cost of this deal will be one billion euros.

Plans for the future

The coalition agreement signed between the conservatives and the Social Democrats in March sanctions the leasing of the Israeli drones as a stop-gap measure until the development of a European drone within the framework of the European Defense Union.

The coalition agreement foresees investments of 10 billion euros to modernize the Bundeswehr, but von der Leyen has said she doesn’t think that sum will be sufficient. The latest request for funds will have to be approved by the government when it draws up its budget for 2018.

Earlier this year, an internal Bundeswehr document that was leaked to the press questioned whether the German military was well enough equipped to fulfill its duties — a situation termed “scandalous” by members of the opposition.

Germany spent around 37 billion euros on defense in 2017 — the ninth highest defense budget in the world. That sum is scheduled to increase to 39 billion euros in 2018. But German military spending falls far short of the 2 percent of national GDP targeted by NATO.

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Berlin streets to lose links with brutal colonial past

by BBC

Berlin is set to rename streets linked to atrocities Germany committed during its 1884-1919 occupation of Namibia.

Local councillors agreed on new street names for the so-called African Quarter in the north-west of the German capital on Wednesday evening.

After more than a decade of debate, a final vote – seen as a formality – will be held soon.

Then names associated with Germany’s imperial past will be replaced with ones dedicated to liberation fighters.

“The African Quarter still glorifies colonialism and its crimes,” council members from the Greens, Social Democrats and Left parties say in their joint motion.

“That conflicts with our understanding of democracy and does lasting harm to the image of the city of Berlin.”

Local media report the motion’s approval is certain, as the three parties hold the majority of votes necessary to accept their motion.

Germany has acknowledged its brutal imperial past, including what historians call the first genocide of the 20th Century. Between 1904 and 1908, some 100,000 indigenous Herero and Nama people were killed.

The African Quarter, which is in a multi-ethnic working-class neighbourhood in the Berlin district of Wedding, is home to squares and streets associated with German South West Africa – now modern-day Namibia.

Its founder Adolf Luederitz, its imperial commissioner Gustav Nachtigal, and the founder of German East Africa – today’s Tanzania – Carl Peters will no longer have locales named after them.

New names for locales include Maji Maji Boulevard, Anna Mungunda Boulevard, Cornelius Frederiks Street and Bell Square.

Maji Maji – a battle cry used by the indigenous people at the time – commemorates the largely unknown liberation struggle against German colonial rule.

Anna Mungunda was the first Herero woman to take a leading role in the independence movement.

Cornelius Frederiks led the Nama people’s resistance fight against the German imperialist rulers.

Rudolf Douala Manga Bell was a Duala king in Cameroon who, alongside his wife Emily, resisted land grabs by white colonisers.

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Nazi legacy found in Norwegian trees


The relentless campaign to find and sink Germany’s WWII battleship, the Tirpitz, left its mark on the landscape that is evident even today.

The largest vessel in Hitler’s Kriegsmarine, it was stationed for much of the war along the Norwegian coast to deter an Allied invasion.

The German navy would hide the ship in fjords and screen it with chemical fog.

This “smoke” did enormous damage to the surrounding trees which is recorded in their growth rings.

Claudia Hartl, from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, stumbled across the impact while examining pines at Kåfjord near Alta.

The dendrochronologist was collecting wood cores to build up a picture of past climate in the area. Severe cold and even infestation from insects can severely stunt annual growth in a stand, but neither of these causes could explain the total absence of rings seen in some trees dated to 1945.

Some had a ring but you would hardly see it.

A colleague suggested it could have something to do with the Tirpitz, which was anchored the previous year at Kåfjord where it was attacked by Allied bombers.

Archive documents show the ship released chlorosulphuric acid to camouflage its position.

“We think this artificial smoke damaged the needles on the trees,” Dr Hartl told BBC News.

“If trees don’t have needles they can’t photosynthesise and they can’t produce biomass. In pine trees, needles usually last from three to seven years because they’re evergreens. So, if the trees lose their needles, it can take a very long time for them to recover.”

The Tirpitz pictured in Kåfjord with the smokescreen seen drifting across the water.

In one tree, there is no growth seen for nine years from 1945. “Afterwards, it recovered but it took 30 years to get back to normal growth. It’s still there; it’s still alive, and it’s a very impressive tree,” Dr Hartl said.

In other pines, rings are present but they are extremely thin – easy to miss. As expected, sampling shows the impacts falling off with distance. But it is only at 4km that trees start to display no effects.

The Tirpitz sustained some damage at Kåfjord. However, a continuous seek-and-destroy campaign eventually caught up with the battleship and it was sunk by RAF Lancasters in late 1944 in Tromso fjord further to the west.

Dr Hartl believes her “warfare dendrochronology” will find similar cases elsewhere.

“I think it’s really interesting that the effects of one engagement are still evident in the forests of northern Norway more than 70 years later. In other places in Europe, they also used this artificial smoke and may be also other chemicals. So perhaps you can find similar patterns and effects from WWII.”

The Mainz researcher presented her research here at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly in Vienna, Austria.

Sampling shows the impacts falling off with distance.
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German defense minister tells troops in Afghanistan to prepare for long haul

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has told Bundeswehr troops in Afghanistan they should prepare to stay in the country for the foreseeable future. This follows the Bundestag’s decision to raise troop numbers.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen admitted on Sunday that Afghanistan was still far from ready to take responsibility for its own security situation.

“It is not a question of a time frame that must be stubbornly stuck to,” von der Leyen told German troops during a visit to the Bundeswehr base in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The length of the mission in Afghanistan depended on whether conditions in the country improved, she said, adding that “we need patience and staying power.”

Von der Leyen’s remarks came on the back of the German parliament’s decision on Thursday to extend the Bundeswehr’s mission to Afghanistan, now in its 16th year, and raise the number of troops stationed in the conflict-ridden country from 980 to 1,300.

Germany’s new ruling coalition government has also vowed to increase military spending by some €10 billion ($12.4 billion) over the next four years, with further funds expected to be allocated towards development aid.

The German Defense Ministry defended the rise in troop numbers amid concerns that it would overstretch the Bundeswehr’s aging military equipment.

The German military came under criticism in the winter after it was able to carry out only around a half of its joint operations alongside the Afghan army. Von der Leyen blamed these shortcomings on a lack of security personnel and vowed to “fix this situation.”

NATO’s “Resolute Support” mission is focused on training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces in the ongoing conflict with extremist groups, such as the Taliban and affiliate divisions of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS). The German military is involved in implementing these goals in northern Afghanistan, mainly in the city of Kunduz.

Deteriorating security situation

Von der Leyen’s pledge to keep German troops in Afghanistan reflects the deteriorating security situation in the country. A resurgent Taliban has regained control of large pockets following the initial withdrawal of US-led NATO troops at the end of 2014. IS affiliates also remain powerful in the region, despite the main group having been effectively defeated in Syria and Iraq.

Afghan security forces currently only control around 60 percent of the country: “That is good, but not enough by a long shot,” von der Leyen said.

The Afghanistan military’s wavering control has prompted a surge of extremist attacks since the new year, the most devastating of which saw a Taliban suicide bomber blow up an explosive-laden ambulance on a busy Kabul street in January, killing more than 100 people and injuring at least 235.

This week, an IS suicide bomber killed 29 Shiite worshippers celebrating the Persian New Year.

According to the United Nations, more than 10,000 civilians were killed or wounded in the ongoing war in Afghanistan in 2017, with militant bombings and terror attacks responsible for a majority of the casualties.

 

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The leap of hope that ended in despair

When Conrad Schumann jumped over the Berlin Wall, he became a symbol of freedom. But the burden was too great.

MANY PEOPLE were standing around, and that was good, because they distracted my colleagues. I was able to swap my loaded sub-machine- gun for an empty one before I jumped. The jump was not so difficult then. After that the gun fell noisily on the ground; with a full magazine it probably would have gone off.”

That is how the East German border guard Conrad Schumann recalled, in one of hundreds of subsequent interviews, the moment he was devoured by history. At 4pm on 15 August 1961, two days after the Communist regime began erecting the Berlin Wall, the 19-year-old soldier set off on the journey that was to define his entire life.

“My nerves were at breaking point,” he remembered. “I was very afraid. I took off, jumped, and into the car … in three, four seconds it was all over.”

A photographer mingling with onlookers on the western side of Bernauer Strasse captured the “Leap of Freedom”, and a Cold War pin-up was born. Pictures of the lanky youth soaring above coils of barbed wire in his tight uniform were blitzed across the world. Suddenly Schumann was a hero of the Free World, and in his homeland a despicable traitor. Some 2,100 East German soldiers and policemen were to follow his example.

“Welcome to the West,” bystanders shouted. But Schumann, a simple NCO, was ill-prepared for the adulation. All he asked for when he arrived at the West Berlin debriefing centre was a sandwich. He said simply that he had been angered by the spectacle of a fleeing East German child being dragged back from the West, and did not want to “live enclosed”. A fit of desperation or an act of heroism: history books rarely distinguish between the two.

But Schumann never really escaped. Uninvited stardom drove him to the bottle in the first decade of his new life. He eventually married, settled down in a Bavarian village, had a son, and worked conscientiously on Audi’s assembly line for 27 years.

Then, last Saturday, something snapped. After a family row, Schumann left the house. He was found by his wife a few hours later, hanging from a tree in the nearby woods. The History Man left no farewell letter behind.

Neighbours in the village of Kipfenberg describe him as a quiet, retiring man. All he had to show for his ephemeral fame was that picture on the living-room wall, alongside floral tapestries and a photograph of him with Ronald Reagan. The family were reasonably prosperous: they had inherited a house from the in-laws.

From the freedom photograph, however, he made not one pfennig. “As lawyers explained, because I am a historical figure, the picture can be published everywhere without my consent. But the photographer did not become rich either,” he consoled himself. “He was working for an agency.”

Nor did he get much joy from official quarters. A hero he might have been for the Western propaganda machine, but all officials wanted from him was information he did not possess. Schumann, according to the German press, was “squeezed like a lemon” by his Western interrogators.

Little wonder that the hero-villain felt confused by his dual status. As he drifted through life in West Berlin, frequently changing jobs in the initial years, alcohol provided the only solace.

Lonely and depressed, his only human contact with his family in the East was through letters. He had not changed his name or gone underground, and now the Stasi, the East German secret police, were after him. They wanted the Cold War icon back, for their own purposes. The family wrote letters asking Schumann to come home – everything would be fine.

“Only much later did I realise how dangerous this situation was,” he recalled in a 1994 interview. “I did not know that the letters my parents were writing me were dictated by the Stasi.”

He was even naive enough to contemplate going home for a visit while the Wall was still standing. At the last minute, a West Berlin policeman managed to talk him out of that plan.

After the Wall fell and Germany was reunited, Schumann was able to return to his native Saxony for the first time. But the homecoming was not the triumphant procession he had anticipated. Many people had been kind to him, he said, but quite a few had shunned him. “There are still some people who refuse to speak to me,” he said. The traitor had remained a traitor to many, even if the country he betrayed had since disappeared.

Still, he was back in the whirlwind of history, and for a time seemed to be enjoying it. In the euphoria of reunification, heroes of old were in great demand again, for one last hurrah. Schumann beamed into the cameras as requested, signed the posters depicting his run, and made efforts to speak cheerfully about his situation.

In 1989, as the Wall was being hacked to pieces, Schumann made guest appearances at the Checkpoint Charlie museum, signing pictures for tourists. He was no longer recognisable from the photo: now he was a podgy middle- aged man with tattoos on both arms.

After that, he devoted his full attention to car-building, making only rare visits to Berlin. The posters nevertheless remain the best-selling item at the Checkpoint Charlie museum, and visitors formed a long queue a month ago when Border Guard NCO Schumann came to sign for the last time.

The museum’s directors worry that business may take a down-turn now that the man it celebrates is no longer alive. They are probably wrong. For the picture was never about Conrad Schumann, the soldier with the invisible face, but about the act. It was the human spirit that soared above that barbed wire, and Schumann was merely an unlucky man who accidentally got into the picture.

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Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ becomes German Bestseller Year after Reprint

by The Local – DE

It has been one year since Adolf Hitler’s book could once again be printed in Germany after 70 years off the shelves. Now it has swiftly become a bestseller.

For 70 years after the end of the Second World War, the brutal dictator’s manifesto remained unpublished in Germany.

Its copyright was owned by the state of Bavaria, which prevented new editions from being printed in Germany for fear of reinvigorating Nazi sentiments.

But when its copyright expired – 70 years after the death of the author, as is standard – an annotated version was printed for the first time again last year by the Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ) in Munich. And the publisher quickly began to sell out, rushing to print more copies to meet the high demand.

Over the past year, around 85,000 copies have been sold, much to the surprise of the institute. The IfZ had at first only printed 4,000 copies, and now it’s heading for its sixth print run.

In April, the book become number one on Spiegel’s bestseller list.

“The number of sales has overwhelmed us,” the director of the IfZ, Andreas Wirsching, told DPA on Tuesday. “No one could have really predicted it.”

Partly autobiographical, Mein Kampf outlines Hitler’s ideology that formed the basis for Nazism. He wrote it in 1924 while he was imprisoned in Bavaria for treason after his failed Beer Hall Putsch.

The book set out two ideas that he put into practice as Germany’s leader going into World War II: annexing neighbouring countries to gain Lebensraum, or “living space”, for Germans, and his hatred of Jews, which led to the Holocaust.

In its heyday, around 12.4 million copies were published in Germany and from 1936, the Nazi state gave a copy to all newlyweds as a wedding gift.

‘Mein Kampf readers are not right-wing radicals’

There was concern leading up to the re-publication that releasing an un-annotated version would allow Hitler’s assertions to go unchallenged. Jewish groups questioned why the anti-Semitic text – already accessible for academics – should again be widely distributed.

“It turned out that the fear the publication would promote Hitler’s ideology or even make it socially acceptable and give neo-Nazis a new propaganda platform was totally unfounded,” Wirsching said in a statement.

“To the contrary, the debate about Hitler’s worldview and his approach to propaganda offered a chance to look at the causes and consequences of totalitarian ideologies, at a time in which authoritarian political views and right-wing slogans are gaining ground.”

The IfZ edition is intended to be a critical look at the written work, including analysis and commentary from experts.

“It would have been irresponsible to allow this text to go freely,” said Wirsching.

And by the end of the year, Wirsching noted that those who bought the book turned out to be mainly readers interested in politics and history, including many teachers, not “old reactionaries or right-wing radicals”.

Recently the project even won the “Society needs Science” award with a €50,000 prize for how it “reveals Hitler’s false statements and distortions, corrects factual errors and explains the contemporary context.”

Wirsching said his institute’s edition has over the past year driven academic debate, some positive and some critical of the annotated work. He also said he would consider doing an English translation of their version.

But the IfZ is not the only group working with the text that now lies in the public domain. A right-wing publishing house in Leipzig called Der Schelm released a version without commentary, stating that readers should “have the courage to come to your own understanding”.

The Bavarian state is also working on a guide for history classes on how to use excerpts from the book in education.

“The aim is to handle a very difficult and historically weighty source in a sensitive way,” said a state education spokesman.

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The 1,000s of Germans Massacred after WWII

Germans fleeing from eastern Europe after the Second World War.

by DW

Seventy years ago on Friday, a munitions depot exploded in the Czechoslovakian town of Ústí nad Labem. For the thousands of Sudeten Germans who lived in the town, the event was a death sentence.

The explosion happened in the afternoon of July 31st, 1945. Around 27 people were killed, including seven Czechs.

World War II had ended just weeks before – and Czechoslovakia had begun to forcibly expel over two million Sudeten Germans who lived in the country.

So when the explosion happened, rumours quickly spread that the Germans were responsible.

What followed was a massacre.

All ethnic Germans had been forced to wear white armbands, making them easily recognizable – and on the day of the explosion, German men, women and children were mercilessly beaten and killed.

Some were shot dead. Others were thrown into the River Elbe and then shot at while they tried to swim to safety.

Part of the “fierce expulsion”

Those responsible for the massacre were Revolutionary Guards (a post-war Czech paramilitary group) alongside Soviet and Czech soldiers, as well as around 300 Czech civilians who had just arrived from Prague by train.

Mayor Josef Vondra tried to help the victims, as did many local Czechs. But the death toll continued to rise.

In the aftermath, the event was shrouded in controversy.

With an estimated 75,000 Czech citizens having been killed in forced labour camps under Nazi rule, Czech officials were unwilling to commemorate the Germans who lost their lives.

“This was a time of continental ruin,” explained James Mayfield from the Institute for Research of Expelled Germans, “and [with] no tribunals to prevent war crimes or local violence.

“Over 50 million had died in the war anyway,” Mayfield told The Local, “so the lives of 2,000 to 5,000 Germans at Ústí nad Labem were seen as largely insignificant.”

The massacre was part of something much wider, Mayfield said – and what happened in Ústí was “only one of many violent examples of what historians and German expellees call the wilde Vertreibungen (fierce expulsion) of Germans from countries such as Czechoslovakia.

According to Mayfield, local vigilantes ignored instructions from Allied powers to make the expulsions as “orderly, humane and non-violent as possible.”

Commemorating the victims

Ten years ago, former Czech foreign minister Cyril Svoboda unveiled a memorial plaque on the Aussiger Bridge over the River Elbe, where part of the massacre occurred.

“In memory of the victims of the violence of 31st July 1945,” it reads in Czech and German.

A decade on, the bridge is the scene of further remembrance.

Organized by the Association of German Citizens in the Czech Republic, a special ceremony took place this Friday to commemorate the victims of the massacre.

As in previous years, Sudeten German Association chairman Bernd Posselt travelled to Ústí for the service.

Yet the ceremony was particularly important this year, Posselt told the Local, as for the first time, Czech politicians would be in attendance.

The service began at 3:30pm and was attended by current Ústí mayor Věra Nechybová, as well as members of German minority groups in the town.

There was also a remembrance service in the street at 1pm, to commemorate those killed in the original explosion.

And at 6pm, a church in the town will hold a special mass for the victims.

Czech-German relations since the massacre

The massacre divided the two countries for decades – with ongoing controversy as to why exactly it occurred.

The Czech government have since claimed that they were unable to stop massacres such as the one in Ústí, Mayfield said.

However, he argued: “all historical evidence suggests that most locals, government officials, and particularly the communist party were widely aware of the massacres.”

“They either supported limited reprisals against the Germans, looked the other way, or even provided intelligence and names of German families.”

Since the German expulsion from Czechoslovakia, the Czech government has refused German calls for compensation for these refugees – several thousand of whom died in the expulsion.

But in 1997, the German-Czech Declaration was founded.

The agreement saw both sides state that they would “not allow past legal and political issues to be a burden” on the relationship between the two countries.

“The 1997 German-Czech Declaration paved the way for Germany and the Czech Republic to become present-day friends and partners, duty-bound to uphold human rights, freedom and democracy,” a spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry told The Local.

“Ethnic cleansing”

“Despite the many cases of massacres and forced dispossession, it would be inaccurate to describe the expulsion of the German minority of over 3,000,000 from Czechoslovakia as genocide or extermination,” said Mayfield.

“It was, instead, when combined with the expulsion of over 7,000,000 ethnic Germans from the rest of Eastern Europe, the largest and most organized ethnic cleansing in modern history.”

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