Category Archives: News/Stories

German village votes to keep ‘Hitler bell’

by DW

Councilors in Herxheim am Berg in southwest Germany have voted to keep a controversial Nazi-era bell hanging at a local church. Some residents feared it could become a draw for far-right groups.

In a vote on Monday night, the local council in a small southwestern German village decided by 10 votes to 3 that a Nazi-era bell — complete with the inscription “Everything for the Fatherland – Adolf Hitler” — should continue to hang in the local church and be put back in use.

Councilors in Herxheim am Berg, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Heidelberg, said the bell, which also bears a swastika, should serve as a force for reconciliation and a memorial against violence and injustice.

The council rejected calls by some residents for the bell to be dismantled or put in a museum. They also turned down an offer by the local Protestant church to bear the cost of installing a new one.

Herxheim am Berg Mayor Georg Welker told reporters that it was better the bell remained in the church “than if it would hang in some museum where someone could stand in front of the bell at any time and take a selfie.”

Resident spoke out

The contentious bronze bell has been in the church since 1934, where it was used until recently. Its existence only became known when a former church organist, Sigrid Peters, complained about the inscription.

Following the council vote, Peters told DW she was deeply concerned about the signal the council was sending about Germany to the rest of the world.

She said she was deeply saddened “that this could happen, that they allow a bell dedicated to a murderer to hang in the church.”

For Peters, the council’s decision to keep and use the Nazi-era bell and the electoral success of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) aren’t a coincidence.

The Jakobskirche has stood in Herxheim am Berg for 1,000 years.

Put back to use

After Peters found out about the Nazi-era bell and informed local media last summer, the local authority ordered an outside assessment to help councilors decide its fate. Experts came to the conclusion that the bell should be classified as a memorial and either moved to a museum or kept in the church tower.

The council decided the bell will be put back into operation, and a commemorative plaque displayed in the church to point out its history.

Months before Monday’s decision, the church voted not to ring the bell any more, and would rely instead on its other two bells, which have no Nazi motif.

How to deal with Nazi past

The large bell sparked an intense debate about how Germany should deal with Nazi symbols. Many residents were concerned the bronze relic would ruin the church’s reputation, or that its existence would encourage neo-Nazi groups to congregate in the village.

Others complained that its removal would mean the town’s history would be covered up.

The dispute intensified when the town’s then mayor, Roland Becker, argued that not everything was bad during the Nazi era — comments that forced his resignation.

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Germany recorded record budget surplus of €36.6 billion last year

By The Local DE

Germany’s federal statistics authority on Friday revised down its reckoning of the country’s government budget surplus in 2017, but the overshoot remained at record levels.
Inflows into federal, state and municipal coffers outweighed spending by €36.6 billion in 2017, Destatis said in a statement.

That was smaller than the statisticians’ January estimate of €38.4 billion, but still the highest-ever surplus since German reunification in 1990.

The extra cash amounted to around 1.1 percent of Germany’s €3.26-trillion GDP last year.

In a separate release, Destatis confirmed that GDP grew 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017 and 2.2 percent over the whole year, the fastest rate since 2011.

Feeling flush, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and prospective junior partners the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have planned to loosen the purse strings over the coming four years – as long as SPD members approve their coalition deal in an internal referendum.

If Merkel is sworn in for a fourth time next month, higher spending on areas like healthcare and care for the elderly, infrastructure investment and contributions to the European Union budget could follow.

But with both parties committed to maintaining a balanced budget, slightly increased largesse from Berlin is unlikely to satisfy Germany’s partners abroad or international organisations like the International Monetary Fund.

They have called on Europe’s largest economy to reduce its massive trade surplus by spending more at home.

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German military short on tanks for NATO mission

By DW

The German military is under-equipped to take on its upcoming role as leader of NATO’s anti-Russian defense force, a leaked document shows. Opposition politicians say the defense minister is to blame.

The German military has secretly admitted that it can’t fulfill its promises to NATO, according to documents leaked to Die Welt newspaper on Thursday.

The Bundeswehr is due to take over leadership of NATO’s multinational Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the start of next year, but doesn’t have enough tanks, the Defense Ministry document said.

Specifically, the Bundeswehr’s ninth tank brigade in Münster only has nine operational Leopard 2 tanks — even though it promised to have 44 ready for the VJTF — and only three of the promised 14 Marder armored infantry vehicles.

The paper also revealed the reason for this shortfall: a lack of spare parts and the high cost and time needed to maintain the vehicles. It added that it was also lacking night-vision equipment, automatic grenade launchers, winter clothing and body armor.

The German air force is also struggling to cover its NATO duties, the document revealed. The Luftwaffe’s main forces, the Eurofighter and Tornado fighter jets and its CH-53 transport helicopters, are only available for use an average of four months a year — the rest of the time the aircraft are grounded for repairs and rearmament.

“The state for all part-time forces are similarly worrying,” Hans-Peter Bartels, parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, told Die Welt. Opposition politicians blamed Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen for allowing the military to deteriorate.

Von der Leyen should “ask herself what she’s been doing for the last legislative period,” Green party defense spokesman Tobias Lindner said in a statement.

“Apparently it is politically more opportune to constantly announce armament intentions and trend reversals, rather finally addressing the problems of spare parts and maintenance. Von der Leyen is fully and totally responsible for the current problems.”

Von der Leyen has been in the job since 2013.

More than just a money issue

Mark Galeotti, senior researcher and head of the Prague-based Center for European Security, said that “Germany’s various military woes” were no secret to the rest of NATO. “For a long time, Germany has under-spent dramatically, and, let’s be honest, wrapped itself in the mantle of its non-militarist foreign policy,” he told DW, before adding that it had long been clear that the country hadn’t been pulling its weight in the alliance.

According to the leaked document, the army would now be trying to cover its “capacity-relevant deficits out of the stocks of other units” — even though that would impact training and exercises elsewhere.

But Galeotti said that tanks present a particular technical challenge that could not necessarily be met just by throwing money at the problem.

“It’s not just about buying the actual chunks of hardware, it’s also about having precisely the spare parts, the technical infrastructure, the transporters, the refueling stations,” he said. “Tanks are surprisingly temperamental for these great armored beasts of war, which is why this deficit can’t quickly be made up, even if the money was available.”

Given Germany’s quasi-pacifist priorities (in NATO’s military mission in Afghanistan, Berlin had a reputation among allies for keeping its troops out of harm’s way), it is not surprising that the country should be cutting corners with tanks, Galeotti explained.

“Tanks are nothing but war-fighting instruments,” he said.

“A soldier in a jeep can be used in humanitarian deployments in Africa, can do all kinds of things. A tank is just a tank. And it’s that kind of outright military spending that is particularly where Germany has failed in the past two decades.”

The Luftwaffe doesn’t have as many Eurofighters as it would like.

The political trip-wire

NATO set up the VJTF, which includes 5,000 soldiers, in 2014 to ward off the threat of Russian military aggression against the alliance’s Baltic members. Living up to its name, it is supposed to be ready to fight within 24 hours, though the new documents show that France and Britain are currently the only major European powers with militaries capable of that kind of response.

But, as Galeotti said, the VJTF is more of a “political trip-wire” than a military force. “The point about this deployment is that it tells Russia: Yes, you might be sending your troops into Poland or Estonia, but you’re going to have to kill Germans, and other nationalities, the day you do that,” he said. “It’s a political commitment to the unity of NATO.”

For that reason, he argued, even though the tanks are important, the fact that the Bundeswehr will be sending fewer tanks than it would like to does not necessarily hobble the VJTF’s mission. “The Russians are not hell-bent on expansion or invasion. It’s not likely, certainly for the foreseeable future, that the Russians will want to tangle with NATO,” said Galeotti. “We must remember that European NATO, even without the Americans and the Canadians, has more ground troops than the Russians do.”

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Russia marks Stalingrad defeat of Nazis

75 years ago, the surrender of Nazi Germany’s Sixth Army marked the end of the Battle of Stalingrad. It was a major turning point in the war, which remains important for many Russians even today.

During World War II, Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht intended to conquer the industrial city of Stalingrad — named after then Soviet leader Joseph Stalin — before advancing onward to capture its intended goal: The Caucasus oil fields. Given the city’s name, both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin afforded great symbolic meaning to the Battle of Stalingrad that transcended its strategic importance.

Due to the very long supply routes, the German Sixth Army’s offensive on Stalingrad was risky from the outset. Led by General Friedrich Paulus, the attack commenced in mid-August 1942, roughly one year after Nazi Germany first invaded the Soviet Union.

Back then, Hitler had claimed: “The Russians are exhausted.” His assessment proved to be wildly inaccurate. Despite fierce resistance, the Wehrmacht did succeed in conquering most of Stalingrad by mid-November 1942. By this time, however, Soviet forces had launched a two-pronged attack to encircle the German troops. In late November, the Red Army had encircled Germany’s entire Sixth Army and elements of the 4th Panzer Army — together, almost 300,000 German soldiers. Hitler, in turn, demanded they hold their position. Similarly, Stalin told his forces in July “not to move an inch.”

Stubbornly, both parties held their positions. German forces were encircled. And soon, their situation began to deteriorate. Over the course of several weeks, Germany’s Luftwaffe attempted to provide necessary supplies. But this was not enough. With the advance of the Red Army, supplies began dwindling further. Then winter set in, with temperatures dropping as low as -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit). Consequently many German soldiers died, not from fighting, but from starvation and hypothermia. A German relief operation that, after many delays, arrived to try and break the encirclement, and failed.

General Friedrich Paulus surrendered, despite Hitler’s orders.
General Paulus disobeyed Hitler in final moment

Despite these dire circumstances, General Paulus obeyed Hitler’s order to “stand and fight,” rejecting a Soviet offer to surrender on January 8, 1943. On January 29, Paulus sent the following message to Hitler: “On the 10th anniversary of your assumption of power, the Sixth Army hails its ‘Fuhrer.’ The swastika flag is still flying above Stalingrad. May our battle be an example to the present and coming generations that they must never capitulate even in a hopeless situation, for then Germany will be victorious. Hail my Fuhrer!”

But when the Red Army stormed Paulus’ headquarters, located in a cellar beneath a department store on January 31st, he was captured alive. Paulus had also forbidden his officers to commit suicide to avoid capture so they would share the same fate as ordinary German soldiers. At this stage, the surrounded German troops had been split into two encircled camps, one in northern Stalingrad, the other in the south. By late January, troops in the southern half surrendered. On February 2, 1943, those in the north followed suit. Hitler was furious when he learned of the surrender.

This was the center of Stalingrad after the Germans surrendered.
A horrendous death toll

Over half a million Soviets died in the Battle of Stalingrad, among them numerous civilians.This was due to Stalin refusing to evacuate non-combatants throughout the conflict. More than 40,000 died in German air raids during the early days of the battle. Of the 75,000 civilians who remained in Stalingrad until the German surrender, many died of starvation and hypothermia. Between 150,000 and 250,000 Germans are estimated to have died in Stalingrad. Of the 100,000 Germans who were taken as Soviet prisoners of war, only about 6,000 returned to Germany up until 1956: Among them, General Friedrich Paulus.

For Germany’s Wehrmacht, Stalingrad was not the battle that exacted the highest death toll, nor did it carry the greatest strategic significance. But “the psychological impact of Stalingrad was immense and in that sense it played a decisive role in the war,” says Jochen Hellbeck, a historian at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA. “It took on this important meaning because both sides declared it to be crucial when the battle began.” Hellbeck has collated testimonies from German and Russian Stalingrad war veterans on his website “facing Stalingrad”. He says that after the Red Army emerged victorious in Stalingrad, it was keen to show the world it had “beaten the world’s best army.”

Stalingrad, which was renamed Volgograd in 1960, boasts many reminders of this bloody battle. The city’s Stalingrad museum is one of Russia’s most visited institutions. The legacy of Stalingrad is also evident in the Russian controversy surrounding the British comedy “The Death of Stalin.”

In Russia, Stalin has been held responsible for the death of millions of Soviet citizens, yet is also revered for defeating Nazi Germany. Russia’s Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, banned the comedy from being shown in the country’s cinemas, saying: “Many people […] will perceive the film as making a mockery of the Soviet past.” And, he added, it would be particularly distasteful to show the film one day before the annual ceremony to commemorate the Battle of Stalingrad on February 2.

German soldiers who survived were taken as prisoners of war.
Neither side ready for grand reconciliation gesture

So now, 75 years later, is there reconciliation between both sides? There are small gestures, certainly. Altogether, more than 700,000 soldiers and civilians died in the Battle of Stalingrad. To this day, corpses and mass graves are discovered during construction work in and around Volgograd. Thanks to the cooperation between the German War Graves Commission and Russian authorities, remains are transferred to official military cemeteries like the one at Rossoschka outside Volgograd. Here, German Wehrmacht soldiers and Red Army soldiers are buried in a single cemetery, albeit separated by a road.

There is still a long way to go before there will be any kind of gesture of reconciliation similar to the handshake between German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President François Mitterand in 1984 on the former battlefields of Verdun. Historian Jochen Hellbeck thinks that Germans and Russians are not yet ready for this step. He says Russians still have reservations and in Germany there is “no willingness and no feeling that corresponds to the feeling towards the western neighbors, the French, British or Americans.” Hellbeck believes that reconciliation requires both sides to accept each other’s way of remembering the past. “You cannot simply decide that both Germans and Russians must commemorate the Battle of Stalingrad as a senseless slaughter.” Because, he says, the battle certainly had great importance to the Soviet side. Still, he remains optimistic: “I hope that I will some day witness German and Russian leaders shaking hands over the graves of Stalingrad.”

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Is it illegal to call someone a Nazi?

Kenneth Branagh (right) as Henning von Treschkow in the movie ‘Valkyrie’.

By DW

An American dropped the word “Nazi” during a spat at Frankfurt Airport. Police say it was directed at them and are suing her for slander. But in a country with freedom of speech, how can this be legal?

An angry American traveler found herself plunged into German legal waters this month after allegedly calling federal police officers “Nazis” during a dispute at Frankfurt International Airport.

Police say the woman, a 49-year-old professor, became “unreasonable and irritated” when they told her she had too many liquids in her carry-on during a screening for explosives.

The issue of too many liquids morphed quickly — by her own account – into a tail-chasing argument over her deodorant: They insisted it must go; she claimed that made no sense since it was a solid.

It was approximately at this point that police allege she called them “f–ing bastards” and “f–ing German Nazi police.” But she says she never called the police “Nazis.” What they heard was her wondering why she caught flack instead of the “Nazi-looking dude” with a “Hitler’s youth haircut” in line behind her.

The result of the altercation: preliminary criminal proceedings against the woman on suspicion of slander, plus a $260-bill (€207) upfront for any subsequent legal expenses. Days later, her case got worse when she published an incendiary 4,000-word tirade about the incident in the Huffington Post.

Why it’s such a big deal

Nazi insults have a long history in postwar Germany, mainly in the form of comparisons to Hitler or Goebbels or references to the Gestapo and concentration camps. In 1947, Der Spiegel nicknamed the minister for denazification the “blond Hitler,” in a not-so-subtle reminder that he had been very friendly with the regime before it collapsed. Less than 20 years later, a West German paper compared East Germany to a concentration camp with its leader Walther Ulbricht as the overseer.

None of this, however, means these comparisons have ever been acceptable in Germany. As linguist Thorsten Eitz notes in a 2010 essay called “Loaded words,” each time this taboo is broken publicly, the media quickly reprimand the word choice “because it violates the consensus in German society about the singular nature of Nazi crimes.” Hence, it’s a disproportionate comparison.

The disproportion is even greater when it’s hurled at an individual, says Heidrun Kämper, an expert in cultural linguistics and terminology at the Institute for the German Language in Mannheim.

Calling someone a Nazi invokes “the entire spectrum of a totalitarian dictatorship, the belief in conforming to one reality,” Kämper tells DW. “It conjures up the oppression known under that type of state.”

And, of course, the word formation lends itself well, she says. Nazi. Two syllables like the crack of a whip, and much more biting than calling someone the word it’s derived from: “Nationalsozialist.”

Adolf Hitler’s totalitarian state glorified war and ‘Aryans.’ Millions of Jews and others deemed degenerate were murdered.
The line between slander and freedom of speech

Despite outcry over minimizing the horrors of the Third Reich by relativizing this word, cases still test the line between freedom of speech and slander.

In April 2017 two lawsuits – one against the AfD’s Alice Weidel and the other against Green politician Volker Beck – gave more leeway to satire and political freedom. In Weidel’s case, a Hamburg court threw out her cease-and-desist request against a show that had called her a “Nazi bitch,” since it was clearly satire.

Beck, on the other hand, lost a slander case in which a far-right politician called him Obergauleiter of hordes of members of the Nazi paramilitary SA. The nation’s top court reversed an earlier regional court ruling because the two politicians had been involved in a verbal sparring match. Thus, the words against Beck were considered polemical rather than slanderous.

But these cases involve politicians. German courts expect them to have a thicker skin. Less prominent citizens, on the other hand, have comparably more cause to take slander to court.

German law forbids any glorification of Adolf Hitler or Nazism, including the sale of ‘Mein Kampf’ or Nazi symbols.
It’s a big deal, but is it illegal?

Under paragraph 185 of the German penal code, slander is a criminal offense. Shouting “You old a–hole,” landed an impatient driver with a €1,600 fine in 2016; that same year a teen was ordered to do community service after flashing police with “ACAB” (“All cops are bastards”), which was tattooed on the inside of his lip.

Comparing people to Nazis, or to the Third Reich, is in a class of its own.

“If I say, you’re a moron, you’re an idiot, you’re a Nazi, there’s of course more to it than the insult ‘you’re dumb.’ Saying ‘Nazi’ implies unscrupulous acts and barbarism,” law professor Manfred Heinrich of Kiel University told DW.

As Heinrich emphasizes, Germany has outlawed the glorification of Nazism. But no law forbids calling someone a Nazi.

What is illegal is what German law refers to as “hurting someone’s honor” — in this sense, meaning somebody’s worth or hurting someone’s reputation through verbal abuse. Violating this principle constitutes slander.

Given the millions of lives lost under the Nazi regime either through systematic extermination or war, not to mention other unspeakable horrors committed in the name of Adolf Hitler, comparisons to the Third Reich are simply no ordinary insults.

“You could call it overly sensitive. But in Germany most people don’t want to be put into that category. Those were terrible things that happened and people don’t want to be compared to that.”

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Germany halts plans to upgrade Turkey’s Leopard tanks

By DW

Germany’s government agreed to push back the decision on upgrading German-built tanks used by the Turkish army, according to the magazine Spiegel. The freeze follows uproar over Turkey’s use of Leopard tanks in Syria.

German authorities decided to wait for the new government to take office before making any new moves on arms exports to Turkey, Spiegel magazine reported on Thursday.

The magazine quoted German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel as saying that the current caretaker cabinet — an alliance of the same parties currently negotiating on forming a new government — is “united” in the decision to wait for the end of talks on the next grand coalition, which is expected to take weeks.

The freeze comes amid a slew of criticism toward the government after images from northern Syria showed the Turkish army using German-made Leopard tanks in its anti-Kurd offensive.

“The government is very worried over the military conflict in northern Syria,” Gabriel told Spiegel. “When it comes to the current consultations on arms exports, the government thinks it is clear that we are not supposed to deliver arms to conflict areas and we will not do it.”

Turkey has bought hundreds of German-made Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 tanks.
No upgrades for tanks, yet

Specifically, the freeze affects German companies upgrading Leopard tanks used by Turkey and providing them with better protection against mines and IEDs. Berlin was reportedly very close to approving this specific proposal after Gabriel met with his Turkish colleague Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier this month, where both sides seemed eager for a thaw in relations. This meeting predated the Afrin offensive.

However, ties between Berlin and Ankara might again suffer after Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the Syria offensive last Saturday. Gabriel and his SPD party find themselves in an especially awkward position due to yesterday’s reports on record-breaking arms exports under the current cabinet. Before entering the grand coalition in 2013, Gabriel repeatedly pledged to rein in weapons sales.

Turkey wants Germany’s ‘solidarity’

While a German government spokesman confirmed the freeze on Thursday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Cavusoglu appeared to dismiss Gabriel’s comments from Istanbul.

“There is no such thing as suspending or canceling the tank upgrades,” he told the state run Anadolu agency.

At the same time, Cavusoglu admitted that a meeting of a commission on the tanks was postponed, and said that Turkey expected “solidarity” from Germany.

“While we fight terrorists, we expect support and solidarity from Germany. We expect them to not support terrorists, but I know they are also under pressure,” Cavusoglu said.

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‘No longer able to clarify fates’: 1.3 million Germans still missing after WWII

By The Local DE

Even today, nobody knows what happened to around 1.3 million Germans who went missing during the Second World War. The head of the organization that tries to find them admitted recently that their fates will never be cleared up.“We will no longer be able to clarify these fates,” said Thomas Huber, head of the Tracing Service which belongs to the German Red Cross, told the German Press Agency (DPA) in a report published on Tuesday.

The service has now agreed, after consultation with the Federal Interior Ministry that all attempts to trace the 1.3 million people whose fates have still not been cleared up will be discontinued at the end of 2032, Huber added.

Despite the fact that it is over 70 years since the end of the war, interest in knowing what happened to lost relatives is still high. According to Huber, the service received about 9,000 enquiries from grandchildren and children last year alone.

“For many relatives, this is still a black dot on the family map,” he said. In some instances, it’s as simple as a quick glance into files and the case is resolved. But other cases can last months.

Directly after the war, the German Tracing Service were searching for over 20 million people. By 1959 the large majority of these cases had been resolved, but there were still 2.5 million people whose fates had never been resolved. In total, some 300,000 missing children have been among the cases that were cleared up. In one success story that took place in 2010, two brothers were reunited after more than 60 years apart.

“Cases like that touch us,” said Huber.

Other tasks carried out by the Tracing Service include the international search for people connected to Germany in some way, including German citizens who are missing in disaster and conflict areas, as well as relatives of refugees living in Germany. The latter account for the majority of the approximate 1,200 search queries processed by the service in the first half of 2017.

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