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Posts tagged with: Berlin

This blog will soon be 10 years old, and if you’re reading this you’re invited to the party

blog915 Back in 2005 I was coming towards the end of my term as President of JEF-Europe but I still had ideas. No one will ever invite me to speak at conferences again I thought, so I better try writing things instead. Some friends of mine in Swedish politics were blogging at that time and they inspired me. I thought I would have a go at writing about the European Union, British politics, and whatever else caught my imagination. The blog post that started the whole thing off is here, and my first serious post was about why passengers are so inept at boarding planes.

The odd thing is that back then – and even now as well – I still do not consider myself a writer. But after 1900 blog posts, and a total of 591000 words (enough to fill 5 books), and 11000 comments left by readers, this blog has somehow come to define who I am. While blogs like Nosemonkey and Fistful of Euros started before I did, and Kosmopolit and Julien Frisch shortly after me, I have nevertheless – through stubbornness and persistence – churned out more blog posts about European Union politics (and plenty of other things besides) in the last decade than any other individual. The rise of Twitter, and my intensive use of it (63000 tweets so far) from the autumn of 2008 onwards has proven to be a tremendous complement to the blog.

The blog has had a few successes over the years – it ranked high on Iain Dale’s old blog lists back in the early days, was the launch pad for the atheist bus campaign, became the place for the most intense debate about to pass the Commission entrance exams, and was one of the blogs at the start of BloggingPortal. Writing this blog has allowed me to meet hundreds of people in real life that I would never otherwise ever meet, play some sort of role in the political debate I would never otherwise have, and has remained my favoured place to express my thoughts. I was living in London when I started it, and it has accompanied me to Brussels, back to London, to Copenhagen and now to Berlin. It has been an ever present through whatever other tumult I have been facing in my life.

Anyway, to celebrate the first 10 years of the blog (the exact anniversary is 19th July 2015), you are invited to the 10 Year Anniversary on Saturday 18th July in Berlin. If you are reading this, consider yourself invited. There will be a barbecue (or blogbecue if you like) at Tempelhofer Feld grilling area on the Columbiadamm side from 1800 onwards. Food will be provided, but bring your own drinks. I’d simply ask you to confirm your attendance by e-mail, by DM on Twitter, or by commenting below, so I can have an idea of numbers.

Here’s to the next 10 years!

Why I am not going back to the UK to campaign in the EU referendum

9152848988_09518c389e_zDavid Cameron’s victory in the UK election presents me with a personal problem: he promises to hold an in-or-out of the EU referendum. If the UK leaves the EU I have a major headache – I live in Germany and I need freedom of movement within the EU more than I need anything else that a British passport currently confers me. What movement rights Brits would still have if the UK left cannot yet be known, but for sure it will not become easier. I will qualify for a German passport in 2019 – I will apply for that passport the very first day I am eligible for it. By my reckoning if Britain’s referendum is in 2017 then it will take 2 years to negotiate exit, so by 2019 I should be OK.

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Now Dresden-Wrocław trains are cancelled for good – third piece of bad news for PL-DE rail this winter alone

Following the end of the Berlin – Wrocław EC Wawel (early December 2014), Frankfurt(Oder) – Poznań RegionalExpress trains (end December 2014), we now have the news that Dresden – Wrocław RegionalExpress trains will cease at the end of February 2015. News of this cancellation can be found here in Polish (Google translated), and from the rail company here (Google translated). Currently it seems there are no plans to make things connect at Görlitz to allow passengers to change trains there – the Polish news story makes reference to passengers needing to take a bus instead. The reason given for the cancellation is inadequate funding on the Polish side.

This leaves Poland – Germany rail connections in a very sorry state indeed, and Wrocław now has no rail connection at all with Germany. The southern part of the Poland – Germany border is especially badly served.

Here is the map of rail connections between the two countries from the end of February 2015 (click to enlarge):

Continue Reading

My attention-seeking Blaze bicycle light

Photo taken with an iPhone 4S, no street lighting. That's how bright this thing is!

Photo taken with an iPhone 4S, no street lighting. That’s how bright this thing is!

As a person I seldom stand out, at least to look at – I am of medium height and medium build, my hair is plain and I choose my clothes precisely so as no-one remarks about them. If you passed me in the street your head would not turn, and I am fine with that. Even my bicycle, like many of the garments I own, is black.

Yet actually standing out when you’re a cyclist is handy. It should mean that motor vehicles and other cyclists, and even possibly pedestrians, should pay more attention to you, and so the chances of being involved in an accident ought to diminish.

That’s why I have been riding with a Blaze Laserlight on my bike all winter so far. This light projects a green bike image on the road in front of you, and added safety is the clear marketing pitch from the manufacturers. However the company that makes them is based in London, and I am cycling in Berlin – I am yet to see any other cyclist with anything similar here. The £125 (about €150) price for a cycle light might also put a fair few people off.

So what has my experience been so far? Continue Reading

The extraordinary ease of DriveNow, GPS-based car sharing


“Why would I need a Mini or a BMW for car share?” I wondered when I first saw DriveNow cars on the streets of Berlin when moving here 15 months ago. A bit of searching online led me to discover that DriveNow (like its competitor Car2Go) is a car share scheme with no fixed stations, and that it’s a joint venture between BMW and Sixt. Car2Go is run Daimler and uses Smart cars instead.

Cambio (I’d been a member in Belgium, and am now a member in Germany) and Zipcar (I’m a member in London) are systems where you pick up and return the car to the same spot. DriveNow and Car2Go allow you to pick up and drop off cars anywhere, allowing one-way trips to be made. Each car’s location is tracked by GPS, with a data connection.

I’ve never owned a car, but I have had a driving license for 15 years – being able to drive is something that’s useful to me, but that I do not do on an everyday, or even every-month, basis. I’d even been in Berlin almost 12 months before getting around to registering with DriveNow, and then I only did it as I’d been given a discount code to avoid the standard €29 one-off signing-on fee (that’s the only reason I went for them rather than Car2Go!) Signup is easy – fill in a form, and go along to one of a dozen or so offices across Berlin with your driving license, credit card, and passport, and to collect your DriveNow card.

Then comes the interesting bit – booking a car. Find a car in the DriveNow App, reserve it for free for 15 minutes, go and find it, and use the DriveNow card to open the doors. Type your PIN code into the on-board computer, and press the start button for the engine and away you go. Drive to your destination and park. Log out of the onboard computer, and lock the doors with the DriveNow card. Charge gets billed to your credit card. And that’s it. No messing, no hassle, and no keys to mess with or locate – everything is handled by the on-board computer on the BMW or Mini.

To give an example of where it really works. I was at a dinner with three friends. One could walk home, but the second had a heavy bag and the third was staying at a hotel with poor public transport connections. And the U7 U-Bahn line was out of action. So we walked 250m to a DriveNow car (a Mini Countryman – ugly thing, but hell, it works), drove through Mitte and on to Kreuzberg, with an interim stop, and the cost was €7 – or about half the price a taxi would have been for the same trip.

Yes, Cambio and Zipcar are cheaper, but they only really work if you are happy to go to and from the same place. If you want a car, now, anywhere in Berlin (or, for that matter, Hamburg, München, Köln, Düsseldorf, Wien or London (Islington, Hackney, Haringey)) then DriveNow can offer that, and you drive it yourself. And all possible thanks to GPS, mobile apps, and a smart card to open the doors. It’s actually genuinely impressive.

A rail postcard from Forst (Lausitz)


Dear Violeta*,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Raleigh Nightflight 8G Men 2013

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

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

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

Volksentscheid Tempelhofer Feld – what’s happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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