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Eurovision Song Contest 2010

Tomorrow will bring the Eurovision Song Contest final and with that Europe’s wackiest TV event of the year. 25 singers from 25 European countries will be competing for the title in Oslo. There were two semi-finals already, one on Tuesday and one on Thursday, which melted down the competition from 39 to 25.

Four countries (France, Germany, Spain and the UK) are always set to participate in the final because they provide the largest amount of funds for the event. The host (Norway this year) is also set. For Germany this is a good thing, because over the last few years we had dreadful performances.

This year’s participant for Germany is Lena Meyer-Landrut. I talked about her two months ago and dubbed her “Germany’s latest celebrity”. She has maintained that status since and her name has been all over the news ever since.

There has been so much talk about her in fact that I have the impression that many people are starting to get sick of it. And that at least some of the initial excitement and enthusiasm has made way to exhaustion of talk about her.

Still, she has plenty of fans and enthusiasts of course, and she is the best participant we’ve had for years, most people can agree on that. If she can win is an entirely different matter, but I think a place among the top 10 would be quite a success in itself, considering the last years anyways.

I’ll let you know how it went and who won on Sunday!

If you want to listen to the songs or read more about the competition, there is quite a lot of information on the Official Eurovision web page at www.eurovision.tv

Posted in Culture, News.


No more ashes… for now

no more ashes over Europe

In mid-April I briefly talked about the volcano eruption in Iceland which blocked air traffic not only in Germany but all over Europe for almost a week.

After the volcano produced more ashes over the past few weeks, resulting in more airport closures in Britain and Southern Europe, it has now been announced that the volcano has stopped spewing ashes for the time being. It merely ejects more steam which is not dangerous for airplanes and makes European air traffic ash-free once again.

Geophysicist Magnus Gudmundsson of Iceland University explained that it will, however, take at least a year to determine whether the volcano has really stopped for good.

The result of the volcano eruption: more than 100,000 cancelled flights and a combined number of 8 million passengers who were stuck at airports, some for several days.

If you plan to fly in or to Europe… go!!

Source: airliners.de

Posted in News, Travel.


Hurray, this blog is hosted climate neutrally

To be honest I’m not a huge fan of the entire go green wave that’s been going on over the past few years. I’m all for environmental protection, don’t get me wrong. I even think protecting natural habitats and discovering alternative energy sources is the major challenge of our time. Even more so for a heavily industrialized country like Germany.

What annoys me, though, are all those supposedly green products and services that are spawning all over the place – green air traffic, hybrid cars, food that is called organic but really is not… it all sounds nice but in most cases it’s more of a PR stunt than anything else.

And because green products are generally more expensive than those dirty regular products, buyers feel the extra money is going into making this planet a cleaner place. When what it really is, is shifting corporate responsibility unto the customers and ripping people off by making them feel good about themselves – more green in many cases also means more profit.

Supporting non-profit environmental organizations, living responsibly as an individual, and putting more pressure on politics to encourage sustainability, all do much more good in protecting the environment.

What got me started on this? When I registered the web space for this blog, I received an e-mail, encouraging me to put up the badge which you can see here. The entire company works climate neutrally, which means that CO2 emissions, produced by powering the servers for example, are balanced by investing in climate protection projects.

Makes more sense to me than a green label on a candle I buy. So here’s the badge, whatever good it may do.

Posted in News.


A different kind of Skytrain

Skytrain is a general term used for all kinds of elevated train systems around the world. Most of these train systems are replacements for the subway or the regular urban railways. And most of them were built on elevated tracks because the urban landscape below was already too crowded or because the soil was not suitable for subterranean construction.

Suspension line Wuppertal

Cars are suspended from the tracks as you can see here

Last year I went to see a different kind of skytrain in Wuppertal. Why it’s different? Because its cars don’t run on tracks like other trains do, but instead they are suspended. In other words, the wheels of the cars are above and not below. It’s easy to see what I mean if you look at the pictures.

Background

Construction of the suspended monorail-system, which is the technical term, began in the summer of 1898 and progressed quite rapidly. A first test drive took place the same year. In 1900 Kaiser Wilhelm II of the German Empire was one of the first official visitors to go for a ride on the suspension line. In 1901 transport was opened to the public.

The suspension line quickly became Wuppertal’s most prominent landmark and after 100 years, it is still the easiest and fastest way to get around in the city.

Suspension line Wuppertal

One of the fancy-looking cars...

One curious story connected to the suspension line, which people from Wuppertal like to tell, is that of the elephant ‘Tuffi’. In 1950 a circus was in town and for promotional purposes they let the young elephant ride in one of the cars. Half-way through the trip, however, Tuffi decided this wasn’t his favorite mode of transportation and jumped from the car down into the Wupper River below. Fortunately he wasn’t injured.

A much more tragic incident occured in 1999 when one of the cars crashed and fell, leaving 5 people dead and many injured. Prior to this accident the suspension line was praised as the safest transportation system in the world, with no fatality in its 90-year history. Considering the millions of travellers over the years, it is still incredibly safe, of course. Cause of the accident back then was a scrap piece of metal not removed after some construction work.

Suspension line Wuppertal

... and the same car leaving the station

Some figures

  • about 19,200 tons of steel were used for the supporting structure
  • the track is about 13 kilometers long
  • the average speed is 26 km/h
  • the average number of passengers on a weekday is 82,000
  • the average height of the tracks from the ground is 12 meters
  • there are 20 stations altogether

Visiting Wuppertal and riding the suspension line

The suspension line is part of the regular public transportation network in Wuppertal and tickets can be bought from machines at any of the stations. A one way ticket is about 2 Euros, a ticket for the whole day is 5 Euros. I recommend the day-ticket because you can get on and off as many times as you like. Group discounts are also available.

And don’t worry, there are usually a few tourists in each car, while the rest of the people is entirely unimpressed by the ride. What is generally a good idea is to start off at one end of the line and then simply enjoy the ride to the other end. On the way back you can then get off and visit some of the other sights if you like. There is a large zoo and a lot of interesting architecture for example.

You can find out more on what to do in this brochure (available in English): official Wuppertal city guide [pdf-file!]

Main source for this article and more information on the suspension line (also in English): www.schwebebahn.de

Posted in Travel.


NRW Election results and analysis

Quite a setback for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government! But first things first, here are the results for the elections in North Rhein-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, which took place yesterday (May 9, 2010):

election results NRW 2010

Although polls had predicted that the former state government of Christian Democrats (CDU) and Free Democrats (FDP) would not reach enough votes to remain in power, the loss in votes was quite devastating. You can see this if the results are compared to the 2005 elections:

election results compared
The real winners in terms of votes are the small parties. The Greens were able to double their result from about 6% in 2005 to 12% which now makes them the third largest party in the state parliament.

The new leftist party ‘Die Linke’ was also able to win considerable votes and will now for the first time enter North Rhein-Westphalia’s parliament. Free Democrats remained about the same.

The distribution of seats in the state parliament according to the parties will look like this:

Now what?
The only two realistic coalitions are either a grand coalition of the two large parties, SPD and CDU, or a coalition of SPD, Greens and ‘Die Linke’.

The former is problematic because since both parties have the same amount of seats, who will be the prime minister of the state? SPD’s Hannelore Kraft who has declared herself the winner of these elections or CDU’s former prime minister Jürgen Rüttgers? Or someone else?

The second coalition with ‘Die Linke’ is problematic because all other parties have so far refused to include them in any sort of government. Political views differ to much, so they say.

Major repercussions on the national level
The results of these elections also have far-reaching repercussions for national politics. The government of CDU and FDP no longer holds a majority in Germany’s upper house, the ‘Bundesrat’!

This means that even when the government passes a new law through the ‘Bundestag’, which is the lower house of parliament where they do have a majority, the other parties will be able to block that same law in the upper house later on.

As a prompt response, Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced to immediately stop all discussions about tax cuts, which were a major plan of the government before yesterday. Because the law wouldn’t pass anyways.

Other political decisions on a national level will need much stronger cooperation between the parties from now on for the very same reason. These are tough times ahead for Germany’s government.

Posted in News.


Today is election day

Coat of Arms North Rhine Westphalia

Elections are being held in Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), today. Latest polls show that the ruling coalition of conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and Free Democrats (FDP) is in danger and may not be re-elected again.

Because the same coalition makes up Germany’s government under Angela Merkel at the moment, this election is also seen as a response to their work so far.

You can read more here in this article:
Voting underway in crucial German state election

The results will be posted here later tonight (German only):
Statistics for the 2010 elections in North Rhine-Westphalia

Update May 25:
I wrote another article containing election results and a first analysis (click)

Posted in News.


Art in a gas holder

Most of today’s large museums in Germany are either located in buildings specifically designed to host exhibitions or in older buildings that have a particular tradition.

Gasometer Oberhausen

The Gasometer dominates the surrounding area (photo: AlterVista)

The Gasometer in Oberhausen has a very special tradition and is a quite unusual location for exhibitions – it is giant gas tank or gas holder, which was used to store gas produced by the industrial iron works all over the city.

It was constructed in the late 1920s and in use until 1988. Instead of demolishing it like many other old industrial objects, it was then modified in the early 90s to hold large-scale exhibitions. The gas holder is about 117 meters (380 feet) tall and has a diameter of 68 meters (220 feet), making it the largest structure of its kind in Europe.

Gasometer Oberhausen at night

The first exhibition was held in 1994 and new ones have started on a yearly basis. The most current one is called Out of this World – Wonders of the Solar System and features images and models of our solar system as well as the instruments used to observe solar objects. Highlight of the exhibition is a realistic model of the moon, measuring 25 meters (80 feet) in diameter, which floats in the room.

If you get a chance to visit the Gasometer, I highly recommend it.

Further links

Gasometer website: http://www.gasometer.de/en_GB/index.php

3D model of the structure: http://www.sight3d.com/index.php?type=sights&id=8

Posted in Travel.


What time is it in Germany?

All of central Europe is in one time zone, so when traveling to Germany from any neighboring country the time will be the same. If you’re making a phone call from somewhere further away, though, it’s always good to know what time it is so that you won’t ring your friends out of their sleep.

Here is a list you can use to easily figure out what the time in Germany is:

United Kingdom: add 1 hour (for example 2PM your time is 3PM in Germany)

United States Eastern Time: add 6 hours (for example 2PM your time is 8PM in Germany)
United States Central Time: add 7 hours
United States Mountain Time: add 8 hours
United States Pacific Time: add 9 hours

Australia Western Time: subtract 7 hours (for example 10PM your time is 3PM in Germany)
Australia Central Time: subtract 8 and a half hours
Australia Eastern Time: subtract 9 hours

New Zealand Standard Time: subtract 11 hours

I also pulled this useful map off of Wikipedia if you are in a time zone I haven’t listed:

Time zones of the world

And also watch out for Daylight Saving Time! Not all countries adjust their clocks that way, so there might be an additional one-hour difference.

Posted in Travel, Trivia.


Most popular websites in Germany

The Alexa Ranking is a well-known ranking mechanism, which sorts websites according to their popularity. Popularity in this case means the average of daily visitors as well as their page views.

"Don’t be evil" is Google’s unofficial motto. Google comes in first and second among Germany’s most popular sites. Hurray!

Anyways, I always thought it was really interesting to see which websites are popular at the time and in particular which ones people from different countries like to check out.

Of course many of the big names re-appear for a lot of the countries, but it’s the differences and peculiarities I would like to point out here.

.de is the TLD for websites from Germany by the way. I give you the top 10:

1. google.de
2. google.com
3. facebook.com
4. youtube.com
5. ebay.de
6. wikipedia.org
7. amazon.de
8. yahoo.com
9. spiegel.de
10. web.de

Not much of a surprise for the top websites here. What is different from English-speaking countries, though … click here to continue reading the full article…

Posted in Culture, Trivia.


Vulcano eruption in Iceland disrupts European air traffic

This is all over the news today and from what I’ve heard the largest closure of airports since 9-11. After a volcano eruption in Iceland early last morning, a massive cloud of ashes has been released into the atmosphere. It was blown southeast by the wind and is now floating over Europe.

The first eruption in Iceland on March 20th, 2010 (photo courtesy Boaworm)

This is what the ash cloud looked like over Bergen in Norway (photo courtesy Stiaand)

The ash cloud itself is non-toxic and not harmful to health in any way. It does, however, obstruct vision for airplane pilots and might interfere with the sensitive equipment, so many airports in Northern Europe were closed yesterday already.

Today most airports in Germany were closed entirely, leading to much chaos and frustration of the passengers. Right now, nobody can tell whether the ash cloud will disperse within hours or whether it might even take days before flights will start again. Passengers are recommended to contact the airlines directly for up-to-date information.

You’re also supposed to see the ash cloud in Germany in case the sky is otherwise clear, but since it’s quite cloudy here I can’t confirm that.

Interestingly, the volcano, which is called Eyjafjallajökull by the way, hasn’t erupted for almost 200 years. But now there was one eruption about four weeks ago and then this more massive one yesterday.

Update: Airports will remain closed until 2AM on Sunday, April 18

Posted in News, Travel.