Merkel challenger prepares for tough campaign

GlobalPost, October 19, 2012

BERLIN, Germany — When the collapse of Lehman Brothers threatened to set off a global depression in 2008, Peer Steinbrueck stood shoulder to shoulder with Chancellor Angela Merkel to steer his country through the financial crisis.

The economy performed remarkably well. Although its growth is slowing, Germany’s boom helped make Merkel hugely popular.

Now the former finance minister who was once her right-hand man has a new challenge: to unseat Merkel in an election next year.

Although he faces a tough campaign, he may have a shot. Even though the chancellor’s approval ratings remain high, the complexities of Germany’s political system mean there’s no guarantee she’ll be able to form a government in 2013.

A member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) who was granted his ministerial post as part of a grand coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Steinbrueck has since emerged as someone who can pose Merkel a serious threat.

Many Germans see him as a safe pair of hands and a very competent crisis manager who helped overcome the financial crisis by introducing a stimulus package and recapitalizing banks. Continue reading

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European companies squeeze US over death penalty

GlobalPost, October 9, 2012

BERLIN, Germany — Although theEuropean Union calls for the abolition of all capital punishment, several European companies have unwittingly become accomplices of executions by manufacturing drugs used in lethal injections in the United States.

Some are now seeking ways to prevent their products from being used to carry out the death penalty. The latest to join was Fresenius Kabi, a German firm based in the city of Bad Homburg, after the state of Missouri proposed using massive doses of its drug propofol.

It became the first state last May to stop using a three-drug cocktail in favor of the single drug propofol, which is widely used as a sedative and anesthetic.

The decision was prompted by the scarcity of other drugs used in executions, especially the sedative sodium thiopental.

That’s the first of the three drugs normally used in executions, to make prisoners unconscious before the lethal ones are administered.

Its only US manufacturer, Hospira, stopped making the drug earlier this year. Although it’s produced in many European countries, they moved to block the use of their products in American executions. Continue reading

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Germany’s Social Democrats close gap on Angela Merkel with new leader

The Guardian, October 3, 2012

Germany‘s opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPD), has closed the gap on Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s Christian Democrats following the selection of her former finance minister to lead their general election campaign next year.

Polls show that the choice of Peer Steinbrück as the SPD challenger last week has given the party a significant boost in its attempt to oust Merkel. The SPD is now enjoying its highest level of support in a year.

A Forsa survey shows that the SPD has gained three points from a week earlier to 29% after the selection of the feisty, plain-speaking 65-year-old. Merkel’s party dropped three points to 35%.

The combined support for the SPD and the party’s preferred partner, the Greens, is now 41%, marginally ahead of the 39% support for the ruling centre-right coalition.

The polls seem to vindicate the SPD’s choice of the man regarded as most capable of poaching centrist voters from Merkel’s party and its struggling coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP). Continue reading

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Far-right German group plans to show anti-Islamic film

The Guardian, September 16, 2012

A far-right Islamophobic group in Germany has said it wants to screen the anti-Islamic film that has sparked deadly protests across the Muslim world.

The Pro Deutschland Citizens’ Movement has already posted the trailer for Innocence of Muslims, which insults the prophet Muhammad, on its website. Now it says it wants to stage a screening of the film in Berlin.

“For us, it’s a question of art and freedom of expression,” Manfred Rouhs, the group’s head, told Der Spiegel magazine.

The authorities are determined to use whatever legal means at their disposal to prevent the move. “Such groups and organisations only want to provoke Germany’s Muslims,” the interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, told the magazine. He accused them of “recklessly pouring oil on the fire”. Continue reading

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German Cold War film ‘Barbara’ eyes Oscar

GlobalPost, September 26, 2012

BERLIN, Germany — It’s the height of the Cold War in 1980. The authorities punish a female doctor from Communist East Berlin for applying to leave the country by banishing her to a provincial town. Under constant surveillance by the Stasi secret police, she’s determined to escape and join her lover in the West — until she’s gradually drawn to a fellow doctor in the ramshackle country hospital in which she now works, where she also develops a sense of duty toward her patients.

The tensions in Christian Petzold’s film “Barbara” have captivated audiences here since it premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. It won the event’s Silver Bear prizes for best director and best actress and went on to win best film at the German Film Awards. Now it’s been selected as Germany’s submission for best foreign-language film to the American Academy Awards next spring.

The latest in a series of hit films to explore life in East Germany, it’s a strong choice.

Actress Nina Hoss, who’s starred in four previous Petzold films, plays the title’s eponymous protagonist with a restrained, nuanced performance. A glamorous Berliner, Barbara struggles to adjust to a lonely existence in her new home near the Baltic Coast. Quietly defiant, she’s subjected to regular humiliation, including full body cavity searches. She suspects everyone she encounters.

Rightly so: The local Stasi bigwig orders Andre, the hospital’s chief physician, to keep an eye on her. Despite the pair’s initial mistrust, however, their shared professional concern for two young patients prompts them to begin forming a bond. Continue reading

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An Ampel Mann: Alexander Scheer Profile

S Magazine, Issue 13

In the grand tradition of German metamorphosis, actor Alexander Scheer changes constantly, just as his beloved Berlin does. From playing a classical villain to being a rock god, from experimental theatre to international film festivals, from iron curtains to nonstop curtain calls.

The past is a foreign country, so the saying goes, and the past for German actor Alexander Scheer is hardly metaphorical terrain. “I was born in the East and when I was 14 there was a revolution and then suddenly I was in the West.”

The result, he says, was that “everything I had thought, everything I was used to, was suddenly turned upside down. It was wonderful.” Scheer’s story as an actor is thus the story also of his birthplace, Berlin. As a teenager growing up, he relished in the sudden anarchy and chaos that came with the fall of the Wall. Today, as one of the most successful stage actors of his generation, and with a burgeoning international film career, Scheer still lives in a state of perpetual flux, switching between genres and even art forms with a feverishness that masks the ease with which he does it. “Berlin is still constantly changing. You can’t ever say it’s a certain way. It’s just like me.”

Having started out doing underground theatre and modelling in the newly reunified city, Scheer, 35, had his breakout film role in the 1999 comedy Sonnenallee, before he embarked on a ten-year odyssey through Germany’s theatrical landscape, even as he returned repeatedly to his first love, cinema. His first big English-speaking televised role came in 2010, depicting the dangerous right-hand man to the international terrorist Carlos, in the eponymous five-hour thriller. He’s now to star in an experimental theatre production of Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler at Berlin’s legendary Volksbühne, while his latest shoot, slated for release in November, is a children’s fantasy film, in which he plays, of all things, Santa Claus. It’s an endearingly uncool part for Scheer, perhaps the most rock-n-roll of all German actors.

Read the full article here (PDF):

smag13 – alexanderscheer

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A leap worth taking: how Leipzig was saved from economic decline

The Guardian, September 16, 2012

In today’s eurozone crisis, it is little remarked upon that Germany has done financial bailouts before.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in Leipzig, one of the success stories of the former East Germany. Big companies such as Amazon and DHL, BMW and Porsche, have created thousands of jobs by moving operations to what is now an attractive business and cultural centre. New roads, rail links and a redeveloped airport have acted like magnets for investment. The population has increased by 10% to 530,000 over the past 10 years.

But Uwe Albrecht, the city’s deputy mayor, is under no illusions about who needs thanking for the sudden renaissance. “Without the financial boost from the transfers from the west, it would not have been possible,” he says, referring to approximately €1.3 tn (£1tn), which has flowed from west to east since reunification.

The enormous costs that the country has shouldered since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 have pushed many to the limits of their generosity. Richer regions are complaining about constantly having to fork out for poorer states via the federal system of equalisation payments, and Bavaria has even filed a complaint with the constitutional court.

Read More: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/16/leipzig-proves-value-bailouts-germany

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