Germany 135Whoa, could it be…? Yes! It is a Germany recap!!!  Gott im Himmel, der Wahnsinn!!!

Because my fall semester at UMD is done (and because our individual reports are due soon to the Initiative Fortbildung), I am finally going to finish recapping the Germany Parliamentary Tour.  If you’re new to the site, here is a link to the earlier installments, as well as some background about the tour.

On October 5, 2007, we visited the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), one of the pre-eminent think tanks in Germany.  Unfortunately, I accidentally threw away my notes in a fit of post-trip housecleaning.  Fortunately, Eileen Deegan, one of my fellow traveling mates (and DGI peers), was nice enough to let me borrow her notes so I could write this post.  I can’t thank her enough, as evidenced by the fact that I’m thanking her again here.

SWP Deputy Director Dr. Günther Maihold started off our visit by explaining the differences between American and German think tanks.  While American institutions operate independently of the government by accepting grants from private foundations, German institutions are funded by the government.   SWP receives €10 million annually from the Ministry of the Office of the Prime Minster. The theory there is that by receiving funding from the government, the think tanks are more independent from the interests of private donors.  In the U.S., this theory is reversed.

The primary function of SWP’s 50 researchers is to publish studies on foreign affairs.  Their reports are available to members of the Bundestag for six weeks before they are published.

Dr. Petra Galle, Deputy Head of Library and Information Services, next provided an overview of the institution’s library services and initiatives.  The library is only open to SWP’s staff and members of parliament.

One of the projects the library is involved with is World Affairs Online.  This database, which is the joint project with 13 other library and information services, is a bibliography of 700,000 articles from 1,000 foreign affairs publications.  Dr. Galle said that 26,000 citations are added annually, and that 20 percent of the citations link to full-text versions of the articles.

Another online initiative the SWP library is a partner in is Vascoda.  This resource is a specialized search engine linked to a number of scientific and scholarly catalogs, ranging from SWP to university libraries.  From Vascoda, users are able to download or order articles they come across in their search results.

Germany 136We then toured the SWP library with senior librarian Nele Morkel.  She told the group that the library employs eight full- or part-time staff.  Its collection includes between 60,000 and 70,000 monographs, including a large number of so-called “grey literature.”  The library also subscribes to 400 journals in print and online, and has access to LexisNexis and Factiva.  Researchers do not have direct access to these two databases, however.

Morkel said that she was “proud to say” that the library continues to purchase new books.  SWP’s management has never requested that the library cull its collection.  However, the library does not have a need to hold onto old journals.  It does have an interlibrary loan service.

The circulation process at the library still uses check-out cards.  Morkel said that they have yet to find an automation system that suits their needs.  She added that the continuing creation of electronic information has changed the way the library staff operates.


Deutscher Bundestag: World Directory of Parliamentary Libraries – Germany

Official name of the country: Bundesrepublik Deutschland(Federal Republic of Germany)Official language: DeutschOfficial name of Parliament: There are two legislative bodies, of which the elective German Bundestag is the supreme legislative authority. The component federal states, the Länder, participate through the Bundesrat in the legislation and administration of the Federation. The Bundesrat consists of members of the Land governments which appoint and recall them. Laws passed by the German Bundestag require the consent of the Bundesrat when matters affecting the federal states are concerned. In German constitutional law the German Bundestag and the Bundesrat constitute two separate constitutional bodies of their own.

Deutscher Bundestag: World Directory of Parliamentary Libraries – Germany

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Stasi archive

Germany 101If you have seen The Lives of Others, then this part of the tour may have a ring of familiarity to it. Our first visit of the day was to the archive of East Germany’s Ministry for State Security, known as Stasi. Our guide was Günther Bormann, the head of the Stasi Record Office Leitungsburo, who explained how the archive worked and how Stasi operated.

Founded in 1950, Stasi was charged with keeping tabs on all the people living in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). It compiled photos, audio and video tapes, and paper files about the country’s citizenry. To do so, Stasi worked with so-called unofficial collaborators, who agreed to spy on their colleagues, friends and even family in the name of loyalty to the GDR and the Communist Party.

In 1989, as the Eastern Bloc crumbled, a women’s civil rights group in Erfurt entered the Stasi office and said, “This building is occupied.” Without orders from the main office, officials did not know how to react and left the office. This scene was generally repeated at the 15 regional, 205 district and seven special offices around the country.

Sensing their time in power was over, senior Stasi officials sent word to the main office that they should destroy files about important officials and by the spies they had in Western Europe. The 100 shredders they employed to do so quickly burned out from the strain, leaving Stasi with no choice but to tear the files up by hand. In the three months from the start of shredding to the time the main office was taken over, 17,000 bags had been filled with ripped up files.

Germany 114After a new government took over and reunification began, it was decided to open the Stasi files so that the people of East Germany could find out what information had been collected about them.

If you are a former GDR citizen, you can fill out an application to view your file. Because the privacy of all citizens is protected by German law, the files need to be reviewed before they are released and redacted so that no information violates someone else’s rights. However, files and references to ex-Stasi officers or ex-collaborators are not protected. While only a collaborator’s code name will appear in a record, the full name can be requested.

Special rules apply to so-called persons of public interest, such as politicians. Bormann used Helmut Kohl as an example because the former chancellor had fought unsuccessfully to keep his file closed.

Reading the files revealed the subtle tactics Stasi used on citizens of the GDR. Bormann said that while the ministry had the legal ability to throw activists in jail, it was not politically savvy to do so. The less attention from the Western press they attracted, the better. Thus it was better to create minor disturbances to disrupt and frustration the opposition.

In one example, Stasi officers let the air out of the tires to a bicycle owned by a prominent activist, thus making her late for everything.

Another activist suffered through a more trying disturbance by the ministry. Stasi officials decided to cause he and his wife to get divorced within six months. Using the information they had collected, they introduced another man into the wife’s life. After a relationship between the two had been established, Stasi would leak it to the public and cause a scandal. The activist and his wife did in fact divorce, but once he read his file and learned what really happened, they remarried.

While learning what information Stasi had collected could potentially bring about closure to a painful part of one’s personal history, there are a couple of reasons why people may not want to view their files. One, they may not find anything all that interesting. Two, they may find that someone close to them was a collaborator.

Bormann was happy to report that the majority of people in the GDR were not collaborators. Most people that Stasi approached to become collaborators declined to do so. All told, there were 89,000 Stasi officers and 179,000 collaborators in a country of 17 million citizens.

Those that did work with Stasi did so over their own free will and, contrary to popular belief were not blackmailed into doing so. The ministry found that they could get more reliable information if they hadn’t coerced people into becoming collaborators. Even then, after a few years, the data provided by collaborators became unreliable due to the stress caused by being in such a position.

Germany 110Only between two and five percent of the files were completely destroyed, despite Stasi’s best efforts. Most of those files were from the spies in West Germany. After the bags of ripped paper were discovered, a group of 30 public servants in Nuremburg went about piecing them back together. In 10 years, they have reconstructed 300 files. Bormann said that a pilot digital-based reconstruction program has been launched, and he hopes that this will get through the remaining files faster.

Bormann said that while the archive could be considered a depressing thing, he feels that positive experiences can come out of it. “After a dictatorship, somehow you have to deal with the past.” He reported that in a survey of people who requested their files, 95% said they would recommend others to do it. Since the archive was opened to the public, they have processed 5,100,000 applications.

What happened to all the former Stasi officers after the GDR fell? Bormann said that because they had experience in getting people to do stuff they didn’t want to do, they all became insurance salesmen.

Federal Foreign Office Archives

If I haven’t reiterated recently how honored I am to be on this tour, here is as good as any a place to do so. The materials housed in the Federal Foreign Office Archives are available to be viewed and used by the German public. If you were a German citizen and wanted to look at a document here, you would submit a request and then the archivists would bring your request to the reading room. Our group had an opportunity to go into the archive itself, which most German citizens would not get a chance to do.

The building that houses the archive was a bank up until the reunification. After the bank closed, the building was redesigned to house the Federal Foreign Office. The archive was put into the three underground floors. A second building was built across the yard for the rest of the office.

Germany 065Our guide, Herbert Karbach, told us that what made this archive unique is that the archives of all the German government ministries are kept at the central Bundes Archiv. Because of the historical importance of the documents kept by the Foreign Office, it was important to have a separate archive for them.

The documents date back to the 1870s, when the German states first unified into a single state. Documents that predate unification can be found in the archives of the individual states. Karbach said that the collection is fairly complete because it suffered “not so very great losses” during the war.

The two important tasks of the archivists is to provide information to the ministry and to provide information to the public. Any file older than 30 years is open to the public. In the case of a file about individual people, it is available either 30 years after the death of the person in question or 110 years after birth if the date of death is not know. “Some people are rude enough to die without telling us,” Karbach joked.

Obviously, preserving the 25,000 meters of documents is of the utmost importance. The room is air conditioned to 16-17°C and 50% humidity. The archive boxes are made of a non-aging material (or so the company that produces them assures the archivists, Karbach added). Many documents have been scanned onto black and white microfiche. “It is not beautiful, but it is efficient,” he said.

They are also beginning to look into digital scanning, although Karbach pointed out that no one can guarantee that digital data produced today will be accessible in 20 years. The advantage is that digital scans can be in color, which is nice for the illuminated pages on older treaties.

Because of the nature of the archives, many of the documents are grouped by countries. If a country changes name, they do not re-catalog the older documents under the new name, so it’s important for the archivists to know a nation’s previous names. The original classification system was convoluted, so 20 years ago, they created a simpler number system. Fortunately, a vast collection of old log books used when Foreign Office workers checked out documents helped track down and classify all the documents.

Germany 073Karbach selected a number of documents from the archive, which he showed off with particular glee. Using gloves to protect the documents, he brought out a treaty between the U.S. and Prussia about the military status of immigrants. It featured an illuminated text as a front page and, as was the custom of the time, a seal attached to the bound document. Noting that other seals had containers made of silver, he said that in a sign of “Prussian frugality,” this particular seal was actually copper with silver paint on it.

He next showed a report by a Prussian envoy to Denmark. The envoy was invited to attend a performance by Sarah Bernhardt and afterwards went to a formal dinner with her. When asked to make a toast during dinner, he praised Bernhardt as “the Belle of France.” She then gave her own toast, in which she raised a glass to “the whole of France.” Prussia had recently taken over the Alsace-Lorraine region after the Franco-Prussian war, you see.

Karbach pointed out in the margins of the report notes written in pencil by Otto von Bismarck, which had been traced over in pen by a clerk later. The envoy had noted that the Danes had assured him that his toast had gone over well with everyone. Bismarck wrote, “Not me.”

Next, Karbach showed a copy of the Serbian response to the Austro-Hungarian empire’s ultimatum after the Archduke Ferdinand. The ultimatum was meant to be unfulfillable, and German Kaiser Wilhelm II had publicly offered support to Austria and Hungary. However, at the end of the Serbian response, he wrote “After this, I never would have ordered mobilization.”

He also pointed out a map that was present at a meeting between Germany and the Soviet Union before World War II that resulted in a non-aggression pact between the two countries and divvied up Poland after Germany invaded. The map was signed by the German foreign minister and by Joseph Stalin himself.

The history geek in me had an absolute blast visiting the archives, and obviously it was a tremendous honor to do so.


Germany 002I began yesterday by walking over to the Holocaust Memorial, which is next door to our hotel. The museum portion, which is underneath the memorial, was not open when I went there. Without the full context, I am assuming that the “entrance” to the memorial is on the right side, near the entrance to the museum. If you go through the photos I took, you can see that as you reach the center of the memorial, you are amongst the tallest of the stone monuments at the lowest point of the grounds, in the lowest point of Germany during World War II. As you come to the other end, as the monuments get smaller, trees are interspersed with the stones, representing new life after the destruction of war.

I’m hoping I read that right. I suppose it could work the other way, where you exit onto a strip mall featuring a tacky souvenir shop and a Dunkin Donuts, representing modernity taking over German life.

After this, I took a long walk around Berlin, going down Wilhelmstraße, across Leipzingerstraße going east, and up Friedrichstraße. (Don’t worry about knowing my route. It’s just that I’ll be damned if I’m going to write about a trip to Germany and not make use of the “ß.”) I found a Sparkasse ATM center, which had about 15 ATMs inside. I saw someone inside, so I pulled on the door and it wouldn’t open. I tried again, with the same result. I looked up and the guy inside mouthed the word “drücken.” In other words, “push.” I understand Germans can always spot the Americans.

Later, the tour group headed to the Bundestag. This time we went to the Marie-Elisabeth Lüders Building. This is the home to the library, the Parliamentary Archives, the Reference and Research Services, and the Press Documentation Division. The building is, both outside and inside, stark, sparse and imposing. Yet, and I may be biased when I say this, there is quite a bit of warmth went you enter the library. It is a round six-story structure inside the Lüders Building. There is plenty of room inside to spread out and study. It is sleek, yet inviting.

Germany 039

On the sixth floor of the library, you can fully see the blue neon art installation that lines the walls. It is by the Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci and it is called “Blue Ring.” The full quote spelled out in the piece is by Hannah Arendt: “Möglichkeit des Handelns unter Gleichen/Gleichheit ist denkbar als Möglichkeit des Handelns für die Freiheit.” (Liberty is conceivable as the possibility of action among equals/Equality is conceivable as the possibility of action for liberty.)

The tour of the library was sandwiched between presentations by representatives of the different divisions of the Library and Documentation Directorate (ID), part of Directorate I. The ID structure was outlined by the head of the directorate, Dr. Ines Mockenhaupt-Gordon, who said that the different directorates were recently reorganized by the higher ups in the Bundestag administration. While there were some confusing choices made, one upshot is that IT is in the same directorate as IT.

The head of the library, Ursula Freyschmidt, outlined the structure and function of the library. The staff is comprised of 85 members, and its collection includes 1.3 million volumes. The library has an annual budget of € 1.2 million, and I assume a good portion of that budget is spent on an increasing amount of electronic resources.

Freyschmidt said that the print collection includes fiction. The criteria for inclusion is simple: the author needs to have been recognized for one’s work with a major literary prize, or the author has to have written on political themes in one’s work.

The library’s intranet page includes a catalog that searches all of the library’s resources, rather than having separate databases for books and for electronic resources. Records for books cataloged before 1987 include an image of the original library cards. However, these titles cannot be searched by subject.

At this point, as I mentioned earlier, we went on the tour of the library. When we returned, Susanne Goldbecker, an information specialist, discussed the Subject and Speakers’ Indexes Division. This division catalogs and indexes all the plenary debates, bills, and all other publicly available parliamentary materials. They assign keywords based on the Parliamentary Thesaurus (PARTHES) to all the transcribed materials and compile them into the index that gives the division its name.

One of our tour members, Dr. Christine Wellems, the head of Hamburg’s Parliamentary Information Services, pointed out that the state parliaments use the keywords from PARTHES that are applicable to them. They add terms that are of particular importance (her example was terms related to beer production in Munich), and they omit terms that are not useful on a state level (such as foreign policy terms).

Goldbecker said that starting with the next electoral term, they will be publishing what she described as a “reduced” version of the print edition. Instead, the main focus will be on the electronic catalog, the Documentation and Information System for Parliamentary Materials (DIP). “Some favor this,” she said. “Some don’t.”

After a coffee break, Florian Merkel, another information specialist, presented on the Press Documentation Division. This division compiles information pertinent to the Bundestag from Germany’s 60 news sources. He said that on an average day, the 30 staff members add 800 articles to the Bundestag’s press archive. The articles are indexed using terms derived from the PARTHES.

The articles are either downloaded from electronic resources or clipped from newspapers and magazines and scanned into an electronic file. They used to do this with foreign news sources, but Merkel pointed out that the licensing fees became too expensive. Those sources are now tracked using Factiva.

The Press Documentation Division produces a daily “press folder” at 8:00a that includes the most important news items of the day. The review is grouped into three categories: news about the Bundestag, news about the political parties, and topical news. He stressed the importance of neutrality when compiling the news stories.

The division can set up subject-related searches whose results can be emailed to members of parliament or their staff. It also produces dossiers containing the best articles to sum up particular issues, such as the Sudan crisis or German environmental issues.

Finally, Dr. Doris Schawaller, head of Hotline W, presented on her division. Although Hotline W falls under Directorate W, Schwallaer was invited to speak by Ursula Freyschmidt because this division is the front line for research on behalf of the parliamentary members and their staff.

Hotline W is sort of like the Bundestag’s version of the Congressional Research Service. Schwaller described it is the place for parliamentary staff members to go to find specific information that they cannot find. While dossiers and information bulletins are compiled by the division, these are for internal use and not available to the public like CRS reports. However, there is a Research Services division that produces materials similar to CRS reports. Hotline W is the central register for these reports, even though Research Services is under a different directorate. This is a vestige from before the recent reorganization. (I have to admit this is a little confusing. I may do a little more research later to get clarify it.)

Schwaller said that Hotline W uses over 3000 national and international fee-based databases to do their research. The eight researchers in the division are specialists in searching these resources, which I’m sure is important when you consider how much you have to pay per search to do research in a lot of them. While they are all expert researchers, they are not specialists on any particular topic. They need to be generalists as each research question is fielded by the first person who answers the phone or reads the email. They do provide seminars on internet and database research to parliamentary staff members.

Germany 047After the presentations, we walked to the Jakob Kaiser building for lunch. The art piece in the main all is by Christiane Möbus. “Racing Eights” consists of four crew boats, painted black, red, yellow and blue. Christine Wellems explained that the colors represent the German political parties and the European Union. The boats, which represent the river Spree that flows by the Bundestag buildings, slowly rise to and lower from the ceiling. This representative of ebb and flow of political fortunes.

Now, this post represents half of what we did on Thursday. More, much more, so much more to follow.

Reichstag and driving tour

Reichstag entranceThe primary focus of the Parliamentary Tour’s first full day in Berlin was on the Reichstag. We started off our day with a hearty breakfast at the Käfer im Deutschen Bundestag, atop the Reichstag building. (There are four buildings that comprise of the Bundestag, but we focused only on the Reichstag building.)

The breakfast included a talk by Michael Cullen, an American architecture expert living in Berlin. He is notable for a number of reasons, but of particular note is the fact that he had the idea of letting Christo wrap the Reichstag in 1995. He had the idea in the 1970s, but it took 27 years for him, Christo, and the artist’s wife Jean-Claude to get permission for the project. As it turned out, the wrapping became a strong symbol for Berliners of the reunification.

After breakfast and a brief tour of the Berlin skyline viewed from atop the Reichstag, Cullen took us all on a bus tour of notable architecture in Berlin. Not surprisingly, the specter of the Nazi regime haunted a number of places that we saw. The Olympiastadion, for example, is where Jesse Owens triumphed in the 1936 Olympics, humiliating Hitler and his supposedly superior Aryan runners. The stadium is still in use as the home of the Bundesliga club Herta Berlin.

We also drove through the Wannsee lake district, where we saw the villa on Grossen Wannsee where Nazi officials held the Wannsee-Conferenz that hammered out the plans for the Final Solution.

We spent most of our time riding in our bus and driving past (sometimes slowly) the noted buildings. However, we did stop to spend time at one area: the Grunewald train station, where the Final Solution was put into action. Both sides of the railroad track at the station were lined with metal plates, each one representing a boxcar the Nazis used to transport Jews to the concentration camps. The plates listed the number of Jews on the car and the train’s ultimate destination.

The pictures I took don’t really capture the effect, but the plates are lined up for several yards on both sides of the track. Taken at once it is sad enough, but reading the numbers on each plate make it frightening.

Both sides of the memorialCullen said that he took Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam War Memorial, here and she described it as the most powerful memorial of the Holocaust that she had seen, and I agree. It’s moving.

On our way back to the Reichstag, we passed the Kaiser-Wilhelm- Gedächtniskirche, a church that was bombed during World War II. Instead of repairing it, it was kept in its bombed-out status to remember the destruction war causes.

Remember in the last post when I commented on how empty Berlin was in the morning? By the evening, the area around the Brandenburg Gate was flooded with people. Given today’s significance, that’s not surprising. But we did pretty much get the Reichstag to ourselves. While there were a lot of people in line to visit the dome atop the Reichstag (which has glorious views of Berlin), there were also a lot of people visiting the plenary chamber. Our group walked around the building to see the artwork that was installed after the building reopened in the 90s.

Cullen had earlier noted that the Reichstag was never used by Hitler during his reign because, after all, it was the burning of the Reichstag soon after he became chancellor that helped him consolidate his power. The parliament moved to another building after the fire.

When the Soviet Army moved into Berlin, they made a point of taking over the Reichstag building as a symbol of their triumphing over Hitler, who waged a brutal campaign against the Communists. The Russian soldiers scrawled graffiti all over the building’s walls. Sir Norman Foster, the British architect who redesigned the building, made a point of keeping the walls with the graffiti up.

Bernard Heisich art in the cafeteriaOur tour guide told us that as part of the project, a number of known artists representing West and East Germany, as well as the four Allied powers, were asked to provide artwork to the Reichstag. The pieces ranged from an LED display of notable parliamentary speeches created by American Jenny Holzer to a room whose walls are lined with archive boxes with the names of all the democratically elected members of Parliament by Christian Boltanski of France. (One archive box is painted black to represent the years of the Nazi regime.) I couldn’t get good pictures of these, but the pieces I could get shots of are in my Germany photoset on Flickr.

I had every intention of going back to the Brandenburg Gate for some of the festivities tonight, but my dislike of crowds has won out. Seriously, it’s really packed there right now. I’m hoping for fireworks, though, because I should be able to see them from my balcony.