About Tobias Schwarz

German, turned 30 a while ago, balding slowly, hopefully with grace. A carnival junkie, who, after studies in business and politics in Mannheim, Paris, and London, is currently living in his hometown of Mainz, Germany, again. Became New Labourite during a research job at the House of Commons, but difficult to place in German party-political terms. Liberal in the true sense of the term.

His political writing is mostly on A Fistful of Euros and on facebook these days. Occasional Twitter user and songwriter. His personal blog is almost a diary. Even more links at about.me.

I saw the wall Mr Gorbachev tore down.

In October 1989, I was in Berlin for the first time. Small town boy, big city lights. We flew with Pan-Am back then. The airline also doesn’t exist anymore.

I caught about the last possible glimpse at the wall in its concrete dividing brutality, looking eastward from the visitor platform at the Brandenburg gate. The next time I experienced a similar feeling was in 2008, on the UN premises in Panmunjom, South Korea, looking north. And in 2012, in the Banksy gift shop, right next to the wall in Bethlehem.

West-Berlin was an oasis of calm before the storm. On October 18th, my mother, who hails from East Germany, my sister and I were having lunch at the famous Kaffee Kranzler on the Ku’Damm, at the time West Berlin’s main shopping street. I was facing a big info wall attached to a building across the street. When I read and told my mother that, according to news reports, Erich Honecker, the GDR’s head of state and chairman of the state council since 1971, had just been removed from power, she could hardly believe it. That was a common reaction to a lot of things happening in those days.

Just that afternoon we were doing a state-run bus tour of East Berlin. Some parts of the tour could still be executed according to the last four year plan. Forced currency exchange, Soviet war memorial, and Pergamon museum. Others not so much. There was not enough cake left for the Kaffee klatch at the state-run coffee house, not even for Western tourists paying in Dollars or Deutsche Mark. Too many former employees had already answered the call of freedom and had left the socialist workers’ and famers’ state for Hungary.

Decay and new hope were palpable with both hands in East Berlin that day, while nearby, the GDR’s top brass desperately hoped that replacing Erich Honecker with Egon Krenz would allow their regime to survive. On the way back to the West, our bus was searched for 45 minuts by the East German border control. At a border that would only exist for a couple more days.

In June 1990, I was in Berlin for the second time. One week before East Germany was to become part of the two Germany’s economic and currency union. This time, I walked through the Brandenburg Gate. On the way to Potsdam, border police didn’t even bother to check our passports anymore. A lot can happen in seven months.

These days, I’m in Berlin relatively often. Because what belonged together, grew together, eventually. Of course, there are still a number of things, biographies, opinions, that divide East and West Germany, particularly in Berlin. But it is no longer a wall. Not in the city, and not in the hearts.

To Europe! To Germany! To Berlin! Poor, sexy, but united. And to the hope, that, one day, families, friends, and lovers will no longer be separated anywhere by walls and borders on maps and in minds.

[ I originally posted this story in German on https://fallofthewall25.com/weltweit#Tobias+Schwarz where you can find more personal wall-stories from all over the world. // photo credit: Press foto / Visualisierung der LICHTGRENZE am Brandenburger Tor © Kulturprojekte Berlin_WHITEvoid / Christopher Bauder, Foto: Daniel Büche / http://www.berlin.de/mauerfall2014/presse/pressebilder ]

Updated: Reminder: Edward at the LSE tonight

For everyone of you, gentle readers, who’s in London tonight  – Edward will be speaking about “How Life In The Internet Changes The Practice Of Macroeconomics” at the LSE tonight. Here’s the details from the LSE website. If there’s a video of the talk, I’ll add it here, once it’s published.

Date: Monday 14 February 2011

Time: 6.30-8.15pm
Venue: Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building
Speaker: Edward Hugh
Chair: Professor Luis Garicano

Update: And here’s the video of Edward’s talk.

Are you interested in an afoe app?

Gentle readers,  as you are certainly aware, there have been a couple of technological advances since the first post was written by the fistful in September 2003. One of the most important of those has certainly been what is often called “the mobile web”. Since more and more people are consuming their news and reading blogs on mobile devices, I was wondering if there is a demand among you, gentle readers, to read this blog in the form of a native app for your favorite mobile operating system, or if you are still entirely ok with using the website or our RSS-feed.

So I created the following poll, which you can use to help decide that question.

[poll id="28"]

But as to so many things, there may be a backend to the first question. So, if you answered “yes” in the first poll, it would be great if you could also indicate if you’d be ready to chip in for the added development costs (developer program participation, etc…), or not. For that, I’ve created the following poll.

[poll id="29"]

Thanks for your help!

Germany has new Queen, needs new President.

Earlier today, German President Horst Köhler resigned, effective immediately (BBC coverage). His constitutional successor, and now German acting head of state is Social Democrat Jens Boehrnsen, who is the mayor of the state of Bremen and in this function speaker of the parliament’s upper chamber (Bundesrat). A new President will have to be elected by a special constitutional assembly, the Bundesversammlung, within 30 days. Despite Germany’s Presidency being largely ceremonial, and even though Mr Köhler was a generally popular President during his first term and reelected for a second five-year term in 2009, he recently came under attack for lacking a certain inspirational aura, and, worse for someone who was director of the IMF, lacking intellectual leadership in financially troubled times.

Mr Köhler’s resignation may not be sufficiently bad news to kill the national celebration following Lena Meyer-Landruth’s victory in the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest – and the World Cup is around the corner. But his claim that his resignation over an interview that he should not have given – he stated that an export-orientated country like Germany may need to deploy troops to protect its economic interests which unsurprisingly caused a lot of confusion given German history and the obvious unpopularity of military deployments – was “inevitable” because of the dignity of the office seems a bit hyperbolic and thus more as yet another display of what many people have begun to worry about: nine months after taking office, the German government is increasingly in disarray, both conceptually and electorally. In a recent poll, only three per cent of the Germans said they would vote for the junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats, which means they lost about 10% of the vote since last September.

Sure, this is only a snap shot, but it’s also a bit more – it’s fundamental disappointment about this government’s performance from day one on. The parties’ as well as the government’s competence in a number of important areas, notably economics, is challenged on a daily basis. Even members of Parliament are complaining publicly that they are supposed to simply sign off on economic legislation they don’t understand and that the government apparently isn’t able to explain. Imagine how the average voter must feel.

So maybe Mr Köhler’s resignation was a last act of leadership. The debate about who will succeed him will likely be a little different from the usual backroom coalition decisions about who will become President. It will likely become a rather public debate about leadership in difficult times. And that’s both good, and a problem, since the amount of people who may be up to the job and fit the political requirements is rather limited.

Off the top of my mind, I really can’t think of anyone but current finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. So let’s help Angela Merkel and make the contest a bit more exciting with a little short list of our own – who’s your best bet for “Germany’s next President”?

Tweeted and Facebooked.

To keep up with the fast changing world of social media, in addition to our recently added Twitter feed, A Fistful of Euros now also has page on facebook, which allows you, our gentle readers, to become an outspoken “fan” of afoe, and discover freshly published afoe posts right in your facebook activity feed. Have a look. Just click on the links in this post, or on the twitter or facebook icon in the sidebar.

afoe update tweets

Since Twitter has become a rather popular way to communicate, there’s a chance that some of you, gentle readers, are using it, too. So if you’ve grown tired of your good old RSS-reader and think that webpages are so 2004, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that you can now also follow all updates on A Fistful of Euros via twitter – the account is “@afoe_tw”. (http://twitter.com/afoe_tw)

Re:Publica Day 3

9:45:30 AM: Cool, it’s almost over and now the Wifi works #rp09

1:50:46 PM: Interesting talk about internet activism in the Middle East by an inspiring young woman – Esra’a Al Shafei of mideastyouth.com

1:54:44 PM: Esra’a Al Shafei the difference between digital activism in the East and in the West: here people are allowed to say what they want.

2:00:15 PM: Cory Doctorow paraphrased my diploma thesis of 2000 – so there was a way to turn it into a bestseller. Note to self: surfing is on the wave.

2:02:21 PM: Mary C. Joyce explained that online activism was a big thing for Obama, but it wasn’t what the election. The candidate was.

2:03:42 PM: That’s why it probably won’t matter that Angela Merkel has only about 6,000 supporters on her facebook profile…

2:05:16 PM: Later this afternoon, there will be an interesting discussion about an emerging European digital sphere.

2:05:30 PM: BTW, my twitter account is @almostadiary.

2:07:58 PM: But now: political blogs in Germany – and they put that in the agenda without any kind of question mark…

4:42:40 PM: The panel about the European blogosphere with Jon Worth and Jeremie Zimmermann was quite inspiring. Watch out for buses in Brussels.

Republica Day 2 – will there be WiFi? #rp09

10:35:40 AM: Didn’t get much out of the German Privacy Commissioner Peter Schaar’s talk except for “well, there’s more problems than ideas to solve them.

1:39:45 PM: Really liked Ralf Bendrath’s talk about emerging democratic structures in social networks with particular reference to facebook. #rp09

1:42:47 PM: The follow-up chat at the Privacy OS subconference was even better – intereresting technology from Kaiserslautern: “Hello world”

1:44:06 PM: Now it’s on to “growing up in the web” – Danah Boyd’s topic without Danah Boyd… let’s see.

2:36:36 PM: The Role of the State in the Digital Society… philosophy or criminology?

4:56:31 PM: Germany’s interior ministery wanted input from netizens but faced opposition due to lost trust that will be very difficult to rebuild. #rp09

6:10:15 PM: The problem is that people aren’t listening to Lawrence Lessig…

Re:Publica ’09 day 1

12:19:18 PM: I’m far too tired, but in Berlin, trying to cope with 140 character posts… let’s hope the WiFi coverage at the conference will get better.

3:21:56 PM: This seriously feels like 300bps. John Kelly of the Berkman center held an interesting talk about link structures in different blogospheres.

3:24:01 PM: He noted the prominence of neo-conservative bloggers in the Arab linksphere as well as the rise of a shiite theological blog cluster.

3:25:46 PM: Luckily he didn’t have much of an idea of the German blogs that he had mapped… that was taken care of in the following panel discussion.

3:27:32 PM: The usual suspects talked about the same things they have talked about since forever. In this case, shift ’09 didn’t happen.

3:29:17 PM: I asked penalist Stefan NIggemeier if he didn’t think it’s boring to keep having the same chat over and over, and he said, “in a way, yes”.

3:31:57 PM: The afternoon panel about “changing media” could have used at least one person with a bit of macro insight… like Thomas Knüver #rp09

3:34:49 PM: I learned about the A&R dropbox at EMI Australia’s theinsoundfromwayout.com at the presentation about hypem.com

3:36:07 PM: And in the end, I realised I may be too old for some things, 4chan for example.