#99: Gas crisis, wasps, RBB scandal
Plus: a monkeypox update
Dear 20 Percent,
A lot of expats love to hate on German public broadcasting, especially the mandatory €18.36 monthly fee through which it it financed. For that money we get retrograde shows like Wetten Dass, schmalzy garbage like DasTraumschiff, an entire universe of bad or mediocre German TV, which you’re probably never going to watch except on those days when you feel guilty about not doing enough to practice your German.
Of course, this characterisation isn’t entirely fair. TV networks ARD and ZDF along with a family of public radio stations — Deutschlandfunk being my favourite — do plenty of good journalism and make documentaries on all kinds of important topics. Franco-German cooperation Arte is class, and even has some stuff in English. Still, in the age of streaming and the vastness of the internet, public broadcasters are under immense pressure to produce better, younger, more relevant content.
Against this backdrop, the scandal unfolding at RBB, Berlin and Brandenburg’s combined local public broadcaster, could have huge impact on public media’s future. At the end of June, serious allegations against RBB boss Patricia Schlesinger began to emerge: dodgy consultancy contracts involving the Digital Media House she was planning; a €100,000 consultant contract with trade fair operator Messe Berlin for her husband Gerhard Spörl, which she reportedly arranged through her connections; expensive private dinners at Schlesinger's flat that were charged to RBB. She denied the accusations.
But over the last few days more allegations were leaked to tabloid Bild and Business Insider: Schlesinger spent €650,000 on jazzing up her executive office suite, including €7,500 for a self-watering vertical garden. She used her AOL(!) account for sensitive work e-mails. What’s more: her husband used her RBB car with driver for his own private appointments. And Schlesinger got a five-figure bonus on top of her €303,000 salary.
None of this should comes as a surprise in post-Dieselgate, post-BER Germany. Numerous institutions are riddled with corruption in this country. Oversight is lax. Complacency is king. “German virtues” are largely a myth.
This scandal is only getting going. More dirt is coming, I’m sure, and it could end up inflicting irreparable damage to public media’s already flagging reputation among Germans. The far-right AfD, which has been licking its chops for years, will demand an end to the whole broadcasting system, which they say is corrupt and biased towards the left.
Nobody’s about to shut down the huge system, which receives €9 billion a year in fee revenue. But a massive overhaul is overdue, not just organisationally, but in terms of programming. Scrap the low-brow entertainment. Focus on journalism, documentaries and quality films. Why not allocate some of the funds to investigations by independent media? Time to innovate, Germany!
More news below!
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The Berlin corona stats for Tuesday, August 9
Received booster: 63% (62.9% Friday)
New cases in one day: 2,526 (2,134 Friday)
Total deaths: 4,727 (+5 over Friday)
🔴 7-day Covid-19 incidence (cases per 100,000): 295.5 (326 Friday)
🔴7-day hospitalization incidence (also per 100,000): 18.5 (18 Friday)
🟡 Covid-19 ICU patient occupancy: 6.2% (5.6% Friday)
Source: Berlin’s corona page
Solutions to the coming heating crisis?
Less than two months before “heating season” kicks off on October 1, Germany is still endlessly discussing ways to deal with the looming gas shortage and skyrocketing heating costs. Cost increases will come in the form of rising gas prices but also the government’s own new “gas levy” that will kick in for all gas consumers in October, allegedly to help stabilise gas prices, and could be as high as €1,190 per year for a four-person household. Yesterday, Lukas Siebenkotten, the head of the German tenants’ association, told Tagesspiegel that a third of Germans won’t be able to afford their heating bills this winter. Sibenkotten proposed relaxing the rules on who is eligible for Wohngeld, or housing benefit. The government has already decided to pay a lump-sum to Wohngeld recipients (€270 for single households) to help cover heating costs but Sibenkotten said families with net monthly income of up to €5,000 should be eligible for support, meaning nearly everyone. Another idea being floated by the SPD is protecting tenants who can’t pay their heating bills from eviction for 6 months but the Scholz government has yet to come up with a concrete plan. Meanwhile, in the UK, gas customers are organising a mass boycott in protest of rising gas prices. The clock is ticking.
Grunewald still burning
Fire officials have said the Avus/A115 highway will remain closed after smaller explosions were heard from the explosives dump that caught on fire early last Thursday. Small fires were also again discovered in the nearby forest Monday night. The site cooled to 60 degrees overnight from 140 degrees and, according to dpa, the highway could be re-opened if the site stays below 60 degrees. Train traffic resumed over the weekend.
Berlin continues to be the centrepoint of the monkeypox (aka MPX virus) outbreak in Germany. Currently, 1,461 cases out of around 3,000 in Germany have been reported to the Berlin health department. The vast majority of cases were men, though a small but rising number of women as well as the first child have been infected. Alfonso Pantisano, head of LSVD (Germany’s Lesbian and Gay Association) said the Berlin Senat needed to act quicker to halt the spread of the disease: “In the queer community, the vaccination campaign is perceived as too hesitant,” he told taz. He said bureaucratic confusion and disagreements between various health organisations has led to a shortage in MPX vaccinations. Officially, 4,500 Berliners have received the jab, but here it appears officials were e-mailing Excel files around as if the corona pandemic had never happened, not always the best way to ensure tidy data collection. Berlin has an English monkeypox page with info on the disease, who is at risk, and how to get vaccinated (though currently, no or few appointments are available, due to the shortage).
Resurrection of the U12
To deal with construction work at U-Bahnhof Gleisdreieck, public transit authority BVG said it would bring back the U12, used during previous works projects. The construction at Gleisdreieck will begin Aug. 15 and last until Nov. 6. During that time, the U2 will only run from Pankow to Gleisdreieck and the U1 won’t run at all. Instead, the U12 will run from Warschauer Straße through Gleisdreieck and then on to Ruhleben. It sounds like U12 but it’s actually an amalgamation of the U1 and U2!
EU cash for radiation sickness drug
Berlin pharma start-up Myelo Therapeutics will receive €17 million from the European Union’s new defense fund over a period of four years, reports the Tagesspiegel. The cash will be used to to advance the development of a drug to combat radiation sickness to market maturity. Read: pills to be swallowed in the event of a nuclear strike. Myelo employs 12 people at its facility in Mitte. The €8 billion EU defence fund was launched earlier this year in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine; €49 million is earmarked to develop treatments for symptoms of nuclear, chemical and biological attacks.
It’s August. You’re at the beergarten. A wasp lands in your glass, then another, and another. What to do? Achtung: The lives of wasps are protected under German law. Deliberately disturbing, capturing, injuring or killing them without reasonable cause can result in a €5,000 to €50,000 fine. This being Germany, there’s a loophole: Those allergic to wasp stings can kill them if they feel they are in danger. Thanks, Kemal Ogün Işık, for the tip!