The myth of the well-administered German city
I’m sure you might misunderstand this text, so let’s put it upfront: Leonberg (71229) is a charming little town in Baden-Württemberg. There are many other lovely little towns in the area, each having its own style, both in the old center and in the newer neighborhoods: Gerlingen and Rutesheim are only a few kilometers away.
But Leonberg, my town, is probably the most suited one in the area for families with kids. Counting the districts of Eltingen, Höfingen, Gebersheim and Warmbronn, there are 8 elementary schools in Leonberg (of which Schellingschule and Spitalschule are in the “old” Leonberg), the mixed-level August-Lämmle-Schule, two middle schools (of which Gerhart-Hauptmann-Realschule nearby), two high schools (Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium and Albert-Schweitzer-Gymnasium, both near Gerhart-Hauptmann-Realschule and Schellingschule), and then you have the Pestalozzischule, a vocational college, and possibly more (a music school, etc.). Oh, and did I mention the kindergartens? They are about 30 (unfortunately, some with religious affiliations: 8 are evangelical, and 4 catholic), of which I can vouch for the ones in Spitalhof and in Stadtpark (Kinderhaus Stadtpark and Martha-Johanna-Haus).
There seems to have been a spree of public investment in social buildings in the 70s and 80s, and I really like the architectural style of most of these schools. The love for “bare concrete” (beton brute), the Le Corbusier style, is simply impressive–and one can also see it in the swimming pool (Hallenbad Leonberg). Oh, and there is even a much more recent building that shares the same “retro-futuristic” style: the Triangel, a fabulous canteen made for the use of Albert-Schweitzer-Gymnasium, Gerhart-Hauptmann-Realschule, and Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium. There are also several Seniorenzetren, of which I know the Seniorenzentrum am Parksee and ASB Pflegezentrum Glemstalblick. Lots of social services too–Leonberg is a good place to live for the elderly as well. (There is also a hospital, and a helicopter station. The hospital was threatened with a closedown, but thanks to a huge citizens mobilization in 2014-2015, with “LEO Krankenhaus muss bleiben,” the hospital is still there.)
Dwelling-wise, beyond the old houses in Altstadt, and newer buildings around, there are entire streets of beautiful houses e.g. in the area between Reiterstadion, Seestraße, and Römerstraße (in the part with the Feuerwehr). From Blumensraße to Schleiermacherstraße, and the even southern from Römerstraße and east from Berliner Straße, lots and lots of interesting houses of different styles. Should you prefer the blocks of flats, they are less impressive in Leonberg (or rather in Eltingen); one can find a fabulous neighborhood of blocks of flats with lots of green space in Gerlingen, south of Feuerbacher Straße, from the Gerlingen Siedlung U6 tram stop to the corner of Bergheimer Weg with Jakob-Bleyer-Straße. (I know, I’ve already left my town, but since I mentioned Gerlingen, the U6 end stop in the old center is fabulous, just across the new public library; and then, once in Gerlingen, Schloss Solitude is not that far away…)
And the park: how many small towns have such a park as the one in Leonberg? But I guess it’s time to end with the good parts and express the critical aspects that made me write this blog post.
When someone comes from Central and Eastern Europe (or maybe Russia), and even from France or Italy, they expect to find in Germany an embodiment of what the myth said of Germans to be like; they expect to find Ordung und Disziplin, and an efficient administration. Does Germany live up to the old myth? I’m afraid it doesn’t, despite the fact that Baden-Württemberg is one of the richest Länder–only Bayern is richer, I guess (but Bayern is different, it even used to be a different country in the times of Prussia).
Since I came here, I was literally shocked to see that the town hall, or the city council, or whoever is responsible of the city development and regulation–most such services must be in either of Altes Rathaus am Marktplatz, or Neues Rathaus am Belforter Platz–doesn’t do what they’re supposed to do. Despite the town being reasonably clean and orderly, there are so many aspects that show a deficient city management, in ways that make you ask yourself: “am I really in Germany, or am I in Russia, Romania, Bulgaria?”
Let’s start with the small things. There is a small passageway in Martkplatz 17 that goes into Zwerchstraße, some 50 meters away from Altes Rathaus. Guess how is it looking for the last two years already? Like this (click to enlarge):
The approved period for such works has expired years ago. Then why isn’t anyone penalizing with a hefty fine the owner of this authorization? For Christ’s sake, the old town hall is 20 seconds away on foot! The passageway should have been left clean when the works ended… some 2 years ago.
That was a tiny issue, yet an exasperating one, showing the impotence of the so-called city hall. Let’s proceed to a public works episode that made me feel as if I were in Eastern Europe or Russia.
Starting July 2015, the sewage system had to be changed on Bahnhofstraße (the portion marked in red), then on Rutesheimer Straße (marked in yellow). The works were to be started at the beginning of July, but for 3 or 4 weeks the company in charge for the works didn’t do anything. When they finally started the works, it was like this: for about 2 days a week, a few workers were toiling, then nothing. The next week, the same style, but it was impossible to determine which will be the days when the construction company would actually send some workers. Just like in Eastern Europe, I’m certain that the company won in public procurement procedures too many contracts, well over its capacity of simultaneously carry out all of them. They consequently “intertwined” the works at different construction sites with a single team of workers! Once again, is this Germany, or Romania?!
That’s not all. If my memory serves me well, the works should have ended in January 2016, but they were postponed through April. I don’t remember all the details, but the work on Rutesheimer Straße was speedier than on Bahnhofstraße. And in the last months there were weeks when they really worked 5/7. Still, they weren’t on schedule, and giving that Rutesheimer Straße is the road to the hospital, forcing the ambulances to take detours because of careless planning is simply criminal! In all, it took about 10 months.
Interlude: see the large vacant lot in the picture above? I’ll get to it later. End of interlude.
So you’re now expecting me to say that the works are done and everything is fine. Well, not so fast. Three months after the end of the works, here’s what we can see at the angle of the two streets (click to enlarge):
In the images 1, 2, and 5, you can see unfinished works on the sidewalk, with thick cables emerging from a hole that’s barely covered with a wooden footbridge. How could the construction company get the money when the works are not finished? Who’s the idiot who signed a contract that doesn’t have a condition for, say, the last 25% of the sum to be paid only if everything is completed?! People in Central and Eastern Europe are criticizing their mayors when such things happen (and they happen all the time, all right), but here in Germany… umm… nothing?
The worst part is that the right traffic lane as you go on Rutesheimer Straße was left with a portion made impracticable by those signalizing posts that block the lane for absolutely no reason at all! The asphalting ended some three months ago, yet the morons left the street as you can see–and nobody moved a finger! Those posts are not illuminated at night (the law requires that!), although they were lighted during the works–but now the batteries are dead. During the last 2-3 months I noticed some of them tumbled by unsuspecting drivers: who’s going to pay for the damages? I hope that the drivers whose cars were affected are suing the Rathaus of whoever was supposed to to inspect the works when they ended and the contractor asked for the last payment. Also, whose task is to notice road obstacles that are not marked in accordance with the law? What the fuck is the Polizei doing in this town?
The sixth photo (taken in an evening) shows a small excavator parked in the isolated area. I thought they were going to fix the cable works on the opposite sidewalk, but no: the next day it was gone. What mockery was this?
Judging the passers-by too dumb to so something (anything!), I tried to move those signalizing posts on the sidewalk, so they wouldn’t block anymore the street when there’s no need for that. Unfortunately, they are too heavy, or rather their platforms are heavy and cannot be lifted by grabbing the pole.
But maybe the Oberbürgermeister is too busy building his dream. You see, this city of 47.500 inhabitants (of which 20% are foreigners) decided that the “old” Neues Rathaus, built in 1960 and used as Neues Rathaus (in addition to the Altes Rathaus) since 1973 is not good anymore, and that they want a modern, soulless “new” Neues Rathaus. The new building costs 12 million euros, and the sanitation costs raise the bar to 14-15 million euros. The entire urban planning for the area (I’ll get to this later) has a budget of 25 million euros! About 2.7 million euros are given by the federal Städtebauförderung des Bundes und der Länder, but for the rest… (I thought there is some sort of austerity in Germany, right?)
Now, they simply cheated in this brochure. Look at the last two pictures, where they complain that the existing building is kaputt, that it cannot be used anymore, because there is corrosion around the water and sewage pipes, there are fallen tiles, and so on. With all this whining, I thought they’re going to replace the old building with the new one, but guess what? The new building is an addition to the old one, and the two are connected! If this is not megalomania, I don’t know what it is.
It’s actually easy to notice that the tiles on the old building have already been replaced on a part of the building–at the left in the first two pictures:
An ironic fact: the street that goes by the Neues Rathaus is called Lindenstraße. In order to build the “new” Neues Rathaus, they killed about 40 linden trees! The third picture is taken by me on Feb. 26, 2015, after they cut all the trees:
Yeah. It was all legal: Rathaus-Neubau: Jetzt müssen die Bäume weichen.
According to Wikipedia, Herr Oberbürgermeister Bernhard Schuler was between 1987 to 1989 the head of the Environmental Protection Agency of the Zollernalbkreis, then until 1992 he worked in the central office of the Ministry of the Environment of Baden-Württemberg. Oh, the irony…
By the way, he was elected once in 1993, then a second time in 2001, for another 8-year term, then… a third time in 2009! The German democracy is a bit peculiar. Indeed, the term of office for a Mayor in Baden-Württemberg is generally eight years, no matter in most civilized (and even not-so-civilized) countries the term is generally of 4 or 5 years (6 years in France). It’s no wonder that the city management is so pathetic, as long as someone can be mayor for life, or for at least 24 years! And I thought Stalin, Brezhnev, Ceaușescu, Honecker, Mao, Kim Il-sung etc. were dictators! Here we can have a same person reigning over a city indefinitely. Why are people even going to vote if they always elect the same person? Generally, only the number of mandates of a President of a republic is limited in most countries, but a mayor can be elected indefinitely–a sort of a local monarch. A few countries (e.g. Romania) tried to limit a person’s right to be elected as mayor to two 4-year terms, but I don’t know if they actually passed such laws. Either way, people in Leonberg trusted this mayor for 24 years, but after only 2 years I already consider him unfit for the job. Well, at least he’s going to have this Versailles of a “new” Neues Rathaus…
Note that the above paragraph is not an ad hominem attack; it’s just a matter of principle. And this blog post lists only a few of the Mangeln I’ve notice in the management of this city. Should I really want to dig for such issues, I’m sure I’d find hundreds more. What I don’t understand is why the general public and the press are silent on such topics. Are they uninterested? Are they afraid? Afraid of what? To the extent of my knowledge, the Gestapo isn’t operating anymore in this country!
But I promised I’ll get back with an issue. In the brochure about the “new new city hall”…
…there is a portion marked “Ehemaliges Bausparkassen Areal”–no further explanation is given. I suppose that this area was cleared of what used to be there before (let me guess: some more trees and green space?) in order to build some Wohnungen, but then the project was canceled. Here’s how this area looks like today:
What the brochure doesn’t say: after the new city hall is ready in 2017, what’s going to happen to this area? Is a housing project eventually going to be developed? Is a new park going to be built? This is an open wound and an eyesore, and definitely not what one would expect from a town in Baden-Württemberg!
Or maybe it’ll suffer the fate of Stuttgart 21, the controversial project that started to be planned since 1994, it got a plan in 1996, and now, 20 years later, is nowhere near completion (the tunnels are at about 28%), and the budget of 6.5 billion euros almost tripled!
Moving forward, let me present you another public project whose management is not up to what a foreigner would expect from Germany: the Sauna im Hallenbad, opening on Sept. 18, 2016!
It’s a fucking small sauna attached to the municipal swimming pool, it’s not the Kosmodrom Baikonur! The idea of a sauna started in January 2013. By the end of the summer, and out of three different projects, a variant costing 1.5 million euros was selected. It was supposed to be ready for the Christmas 2013!
Everything seems to be a horror story in today’s Germany. Unlike the Berlin Brandenburg Airport though, this sauna is actually ready now. After several changes of project, in October 2014, the current version has been approved, for a cost of 2.7 million euros.
The construction started after the Easter 2015. So it took about 16 months to build this crap? I witnessed the works: most of the time nobody was doing anything! Once in a while, a couple of workers came and they seemed to be doing something. Two days a month at most. Yeah, this is Germany. Again, not Russia. Not Romania. Germany.
And the swimming pool with the new sauna is just across the street from… I’m sure you guessed: the Neues Rathaus! Bingo!
Looking from the Sauna im Hallenbad towards the Neues Rathaus, one cannot help but notice some weeds on the middle strip between the lanes (the first 2 pictures in the following sequence). Neglected, over-grown and uncared-for greenery can be seen in many other places of Leonberg, such as in near Römergalerie on Eltingerstraße (last 4 images):
This is all too common. I could wander around the town and literally take hundreds of similar pictures in different places. Tremendous city management. Is this mayor ever concerned about how “his” city looks like?
I decided to skip some other issues–I’m not going to write a PhD thesis on the city of Leonberg!–yet I’ll mention one of the many stupid things related to the traffic management.
You’re on Mühlstraße and you’re going towards the train station on the left sidewalk. Wrong choice! The sidewalk ends abruptly with a stripe meant to accommodate 4 or 5 parked cars. WTF? How are people supposed to continue their route, ad there’s no crossing zebra? In theory, they should go up the stairs marked with a green arrow and continue on Bahnhofstraße until they reach the official crossing:
Knowing that in Germany people normally don’t cross the street on the red light even when there’s no car on a 1 km radius, this street design is pure idiocy. Who really needed those parking places?
Maybe Leonberg is just fine. Maybe I’m expecting from people to show a minimum of intelligence, and people usually don’t have any trace of intelligence, common sense, or management skills.
Let’s try to find a lighter one. Pomeranzengarten is a very nice place in Leonberg–see here, here, and here. And it’s not just the garden itself, there’s also an adjacent park with a playing place for kids.
At two ends of this compound there are gates that are locked during the night. In the 1-bit logic that characterizes the management of most parks on planet Earth, there are two schedules. Here, the opening hours are as follows (sorry for the quality, it was taken at 9:21 PM):
So, through Sept. 30, the park closes at 10 PM, but all of a sudden, on Oct. 1, the gates close at 6 PM. The Sun decides, all of a sudden, to go to sleep… four hours earlier?! Even taking into account the DST, this is ridiculous. I suppose it’s rocket science to have 4 schedules instead of 2, and to change the closing hour in increments of 1-2 hours? (Note that in the morning the park opens at 8, no matter what, 365 days a year!)
OK, this is the city I’m living in. It has many more incongruities, but some of the readers might say “take it or leave it.” Let’s say I’ll take it the way it is–if everyone else is either happy with the situation or they simply don’t care, who am I to tell them they’re wrong? Over 80% of them are citizens of the Bundesrepublik, and I’m not!
Yet, as peaceful as this city is, I grew a bit concerned about public safety. The other day I was on the Stohrerstraße and, just across the church (the Katholische Kirche Sankt Johannes), an extremely noisy group of 6-7 Syrians of 20-24 years (yes, they looked like they were from Syria!) were… sorry for the term… barking in Arabic, and very loud at that. This city is full of dozens of nationalities, and normally there are no problems related to that, but this group was in a sort of an ecstatic state, they were aggressive, uncontrollable and extremely rude. I’m happy I wasn’t on their sidewalk!
You see, this is no Britain here. No street cameras. Nada. Not a single one. The police is invisible, apart from rare patrol cars. You even need to use an intercom to enter the Polizeirevier–what the heck, one can freely enter the Altes Rathaus in Marktplatz 9 (it hosts the following services: Ausländeramt, Bürgeramt, Ordnungsamt, Standesamt), yet the Polizei is afraid that people would take them by surprise and what, kill them, free the prisoners?! Technically, one can be robbed, mugged, raped or killed in front of the police station or on the opposite sidewalk, and there is no one to notice: no police officer in front of the building, and no CCTV camera!
Therefore, when a group of potentially dangerous rascals is approaching, what is one supposed to do? Pray to God?
I mentioned the Ordnungsamt, which is a sort of a community police (something that in France is called police municipale, as opposed to the “normal” police, called police nationale). I saw two cars of theirs three times in two years, and they had no beacon lights (in other countries they do have such lights, albeit only blue, not blue-red). I’m not sure what they’re supposed to do, they seem to be doing exactly nothing.
Knowing that the public order here is not assured preventively, but only post factum (“Hello, 110/112? Someone just killed Hans, come quickly!”), I’m a tad worried that my neighborhood is deteriorating. Since the bar Da Franco opened on April 22 in the premises of the former bar Fortuna, it become visited by the worst possible category of Italians–some very shady people, and coming from Southern Italy if we’re to judge by the accent. Now there is a rectangle with 3 sensitive spots I’ve marked on the following map, places where questionable people are hanging around most of the day:
Do you believe there’s anyone who cares about that? Of course there isn’t. The Landespolizei doesn’t care. The Ordnungsamt doesn’t care (see how close they are on the above map). Maybe I’m getting paranoid, but this used to be a very peaceful place and I don’t want it to change.
If you’re reading this as a non-German, I’d like to have your opinion regarding the issues mentioned above. Thank you.
NOTE: I was unfair with Eltingen. The area that was probably the core of the old Eltingen, which is around Carl-Schmincke-Straße (where you have the Stadtarchiv Leonberg), with the church and the Kirchengemeinde Leonberg-Eltingen on Kirchbachstraße, is fabulous. Going north on Poststraße up to Brennerstraße you’ll find on both sides cozy streets with nice houses. A great neighborhood with a kindergarten, an elementary school with a modern canteen, and plenty of tranquility.