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Sandcastles in Boracay

Gdański Festiwal Rzeźby z Piasku 2009 mnisineed a permit which costs per day (link) – or else police kick them down. Amusing to read from the land of alleged over-regulation called Germany. I wonder if a municipal ordnance of that kind (link) would even be legal over here. The goal of preserving the “natural symmetry of the beach” would fall under Landschaftsschutz or landscape protection over here in Germany, but I doubt if any judge here would accept measures that temporarily change the appearance of a landscape as relevant. Somewhat like advertising on a car is legal here as long as it can be driven away anytime.

Keeping things orderly

Thus, Giesinger Bräu, one of the newcomers in the Munich brewery scene, often has a small car parked on a road leading from the Goetheplatz underground station to the Oktoberfest – during the time of the Oktoberfest were many people can see. I don’t think it is a coincidence, but as long as the car is not violating any parking rules, nobody can do anything. Now the problem of Boracay seems to be people asking for money to have pictures of those sandcastles taken. Well, that might be a matter for the Ordnungsamt over hereYes, Ordnung means order. The Office of Order.

Mark Twain wrote that long German words sounded like parades with marching music included. The tune played can be a fine. Even the places on the sidewalk where pubs and restaurants are allowed to put chairs are delineated by fine white dots. Place the chairs outside the dots, color outside the dots so to speak, and the Ordnungsamt passes by and sees it – fine. You pay a fine. Get caught doing any kind of business you have no city hall permit for, even just selling cans of Coke to people in the park – fine. Pay one. Put up a stand in a flea market – pay the fee, they will collect it.

Levels of jurisdiction

These are not cops, although they can be accompanied by cops or call them if they think necessary.  Just municipal employees. They also check for the enforcement of the smoking ban in Bavaria. Imposed by a referendum since 2010 (link). Every German state has a slightly different rule here. The Federal Constitutional Court (like the Supreme Court) decided that the implementation of EU rules to protect the health of non-smokers is Ländersache – a state matter. Just like shop closing laws since 2006. In Bavaria shops must close by 8 p.m., in Berlin there I think are no limits.

The old Federal law from the 1950s, once meant to protect retail employees, was loosened gradually over 30 years. Used to be shops closed at 6:30 p.m. every day and 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Only on Sundays and on public holidays, shops still must remain closed in all states – something which is harder to change as it is in the Federal Constitution, brought in by conservative Christians who did not want Sunday to be commercialized. Social Democrats did not say no to a day of rest either. Youth protection laws (age for buying drinks etc.) are Federal. Noise protection laws are state-level.

So what can cities still decide, except what part of the sidewalk may have chairs on it in summer? For one thing, they can decide which parts of the city are to be free of prostitution – legal over here. But in Munich, the Sperrbezirksverordnung defines a Sperrbezirk (restricted area) which is most of the city (Verordnung means ordnance) of Munich, save commercial areas where there are almost no residences, schools or similar. Berlin I think has no Sperrbezirk. In conservative Munich, families and kids are kept away from “the trade” – whose legality in Germany is very controversial.

Flow of money

But where do the different levels – municipal, state and federal – get their funds do to their jobs? Aside from taxing brothels of course, which would be paying Gewerbesteuer or trade tax just like any store, gasoline station or car repair shop. Gewerbesteuer is a fixed percentage of income tax or Einkommenssteuer times a Hebesatz or multiplier. Municipalities that want to attract business will have lower multipliers than those like Munich which have high multipliers. Municipalities even get to keep 15% of all income tax, 42.5% of which goes to federal and state levels respectively.

This is an incentive of course to try to attract not only strong businesses but also good earners. There are people in Munich who complain that “the Social Democrats like to attract low wage earners because those are their voters”, but the incentive to attract professionals is still higher than in the Philippines with its Lina Law for informal settlers and its population-based Internal Revenue Allotment for Local Government Units. Meanwhile here in Munich, there are more that now write that housing for working-class people is getting too expensive. Success has its problems as well.

How about stores with branches – the usual model nowadays as the old Mom-and-Pop stores (Tante Emma Laden in German) are becoming less and less? What I have understood is that the likes of SM in the Philippines pay their taxes only in the place where the headquarters is. Since there is nothing like the Gewerbesteuer over there, it probably does not matter. Here in Germany, chain stores with branches in many municipalities have to divide their income taxes to provide the basis for the business tax to be paid in each municipality. The law for that is a bit complex (link).


Delegation and Subsidiarity

Sand castle in Kaunas, Lithuania - panoramiois defined as dealing with matters at the closest level possible to the citizen. Thus, no German has to go the the Federal Foreign Ministry to get a passport, or the Federal Interior Ministry to get a national ID. Both are applied for at city hall, even if the actual printing of both in done in Berlin. Driver’s licenses and car plates are applied for at the Straßenverkehrsamt or “Street Traffic Office” which is also municipal level – not at any Federal or State Transport Ministry. The rules of course are usually made at Federal level. Most significant databases are managed federally or at EU level.

Of course municipalities take care of their own matters as well such as water, garbage and drainage – or kindergartens and cemeteries. This is aside from the tasks delegated to them by the federal level (Auftragsaufgaben is the composite word for that, Hi Mark Twain) . Schools are also partly a responsibility of municipalities, but also a state-level responsibility – yes education policies are coordinated federally but each state has its own policies, ensuring healthy competition. Health centers and hospitals are also a mandatory municipal function. But here the next level may help.

In Bavaria these are the government districts (Regierungsbezirke) which pool resources of the municipalities in them and also get help from the state level for specialized clinics such as drug rehabilitation and psychiatric treatment. Specialized schools and academies may also be put up by the districts. Subsidiarity can mean that certain other matters can be delegated to district level. The district of Upper Bavaria, for example, takes care of air traffic and mining in its geographical area. Further north, the Cologne district makes the speed limits for the Autobahns within its own area.

Top-down and Bottom-up

This is all reminiscent of a large corporation where you will have global policies that are uniform over all location, national policies that take local conditions (including legal requirements) into account, and a few local specialties which will not be many in a typically well-run multinational. Usually this works because people tend to adapt. And of course in a corporation people want to earn their money. In nations you need the buy-in of people more than in a corporation, because they can of course vote governments out of power, or resist governments they dislike in many ways.

Top-down measures are based on command and control while bottom-up relies on community. Bohmte, a small town in Lower Saxony state, has gotten rid of all traffic signs (link). Of course, the first rule of the German Straßenverkehrsordnung (traffic law) still applies which roughly says (link) that all have to pay attention and give consideration. Plus the basic right of way rules. I guess this works on a small scale. The human mind and heart did evolve in small Stone Age communities. It might not work in Lower Saxony’s state capital Hannover, much less in Munich or in large Berlin.

Berlin still has “only” 3 and half million people. Metro Manila officially has 13 million people. The only megacity worldwide which seems somewhat orderly is Tokyo. Japanese style order of course. And sense of community in a very closed society. Metro Manila has many different income levels even if all are Filipino. Filipino style order never really worked. I remember how people im Metro Manila always muddled through on unwritten rules and it somehow worked. At a density of people where Central Europeans would not budge or even stampede. But I guess it can wear people down.


Agglomeration and Distribution

Ultimate Sand CastleCertainly smaller cities can be more livable. But why does Munich, which had only 1.2 million people around 20 years ago and now has around 1.4 million, not try to prevent further growth? An article about the New York Subway provides a clue (link): Cities create density, and density creates growth. Economists call the phenomenon agglomeration. Not only does geographical proximity reduce costs, but it also facilitates the exchange of knowledge and spurs innovation. But neither did the USA or Germany just have one central place where everything happened, like in Manila.

Distributed growth is also important. In fact Germany has rules for how richer states should help poorer ones. Bavaria was a donor state for the first time in 1989 after being a recipient for long. Leaving behind major areas of any country, just like leaving behind major groups of people there, is always a recipe for disaster. And different agglomerations competing is healthy. Thus you have Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Cologne as cities with a million people at least. Frankfurt might have a million population during the day when people come in to work, most of them via suburban train.

Finally you have the connections between major centers. Munich to Cologne, Munich to Berlin are just over four hours ride in a high-speed train nowadays. Net travel time just a bit higher than flying. Exchange of goods, ideas and people energizes all places. But this was built over centuries. Many German cities in the Middle Ages were free imperial cities (link) under the Emperor and not any local prince. Examples are Frankfurt and Hamburg. Others like Berlin, Munich, Hanover or Stuttgart were capitals of kingdoms. Others under major rulers like Cologne with its Archbishop.

Keeping energy flowing

Free imperial cities had more self-government and thus developed a more confident citizenry, used to earning their own money and managing their own affairs – Hamburg being a prime example. The port of course and centuries of trading with others honed a pragmatic form of cosmopolitanism. Others developed modern elites in the 19th century due to the ambitions of their ruling classes. Bavaria (link) and Prussia excelled in the war for talent during those days. Frankfurt and Cologne both benefited from their role in the middle of major trading routes and along major rivers.

Frankfurt’s momentum of course was helped along by its becoming the de facto hub of West Germany after the war. That and its being a major place for American military presence until the early 1990s made it attractive for international firms and made it more cosmopolitan than before. Cologne had the luck to be close to Bonn which was the provisional capital of West Germany – this included the airport the two cities share (link). Many factors made Munich move up after the war – my impression is that city and state worked together well, even under different political parties.

Getting priorities right

In fact it was the two major political parties that just brought out a plan for the future of Munich’s public transport system to connect underground and suburban lines better, connect growing areas and make capacity for the future. Making the pie bigger for everybody instead of quarreling over who gets a larger slice. This is what makes me more confident about here and less hopeful about the Philippines, where the pie was growing – but those who have the most were too “hungry” to wait. And now plan federal sand castles – without a true master plan, and without alternative solutions.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 13 January 2018

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