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German Rail Strike to Affect Berlin Anniversary Celebrations

  • Zlatica Hoke

Germany's capital is gearing up for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this weekend, but some people may not be able to make it to the celebrations because of a four-day strike by train drivers.

The work stoppage affects not only long-distance and regional rail services, but also the local networks.

The strike began with freight services on Wednesday, and added passenger trains on Thursday. The train drivers are demanding a 5 percent wage increase and a shorter work week.

Some people support the drivers, despite the inconvenience.

"I am a student and I have to go to Potsdam for my course, and now I've been waiting for two hours," said student Gloria Menner. "The trains do not run at all or are very irregular. Of course, this is very annoying, but I also understand why people are on strike."

Others say it's too much. The strike will hit Germany's capital at the time it is commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Key event leading to reunification

The breaching of the 28-year-old barrier on November 9, 1989, was a key event leading to German reunification the following year.

"It's unthinkable that the strike continues through the 25th anniversary (of the Berlin Wall falling) on Sunday. It is a special day and it is not the right time for the union to show off," said Georg Kempinskie of Halle. "There are a lot of opportunities to express their problems, but it shouldn't be at such an important time."

The union is accusing the train operator, Deutsche Bahn, of stonewalling in the negotiations, but railway officials say they have done their best to prevent the disruption of train services during the celebrations.

"We offered a compromise to the train drivers once again yesterday. We have learned with deep regret that the union has refused our conciliatory offer and called for a strike, which has become the longest ever in the history of Deutsche Bahn," said Achim Stauss, a Deutsche Bahn spokesperson.

"This strike is worrying, among other reasons because the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, for which we are expecting visitors from all around the world who are coming to celebrate," Stauss said.

Some Germans are not worried.

"Well, the consequences won't be earth-shattering. I had to cancel a trip with a friend to Hamburg, but I will go next week. And as for marking the fall of the Berlin Wall - it will still be well celebrated," said Bernd Kunkel, a traveler.

The strike also is hurting German industry, which sends one-fifth of its shipments by rail.

The scale of the problem has prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to call on both sides to negotiate with a mediator.

The strike is scheduled to end Monday morning.