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Germany

Departing GI's Leave German Host City With Huge Urban Planning Headache

The Pentagon plans to shutter its air base in Mannheim, Germany, meaning the property – which is significantly bigger than the city itself – will soon be on the market. The local government wants to incorporate the space, but fears it’ll end up in the han

Mannheim in the works (MichaelTK)
Mannheim in the works (MichaelTK)

MANNHEIM -- Taking pictures at the main gate is not allowed. A security measure to prevent images making it onto the Internet that might unwittingly reveal military secrets. That holds for the tower too, which just now has a Black Hawk helicopter flying past it. Only after we all put our iPhones away does the double-decker bus roll past the last anti-tank obstacle.

For Mayor Peter Kurz and the four dozen local politicians joining him, this tour of Coleman Barracks is a first. They have never been beyond the barbed wire fencing that surrounds the American military airbase – even though Coleman is entirely within Mannheim city limits.

Like all of America's foreign installations, Coleman – which used to be called the Hermann Göring Barracks, and functioned as a southwestern German base for Third Reich Air Force fighter planes – is considered extra-territorial and is therefore "off limits." And yes, even the mayor was forbidden to enter, with the local government shut off from the urban planning of the property.

That's now changing. The Pentagon has announced that by 2015 it wants all American troops out of Coleman. That means that new use must be found for eight different sites that together add up to 521 hectares. It's a mammoth task considering that the entire city is laid out on only 100 hectares. The property is so big, in fact, that the German Federal Agency for Real Estate, or BIMA, fears the land could prove difficult to market or put to profitable economic use.

The city is open to ideas

BIMA has good reason to chime in on the issue since it, rather than the Mannheim city authorities, will become the new owner of the buildings and surfaces when the army leaves. No doubt the Mannheim conversion will prove to be one of the largest and most difficult tasks that agency has faced.

The Mannheim city government is, however, deeply involved in the challenging task of finding a new purpose for much of the space. It's an unusual situation, in part because of just how much land is involved, but also because of how close the U.S. military base is the city center. The advantage of that proximity is that investors could be drawn by easy access to autobahns, the Rhine port and the freight station. But there are also dangers – mainly that of damaging the whole character of the city.

Many in Mannheim fear that the whole thing is going to turn out badly, which is why, when the news first broke two years ago that the U.S. army was clearing out, local government turned its attention urgently to planning. It hired a conversion expert, Konrad Hummel, who had experience not only in city development but also with involving local residents in the process.

On the Internet and in citizen forums, Hummel's team gathered 1,000 ideas ranging from solar parks, intergenerational settlements and model developments run on renewable energy, to a tree house hotel and a branch of the Guggenheim Museum. Municipal authorities are checking on the viability of staging big-ticket gardening shows. Another idea that has found favor is creating an upscale residential community that combines top tech with the very best in quality craftsmanship. Pop musician Xavier Naidoo is planning a TV and music production facility in one of the old barracks, with rehearsal areas, stages, photo and recording studios.

"What Cologne did for TV productions, we want to do for the live segment including music shows on TV," Naidoo said.

Difficult choices ahead

The planning euphoria, however, hangs by a slim thread -- because for plans to pan out, Mannheim first has to get its hands on the properties. And it can only do that if BIMA sells to it directly, without a generalized invitation to bid, and at a reasonable price. If, on the other hand, BIMA offers the properties on the open market, the city would stand no chance against big-money investors, according to Mayor Kurz. And if those investors should build the usual apartment and office buildings "the disappointment and outrage of citizens after so much participation in the conversion process would be considerable," he said.

BIMA is under no obligation to offer Mannheim any preferential treatment. Its task, after all, is to make money for the state, not get caught up in urban planning concerns. That means doing what it can to fetch the highest prices possible for the property. "Our job is not economic promotion," said BIMA's Mannheim project head, Michael Scharf.

Even if it fails to get its hands on Coleman, the city will still have the option of legally contesting whatever projects private investors propose for the space. But that costs time and money, says Konrad Hummel, who expects that difficult choices lie ahead – even in the best case scenario.

Just how difficult is starting to occur to some of the local government officials as the bus makes its way through the base. Many look daunted as they stare out the window. "We had no idea it was this huge," says a district councilor. Mannheim can't use this much space profitably just for its own needs, they agree. What's more, many of the buildings are in top condition – the Americans recently invested millions in modernizing them, and want to be paid partial compensation. "I couldn't justify demolishing them on moral and ecological grounds, either," said Mayor Kurz.

Johannes Walter, an honorary member of the planning team along on the tour, offered his own sober assessment of the situation. "At the end of the day, maybe investors will end up with the whole thing anyway, and we'll be left out in the rain," he said.

Read the original story in German

Photo – MichaelTK

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Economy

In Uganda, Having A "Rolex" Is About Not Going Hungry

Experts fear the higher food prices resulting from the conflict in Ukraine could jeopardize the health of many Ugandans. Take a look at this ritzy-named simple dish.

Zziwa Fred, a street vendor who runs two fast-food businesses in central Uganda, rolls a freshly prepared chapati known as a Rolex.

Nakisanze Segawa

WAKISO — Godfrey Kizito takes a break from his busy shoe repair shop every day so he can enjoy his favorite snack, a vegetable and egg omelet rolled in a freshly prepared chapati known as a Rolex. But for the past few weeks, this daily ritual has given him neither the satisfaction nor the sustenance he is used to consuming. Kizito says this much-needed staple has shrunk in size.

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Most streets and markets in Uganda have at least one vendor firing up a hot plate ready to cook the Rolex, short for rolled eggs — which usually comes with tomatoes, cabbage and onion and is priced anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 Ugandan shillings (28 to 57 cents). Street vendor Farouk Kiyaga says many of his customers share Kizito’s disappointment over the dwindling size of Uganda’s most popular street food, but Kiyaga is struggling with the rising cost of wheat and cooking oil.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has halted exports out of the two countries, which account for about 26% of wheat exports globally and about 80% of the world’s exports of sunflower oil, pushing prices to an all-time high, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a United Nations agency. Not only oil and wheat are affected. Prices of the most consumed foods worldwide, such as meat, grains and dairy products, hit their highest levels ever in March, making a nutritious meal even harder to buy for those who already struggle to feed themselves and their families. The U.N. organization warns the conflict could lead to as many as 13.1 million more people going hungry between 2022 and 2026.

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