Pope To Roll Through Germany in an Electric Car

Mercedes is building a hybrid Popemobile for Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit. That’s a departure from the usual—for every day getting around, His Holiness sticks to Italian makes.

Pope Benedict in a past trip to Germany (John_Brennan)
Pope Benedict in a past trip to Germany (John_Brennan)
Holger Holzer

For the first time the Pope will have electrically-powered wheels. Or at least partially. According to the German magazine Wirtschafts Woche, Mercedes is building a hybrid for Pope Benedict XVI's September 2011 state visit to his homeland.

The Popemobile will be based on the new generation SUV ML model that will also be available as a hybrid version to the common consumer. In his custom-made vehicle, the Pope will be shielded by bullet proof glass. The electric, armored four-wheel drive can go for up to 30 km before needing to be recharged, but a switch over to a petrol-powered engine is always possible.

Mercedes had built the first modern-day Popemobile for John Paul II, who, unlike his predecessors, felt it was important to be more accessible to his flock. However, a convertible was out of the question, so Mercedes came up with the glassed-covered sit-and-wave solution.

That vehicle had been based on an all-terrain Mercedes G class. Following an assassination attempt on the Pope in 1981 it became the vehicle he used for all his public appearances.

The car had a special gear that enabled it to be driven at very low, constant speeds. A raised seat covered by a bullet proof glass dome was mounted behind the driver and mother of pearl colored lacquer added that touch of elegance.

For many years, the papal Mercedes was taken on all the pope's foreign visits. But it was soon replaced. Today's Popemobile is no longer based on the G model, but on the more comfortable M class.

Despite the Vatican's history with Mercedes, the Pope is no poster boy for the German car maker. Other automobile manufactured have built Popemobiles for the Pontiff's trips abroad. There are some 60 of them in the world. Among the best known are those based on a Range Rover and a VW Touareg. But Ferrari has also gotten in on the game –though its vehicle didn't have the glass partition - and Cadillac built a Deville with an actual throne.

The cars may have been different, but the license plate was nearly always the same: SCV 1. The letters stand for ‘"Status Civitatis Vaticanae" (Vatican City State). Numero uno refers to the papal position as head of state.

Despite the grandeur of the Popemobiles, cars used for less momentous occasions are more run of the mill. And of Italian make. For audiences on St. Peter's Square, for example, the pontiff will often wave from a Fiat Campagnola. To get around Vatican City, there's the Lancia Thesis Jubileo, already used by John Paul II.

If what he was driving back in the day in Germany as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is any indication, His Holiness actually might have a soft spot for German cars after all. He was known to get around in a VW Golf.

Read the original article in German

Photo - John_Brennan

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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