A remarkable interview of Mr. Thomas Hermann, the Mayor of the Hannover City , Germany with “THE VOICE TIMES (TVT)”
Mashal Khan Takkar: First of all, thank you so much for your time, because you have a very tight schedule, but even then, you spared time for the interview.
- Mayor: My pleasure.
- Question: Most of Hannover’ s historic buildings, parks, and gardens were destroyed or severely damaged in World War II, but now it is known as the “garden city”. How did you do that? What is the magic behind it?
- Mayor: Yes, that is right. Hannover had of the most destroyed cities in Germany by 1945. But Hannover has always been a very green city for centuries. What we did in the time of reconstruction until the end of the 1950s, was to provide the facilities for the city planners to widen the public space to give more space to the population and to renew the whole infrastructure of the city, streets, public transport, schools and offices, buildings, housing and so on. So now we have an efficient system of traffic infrastructure, a lot of public green all over the city and a high standard of living. And now people have what they wanted: green areas in the city center and around, play grounds, more than 20,000 allotment gardens, Europe’s largest city wood, the Eilenriede, twice as large as the Central Park in New York. More than 90 percent of the population enjoys living in our city and is very satisfied with the living conditions. It is not magic but a lot of hard work and devotion is behind it.
- Question: What was your basic struggle for it?
- Mayor: After the Second World War people needed houses, space for accommodation and living. Before World War II Hannover had 430,000 inhabitants, in 1945 there were only 210,000. But people came back, the population grew up to more than half a million in the 1950s. We had to develop the city for this growing population. It was a very great challenge. In the 1990s, we prepared for the EXPO 2000, renewed the traffic infrastructure and public transport, intensified house-building and upgraded parts of the city center and several other parts of the city. In the last years, we discussed city development in a public dialogue how to live together in a social and peaceful way, how to learn, how to protect the environment, how to strengthen the economy, research and universities, how to develop our city sustainable and of course how to finance all the proposals and projects. “My Hannover 2030” is the result of this process, a master plan and guide for the administration, the politicians and the city society.
- Question: How has Hannover become an industrialized city?
- Mayor: The process of industrialization started in the second half of the 19th century. Hannover is localized at the crossing of the central traffic lines from north to south and west to east in the center of Europe and that promoted the rise of the city in total. Many factories in engine building or mechanical engineering came into being, e.g. the Continental tires factory and Hanomag, both companies developed from Hannover to become worldwide enterprises. Volkswagen started in 1966 with the production of the well-known “Bully-Bus”. The automotive industry is very strong in this area. Hannover also is a strong base for services like insurance. Health services were developed too much for the last 25 years which is the success of our medical growth.
- Question: Hannover is known as a “European talent pool”. What do you mean by that?
- Mayor: I think this had already begun nearly 300 years ago, when the last worldwide genius, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, lived in the city for 40 years. He was an inventor, engineer and researcher, philosopher and theologian, diplomat and very interested in foreign cultures, especially China. Today we would need more than 30 professors at university for his achievements. Actually, Hannover figures among Germany’s leading centers of scientific and academic activity with nearly 47.000 students and around 10,000 employees studying and working at its universities. Nine universities and higher-education institutes in Hannover (Leibniz University, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Hannover Medical School, University of Music, Drama and Media, University of Veterinary Medicine, Private University of Applied Sciences, Leibniz School of Business, GISMA Business School, Lower Saxonian Municipal University of Applied Administrative Sciences), as well as the Geo-Centre Hannover, the Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine, the Volkswagen Foundation, the Student Administration Hannover and the State Capital of Hannover have been actively involved in the Hannover Science Initiative. The objective behind the Hannover Science Initiative is to boost the attractiveness of Hannover as a center of academic and scientific activity and enhance the general conditions for students.
- Question: Located in the heart of Europe, what benefits does Hannover take from its location?
- Mayor: As I said before, Hannover is the crossing of the two traffic directions from north to south, from east to west and west to east. And this is a very perfect place for trade. Hannover is also a meeting place for international congresses and the world’s leading fairs at the largest fair ground in the world, including the fairs for computer technology industries, engine engineering, energy, carpets and agriculture machinery etc.
- Question: Nowadays terrorism is the big issue, what pragmatic steps have been taken by the Hannover administration to confront it.
- Mayor: It is a good question. Yes, we know about it. And we do a lot of things to keep the city safe and to make sure people can be feeling safe. We live in a very open society and this requires various bundles of safety precaution. I think the security in this city is on a high level overall. We are in very close contact and cooperation with the police and other security forces. With our partners, we also do a lot in strengthening prevention. But you cannot have 100 percent safety. For example: a few days after the IS terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 we had to cancel a football match in Hannover between Germany and the Netherlands because the security authorities got some hints that there was an attack planned in or around the stadium. Nothing happened, but it was a strange situation for everyone. Since that time, the conditions and authority order of security were intensified for big events in public. It is our job, together with the police and the security authorities, to show that we try to protect our people the best way we can.
- Question: After the Brexit, how do you see the future of the European Union?
- Mayor: Since the end of World War II, we had the longest peace period ever. In 2012, the EU got the Nobel Peace Prize for its activities in worldwide understanding, peaceful trading and peace missions in the name of the UN. That were signs of a strong and united Europe. It seems that in times of around 80 million refugees, national and right-wing movements in several European states would like to destroy this European mind to force nationalist thinking, egoism and racism. I think, this is the wrong way in international acting and understanding. The European people must work together and closer than before, not against each other. Europe and the European Union need very strong relations among its people and we also need more free trade in good conditions. We have to support our common currency, the Euro.
A few weeks ago, I was in Hannover’s twin city Bristol for a conference. We talked about the situation about the Brexit and referendum. Bristol was the city which voted 2/3 for remaining in the European Union. The Bristol region is a very important center of creativity in Britain, many young people are dependent on good international relations and exchange, free market conditions and so on. Many young people want to study in other countries, but they need European programs like Erasmus for their financial support. They would not get it in the future. I think the majority of voters in Britain did the wrong thing. Europe needs a strong UK inside a strong European Union.
- Question: What is your role in the international affairs?
- Mayor: Hannover is working in many international networks and associations in science, sustainability, city development and fair trade. We do a lot of international understanding with our twin cities in Bristol, Rouen, Perpignan, Blantyre, Poznan, Hiroshima and Leipzig and the worldwide association of the Mayors for Peace. On the other hand, at home, we are doing a lot for good accommodation and integration of the refugees. They need to have a good start in a new culture and in a new homeland. That applies to refugees and migrants from Afghanistan, too.
- Question: Afghanistan has been at war for the last 38 years imposed by the Pakistan and its allies, now some Afghan refugees are facing here the deportation, can you do something for them on the humanitarian basis?
- Mayor: I do not think that Afghanistan is a secure country and I think it is not good to deport the Afghans from here to Afghanistan. And, as I told you, we will help them as much as we can. On the other hand, the German government and German authorities have supported Afghan authorities in several ways for many years and will continue to do so in the future.
Mashal Khan Takkar: Thank you so much.