Richard North, 13/08/2005  

According to a recent news report, a major political row has broken out in Germany which has the politicians of the länder at each other's throats.

This is nothing trivial, like going to war against France, but something really important. Germany's 16 land were all supposed to have enforced new rules designed to simplify spelling in their schools by 1 August. But, weeks after the deadline, the two largest, Bavaria and North-Rhine Westphalia, have broken ranks. Both conservative-ruled, they had decided to permit the old spellings as well.

Even worse, they are falling out in the towns of Ulm and Neu-Ulm, on opposite banks of the Danube and in different conservative-led states. They cannot agree how to spell the word "river," while "shipping" could have two "F"s in one town, but three in the other (Schiffahrt/Schifffahrt).

This is despite the new rules having been decades in the making. Unveiled in 1998, Germans have had seven years to get used to the changes. But a survey carried out at the beginning of August showed that two-thirds of Germans were still using the old spelling system and only one in five had made the full switch.

The issue has its serious side of course. Media commentators are saying that Germany's inability to sort out the issue illustrates a wider resistance to change which threatens to make the country a laughing stock. If Germans cannot agree on how to spell simple words, what then are the chances they will agree on measures to tackle complex economic and social problems?



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