Taunts, threats and a stern scolding — scenes that you’d expect from a classroom, but not so much from the leaders of Germany’s 16 states.
But that’s the situation officials found themselves in this week, trading ever-escalating barbs and issuing terse remarks as years of simmering resentments came to a head over setting a schedule for school summer vacations.
The bitter dispute pits northern and southern states against one another, with the south refusing to budge on rotating their block of summer vacation so that the north could have a change of pace.
Under Germany’s system of federalism, powers are divided between the federal government and the states, with the latter enjoying broad controls over police, regional planning, culture — and crucially — education.
“It’s unbelievable that some think that federalism exists for them to push through their own interests, rather than it being a give and take,” Berlin Mayor Michael Müller told German public radio Deutschlandfunk on Thursday.
Why are they fighting about vacation?
The fight began when the city-states of Berlin and Hamburg suggested changing up rules for school holidays for the period between 2025 and 2030, making it fairer for all.
The southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg balked at the idea. For years, they’ve enjoyed a special status of almost always having their six-week summer vacation fall between late July and early September.
The 14 states, however, agreed to rotate their summer holidays so that some years they begin earlier while others began later.
Coordinating the summer break between the states is crucial for ensuring that highways and hotels aren’t overwhelmed with a flood of German vacationers.
Read more: EU court bolsters vacation time rights
Bavaria: Don’t disturb our ‘biorhythm’
Bavaria’s state premier, Markus Söder, dismissed calls from other states to re-work the vacation schedule.
“We have our biorhythm for the summer holidays, and we’d like to keep it that way,” he told the daily Bild newspaper on Wednesday.
“We’ve always done it this way and it’s worked well,” he added.
On Sunday, Söder also pulled Bavaria out of a planned national education council that was supposed to try and better coordinate education systems between the states. Baden-Württemberg also followed suit.
‘Have fun sitting in traffic’
In response to the vacation and education dispute, Hamburg threatened to call off all cooperation between the states.
“This shot fired from Bavaria will backfire. Now every state can determine summer holidays on its own,” Hamburg’s state education minister Ties Rabe told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
“Have fun sitting in traffic on Bavaria’s highways,” he added.
Growing concerned and also fed-up with the war of words, German teachers’ union GEW strongly reprimanded state leaders for their behavior, reported the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland newspaper network.
“It’s like in the classroom — everyone can’t just do whatever they want,” union board member Ilka Hoffmann said.