German state-owned railway operator Deutsche Bahn will take legal action against a train drivers' union staging a four-day strike. As Joel Flynn reports, the action has paralysed passenger and freight transport across the country, and threatens celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
For a country that prides itself on efficiency, the bare platforms here in Berlin must be a peculiar sight for commuters. This was the beginning of four days of industrial action by train drivers - after failed negotiations with Deutsche Bahn. SOUNDBITE: (German) Deutsche Bahn Spokesman, Achim Stauss, SAYING: "It is with great regret and because of misunderstandings, that we have to acknowledge that the train drivers' union rejected an offer for reconciliation, and decided to call this, the longest strike in the history of the Deutsche Bahn." Drivers are demanding a shorter working week, and also higher pay. But commuters aren't happy. SOUNDBITE: Commuter, Theresa Proyer, saying (German): "I have the impression that all of Germany is being taken hostage for six percent more pay - I find that highly exaggerated." It's not just national operator Deutsche Bahn's 5.5 million passengers that are suffering - German industry is too. More than 620,000 tonnes of freight a day is carried by rail - nearly a fifth of all German shipments. Some are worried that carmakers, chemicals companies and steel producers could feel the fallout. Reuters reporter Erik Kirschbaum. SOUNDBITE: Reuters Reporter, Erik Kirschbaum, saying (English): "The strike is costing about 100 million euros a day right now, and a lot of Germans are losing their patience very quickly. They don't understand why a small union with just 20,000 members can stop, paralyse and cripple Europe's biggest economy the way it is." The striking union, GDL, only represents about 10 percent of Deutsche Bahn's 196,000 workers, but their actions are having disproportionate ramifications. German media reaction has been scathing - but other companies have expressed their support. The scale of the problem has prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to weigh in. SOUNDBITE: Reuters Reporter, Erik Kirschbaum, saying (English): "She's urged the parties to go back to the table with a mediator. It's very unusual for German politicians to get involved in strikes or labour disputes, but this time she got right into the middle of it. " This weekend the country celebrates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A quarter of a century after that historical watershed, Germany is facing one its toughest economic challenges. Politicians and commuters will hope strikes like this continue to be rare.