German train drivers on Tuesday called a five-day strike in a bitter labour dispute set to mar travel for millions during 25th anniversary celebrations of the Berlin Wall's fall.
The GDL union said in a statement that it planned work stoppages to hit freight trains from 1400 GMT on Wednesday and passenger trains from 0100 GMT on Thursday, with both due to end at 0300 GMT on Monday.
It is the sixth bout of industrial action to target national rail operator Deutsche Bahn since September, and the company called it the most protracted labour dispute in its 20-year history.
The union has accused Deutsche Bahn of stonewalling in talks over workers' demands for a five-percent wage hike and a shorter working week of 37 hours.
Union leaders also want to represent other groups of employees within Deutsche Bahn such as conductors, catering staff, dispatchers, and not just drivers.
Management has rejected the demand, and the latest round of negotiations broke down Sunday.
"We want to and must act in the interests of our members," GDL chief Claus Weselsky said.
"This basic right is in danger and with it, the purpose of trade unions. We have received a wage decree and are now supposed to conduct hollow negotiations for train personnel and become a paper tiger. That is exactly what the employers want."
The company fired off its own outraged press release, calling the strike "pure bullying" that would affect millions of travellers and saying it was scrambling to put together an emergency rail schedule.
"While people in Germany are looking forward to celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall on November 9, GDL wants to paralyse public life in our country with the longest strike in the history of Deutsche Bahn," the company's head of personnel, Ulrich Weber, said in a statement.
He urged the union to call off the strike "immediately" and return to the negotiating table.
The company said it would attempt to maintain one-third of its scheduled trains and set up a hotline for affected travellers.
- 'Incomprehensible' -
Berlin's tourism agency also voiced fears of chaos during the Wall anniversary weekend, when hundreds of thousands are expected to descend on the German capital for concerts, rallies and commemorations.
"This is a selfish decision by a few at the expense of many," spokesman Bjoern Bisker said.
"Both the timing and the length of the strikes are incomprehensible."
The German bus federation said it would step up service during the strike, which will hit commuter lines in major cities as well as long-distance routes.
The magnitude of the work stoppages has been surprising in a country where warning strikes rarely last more than a day.
Berlin is working on legislation to stop small groups of employees from crippling large parts of the country's transport infrastructure, such as rail and air travel. A draft law is expected this month.
In addition to the rail strikes, travellers in Germany have also been hit recently by repeated walkouts by pilots working for airlines within the Lufthansa group.