Mark Espiner : A Date with the Überhangsmann

British journalist Mark Espiner on how he experienced the German elections as a newcomer to Berlin.

By Mark Espiner
Mark Espiner.Foto: Thilo Rückeis

It was being called the most boring election campaign. But with my new enthusiasm at becoming a Berliner (albeit a non-voting one) and having quitted London for this city only a month ago, I refused to believe it. “Super election year” surely had to be exciting. There would be sparky TV debating duels, I thought, scandals, perhaps, and hostile rhetoric. But as I cycled around Berlin looking at the election posters to get a feel for the political mood I had the growing sense that it was, indeed, the most boring campaign.

On one poster two grey chaps spoke through fixed grins to declare “Germany can do more”. More what exactly? The CDU slogan wasn’t much better. “We have the power”, it said. Was this an arrogant boast or the realisation that it might not have it for much longer? Either way it sounded more like an advertising slogan for toilet cleaner than an inspiring Obama-like call for change.

Then, at a crossroads, I saw Die Linke’s stab at popularity. “Riches for all” the socialist and former communist party insisted on one side, but by the time I’d crossed the road it had modified its position to “tax the rich”. Did that mean they wanted us to be rich, but then fiendishly taxed and so, er, poor again?

The only way to solve this get-rich-and-be-heavily-taxed puzzle, I thought, was to go to a Die Linke rally and hear what they had to say. Packed into Alexanderplatz, a flag-waving crowd cheered a little chubby bald man. Passionately he shouted, “More politicians on the streets”. I must say, I had to admire this guy’s daring job-creation policy for his colleagues. In the UK the cry would more likely be “more police on the streets”.

But I admired this public engagement. Out there in the streets, the politicians were talking directly to the people. Rallies don’t happen like that where I’m from. They’re closed shops, for the party faithful only to support the people they’re backing. They are rarely staged for anyone to come and jeer or cheer at or, as is now the fashion it seems, to chant out “yeaah!” with an air of irony.

Heartened by this sense of open democracy, I looked forward to experiencing polling day. But whatever energy had been on the streets on Friday seemed to have disappeared with a lazy, sunny Sunday. The polling station I visited in Mitte was a ghost town. Apart from the person I came with I didn’t see a single voter - and she was outnumbered by the election officials four to one. Where is everyone, I thought. Have they all forgotten? Has a boring campaign created apathy?

My German friends Hannah and Sebastian had kindly offered to explain all the interesting intricacies of the election as it unfolded - even the uberhangs mandata, which I had misunderstood as a date with the uberhangsman. We switched on the TV at 5.45 and I got ready for an exciting night. But it was pretty much all over by 6.05. The highly accurate predictions, that everybody seemed to take as fact, declared the winners and the losers. Where was the drama? In the UK the constituency votes roll in and the result slowly and dramatically becomes apparent. It can be exciting, gripping TV - democracy in action. Here it was all over in a sober declaration of voting percentages.

With an Elefantrunde that didn’t leave me any the wiser, my mind wandered to why the CDU was called the CDU. That has to be branding problem, surely? I mean, would a Muslim vote for a party that calls itself Christian? For that matter would an atheist too?
So what will you get? Well, you get Angie again, of course. The most powerful woman in the world. Or, as some of you call her, Mummy. You won’t get a fair minimum wage (shame on you). But you will get more nuclear power, an aggressive foreign policy, fewer civil liberties and more surveillance and some rewards for the idiots who caused the financial crash. In fact, all the things I left Britain to avoid. Boring? Perhaps. Depressing, definitely.

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