Wahoo, election time!! And not that car accident of a circus happening across the Atlantic either. It’s election time here in Berlin, where on 18th September Berliners will head to the polls to vote for the 149 members of state parliament and representatives in each district. Elections admittedly aren’t the most exciting topic for most, and I fear many newer jet-setting residents of Berlin don’t even care about the vote at all, even if they’re eligible (any EU citizen who is a registered resident here can participate). But thankfully, the candidates make it hard to ignore the event by plastering large propaganda posters on street signs and poles every five metres or so.
Since these posters popped up about a month ago I’ve been absolutely fascinated. Not only do they provide great German study fodder, they also give fantastic insight into the political culture of everyone’s favourite “poor but sexy” city—and Germany itself on a wider scale.
One thing that surprised me about the election is that there is SEVENTEEN parties on the ballot. This is refreshing, especially coming from a country where all political views along the spectrum get stuffed into two misshapen parties, like a fat octopus trying to squeeze into XS jeggings. The parties range from as far right to left as one could get (though the centre in Germany is placed further left than in the UK, USA and Australia), and so many choices means that (for the most part) people can actually vote for parties with positions they agree with, rather than choosing between a few one-size-fits-all evils.
This also gives smaller parties with less traditional platforms a better chance: Berlin’s fifth largest party, with 15 seats, is actually the Pirates, a party that champions things like governmental transparency, decriminalisation of drugs, and a city-wide free wireless internet network. In 2014, a satirical party called Die PARTEI (The Party) even received enough votes to capture a seat in European Parliament. I think this says something about the success of democracy here, as well as the German sense of humor.
A quick rundown of all the parties on the Berlin ballot:
- SPD (Social Democratic Party, centre-left social democratic)
- CDU (Christian Democratic Union, centre-right liberal conservative)
- Die Grünen (Green Party, centre-left green)
- Die Linke (The Left, left-wing democratic socialist)
- Piraten Partei (Pirate Party, left-wing social liberalism)
- NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany, far-right nationalist)
- FDP (Free Democratic Party, centre classic liberalism)
- Tierschutzpartei (Animal Welfare Party, centre-left environmentalist)
- Pro Deutschland (Pro Germany Citizens’ Movement, far-right populist)
- Die PARTEI (The Party, apolitical satire)
- DKP (German Communist Party, far-left communist)
- PSG (Social Equality Party, far-left Troskyist)
- BüSo (Civil Rights Movement Solidarity, left-wing? radical)
- ALFA (Alliance for Progress and Renewal, centre-right liberal conservative)
- AfD (Alternative for Germany, right-wing populist)
- Graue Panther (Grey Panthers, senior citizens interest)
- Gesundheitsforschung (Party for Health Research, single-issue)
A pretty solid selection, and that’s not even including the independents and other special-interest parties on local district ballots.
Back to the campaign posters. Some of them are unfortunately pretty boring, with just a photo of the local candidate and their name, while others make bold statements with eye-catching designs. The juxtaposition of these paint an interesting picture of Germany’s diverse and changing capital.
The two leading parties, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU, headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD, to which Berlin mayor Michael Müller belongs) tend to have boring posters, so they’re under-represented in the collection below.
But from other campaign posters and graffiti around town, you learn quick that this guy is the enemy of the progressive left:
Frank Henkel is the head of the CDU in Berlin, as well as the Senator of the Interior and Sports. Here the CDU is campaigning for a “Stärkes Berlin” (Strong Berlin).
And how to make a strong Berlin? With “Mehr Polizei und mehr Video-Technik” (more police and more CCTV), of course. The CDU believes Berlin is a crime-ridden city that needs to be cleaned up with increased police presence and more security.
On the other side, the SPD is the strongest party in Berlin, with representatives from the party holding the position of mayor since 2001.
“Berlin bleibt gebührenfrei“—”Berlin remains free-of-charge.” The SPD focuses on supporting families with fair wages and free education from kindergarten through university.
“Berlin bleibt bezahlbar. 100,000 neue städtische Mietwohnungen.“—”Berlin remains payable (affordable). 100,000 new urban rental apartments.” Germany has some of the lowest home-ownership rates in Europe, so availability and affordability of rental units is an incredibly hot topic.
“Berlin braucht neue Wege: Radwege! Grosse Koalition abwählen! Alles auf Grün.“—”Berlin needs new ways: Cycleways! Against a grand coalition! Everything on green.”
Sharing a pole with the AfD, who we’ll get to in a moment. “Berlins wichtigste Start-ups: Kinder“—”Berlin’s most important start-ups: Children.”
“Mehr gefühl für Neukolln“—”More emotion for Neukölln.” Perhaps the most quaint and idealistic illustration anyone has ever drawn of Neukölln (they drew a dog but forgot about all the dog poo), but I’m not sure it’s really going to elicit emotion in anyone around here.
On the top here is Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which is pretty much Germany’s version of UKIP. “Berlin braucht Schnauze. Mehr Mitsprache der Bürger durch Volksentscheide.“—”Berlin needs snout. More say for the citizens through referendums.” Their posters tend to display the most uncontroversial spin possible for their right-wing platform. Their motto is “Unbequem. Echt. Mutig.“—”Uncomfortable. Real. Courageous.”
Below is the Green Party: “Mitreden. Mitgestalten“—”Talk together. Shape together.” Somewhat of an alternative to the AfD poster above.
Then we have Berlin’s fourth-largest party, Die Linke (The Left). According to Wikipedia, “The party is the most left-wing party of the four represented in the Bundestag, and has been called far-left by German government authorities and different international media.” In Bavaria the entire party is under surveillance for its suspected “extremist tendencies”. Let’s see what kind of extremist things they’re promoting: “Wachsende Stadt richtig investieren“—”Invest correctly in a growing city.”
“Mietrebellin. Oma Anni bleibt“—”Rent rebels. Grandma Anni stays”. Mietrebellin is a documentary about Berliners’ struggle with the effects of gentrification (displacement, affordable housing shortages, evictions), with a focus on senior citizens struggling to remain in their homes.
“Rechenkünstler. Armut stoppen“—”Mathematical prodigies. Stop poverty” Rechenkünstler is literally a ‘mental calculator‘, but here it’s likely more in reference to those who collect bottles from the rubbish for the deposit.
“Nazis raus: aus den Köpfen“—”Nazis out: of their minds.” “Nazis raus!” is a pretty common slogan to see all over Berlin.
“Berliner speed: Mehr Zug reinbringen“—”Berliner speed: Bring in more train”, with Zug (train) in this situation having the double meaning “‘force” or “power”.
Below is the Deutsche Kommunistische Partei (German Communist Party). They’re a pretty minor party, but up until 2013 they did have a representative in parliament. “Rauf mit den Löhnen, runter mit den Mieten! Nicht mitspielen, sondern aufmischen!“—”Up with wages, down with the rent! Don’t play along, but shake up!”
Die Linke: “Neukölln: solidarisch. Menschen vor Profite!“—”Neukolln: solidarity. People before profit!”
And the DKP: “Wir bleiben dabei: Gegen Kreig und Faschismus!“—”We remain: Against war and fascism!” Hard to argue with that.
I’ve heard that the AfD tends to put their posters up later than other parties, because they’re more likely to get vandalised. Here’s one high enough that it’s hard to reach: “Berlin braucht Blau.“—”Berlin needs blue.” Blue being the AfD’s main color.
The Neukölln SPD candidate, Nicola Böcker, has a separate poster campaign that uses her name as a pun. “Demokrafie macht Bock! Neukölln wählt Böcker“—”Democracy is fun! Neukölln votes Böcker.”
These are all good and nice, but the real blockbuster posters come from the less-traditional parties.
Whaa? Who is that clown dude? Is he really a politician? YES. Bruno Kramm, musician, goth and regional chairman of Piraten Partei Berlin (Pirate Party Berlin). The poster reads: “So kannste doch nich zur arbeit. Deshalb Bedingungsloses Grundeinkommen für Alle“—”You can’t go to work like that. Therefore, unconditional basic income for all”. A little bit of Berlin dialect going on here.
Below is one of the most boring yet ubiquitous SPD posters in Neukölln. Joschka Langenbrinck, what are you gonna do for me?!
And is she a politician too?! Really?! YES. Lea Frings, freelance journalist and Pirate Party candidate. “Berlin bleibt bunt. Für kulturelle Vielfalt in Berlin, Piraten wählen“—”Berlin stays colorful. For cultural diversity in Berlin, choose Pirates.”
The Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (abbreviated X’hain) branch of the Pirate Party tends to have posters that are a bit cooler than Neukölln. The one above is needs no translation.
“Gefahrengebiet Henkel“—”Danger Area Henkel”. Gefahrengebiet is a special zone where police deem there is a threat to public safety and are allowed to proceed with search and seizure without probable cause. This one refers to Henkel’s support of unbridled and illegal use of police force in the eviction of the Rigaer Str 94 squat earlier this year.
Pirates on the top: “Gefahrengemiete“—”Danger rents”. Another play on Gefahrengebiete.
Then the Green Party with another illustrated, slightly less-whimsical poster, Turgut for Kreuzberg. On the poster people are holding signs and banners that say “Mieten runter!” (Lower rents!) and “Stop TTIP” (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a hugely controversial trade agreement with the USA that many are against).
Left: “Dope in Nutzerhand“—”Dope in the user’s hand”. A call to legalise drugs.
Right: “14 Anträge, 10 Ämter, 8 Wochen. Für 1 Open air. Echt jetzt?“—”14 forms, 10 bureaus, 8 weeks. For 1 open air. Really, now?” For the uninitiated, ‘open airs’ are outdoor raves or free parties. They’re usually held illegally, and this poster explains one reason why.
The Pirates also pass out stickers a more Berlinesque propaganda effect. The one on the left is English, which is rare. The one on the top says: “Ey du messy, Stell endlich deine Sachen raus!! Die anderen wollen auch was haben!”—”Hey you messy, finally put your stuff outside! The others want to have something too!”. The one on the bottom is meant to put on AfD posters: “Vorsicht. Diese Kreuz könnte einen Haken haben“—”Caution. This cross could have a hook”. The swastika is called the hakenkreuz in German.
“Hier könnten mehr Fahrradbügel stehen“—”Here could stand more bicycle stands.”
The poster above it is for Bürgerrechtsbewegung Solidarität (Civil Rights Movement Solidarity), a very very minor party born from the LaRouche movement. They’re a rather unusual, slightly dooms-day cultish group. The very modest poster reads: “Berlin muss Tor zur neuen Seidenstraße werden! Aufbau statt Krieg. Dialog der Kulturen statt Barbarei“—”Berlin must be the door to the new Silk Road! Construction instead of war. Cultural dialog instead of barbarism.”
The Green Party: Georg Kössler, “mit rad und tat” (with bike and advice), a play on the German “mit rat und tat” (with help and advice).
Below, the Pirates: “Wissen verdoppelt sich wenn man es teilt. Wir machen Wisseschaft Allen zugänglich“—”Knowledge doubles when it is shared. We make science accessible to everyone.”
Another that needs no translation, though I don’t really get the Yoda thing.
Top, the Pirate Party: “Keine Pflanze ist illegal“—”No plants are illegal.” A play on the pro-migrant/refugee slogan “No one is illegal” (Kein Mensch ist illegal), but this time referring to everyone’s favourite herb.
Below, the Partei Mensch Umwelt Tierschutz (Party for Human Environment Animal Welfare), also known as the Animal Welfare Party: “Massen Tierhaltung abschaffen! Tierschutzpartei wählen!“—”Abolish factory farming! Choose Animal Welfare Party!”
“Zirkus ist kein Spaß für Tiere! Tierschutzpartei wählen!“—”The circus is no fun for animals! Choose Animal Welfare Party!” Poor hippo. 🙁
“Nazis in den Parlamenten, aber keine Tierschützer? Ist nicht euer Ernst?! Geht wählen! Ehrliche Politik für alle!“—”Nazis in the Parliament, but no animal rights activists? Are you serious? Go vote! Honest politics for all!”
Above it, the Green Party: “Dein Gott? Dein Sex? Dein Ding!“—”Your god? Your sex? Your thing!”
Jusos Berlin is the youth branch of the Berlin SPD. This is the only poster I spotted from them, but it’s a very strategic and appropriate response to the AfD. The hashtag #RETTETBerlin means “Save Berlin”.
The Partei für Soziale Gleichheit (Social Equality Party) is a minor party in Germany following the ideology of Trotskyism. “Nie wieder Krieg. Milliarden für Schulen und Jobs statt für Rüstung und Krieg.“—”Never again war. Millions for schools and jobs, not for armaments and war.”
A single-issue party on the top, the Partei für Gesundheitsforschung (Party for Health Research), which is campaigning for an additional 1% of state budget be allocated to disease research. “Krebs? Alzheimer? Herzinfarkt? No thanks! Für mehr pharmaindustrie-unabhängige Forschung für bessere Medizin gegen Alterskrankheiten, wählen Sie die Partei für Gesundheitsforschung“—”Cancer? Alzheimers? Heart attack? No thanks! For more pharmaceutical industry-independent research for better medicine against diseases of aging, choose the Party for Health Research.”
Below, Die Linke: “Regierende Bürger. Meister.“—”Citizens are in charge” (lit: “Reigning citizens. Masters”). A bit of a difficult one but essentially calling for more citizen referendums. “Sonntag Tempelhof” is a reference to voting about Tempelhof, Berlin’s largest park that some want to redevelop into flats.
Then there is Die PARTEI. Die PARTEI (The Party) is a fake-but-not-so-fake political party created in 2004 by a satirical magazine called Titanic. It probably started out as a joke, but over the course of 10 years they gained enough support to actually win a seat in European Parliament. Their platform is sensibly nonsensical and difficult to describe succinctly (though their Wikipedia page has a good overview), but they’re generally considered to be a kind of protest vote. This guy is the head. The poster reads: “Probleme? ABSCHAFFEN! Erstimme: Marco Holtz“—”Problems? ABOLISH THEM! First vote: Marco Holtz.” Erstimme is the vote for parliament.
Pirates on the left: “Freier zugang zu Wissen, Kultur und Rausch!“—”Free access to knowledge, culture and noise!”
Die PARTEI on the right: “#DeutscheWehrtEuchNicht”—”#GermansDon’tDefendYourselves.” The little puppet man has a cut-out head hole for fun photo opportunities.
Die PARTEI below a defaced AfD poster and above the CDU’s effort at diversity: “Hier könnte ein Nazi hängen“—”Here a Nazi can hang.”
On the left, the SPD with Berlin mayor Michael Müller: “Berlin bleibt menschlich.”—”Berlin remains human.”
On the right, Die PARTEI’s parody poster with Nico and Maxim, rappers who are candidates for the X’hain district: “Duzi duzi, du opfer.“—”Coochie coochie, you victim”. (Photo by Christian Jäger Photographie)
The Pirates and Die Partei are the only two parties who have done any official campaigning towards English speakers (of which there are a lot in the hipper parts of Berlin). Die PARTEI’s English propaganda for Neukölln may come across as a bit controversial for some, but they definitely know their target audience.
The Freie Demokraten Partei (FDP) is a “centre liberal party” that promotes free markets and privatisation along with human rights and all the rest. Their popularity has gradually been waning over the past few years and they currently have no representatives in the Bundestag. They don’t have too many posters up, which is good because they’re blindingly ugly. This one says, “Liberal und digital. Zeit für das nachste Berlin“—”Liberal and digital. Time for the next Berlin.”
Below that is a Green Party candidate for Kreuzberg, and below that, Die PARTEI. “Totalüberwachung mit Augenmaß“—”Total monitoring with Augenmaß.” Augenmaß (literally, “eye measure”) can mean both measuring something by eyeballing it, and also “good judgement” or “in moderation”.
Die PARTEI has lots of cool stickers too. Top left: “Das bisschen Haushalt ist doch gar nicht schlimm“—”A little housekeeping is not difficult”. Haushalt also means budget.
Top right: “Rauchverbot in Einbahnstraßen!“—”No smoking on one-way streets!” Some parties are campaigning for stricter enforcement of the EU-wide indoor smoking ban that tends to get ignored in Berlin.
Bottom left: “Die PARTEI – sie ist sehr gut“—”The Party – it is very good”
Bottom right: “Parken auf Ragwegen ist Terrorismus!“—”Parking on the cycle lane is terrorism!” What cyclist could disagree?
Last, and also least, is the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD), also known as the National Democratic Party or, colloquially, the Nazis. They’re an ultra-right nationalist party that would probably brandish the swastika if it was legal to do so here in Germany. In most of central Berlin it’s very unlikely to find any of their propaganda, which made my discovery in Neukölln feel extra victorious.
CDU on the top, and below, the NPD: “Deutschland uns Deutschen. Türkiye Türklerindir“—”Germany for the Germans. Turkey for the Turks” (in Turkish). “Türkiye Türklerindir” is actually quite a controversial statement in Turkey, where it’s the slogan of the Hurriyet newspaper. It’s surprising to see this in Neukölln, a historically and largely Turkish district.
Below, Die Linke: “Irmgard Wurdack: Solidarität statt Rassismus. Menschen vor Profite!“—”Irmgard Wurdack: Solidarity instead of racism. People before profit!”
Lastly, some kind of weird exhibit of Berlin diversity. The CDU’s Turkish candidate on the top, a Muslim independent on the bottom, and then the NPD: “Vorbild Schweiz. Masseneinwanderung stoppen. Volksabstimmung jetzt!“—”Prototype Switzerland. Stop mass immigration. Referendum now!”.
Below, the SPD: “Berlin bleibt sozial. Bezahlbare Mieten, gebührenfreie Bildung, faire Löhne.“—”Berlin remains social. Affordable rents, free education, fair pay.”
Because this is Berlin, the political diversity doesn’t stop there. If you didn’t see a group above that you felt like supporting because you think the whole system is shit and it’s time for a proletariat revolution, Berlin’s got your back too.
Jugend Widerstand (Youth Resistance) is a small Communist group with really snazzy posters and a thirst to take control of the means of production. On the top left: “Boykottiert die Wahlen der Bonzen! Schluss mit diesem System“—”Botcott the election of the bigwigs! An end to this system”. Next to it: “Wahlboykott! Keine stimme der ausbeuter system! Wehrt euch und kämpft!“—”Boycott the vote! No vote for the system of exploitation! Defends yourselves and fight!”