Friday, October 2, 2009

Election Day Reflections

On election night last Sunday, I was fortunate enough to make it to a couple of parties. First, I stopped by the Left Party event, which was open to all comers (but they charged for beer and pretzels) at the Kulturbrauerei in eastern Prenzlauer Berg. Despite the party's 19th century slogans, everything was very 21st century with multiple television screens to show the first results and numerous media stations so that the networks could shoot dramatic live shots. The crowd was typical Berlin grunge with a plethora of message t-shirts and dreadlocks on white people. I ran into my old communist 68er roommate who was ecstatic about how well this "real" left-wing party was doing. I had to eat crow later because I predicted that the party would receive 11% maximum and, as we all know, it did much better than that.

After a stint at the Bundespresseamt, I was able to procure a pass for the CDU's party. SPD passes were available, but I was not in a mood to attend a wake. By the way, what an absolute disaster for one of the oldest parties in the world! Of course, the polls had long predicted this outcome, but it still comes as a shock. The left-wing newspaper Junge Welt wrote afterwards that this was the worst defeat for the party since 1893 shortly after Otto von Bismarck revoked the anti-Socialist laws ( This is arguable--the 149 seats that the party will receive are far more than the 110 they achieved in 1910 or the 100 in 1924. Still, this is an absolute debacle--the 10 million votes the party received is exactly half what they got in 1998. Already, there have been major leadership changes with Sigmar Gabriel and Andrea Nahles taking over. The bloodletting was much swifter than I expected.

In any case, the CDU party had quite a different mood than that at the Left Party's party (I couldn't resist). Admittedly, by the time I got there after 10 PM the venue was half empty and the remaining celebrants were rather young (in contrast to the geriatric rally from the day before). There was a candlelight, Riesling-sipping ambience in the tents and throughout the architecturally striking Konrad Adenauer Haus on the edge of the Tiergarten. Shortly after I arrived, a cover band started to play up-beat songs (like ABBA hits) in the grand foyer with massive photos of the ancient Adenauer looking down. This was disjunctive to say the least--I always expect oompah-pah music in such a context. I was also reminded that Germans (and CDUlers) are not world champions at funky dancing--there is a reason why techno and Rammstein are German specialties. A Brazilian visitor who also observed the Junge Union types gettin' down, literally could not find words to describe the scene. Interestingly, I saw exactly three people of color amongst the hundreds still there: one party member (identified, I think, by his uniform--a three-piece suit), the lead singer of the band--and I was thanking God that Petra Zieger did not repeat her performance of her 1985 hit "Superfrau" from the previous day's rally ( --and a waiter. This reinforced the massive work the CDU needs to undertake to reach out to this fifth of the German population with a migration background. I should also mention that the Left Party's event was similarly lacking in diversity.

Finally, and I know this reinforces stereotypes (which in this case are true I think--see today's New York Times article, "Munich Journal: Raise Your Mugs to German Efficiency", but I was extremely impressed with the absolute efficiency of the whole process. The first election prognoses came in around 6 PM (when polls closed) and there were surprisingly few changes to the numbers over the course of the night. By 8 PM, the election was called and the losers accepted defeat. At 8:15 the major party leaders met on the televised Elephantenrunde and engaged in an election postmortem and started to look ahead to forming the new government and opposition blocs. By 10 PM the parties were winding down and by 9 AM the next day it was back to business-as-usual.

It was almost as if the election never happened.

--Eric Langenbacher

1 comment:

  1. Hi Eric, cool blog - enjoyed reading this!

    Bill [this is my new blog, have stopped using google one]