If you live in Berlin, hail from the EU and are registered at your home address, you will have received a funny little orange and white voting form, recently. It's one of the little upsides of all the bureaucracy in this city: they remember to include you in things like the municipal elections without you having to beg for it.
Lots has been written about the conventional party choices - SPD, CDU, Linke - so I won't be covering those in this piece. Besides, it's not only fair but also kind of the mandate of this whole blog to talk about the counter-cultural and left wing issues that are facing Berlin voters this Sunday.
So here are the key buzzwords to look out for, and what they mean:
A100: Going Nowhere Fast.
The A100 is a new highway that will run through Treptower Park, across the Molecule Man bridge, straight down Afterhours Alley (think Else, Magadalena, Wilden Renate & About Blank) and end at Ostkreuz station, or thereabouts.
The road will decimate at least two of the above things by polluting the greener parts of Treptow with noise and smog, and evicting the energetic clubbing scene that's based around Ostkreuz and Treptow.
The stated goal of this absurd inner city highway is to increase traffic flows to Ostkreuz station and thus, speed up transit time to BER airport. But hang on a minute: where is the BER airport? It doesn't even exist yet, and probably never will. So there would seem to be little sense in ruining an inner city district with a vibrant grassroots economy to make sure people can get there faster.
At the very least, the A100 project should probably be put on hold until the BER airport debacle gets sorted, but the usual deals with devil contractors have ensured that it steams pointlessly ahead, regardless of what the city actually wants or needs.
AfD: No Alternative.
The Alternative fur Deutschland party is by far the most right wing party in the polls and quickly gaining (but also losing) support in various areas of Germany, right now.
The hardcore reactionary party that wants to stop immigration completely, using 'guns if necessary' to patrol borders. It's kind of a no-brainer that their policies won't have brilliant knock-on effects for all foreigners living in Berlin although, as usual it will be visible minorities (people of colour, women, trans and queer people) who will come off the worst for their policies.
The leader Frauke Petry, while female, seems to be little more than a cuddly sock puppet that the hideous baddies of the AfD have donned to lure unsuspecting voters into their fold. When questioned by the Telegraph recently, Petry was pathologically evasive about what the party's platform actually is and what they aim to do. When pressed, she usually just insinuates that her left wing critics are the real Nazis (an old Republican trick) without stating why, or explaining how that would make them any different from her AfD peers, even if it were true. Deflecting, denying and refusing to give any direct answers... voting for Petry means voting with your eyes open and your brain switched off.
Gay Marriage: A Token Issue... but it's a start.
Elections are nothing if not a reflection of what politicos see as being trendy... which is why gay marriage is mentioned in so many Berlin party manifestos. Yet they maintain a strange silence about the amount of ridicule and outright bashing queer & trans people still face - yep, even here. But with the majority of Germans claiming to be in support of gay marriage it would, at the very least, be a place to start laying down the laws that would make all sexualities equal.
Refugees: If You're Not Part of the Solution, You're Part of the Problem.
Many people in Berlin are helping refugees out of their own pockets and free time by putting them up and volunteering assistance to get them legal aid, food, money, etc. The city's government needs to step up to the plate and do its part... or at the very least, stop harassing and intimidating the people who are actually helping out.
Which brings us to the next keyword...
Rigaer Strasse: A Danger to Capitalism.
The CDU's Senator Henkel brought in 500 cops, including some armed with guns, to deal with a minor altercation involving a police officer and two pedestrians in Friedrichshain's Rigaer Strasse last year. Police have been stationed in the area ever since, despite the distinct absence of actual criminal violence to justify their presence (or their payroll).
Lack of evidence notwithstanding, Henkel is insistent that the area be classified as a gefahrengebiet (which I translate roughly to mean 'danger zone' because, well, it sounds less dry than the literal translation of 'danger area').
But yes, there's no doubt that Rigaer Strasse is dangerous. As one of the last DIY, non-profit havens in Friedrichshain, it seriously endangers the profit margins of would-be investors and shop keepers who want to offer overpriced goods.
Here are some of the other 'threats' that the area around Rigaer holds:
Laushangriff, an underground music venue and inexpensive Absinth bar
Fischladen, a bar hosting regular queer friendly, refugee friendly events and open kitchen nights
Friedel 54, a feminist collective that puts on live bands, cinema nights and open kitchen nights
Abstand, a punk venue that also houses refugees
Katderschmiede, a venue and housing project that is being evicted as we speak.
A museum of GDR subcultures in a local church.
Senator Henkel takes the view that people like those above are a danger to the city. The rest of Berlin on the other hand, would tend to say that they ARE the city. Not too hard to see how that could lead to some friction if the CDU was in charge...
Street Harassment/Sexual Assault: Gender Inequality Has No Borders.
After a rash of sexual assaults happened in public in Cologne on New Year's Eve, racists got busy fist-bumping one another over the fact that men from abroad are (supposedly) more bigoted towards women than the guys here at home. Well, you only have to be a woman here at home to know that this is 'kaka' as they say in ze Deutsch. Virtually all women in Germany have been groped, followed, raped, beaten or verbally harassed by a man at some point. It's been an issue for much longer than the current refugee crisis has been happening, at any rate, so closing the borders won't help much.
What really shocked women's rights activists about the Cologne incident was the realization that sexual harassment and 'minor' sexual assaults are still technically legal in Germany (and that rape could be legal in some instances, too - at least at the time, it could. However, the rape law has been amended since then).
It was a further reminder that, no matter how empowered women in Germany may feel, the law has yet to back them up when it comes to asserting that power. Yet as of now, the only parties tackling the issue of street harassment in these elections are the racists, to whom it is nothing but a giant exercise in denial and projection. Sad.
Berlin's Economy - Or Lack Thereof.
Okay, the Berlin economy is kind of non-existent when you look at traditional markers of a strong, local industry and high spending. But where have the traditional markers gotten the rest of the planet, so far?
Loads of people are poor here and there's little industry. The city is, in effect, one big residential and educational zone. But is that such a bad thing? Instead of complaining that a city like Berlin needs to change because it doesn't fit existing business models, perhaps political leaders should be saying that the business model needs to change to fit a city like Berlin.
Luckily, the city has plenty of initiatives to do just that. Its abundance of non profit, alternative 'social clubs' like those on Rigaer Strasse are just one, small part of that.
The standard business model is all about raising prices: allowing landlords to raise rents at will. Installing roads that bring people with bigger cars, higher demands and more cash to spend. Luring investors who want to buy low and sell high.
But look at the deep, acrimonious divides between haves and have-nots in London and New York, and you'll see that raising prices alone is not the sustainable answer. In those cities, the poor and blacks are viewed with deep suspicion and fear because 'they want what we have'. Only the super-wealthy are free from scrutiny and surveillance.
Berlin does have many alternative business and development models in existence here, right now, and they offer another view of what a city could be. Many people come here to start up or invest in better business models that haven't been given a fair shake, yet: the first packaging-free supermarket, renewable energy firms, green roofing and low CO2 housing consultants, tree houses, co-operatives of all kinds...
You can eat much of whatever is growing in Prinzessinnengarten, but you can't eat money. You can bank on cooperative, skilled and sympathetic people, better than you can on a savings account. Yet the CDU and SPD consistently ignore the ample resources that the city has got, and focus on importing what it hasn't, usually at the expense of the more innovative, local model. That's just plain wasteful.
Besides: if the standard busines model is working so well in the rest of Germany and the world then why, in the name of all that's holy, is everybody moving to Berlin?
The answers I hear are always the same, from every newcomer: It has a better work-life balance. It has more down to earth attitude. It has a sense of acceptance. It offers more flexibility to make changes, whether at a personal or administrative level. There are plenty of green spaces to enjoy. Berlin has initiatives that are already working to build upon and sustain all the above advantages, and whoever leads this city next needs to be willing to help them. It really is as simple as that.
The Final Analysis.
For auslanders living here, this election is pretty critical - don't miss your chance to have a say. After all, many of the major platform issues will determine whether or not Berlin stays as awesome as it was back when you first missed your flight back home and decided to stay here forever!
For More Information:
...in English info about the Green Party
...in English info about the Die Linke (The Left Party)
in German about the Pirate Party
...so, while casting a ballot for one's cause is good, fighting for it all year round is even better.