englishman abroad, politics

So, I’m a centre-right Marxist: three ways that Germans decide who to vote for.

This month the election season draws to a close; September 24th is Election Day. The election season has been underway for a quite a while and despite this, no one seems to be talking about politics. It looks like I’ll have to break the silence. Here are three ways the Germans decide who to vote for:

1.       Election placards

One day I woke up and noticed that there was a rather gormless-looking man smiling down inanely from a placard hung outside my house. This was the local SPD candidate, hoping to get elected. The SPD are the approximate German equivalent of the Labour party and they’re wasting their time with me: as a Briton, I can’t vote in the national elections.

Tellingly, different parts of the city have different placards and parties represented on them. Just as the breaks in Top Model have different adverts than the breaks in Top Gear: they’re catering to a different audience. My street is exclusively SPD, but around the corner is the main road and the CDU (Angela Merkel’s Party), SPD, Greens and Die Linke (further left than the SPD) are represented.

Rougher areas than mine feature the fringe parties: MLPD (The Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany) and AfD (Alternative for Germany, the far right). Typically, the mainstream parties go with a bland, pithy slogan: “Rent should be affordable!” OR: “With less Europe, no one has more!” The fringes go for something more blatant: “Workers of the world unite!” (yes, really) and “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves.” This last one is accompanied by the picture of a pregnant (white) woman. Message: no brown babies, please, we’re German. The extreme left and right seem to be populated by stereotypes, but there you go. By the way, far right placards are hung very high so they can’t be torn down, whereas the far left don’t have to worry about it.

2.       Wahl-o-Mat

For those not easily swayed by placards, there is the Wahl-o-Mat. This website collates information on party policies and presents 38 questions. Based on your answers it advises you who to vote for. It’s a really good idea and I decided to fill out the questionnaire myself. Unfortunately, my British political stances (generally small-c conservative) completely contradict the German system and here are my nonsensical results:

·         I should vote for the FDP, as I agree with 61.3% of their policies, according to Wahl-o-Mat. The FDP is a centre/centre-right party. Not a bad result so far, but wait…

·         If I decide not to vote FDP, my next best choice is the Marxist–Leninist Party of Germany, as I agree with 58.8% of their policies.

What madness is this?! I can’t swing from the centre-right to the extreme left on the basis of 2.5 percentage points! I think that there are two particular questions which sank me, one on affordable housing – I thought it was a good idea, and one on ‘Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung’ or statutory health insurance. Statutory health insurance, socialised medicine, whatever you want to call it, is the general idea of the British NHS. A conservative in Britain would defend it. Even the BNP defends it.

3.       Incredibly tedious TV debates

For those select few who find placards too simple and the Wahl-o-Mat too complicated, there is a third way: The Cult of Personality. Unfortunately, neither Angela Merkel nor Martin Schulz seems to have a personality between them. Two days ago, there was a live TV debate in which Schulz (SPD) and Merkel (CDU) agreed almost endlessly about everything. There was a bit of light sparring over Turkey and the refugee crisis, but the debate was tedious and focussed only of the two main parties.

For contrast, the 2015 and 2017 debates have a greater range of opinion simply by including more parties: Plaid Cymru, UKIP, Lib Dems, SNP, Greens, not just Labour and the Conservatives.

Yesterday there was another, lesser, debate which included the other parties. First up was the FDP talking some bland, predictable soundbites and then on came those far-right crazies, the AfD.

“Great!” I thought. “Here comes something entertaining!”

“So, Mrs Blah Blah of the AfD,” began the moderator (I might be paraphrasing)

“What are your thoughts on fibre optic internet cables?”

Off went the TV, I can’t stand such tedium.



englishman abroad, travel

A very Denglish holiday, part 1

Until recently we had never booked a Pauschalreise, the trip to Tenerife was our first family package holiday. Previously everything we booked, the accommodation, the flights / ferries, the trips and entertainment had all been planned meticulously and booked in advance. This time we decided to do the ‘normal’ thing. Not everything went to plan…

We had taken a train to Düsseldorf airport and were waiting around for the bag drop to open, when my spidey sense started tingling. A man, dishevelled, stubbled and dirty with a large, ripped holdall was shuffling furtively around the departures hall. I watched him closely. His eyes darted about the place until they fixed upon the security guards who were patrolling, he detoured around a large, potted fern and continued on his way towards me. The man was plainly avoiding the staff and this piqued my interest further. I started to wonder, “could this man be up to something?”

Just along from the generic, metal airport bench on which I was sitting, he stopped with his back turned to me. He unslung the bag from his shoulder and rested it on the floor next to some recycling bins. He unscrewed the lid from one of these metal bins and pulled out another bag, a Rucksack. The thought crossed my mind “could this man be a terrorist?”

Smoothly, the man switched the two bags, leaving his holdall in the bin and screwing the top back on, and then peering into his rucksack. A brief smile crossed his face and I saw that the bag was full of plastic bottles. The man was collecting them for the Pfand. For anyone who doesn’t know, most Flaschen (bottles) of plastic or glass here in Germany have a deposit on them, which can be redeemed for cash at supermarkets and the like. Many homeless people scrape a living by returning these bottles (my friend calls one of our local tramps Flasch-back). This particular homeless guy was much more creative than most. I watched him do his rounds and repeat the trick with other bags, I estimate he made about 15-20 euros in the ten minutes I watched him.

Relieved, we waited for a few hours until we eventually boarded the flight to Tenerife with Norwegian Air. They had Wi-Fi! On a plane! Such exciting times! Eventually we landed in the late evening, and went to the coach station adjoining the Flughafen. The coach full of Germans was already full and so we waited for the next coach, which was full of English.

The coach took us into the rapidly darkening late-evening and along a motorway with a lovely view of the coast, which we had plenty of time to enjoy because the coach broke down on the side of the motorway. There we were, no aircon, only dim lights and a dead engine on the hard shoulder with traffic flying past. The driver couldn’t speak English or German, but someone spoke to him and assured us that a replacement coach would be with us in ten minutes. Ten minutes passed. No replacement. “Well” I said, “it still beats Butlin’s”. A couple of people smirked at this and told a little story about a time they’d been to Butlin’s, long ago. A few others piped up with some holiday horror stories they’d lived through. I kept a couple of lost-looking Germans in the back of the coach informed of what was going on. People shared out water in the sweltering heat. Boys and girls exchanged phone numbers.

The coach was no longer an English coach, it was a Socialist Coach.

Eventually the replacement coach did come and we had to swap all the luggage from one coach to the other with cars whizzing by the whole time, it was fun but shambolic! The new coach was much newer, much cleaner and much better driven. A capitalist coach, no doubt.

We eventually arrived at the hotel around 11pm and there was a buffet waiting for late arrivals. There was no drinking water though. You see, when you book a package deal you run the risk of the Reisebüro neglecting to mention small details like extra costs. I knew that the water on Tenerife wasn’t potable, but surely drinking water shouldn’t cost extra!

I briefly argued the point with the very unhelpful night porter, and considered mentioning the Geneva Convention, or Human Rights, but in the end, I decided to take the more expedient route and steal some water by tagging along with a group whose travel agent hadn’t taken the cheapest option. I nabbed three bottles of water by pretending to be a Portuguese tourist and we turned in for the night. On the way to our room we saw a vending machine that sold a litre of water for 3 euros. This was going to be a very expensive trip unless we found a way around the water scam in the morning…