On the campaign trail

In case you missed it, there was a general election last week in Germany. Receiving most of the international media coverage was, understandably, the fact that the AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland) won just under 13% of the popular vote, making them the third strongest party in the Bundestag and the first far right party in the German parliament since 1945. That, and the global sigh of relief that Angela Merkel, the kind and sensible “Mutti” figure at the head of German politics, nevertheless has won a fourth term in office, remaining a bulwark against the impetuous world leaders who appear to surround her. This is not the forum to give you detailed political analysis of how any of this came to pass; plenty has been written elsewhere.

But what I can say superficially about the election, as an expat, is a word on election posters – by far the most visually striking element of these last few weeks. These posters, promoting both parties and individual candidates, are said to have more impact on popular political opinion than TV ads. When you walk around and see the energy invested in putting them up on literally every lamppost, in defacing them, and in taking them down at the end of the election (a work in slow progress), this seems plausible. There is a practical reason for this: in stark contrast to US elections, there is a strict limit on campaign airtime and campaign spending for all politicians and political parties, which restricts their options. Despite online methods of mobilising voters, the political poster remains a strong and much-used tool. Continue reading

Brexit – notes from a Brit in Germany


Brexit 1 We found out the Brexit result at the top of mountain in Italy, the alpine hotel’s shaky internet connection making it almost impossible to read more than the headlines. Our reaction was disbelief. Like me, most people, whether Remainers or Leavers, couldn’t have predicted that Britain would vote to leave the EU. “Shocking news from the UK this morning,” I said to the six London bankers in the hotel’s breakfast room, a passing statement which felt pointless but important. They sat glued to smartphones piecing together market developments before one of them shook his shoulders and announced, “Right, this is too depressing. Let’s get out walking.” We happened to be driving back to Germany that same day, with me reading the news all the way through Austria, relaying the plummeting pound, the resignation of the Prime Minister, the incredulous disappointment of most people in my predominantly pro-remain social media bubble.

The ensuing events have been well reported – how the public faces of the Leave campaign scuttled under rocks as if they hadn’t really wanted to win at all, how the Labour Party plunged into (still ongoing) turmoil, how the first analysis suggested that old people had voted young people out, but then it turned out that too many young people didn’t bother to vote at all. The anger of the side that lost is well known too. The Leavers call them sore losers, but in the wake of a political gamble to satisfy a decades’ old internal party conflict, a campaign marred with tall stories and manipulated statistics, only to be capped with the desertions of its most prominent advocates, and with the rise in hate crimes against migrants immediately after the result, the soreness felt justified.  Continue reading

I care about the refugees…

…so now what. Chloë shared helpful tips on how to become involved in Berlin and Joseph at The Needle shares his own experiences interacting with refugees as a volunteer in his four-part blog series. Similar posts and newsletters with close up views and how to help have popped up across regions in Germany including my own, the Rheinland/Ruhrgebiet.

Refugees in Berlin PHOTO: Joseph Pearson, needleberlin.com

Refugees in Berlin PHOTO: Joseph Pearson, needleberlin.com

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Making a small contribution – refugees in Berlin

One of the biggest grass-roots organizations set up to help refugees in Germany

One of the biggest grass-roots organizations set up to help refugees in Germany

The situation is all over the news, it’s what people are earnestly discussing over dinner, it has moved the country on a national scale – I’m talking about Europe’s migrant crisis and the role Germany is playing.

This is not the time nor place to be political. All I’ll aim to do here is offer a few fleeting observations as an expat in the Hauptstadt (capital) and give a few tips on what you can do to help if you’re so inclined.  Continue reading

Bis Bald: 10 Things I Love About Germans

For my last official post as part of the regular writing crew here at The German Way, I’d like to be typically American and end on a positive note. Here are 10 things I love about Germans:

1. Their honesty. You will never doubt the sincerity of a compliment that comes from a German. In my first job in Germany, my boss’ comment at my mid-year review was “I have no complaints.” I am on the cusp of generation-feedback-junkie, and was a little underwhelmed at his comment. He then went on to explain that this was a typically German way of telling me I was doing my job well. Okaaaaay… so when they really compliment you, they must really mean it.

2. Their precision. This goes for all manner of things: conversation, instructions, engineering, … The list is quite possibly endless. Being out of the country, I miss the precision of engineering and design in German appliances. I am lucky to benefit from the engineering and design of the German car I drive. This precision extends to verbal and written instructions, all of which will be conveyed to you when you purchase anything. They care about things working properly, which is good. Continue reading

Nude bathing and traffic signs: 10 things that didn’t fall with the Wall

Lichtgrenze - East Side Gallery, Berlin

Temporary Lichtgrenze in Berlin to celebrate 25 years since the fall of the Wall
PHOTO: Andrea Goldmann

Last Sunday (9th November) Berliners celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. A momentous occasion movingly marked by temporarily dividing the city again with a 9-mile “Lichtgrenze” made up of illuminated white balloons along the old division, which were then let off into the misty night sky at the same time the first people crossed the border all those years ago. Though the few remaining stretches of the Wall in Berlin are only there for the sake of history and tourism, not all aspects of GDR-life have been so thoroughly dismantled. From politics to bathing habits, what has survived these past 25 years? 

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Playing Monk in Switzerland

It’s unusual for me to find that it’s my turn to blog and not have a topic or two that I’m bursting to write about. When that happens, I virtually leaf through Spiegel online and its English section, The Local and Deutsche Welle. My Facebook feed also sometimes triggers some inspiration, so the common piece of news that has led me to today’s topic is Switzerland’s vote to reinstate an immigrant quota.

I’m not actually setting out to discuss this disturbing vote, but I’ll summarize it here: basically, a very narrow majority of Swiss (50.3%), mostly in the rural German parts of the country, have bought in to the fears that Switzerland will become overcrowded if they don’t put a cap on the number of foreigners coming in. That cap has been set to 80,000 immigrants. The short-sighted truth is that these voters succumbed to some scare-mongering thinking that these immigrants were only refugees, migrant workers and benefit-sucking immigrants. Sadly, Switzerland’s history of keeping refugees out is just as disturbing today as it was during the Holocaust. 284,200 Germans currently live in Switzerland. That’s second to Italians. As Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has said, this referendum is going to “cause a lot of problems for Switzerland.” Continue reading

A new government for Christmas

Germany has a new government, and it’s arrived just in time for Christmas. CDU, CSU and SPD will govern under Angela Merkel (CDU) in a Grosse Koalition (Grand Coalition). That Koalitionsvertrag I wrote about in my last post has been approved. The SPD party members have voted it through with a reassuring 75%. After months of wrangling, ministers can now move into their offices, arrange their pot plants and assemble their staffs.

To an outsider, that so many important ministerial positions are filled with SPD politicians is a surprise. Given that Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian sister party, CSU, nearly gained enough votes for an absolute majority, you would have thought those two parties would well and truly dominate. Not so. Positions such as Wirtschaft und Energie (Economy and Energy) Auswaertiges (Foreign Minister), Justiz und Verbraucher (Justice and Crime), and Arbeit und Soziales (Work and Social) are in SPD hands.  Continue reading