Close-fought German election goes down to the wire

Candidates deliver final effort to secure chancellery after Merkel’s departure

Armin Laschet , Christian Democratic Union party chairman and top candidate for the upcoming federal elections, says it is ‘going to be a tight result’. Photograph: Lukas Barth-Tuttas/Pool/EPA

Armin Laschet , Christian Democratic Union party chairman and top candidate for the upcoming federal elections, says it is ‘going to be a tight result’. Photograph: Lukas Barth-Tuttas/Pool/EPA

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

Tucked into Berlin’s northwest outskirts, Reinickendorf never features prominently in tourist guide books – but it has a special place in Germany’s political wonk almanac.

For the last run of federal elections, the political preferences of the 182,000 voters in Reinickendorf, constituency number 77, have mirrored almost perfectly the final result nationwide.

Stretching from forests, lakes and villas to industrial landmarks and a high-rise district, Reinickendorf is Germany in miniature.

On Friday a final opinion poll showed the country’s main political parties effectively neck-and-neck ahead of Sunday’s federal election.

The centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is hoping for a record fifth term with a poll showing 25 per cent support, just one point short of the the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

So after a campaign where the only certainty is its uncertain outcome, how do election oracles in Reinickendorf view Sunday’s vote?

Reinickendorf’s best-known politician is Monika Grütters, a senior member of Berlin’s local Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and two-term state secretary for culture in the chancellery. Her department oversees a €2.1 billion annual budget – and she secured the same amount again for emergency cultural pandemic assistance, for artists and cultural institutions.

“That was perhaps unique worldwide, that the state held a protective hand over artists,” she said.

Climate

On the campaign trail she says voters were most preoccupied with climate protection, tax – and whether she has plans to keep up contact with Angela Merkel after she leaves the chancellery.

“We’ve not made a date but I hope we’ll keep in contact and. . . we can go to the theatre together now and again,” said Ms Grütters.

Voters in Reinickendorf, and across the city-state of Berlin, face a bumper election on Sunday, with four different ballot papers: for federal, state and local elections – as well as a controversial referendum on whether the city-state government should be forced to buy back housing from large landlords.

Uwe Brockhausen, SPD candidate for local mayor, senses in Reinickendorf a rise in support for his party nationwide. With complicated coalition talks looming, he says affordable housing has been the burning question of this election.

“We have to get all levels of politics working together in this to make it the first priority after election,” he said.

On the busy Residenzstrasse, local man Torsten Buchmann says, in between bites of his midday kebab, that this is why he’ll be voting SPD.

“We need more flats people can afford and more fair pay, particularly for nurses and carers who worked so hard in the pandemic,” he said. Sabine Richter, waiting nearby in front of a shop, says the Greens will be getting her vote because “climate politics are the most important for me right now”.

Demonstration

Some 7km to the south, Fridays for Future founder Greta Thunberg led a demonstration of 40,000 mostly young people through the capital. Though German greenhouse gas emissions have dropped 41 per cent compared with 1991, she said Germany remained the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the EU and was “objectively one of the biggest climate villains”.

None of Germany’s main political parties had in their election programmes, she said, “come even close” to meeting their commitments under the Paris Agreement.

“You must vote, but remember that voting only will not be enough, we must keep going into the streets,” she said.

After touring dozens of Germany’s 299 constituencies, lead candidates began a final push on Friday to win support, and secure the chancellery after the departure of Angela Merkel from power, after four terms and 16 years. “There are a lot of people who decide quite late,” Merkel said at her final election appearance on Friday in Munich. “I would call on everyone to use their vote.”

SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz. Photograph: Sascha Schuermann/Pool/EPA
SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz. Photograph: Sascha Schuermann/Pool/EPA

Her successor as CDU leader, Armin Laschet, said in Munich it was “going to be a tight result”.

“All of Europe is watching this German election and all hope that Germany will remain strong,” he said, repeating his warning of an SPD-lead leftist coalition.

In Cologne, SPD chancellor hopeful Olaf Scholz rammed home his key election message: more respect and better wages for lower earners. Tax cuts for the wealthy, as proposed by the CDU, were “out of step and lacking solidarity”.