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Germany

Learning the ropes as a new parliamentarian

The newly elected lower house of the German parliament came together for the first time and in the mix are many new faces. One of them is Azize Tank of the Left Party, the successor to the East German communist party.

Azize Tank has made it. The representative of the Left Party was recently voted into the German Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, for the first time. And like so many newly elected representatives, she still gets lost navigating the Bundestag - from the canteen to the assembly room to the representatives' offices, the building might as well be a maze.

When asked for her exact office address, she can only laugh and say: "That's a little difficult right now. You'd need to wait until I'm in my office and able to look at the sign." But her hallway wanderings can be forgiven - her first day in office was yesterday (22.10.2013).

"Just call me Azize Tank, that's enough"

Lost? Tank smiles and shakes her head, indicating a no. Her long white curly hair is flying. So far, she has managed to find her way around due to a little help from her experienced office manager, who has given her very speific instructions, the 63-year-old says. Her office is still rather bleak and the computer doesn't work.

Azize Tank TRIALON/Thomas Kläber

Tank's schedule is already "pretty packed"

Tank worked as an integration commissioner in Berlin for 20 years, until she retired in 2009. Now a representative in the German Bundestag, Tank is looking forward to working in her Berlin electoral district, even if she still has to get used to people calling her "representative," she says.

"I always tell them, 'just call me Azize Tank, that's enough.'" According to Tank, it's important to be at eye level with people and not feel priviledged just because you're a parliamentarian.

But staying humble isn't so easy with some of the perks representatives like Tank have access to, like a driver. Of course it's useful to ride in the back seat instead of driving yourself, enabling her to answer the constant flow of emails and messages while on the road, she says. Tank gets bombarded with messages and letters now that she has been elected.

On her desk are two DVDs that film companies have sent her. In her locker there is chocolate that an insurance company gave her as a present. As it turns out, representatives are popular.

A packed schedule

Then there is the party convention, the many media requests, from Berlin and also from her native country Turkey, which she left 30 years ago. By now, her schedule is already "pretty packed," she says. But it is fun and her experienced and patient colleagues are answering her many detailed questions, Tank says.

Right before her first official act, the inauguration meeting of the 18th Bundestag, Tank's daughter sends her a text message to wish her mother all the best on her first day at work. Tank smiles and says her family will remain her first priority. "No appointment can ever be so important that you cannot cancel it."

The Reichstag building (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

One-third of the representatives are sitting in parliament for the very first time

Many new faces

On her way to the assembly room, Tank runs into Sahra Wagenknecht, the deputy head of the Left Party. The two women talk about the maze-like Reichstag building.

"It was horrible for me at the beginning, I had to call the office once when I had no idea where I was," Wagenknecht says. But her co-workers saved her. Tank's office manager takes her to the elevator. "You have to go to the left. We wouldn't want you to end up with the Christian Democrats."

As the representatives take their seats - Tank in the last row with the Left Party fraction - they are closely monitored by the journalists who have positioned themselves in the press gallery.

There are many new faces in the assembly room. Some 230 representatives, more than a third of the parliament, are sitting here for the first time, says the re-elected president of the German Bundestag, Christian Democrat Norbert Lammert, in his inaugural speech.

More representatives with migration backgrounds

Among these new faces are more women and young representatives than before, which Lammert welcomes. He also says he is pleased that people like Azize Tank, who were born abroad or whose parents or grandparents migrated to Germany, have found their place.

Norbert Lammert Ole Spata/dpa

Lammert notes that there are many new representatives of foreign origin

Never before has a German parliament counted so many representatives with a foreign background, Lammert says while the representatives applaud.

During one of the breaks, Turkish camera teams surround Cemile Giousouf, representative for the Christan Democrats, who speaks to them in Turkish. She is one of the new faces of the German Bundestag as well.

In the assembly room the parliament and Tank move on to the items on the agenda. Has it become boring already? "Not yet," Tank says.

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