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Culture

Meet Herr Wichmann of the CDU

A new documentary from the award-winning director of "Grill Point" is captivating German cinema-goers with its hilarious portrait of a young conservative candidate canvassing for his party.

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Struggling with himself: failed conservative candidate Henryk Wichmann

Henryk Wichmann looks older than he is. But it might just be the stress. The subject of Andreas Dresen's new documentary has been rushed off his feet of late. "Interviews, interviews, interviews," he sighs. "But I don't think the media interest will last."

It's doubtful. Herr Wichmann von der CDU (Mr. Wichmann of the Christian Democrats), a film about the 25-year-old law student's failed attempt to get elected in an eastern German socialist stronghold last year, is playing to packed cinemas across Germany. It has shot Wichmann, a self-confessed conservative ("It's just my nature"), to fame overnight.

Dresen -- whose last film, Grill Point or Halbe Treppe, as it is called in German , won him numerous accolades, including the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival -- trailed Wichmann during the national elections in Germany last September as he fought to increase the conservative opposition's votes in the Uckermarkt. The cards were stacked against him in the Brandenburg constituency with 25 percent unemployment and a habit for voting for Chancellor Schröder's Social Democrats. Showing the other side of politics

Dresen says he wanted to show the other side of a political campaign with his film. "I'm just as bad as the next person. I avoid these political candidates with their leaflets on the street," he told DW-WORLD. "So I thought it would be interesting to stand on the other side, spend time with a candidate and find out what really happens in a political campaign, when things go wrong."

And Wichmann, thick-skinned, flanked by a downtrodden pregnant girlfriend and with a severe crush on CDU head Angela Merkel, coupled with Dresen's sharp eye for humor, makes for hilarious viewing.

"I'd give you one of my leaflets, but you don't seem to have a hand free," Wichmann says to a potential voter, as Dresen's camera swings to another limping past on crutches.

Later, whilst filming his party political broadcast, two girls walk into the shot. Wichmann shoos them out of the way rudely. "But they're your potential voters, Henryk," Dresen says. "Those two? Pah! No way," Wichmann retorts.

"I didn't think he'd be so funny"

But Dresen claims he wasn't looking to make fun of his subject. "None of us thought it would be so big," Dresen says. "I had no idea Wichmann would be such a funny subject."

Despite the lighter moments of his political campaign, Wichmann himself can hardly be described as "funny."

The politician, who joined the CDU at the age of 16 and claims "the party is my home," reveals his dark side when it comes to non-Germans.

"These foreigners, you know, the ones that exploit the German social security system," is the constant refrain Wichmann trots out to the disillusioned Uckermarkt voters in the film.

Yet Dresen, who still keeps in contact with his subject, is not convinced Wichmann is an extreme right-winger. "I don't think he's racist," he says. "He's very young and I think in many ways he takes the CDU values a bit too far, but in reality he's much more liberal than he comes across in the film. He's a populist, sure, but not a racist."

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