People's taste in music speaks volumes about who they are, so what do political parties' telephone tunes say? DW's Jefferson Chase called the headquarters of Germany's major parties to find out.
Germany's political parties encompass a broad spectrum of views, styles and cultures. Greens, for instance, tend to dress and talk differently than Bavarian conservatives - and generally hold very different opinions. But do those distinctions remain true in terms of music?
I decided to find out by dialing into German political parties' phone systems and being placed on hold - starting with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), from whom I was expecting something stately and monumental. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, perhaps, or a bit of Bach. But, if the CDU puts you on hold, you're treated to this:
I never knew that Barry Manilow was a CDU member. I mean, Merkel may be an easygoing, middle-of-the-road type politician, but if that piano melody were any more lightweight, it would disappear into the exosphere.
Surely the Social Democrats (SPD) would offer something more down-to-earth and working-class. Maybe a bit of Billy Bragg or "The Internationale"? Not by a country mile. Have a listen:
Wow, did that ever take me back to the 1990s. The truth is out there - is that the message the SPD are trying to communicate? Or do chancellor candidate Martin Schulz and the fine folks in the Willy-Brandt-Haus think that this sort of ambient electronica is what kids listen to these days?
I went even further to the left: to the Left party, the successor to the former East's ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany. With them I was anticipating Soviet marching bands or something of that ilk. I got a surprise:
Much to my shame, I kind of liked this, even though I kept waiting for David Hasselhoff to burst in with a chorus of "Looking for Freedom." At least there's some passion in this tune, however misplaced. I couldn't help but image some lone lefty rocking his heart out in the basement of party headquarters near Berlin Alexanderplatz, happily oblivious to the capitalist world around him.
One of the quirks of the German political system is that Bavaria has its own conservative party, the CSU, which has a love-hate relationship with its bigger sibling, the CDU. The CSU's independent identity had to be reflected in a little oompah music at party headquarters, right? Wrong:
The CSU's tune is much better than the CDU's, but why the hell interrupt it every 10 seconds to tell callers that all the lines are busy? If you're put on hold, then eo ipso no one is available to talk to you. I always think that this sort of thing - common to help lines and call centers as it is - is sadistic. Each time the muzak is interrupted, you think, "Great I finally get to talk to a human," only to have those hopes pitilessly dashed when the mechanical voice commences. That's no way to treat potential voters.
I expected something ethno-pop like Vampire Weekend from the Greens and, from the Free Democrats and their trendy front man, Christian Linder, I was thinking suave and European - like Phoenix or maybe classic Roxy Music. But what I got was this:
It's funny. These two parties - which both aspire to represent younger, creative voters who think outside mainstream boxes - loathe one another. But their choice of music suggests that the Greens and the FDP are more alike, and a whole lot less cool, than they want to think.
And what about the Alternative for Germany (AfD)? As any journalist working in Germany can attest, the right-wingers don't care much for the press - or for any input from outside the party's rank and file for that matter. If you ring their headquarters, you're likely to get this:
If you see the world as a strange hostile place full of foreigners, it's only natural that you'd be somewhat hesitant to answer the phone. So, I can only imagine what the AfD's hold music is. A particularly agitated excerpt from Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music"? Field recordings of a bullet train jamming on rusty brakes to avoid hitting a guy operating a jackhammer on the tracks and then hitting him anyway? A mashup of Phil Collins, Sting and Billy Joel? Or something else so preternaturally horrible that callers will immediately hang up of their own free will?
If it were up to me, they'd use the song "Let Down" by Radiohead, if only because I really fancy the idea of party chairpeople Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel staring down at their shoes and singing the "hysterical and useless" bit. But that's highly unlikely. So I'd settle for the one song that fits pretty much any party, regardless of political orientation: the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want." If that already sounds depressing, remember that the song worked well enough for Donald Trump in 2016.