On the evening of Oct.1, the whole Germany will be watching Dresden -- and not only because the old city looks so spectacular in the twilight. On that Saturday night, the first episode of a new season of "Wetten dass…," Europe's most successful TV show, will be broadcast live from the eastern German city that once helped bring down the East German communist regime with massive demonstrations in 1989.
The show in which celebrities place bets on different contestants and their quirky stunts is moderated by Thomas Gottschalk, Germany's most famous show-master. His guests will include the pop bands Simply Red and Backstreet Boys, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, German actress Heike Matkatsch and soccer player Lukas Podolski.
It will be entertainment, as usual.
On the following morning, however, voters will hit the polls in one of the Dresden districts to cast their general election ballots, two weeks after the rest of Germany voted on Sept. 18. The election in Dresden was delayed after the death of a neo-Nazi candidate during the electoral campaign. Up to three parliamentary seats are at stake but the result is expected to leave the conservative Christian Union's slim lead in place.
First postponed, then cancelled?
The extraordinary election has already led to some confusion: The city of Dresden announced on Monday that official-looking, but falsified letters, bearing the signature of the local election district manager, have been circulating around the city, mis-informing the electorate that the voting in the district 160, scheduled for Sunday, has been cancelled. The district election manager Detlef Sittel said that the incident is under investigation and that charges would be pressed.
But it is unlikely that the elections in Dresden will tip the scales in the German parliament, where Angela Merkel's conservative coalition (CDU/CSU) has a three-seat advantage over Chancellor Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD). The slight advantage that the conservatives currently hold may diminish, however, which could further complicate the negotiations and strengthen Chancellor Schröder's claim to power.
It's show-time, again!
Over the next couple of day, a number of German politicians will travel to Dresden to campaign for the 219,000 votes that are left for grabs. Both Merkel and Schröder will make their appearances at party rallies on Friday.
Peggy Bellmann, the candidate for the free-market liberal FDP party, has no chance of making it into the Bundestag, but she'll still help her team to fight on until election day. The FDP candidate is advising Dresden's citizens to vote tactically.
"Why not vote CDU for your first vote and choose us for the second vote?" she told voters. "That way you'll help the CDU."
German voters cast two votes in Bundestag elections, a "first vote" for a constituency representative and a "second vote" for a party list. The first vote determines half of the parliament's total composition. The second vote determines the Bundestag's majority, as the overall proportion of "aye" ballots each party gets in the second vote determines how many candidates from that state list will be granted seats in the Bundestag.
Politicians are not ordinary people
This district 160 in Dresden includes a number of housing estates, where many residents have a poor opinion of politicians.
"Those at the top should start making cuts a bit closer to home," one Dresden resident told Deutsche Welle. "Then we might start listening to them. Whichever party gets in, they should cut their allowances, cut their pensions, and then think about ordinary people."
During the election campaign, Bavarian Premier and CSU party leader Edmund Stoiber made a serious political mistake by saying that frustrated voters in the former East should not determine the election outcome. Now they have the chance to do this, and the conservatives may suffer.
But CDU candidate Andreas Lämmel is not disheartened. Lämmel is fighting for the last seat in the Bundestag and his chances are looking fairly good.
Help thy political opponent
Lämmel's political opponents are also doing him a favor. Many of Dresden's residents think that Chancellor Schröder and the Social Democrats are poor losers.
"Well, we don't have to do much at all right now," Lämmel said. "Schröder's appearance on the night of the election, and the activities of the SPD since then mean that I'm having no problems with convincing people Germany needs the CDU."
In a televised appearance on the night of the German election, Schröder pushed forward his claim to chancellorship in a way which many observers found to be too belligerent. But the Social Democrats are not the only rival that the CDU is facing. The successors to the former Communist party, the Left party -- formerly known as PDS -- is running neck and neck with the CDU. In the Bundestag elections, they won the vote of almost a quarter of electors in eastern Germany.
In Dresden, residents are aware of how the rest of the country voted, and now the whole of Germany wants to know how they will vote.
"I think it's great," one voter said. "I've already sent off my postal vote and this time my choice was different from what I'd originally planned. It was more a case of seeing how everyone else voted and then deciding what to do."
The coming weekend in Dresden is bound to be filled with excitement. Although nobody -- not even Thomas Gottschalk -- will dare to bet on the outcome.