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How artists reacted to the German election

Elizabeth Grenier | Stefan Dege
September 24, 2017

Most of the country's artists and cultural institutions voiced their position on election day, inciting people to go out and vote. Surveys had already predicted the strong results obtained by the far-right AfD party.

German actor Elyas M'Barek - still from mobilization campaign
Celebrity actor Elyas M'Barek starred in an online video asking first-time voters not to choose the far-right AfD partyImage: facebook/Elyasbarek

A week before the election, surveys placed the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in third place.

Still, as voter polls have been wrong in the past, some people had hoped other "small parties," such as the Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats, could outdo the populist party's performance.

Pushing to get the vote out

Many cultural institutions, therefore, tried to increase voter turnout on Sunday.

Read more: Fearing the AfD, young German activists try to mobilize voters

As he had done ahead of the Brexit referendum to support European unity, artist Wolfgang Tillmans designed a set of posters for the German election, inciting everyone to go to the polls in order to keep the percentage of votes given to the AfD as low as possible.

As voting began on Sunday morning, different artists and cultural institutions, including artist Olafur Eliasson and art book publisher Taschen, posted on Twitter the ads designed by the winner of the prestigious Turner Prize:

"Take part in the election. Otherwise others will decide for you," states this poster.

"Sundays are super. To celebrate and to vote," adds this one.

Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie also urged people to go vote, offering their own creative take on the idea, with a design including the musical sharp sign:

Even Berlin's famous club, the Berghain, reminded its guests to go vote with their entrance stamp:

Glass wasn't half-full

Despite such efforts, important cultural figures remained pessimistic about the vote.

At the start of election day, Olaf Zimmermann, director of the German Cultural Council, the umbrella organization of Germany's national cultural associations, expressed his pessimism in view of the polls. "I'm more a 'glass half-empty' person. I hope to be taught a lesson today," he wrote in a tweet.

During the election campaign, the German Cultural Council had submitted 14 different demands to the different parties to compare their positions on various cultural policy issues. All parties responded to their request – except the AfD.

Read more:  Are there any 'hot' cultural policy issues in the German election campaign?

Comedian Jan Böhmermann's tweet, showing a plane flying an upside-down AfD banner, to which he added, "No comment," went viral throughout the weekend:

A post by Gilda Sahebi, one of the writers for Böhmermann's popular late-night satirical talk show, "Neo Magazin Royale," also posted a tweet that was shared by thousands of people:

"Today is the last day on which we as Germans can say, "Germany has learned from its history."

Stand-up comedian Oliver Pocher wrote, "I dared to send a vote for the AfD in the official voting box," posting a picture of himself tossing their flyer in a rubbish bin. 

Similarly, actor Lars Eidinger posted on Instagram an image where both the neo-Nazi party NPD and the AfD are thrown into the trash.

A screenshot of Lars Eidinger's post on Instagram, a drawing of an animal throwing the NPD and the AFD into the trash
A screenshot of Lars Eidinger's post on InstagramImage: Instagram/larseidinger


Je suis Deutschland

As the preliminary results of exit polls were released on Sunday evening, even satirists put on a dark face.

Political satire show "Extra 3" reacted to the news of the positive results for the AfD by creating a spoof of the famous "Je suis Charlie" logo that has been used to mark tragic events ever since the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015:

However, Islamophobic AfD supporters were quick to react to that post, connecting previous terrorist attacks to the deeds of Muslims.

Limited reactions by cultural institutions

Offering her first thoughts, author Carolin Emcke, winner of the 2016 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, pointed out that "the best protection against the far-right" is to avoid becoming far-right. 

But as the election results simply confirmed the fears shared by many prominent artists throughout the country ahead of the vote, social media reactions from cultural institutions were rather limited. 

Hoping for a wake-up call

Contacted by DW, the managers of various cultural institutions shared their disappointment.

Kaspar König, curator of the Skulptur Projekte Münster art show, said he was "frightened" by the fact that the AfD had obtained a double-digit result. Their campaign was "blatantly racist," and he said the atmosphere spreading in the country had also had an impact on his exhibition, as swastika graffiti had been smeared on some of the sculptures. "There's a clear connection," he said.

Still, König predicted that the AfD will fragment itself once in parliament and will not manage to influence cultural issues. 

The former director of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, Klaus Staeck, told DW he was "disappointed" by the results. He had paid for expensive newspaper ads to mobilize people to vote, an initiative supported by actresses Iris Berben and Katja Ebstein, author Johano Strasser and the director of the German Cultural Council, Olaf Zimmermann. 

However, Staeck does not see the AfD significantly changing Germany's political landscape. "With their absurd understanding of history, the AfD will never find a coalition partner," he said. "But for people involved in culture in this country, these results are a wake-up call!"

Portrait of a young woman with red hair and glasses
Elizabeth Grenier Editor and reporter for DW Culture