Nothing says it all in the upcoming Berlin elections | Scene in Berlin | DW | 16.09.2011
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Scene in Berlin

Nothing says it all in the upcoming Berlin elections

Klaus Wowereit is hoping to win a third term as mayor of Berlin this weekend, boosted by an ad campaign with a bit of folksy charm. DW's Jane Paulick is disappointed she won't be joining in the election extravaganza.

Scene in Berlin

Berlin goes to the polls on September 18. Not that it's anything to do with me.

I might pay my taxes here, but as a British citizen I'm only allowed to vote in district elections. Great. This annoys me so much that I've even tried to get German nationality.

But this time round, I've missed the boat. A few months ago, after passing the citizenship test and filing just about every official document I've ever owned, I joined a Ghanaian family and a young Polish couple outside the Naturalization Office at my local citizen center. After an endless wait, I put my case to a jaded civil servant who sat behind a desk surrounded by potted plants that looked even wearier than he did. Brushing aside a bamboo palm, he skimmed my bulky ring binder only to sigh deeply and announce that it would take him at least six months to process my application.

Pirates weigh anchor

So for the time being, Berlin politics will be decided without me. The ubiquitous election posters currently gracing the cityscape now serve as a constant reminder of my outsider status. I feel like Berlin's having a shindig this weekend and I'm not invited. At least the libertarian Pirate Party has noticed the snub - one of their campaign posters features a bearded man in a turban calling for "voting rights for all Berliners, regardless of age and origins."

Pirate Party campaign poster

The young Pirate Party may enter parliament

Another reads: "Why am I bothering, you're not going to vote anyway," which is rubbing salt in the wound, as far as I'm concerned. But they're clearly doing something right. The party is this year's wild card and looks all set to secure the minimum 5 percent needed to enter parliament.

A man of few words

But while the Pirates are going all out to steal the show, it's actually the Social Democrats' far more understated campaign that's made me look twice. The party has obviously decided to steer well clear of edgy and opted instead for a cozy mawkishness designed to speak for itself. Shot in a grainy black and white, its posters boast an aesthetic similar to what make-up artists would call the 'nude look,' which we all know is never as easy as it looks.

One shows incumbent mayor Klaus Wowereit holding hands with an old lady. He has a roguish look on his face I can't quite decipher. It's strangely sappy and certainly not confidence-inspiring. In another, his expression isn't even visible because a small child with a crocodile puppet is grasping the premier's nose. Very cute, but again, why is he being made to look so…well, goofy?

Homeboy

Because it works, apparently. In the run-up to the Big Day, polls showed Wowereit easily outstripping all the other contenders. After 10 years in office and no serious pretenders to his throne waiting in the wings, maybe Wowi feels he's such a shoo-in he can afford a bit of silliness.

He hasn't even bothered with much of a message: None of the posters say anything other than Berlin verstehen (Understanding Berlin), although I do believe the picture with Schnappi the crocodile is supposed to be a comment on the SPD's education agenda.

Though this may look a tad too casual, in actual fact it's a shrewd, less-is-more approach that emphasizes one of his biggest selling points. Wowi is indeed a native Berliner, the classic local boy done good. Renate Künast on the other hand, the Greens' candidate and his main rival over the last few months, hails from oh-so-distant North Rhine-Westphalia and lost a lot of brownie points in recent months with a series of blunders that suggested she didn't quite have Berlin's measure.

SPD election poster

One campaign poster featured a stuffed crocodile

The easy confidence Wowi seems to be exuding in his posters could also be seen as a dig at her confrontational, sometimes brittle image. He doesn't have to try too hard, they appear to say, while the contrived smiles and high gloss of Künast's PR campaign come across as an attempt to turn her into someone she's not.

A punch in the face

But even Künast thinks Wowi is "a laugh," as she told the Stuttgarter Zeitung this week. And when Die Zeit asked her if they were on first name terms, she said they were. "He's always going around using first names and kissing everyone," she added.

What with one thing and another, Wowereit is probably staying put, and the Butter advertising agency responsible for the SPD campaign can take some of the credit for recognizing the very essence of his appeal. He's cuddly. All he needs to do to run Berlin is be himself.

Still, Butter has a funny way with words. On its website, I read that Wowi suits this city "like the proverbial Faust aufs Auge." This roughly means they're a good match. But the actual translation is closer to "like a punch in the face." Talk about mixed messages.

Author: Jane Paulick

Editor: Kate Bowen

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