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Germany's undaunted and idealistic election campaigners

Silke Wünsch ct
September 20, 2017

Come rain or shine, in cities or villages: All over Germany, people are manning info stands, ringing doorbells and otherwise drawing attention to the party they favor. DW's Silke Wünsch met those unsung campaigners.

Deutschland wählt BTW Reise 2017 Wahlkämpfer Adrian Hurrle FDP in Freiburg
Image: DW/S. Wünsch

From Freiburg to Stralsund, Cologne to Gorlitz: the pedometer in my car has increased by nearly 5,000 kilometers as a I've driven to the far corners of Germany on a tour to see politicians in person.

Together with their campaign assistants, these politicians are fighting for every vote – for their party and for their own parliamentary mandate.

FDP: Free Democratic Party

In the final phase of the election campaign, I encountered something unusual: In Freiburg, there are four young members of the Free Democratic Party running through the city in Santa Claus costumes.

They are distributing FDP flyers with the slogan, "Thinking today of tomorrow."

The unseasonable costumes have been adorned as a means of showing that one should think of the future ahead of time. In this context, that means considering the rapidity of digitization, a topic for the forward-looking Free Democrats.

The crowd at the weekly market by the Freiburg Minster is rather skeptical. They are mainly elderly people, who have no understanding for the funny idea.

Looking for students in the university city at the moment are a vain attempt – likely because it is the semester break. "Even if they were here, nobody is awake at this time," jokes candidate Adrian Hurrle.

Christoph Strom from SPD in Jena
Speaking to people is fun for Christoph StromImage: DW/R. Oberhammer

SPD: Social Democratic Party

In Jena, Thuringia, SPD candidate Christoph Matschie and his team are standing in front of a shopping center. He talks to the people while the young electoral assistants distribute flyers and ballpoint pens, who are obviously having great fun with it.

The 18-year-old Christoph is the youngest in the team. He can handle the criticism that is thrown by those who oppose the young Social Democrats. "One has to accept that the people have different attitudes."

Jena is a lively university city, with loads going on, even on a weekday morning. That's quite a difference from the surrounding region, which is quite rural.

Passing many of these places on the way north, in the Harz mountains, the villages look lost. The numerous campaign posters look like colorful foreign bodies pasted to front of the dreary house facades. No one is in the streets.

The Greens in the Harz use a game of boule
The Greens in the Harz use a game of boule to grab votesImage: DW/R. Oberhammer

The Green Party (Bündnis90/Die Grünen)

In the village of Osterode, we have agreed to meet with the campaign assistants from the Green Party. Osterode has almost 25,000 inhabitants, with a pedestrianized shopping street in the center. There is hardly a soul shopping here.

I run down to the river, where the Greens have prepared a small event: "bouleing for votes." They are holding a tournament of the popular lawn sport, boule, which seems more like a leisurely activity in France than part of an election campaign.

But it is the latter, as seen by the members of the Green Party on hand, with their logo on a nearby umbrella. Even gummy bears and green rubber ducks they're offering don't manage to attract many people.

That's standard for the Harz region.

Green candidate Viola von Cramon wants to fight for her constituency: "The population is shrinking as everyone moves away. The result is that kindergartens are closing, playgrounds abandoned, and schools and medical care are noticeably diminishing."

Von Cramon wants the region to become more attractive to businesses. At the moment, the area is not particularly attractive for living as there are no specialists. You can only account for what is there: great nature and inexpensive living space, in the heart of Germany. But even that is not enough.

AfD: Alternative for Germany

From there, I head east. Destination: Görlitz. On the radio, the results of the survey "ARD-Deutschlandtrend" are broadcast. The AfD is currently forecast to be the third largest in the parliamentary election.

Many people in Germany are concerned about this development, not wanting such a right-wing populist party to enter the Bundestag. That's a different story in Görlitz. And not only there.

AfD campaign helper Ramona Poniatowski bac
The established parties cannot win AfD campaign helper Ramona Poniatowski backImage: DW/R. Oberhammer

At the Polish border, in the easternmost city of Germany, it's raining. However, the AfD's campaign helps are at their stand in a square next to the weekly market. There are a lot of interested parties there. They make themselves friendly, communicative, crack jokes.

Yes, the population of Görlitz has declined in recent years. But now the number has begun to increase. Why, I ask them, and the answer is supplied with a large grin: "Well, because of those who come from somewhere else." It is not a positive assessment of this population growth.

Campaign helper Ramona Poniatowski had never really been interested in politics before. "Until the refugee crisis.  We founded a citizen's movement to say that something stinks in politics. And because it is about more than just protests, I went to the AfD party. It's the only party that represents what I would like to support."

Their motto, "Go get back Germany," is one which polarizes the country. In this constituency, the AfD is forecast to take more than 20 percent of the vote.

CDU/CSU: Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union

In Ludwigschorgast, Oberfranken, there seems to be a campaign poster per person
In Ludwigschorgast, a village of just 1,000 inhabitants, there seems to be a campaign poster per personImage: DW/S. Wünsch

On to the south. Destination: Ludwigschorgast, a village of just 1,000 people in Oberfranken. On the way, we pass through the Erz Mountains, through the villages of the Vogtland.

Here, very close to the Czech border, the tiny villages seem so insignificant that no campaigners would have dared to stray: No election poster far and wide, all the lampposts are empty on the roads along the way.

That's quite a different story in Ludwigschorgast. The village seems to make up for the lack of posters elsewhere, with a politician's grinning face staring out.

Especially present is the face of a CSU candidate who embodies the young and fresh face of the Bavarian people's party, 30-year-old Emmi Zeulner. She is adored by her fans: "Our Emmi" looks friendly, tender and almost too fond of this world.

But her perseverance has also caused an impasse in the neighborhood. One should not be blinded by Emmi Zeulner's appearance; she can be quite tough, says one of her co-workers.

At a campaign event in the evening, held by the Bavarian CSU in the clubhouse of the local football club, Emmi Zeulner has a friend in the controversial CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach, who has come to Ludwigschorgast from the sister party to stand at the CSU politician's side. In the audience, there is applause.

The Left Party (Die Linke)

I drive to Cologne. A large city with more than a million residents, it is the western-most stop on my trip.

The neighborhood of Chorweiler is made up of more than 75 percent migrants. You hear many languages: Turkish, Arabic, Russian, Italian.

At the weekly market, green grocers sell their vegetables for very cheap prices. That's something they have to do, as people here do not have much money to spend.

Around the corner, the Left have organized a "red party" with balloons, live music, barbecue and drinks, a foosball table.

Güldane Tokyürek, the candidate up for election, is talking to passersby. As a native Turk, she seems credible. But her outreach is limited as most of those present here do not have a German passport and are not allowed to vote.

All the same, they come by and gratefully take pens, balloons and pinwheels.

The campaign helpers take it as it comes. "They have no money to buy a ballpoint pen," says Sigrun Heicapell, 60, who bravely adds a small flyer to the ballpoint pen.

Christa Labouvie of the Left Party
Born in Dusseldorf, Christa Labouvie of the Left Party learned to love "Meck-Pomm"Image: DW/R. Oberhammer

In the northeastern town of Stralsund (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) the Left has better cards to play.

At the weekly market in front of the old town, they are positioned right next to the CDU and the SPD. It is the constituency of Federal Chancellor and CDU top candidate Angela Merkel.

But as a former East German Party, the Left has a home team advantage; most of the people stop at their stand to talk with the campaign helpers.

One of them is Christa Labouvie, a former Greens who turned to the Left. The Greens, she said, were no longer "left" enough for her. The West German originally from Dusseldorf finds the East German history, which stands behind the people, "incredibly exciting," and feels right at home here.

Prominent campaign helpers

In the far north, we finally encounter one of the two most famous election campaigners: SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz has come to Lubeck.

The challenger to CDU Chancellor candidate Merkel is in the TV program "Wahlarena" to answer audience questions. We, as journalists, have a minute to make a photo of him.

Schulz remains unapproachable, even if he looks friendly at the cameras, talks with the audience and also gives a thumbs-up. He is just a prominent campaigner, trained in rhetoric and swarmed by security services. He surely has a difficult role.

But for me, the toughest job is the one of all those unknown people out on the street, the campaign helpers getting out the vote on the streets all over Germany, from east to west, from north to south.