#152: Election recap, Berlin is a donut, balcony solar, embassy spy
Prepare for a boomer invasion
Dear 20 Percent,
Berlin gets a gold star: it can hold an election without any major hiccups, largely thanks to the new election commissioner Stephan Bröchler, who was brought in after the 2021 fiasco.
So what did go wrong on Sunday? Of the 2,257 polling stations, one received the wrong ballots. That’s it. Berlin can do democracy if it pulls up its sleeves.
Some election tidbits:
63% voter turnout. Could’ve been worse.
Apart from winning the election outright (28.2%), the centre-right CDU cleaned up in the outer areas. The East-West divide is no more. Now, it’s all about the thick, mostly black (CDU) ring versus the mostly Green core. We’re a burnt donut with a strange green filling.
Despite that graphic above, the SPD actually won 105 more votes than the Greens. Both parties get 34 seats in the Abgeordnetenhaus (state parliament). The Greens have not requested a recount.
The pro-business FDP didn’t pass the 5% threshold to get into parliament. A knock-on effect of this disaster is that national politicians in the party (which is also in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s governing coalition) say they will go on the offensive and block green climate policies like building fewer new autobahns. Hmm.
The brown edges of the burnt donut: The far-right AfD increased its share from 8% to 9.1%.
Ok, this aspect isn’t soooo democratic: The CDU won virtually every district election on Sunday, too. But the mostly SPD and Green district mayors are “elected bureaucrats” that were appointed in 2021 and have a right to remain in their jobs through 2026. And they’re not resigning voluntarily. They can only be deposed by a two-thirds majority in the local council but the CDU doesn’t have more than 40% support anywhere. Ouch.
Now what? CDU mayoral aspirant Kai Wegner will hold talks with still-mayor Franziska Giffey of the SPD and Green boss Bettina Jarasch over potential coalitions.
There are 4 options, some with stupid names:
The “Kenya” coalition (because of the flag): CDU-SPD-Green
GroKo, a “große”, or grand, CDU-SPD coalition, a marriage we saw on the national level for years under Angela Merkel that unites Germany’s two historically leading parties.
If none of those work, the SPD, Greens and Die Linke could re-heat their failed relationship — they have the seats to do it. But a lot of voters would not be happy.
My money is on the GroKo, because the CDU can’t stomach the Green vision for a climate-neutral, car-free city. Giffey’s SPD is “small-c” conservative, pragmatic and probably sick of the Greens and Die Linke anyway. Just a hunch.
Happy Valentines Day!
Balcony solar panels
Since Friday, people living in rental flats can apply for a subsidy of up to €500 to help them pay for a solar panel on their balcony, reports RBB. Only people whose primary residence is in Berlin can apply and the panels require the permission of your landlord. There are also certain technical requirements: the plug-n-play panels available at the Baumarkt aren’t eligible. Nope, you’ll have to get an electrician to install it. The info (in German) about how to apply for the subsidy is all here. The non-profit Solarwende Berlin offers free advice and has English info on its site.
Embassy spy trial
The trial of a former employee of the UK embassy in Berlin, David Ballantyne Smith, accused of spying for Russia, is underway at the Old Bailey in London. The prosecution alleges that Smith was handing over sensitive materials to the Russians for four years before being caught in a 2021 sting involving a fake Russian visitor to the embassy that Smith, who worked in security, waved through. Smith, who is married to a Ukrainian woman, allegedly became unhinged after she moved back home in 2018: he became pro-Russian and fiercely anti-German and anti-British. The Independent has the whole lurid story.
If you thought Berlin property was expensive, just wait. According to analyst Thomas Beyerle, interviewed in Tagesspiegel, retiring Baby Boomers could flood the city by 2030. Their kids are out of the house and they’re ready for a change: “Let's buy a nice city apartment, with a short walk to the doctor, and go to the theatre!” The boomers will, of course, have plenty of cash and will hoover up the well-built small- to mid-sized flats. Demand and prices will spike. They’re also likely to count out exact change ahead of you at the till, making you even more late to wherever it is you’re always going.
Racist attack by right-wing politician
Local right-wing politician Kai Borrmann (AfD) was fined €10,800 Tuesday for yelling racial epithets at a Berlin music journalist and her friend and then attacking the duo when they tried to leave a Mitte restaurant in 2021, according to RBB24. The judge said testimony from Borrmann’s girlfriend that he — a white man — was just trying to school the journalist, who was born in Kenya, on the proper use of the N-word was hardly believable. The academic interest doesn’t explain why he also bit the victim.
The Berlinale kicks off Thursday, so here’s a film factoid! The German blockbuster Good Bye, Lenin! premiered almost exactly 20 years ago. In it, a young man (Daniel Brühl) conceals the collapse of the Berlin Wall from his diehard communist mother (Katrin Sass), who spent the historic event in a coma. Good Bye, Lenin! was one of the most successful German films of all time, with more than 10 million tickets sold at the box office in the EU.
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