My Sunday evenings are defined by a glass of red wine, in the winter a cozy fire and Tatort. For a long time I scoffed at the television show, wondering how it could possibly still be popular since 1970 when it first began. But if anything, it has become more popular, even reaching cult status. After admitting to an acquaintance that I too had fallen into the Tatort trap of television watchers, he high-fived me and said, “Welcome to the club!” The look of astonishment on my face spoke volumes, as he continued, “In Freiburg at the university, if you didn’t watch Tatort on Sunday evening, you didn’t have a lot to talk about on Monday morning. You just had to watch it. Really!”
Tatort is a “Who dunnit” series. Usually the stories are pretty exciting, but sometimes not; often the actual culprit isn’t too difficult to identify. But what makes it interesting is that the show has 21 investigators, 19 of them in Germany, one pair in Switzerland and one in Austria, each pair being the star maybe two or three times a year. Sunday evenings I’m never sure where I’m going to end up when I turn the on the TV. According to the Tatort website, it is a goal of the show to make evident the specialty of each city where the investigators are at work. In Cologne the viewer often sees the cathedral as the background for the last scene or when in Ludwigshafen, a city not too far away from us, the sights of the city, the surrounding area and sounds of their dialect is as if they had filmed in our backyard.
To say I look forward to my date every Sunday evening with Tatort is equivalent to saying peanut butter sort of looks forward to jelly. Are you kidding? It’s like a party every time, for me and the peanut butter. So what really ruins my Sunday evening is when for some ridiculous reason Tatort is not showing. It’s not because I don’t have other worthwhile activities like reading or journaling or some church-related work, it’s that I’ve been looking forward to it ALL weekend, basically since the kids were in bed on Friday evening because that’s when my weekend starts. And Tatort is the cherry that tops off the sundae of my weekend. Without the cherry the sundae is just not the same.
Last Sunday was the German federal election. The big question was not if the German people wanted Angela Merkel to continue being chancellor – most of them do. What was going to be interesting was the percentage with which the party won. Let me explain: here a party is elected, not just one person. Although Merkel’s party, Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU), campaigned with Merkel as their focus (which worked well for them this time), the party still received the votes.
As with any political system, the German one is complicated, especially for Americans who know something completely different. The US is basically a two-party system. Yes, there are a few exceptions, but it’s the two main parties that run the circus that is American government. In Germany I’m not sure anyone can really say how many different parties exist. Some parties only function in one particular Bundesland (similar to the American states); the majority have such a small following, the average German has never heard of them. Generally speaking there are currently five parties which heavily influence the German political landscape. There are exceptions, and I’ll get to those in a minute.
The two biggest parties and what are known as the Volkspartei (literally: the people’s party) are the CDU and the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD). I’m not going to go into the ideology of each party because I don’t have the capacity here and I’m pretty sure I would not get it quite right which would reign down teaching from my husband. These are the “big parties”, which means one or the other usually has the majority of the votes. Then there are “little parties”, which are nonetheless very important. Included in this group are the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP), Die Linke, und Die Grünen. A word to the “exceptions”: there are parties that come along that will play a role in government for a short time, only to disappear again. In 2009 the Piratenpartei Deutschland won a surprising number of votes that put them into the Bundestag (the German Federal Parliament or the group of voted individuals who make the decisions). This year they disappeared again, only to have a different party – the Alternative für Deutschland – shake things up a bit by almost winning enough votes.
A party might receive a high percentage of votes, but in order to “come to power” alone, it needs to have the absolute Mehrheit (absolute majority), meaning, of course over fifty percent of the votes. Except in Bavaria, this happens very rarely. I don’t think it’s ever happened on a federal level. So in order for a party to take control of the government, it needs to build a Koalition (coalition, defined in my fabulous dictionary as a “temporary alliance for combined action, esp. of political parties). Usually, but not always, this coalition happens between one of the big parties and one of the little parties. For example since 2009 until now Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU, governed with the FDP.
Last Sunday the German people voted with 71, 5 % turnout. As I do not have German citizenship, I am not allowed to vote, but as I am interested, I accompanied my husband to our elementary school where he cast his vote. Of course because it’s German, the voting system is very well-organized. Every eligible voter receives a notification per snail mail informing him (or her) of the upcoming vote and where his Wahllokal (polling location) is. Our town is divided into four polling locations, two for this side of town and two for that side. Each voter is required to bring along his notification (although in a little town like ours that’s maybe not so important) and his Ausweis (identification). As I was waiting for Patrick to finish, I took a look at the ballot hanging outside for viewing purposes. One column had 14 different parties to choose from!
At 6:00 p.m. the first winner prognoses rolled in, as the polling locations close at that time. As expected the CDU did well; for a short time it even looked as if they would have the absolute majority, which would really have been historic. And then it turned out the FDP – who has, as some comedians have made clear by holding eulogies of late, been losing popularity over the last four years – did not even reach the 5 %-Hürde (or 5 % threshold), which is necessary for any party to reach in order to have their elected officials take part in the parliament. This certainly was historic because the FDP, although small, has played a significant role in German politics since its founding in 1949.
By now I’m sure the reader is dying to know – who won?! Well, there really is no simple answer to that question. As I mentioned it was pretty clear Merkel and her CDU party would do well – and they did very well with their 41, 5 % of the votes. FDP obviously did not do well with their less than 5 %. Both the SPD (25,7 %) and Grünen (8,4 %) parties mourned their results, but celebrated the FDP’s death. (That’s not very nice, is it?) But this is the best part: because Merkel’s party did so well, the CDU’s coalition partner from the last four years (FDP) suffered. And because the FDP is no longer in the parliament, they can no longer be the coalition partner from CDU. So now the CDU is trying to find a coalition partner from the other parties (SPD or Grünen – Die Linken are out of the question because of differing ideologies), neither of which are particularly interested. The CDU did well, but cannot at this point be declared the winner.
The evening of the election commentators, as they interviewed one politician after the other, began to talk about the “election Tatort”. Amusing, I thought, until 8:15 p.m. rolled around and the real Tatort didn’t show because of more boring interviews. Great. My Tatort cherry had been stolen because of the election. And I didn’t even get to vote.
All election information found on http://www.heute.de.