The 2017 German federal election, or Bundestagswahl (BOOND-us-toggs-vall) is on Sept. 24, and and so you know what that means: The Wahlkampf (VOLL-komf, literally “vote fight”) is in full bloom, and German airwaves offer little more than an increasingly absurd escalation of attack ads narrated by the Doom Voice Narrator. Psych! There are no attack ads in Germany—indeed, election campaign financing is government funded, meager, and as strictly regulated as the shopping-cart deposit process at Aldi (hence: VERY STRICT), so all Germans get during the six-week (!!!!) campaign season is a single 90-second spot from every party, run a handful of times—like, ever, not during the same episode of “HouseHunters”—and, oh yeah, a shit-ton of posters. So, so, so goddamned many posters.
German Wahlplakate (VOLL-plah-kott-uh) presently cover every available surface in every place in the Federal Republic that humans live, drive, bicycle, walk by, or might glance at from a moving train for four seconds. And since the posters are for all intents and purposes all the parties have, each poster’s slogan is agonized over, since it will be the primary subject of voter discussion until election day. (Germans vote for a party, and the leader of the party with the most votes—pronounced ONG-uh-luh MUR-kul—becomes Chancellor, and every party with at least 5 percent of the vote gets representation in the Bundestag, or national parliament).
As such, this year’s placards are subject to pointed discussion, and not just because Germans will pointedly discuss the toe-room in their shoes for two hours if you let them. This year, at least one party hired an outside firm from the U.S. to come up with their slogans (I will let you guess which; JK it will be painfully obvious), and at least one party is making headlines because its Nazi-bashing jokes went too far.
Let’s take a look at some of the major parties’ efforts to win the loyalty of Johannes Sechser-Pack, shall we?
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party is considered “Center-Right” by Germans but in the U.S. would be what happened if my ex-stepdad Barack Obama actually were also super-uncool and an inveterate miser. Like, we’d be lucky to get an electable Democrat who was as far to the left on most issues as the CDU. (Also, the enemy of our enemy, etc.) As such, the CDU could have just come out with a bunch of posters of Merkel looking at us like, What else are you going to do, really? And maybe just some phoned-in clip art of the German flag and a bunch of vague slogans about nothing.
AND GUESS WHAT? THEY MOTHERFUCKING DID.
Merkel’s smirky slogan is For a Germany in which we live good and well, meaning that the CDU is both compassionate and committed to prosperity, and also knows the difference between an adjective and an adverb. The Cologne Stadt-Anzeiger proclaimed the campaign neuartig (NOY-art-ik), or “novel,” which is I guess how you pronounce DGAF in German.
Funnily enough, this year’s frumpiest campaign comes courtesy of Die Linke (dee LINK-uh), or “The Left,” which is essentially a bunch of folks who think the Social Democrats sold out, and thus cut into the mainstream Socialist voting base juuuust enough to make sure the SPD will never win another election again (or so says I, a trained political scientist). Anyway, the Stadt-Anzeiger proclaimed this year’s posters altbacken (ALT-bock-un), which literally means “old-baked” but actually means “dowdy,” ha ha ha ha ha ha.
One of their most popular reads No desire for the status quo: THE LEFT, and then the crossed-out parts, which represent what we DON’T have desire for, leave NON-redacted parts that say Desire for The Left, with a period at the end even though this is a FRAGMENT, thus also imparting a subtle fuck-you to the CDU and their STATUS QUO of doing grammar. I’m sorry, the old Rebecca can’t vote for the Left. Why not? Oh, because she’s not German. And also, because she died of boredom explaining this slogan.
However, it turns out I should have budgeted my ability to withstand boredom, because even if I came back from the dead, I would die again trying to get through the campaign by the FDP, or Free Democrats, who are basically what Uber would be like if it were a political party wearing really tight pants. Oh, did you not know that the FDP’s leader, Christian Lindner, is a hot 38-year-old? YOU DIDN’T? I didn’t, so I’m glad that they plastered his Angesicht all over every single poster.
If you can manage to pry your eyes away from the Aryan stubbly man-candy, you will be rewarded with slogans like “Digitalization changes everything. When will politics change?” and my personal favorite, “[Cyber]security must be better-organized than crime.” The Stadt-Anzeiger has proclaimed Lindner’s slogans verkopft (fair-KOPP-ft), which I thought meant “beheaded,” since the word Kopf means head and the prefix ver SOMETIMES undoes the root verb, like in verlaufen, which is ver + the word for to run, and means “to get lost.” Aaaaaanyway, turns out verkopft ACTUALLY means “heady,” which I guess also means “what a really annoying startup pitch deck would look like if it ran for office.”
The SPD, or Social Democrats, are probably the party that would be in charge of Germany if the progressive-types could stop fighting amongst themselves and forming splinter parties. They’re not doing themselves any favors with their yawnfest of a 2017 campaign, which is earnest but uninspired, which I guess also describes their voter base. Here’s a poster about wage parity. I agree with it, but I am also so annoyed with it I understand they just can’t muster up enough votes to bump Merkel off (METAPHORICALLY).
It says: “If you give 100 percent, you shouldn’t earn 21 percent less.” Is there NO way they could have made that snappier? Like, here, I’ll try: “I give 100 percent at work. Why do I only earn 79?” THIS ISN’T HARD.
Or maybe it is. Because the AfD, or Alternative for Germany—the Fatherland’s version of Trumpian white-supremacist nativism—went and hired Harris Media, an advertising firm out of Texas that helped get our current president elected. Wow, it must have been so freeing for them to eschew all those inconvenient dog-whistles and just do crazy bigotry as directly as possible. The fruits of their labor are a campaign that the Stadt-Anzeiger calls both “incomprehensible” and racist.
“There’s no room for ‘Islam’ in OUR kitchen!” You heard it here first: AfD is the party that loves killing adorable baby piglets out of xenophobic spite. And here’s my personal “favorite”: “Multicolored diversity? Oh, WE’VE GOT THAT ALREADY.” Get it? Because the white people are dressed in a bunch of different colors of insufferable Tracht (TROKT), or traditional costume. Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. It kills me to know that these are real people who voluntarily posed for these posters and are just, like, relishing, in how racist and cruel they can be. The piglet I’ll give a pass, obviously.
Luckily, wherever there is insufferable racist bullshit in German, there is also desert-dry satire to mess with it. Enter, then, the recipient of my own personal imaginary German vote, Die PARTEI, or “The PARTY,” a joke party run by my new boyfriend Nico Semsrott (sorry Christian Lindner!), a 31-year-old satirist who recently told the Washington Post he performs “stand-up tragedy,” which is the single Germanest thing that anyone has ever said in the history of humanity. Semsrott recently set some Teutonic tongues wagging with possibly the most inflammatory poster campaign of them all, a spectacularly clever send-up of the ultra-right-wing parties that involves the slogan “Nazis could hang here,” which is kind of whoa, but actually means that Semsrott claimed the space where a far-right poster could be—a poster that itself could have contained the intentionally odious slogan of the Neo-Nazi party Die Rechte (“The Right”), “We don’t only hang posters.”
If I had to give any party’s posters an edge, for efficacy of message I will have to hand it to the fucking AfD, but for simple bluster and confidence—the political equivalent of a supermodel in normcore—the CDU wins handily. Which, of course, they will. The cutest thing about all of this is that Germans think they’ve got election exhaustion. Aww.