I hadn't immediately realised which district Vera Lengsfeld is standing in: it's the Kreuzberg/Friedrichshain/Prenzlauer Berg-East
district of Berlin. A district that has a tradition to uphold when it comes to attracting national attention.
Kreuzberg is the famous/notorious bulwark of the countercultural left; the historical home of West-Berlin's squatters movement and the stage for rowdy annual May Day riots. In the last decade or two, however, Turkish immigrants have come to outnumber German leftists.
Neighbouring Friedrichshain is in the former East-Berlin, across the canal the Berlin Wall once looked out on. Before WW2, Friedrichshain was a leftist bulwark. Now it is one of the two centres of alternative culture in East-Berlin, along with the more thoroughly gentrified Prenzlauer Berg. But Friedrichshain also encompasses some of the most pompous communist architecture, and the Karl Marx Allee's Stalinist kitsch is still inhabited by many a matching retired GDR apparatchik.
In short, it's a culturally eclectic district and quite tricky to navigate. But there's one man who has shown he can do it: the Green Party's enfant terrible, Christian Stroebele
A politician from the party's leftmost wing, Stroebele was refused a safe place on the national party list in 2002. So in something of a defiant candidacy, he stood as Green candidate for the Kreuzberg/Friedrichshain district instead. It seemed a quixotic cause even for this part of town, but he tirelessly criss-crossed the neighbourhood on his bicycle with his trademark red scarf, and talked to anyone who would listen.
He promptly won, eking out a narrow victory with 32% of the vote over his Social-Democrat (29%) and ex-Communist (21%) rivals. In so doing, he became the Greens' first ever MP to be elected as the winner of a district, rather than as part of the seats assigned on the basis of proportional representation.
In 2005, Stroebele was easily re-elected with 43% of the vote, thanks in part to a large number of Social-Democrats crossing over to vote for him. The Greens in his district shocked petit bourgeois Germany again when they successfully spearheaded a campaign to name a street after Rudi Dutschke
Perhaps unsurprisingly considering all the above, the Christian-Democratic candidate in this district only won 13% and 11% of the vote in 2002 and 2005. So cleavage or no cleavage, Vera Lengsfeld
has a tough hill to climb.
Lengsfeld is not just any local politician though, and not your typical Christian-Democrat either.
She hails from the East-Germany state of Thuringia, and in the GDR times was a notable dissident. In the 1980s, she was active in underground peace, civil rights, environmental and religious groups. In 1983, she was banned from employment (Berufsverbot). In 1988, she was arrested and kicked out to the West.
After the Wall fell, Lengsfeld returned and took part in the Round Table negotiations. In 1990, she was elected to the East-German parliament, and after reunification to the new German parliament, for the Green Party. As MP, she drew attention with her protest against the first Gulf War.
When the Stasi's archives opened, Lengsfeld discovered that her own husband had spied on her during communism. In 1996, she broke with the Greens when the party declared itself willing to participate into local coalition governments with the former communist PDS, and together with several other former dissidents who left the Greens at that time joined the Christian-Democrats instead. She stayed in parliament as Christian-Democrat from Thuringia till 2005, when she withdrew her candidacy after trying to be nominated for a district seat and being passed over.
I still don't think Lengsfeld stands a chance in hell to be elected in the Kreuzberg/Friedrichshain district. But she's obviously giving it a spirited run.
Meanwhile, on a sidenote, Lengsfeld's show of bosom seems to have forced other competitors into related stunts. The local candidate for the Left Party (an amalgam of the East-German ex-communists of the PDS and disgruntled West-German laborites who left the Social-Democrats) is making her own bid for attention. On her posters, 36-year old Halina Wawzyniak
turns her back to us, pseudo-tattooed "Socialist", and captioned with the somewhat untranslatable slogan "Mit Arsch in der Hose in den Bundestag" [lit. "with ass in the pants into parliament"].
(image from sueddeutsche.de