Three lessons from the debacle

Neglect, poor educational policy and now also invalid elections: In the German capital, the entire vote for the House of Representatives has to be repeated. Three lessons can be learned from this.

Chaos on election day in Berlin.

Susanne Gaschke, author in the Berlin office of the NZZ.

Susanne Gaschke, author in the Berlin office of the NZZ.

You are reading an excerpt from the weekday newsletter “The Other View”, today by Susanne Gaschke, author in the Berlin office of the NZZ. Subscribe to the newsletter for free. Not resident in Germany? Benefit here.

In the city state of Berlin, the recent state elections, which are called elections to the House of Representatives here, have to be repeated by order of the state constitutional court. Completely. Within 90 days. The conduct of the election on September 26, 2021 was a spectacular disaster with traffic chaos, missing ballot papers and completely different opening hours of the polling stations.

Berlin’s governing mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) had the chutzpah to announce on Twitter yesterday that there would no longer be “an incorrect election like last time” with her. It was her red-green-red senate that was responsible for the election debacle – like many other abysses of Berlin city politics.

It is not the case that errors in the determination of election results in Germany had not occurred earlier, but very rarely, for example in 2009 in Schleswig-Holstein or 2018 in Hesse. But never before has there been such a strong feeling that it might be better to call in OECD election observers in the face of the hubris and wantonness of election officials.

Biotope for criminals and extremists

The dysfunctionality of the German capital is not just a Berlinalia, it is a portent for the whole country. For everything that, due to negligence, fear of making decisions and internal party politics, no longer works the way it actually sees itself in Germany.

It starts with Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER), which should have opened in 2011 and was only completed in 2020. It already looks like it needs renovation and doesn’t even begin to do justice to the number of its passengers. And it is – as the capital’s airport! – anything but a hub of international air traffic.

This continues with a Berlin judicial policy that sets no limits to climate extremists or squatters, clan crime or open drug trafficking.

Berlin sees itself as social, cosmopolitan and diverse – but an overloaded, structurally overwhelmed administration does not produce socially desirable conditions. While “Refugees welcome” was being posted during the 2015/16 refugee crisis, desperate refugees camped for days in degrading conditions in front of the responsible Berlin State Office for Health and Social Affairs (Lageso) until they even got accommodation.

Long-term integration is handled just as laxly as the initial reception of refugees: in some Berlin schools, more than 80 percent of the children do not speak German. There is no convincing plan to change that. Anti-Semitism and insults against children of German origin who also eat their lunch during Ramadan are not isolated cases.

In the nationwide performance ranking of schools, Berlin is far behind. The fact that its universities continue to enjoy great popularity is less due to their academic level and more to the fact that Berlin is undisputedly Germany’s party capital. At least that.

Too much is simply accepted

The city does not manage to take action against the neglect in the districts and in its actually grandiose flagship park Tiergarten. It has no recognizable concept for combating homelessness, begging, and uncontrolled dumping of bulky waste. It accepts the desolation of the inner city centers and encourages it even more – through the consistent destruction of parking space. Investor-driven, but without comprehensible urban planning, the ghettos of tomorrow are emerging in large areas of central Berlin.

Neglected infrastructure, massive traffic problems, failed integration, poor educational policy: all of these are plagues that people in Duisburg-Marxloh and Hamburg-Billbrook are also grappling with. In Berlin, however, the undesirable developments can be seen as clearly as under a magnifying glass. The electoral disaster of 2021 is now challenging the most important, supreme principle of any democracy: that elections are indeed equal, always, everywhere.

Three lessons can be learned from this. First, Germans should be a bit more careful when lecturing other European countries like Hungary or Poland about their democratic processes. Secondly, those who don’t think the Berlin disaster is bad should stop hypocrisy about the allegedly deplorable abstention in Germany (45 percent in the most recent state elections). It’s obviously not the case that every vote counts.

Third: If the state elections in Berlin are completely inadmissible according to the court order – how can the federal elections held on the same day (and just as incorrectly) survive?

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