If Germany were America, this would be the season of attack ads. But Germany is not America, and attack ads, like Super PACs, are unimaginable here, legally and culturally. There are no deep-pocketed groups who set out to destroy the characters of individual candidates. Even the politicians themselves are remarkably restrained. In part, that is because the two main candidates, chancellor Angela Merkel and her challenger Peer Steinbrück, worked together (he was her finance minister between 2005-09) and genuinely respect each other. But mainly it is because the Germans really don’t want to go there. If anybody were to get personal and nasty on an American scale, he or she would get society’s red card and be out. This may be the best thing about German democracy. But if you don’t have attack ads, you need something else. So Germany has posters. Lots of them. Everywhere. This week I went to an event at a cute little cinema in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district where Hermann Gröhe, the general secretary of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel’s party, introduced the “second wave” of posters, one of which you see above.
The vast majority of posters are tame, if not boring. Typically, you see the local candidate smiling at you and the party’s acronym and short slogan. Nonetheless, the parties try to pack more or less subtle messaging into the posters, and that can be telling.
The CDU, for example, clearly wagers everything on the huge popularity of Angela Merkel. It is as though she were the party. Content and “issues” as one might expect them in a party platform are nowhere to be seen. The words accompanying her photos are short, simple and forceful, but also very general. The caption above says “Germany is strong. And shall remain so.” This is supposed to remind you that Germany has record employment numbers at a time when other countries are struggling, and that this is no time to change government. (That message is very similiar to another famous CDU slogan from the 1950s: “no experiments”.)