On posters blanketing the German capital, a warning is emblazoned: “We give a face to the crisis.” The visage is Nico Semsrott’s, ghost white save the shadow cast on his right cheek by the upturned hood of his black sweatshirt. He glowers. This is the face of a hoodlum — gazing out from placards advertising his campaign for the German Parliament. The election is next month. But crisis? What crisis? Semsrott is not campaigning in the United States, where emotions are red hot. This is Germany, where politics is seemingly untroubled. The chancellor, Angela Merkel, is poised to claim a fourth term, polls show. One poster for her center-right party, the Christian Democratic Union, features a young woman lying in the grass, sleeping. “Enjoy the summer now and make the right choice in the autumn,” the flier counsels, suggesting that voters sleepwalk through the race.
But Semsrott would rather voters snicker than snooze. He is the leading candidate in Berlin for Die PARTEI — the Party for Labor, Rule of Law, Animal Protection, Promotion of Elites and Grassroots Democratic Initiative. More aptly, “The Party.” Founded in 2004 by the editors of the satire magazine Titanic, one of its members, Martin Sonneborn, sits in the European Parliament.
The motto of the satirical faction is “yes to politics, no to politics” — a contradiction that gets to the heart of Semsrott’s mission. He is a professional jokester with an earnest political objective. By luring nonvoters to his joke party, he is trying to diminish the share of support captured by Alternative for Germany (AfD), a nationalist, anti-immigrant party that needs 5 percent of the vote to enter Parliament. AfD’s strategy is convincing voters, two years after a massive influx of refugees, that Germany is facing a crisis.