Friday, September 4, 2009

Berlin Street Life:: Poster Politics

It is elections season in Berlin and the streets, more than ever are the locus for a great battle for the hearts and minds of Berliners. The democratic system appears in full bloom with posters of the dozens of parties festooning every available lamppost and boulevard. (click on the images for larger size)

The CDU (Christian Democratic Union) is reigning chancellor Angela Merkel's party, They seem to be running as the 'safe bet in times of crisis'. Indeed the word 'Sicherheit' (safety, but also, security) is very present on their posters. If you feel a panic coming on because of the immigrantsmuslimsunemployedneonaziboozerworkerpinkocommies coming down the street at you, the CDU are your safe bet.

Here's a poster where they are promising not just Security, but also Leisure time, obviously for the well-dressed man in the first class train seat. This image was taken in the fairly upscale area of Mitte.

On the Karl-Marx Allee on the other hand, deeper in the former East Berlin, the CDUs posters are almost all defaced. Here, someone has spraypainted 'keine Wahl' (which translates either as 'no choice' or 'no election').
The slogan 'Business, with good reason" - says smiley business guy. On the lamp post on the right you can see a modest poster from the Marxist-Leninist party which is here imploring "no more short-term work and firings - a 30-hour week with equal wages for all!"

For contrast, here is a defaced CDU poster in West Berlin. The vandal even bothered to enclose their vitriol in a somewhat weather-resistant plastic sleeve. I got a bit arty with the superimposition here, look through the larger version of the poster to the establishing shot... This brusque slogan on the original poster simply says "We have the strength" with the We on a German flag. So according to the defacer, do the Power Rangers have the strength. The interventionist is evidently irked at the notion that the Rangers have to share the strength with the reeking-sense-of-entitlement CDU (they are in power now, after all, or, in German "Wir haben die Macht!") In small print the dissident continues plaintively, "how much longer are you going to make us endure this crap?"

Back in the East again The CDU is not the only party which is submitted to massive-billboard-scale humiliation. Both the SPD (German Social-democratic Party) , CDU's arch-rivals, something similar to the American "Democratic Party", Business with a human face, reason trumping out and out greed, etc. and the FDP (Free Democratic Party) libertarians both must submit to the vandal's spray and splatter.
Someone obviously went to the trouble of mixing up some flesh coloured paint to blank out the faces of the 'real voters' portrayed in the SPD ads. The text in this one reads "Education should not depend on parent's bank accounts. And that's why I am voting SPD" Yes very reasonable you unbelievably modest-looking middle-of-the-road elitoid.

Again, for comparison, here is a pristine SPD poster in West Berlin. The slogan goes "This is how we respect quality labour: Decent wages for the people" and then subscript "Our country can do more". Hmmm... very... restrained and reasonable, you are breaking my heart SPD with your fusty know-it-all properly measured concern.

Meanwhile, back on Karl-Marx Allee...
Not far from the CDU poster, the FDP seems to be mixing the Ron Paul backyard brew of nationalism and libertarianism. Note the lack of any visilble minorities in the crowd and the background made out of the colours of the German standard promising untold acres of Germanness beyond. Schmarmy crop-head business school tyke gets a kkklown nose here, CDU and FDP are, in our cursory survey, evidently both sprayed with the same can.

I mentioned in my previous post the quintessential post-war german notion of being 'konsequent'. Definitely the SPD are the standard-bearers of 'konsequent'-ness. Here they are, deep in the East, fighting Nazis with konsequent-ce.

You will notice a different quality to this poster, it has a kind of minority-party look, actually having been pasted on a piece of press-board, as are perforce all the posters of the lower-budget parties. You are educated and are thus naturally have anarchist leanings but you don't want to throw away your vote, now, do you? ("there is nothing so anarchic as the bourgeois ideal"- Georgio Agamben (paraphrased by Slavoj Zizek))

The Piratenpartei, on the other hand... write in what you'd like us to be for or against...hmm extreme idealism? This can only come from an extreme sense of entitlement. Of course, with regard to internet they are the most informed and advanced, if only the internet was made purely of thought. Pirateparty the party of sci-fi justice.

What's this? Socialist Tramp Stamp? now that's change I can believe in.
It doesn't matter really what it looks like though for these new generation SED (Sozalistiche Einheitspartei Deutschland, the former ruling party of East Germany) what's important are the IDEAS . These people from Die Linke (the Left) are even more konzequent than the SPD they are so konsequent they want to change the world not just the government! Lot's o luck with that. But really, they are one of the best-established firmly left-wing parties in all western democracy, so they are pushing the envelope.

Die Linke leader Gregor Gysi (also the last leader of the SED during the early post-wall re-unification period) seems to be advocating a rather radical educational reform to combat poverty. Note that the website is (for justice, for correctness, for fairness) (see my previous post, especially the last paragraph).

The Green Party, so konsequent that they have forgone completely the wasteful and expensive large billboard ads and restrained themselves to modest curbside posters (no doubt printed on recycled paper)

This poster compares a possible coalition of the CDU (Schwarz) and FDP (Gelb) to nuclear waste.

The nuclear issue was understandably very volatile during the cold war drawing many pacifists and alternative lifestyle practitioners to the Green Party. The Greens were the only party in West Germany who could catalyze and sustain large-scale grassroots anti-government protest, and even influence policy on numerous occasions. But now, in the internet age, their attraction is fading. It is hard to reconcile their back-to-the-earth roots with the globalized industrial demands of today's generation of twittering alternative culture jammers.

Greens muscling in on Pirate Party turf in a grungier area on the edge of Mitte and on the issue of internet privacy. Stencil type guy warning you "you are under suspicion!" Jah Man! The Pirate Party poster below is 20 degrees cooler "you already know what we are about, we just need to tag some crap and put it up".

Here we can see the Pirate Party's open-access model in full effect. The poster asks passers-by to write in the white space what they would like from their party. The response (looks authentic) "more support for the Greens!"

The amazingly broad reform platform of the Green Party is perhaps due to the fact that they are actually two (or even four) parties. Their official name Alliance 90/The Greens comes from a reunification era union with three dissident (but very gerecht) East German political parties. The result is a party that tries to please everybody. They are the kind of party that invites people like me to speak at their meetings (they have!).

The headquarters of the Green party glowing green in the Berlin evening. Evidently powered using only wind and biomass. Their slogan "It's about everything!"

Nice to see the old hard-liners are keeping up the fight. Berlin is where Marx and Engels honed their chops back in the day so I guess it is understandable that this is one of the last places one can still see them on election posters. The slogan reads "Our Crisis Advisers".

Of course there are those who will conscientiously refuse to take part in the ceremonies of our civil society, they will refuse to vote, pay taxes or otherwise deign to acknowledge the endemically hypocritical and flawed personalities of their parents, erm, I mean the institutions of the state.
Though their earnest protest certainly strikes a chord with me, I wish they would have found a more inventive way around the problem of how to disseminate their idea than by having it printed on a state-of-the-art, made by slave labor printer with conflict mineral inks designed on their conflict mineral computers run on hard-core institutional power grids.
In the modestly smaller print in German they exhort "We seize back the public space!" Sounds inappropriately militaristic, and something we should already be aware of an not have to read it off a garbage can. What are you going to do with the public space you've seized, make it private? Yah yah this just a temporary solution until we take POWER!

The problem is, there are only stop-gap solutions in today's democracy, it is almost taboo to speak about a long-term political program in our advanced media-accelerated political sphere. Vilém Flusser, in a soon-to-be-published DVD of late interviews and lectures, claimed that the invention of photography was the beginning of the end of the linear concept of history. The photograph does not need the photographer to take photos. The persistent presence of the photographer serves only to impede the normal functioning of the apparatus (this word also refers to state apparatus). "Revolution no longer is a political event. Politics are then over. Revolution becomes an inversion of the intention of the apparatus."

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