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Hamburg senate election 2008: parties' adverts, posters, and billboards

An analysis by Hash Jassim al-Naseri, Republic of Iraq

Hash Jassim al-NaseriThe election campaign for the city of Hamburg Senate in 2008 (I can't remember when they will hold it) is heating up; my German friends are in a stressed-out, elated, or downright derilict state. Groups of 3 to 5 party workers swarm out armed with buckets of glue and backpacks full of folded posters of the many parties and start plastering them on the thousands of billboards strewn acoss the city. I had no idea that democracy was like this. I would have thought that one group favours one party, but this seems not so. I had assumed that my friends favour the FTP but later I realised they also paste for other parties.

My friends Dieter and Simone (she is eight months pregnant and still out on the streets nearly every night) suggested to me I should take some snapshots and reflect on them. I asked them a bit about the meaning of the words on the billboards, and sometimes they translated. But they thought an outsider's view especially from a young democracy like Iraq bent towards Western-style politics but with little experience of it should be most illuminating. They also promised to correct my English (this is the corrected version) and I hope they have not changed the meaning of what I intended to convey. So these are my reflections on the parties that stand for election.

You can click on the small images to get a larger view.


agfgI could not work this one out. Gesine Freytag, their candidate, certainly looks serious, but also mocking, downright contemptful. The writing commands us to follow the laws of nature ("Naturgesetze achten"). I wouldn't have thought that we have the option of not following them. Take gravity, for example, or the second law of thermodynamics. I would have thought these beyond reproach. But I probably misunderstood. The strap line at the top: "Gesundheit, Freiden, Gerechtigkeit" translates to "Health, Peace, Justice", all very well, I will subscribe to that. The big issue for them is genes. No other party makes reference to that so perhaps something murky is going on here. As I understand it AGFG proposes genetic technology as opposed to genetic manipulation, which they want to prohibit. That sounds fair enough. I have to admit the poster left me somewhat confused.


CDU poster 1
CDU poster 2

This party is called CDU. I know the U stands for Union, and I think the C may stand for Commerce and the D for Democratic. There is no message on the big billboard, apart from the name of someone called "Ole von Beust" (maybe a pseudonym?) and "Dein Bürgermeister" (your mayor), according to my friends a form of address reserved for children and close friends. Is this an in-joke? The rest of the space is presumably taken by Ole von Beust, who is shown in an exubrant mood. For some reason they have thought it better to show him in black and white, may be he has an unhealthy complexion that they did not want to emphasize? Another man is visible behind him, facing in another direction; while they seem to share a joke, they are also somewhat disconnected. A strange and most whimsical message, I thought.

On another billboard shown below, he is so good as to look at us directly. The words read "In guten Händen" (a safe pair of hands), but safe to do what? I was puzzled. He does look a friendly guy, but what does his party stand for? I have no clue. Maybe CDU is a fringe party betting on the charisma of just one leader? The longer I looked at the billboard, the less certain I was what the meaning of the image might be. It seems nearly certain that the man on the image is Ole von Beust. In the end I knew what I found irritating about the first billboard: he does not look into the camera, indeed it looks as if someone else had taken a snapshot and used it without his permission. May be this is a counter attack by another party trying to damage him? Other images are done in the same fashion and support this suspicion: they are even less flattering. On the third image, for example, the candidate looks emaciated and hollow-eyed, like a long-time drug adict in a homeless shelter. I am now pretty convinced that there are powerful opponents trying to destroy the credibility of the Ole von Beust character.

UPDATE! Today (18 February) another revelation that proves me right: confirming my suspicion that the black and white images must have indeed been part of a hostile campaign. The CDU party has reacted quicky and papered over the b&w images with colour posters which finally show their candidate in glorious colour, in a more statesman-like appearance (see the forth image - sorry for the blurry shot). What I find completely puzzling, however, is that some other party must have glued smaller yellow sheets over the nice colour posters, which read "Gelbe Stimme: Ole Stimme" (Ole being an infuriatingly cosy short cut for the full neme). The only party using yellow is the FTP which indicates that they are brazenly hijacking the CDU posters for their own gains. A very agressive and probably illeagal strategy. Given the image that progressively emerges about the FTP (see below) I am not so surprised.


die partei 1
die partei 2
die partei 3

The next party is "Die Partei" (the party), and I must say I first found this a rather strange name for a party. Perhaps they want to show the broadest appeal, speak to everyone. The candidates look well groomed and serious enough. They also use messages which I found quite convincing and logical. "Bildung fängt mit 'B' an" means "Education starts with a 'B'"—or rather, "Education stars with an 'E'"—a rather smart way of illustrating the importance of alphabetisation. I know from my experience in Iraq of the fundamental importance of being able to read and write. The second message, "Nur lebendiges Kapital ist fröhliches Kapital" (my friends translated this to mean "only human capital can become cheerful"), looks like a quote, but I could not identify where it had been taken from. I was reminded of Marx who discusses the various forms of value and the role of human resources and capital expenditure in his classic "Das Kapital". I believe the message is that we should realise that we, the people, are the true capital of our economies, and to encourage us to feel more alive so we are able to feel the spirit of living, the gratitude of being alive. I must say this would resonate very well with Iraqi people. Quite a moving and fundamental message which transcends the narrower messages we find on the posters of many other parties. What I found particularly poignant is the sad expression on the face of the candidate, Heinz Strunk. The implict message of his face seems to be that the important transformation or transcodification is still ahead of us, in store even for the leader, who does not assume a position more enlightened than the populace. But of course, this is pure conjecture. Finally, "Die Partei" does not waste a lot of money on the election campaign. The posters are smaller and fewer than those of the other parties - quite a responsible attitude, I thought.

UPDATE! Today (18 February) I found a poster that has completely thrown me: Die PARTEI also advertises for the Ole von Beust character. This is getting weirder and weirder. The poster shows the most winning, positively enchanting image of Ole von Beust so far and advertises the fact that he is a homosexual ("Ole von Beust ist schwul"). I am enough of a free thinker to realise that different societies can have very different value systems (see Fred Wenstøp and Arild Myrmel), and that what may appear a defect (or worse!) in some parts of the world can turn out an advantage in other parts (Hamburg). Many think that my cultural background implies that I will wring my hands in horror at the thought of such practices but people should better understand that Iraq is not Iran, where they are hanged. We are a civil society and we respect them. True, being denied a family will strike many in my home country the greatest punishment imaginable, but by the same token the very lack of spouse and offspring to be looked after means that the whole state becomes the leader's cared-for love object, its institutions the fertile womb where his seed bears the fruit of his single-mindedness.

To sum up: I have already seen similarities between Die PARTEI and CDU (smart dress, bold messages) and the (slightly condescending) promotion of the von Beust character makes it quite obvious that die PARTEI woes for CDU as junior partner in a future coalition. Add the fact that also the Gruene Party advertises for the Ole von Beust character ("Kohle von Beust"), it seems something very dodgy is going on here.


DVU posterThe DVU (Deutsche Volksunion, German people's union) seems to be a religious party—I found a lot of billboards around the Michel, a prominent church and one of Hamburg's key attractions (I have to confess that I find it quite ugly—just compare it to the great mosque of Samarra or the elaborate ornamentation at the Al Kadhimain mosque in Baghdad, and you are beginning to wonder why some people here seem so attached to it). Whatever, "statt" means "in place of" and I can understand that they are reluctant to let Michel be torn down to erect a mosque. Or is it the other way round that someone whats to destroy a mosque to build a second Michel? I am not sure, I would need more local context to make sense of this. No one could explain what "Machtsymbolik" means, they tried, but I did not get it unfortunately. I also tried to ask people whether there was a plan to dismantle Michel and build a mosque or vice versa, but they just looked bewildered, so perhaps this is just one big hoax? What I liked about the poster that it makes it crystal clear how voting works: you just make a cross after the name of the party (not before).



What is clear is that the FTP—the Free (something - can't remember what the T stands for) and, of course, P for Party—is very fond of yellow. On the internet I found the information that gold and navy (credibility) are the best combination for selling to men and the second best for selling to women, so this could be a winning formular especially compared to the austerity of the CDU black-and-white billboards. Also there is a smoker's law that they don't want ("Rauchergesetz so nicht!"). No information is forthcoming on all other issues. They seem to have a female candidate for major, Dr. Anne Gosche. She still seems quite young for such an important position. There is something bleak about her dramatically lit head; despite her infectuous smile it reminds me of a skull. The fact that they advertise meetings in a humble beer bar, fight for the right to smoke, the lack of coverage of any issue besides smoking, and use the showy slogan "Die Stimme der Freiheit" ("the voice of freedom") betrays that they are probably a party more favoured by the working class.

UPDATE! Today (18 February) I have seen another poster showing a man with a pock-marked face, a Dr. Giudo Westewelle. Maybe it is he running for mayor, not Dr Gotsche? The FTP has also changed its colour concept, extending yellow to embrace psychedelic rainbow colours, which may indicate that they are ready to mate with any other party. Note this one is also a Dr.—this party is home to many intellectuals but it seems they are into working class things, like smoking, sports (and, shall we suspect, sex?). I do not know what a hinnerk is, fork may be a pardonable anglicism (forking out? A practice of double penetration?, I keep guessing), but somehow all this does not add up. May be I have become victim of my own arousal? Now back to the books. "Endspurt"—not in my dictionary, and Dieter and Simone are off to childbirth preparation class—let's take this apart one by one. "End" always means "final" in German, 'spurt', an in-your-face anglicism, seems incongruent however—just add to it flying buildings ("Fliegender Baute"), a completely psychedelic notion. I just cannot believe that FTP would lower itself to sexual innuendo and use the image of a forking and final spurting (ejaculation) to reach some kind of elated state, a metaphorical hovering. However far-fetched, it is rather nebulous what all this might imply; perhaps laissez-faire mores here may actually permit such interpreatation.

Die Gruene Bundnis90

gruene 1
gruene 2

Die Gruene Bundnis90 (green union 90) is the name of the green party here (green stands for the environmentalists—for us, green is a holy colour, the colour of the prophet) that bandied up in 1990 (that explains the name). What is pretty clear is that they support—or team up with—the CDU, as can be seen from the first poster which in a play on words, promises Kohle von Beust. My friends told me that there is a double meaning here: "Kohle" is a slang expression for money, but also, literally coal. It is pretty clear that in the light of the rising oil price, both parties want to build a new coal-fired power plant. The greens have always been against nuclear power, so this makes sense. The message is emphasised by the line "Neue Energie statt CO2" (new energy instead of CO2), an indication that they want to employ the latest carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies on the Hamburg plant. I wondered however why they emphasize emissions by drawing the big dark cloud over the plant—everyone knows that nearly all particles are filtered out in modern plants. If they want it so dearly, why tarnish its reputation foolishly, and unjustly? One of the many riddles in this election campaign. The other poster also alludes to the coal plant, using the term "Einheizer" (the fireman feeding the engine oven, originally on board ships). I could not work out what clubtour refers to. The name of the mayor they propose is Farid Müller, Farid being not a German name at all. My explanation for this is that proably, a muslim woman (from Iran?) has succumbed to and married an infidel at some point, but managed to give her son a Persian name. I try not to be judgemental on this issue, let's just agree to differ.

Die Linke

Die Linke 1
Die Linke 2

Die Linke has the most verbose adverts, but the message was profoundly confusing for me. "Demokratie wagen" means "Dare (or venture) democracy". This would be fitting and easy to grasp in the context of a nation like Iraq or Afghanistan but it leaves me puzzled here, in Germany, a fully fledged representational parliamentary democracy. Does this party seriously suggest to overturn the Federal State institutions and introduce workers' councils (the idea of the Raterepublik)? I guess chances of that happening are quite remote. "Volksentscheide" translates 'referenda' (or referendums?). What can then be decided by these? Will a referendum decision overule another, parliamentary one? None of my friends could explain this conundrum. They also want to participate in industry ("Wirtschaft") and public administrations, but is that a new idea? I had first thought this was a communist party fighting against the capitalist system but if they want their share of power, it is maybe per chance that they have picked the colour red. What I found perplexing is their demand for "dauerhafte Bleiberechte für Flüchtlinge" (permanent laws for the stay of refugees? Or laws for the permanent stay of refugees? And why do you need several laws for that? Will each group get their respective law?) If their thinking is as muddled as this poster, I prefer pretty pictures which do not pretend to carry much meaning. The party Linke seems pretty confident that their candidate, Gysi, will win the election ("Gysi kommt"), I don't know how strong they are in the polls, but the strap line ("Bildung und soziale Gerechigkeit in Hamburg und der Welt" = "Education and social justice in Hamburg and the world") shows that this is an ambitious guy, not content with wielding power in a city Federal State for long. Like famous Germans before him, he wants to educate and better the whole world. Can anone tell these Germans to learn keeping a low profile on the world stage?


oedpAnother difficult one. The ÖDP is the ecological democratic party. I like the looks of its candidate, she looks so dreamy but still self-confident and optimistic. With her I have the feeling the future can be managed as easily as a dream (but then, can you ever manage dreams?). The name Verena Häggberg is also nice, it has a Scandinavian ring. This party is taking a real risk by posing a pertinent question without suggesting the right answer. "Grundeinkommen" is, my friends told me, a basic salary that everyone gets from the state, regardless of work. If the money is available or can be acquired by repossessing the vast riches held by the upper echelons of Germany society, this sounds like a damn good idea. What I fail to see is how that relates to the Elbphilharmonie. I googled the term, what it seems to be is a rather skimpy curvy structure on top of some store house, surrounded by water. Whatever it is, what is the relation to the Grundeinkommen?


popA party apparently from the right fringe of society—I was prepared for that, but this poster seems most odd. "Heilt Hamburg" translates "Heal Hamburg" (or hail Hamburg—probably a play of words on "Heil Hitler"). What it literally means in relation to the crude slogan "Harburg raus!" ("Harburg, get out!") can only be explained when you know that Harburg is the southern part of Hamburg (or so my friends told me), a part that is generally quite poor and has a large Turkish population. It was also the part of town that was home to some of the terrorists of the 9/11 attacks on the WTC. Add the use of Fractura typeface reminiscent of Germany's Nazi past, and you have all the elements of a Fashist party. Why are they allowed to run in this election? What I cannot work out is why they call themselves Pogo Party (Pogo-Partei). I know what a pogo stick is—have they turned this into a weapon to beat up foreigners?

Piraten Partei

piraten partei
Piraten partei 2

The Piraten Partei (pirate party) advertises near the university. Pirates are criminals and a serious problem for international maritime trade. So why let them advertise openly in the Hamburg election? Well, maybe they use the term "pirate" in some metaphoric way that is contextually hard to understand from the outside. The text message on the second placard says "Trust is good, control is better. Control the senate!" The image on the other placard, that of two pills offered on the palms of two hands, is hard to decipher. One pill seems to show a video camera which may stand for the control the party demands. In the context of the first message I think the party recomments video surveillance of the senate (whether that is covered by law, I am not so sure). On the other hand (literally) we find an orange pill carrying the logo of the Piraten Partei. This is strange. Should we figuratively take both pills? Should it indicate that there is no choice but the Pirate Party? Again I get the feeling that we are dealing with a hoax here.

Rechte Mitte HeimatHamburg

Rechte MitteThe party "Rechte Mitte HeimatHamburg" indicates already in its title where they position themselves in the political spectrum. Central within the right spectrum, and with a focus on the homeland Hamburg. The candidate for "second major" (strange, I would have thought there can only be one major) is Robert Kusch. He is young (too young?) and looks sympathetic, with his naive little smirk. He also holds an academic degree (Dr.) which is more than most other candidates (apart from the FTP) can offer. The designer of the placard has made sure he comes across as "in your face". His main message seems to be to throw out criminal foreigners ("Kriminelle Ausländer raus!"), which strikes me as disappointingly limited and simplistic in view of his academic credentials. I understand the sentiment, but I would ask him to remember that many activities called a crime are actually very useful activities that act as a glue of the social fabric. If we don't have thieves, how shall we teach our young the value of honesty? I hope he is not a straw puppet of other more sinister powers. When you go into the text, it tells you that young criminals are not sentenced but pampered. Is that really true? Some of my friends sit in the Untersuchungsgefängnis, and they are not pampered there. He also talks about "Weicheier und linke Spinner" (soft eggs? and left spinners?) who feel pity with delinquents, and that this is wrong. Is that attitude really in line with an enlightened humanistic society? Mr Kusch looks like he would be able to feel pity for those that have strayed from the path of justice, but may be that is deceptive. At the bottom of the signpost, we read "Hamburg bleibt deutsch" (Hamburg remains German). I am not sure how that relates to the rest of the message—why should Hamburg not remain German? Are there any plans to hand it over to some super power? It could well be that this party is still another hoax!


SPD billboardSPD - may be another fringe party banking on the appeal of its candidate for major? "S" often stands for socialist but the formal dress of the candidate, Michel Naumann, clearly places him within the ruling elite. There is irritatingly little here to work out what this party stands for. The man looks like an distant uncle coming to a family visit for the first time, trying hard to be really nice and helpful to everyone. It also appears he does not want to show his teeth, may be there are good reasons for this, although a man who can dress like that should have the means to get his teeth done. I could not work out the meaning of the statement "Mein Hamburg wächst für alle" (My Hamburg ? grows for all?). Is it his Hamburg, and if so, in what sense? May be he is not referring to the real Hamburg at all; may be it is an imaginmary Hamburg in his head, or there may be other Hamburgs. One of them may indeed be his property? Most whimsical, I don't think this party will have much chance of success.

UPDATE: Conclusion

People have asked me for conclusions but this is very hard. (I will return home on the eve of the election, so I will miss the festivities.) I think the OEDP turns me on most, but this is just a gut reaction. In our rather arid countries, the image of a garden is the most blissful thing people can imagine, cool water running, flowers and scents everywhere. The backdrop of the OEPD party poster gave me that longing, made my heart race a bit faster. Add the beautiful candidate—I know this should not matter, but it does, alas—and you have my likely choice if I was allowed to vote. I know she would never even consider me but as our proverb goes: "Even a one eyed guy will wink at a beautiful woman". Besides the OPD, I also like the wild and festive feeling I get when considering the FTP, and the fact that they seem really in touch with the lower strata of society, the drives, the desires, even the foolish ones. Both Dr. Goche and Dr Westewelle strike me as forceful, honest, cheerful, real dancers, real doers (not whiners) even though there is something odd about them I cannot work out—a tiny hint of death, perhaps, wich renders them even more alive. So this would be my second-best choice! I also quite liked Die PARTEI but the evidence that they collude with CDU and Gruene put me off. Somehow it reminded me of a proverb we have in Iraq: "When they came to shoe the horse of the sultan, the beetle came along and stuck out her foot."

Last update: 26 February 2008 | Impressum—Imprint