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Beer and Loathing in Germany

8:25 AM, Sep 19, 2013 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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Wiesbaden, Germany
In the late 18th century, the Germans built a casino in the town of Wiesbaden. It was the first of its kind. But considering the wealth of the surrounding area, it flourished. In fact, the casino is where Dostoyevsky lost a hefty amount and, according to town historian Patrick Walz, the author never paid up. Wiesbaden is also where a Free Democrat rally took place Wednesday evening. The FDP is gambling on a large turnout of its middle- and upper-middle-class supporters here, hoping to remain in power for another four years and hoping to keep its seats in the Bundestag. The economy is humming along. Unemployment is low. Most Germans could say they're better off now than they were four years ago. So why does everyone seem so anxious?

Wiesbaden

On a stage inside the Spital Restaurant, a speaker welcomes the pro-business, low-tax crowd. He also gives a shout-out to the visiting Americans, most of whom have been awake for about 24 hours (we do perk up when the schnitzel and Krombacher Pils arrive). Then the speaker asks if there are any journalists in the house but seems to shrug off his question, as if to say, "Who cares if you don't come, you'd be biased anyway."

Holger Zastrow, deputy chairman of the FDP and chairman of the FDP in Saxony, urged voters to take their fate into their own hands on Sunday and choose "the one true party of freedom." He asked them to imagine a government run by a coalition of Social Democrats, Greens, and the far-left Die Linke. It's not a pretty picture considering the far left wants out of NATO, the Greens want vegetarian Thursdays, and the one absolute certainty is higher taxes. "The Greens will tell you what you do is bad," Zastrow went on. "Do not tell us not to eat meat on Thursdays. Don't tell us not to use paper bags!" (Maybe they can add a 5 eurocent tax on plastic bags, too.)

The event, described as a "final push," was in fact a local legislative affair. Hence the mentions of safeguarding Frankfurt International Airport as a source for jobs and keeping the state of Hesse in the hands of a CDU-FDP coalition government. But still, there were the references to the looming Sunday election and the importance of that "Zweite Stimme," or second vote.

In Germany, there are two votes cast—one for a direct representative and another for the party. It's actually more complicated than that but the bottom line is voters can split their votes: the first, say, for a CDU representative and the second for the FDP. Chancellor Merkel has been worried enough about getting 40 percent support for her Christian Democrats that her party has been asking supporters to cast both votes in their favor. But Wolfgang Gerhardt, the last speaker of the night and chairman of the board of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, strongly disagreed.

"This isn't winner take all like in Britain," Gerhardt said adamantly. "This not about majority rule—there is a second vote," which he urged everyone to cast for the FDP. The worry, of course, is that one side of the ruling coalition is merely stealing away votes from the other. What good would it do if the Free Democrats earned 7 percent of the vote and the CDU dropped to 37 percent? Or if Merkel's plan worked and the Christian Democrats garnered 42 percent and the Free Democrats dropped to 3 percent? Where will those other votes come from? And what if the anti-EU Alternative party gains 5 percent from those right-leaning undecided voters?

Time for another beer.

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