In August 2013, the German Young Greens organised a summer of electoral exchanges with Young Greens from other countries to show that we are “young, Green, European and borderless”. As part of this scheme, the Young Greens of England and Wales were invited to Luneberg for a week which was amazing fun and one of many reasons you should join the Green Party. Here’s what we did:
After a 15-hour coach trip, we arrived in Luneberg, a picturesque, typically-German town of around 70,000 people in Northern Germany. After a nap, we went to meet the local Green Party in their spacious local office which is shown in the photograph above. They’re able to afford an office because political parties in Germany are allocated state funding based on the proportion of the vote they receive whereas in Britain, parties have to rely on donations from big business (Tories), rich supporters (UKIP), trade unions (Labour) and ordinary members (Greens). As a result, parties whose policies don’t appeal to big business and the rich are at a disadvantage.
On meeting the local party we discovered that Fracking is a big issue in Germany. Poster and leaflets were up and the Reclaim the Power camp in Balcombe has made the news in Germany. One woman showed us a copy of the Berliner newspaper with a full, supportive half-page article. While we were there we heard that Caroline Lucas, our only Green MP, had been arrested and took this photo with the Luneberg Green Youth to show our support.
In Germany, all the political parties are officially against Fracking (with the exception of a few free-market liberals in the FDP party). In the UK, the Greens are the only UK-wide party to oppose Fracking.
After meeting the party and Julia Verlinden their local candidate for Parliament, we went along to the meeting of Green councillors on the Luneberg City Council. The meeting was in German so we didn’t pick up much but were impressed by the number of councillors, around 10 and the wide age range and gender balance.
We spent the day sight-seeing in Hamburg where we saw a political squatted community centre which the authorities have been unable to shut down due to it’s popularity in the neighbourhood. We enjoyed hearing how people in the St. Pauli area of Hamburg are resisting the gentrification of their area with protests focussing on an upmarket Movenpick hotel and how last year a march in Hamburg of 100 Nazis was blocked by over 20,000 anti-fascists. More depressing was seeing the former dock area of Hamburg being turned into a residential area for the elite, with obvious parallels to London’s docklands. Also interesting was Hamburg’s fancy opera building which should have been built two years ago but is still under construction. Funded by the taxpayer it is also way over budget. Maybe German efficiency is a myth.
One of the most interesting things we did was take part in the “political day” of the local vocational college. The college was for 16-21 year olds who were mostly training to be plasterers and the teachers had arranged this political morning to engage young people in the upcoming federal elections. A stage had been set up in front of the school at which a rock band and self-styled “local heroes” were playing and each party had a stall near the stage. In between songs, the candidate of each of the six main parties, (Christian Democrats, Social democrats, Greens, Leftists, Liberals and Pirates), made a speech on a selected theme. The Green candidate Julia Verlinden, incidentally a graduate of Keele University, kindly thanked us for coming in her speech. The response of the young people was good with lots promising their votes and taking our merchandise. A few of them were convinced by our stance on the legalisation of cannabis but lots more by our more key policies. Here’s a few of us modelling our “antiracist- Green Youth” festival-style wristbands and some from the day.
We started the morning by leafleting on the main shopping street of Luneberg. We also persuaded passers-by to have their photograph taken with the European Union flag to show their support for the idea of European Union. When told we were English, a passerby approached us and said how shocked he was that the British government would arrested the partner of a Guardian journalist, we agreed. Here’s a photograph of us with Green MEP Jan-Phillip Albrecht (right), Green regional justice minister Antie Newisch-Lennartz (centre) and Green parliamentary candidate Julia Verlinden (left).
After the action we split into two groups. One group stayed in Luneberg to hear Jan-Phillip Albrecht talk about the NSA spying scandal while my group went to Hamburg to meet MEP and Glasgow Celtic fan Manuel Sarazzin who wanted to try and understand British people’s hostility to the European Union. The main point he made was that the UK needs the EU much more than the EU needs the UK. He told us that Poland is more important to Germany than Britain at the moment. We also discussed fracking and he told us that the German Assocation of Beer Brewers had come out against it because it poisons the water supply and therefore the beer.
After the talks, we met up and took to the streets of Hamburg holding placards and dressed as houses to protest against rising rents, evictions and estate-agent fees. Many passers-by agreed (one drunk landlord didn’t) and we’re thinking of now doing a similar action in London.
The Green Youth of Hamburg also suggested we take this photo in solidarity with David Miranda, the Guardian journalist arrested. Our signs spell out “Defending Freedom of the Press”.
We discussed the Federation of European Young Greens’ (FYEG’s) election campaign strategy for next year’s European elections. Then we went to visit an organic, not for profit farm that employs many people with mental disabilities. The farm gets funding from the state, from donations and grants and does a great job. Apparently farms like this are common in Germany.
In the evening, we went to a beach party that the local Green Party had organised which was great fun. It was interesting to see how politics and socialising had been mixed.
By Saturday we were all very tired but we still managed to get out to do an afternoon of leafleting about the environmental benefits of second-hand shops and hand out some more general merchandise including Green Party spatchelors which went like hotcakes. Passersby were again supportive including one German man who talked to us for around half an hour about Climate Change, an English woman on holiday who told us how much she respected Caroline Lucas for protesting against fracking and a family who approved of my Palestinian wristband. We returned to the office and evaluated the exchange and what cooperation could come out of it as outlined below. We then went to see an opean-air public speech by Jurgen Tritte, the Green Party’s second most high profile figure. It was in German but I gathered that he wasn’t a fan of Nazis, Merkel, austerity or war. Unusually for a Green politician, he was flanked by four secret-service style security guards who were unexpectedly smiley, probably because they were pleased to be guarding a Green and not your usual smug politician.
The German Young Greens have launched a twinning project. Madrid and Stuttgart are already linked and we would like to twin London with Hamburg as the two cities have very similar issues and several activists have already met on this trip.
We thought that we could learn from each other. The Germans seemed to be better at well-organised and fully realised street actions and at advertising physically with posters and leaflets. In England and Wales we could learn from this. The British seemed to have more of a focus on the use of the internet and social media which the Germans could learn from.
One drawback of the trip that should be mentioned is that of our seven participants, only one was a woman. There was also only one non-Londoner out of seven and he was from Manchester so big cities were overrepresented.
Our huge thanks to everyone who helped organise this, provided the funding and let us sleep in their houses. Particular thanks to Svenja, Tassilo and Patrick and their families and Bernhard and his wife. Also Bjorn Ziemann, the Hamburg Young Greens, Julia Verlinden and all the people who took time out of their busy schedules to talk to us.
Here are some more photos of us campaigning.: