The joys of Düsseldorf — no, really!

This weekend, I traveled to Düsseldorf to hang out with a band of pirates.

The occasion was the state of North Rhine-Westphalia’s election for state parliament. And the upstart Pirate Party was set to secure enough votes to enter its fourth consecutive statehouse — this time, in the country’s most populous state.

My story on the Pirates will appear in the LA Times in the next few days. But I thought I’d give you a quick visual preview of my experiences in Düsseldorf.

It may surprise you to learn that Düsseldorf, which I’d previously thought of as an airport, was named the city with the fifth-highest quality of life in the world last year. And it turns out to be a rather lovely place.

Unfortunately, it’s a convention city, and I was there during convention time, which meant I had to overpay for an under-quality hotel. But even funky Hotel Fürstenhof was on a gorgeous little square. The view from my window:

The city lies on the Rhine River, and is best known for the area along its waterfront:

Read more of this post

3.2 km of asphalt

The news is a day old, but deserving of a post nonetheless, since it concerns the city whose name this blog takes. On September 18, there was an election in the federal state of Berlin. (Berlin is sort of a city/state hybrid — picture DC with statehood.) The Social Democrats (SPD) got the largest share of the vote, the Christian Democrats (CDU) came in distant second place, and the Greens — considered a natural ally of the SPD — scored enough of the vote to be able to form a coalition with the SPD. End of story. Or so you’d think.

But then the Greens and the SPD got into a fight over a road. 3.2 kilometers of a road, to be precise. See, the Greens campaigned against the tiny expansion to a highway circling the city center, which the SPD had supported. The SPD was willing to ditch the extension as long as it could allocate the federal money it was receiving to another project. But the federal government said no, and the Greens refused to budge, and so yesterday talks fell apart.

Which means we’re now looking at a grand coalition between the SPD and the CDU. On a national level, or in West Germany, that wouldn’t be too surprising. But in Berlin, it’s kind of strange. Here’s why.

Read more of this post

Global protest and the Pirates

Nicholas Kulish has a great piece in today’s New York Times about growing mistrust of the established governing parties among young people around the world, partly as a result of an upbringing tied to online social networking that has led them to value decentralized organization over rigid authority. And right on cue, out comes a new nationwide German poll showing 7% support for the Pirate Party that surprised everyone by winning 15 seats in the Berlin statehouse earlier this month.

Now 7% might not seem like a lot, but let’s remember a few things. First, a party needs to get at least 5% of the vote to be represented in the parliament, so they’re currently clearing that hurdle with room to spare. Second, the Green Party, now well established in the country, with 19% support in the poll, took four years after its founding to get to 5%; the Pirates have done it almost instantaneously. Third, the Free Democrats, who are currently the junior partners in the governing coalition and have won as much as 15% of the vote, are down to 2% in this poll. And finally, the Pirates aren’t, well, a real party.

Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: