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Find your own Alternative for Deutschland!

You’d call yourself a progressive leftist, but you don’t see much hope for change from the SPD, the Greens or even Die Linke. These small parties want to get you inspired and involved. We met with their leaders to find out what makes them stand out.

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Riza Cörtlen. Photo by German Palomeque Die Partei Members: 24,000 misfit jokers (2000 in Berlin); 270,000 Facebook followers. Slogan: Der Russe ist an allem schuld (It’s all Russia’s fault!) Electoral success: One MP in EU Parliament, 2 percent in Berlin state elections (nearly 5 percent in Kreuzberg) Claim to fame: Best known for their provocative posters, including last year’s “Here’s where a Nazi could hang!”
You’d call yourself a progressive leftist. You support a fair, inclusive society and a healthy planet, and you believe moral values, not the market, should rule our lives. But you don’t see much hope for change from the SPD, the Greens or even Die Linke. These nine small parties want to get you inspired and involved. We met with their leaders to find out what makes them stand out. Die PARTEI – The joke gets serious Die PARTEI’s Berlin headquarters are surprisingly difficult to locate. There are no signs, just people smoking in café chairs outside a blue storefront. Inside, scruff y Kreuzbergers sit around a bottle-strewn table, fiddling with papers and pastel candies. People cheer as two guys roll through wearing Popeye-esque sailor suits. They get their photos taken by a man in socks and sandals, then saunter off to more applause. You wouldn’t guess that this motley crew represents one of Berlin’s most successful small parties. Since it was founded in 2004 by the editors of satirical magazine Titanic (its original mission: bring back the Berlin Wall!), the “Party for Labour, Rule of Law, Animal Protection, Promotion of Elites, and Grassroots Democratic Initiatives” has found increasing resonance as a protest vote for Germans who’ve given up on politics as usual. The 2014 elections landed founder Martin Sonneborn in the EU Parliament; last year in Berlin, the party garnered 2 percent of the vote, more than any other party its size. In its stronghold of Kreuzberg, Die PARTEI received 4.6 percent, enough to enter the district council. So what has Berlin party chair Riza Cörtlen done with his newfound power? Not much – unless you count redecorating his office with hot pink walls and real gold trim, presumably financed with his €1000/month government allowance. “It’s about doing what real politicians would do,” says Cörtlen. The soft-spoken former squatter was previously involved with the KPD/RZ, a satirical party founded by a friend in 1988. When Die PARTEI arrived years later, Cörtlen joined forces and brought his quasi-family of dissentient Kreuzbergers with him. Today’s members range from young politics students to old-timer radicals. In between you’ll find artists, lawyers, porn stars, croupiers, tattoo shop owners, computer whizzes, and even a wholesaler who specialises in sex toys for men. Die PARTEI may be a satirical party, but it’s not an impartial one – as evidenced by their “FCK AFD” stickers and posters proclaiming “There’s such a thing as clean diesel!” over a photo of a burning Mercedes. The current platform includes one-liners like “It’s all Russia’s fault!” and “Why not a Turk?” in reference to this year’s chancellor candidate Serdar Somuncu, a German-Turkish comedian who first got famous for reading Mein Kampf on stage. Cörtlen acknowledges that criticism is easier than positive construction. “We’re in the comfortable position where we can say, ‘That’s bad,’ because we’re an opposition party. Saying how to make it better – that’s what the other parties need to do.” But Cörtlen says Die PARTEI shouldn’t be dismissed as un-serious. “The parties in office are more satirical than anything we could do.”— Crystal Liu
Tierschutzpartei – Welfare for all species
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Evgueni Kivman. Photo by German Palomeque Tierschutz Partei Members: 1300 animal lovers (66 in Berlin); 17,648 Facebook followers. Slogan: Massentierhaltung ist ein Verbrechen! (Factory farming is a crime!) Electoral success: One MEP elected in 2014 (who has since left the party), 1.9 percent in 2016 Berlin elections. Claim to fame: Back in 1993, it was the world’s first political party dedicated to animal rights.
In a party that boasts an unheard-of female majority (some 70 percent), and around one-third of its members pushing pension age, 22-year-old Evgueni Kivman isn’t what you’d call typical. That didn’t stop the young Russian mathematician from being elected as co-chair of the Tierschutzpartei (Animal Welfare Party). Nor did the fact that he can’t even vote in Germany. Born in St. Petersburg, the Humboldt University student took over the position from 56-year-old Silvia Stoffels in March of this year. With Kivman came a new wave of younger members to the 24-year-old party. Like the Tierschutzpartei’s older generation, most are involved with animal rights groups like PETA or Animal Rights Watch. They are vegetarian or, more commonly, vegan. “Evgueni convinced me that politics was a much more efficient form of activism,” says Dietrich, a 21-year-old computer science student whose previous activism included screening animal abuse footage on the streets. They call for an end to factory farming, like their counterparts in the V-Partei but with an “animals-first” approach. As a realistic transitional solution, they propose small-scale ecological farming in which the animals are kept in vastly improved, strictly monitored conditions. “We realise we can’t just immediately shut all slaughterhouses,” says Kivman who balances his maths studies with signature collecting, postering and awareness raising. The Tierschutzpartei also stands for progressive social values including “rainbow” families, transgender recognition and refugee rights. It’s an extension of their respect and tolerance for all species, which runs so deep that many, including Kivman, don’t even own pets. “A pet is a commodity, something you buy, like a mobile phone,” says David, 35 and a government worker. “We don’t use that term.” Tierschutzpartei members may, however, have “animals in companion” rescued from a shelter or the streets. Like Angelica, a 56-year-old teacher who is currently easing her three Bulgarian street dogs into a vegan diet. “It only occurred to me last year: why should they eat meat?” — Amy Leonard
Menschliche Welt – Mindful politics
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Sahin Azbak. Photo by German Palomeque Menschliche Welt Members: 520 kind-spirited souls (40 in Berlin), 670 Facebook followers. Slogan: Friedenspolitik statt Kriegsbeteiligung (Peace politics instead of war participation) Electoral success: 0.1 percent in 2016 Berlin elections (0.3 percent in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf/Tempelhof-Schöneberg) Claim to fame: Last Berlin party to start campaigning this year – members waited till the end of August, when guru Madhuvidyananda came to town on his meditation tour.
You can’t choose what you discover when you embark on a journey into your inner self. Sahin Azbak started meditation 30 years ago to calm his nerves and help his memory before his school exams… and eventually, it turned him to politics.  “I never thought being a politician would be my path,” confesses the 49-year-old Berlin candidate for Menschliche Welt (Humane World). “But if you meditate long enough, you realise you can’t feel good as long as things are going so horribly wrong around you.” To fix all that, he helped a yoga monk named Dada Madhuvidyananda (born Michael Moritz) found a political party in 2013. The guru runs an ashram in a single-family house in Southern Germany and Azbak, who calls Dada his “best friend”, visits as often as his call centre job allows, which is usually once or twice a year. The rest of the time he lives with his family in Lichtenrade, where he helps run the 40-strong Berlin branch of the party. Unsurprisingly, when members of Menschliche Welt meet, it’s not just about getting things done: “We meditate together, sing mantras or share a meal. First and foremost, we’re friends,” Azbak says. That’s “mindful politics”, an approach more oriented towards peaceful progress than electoral wars. And of course, less is sometimes more. “A hundred election posters put up with mindfulness and love are worth more than 1000 put up out of necessity,” says Azbak. That idealism is refl ected in Menschliche Welt’s platform, which stands for the respect and welfare of all living beings, including animals and plants. Some concrete measures include healthcare and support for families, including benefits allowing parents to stay home until their children reach the age of three. How would they implement their plans if they got elected? “If that happens, we’ll have the solutions on that day,” Azbak says, and smiles blissfully. — Malte Rohwer-Kahlmann  
Bergpartei – Slow anarchy
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Rico Tscharntke. Photo by German Palomeque Bergpartei Members: 257 eco-anarchist-real-dadaists in Berlin, 960 Facebook followers. Slogan: Klein aber langsam (Small But Slow) Electoral success: Less than 0.1 percent in 2016 Berlin elections (3.1 percent in central Friedrichshain) Claim to fame: Ex-candidate HaukeStiewe was the brains behind the Gemüseschlacht,a Friedrichshain vs. Kreuzberg vegetable fight on Oberbaumbrücke held annually from 1998-2013.
In the run-up to the September elections, you’d be more likely to fi nd Bergpartei chairman Rico Tscharntke out at a festival – like “Berlin laughs” at Alexanderplatz, where he’s doing the sound for a street theatre show – than hanging up posters. It’s all part of the plan, though. As the Bergpartei manifesto says, “Das Manifest ist ein Fest” (the manifesto is a festival). “We’re often seen as kids playing around,” says Tscharntke. But his party isn’t a satirical affair à la Die PARTEI. Rather, as their extended name suggests, it’s an “eco-ananarchist-realdadaist melting pot”. It arose in 2005 as a protest movement of artists in the face of the imminent demolition of the Palast der Republik, the former GDR “people’s palace” turned art space, and in 2011 merged with the Überpartei, a squatters’ rights party (hence its official name now: Bergpartei, die Überpartei). This displays a surprising amount of political pragmatism for a party who hand-paints their own signs with slogans like “Pinocchio would vote for the SPD”, “The right to a failed life is sacrosanct”, and simply “Your mother”. The “melting pot” created by the merging of the two parties extends to the manifesto, which mixes whimsically nonsensical policies – “love, kitsch and longing” – alongside more serious ones like migrant voting rights and a universal basic income (which the Bergpartei put on their agenda way back in 2006), demonstrating that, amongst the lampooning, they do have a political vision. The closest thing the party has to a headquarters is the club Crack Bellmer in Friedrichshain’s RAW-Gelände, where Tscharntke designed the lighting. Its members meet informally as friends, rather than as a party contesting an election. Despite their 12-year history, election figures have hovered close to zero percent outside of Friedrichshain and don’t seem set to increase drastically. Tscharntke is nevertheless infectiously optimistic. After all, his party has “grown up” this year: for the first time, it’s on the list for the “second vote” in addition to providing direct candidates. Everything is, in its “small, slow” way, going according to plan for the Bergpartei. — Anunita Chandrasekar  
Bündnis Grundeinkommen – Just the basics
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Cosima Kern. Photo by German Palomeque Bündnis Grundeinkommen Members: 290 basic income believers (10 in Berlin); 9479 Facebook followers. Slogan: Grundeinkommenist wählbar (Basic Income is Electable) Claim to fame: BGE members care so little about the actual number of ballots they get that they’ll “celebrate the elections” before the results are announced.
Cosima Kern, being a one-issue party is not a liability – it’s an asset. “With all these parties and their complicated platforms, one can get lost and confused. But if you know about UBI and you stand for it, you can stand sure that you won’t go wrong with us,” says the 23-year-old student, Berlin election candidate and second chair of the Bündnis Grundeinkommen party. She’s referring to Universal Basic Income, and her party’s fight for an unconditional monthly payment that should be provided by the state to all citizens from birth “without any compulsion to work”, and “regardless of any proof of need”. The idea isn’t new, nor is it unpopular. Once thought of as a radical pipe dream, basic income is now a fashionable topic among the alternative left worldwide, with pilot programmes being implemented in Finland and Kenya and at least a half dozen Berlin parties (including most of the ones profiled here) having it on their platforms. But that wasn’t enough for the small group of dedicated UBI believers who decided to create a political party in Munich in September 2016. Under the motto “Grundeinkommen ist wählbar” (“basic income is electable”), they aim simply to “spread the word”, as Kern puts it. “We need to strengthen the debate about the basic income in the political realm, and this election is a good opportunity to do it.”  The Berlin branch of BGE resembles a small family, with just 10 active members ranging from ages 23-60, students to entrepreneurs. They meet at places like Café Grundeinkommen, the “basic income lab” on the grounds of the Bauhaus Museum. First on their agenda: social media and event planning. “Our first task is to get known,” says Kern. She herself joined only last November, after studies in economics and philosophy converted her to the UBI cause. A young idealist who has also worked for UNICEF and studied yoga in India, Kern represents the spirit of her party: young, up-and-coming and standing behind an idea whose prospects are rosier than those of Bündnis Grundeinkommen itself. “I wasn’t interested in politics before, and I’m not sure I’ll want to do politics in the future. I see my involvement with BGE as my contribution here and now to an idea I care about.” — Hugo Bingler  
Die Urbane – Freestyle democracy
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Raphael Hillebrand. Photo by German Palomeque Die Urbane  Members: 293 hip hoppers in Berlin, 2630 Facebook followers. Slogan: Wir sind DU (We are You) Claim to fame: Co-founder Hillebrandstarred in a “hip hopera”adaptation of Wagner’s Ring cycle.
About 20 people are sitting in Gleisdreieck Park, most of them in trainers and baseball caps. They’re here for a “cypher”, an old-school term for an informal freestyle jam among rappers. But instead of bouncing rhymes off each other, they’re discussing campaign strategy. “Hip hop values” might seem a questionable base for forming a party. But the members of Die Urbane see in the genre – particularly its 1970s-80s, pre-gangsta version – a potential to unite and inspire those who’ve previously been on the political sidelines. The message they take away from it is less “Fuck bitches, get money” and more, in the words of member Irmgard Bauer (aka DJ Freshfl uke), “‘Each one teach one’ and tolerance of minorities”. This isn’t just lip service: half of the “cypher” participants are female, and nearly half are non-white. One of them is Raphael Hillebrand, an Afro-German dancer and choreographer who, along with nine others, co-founded the party in May. Hillebrand is keen to point out that Die Urbane is “not just a group of hip hop freaks”. He mentions members such as Bernd Feuchtner, a former opera director, and the party’s direct candidate for Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Dr. Frithjof Zerger, who stands out at the “cypher” in his crisp attire. A sociologist who has worked with the Interior Ministry on migration issues, Zerger confesses he’s “not that deep into the hip hop movement”, but was drawn in after Hillebrand explained his plan to democratise politics the same way hip hop instigated “the democratisation of art”. In between quotes from Nas, Indian rapper Brodha V and German group Advanced Chemistry, Die Urbane’s 31-page programme is surprisingly sophisticated, addressing not only what you’d expect (policies on music sampling, marijuana legalisation) but also sustainable development, basic income, solar energy and education funding. It’s cobbled together from everyone’s suggestions, and open for all members to edit, an approach that means to show that the party’s main slogan – “Wir sind DU” – should be more than just an acronym. — AC
Die Piraten – Righting the ship
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Martin Haase. Photo by German Palomeque Die Piraten Members: 11,214 active hacktivists (547 in Berlin); 79,194 Facebook followers. Slogan: Freu dich aufs Neuland (Look Forward to ‘UnknownTerritory’) Electoral success: 1.7 percent in 2016 Berlin elections. Claim to fame: Only party to have the legalisation of marriage between siblings on its platform.
Martin Haase doesn’t see the Pirates as having fallen from grace. “There was a huge wave of interest, but it’s calmed down, the same as it would for any other new party,” says the genial 54-year-old linguistics professor, member of the Chaos Computer Club and Berlin list leader for Die Piraten in this year’s elections. “The hype is over.” This is something of an understatement. Haase joined the then-fledgling international movement in 2009, after the Bundestag passed the Zugangserschwerungsgesetz, a controversial law intended to block child pornography but which Haase and other critics pointed out as a government attempt to rule over and potentially censor the internet. “The SPD called a meeting with the ‘people of the internet’, but didn’t listen to any objections,” he says. The law was repealed a year later, but the seeds for an internet-fuelled democratic revolution were sown. Buoyed by their platform of internet privacy, transparent (“liquid”) democracy and a universal basic income, the Pirates entered parliament in every single German state between 2010 and 2012, earning 8.9 percent of the vote in Berlin. They were everywhere.  And then… nothing. After a year characterised by a lot of infighting, accusations of sexism (less than 15 percent of members were women) and little accomplishment, the Pirates scored just 2.2 percent of the vote in the 2013 federal elections. Since then, membership has plummeted to just over 11,000 members from a high of 35,000, and the party’s share of the Berlin vote has shrunk to 1.7 percent. In Kreuzberg, they’ve resorted to sharing an office with Die PARTEI.  Haase, who produces a Pirate podcast in his spare time, is optimistic about the party’s future, despite a reputation further marred by Berlin assembly member Gerwald Claus-Brunner’s grisly murder-suicide after the 2016 elections. This year sees a “rebranding”, with a switch from orange to purple posters (newly available to German Pirates after the Violetten party dropped out of the race) to match the Pirates’ international colour scheme. Slogans call out Angela Merkel’s internet ignorance (“Look forward to Neuland”, a reference to her remarks about the web in 2013) and surveillance policies (“Mutti doesn’t have to know everything”). Over half of this year’s candidates are female. “And by the way, we’re the only party with both gay and lesbian leading candidates in Berlin,” Haase adds, referring to himself and fellow candidate Ute Laack. The party’s vision for a “society of the future”, however, remains the same as it was in 2011, focusing on government transparency, freedom of information and citizen participation through the internet alongside more quixotic proposals like legalising sibling marriage. Will their new international approach be enough to get Berliners back on board? — Annie Kiyonaga/Rene Blixer
Demokratie in Bewegung – En Marche, Germany!
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Anne Isakowitsch. Photo by German Palomeque Demokratie in Bewegung Members: 240 pre- and post-millenial go-getters (38 in Berlin), 8601Facebook followers. Slogan: Politik.Anders. Machen. (Do.Politics. Differently.) Claim to fame: First party with a quota for “discriminated”groups (LGBTQ,ethnic minorities and the disabled) among top positions.
Anne Isakowitsch has never liked other people telling her what to do. She hated athletics at school because it felt like a military exercise. When she was 16, she packed her bags and moved from her hometown Berlin to attend school in England, away from her “controlling” parents. And now that she’s 32, having finished her master’s at LSE and scored a job at a consumer watchdog platform back in Berlin, she co-founded Demokratie in Bewegung (Democracy in Movement; DiB), a brand new party that wants to make democracy about more than casting a ballot every four years.  She first heard about the idea to found a new party from a friend over drinks on Boxing Day. Brexit, Trump and the AfD had shown Isakowitsch how powerful hate could be, and how few answers the established parties had. And she wanted to fight back. “I’m always looking for something I can burn for,” she says. Like when she helped develop a Facebook chatbot called SOSWeihnachten that sent people facts to counter AfD-voting relatives’ arguments around the Christmas table. For DiB, she helped start an online petition to gather the 100,000 signatures necessary to found the party. They reached that number in late April, five minutes before the deadline.  DiB purports to be neither left nor right, just open. Everyone, even non-members, can throw in policy suggestions, which the party discusses and votes for online. On the other hand, prospective members have to go through a 30-minute interview to ensure they align with the party’s core values, which include such lefty evergreens as social justice and diversity of all kinds. They have already agreed on a €12 minimum wage, a 50 percent female quota for top-level jobs (DiB’s members are 37 percent female) and an open register for lobby organisations. DiB has also given itself a 25 percent diversity quota, meaning one-quarter of top positions must be filled by those who’ve been “discriminated against” because of their ethnicity, sexual identity or disability. At a Friday evening meeting over non-alcoholic drinks at Café MaDame in Kreuzberg, a handful of tired-looking yet eager DiB members rush through their agenda, punching the latest updates into a MacBook while dropping references to Bernie Sanders’ election campaign. It’s whirlwind politics that lives off its members’ enthusiasm. Isakowitsch herself has been putting in 30-40 hours a week alongside her full-time job, caring for her two-year-old son and drumming in her band, Bathtub Theory. Who knows how far their commitment and elbow grease will carry these idealistic high-achievers? Their party is still a work in progress, but so was En Marche!, the party of Emmanuel Macron, not too many months ago. DiB has likened itself to that French start-up movement that unexpectedly swept to power, but their direct democracy approach might make it hard for a similarly powerful leader to emerge. If all animals are equal, can there be some more equal than others? DiB will have to find out for itself. — MRK 
V-Partei – Radically green
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Angela Küster. Photo by German Palomeque V-Partei Members: 1300 mild-mannered meatless eaters (60 in Berlin); 15,422 Facebook followers. Slogan: Wir lieben das Leben (We Love Life) Claim to fame: Munich members include 89-year-old retired actress Barbara Rütting and Axel “Ironfinger” Ritt, guitarist of the heavy metal band Grave Digger.
“Are you a vegan?” is one of the first questions you’ll be asked as a fresh face at a V-Partei meeting. Don’t fear a lecture if you confess a weakness for meat, though. “Vegan” and “Vegetarian” might make up two of the three Vs implied in the party’s offical name, V-Partei3, but it’s the third that’s most decisive: “Veränderung” (change). For the V-Partei, it’s not just about revolutionising our dietary habits, but the world! The party was founded in Munich in April 2016 with one ambitious plan, the Agraragenda 2030: turn Germany into a bio-vegan society in merely 13 years. This includes a complete phasing out of animal-based products (from meat to milk), orientation towards small-scale, permaculture farming, a fairer EU farming subsidy system and a fundamental increase in green energy sources. In short, Germany should be leading the way to a new stage of human development, devoid of any form of animal or environmental exploitation as a way to move towards a balanced social order and a healthy planet. Berlin candidate Angela Küster doesn’t think it’s unrealistic. “What’s unrealistic is the business and agricultural models that are currently slowly destroying our planet,” says the 52-yearold doctor in political science. She and six others are discussing postering strategy over broccoli burgers and tofu noodle soup at Koffi e Engel in Neukölln, the vegan café they’ve chosen for this month’s meeting. Far from a bunch of radicals screaming “Meat is murder!”, the V-Partei members are a friendly gang of middle-class, middle-aged, mild-spoken Berliners. Küster in particular shares namesake Merkel’s stoic demeanour. But ask her about V-Partei’s motto, the slightly banal “We love life”, and the similarities between the two Angelas evaporate. “It’s our response to the system. Politics, farming, businesses. It’s become a death machine,” Küster says. She’d never thought about entering politics before, but the VPartei’s idealism spoke to her. “People in the party are concerned about actual, radical change, not about becoming career politicians,” she says of her reason to form the party’s Berlin department in January. At just over a year old, the V-Partei has already reached the same membership as the 24-year-old Tierschutzpartei, the party to which it’s most commonly compared. But rather than campaign for animal welfare, V-Partei wants to use its vegan visions as a vehicle for true transformation, away from the ‘political realism’ of big-party coalitions. “We’ve reached a point where idealism has become the only realistic path,” Küster concludes. In that way, the V-Partei might well be the new Fundis of the German green movement… — Aske Hald Knudstrup