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Konrad Werner: Hooray! Berlin has become boring

Last week, no one noticed that Berlin got a new mayor. And they were right to pay no attention, because Michael Müller is just a slightly paler version of Klaus Wowereit.

Image for Konrad Werner: Hooray! Berlin has become boring
Photo by Ulrich Horb (Wikimedia Commons)

Berlin has become boring again. The party is over. That’s what people say anyway. I don’t know because I don’t think I ever went to it in the first place and its end fills me with vague relief. But still, it’s finished, and you can tell it’s finished because Berlin’s new mayor was voted in last week and he’s very boring. He’s even got a very boring name – Michael Müller, and the most interesting thing about him is that the two candidates he beat in the election – they were called Jan Stöß and Raed Saleh, ousted him from his job as head of the Berlin SPD a couple of years ago. So the election was a fearsome tale of centre-left revenge. But most of the German media didn’t run with the Tarantino narrative, and just went with the fact that Michael Müller is a bit dull.

I say election, but Müller was actually voted in by 6353 people, which sounds a lot less impressive than 59 percent – the amount he won by. That’s because you had to be a member of the Berlin SPD to vote, and barely 11,000 of them bothered, so for the next two years he’s allowed to govern the city without a democratic mandate until Berlin’s next election comes round in 2016. In that time, Müller will also continue the work of Klaus Wowereit, whose closest ally he was in the past few years, especially when he was in charge of Berlin’s urban development. That means he will likely deal with Berlin’s biggest concerns – the housing shortage and rise in rents – in the same way as Wowi did: sell land off to private investors who will build unaffordable flats that will make rents rise.

So what we’re getting with the new mayor is an anaemic version of Klaus Wowereit, who had got fed up of being Berlin’s mayor because he was becoming increasingly unpopular. Although that might have a lot to do with the failure of the new airport, but indirectly it’s also because Berlin itself, after all the excitement of the last ten years, is reverting to the German mean – colourless, spießig, conservative. So Müller makes a lot of sense. He’s their preferred political leader – a reasonable, dull, Merkel-like centrist who will slowly sell off all their public assets and turn Berlin into a vast out-of-town business park.