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  • The Berlin election explainer: Off to the polls (again)


The Berlin election explainer: Off to the polls (again)

Barely 16 months after the last election, Berlin is doing it all over again. So: who are the candidates, what are the issues and which coalitions are likely?

IMAGO / Stefan Zeitz

Oh, Berlin. In a year of overlapping terrors, it was easy to overlook how impressive an achievement it was: last November, Berlin’s constitutional court ruled that, for the first time in German history, an election had been carried out so badly that it would have to be held again. The elections in September 2021 featured a collection of irregularities in several voting stations – not enough ballots, the wrong ballots, the marathon getting in the way of deliveries.

For the first time in German history, an election had been carried out so badly that it would have to be held again.

So, what now? We don’t have to undo the last year totally – a law specifies that, even though the election was invalid, Mayor Franziska Giffey’s coalition government and all the decisions they made up until now are not. But to add to the beautiful confusion, 43 people – mostly state parliament members – have filed a complaint to the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) challenging the Berlin court’s decision to declare the 2021 election void.

Why – they want to know – do we have to re-run the whole election when the poll stations that elected us reported no problems? At the time of writing, the federal court has not decided whether it would hear the case or not. But it leaves a delightful question in the air: Are Berliners about to vote in another invalid election? But let’s assume it’s a real election for now. Here’s where we are:


It couldn’t be tighter – the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have all been hovering at around 20 percent for months. One of these parties will produce the next mayor – but who? The post-Communist Die Linke and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) are battling for fourth place, both at 10-12 percent, and the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) are at 5-7 percent, which means they need to worry about making it into the parliament at all (less than 5 percent and you’re out).

Mayoral Candidates

Franziska Giffey (SPD)

Having served as federal Family Minister in Angela Merkel’s last cabinet, the current mayor’s speciality has been schools and family policy. One of her big ideas, which she has since realised, is to restore ‘civil servant’ status to Berlin teachers, in a bid to reduce the city’s chronic shortage. Whether it will work is another question. She’s considered to be at the conservative end of the centre-left SPD, having spoken out against expropriation and refused to rule out deportations to Syria and Afghanistan. Oh, and she plagiarised her PhD.

Bettina Jarasch (Greens)

Having nearly become mayor in September 2021, Jarasch had to make do with the Ministry for Environment, Mobility, Consumer and Climate Protection. The Bavarian-born progressive Catholic wants to install more cycle paths and has suggested she is open to the idea of implementing the 2021 Deutsche Wohnen & Co. enteignen referendum expropriating companies that own more than 3000 apartments in the city. But last October she suffered a blow to her big traffic plans when a court ruled that Friedrichstraße had to be reopened for cars.

Kai Wegner (CDU)

The leader of the opposition in the Berlin parliament, Wegner has been sniffing at potential victory in the re-run election and has successfully used the election mess to catch up in the polls: if the SPD can’t even organise an election, his argument goes, how can you expect them to provide meaningful public services? Also: he was named among the political lobbyists for the Azerbaijani regime in a Vice magazine investigation.

Possible Coalitions


This is the coalition that was elected in September 2021, with the SPD leading alongside the Greens and Die Linke. But it’s not exactly been easy; Jarasch and Giffey have been openly attacking each other over the Friedrichstraße decision, with Die Linke (slightly bizarrely) acting as the sensible mediator. That’s partly down to Die Linke’s leader, the much-liked Culture Minister Klaus Lederer.


This is your best realistic hope if you’re broadly left-wing and don’t mind a few compromises. With a Green mayor, this would be a lot more likely, and Giffey wouldn’t be able to block initiatives to serve her voter base – if she even wanted a cabinet role.

Green-CDU or CDU-Green-FDP

The Berlin CDU has been noticeably less critical of the Greens than of the SPD in this election campaign. For one thing, this shows that the CDU is vying for the same demographic as the SPD. But perhaps more crucially, it suggests that the CDU could in fact imagine forging an alliance with the Greens, as has happened in other states.

the CDU could imagine forging an alliance with the Greens

Interestingly, finishing second could actually be a better result for the conservatives than finishing first, because the Green party members are more likely to accept an alliance with the CDU if they get to be mayor. The FDP’s presence in any government will be interesting, if only because they have been struggling to maintain their policies in Olaf Scholz’s government. If the FDP gets into government, the city will become much more pro-car, with the extension of the A100 highway one of their main proposals. 


Enteignen or not?

Of the major parties, only Die Linke is uniformly in favour.

The fact that 59.1 percent of the Berlin electorate voted to expropriate companies that own more than 3000 apartments has made things difficult for the parties. Even if the solution turns out to be unworkable, the referendum has shown politicians they really do need to deal with the fact that Berliners are being priced out of the market. Grand plans to build affordable housing are proving hopelessly utopian (targets were not met last year). Of the major parties, only Die Linke is uniformly in favour. Take your pick.


The problem for governments is always the same: if they organise something halfway decently, they don’t get much praise or extra votes. Nothing illustrates that better than the way the city – both the government and civil society – managed the massive influx of refugees from Ukraine this year. The disastrous scenes of 2015 with people queuing for days in the mud outside the Ämter have not been repeated. But there are two new problems.

First, Ukrainian refugees have been given preferential treatment compared to previous refugees, which has triggered much resentment and confusion. And second, no one knows where they should all live, as the housing market is overwhelmed. The government has been forced to rent space and build container camps wherever it can, but even that capacity is filling up now.


The future of how the city will look depends on this election: if the CDU makes it into government, Berlin will become an even car-friendlier city, with the completion of the A100 motorway a top priority. If the Greens take the mayor’s office, you’ll see more bike lanes. The current government launched the €29 ticket in its short time in office, which has proved successful, and can be found on many of the SPD’s campaign posters.

Who Can Vote?

To vote in the state parliamentary election, you have to be at least 18, a German citizen and have lived in Berlin for at least three months. 

Around 2.4 million Berliners are eligible to vote in the state parliament election (Wahl zum Abgeordnetenhaus), and 2.7 million are eligible to vote in the municipal district elections (Wahlen zu den Bezirksverordnetenversammlungen, BVV). That’s because 16 and 17-year-olds and EU citizens are also eligible to vote in the latter. To vote in the state parliamentary election, which decides the mayor, you have to be at least 18, a German citizen and have lived in Berlin for at least three months. 

Importantly: even though it’s a repeated election, those who have reached voting age since September 2021 will also be eligible to vote, as will those who have moved to Berlin in that time.