Yesterday was election day. It’s always held on a Sunday, to facilitate the maximum vote. On Saturday, wherever I went, party hacks pressed literature into my hand with free party-stamped pens. I must look like a voter. As you probably know, Angela romped back over the line with a healthy 42%, better than four years ago, but still not enough to do without a coalition. The question is with whom. Either the Green Party (8%), who are a sort of yuppie party who don’t like the Christian Democrats, The Linke (Left) Party (8%), who are the opposite end of the spectrum from the CDU, or the SPD, who are their traditional foil – the Socialist Party. The SPD were the other big party, but have lost a lot of ground and have only 26%. Hence everyone is eyeing everyone to see who’ll get into bed with whom. A party that had quite a bit of support, FDP, have a neo-liberal line, lower taxes etc, and they dropped from 12% to 4.7%, while the Anti-Euro party, AFD, rose out of nowhere to get 4.9%. What surprised me was that these two parties, because they got less than 5% of the vote, are now not allowed into the Bundestag (Parliament), and presumably do business via committees and behind closed doors. There are no Independent candidates here, verboten too, you have to be in a party to go up for election. There’s no Proportional Representation either, just a strange way of voting – you have two choices to X, one for the local candidate of your choice, one for the party you want in Government. Angela Merkel’s vote went up this time, and it surprised everyone when it went up in Berlin, which isn’t normally conservative. She represents a great big security blanket to the Germans, she’s nicknamed Mutti Merkel, and she’s trusted and popular. Before the election, there was a lot of speculation, since she’s been in power for 10 years now, a long time in politics, but she’s holding on tight for the next four years at least.

On Friday, despite torrential rain, I went to another Student-Welcome Party in the Picknick Club. So many venues are like this – a space that used to be something, converted via pallets and plywood and the odd lick of black/purple paint into a hopping venue. The bar was six deep, and people gathered in a great big group on the dance floor, so initially nobody could dance. Of course, it was just a matter of time and beer before people began to carve out little spaces for a bop. The dance floor was way too small, with people improvising (and loving it) dancing on top of the stacks of pallets. The girls danced in little circles, groups of guys stood around them pretending to be nonchalant, waiting for a girl to catch his eye so he could join in. All of them dance or stand around holding onto their bottles, for fear of spiking, and the place was awash with empty bottles, which, as the night went on, turned into broken glass underfoot. I was there with a Greek pal, and twice people asked her if she’d brought her mother along! People’s reaction on the dance floor was just disbelief when they looked closely at me, but everyone was fine. A whole band of au-pairs from New Zealand, Scotland and Spain invited me into their dance squash/circle. Everybody smokes, and nobody has any problem with it. I found this really astonishing – the whole of Europe, led by Micheal Martin in Ireland, has banned smoking, but in Berlin it never really took off! Smaller neighbourhood kneipe have notices outside saying “Smoking Venue”. Steffen, my roommate, explained that if you register as a charity, you can smoke on the premises. Most places don’t even go that far – people just light up everywhere. As the night wore on, heaps more people came in, and it got uncomfortable, but I found a great small room with air-conditioning (!) and great beats, not full at all, until my age really did catch up with me and I caught the U-bahn home.