Comment: Blurred horizons will spoil Kohl's blooming landscapes

Kohl has been written off before, but my hunch is that this time the old warhorse won't make it

WHAT IS a "Blooming landscape"? On the answer to this curious question will depend the outcome of Sunday's German Election, the future of the new Germany and hence that of Europe.

Back in the historic spring of 1990, Chancellor Helmut Kohl won a crucial election in East Germany by promising to create "Blooming Landscapes" out of the post-communist wasteland. The vote meant that East Germany became just east Germany: the eastern part of a larger Federal Republic. By the time of the last Bundestag election, with old communist factories rusting all around and their workers on the dole, "Blooming Landscapes" had become a bitter joke. I saw people holding up placards at the election rallies of Kohl's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) saying "Where are the blooming landscapes?" or just "Blooming landscapes!".

But earlier this week, on the hustings at a village on the outskirts of east Berlin, I was amazed to see a poster proclaiming "Vote for Blooming Landscapes - CDU." The left-wing cartoonist Klaus Staeck is not amused. "That was my joke," he protests. But the Christian Democrats seriously reckon they may just be able to persuade enough east German voters that the Blooming Landscapes are here. Their future - and perhaps even ours - hinges on that gamble, because the psephologists tell us that this whole election will be decided in the east.

Travelling around the east over the last few days, I have found large patches of desolation, rust, unemployment, and the accompanying mixture of apathy among the old and often xenophobic anger among the young. But there are also impressive areas of large-scale construction, new jobs, energy and hope. Nowhere else in post-communist Europe does one see such vistas of shining new steel, glass and concrete. Hardly surprising, perhaps, given that west Germany has pumped more than pounds 350bn into the east over the last eight years. But there is massive private investment too.

The mayor of a village in the "bacon belt" of commuter villages around Berlin shows me the newly-made streets and fire station, the freshly renovated school, and a whole estate of new, detached, private houses, built by local people on savings and mortgages. Saxony in the south is booming, under its Christian Democratic "King" Kurt Biedenkopf. Even in the poor northern province of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which has more than 17 per cent unemployment, every village I drove through had some new development.

Still more important are the hearts and minds. The cliched picture of the east you get from the British press tends to be that of resignation and resentment. Yet I found people actively and hungrily participating in a democracy that is still new to them. This has been the liveliest campaign here since that vote for unification back in 1990. Walls are plastered with posters. Meetings are packed. The issues? Jobs, of course. Law and order. As everywhere in post-communist Europe, more crime has come with more freedom. Then there is the euro. People who only got the mighty German mark eight years ago are particularly worried about giving it up. So Kohl keeps telling them the euro will be as hard as the German mark. "The French say `The euro speaks German'," I heard him declare in the eastern city of Schwerin. "I have nothing against that."

Will Kohl pull it off? Can he convince just enough east Germans that things really are looking up, so that the present coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats can continue? Well, he has been written off so many times before that you have to hesitate before doing it now. In the last fortnight, the opinion polls have shown him steadily closing the gap on his telegenic but vapid opponent, the "Clintonblair", Gerhard Schroder. The old warhorse, as Kohl describes himself, is in snorting form, charging round the country to exhort carefully-orchestrated mass rallies. The race may even have a photo finish. But my hunch is that this time he just won't make it.

Even in east Germany, where they have only had him as chancellor for eight years, and certainly in west Germany, where they have had him for 16, the simplest argument is the most important: "It's time for a change." I remember a conservative candidate in the last British election telling me that this was the one to which he had no answer. Nor does Kohl. As young people heckled him in Schwerin, he must have felt they were biting the hand that had fed them. One heckler told me: "Yes, in a way we are." But there is a reason for this too.

It is not what the west Germans did, it is how they did it. It is not so much the mistakes made while incorporating east Germany into the western system. It is the arrogance, inflexibility and condescension which so many west Germans have displayed towards their compatriots.

One of the parties to profit from this resentment is the born-again, post-communist Party of Democractic Socialism (PDS), a direct successor to the Communist Party which polluted the east German countryside for 40 years. There is an intricate little irony here, of a kind which we may have to get used to in Britain, the more we introduce complicated electoral systems involving proportional representation.

The alternative government favoured by most Social Democrats is a partnership with the environmentalist Greens, the so-called red-green coalition. However psephologists reckon that a few seats won by the PDS would probably just rob the red-green alliance of the necessary majority.

What would then remain - and in my betting book this is still the likeliest outcome - would be a "grand coalition" of the two big parties: Christian Democrats and Social Democrats. If the latter got more seats, then it would be Chancellor Schroder and a Christian Democrat deputy chancellor. If the Christian Democrats got more seats, then it would be Kohl's annointed heir, Wolfgang Schauble, as chancellor, who as a personality would be much better. (However, although Kohl has declared himself against a grand coalition, one cannot entirely discard the possibility of his staying on after all. At the last election he said he would not stand in this one).

It would be a black joke beyond even the cartoonist if Kohl's Christian Democrats were to remain in power, albeit in a "grand coalition", only thanks to east Germans voting for the post-communists. Blooming or not, those landscapes are still rich in irony.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn