German Greens' leader pedals furiously in pursuit of power

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The Independent Online
APART from nuclear power, there is nothing the Greens hate more than titles and uniforms. Jurgen Trittin, a member of the party's presidium, has no title as such, and came casually dressed for a tour of his prospective constituency, wearing a white T-shirt with the Green smiley face logo on the back, black cycle shorts and sneakers. The other Greens wore the same.

For this alternative assault on the campaign trail, they appeared forbiddingly well-prepared, but assured the assembled members of the press this would just be a fun ride, at a leisurely pace, from this venerable university town to the former East German border. Twenty-five miles in all, on practically flat terrain, they said. No one mentioned the Harz mountains.

Nor did it transpire until later that one member of the official peloton was a semi-professional, that a second had just returned from a three- week cycling holiday - admittedly in Holland - or that Mr Trittin was seriously fit and liked to lead from the front. For this occasion, as the Greens get into gear for general elections just over a month away, he chose the fastest of his three bikes and, when not on his mobile phone, set a vicious pace.

He had a point to make. Since their anarchic beginnings 20 years ago, the Greens have grown into a mainstream party, with all the material trappings such a position can offer in Germany's subsidised political system. As they reach the last stretch of the road leading to power, the two wheels remain the most tangible symbol of their faith. Mr Trittin, who cut his teeth in Gottingen, certainly cuts a dash in the saddle.

And so, after a quick lunch at his favourite Italian restaurant, the convoy set off towards the east, racing through red lights and charging up the first hill. The rolling countryside blurred into a succession of roads, cycle paths and forest tracks. In the villages along the route, people came out smiling - or were they laughing? - and at one point a St Bernard dog gave chase.

There was no time to speak to the voters, to kiss babies or even deliver the odd leaflet. Onwards and upwards they flew, the hacks in their distant wake, puffing with every turn of the pedal. Then Mr Trittin slowed down to give an interview to a radio reporter riding beside him, and the rest of the pack were able briefly to catch their breath.

Finally, an hour into the journey: relief. Parked by the road stood the Greens' minivan, filled with ice-cold drinks. Then off again towards Duderstadt, the market town where Mr Trittin was due to meet the voters in the evening.

Two hours after the start, the peloton swept into the town, rounded the main square to the bemusement of people eating ice-cream at the pavement cafes, and headed, for no particular reason, to the border museum marking the former East-West frontier. Dismount-visit-mount again and the most arduous leg began, up the foothills - very big foothills - of the Harz. Three hours and 40 minutes from the start, the convoy reached its destination 20 minutes ahead of schedule, and its shattered members could partake of some organically-produced pork sausages at a "centre for experiencing Nature".

The Greens' leader had a shower and changed back into his normal attire: a black jacket and jeans. Despite his energetic campaign and usually sober appearance, Mr Trittin stands no chance of being elected in his constituency next month. But if the Greens get their predicted 6 to 7 per cent of the vote, he will still enter parliament on a list, and could become one of the power-brokers of the next government.

The pollsters anticipate a narrow victory for the Social Democrats over the Christian Democrats of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, forcing them to seek partners. Mr Trittin, naturally, is eager to offer his services. "We shall enter coalition talks without preconditions," he promises.

Mr Trittin has already served as a regional minister under the Social Democrat leader, Gerhard Schroder, when he was prime minister of Lower Saxony, and has no complaints. "It was easier to get on with Schroder than with real Social Democrats," he recalls. This was spoken with more than a hint of irony, as the front runner for the position of Chancellor is not noted for his adherence to ideology.

Mr Schroder, on the other hand, does not seem keen on a "Red-Green" coalition, because many of his voters are convinced that the Greens are barmy. Take their suggestion that the price of petrol should be raised from DM1.6 to DM5 a litre, equivalent to pounds 7 a gallon.

Scenting power, the Greens' leaders say they can be flexible about such policy issues, though their rank and file have different ideas, and continue to churn out fundamentalist manifestos. Mr Trittin, who is caught between the "opportunists" of the parliamentary group and the radical membership, tries to placate both sides, in the new spirit of "pragmatism".

For the journey back to Gottingen, the bikes are loaded on to the van. "It's a diesel," says the driver defensively. "It does over 40 miles to the gallon."