German poll favours the kidglove touch: A system that is partly proportional makes for a homely campaign, writes Steve Crawshaw in Siegburg

A LOCAL judge turns a hurdy-gurdy. The candidate distributes copies of an election quiz that can win you a bicycle or a weekend in Strasbourg. A party helper takes Polaroid photographs of any voter who unwittingly wanders within grabbing distance of the candidate (signed copy of your grinning portrait, alongside the would-be MP, immediately available). And then the traditional Rhineland fare for this time of year is on offer: bread-and-dripping and Federweisser, or 'feather-white' - cloudy, fermenting new wine.

A local youth brass band occasionally strikes up in front of the little tent in the middle of town. But at the grass roots of German election campaigning, just a few days before the elections this Sunday, the atmosphere is more homely than tarantara.

Andreas Krautscheid, 33, a lawyer and candidate for the Christian Democrats (CDU) in the Siegburg region - dozens of villages and small towns strung out across a wide area south-east of Cologne - uses more electoral tricks than most.

He travels around in an ancient fire-engine, he distributes computer diskettes with his electoral programme, and he quickly realised how useful the Polaroid photographs could be ('You've got to recognise vanity - people always like to look at photographs of themselves').

His Social Democrat (SPD) rival, Uwe Gollner, 49, relies on the traditional basics: information stalls, where he talks to whoever wants to stop by. His only electoral gimmicks: some SPD balloons.

Both men have gone door- knocking in recent weeks and months. But both admit, too, that the campaign in Siegburg and the surrounding region is as much for the municipal elections - which will take place in this area on the same day - as for the federal parliament in Bonn.

Throughout the constituency you see election posters for the council candidates. Posters are few and far between, though, for Mr Krautscheid, the fresh-faced deputy spokesman for the national CDU, and Mr Gollner, a 'district chimney-sweep-master' (in practice, nowadays, a heating engineer), and mayor of the nearby town of Troisdorf.

The federal elections are not being ignored. But they are scarcely fought out at the local level. One of the CDU party activists suggests: 'People see the federal elections on TV, so we don't need them here.' Mr Gollner agrees: 'The federal elections are seen on television, and the local elections aren't. That's why people try to create a counterweight, here on the ground.'

In Siegburg, the idea of using loudspeaker vans, to parade around the constituency advertising the candidate's political wares, is anathema. One of Mr Krautscheid's helpers says: 'People would get very angry if we did that.' Nor do the candidates accost passers-by, as in shopping precincts in Britain. As Mr Krautscheid points out, 'The campaigning is much less aggressive here than in Britain. I lived in London for six months, and that's clear to me.'

During the last phase of the campaign both sides say they must ease off the pressure so as not to irritate the voters. In Mr Krautscheid's words: 'The closer you get to election day, the more distance people tend to have.'

Part of the reason for the low profile of the would-be MPs is that, unlike in Britain, their fate does not directly affect the distribution of power in Bonn. Half the parliamentary seats go to first-past-the- post constituency MPs but the overall number of seats is allotted on a purely proportional basis, calculated according to the 'second vote', the 'chancellor's vote', as the CDU posters describe it.

The 'first vote' in Siegburg will decide whether Mr Gollner or Mr Krautscheid gets into parliament. But only the proportional 'second vote' will determine whether the SPD or the CDU gains more seats.

Thus, between the two main parties, there will be none of the excitement of 'SPD gain' or 'CDU hold' which is part of the British election-night ritual.

For a handful of seats in Berlin, where the post- Communist PDS is strong, just such questions will be raised, but that is the clear exception, not the rule.