Talking politics and why that involves traffic lights

Don’t click away again! Yes, I’ll talk politics for a bit but I will not even once use the name of a certain person currently gving many of you in the US headaches and causing outsbursts of frustration. Instead, I’m back with another episode of my little series hightlighting differences between Germany and the US. Given we’re about to elect a new Bundestag [the political institution deciding pretty much everything in our country], I thought it’d be interesting to give you a little glimpse into how we do things over here. Plus a few more fun little bits and bobs.

Thinking out loud again here.


President who?

Unlike in the US, the president is barely present in most Germans minds on a daily basis. Actually, I’m tempted to guess the majority of us wouldn’t be able to tell you the current president’s name – Frank-Walter Steinmeier if you’re curious and no, I didn’t have to look that up; proud moment? 😉 – or his functions. Yet ask for the cancellor’s name and hey, sure thing, Merkel! Angela Merkel has been the German chancellor for what feels like forever now and is very likely to be re-elected once again on September 24th (our “Bundestagswahl”/ elections for the German Bundestag that take place once every four years). Elections themselves – there are multiple; this ‘big’ one for the Bundestag all Germans vote for on the same day and individual ones for each Bundesland [federal state] – are a huge topic in themselves. For now, I’ll just list a few interesting facts and won’t go into the details about the actual voting system – think Überhangmandate (“overhang mandates”), the “five per cent hurdle” etc. – since not even all Germans understand it. It’d take some more time to explain but let me know if you’re interested.

Stay however long you please! 

The above is true for the Chancellor. As I said, Angela Merkel has been ours for a long time – twelve years or three voting periods – and is very likely to win again in this election. Rumor has it she won’t candidate again yet if she wanted would be free to do so.

Reichstag Berlin at night

The ‘Kuppel’ of the German Reichstag, meeting place of the Bundestag. // Source

Small but mighty

While in the US, either Democrats or Conservatives end up winning elections and as such filling the seats in parliament, Germany is more divided. Yes, here, too, the ‘main’ players are two big parties – the SPD (Social Democratic Party) and CDU (Christian Democratic Union) – but them aside, the field is much more varied. Among the very small ones on the sidelines are – to name just a few – Die Piratenpartei (Pirate’s Party; no joke!), Die Violetten (The Violets), the Feminist Party and even a vegetarian party.  Why these small ones are still important? Because they create a larger spectrum of opinions presented in the Bundestag. Plus, the more established ones who get a certain amount of votes force the big ones into coalitions.

What Jamaica and traffic lights have in common

Answer: They’re names of German coalition types. Because multiple small parties get a right to seats in the Bundestag, too, the ‘big’ parties can’t play the policits game alone (no majority of votes). The coalition names stem from the colours associated with the various parties (i.e. green for Die Grünen, the environmental-focused party, red for the SPD, black for the CDU, …). Meaning that the Ampel-Koalition (traffic light coalition) would be the SPD (red), FDP (yellow) and Die Grünen (green) forming the government.

So once the election is over, the big party who won the majority of votes – sssh: this is going to be the CDU once again this time around – gets together with the smaller parties who managed the five percent hurdle. Eventually, those long discussions result in who gets which ministry and the new government is complete. As I’m sure you’re fed up with talking about politics now so let’s move on to a different topic.


Bring back, bring back oh bring back my baby cart to me, to me

Disregard the unfortunate rhyming above. The hidden statement here: German groceries want you to bring your shopping carts back. Orderly. That’s right: no just randomly leaving yours somewhere in the parking lot or around the store. Their tactic? Money. Want a cart? Bring a coin. Outside stores, carts are strung together and you can fetch one by inserting a coin – usually 1 € – into a slot on the car, by this untying it. No worries: if you’re a good customer 😉 and bring your cart back to where you got it, you’ll get your money back. No losses for the store = no losses for you. We’re fair players here. And because we want our every penny back we also …

Return bottles to the store

Yes, that’s right. Stores don’t stop at the carts there. Thirsty? Grab a bottle of your favourite beverage from the shelves but be aware that the price noted there isn’t what you’ll actually have to pay. At the check-out, the store system automatically adds a so-called ‘Pfand’ – typically 0.15-0,25 € per bottle depending on its size – to the price stated on the shelf. Don’t worry, though: you get your Pfand back when you return your empty bottles to the store. And if you’re anything like me you feel just that little bit feisty in getting a – actually only mental – discount on your next purchase that way. Imagined benefits are still benefits, right ;)?

… and that’s it for another post on those small but significant differences in everyday life in Germany vs. the US.

Happy Thursday!

Happiness-inducing today: Many little things from the past few days like a conversation with one of my colleagues, another long-ish one with a – rare exception here! – friendly cashier and sunshine amidst a stormy and rain-heavy day.

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Share your random thoughts with me!

What’s are some differences you’ve noticed between your homecountry and other ones you’ve visitied in the past?














2 thoughts on “Talking politics and why that involves traffic lights

  1. chasetheredgrape says:

    I always like finding out about how different political systems work, but then again I did study a lot of politics at university! But I must admit even I didn’t know you had a president… And the UK isn’t exactly far from Germany!
    Oh and the trolley coin trade is present in most UK supermarkets too… And I wish we could trade back our glass bottles. It was something you did in the UK back in the day but ended in the nineties. It just makes sense to me! (Neither are present in Australia… Unless you live over East and then some states reward you for bringing back glass bottles and jars).

  2. Kaylee says:

    Politics is obviously complicated so thanks for clearing that up. It blows my mind just thinking about all the political systems out there.
    I know that they do that cart thing here at some airports but grocery stores need exactly that too. One of my biggest pet peeves = when people don’t even try to put their carts back.
    I actually grew up in the Philippines so when I first moved over here (to the US) for college there were a bunch of small terminology differences that I didn’t even know existed (e.g. slippers = fuzzy slippers in the US but flip flops in the Philippines). Another thing I only learned recently was that one of the games kids would play at birthday parties back home didn’t even exist here (it’s called Bring Me if you’re curious 🙂 )

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