Over 50 claims that the 2020 U.S. election was rigged were taken to court; all were debunked. It’s too bad Americans pay so little attention to international politics, for if they cast a glance at Germany, they could delight in the inefficiencies and bungling of an election where foreigners would least expect it: Berlin.
That’s right, the capital of the country most revered for its efficiency – at least by people who don’t live here – completely botched its elections in September 2021. So slipshod was the voting process the election must be repeated. The mistakes were so obvious that politicians across the board concurred.
At least they could agree on that.
For some perplexing reason beknownst only to the organizers, the following events were all squeezed into a single day: three sets of elections – the state parliament (Landtag), the federal parliament (Bundestag), and the 12 Berlin city councils (Stadtbezirke) – plus a referendum on whether to expropriate large real estate companies.
Oh yes, and amidst this electoral endurance contest, some 35,000 athletes snaked their way through the long lines of voters waiting at the polls. Because it also happened to be the day of the Berlin Marathon.
By day’s end, the disaster was evident. The city ran out of both ballots and ballot boxes and people were seen on TV waiting at the polls for hours, well past the closing time of 6:00 p.m.
Everyone loves to sneer at Bavaria, but when it comes to organizational matters, Berlin is the laughingstock. Its city government, municipal authorities, and private companies all have the reputation of being poorly run and corrupt.
This might seem surprising at first glance. After all, Berlin is the former capital of the Prussian empire, its potency still visible in its stately monuments, museums, and sweeping boulevards. It is also home to the most powerful government in Europe. The EU looks to Berlin for leadership on major issues – which, granted, is not always forthcoming.
But this overlooks one overriding historical fact. Berlin is the precious, spoiled only child of the rich German daddy.
When Germany was divided by WWII, West Berlin became an island surrounded by the enemy. To reach former West Berlin from West Germany required driving along a restricted highway through East German territory, all the while under the watchful eyes of the Stasi, the dreaded secret police. They were ever-so-keen to confiscate any Western media or decadent Western consumer goods and pretty much found any excuse to give you a rough time and maybe even send you back. This made transporting goods in and out of West Berlin not just harrowing but expensive. Air traffic was only possible via designated corridors, also over East Germany.
And it got worse. After the Berlin Wall went up in August 1961, some areas of West Berlin suddenly found themselves adjacent to one of the most hostile borders in the world. Many neighborhoods, such as Kreuzberg, deteriorated as a result. Living next to a concrete wall topped with barbed wire and watchtowers manned by guards instructed to shoot on sight is not exactly everybody’s idea of the urban dream.
But West Germany was determined to keep its biggest, most history-laden city alive at any cost. They were not about to let it sink in the East German sea. To keep the Russian-backed East German stranglehold on West Berlin from choking the life out of the city, the West German government responded by pumping money into the city in every way imaginable.
Subsidies first introduced in 1950 were ramped up in response to the building of the Wall. Tax cuts incentivized meat packers to send beef and pork slabs to West Berlin to be cut up and sent back to West Germany. West Berliners enjoyed concessions on sales, personal and corporate income tax, and investment allowances, and received depreciation benefits. Loans were tax deductible and employees enjoyed a tax-free allowance. These are just a few examples.
Subsidies beget outstretched hands, hands which then foster corruption and inefficiency. Berlin is no exception. The tentacles of this long-lived subsidy octopus are still stifling efficiency.
It takes months to get an appointment at a city authority to get a driver’s license or the mandatory German ID, the butt of many jokes.
The traffic authority in Berlin takes three years to process a permit to paint zebra stripes on the road for a pedestrian crossing. And do they keep track of how many people get hit by cars during that time for lack of a crosswalk, I wonder?
But the crowning glory of Berlin’s bungling is its airport, which took 14 years to build – following 15 years of planning – at triple the budget. Germany first decided to build a new airport in 1991, one year after reunification. What followed was a string of errors, cost overruns, mismanagement, and delays.
The cost of the airport increased from €1.9 to €5.9 million. Oops.
The opening was delayed seven times. Oops again.
The escalators were too short, they forgot to install sprinklers, rainwater dripped into the ventilation system, and then someone figured out that the airport would reach capacity soon after opening. Oops doesn’t even begin to cover this one.
During construction, multiple managers and other people were fired, companies were let go and one even went bankrupt.
Postillon, an online German satirical magazine, even wrote about how we might run out of jokes about the airport before it’s finished.
In April 2016, Daniel Abbou, the airport’s press officer, dared to tell journalists that the previous airport crew “screwed up too much” (“zu viel verbockt”) and that they had “sunk too many billions into the sand,” a colorful German turn of phrase for “squandered too many billions.” He was promptly relieved of his position for not “aligning his views with management.”
At some point, the politicians and project managers wised up and stopped making predictions altogether about when the airport would open. It finally happened on October 31st, 2020.
February 12th, is Election Day, Take 2, the first time in the city’s history that it must repeat an election.
All eyes on you, Berlin.
Title photo: Evans1551 at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons