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Voting day in Germany: end of the Merkel era

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SPD supporters react to the first results of the federal election, at Willy Brandt House in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are...

SPD supporters react to the first results of the federal election, at Willy Brandt House in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021. German voters are...

Voting bureaus opened in Germany at 08:00 local time on Sunday and will close 10 hours later. Never before has the outcome been so uncertain. During previous elections, when Angela Merkel was still in the running, the only question was, with whom is she going to rule? But today the question is, who will succeed her?

Things are heating up in the Kultur Brauerei, a gigantic building that served as a beer factory-turned cultural center in former East Berlin. On the eve of the elections a noisy brass band concert themed "blasen gegen rechts" ("blow against the right") takes center stage in Das Kesselhaus, one of the buildings of the old brewery.

The organizing group, which goes under the name "Bolschewistische Kurkapelle Schwartz-Rot," is a brass band that produces music that reminds avant-garde versions of Berthold Brecht's Threepenny Opera. They're the last ones to perform and whip up the enthusiasm of the audience.

"I don't expect much change," says Sacha Grohmann, the drum player of the collective, when asked about the elections. "People are not hungry for change. They are comfortable."

More than a decade of Merkel rule has raised German living standards, and in a way, says Grohman, this is a pity. "There is the climate situation. We need the change," he stresses.

But in the former East Germany, there's still more discontent than in the west. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the following privatization of many state-owned enterprises, many lost out.

"After the fall af the wall, Eastern Germany became a political laboratory, an experimentation room for the extreme right," Klaus Lederer, a deputy mayor of Berlin, tells RFI.

"But it also became an experiment for radical neo-liberalization. And that came together." According to Lederer, the unrest and uncertainty it caused were "ignored by the authorities and the police."

Combined with a feeling of being "third-rate Germans", people in the east started to look at a party like the right wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD,) which promised a return to "law and order," he says.

However, even though the AfD will win more than 25 percent in some districts in the former East, nationwide figures are declining, and the race will be again between the big two, Merkel's Christian Democratic CDU and the Social Democrats (SPD) of Olaf Scholz.

Recent surveys show the Social Democrats just marginally ahead. The environmentalist Greens, with candidate Annalena Baerbock, are making their first run for the chancellery, and polls put them several points behind in third place.

Caretaker

The Social Democrats have been boosted by Scholz's relative popularity after a long poll slump, and by his rivals' troubled campaigns. Baerbock suffered from early gaffes and Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, has struggled to motivate his party's traditional base.

About 60.4 million people in the nation of 83 million are eligible to elect the new Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, which will elect the next head of government.

No party is expected to come anywhere near an outright majority. Polls show support for all of them below 30 percent.

Such a result could mean that many governing coalitions are mathematically possible, and trigger weeks or months of haggling to form a new government. Until it is in place, Merkel will remain in office on a caretaker basis.

(With AP)