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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 01:04 GMT 02:04 UK
German poll fails to fire youth
Posters of Gerhard Schroeder and Edmund Stoiber
Germany's leaders are trying to make an impact

Not so long ago, Germany's conservative frontman, Bavarian leader Edmund Stoiber, was awkwardly clutching a drink in a fashionable Berlin nightclub - a far throw from the beer halls of Munich - seeking to befriend the capital's youth.

His rivals, the ruling Social Democrats - which have long lost their former monopoly over young votes - were meanwhile working with what youthful recruits they have on how to make politics seem "fun" to their contemporaries in the crucial run-up to Sunday's general election.

Dancers at Berlin's Love Parade
Most young Berliners have better things to do than vote
In what has become an incredibly tight race between Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats and Mr Stoiber's conservative coalition, every vote counts.

There are nearly eight million to be had from those under the age of 26 - many of whom are first-time voters without any solid political loyalties.

Open in new window : Key election graphs
Click here to see German election statistics

But with both Chancellor Schroeder and his Bavarian challenger playing it safe in their quest for the middle ground, this election campaign appears to have failed to have set youthful political passions burning in the capital.

A large proportion, it is feared, may simply stay at home next Sunday.

"On the one hand young people have simply become less interested in politics," says Daniel Holestein, leading a federally sponsored programme aimed at rousing some of Berlin's bored youth into casting their ballot.

"But this has been made much worse by the fact that it's become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the two main parties. They have both moved to the centre - and that's not a place that arouses much excitement."

No vote

Certainly on the streets of Berlin, young Germans seem less than impressed with what is on offer.

Klaer and Christine
Berlin student Klaer: "They treat us like we're totally stupid"

"They treat us like we're totally stupid," says Christine, a 25-year-old student walking with her friend Klaer in the centre of the city.

"They all promise the same things, using meaningless slogans and phrases."

"And these presidential-style debates on the TV - it's all image and no content."

Klaer agreed. "In some ways the only party that says anything substantial or different is the (post communist) PDS. I wouldn't vote for them, but in some ways I admire them - at least they've got some ideas."


At the end of the day, this election is about personalities, and not politics

Ben Lohmoeller, 23

Mr Holestein's project, dubbed Wahl-Gang, has meanwhile been concentrating on several eastern districts of Berlin which registered some of the lowest turnout among young voters in the last election of 1998.

From Wahl-Gang headquarters, an apartment in the Berlin Mitte district, Mr Holestein and his student colleagues co-ordinate their onslaught on bored youth.

It involves an "Infobus" which trundles through the streets, parties and workshops, posters, a website and, of course, a mobile phone texting campaign.

The message: "It's the most powerful club in Berlin - you decide who gets in."

But in Prenzlauer Berg, one of the districts targeted by Wahl-Gang, not all are convinced.

"I don't doubt that my vote counts to whoever I give it too - I'm sure they'd like it," says David, a shop worker in his early twenties standing outside a train station.

"But what's in it for me? Things aren't that great for me - but they aren't going to change anything."

Picking fights

When the election campaign got under way, some observers said it would probably need a controversy - perhaps over immigration or the European Union - to bring it alive.

Ben Lohmoeller
Lohmoeller: "This election is about personalities, and not politics"

The manifestos of Mr Stoiber's conservative CDU/CSU coalition and Mr Schroeder's SPD suggest little to choose between the two.

Both men have made vague pledges over more jobs, less public spending and lower taxes.

They both want a stronger economy.

Neither has spelled out exactly how he will achieve this, although Mr Stoiber is able to point to the economic successes achieved back home in bucolic Bavaria.

The most contentious issue to emerge in recent weeks has been the prospect of a US-led military campaign against Iraq.

Mr Schroeder has categorically ruled out the involvement of German troops. Mr Stoiber is less adamant.

"At the end of the day, this election is about personalities, and not politics," says 23-year-old Ben Lohmoeller.

"And for me, Mr Schroeder is by far the more attractive of the two.

"But I won't be voting anyway because I haven't got around to registering myself."

Gerhard Schroeder

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13 Sep 02 | Europe
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