I live in the middle of Germany close to the old border, and the election campaign for the Bundestag is in full swing.
A few weeks ago the outcome looked pretty clear in all opinion polls: A victory for the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the conservative CDU with a secure margin to form a coalition government.
I was sure I was voting for the winning candidate in Angela Merkel, leader of the CDU.
Today I am not so sure. The race is a lot closer now.
Not one of my friends or family is voting conservative.
But there are good reasons to vote conservative. You don't need to be an economist to see Germany's problems.
These include a high unemployment rate, low growth rate, different levels of government still borrowing money and spending it on fancy projects or social initiatives, crumbling streets and schools, and expensive and not very capable public services.
Towering above all this is a gloomy mood among German citizens.
Everyone is thinking something has to be done - but not through petty privileges, nice tax loopholes or generous social security handouts.
I don't actually believe the CDU's policies will be very different from the reigning SPD's policies. Gerhard Schroeder's government has tackled many of our problems already.
However with a conservative election victory the mood might change and the country might focus again on its strength.
From my point of view, Germany is still a very rich country, with a skilled workforce, a wealthy population and a determination to work hard.
Somehow we have lost our way and now prefer to discuss the latest unemployment rates instead of working hard and looking for our place in the world.
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A win for the CDU with Merkel leading the government will be Germany's downfall! It will increase the social divide not create more jobs and Germans will be soon patrolling in Iraq, not being the moral and diplomatic mediator anymore! The problem Germany is having now was not Schroeder's or his government's mistake! It is the pressure of modern technologies which rationalise jobs in one of the most expensive employment costs locations worldwide and most importantly you must not forget that Germany purchased some very, very expensive real estate in the east, with lots of unemployed East-Germans! While it was for a just course it will take generations and not electoral terms to improve and change for the better. Schroeder's reforms are on the right course, may be slow, may be painful as there is a great tax burden, but with Merkel, Germany will be marching straight behind President Bush and his backwards views on environment and cowboy mentalities. My letter vote for the SPD has been in the post weeks ago, just keeping fingers crossed that undecided German voters will come to their senses tomorrow and vote for Schroeder!
Oliver (German), London, UK
Yes, Germany does have its problems, but as a frequent visitor I am always struck by the stronger social cohesion, and the generally more comfy and content feel about the place, unfortunately a world apart from the 'look after number one' attitude exhibited by many of my fellow Brits. If Merkel does win it would be an absolute tragedy if she does the same to Germany as what Margaret 'there is no society' Thatcher did to the UK.
Phil, London, UK
I moved from London, in the UK, to Germany to be with my girlfriend. Finding a job proved an impossibility, even with my qualifications. In the end we packed our bags and moved to Toronto in Canada where we're both happy and working.
Anon, Toronto, Canada
The latest unemployment rates in Germany are well worth discussing. You can trust me - I was one of those unemployed, until I decided to quit waiting for a miracle and leave for the UK, where I found a job within two weeks. Germany may well be a rich country, but for the unemployed - especially for women, but it goes for both sexes - it is a very difficult place to be. One of my friends has been jobless since arriving in Germany three years ago. She's a PhD. She's fluent in German. The other month, she was finally offered something: a 400-Euro job stuffing envelopes. That's 400 Euros a month, by the way. What stops the wealth spreading to the qualified jobless? I don't know - but I do know that "working hard and looking for our place in the world" isn't sufficient. Some reform is needed, some change in the way Germany thinks about employment, value and human resources. A minimum wage, perhaps, and some positive encouragement for the (typically depressed) long-term unemployed. If I were voting in this election, I'd be voting for change. Any change. I can honestly say that I've seen a lot of misery directly attributable to Schr and his government, and I just don't see any reason not to try something new.
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