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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
From the dole to the Bundestag
By Ray Furlong
BBC correspondent, Germany

Elke Reinke (picture: Bundestag website)
Mrs Reinke is one of 54 MPs for the new Left Party
Elke Reinke has said there was an unreal quality about her first day in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag.

A month ago she was supplementing her unemployment benefit by selling postcards for one euro (0.68) an hour.

She had been jobless for 15 years, ever since German reunification.

And she entered politics via the mass protests last summer against government reforms which cut welfare payments for the long term unemployed.

"It is important that there is someone here who knows what it is like, how one lives with the consequences of these reforms, with the reduced benefits and that it is not real life," Mrs Reinke says.

"Not actually a life worth living. And I hope that I can change something. I hope and I'm fighting for this," she says.

1. Christian Democrats/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU): 226
2. Social Democrats (SPD): 222
3. Free Democrats (FDP): 61
4. Left Party: 54
5. Greens: 51

Mrs Reinke's income has now risen from 330 euros (225) a month to 7,000 (4,780).

She is one of 54 MPs for the new Left Party which emerged from last summer's protests.

It will not have much influence in a Bundestag dominated by the two biggest blocs, the Conservatives and the Social Democrats who are negotiating a coalition government.

But Mrs Reinke insists that her aim is to get the welfare reform repealed and says she will have one of her old benefit documents framed and put on her new office wall to remind her where she comes from.

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