State Elections in Berlin: Homophobia and the BIG party

It’s election time in Berlin. On the 18th of September, the seats of the House of Deputies for the Land of Berlin will be up for grabs, as will the position of Mayor currently occupied by Klaus Wowereit.

One of the more troubling aspects of the election campaign has been the presence of a party (with signs up all over the primarily Turkish-immigrant neighbourhoods of Kreuzberg, Sch0eneberg and Neukoelln) which has a homophobic message.

I was at first excited by the BIG party: their posters encouraged multiculturalism and tolerance. I was then horrified to see the poster (above) in my local kebab shop, in Turkish. I went home and did some translating, and noticed that the BIG party, for all its claims of tolerance, is saying something quite different in its Turkish-language posters.

The BIG party is against teaching children about homosexuality in schools. There is a mix of fear-mongering and false information in their flyer, stating that very young children will targeted and ‘recruited’, which is of course nonsense. Many of the other parties have demanded that these flyers and posters be removed. Another poster states ‘I am Muslim and that’s good’, playing off of Klaus Wowereit’s famous quip to the media, ‘I am gay and that is also good’. Note there’s no ‘also’ in the BIG party’s statement, which is of course an attack on the current mayor, profiting from homophobia to take away his votes.

In fact I have not seen the translation into German (above) anywhere in Berlin, but many examples of the Turkish version. I think this is a rhetorical move to communicate one message to German speakers (we are a party for tolerance and difference), and another to the Turkish-speaking population (we advance ‘Islamic values’).

I wish this poster were a joke, like the ones of the satirical ‘Die Partei’ which want to build a nuclear waste dump in Prenzlauer Berg (‘Endlager Prenzlauer Berg’), or to rebuilt the Wall as a catwalk through Berlin. The BIG party is building on real and very serious cultural divisions in Berlin society, a double act of tolerance and hate.

Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.