It is a sunny Monday in late August in the Emden-Vechta constituency. Hidden off the north coast of Germany, fishing boats sway serenely as tourists take a morning stroll; the fresh fish on offer at lunchtime and the area’s Dutch flair seem to be a draw for hikers.
In the port of Emden, three statues of the three Delftspucker -which emulate three unemployed fishermen who spit tobacco in the waters of Delft- recall the long industrial and marine history of the region.
At the end of the 16th century, Emden became the most important transshipment port in the North Sea and, 500 years later, it continues to play a fundamental role as one of the three main European ports for the transport of cars, more specifically German vehicles. .
Just minutes from the bustling shipyard is the Volkswagen plant. The automaker provides some 10,000 jobs to the region. In the not too distant future, the Passat models currently rolling off the production line will be replaced by electric vehicles.
The combination of a largely intact industry has, for decades, translated into strong support for the Social Democrats (SPD). Traditionally the workers’ party, the SPD, like many social democratic parties across Europe, has largely lost its relevance, and in due course its voters. But that is not the case here in Aurich-Emden, where there are more than 191,000 people with the right to vote.
For many locals, voting for the SPD is a matter of tradition.
“The popularity probably grew because of the large number of workers that were here in the 50s, 60s and 70s,” says a local. “People’s parents and grandparents voted for them and that has been passed down from generation to generation.”
In the 2017 elections, one in two voters here cast their first vote, which goes to a direct candidate, Johann Saathoff, from the SPD. Almost 38% gave their second vote, which goes to a party, to the SPD.
For Saathoff, much of the SPD’s success lies in communicating with voters.
“Although I work in Berlin and Emden, I am always reachable,” he says. I think half the constituency has my phone number. For me, work doesn’t start three weeks before the election. It begins the morning after the elections. “
As you leave the area, it is impossible to miss the huge wind turbines that dot the East Frisian countryside. Its manufacture has also become an important factor for the local economy.
When the turbines disappear in the rear view mirror, we head further south, in the same state of Lower Saxony, to reach Cloppenburg-Vechta. There are more than 220,000 people here with the right to vote. And in 2017, almost 60% of them gave their first vote to the candidate of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) party, Silvia Breher. Slightly more than 53% gave their second vote or that of their party to the conservative CDU.
Deep in the German countryside, the CDU is as entrenched in Cloppenburg-Vechta as Catholicism. The area is the one with the fewest number of people leaving the Catholic Church in all of Germany.
At a food bank, a volunteer says that the Church and the CDU go hand in hand. “In general, the CDU is all there has to be here: namely, Christian and social. And that is very important.”
Driving between small towns, the roadside statues of Jesus reach out to passersby. But it was the pigs and, less likely, divine intervention that brought prosperity to the area.
The importation of feed and the cultivation of the land led to enormous economic growth in the area since the 1960s. The results are visible in bricks and cement, in the form of the huge houses of the farmers and ranchers of the region . In the postwar years, economic success grew almost simultaneously with that of the CDU.
However, farmers like Silke and Sven Diekhaus are concerned about the future of their sector.
“Because of the change in people’s thinking, I’d say farming is getting quite difficult,” says Silke Diekmann, pointing to the push for more sustainable and organic farming.
His partner Sven says that the CDU is the best option to protect agriculture in the region. “The agricultural policy of the Greens seems very ideological to me,” he says. “They will not be able to feed us in the long term.”
In this remote area, where residents depend on their cars, the climate protection policy also resonates differently with many voters here.
Silvia Breher, a direct candidate for the CDU in Cloppenburg-Vechta, says “other ideas” are needed when it comes to reducing carbon emissions in the area.
“When in Berlin you talk about local public transport and the ban on internal combustion engines by 2030, people here say yes, yes, it needs to be addressed, but that life here really depends on the cars, “says Breher.
However, in southwestern Germany, climate protection has long been a priority for voters in Freiburg im Breisgau. After a long journey south, near the border with France, we ended our whirlwind journey through the strongholds of the candidate for chancellor parties here: in the stronghold of the Green Party.
In the 2017 federal elections, the direct candidate of the Greens obtained 25.7% of the votes, and the party itself 21.2%. By comparison, the Greens only got 8.7% of the vote nationwide. In the Green Party campaign, Chantal Kopf, a direct candidate in Freiburg im Breisgau, says support for the Greens dates back to a nearby protest in 1974, when protesters in Wyhl, near the city of Freiburg, launched a crusade against a planned nuclear power plant in the Kaiserstuhl area.
“This tradition lives on,” says Kopf. “Especially among the young people of the Friday for Future movement, which is especially well represented here in the region and in Freiburg.”
Nestled alongside nature in the Black Forest, the picturesque university town of Freiburg became the first city to elect a mayor from the Green Party nearly 20 years ago.
In its quest to be more respectful of the environment, the area has priority routes for bicycles and sustainable urban housing projects such as Vauban, where all the houses were also built according to low energy consumption standards.
Two decades after its opening, almost 6,000 people call the eco-district home, and around 70% of them do so without a private car.
“The Greens think of the people, and also of the most disadvantaged,” says a resident of Vauban. They don’t have their noses in the air, so to speak. And they think of the little ones and of the children, of the future and of nature. “
For all major party strongholds, loyalty to the party has largely become the identity of the region. But guaranteed success in their respective strongholds is by no means a given for any party. Never before have voters faced an election in such a rapidly changing period. It will be a fight for every vote.