Who would want to be mayor of Berlin? Sure, there are worse jobs. Salesman in one of the sex video shops on Adenauerplatz, perhaps. Night manager of a Tankstelle, making sure that no one steals a can of Red Bull. That kind of thing. But to be mayor of Berlin is to live a lie: you have to pretend that this strange fractured city is still governable. You have to act as if your decisions make a difference when actually the actions of theSenat are increasingly irrelevant to everyday life in Berlin.
And now the formidable Renate Künast – who has always reminded me of Tim, of Tim and Struppi fame – has declared herself a candidate for the job. Like Tim, the roving reporter, she is constantly on the move in search of adventure, solving mysteries, unmasking bad men. And just as we never see the cartoon journalist actually writing a story, so we rarely see Ms Künast actually making decisions. So it could be that she is just about perfect for the Berlin job.
The Greens are astonishingly popular at the moment because they are deemed to be in accord with the Zeitgeist; there is a deep suspicion about insensitive political decision-making, the inability of politicians to address popular fears and resentment. We need to find new ways of conducting a political conversation: that is obviously what Stuttgart 21 demonstrates. The protestors there, and in the Wendland last weekend, were overwhelmingly bürgerlich – doctors and teachers in Timberland boots – and angry that politicians did not seem to be treating them seriously. Increasingly Berliners feel the same about Klaus Wowereit : that he has stopped listening. The Greens, on the other hand, have created a whole culture of political debate. They remain the party of Sprachtherapie.
But when it comes down to governing rather than consulting, Greens too often resort to pressure, to Zwang. The classic example is the Marburg solare Baupflicht: the ruling that all home owners have to heat their water with sun energy when they renovate their houses.From the English point of view, an extraordinary infringement of property rights.The Green Parteitag later this month will set national targets – complete Ökostrom Versorgung by 2030; Ölheizungen out of houses by 2015 – that can only be realised by compulsory measures. That, then, is the paradox of Green power. On the one hand it promises a consultative democracy; on the other hand it denies choice for those people who do not want, or cannot afford, to conform with a politically correct approach to containing climate change.
So, if Renate Künast becomes Regierende Bürgermeisterin, will she act as an Ökodictator, a kind of Green Imelda Marcos? The truth is that the most successful Green mayors – in Tübingen and Freiburg – have been directly elected and enjoy popular support, a licence to experiment. Künast does not have this luxury and Grün –Rot would be radically different from Grün-Schwarz. The only certainty is that Green city management functions best in rich communities, in clean and tidy Schwabendland. There, they argue about the … hazards of Laubbläser. Here we are knee deep in dog faeces, much of it hidden by leaves.
There is a difference then between Green governemt in the south west of the country and in this proletarian Hauptstadt. What seems like Ökodiktatur in Marburg may be the only way to change behaviour in Berlin. A Mayor Künast would impose a general 30 kilometre limit on Berlin with the exception of the main roads. Is that dictatorial? Many taxi-drivers will say so. But slower traffic and parking meters in the centre of town –will make Berliners think twice about using cars. Frustrated Berlin motorists will shift to the S-Bahn. I find that OK. Even an increase in Fahradwege, as planned by Künast is acceptable providing she doesn’t actually order me to get on a bike. But naturally such a policy has to be supported by more investment in public transport. Wowereit once declared the S-Bahn to be “Chefsache.” Nothing much came out of that partly because he had not developed a proper urban mobility strategy- but also because there is no money to invest.
Here then we come to the hub of the problem of the Künast –candidacy. I don’t mind a woman giving me orders; we all have to get used to that. But she has to prove that Green plans can be achieved with less, not more bureaucracy. And that she has the financial competence to juggle priorities, freeing up money for some new urban investment, while at the same time making intelligent cuts to reduce Berlin’s ridiculous levels of debt. Is she capable of doing that? I don’t yet see the evidence.
Despite her image in the Boulevard press, Künast is not a revolutionary. Prince Charles once declared Renate Künast to be his favourite German politician – I suppose he likes her plan to have more Wildnissflächen in Berlin’s parks – so we may yet see a special Anglo-German axis develop. A bio-King Charles and a Grün-schwarz RB Künast exchanging tips about the post-industrial future? It could happen. But for the Öko-Charles to be credible he will have to give up some of his expensive palaces and cut back his air miles. And the Bürgermeisterin Künast will have to find the money to turn Berlin’s Hundekacke into bio-energy. Nothing less will convince Berliners that their city is ready for a green revolution