German Chancellor Angela Merkel (front) casts her vote in Berlin, Germany, on Sept. 24, 2017. More than 61 million German voters were called to cast ballots on Sunday to pick their Bundestag, or federal parliament, on which a new government will be formed. (Xinhua/Luo Huanhuan)
by Tian Ying, Qiao Jihong
BERLIN, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- In the morning drizzle, an Iranian-German dentist walked out of the polling station No. 427 located next to the town hall of Berlin's ethnically-diversified quarter Wedding district, and took a picture of the polling station from outside.
In this polling station plainly decorated with but flags of the federal, of Berlin and of European Union, as in approximately 73,000 others across the country, the clock for Germany's 2017 Bundestagswahl, or election of the federal parliament, began ticking from 8:00 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) on Sunday.
"It's the fourth time I casted my ballot as a German citizen," said Hamid Emrani, not shunning the question about his choice. "I've elected CDU on national level for stability. Merkel is up to her job, experienced, brought tangible benefits to the people, and it's better to support her than someone I don't know or smaller parties lacking capacity."
Emrani told Xinhua, as a dentist, he has many immigrant patients, including those from Africa, Afghanistan, so he felt acutely that integration of this group was the greatest problem confronting Germany. "Many of them have difficulties getting jobs, or schools for their children."
Immigration is a crucial topic in this year's parliament election as the current government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel came under fire for opening the German doors for over one million refugees since 2015.
In the town hall next door, the hustling morning kicked off earlier, as over 20 election volunteers from around the city gathered here waiting for assignments at 7:15 a.m. In the office handling mail-in votes, about ten officers had already bent over their work by the time polling stations opened their doors.
Eric, a tour guide moved from Chicago to Germany since 1999, is among the volunteers who serve as backup for workers in polling stations. "It took me 30 minutes to arrive here. Anyway, I think it's an important way to contribute to the society."
Taxi driver Freddy also confided to Xinhua about his choice: Die Linke, or the Left Party. Though he has a big concern about the future which is his pension welfare as current retirement age is too late for him, he has little confidence in changes or in a solution to his problem. "Perhaps, it does matter whichever Party I vote, but for sure, I will vote for any Parties but the CDU."
Pension, refugee, immigration are key words briefly mentioned by several voters who are reluctant to talk. And the future of Europe as well as Germany's economic resilience are also what voters look for when they make up their mind for voting, according to voters interviewed by Xinhua.
In the polling stations No. 200 and No. 201 housed in a school dining hall in the center of Berlin, the number of voters rose markedly, making the exit crowded as many are intercepted by reporters from several different countries for interviews.
Juergen, an over-60-year-old art dealer living in the neighborhood, told Xinhua he will not vote for Merkel's CDU as politicians today "do not acknowledge what common people are interested in".
Common people want peace, he said, adding peace needs to be safeguarded first so that the root causes of terrorism can be addressed. However, Germany exported a large number of weapons, Juergen said, "it's no way to make peace."
His view was echoed by Markus Potzel, an officer who works for the polling station. He expressed hopes that Germany could play bigger roles in delivering peace in current war-torn regions.
Also in this polling site situated less than 300 meters from the landmark Brandenburger Gate and Hitler's Bunker, 49-year-old government officer Fred Hess was asked about his opinion on the possibility of the anti-immigration far-right AfD entering the parliament, the first time since World War II.
"I hope the AfD will be something interim, they just expressed the anger and fear of the people, but if the next government can do something to explain to the people there is nothing to fear, then the AfD would be just something interim," he told Xinhua.
Hess believed the election will help manifest "how many people think in the right wing, which is better than having these people hidden in different parties". "But don't give them a majority," Hess emphasized.
He does not see immigration as a problem at all. "When you go to the China-town of New York, it's quite charming, as long as everyone obeys rules of this country, they are absolutely welcome."
The 49-year-old feels content with both the economic and security situations in Germany, "I can go to the street whenever I want."
A taxi driver who didn't give his name or explanation for his choice told Xinhua he will vote for the AfD.
Stepping out of this polling site and heading toward the Brandenburger Gate, the cheering of spectators for the Berlin Marathon can be heard, as the landmark site is where athletes sprinted for the finish line. It was reported 60,000 attended this year's marathon.
At the polling station at Herrfurth Platz in southern Berlin district of Neukoeln, Charlotte Verhey, a 25-year-old law student, casted her vote for SPD on national level. "I like Merkel for all her hard work, but I don't want the rest of CDU Party to rule and the SPD stands a better chance against CDU," she said.
"The current government has not implemented any integration plans. Besides, the almost all-male CDU has done little on gender equality," the law student explained her disapproval of CDU.
For her, the greatest concern for her country is the education of immigrants. As many immigrants have potential and Germany, as an aging society, lacks skilled workers, it is crucial to educate the immigrants and asylum seekers so that they have the right to stay and work here, rather than reducing to committing petty crimes, Charlotte said, adding if so, the AfD would also have little ground to lobby.
"I like immigrants, we are a rich country and a welfare state, we can take them and we need them," Charlotte talked about her attitude toward the decision of opening borders to refugees in 2015.
When asked about the possibility of AfD being the third largest Party in the parliament, she said, "I really don't want to think about it. I am half American, so I have to deal with (President Donald) Trump already. Thankfully, we don't have to deal with the Netherlands, France, or Austria turning right, but I really hope Germans are smarter."
Nils Hirsch, a 29-year-old doctorate student in Linguistics at Humboldt University in Berlin, has casted his ballot in pre-voting in the town hall of Stiglitz as he planned to visit his parents during the weekend in South of Germany.
More people in Germany cast their ballots ahead of election day. It was forecasted that the number could rise to even 30 percent of all voters this year.
Hirsch is more concerned about the continuation of the country's overall well-being and the future of Europe, saying as the situation at the moment is quite good in Germany, with the economy in good shape, and many people want to make sure that it will also be the case in the future.
"So the mood is a little bit like, OK it's pretty good now, but what will be in 10 or 15 years?"
Hirsch elaborated, Germany's economy heavily relies on traditional industries such as manufacturing machines and cars. "What will it be in the era of digital economy or what if big players such as Google and Apple dominate the economic landscape?"
Younger people are concerned with the future of the economic foundation in Germany, digitalization, and the infrastructure which is not very good right now, Hirsch said.
Furthermore, the doctorate student emphasized the future of Europe. "Because of Germany's position in the center of Europe, its future will always be closely connected to the future of Europe, so the question of how Europe and the Euro will develop in the forthcoming years is vital for Germany."
The once-in-four-year German federal election kicked off on Sunday, which will decide the proportion of the seats in the Bundestag, or the parliament, and thus decide the formation of the new government.
More than 61 million voters are eligible for the federal election on Sunday.