If you are looking for the reasons for the alienation between politics and the population, for the increasing political apathy of large parts of society and the high proportion of non-voters, then you can consult sociologists or read the cables of pollsters.

But it would always be more promising if you started looking for clues directly at the source, i.e. with the people themselves. For example with people like Oliver Börner from the Eifel, a person I don’t know, who shared his view of the world with me this week:

We shouldn’t rule out the possibility that the Ochtendende Christmas market is more representative of our country than the German Bundestag. In our mind’s eye we see the festively decorated Christmas trees, the mulled wine stand and the charcoal grill. In truth, however, we are looking into the soul of the cultural and economic center of the country.

In places like Ochtende, people don’t want to save the world, they want to save their own normality. People’s favorite word isn’t breakthrough innovation, it’s coziness. This “inner sphere of human life”, as Sebastian Haffner once put it, is defended against the hostilities of modernity through passive resistance. Here people want prosperity and a beer after work, not revolution and socialism.

In these cathedrals of normality, people don’t dream of car sharing, but of carports. One does not fight against the soil sealing, but for a parcel in the new development area. You have nothing against binary personalities, but unfortunately you don’t even know them. There is nothing against the call from the Greens for an expansion of local public transport. One would only like that, in addition to slogans, a bus would also come by from time to time.

Not the new construction of the Federal Chancellery per se disturbed, but the simultaneity of the new building in Berlin and the closure of the library, swimming pool and savings bank in the same place. The state used to build village community houses, today they are homes for asylum seekers.

If you had the choice between another evening at the swivel grill or a tutoring session on identity politics with Ricarda Lang, the majority of people in Germany would make a choice. In places like Ochtendung, Winnetou is still an Indian and not a representative of an indigenous tribe. Here, people expect our national football team not to hit the ball first, but to hit the goal.

And the young part of Ochtende will presumably not change at the Christmas market, but dance, drink and flirt. You feel part of a new generation, not the last. You cling to your habits, but don’t stick to the streets.

You don’t want to do without here, you want to travel. Of course you would also like to save the world, but getting to know it first wouldn’t be bad either. Because one suspects that there is a colourful, crazy variety of countries and peoples to be discovered behind the town sign of Ochtende.

Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.

While young people are drawn to faraway places, politicians and capital city journalists should definitely travel in the opposite direction. Perhaps they will find what they lost in Berlin many years ago in Ochtendung in the Eifel: the political center.