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Everything you need to know about Berlin’s ‘Super Election Day’

On September 26th, Berliners will go to the polls to vote in a number of elections and a 'historic' referendum. Here's what it's all about - and why you need to know about it.

Everything you need to know about Berlin's 'Super Election Day'
A man drops his voting slips into the ballot box. On September 26th, Berliners will decide on three key elections, and one historic referendum. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

That’s the day of the federal elections, right? 

That’s right – on September 26th, Germans all over the country will be going to the polls to decide which party, or parties, will be next to lead Europe’s largest economy. With the highly popular Angela Merkel stepping down after 16 years as Chancellor, some believe that German politics is in line for a shake-up – and recent polls suggest that a coalition without the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) could be possible for the first time in more than a decade and a half. 

READ ALSO: Conservative’s missteps leave race for Merkel job open in Germany

But that’s not all that’s happening in Berlin on the day of the Bundestagswahl (federal elections). September 26th has been branded a ‘Superwahltag’ in the German capital, since eligible voters will also be asked to decide on two regional elections.

Every five years, Berlin elects its representatives at the state and district level – and this year both elections are on the same date as the Bundestagswahl. So Berliners will also be electing their new representatives for the House of Representatives (AGH) and the 12 District Assemblies (BVV), which are responsible for governing each of Berlin’s boroughs.

What else is happing on the ‘Superwahltag‘?

The long-awaited referendum from the ‘Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co.’ campaign is also taking place on the same day, giving eligible Berliners the chance to decide the fate of the city’s largest landlords.

READ ALSO: Berlin to vote on radical bid to combat housing crisis

The issue is being put to a referendum after the campaign to place Deutsche Wohnen and other large property owners in public hands collected almost 360,000 signatures for its petition, breaking all previous records for Berlin petitions. This is almost double the 175,000 threshold needed for a petition to be put to a public vote.


Campaigners wave purple and yellow flags in support of the battle to expropriate the biggest Berlin landlords. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

The campaign has gained momentum this year after the rental cap (the Mietendeckel) was declared unconstitutional by the highest court in Germany. Asking rents have risen by an incredible 42 percent in Berlin in the last five years alone, and activists believe that putting 240,000 privately owned properties under state control could help short-circuit the dizzying rise in rental costs, while also protecting tenant’s rights.

READ ALSO:

However, the current Berlin Senate is critical of the campaign, claiming that the seizing of private property would be “uncharted legal territory” and that the move would be prohibitively expensive.

Who’s eligible to vote?

That all depends on the election.

In the referendum, federal elections and elections for the House of Representatives, only German citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to cast their vote. In addition, voters in the federal election must have lived in Germany for at least three months – or, in the case of the elections for the House of Representatives, in Berlin for at least three months.

International residents of Berlin are able to vote for on who will represent their borough in the District Assemblies, but they must be citizens of another European Union country, have a registered address in Berlin, and be at least 16 years old. 

How do I vote in each election?

The first thing to note is that polling stations are only open from 8am until 6pm on Sunday, September 26th, after which the votes will start being counted. However, if you don’t fancy spending part of your weekend at the polls, you can also apply for a postal vote at your local Bezirksamt, which should be posted the day before the election at the very latest.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to cast a postal vote in the German elections

In the federal elections, voters cast two votes: one for the candidate in their constituency that they would like to see in the federal parliament, and one for the party they want to see in government. There are 299 constituencies in Germany, and the candidate who gets a majority in each of those constituencies is automatically elected to parliament. 

In order to balance out the seats in parliament so that the party that wins the most votes also has a parliamentary majority, each party is also granted a number of seats based on the proportion of votes they get in the second vote. Parties must receive at least five percent of the votes to enter parliament. 


A voting slip explaining the two-vote system in the state elections: one for the party, and one for the candidate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

In the elections for the House of Representatives, voters essential pick Berlin’s state parliament, which is responsible for governing the city-state and creating its laws. Once again, voters in this election have two votes: one for a party at the state level and one for the direct candidate in the constituency. In order to enter the House of Representatives, a party must receive at least five per cent of the electoral votes.

This year, Berlin mayor Michael Müller (SPD) will be stepping down in order to run as a candidate in the federal elections, rather than the regional ones. That means that the city will see at least one new face in the state parliament shortly after the elections.

In the local District Assembly elections, voters elect representatives to run the borough where they live. There are 12 boroughs in Berlin: Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Lichtenberg, Marzahn-Hellersdorf, Mitte, Neukölln, Pankow, Reinickendorf, Spandau, Steglitz-Zehlendorf, Tempelhof-Schöneberg and Treptow-Köpenick.

READ ALSO: How Germany’s new legion of foreign voters are gearing up for the election

The District Assembly takes care of local matters, such as green spaces and parks, school buildings, education centres and youth clubs. In these elections, voters only get a single vote, which is used to vote for the party they want to see in their District Assembly. Parties need at least three percent of the vote to be elected. 

For the referendum, eligible voters will be asked to decide whether landlords with more than 3,000 flats will be taken into public hands in return for financial compensation – and a simple tick for ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will suffice. However, for the referendum to be passed, at least a quarter of eligible voters (which equates to around 617,000 Berliners) must vote yes, and the ‘yes’ vote must also win the majority of votes overall (i.e. more than 50 percent).

The Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co. campaign tweets: “On September 26th, we’ll make history.”

If it clears both these hurdles, the campaign to expropriate the biggest Berlin landlords will face yet another one: convincing the newly elected House of Representatives to pass the law. While a successful referendum means that the city’s residents have called upon the government to implement the legislation, the final decision on the matter – and how to go about it – is ultimately up to the governing parliamentarians. 

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GERMANY EXPLAINED

EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany’s national holiday

Compared to many other countries, October 3rd is a relatively new nationwide holiday, marking 32 years since German reunification. Aaron Burnett explains the background to it and why it's celebrated on this particular date.

EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany's national holiday

Independence Day in the United States dates all the way back to 1776. Canada Day, celebrated on July 1st, goes back to 1867. France’s Bastille Day on July 14th commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789.

Compared to those national holidays, Germany’s October 3rd is fairly recent, having only been around since 1990.

October 3rd – or Tag der Deutschen Einheit – marks the date that the former West and East Germany officially became one country again, after being divided since the end of WWII. In 2022 it’s celebrated on a Monday, meaning many people will get a long weekend. 

Between 1945 and 1949, the country was split into four occupation zones – held by the Americans, British, French, and the then Soviets. In 1949 the Soviet zone became the communist East Germany – or Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), while the rest of the country became the West German Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD).

The Bundesrepublik continues today, but now with the five eastern federal states, plus East Berlin, that were formerly in the DDR.

Why October 3rd and not November 9th?

Less than a year before official reunification on October 3rd, 1990, the Berlin Wall fell on November 9th, 1989.

At first glance, November 9th might seem a better day to commemorate as a national day.

Growing up in Canada, my Gelsenkirchen-born Oma used to talk about the Berlin Wall falling with a slight waver in her voice – and sometimes even tears – decades after it crumbled before her eyes on her television screen.

November 9th, 1989 is remembered by many Germans as the happiest day in the history of the country, but the anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall is not observed as a national holiday.

‘It was the happiest day in German history,’ she told me at the time. ‘People were just so amazed at seeing that and no one really thought it would actually happen and guck mal – there it was. It was very emotional at the time and I guess I still am too,’ she would say.

READ ALSO: ‘There was a human tide moving’: Berliner remembers crossing the Wall

For Oma and many other German-Canadians I grew up around, Unity Day felt a little less momentous than November 9th. To them, October 3rd was an important day to observe, but conjured up a few less emotions.

‘November 9th suddenly made the dream of having a unified Germany again seem possible,’ my teacher at Calgary’s German-Canadian Club told me years ago. ‘By the time it was actually official, it just seemed like the final step of something that had been going on for a while already.’

To my Oma, my teacher, and others I grew up around who remembered that time – German reunification seemed inevitable within days of the Wall falling. But it wasn’t necessarily guaranteed. Even after the Wall fell, the DDR and BRD remained separate countries at first.

The months between November 9th, 1989 and October 3rd, 1990 were momentous – and saw several additional events that would pave the way for reunification.

On March 18th, 1990, the DDR would hold its first – and only – free and democratic elections. Won by the East German Christian Democrats, their leader Lothar de Maiziere served as GDR Premier until reunification on October 3rd.

Lothar de Maiziere, the first and only democratically elected leader of East Germany, at a German reunification celebration on October 3rd, 2020.

In Spring 1990, Bonn and Berlin agreed to convert the East German Ostmark – which was practically worthless at the time – to the West German Deutschmark on a largely 1 for 1 basis, with most salaries, prices, and savings being converted straight over.

Finally, the process for legal reunification took months, with the signing of an economic and currency union, the reconstituting of the five eastern federal states that had been abolished in communist times, the official reunification treaty, and the treaty that saw the WWII allies renounce all rights and responsibilities in Germany.

READ ALSO: What unity means to eastern Germans

At the stroke of midnight on October 3rd, 1990 – a reunified Germany became a fully sovereign state for the first time since WWII. That was thanks in large part to both political will and legal work in the months immediately following the Wall’s fall.

Although it seems so normal now, reunification was never guaranteed, which is part of why October 3rd enjoys and deserves its own special commemoration.

November 9th – German history’s double edge

The other major reason why October 3rd serves as Germany’s national day instead of November 9th is that November 9th, while associated with the happy elation of witnessing the Berlin Wall crumble, is also linked to many other momentous – and often solemn – historical commemorations.

On November 9th, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. Within hours, the Social Democrats and the Communist Party both declared the Weimar Republic and a ‘free, socialist republic,’ respectively. It would serve as the first sign of political instability that eventually allowed the Nazis to take power.

On November 9th, 1923, Adolf Hitler attempted a coup that started in a Munich beer hall. He was arrested and wrote Mein Kampf during his time in jail.

November 9th was not chosen as Germany’s national day partly because of the solemn commemorations attached to it, such as Kristallnacht on November 9th, 1938.

And on November 9th, 1938, Jewish businesses and synagogues were violently targeted during Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass.” At least 90 Jews were killed and 30,000 deported.

As happy as November 9th, 1989 was, commemorating it as Germany’s national day would be problematic given the other solemn observances attached to it, which is also part of why October 3rd was chosen.

READ ALSO: Why November 9th is a fateful day in German history

What days does October 3rd replace?

Both East and West Germany had national holidays before reunification. The DDR observed ‘Republic Day’ on October 7th, the anniversary of its founding in 1949. Before 1990, the BRD commemorated June 17th, or the anniversary of the East German uprising in 1953.

October 3rd replaced both days as the national day of celebration. 

Where can you celebrate it?

Unity Day is a national holiday with celebrations readily found around the country.

In Bavaria, Oktoberfest remains open until October 3rd partly to mark the occasion. In Berlin, festivities are readily found around the Brandenburg Gate.

However, each year, a major city plays host to official celebrations and the Unity Day Bürgerfest, or ‘Citizen’s Festival.’ The host city is in the federal state presiding over the Bundesrat – Germany’s upper legislative chamber – that particular year.

For 2022, Erfurt – the state capital of Thuringia – is the host, and next year will see Hamburg take over hosting duties.

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