Christine Madden

journalist | editor | dramaturg | literary translator

Turmoil in Thuringia

Image tweeted by die Linke leader in Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow: “Hold your head up, not your hands!”

With the shock election of a minority party member to the position of minister president of Thuringia with the help of the AfD, Germany’s political landscape suffers an earthquake

While all eyes seem to be riveted on the US presidential impeachment – or lack thereof – simmering political turmoil in Germany has suddenly erupted into scandal. The situation was described this morning by Chancellor Angela Merkel as an “unforgivable process”.

The event that has set the cat amongst the pigeons was the election of FDP (Free Democratic Party) candidate Thomas Kemmerich to the position of minister president in the German state of Thuringia. Innocuous? Not so much.

Although the Thuringia state election took place on 27 October 2019, the results gave no clear majority to any party – but with the two parties on the fringes of the political spectrum gaining the most support. The far left-leaning die Linke secured 30 per cent of votes, followed in second place by the far-right AfD (Alternativ für Deutschland) with 23.4 per cent. The only other party with comparable figures was the centre-right CDU (Christian Democratic Union), trailing the AfD with 21.7 per cent of the vote. The centre-right, neo-liberal FDP just squeaked in with 5 per cent.

The results show a state riven by political discord. This played out in the attempts to elect a minister president to lead the government. The now former minister president Bodo Ramelow, a Linke party member, had been expected to resume his position. 

But rancour amongst the various parties could not be resolved, coalition agreements could not be reached. The CDU – which could have formed a coalition with die Linke – refused to go into government with them. No party wished to work together with the AfD, known for its anti-immigrant stance, branded racist in many quarters, and harbouring alleged connections and sympathies with the Nazis. 

Three votes took place. The Linke and AfD parties both put candidates up for the state parliamentary vote for minister president: Ramelow by die Linke, and independent candidate Christoph Kindervater by the AfD. Ramelow was unable to regain victory with the combined votes from his own party, the SPD and the Greens. In the third round, a new, surprise candidate presented himself: Kemmerich from the FDP, the party least represented in the Thuringian state parliament. He won over Ramelow by one vote, 45 to 44 – with every member of the AfD switching their vote to him from their own candidate in this round. Together with the support of the CDU and Kemmerich’s FDP, it was enough to push him through.

AfD leader Björn Höcke (right) congratulates Thomas Kemmerich on his victory in a screen grab from a story in Spiegel magazine

Conspiracy theories about agreements – secret or tacit – abound, although the FDP insist there were no discussions or trade-offs, and that they would not work together with the AfD. But the political, press and social media shitstorm whipped up by this event has taken over the airwaves – nudging even the coronovirus into second place.

Politicians from almost all corners have resoundingly condemned Kemmerich’s acceptance of the vote, many calling for new state elections in Thuringia. Up to now, Kemmerich has, however, remained firm and insists that he has been legitimately elected to the post of minister president. Both Merkel and CDU party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer have voiced their disapproval, with AKK saying that her compatriots in Thuringia voted against the advice of the federal party leadership, and threatening consequences. Even in Bavaria, Markus Söder, the leader of the CSU (Christlich Social Union, right-leaning sister party of the CDU), said that his party would “not take part in any such adventure if it extended to the federal level”. A tweet from CSU party member Dorothee Bär, however, congratulated Kemmerich for his victory – and was immediately and vociferously condemned and swiftly removed.

Screenshot of tweet by Bodo Ramelow quoting Hitler: “We aimed for our greatest success in Thuringia”.

After the vote, Ramelow quoted Hitler in a tweet on Wednesday evening: “‘We aimed for our greatest success in Thuringia … The parties in Thuringia that formed the government up to now will not be able to command a majority without our help.’” The tweet refers to the fact that Thuringia was the first German state in the Weimar Republic to include the Nazis in its notorious Baum-Frick government in 1930, helping to pave the way for their dominance across Germany.

The spectre of Nazism remains fresh – reminding most people of what once happened, what could happen and what should never again take place. 

BREAKING NEWS 

Bowing to pressure, the newly elected minister president Thomas Kemmerich has announced he is stepping down. The FDP in Thuringen plans to put forward a proposal to dissolve the state parliament and precipitate a new election.

Mysterious crossbow killings in Bavaria

Police are baffled at a spate of macabre deaths in the historic and otherwise peaceful city of Passau

Screenshot from Süddeutsche Zeitung’s website

A CRIME in the Bavarian city of Passau has horrified as much as mystified the police – and the general public. On Saturday morning, employees of a B&B in Unteröd, a district in Passau, found three bodies in one of the rooms. Two of the bodies, a 33-year-old woman and a 53-year-old man, were found in bed, holding hands. A third woman, aged 30, was lying on the floor. Two crossbows were also discovered in the room, and all three bodies had numerous bolts still in them. The state prosecutor’s office has called for an autopsy.

The man and woman in the bed both came from Rhineland-Palatinate; the woman on the floor from Lower Saxony. They had arrived together on Friday. It still isn’t clear what their relationship was. The B&B where they stopped was located in an idyllic verdant locality near a small river.

Screenshot from the Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Broadcasting Company) website

Since then, the police have announced today that they have discovered two more bodies, both women, this time in Lower Saxony. The flat, located in the town of Wittingen, was the home of one of the crime victims in Passau. No crossbows or bolts were found there; the cause of death is still unknown – or at least not yet made public. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of the two women found in Wittingen may be the partner of the 30-year-old woman found in Passau.

Bavarian police are working feverishly to solve the mystery of this macabre case.

Playing around on the radio

Recording a drama for the airwaves is exciting – even more so when it’s your own script

Actors Darragh Kelly, Sarah O’Rourke, Ali White and Lloyd Cooney discuss a scene at Near FM recording studio. Photograph: Christine Madden

“WHICH MICS are we using?”

“Em … ” I cast a glance around the cast. There’d be two to three characters in a scene. This one has three. “Blue, green and orange.” 

“Thanks.” Gavin, the sound director, switches the colour-coded mics on from his control room, which we can see through the window, and gives the go-ahead for the recording.

We’re spending Saturday and Sunday at Near FM radio studios in Coolock, north Dublin, recording a radio play. By “we”, I mean Gavin Byrne, responsible for IT and radio drama, as well as production co-ordinator Paul Loughran and actors Lloyd Cooney, Darragh Kelly, Sarah O’Rourke and Ali White. And me, too. I’m there because the play they’re recording is mine. And because I’m directing as well.

Sound technician Gavin Byrne at the sound controls during recording. Photograph: Christine Madden

It’s hugely exciting for me to be part of the production of this, my first play on the radio, or performed anywhere, to be honest. It’s called Buckle, and it was inspired by an article I read about a women who had gone to visit her son’s killer in jail. After repeated visits and conversations, she eventually called for and succeeded in getting him off death row.

What would drive a woman, a mother, to put herself in that situation? How could she face it? And what would they talk about? A series of exercises in imagining that fraught scenario continued to grow and eventually turned into the play that we’re in the process of recording.

It’s quite an ironic day to be doing the recording: Mother’s Day (Ireland and the UK). Depending on what happens in the respective scene we’re doing, the actors stand or sit to deliver their lines – which is why Gavin asks which mics to switch on. After the rehearsal on Saturday, we go through each scene at least twice to make sure it’s going where we want it to, and so Gavin has several takes to work with for the finished mix.

Headphones on so I can listen to what’s being recorded, it’s quite surreal and weirdly discomfiting at first to hear the actors speaking the lines I worked on for months, over years. But over the course of the weekend, it becomes business as usual. I’d been involved in many workshops and productions as literary manager at Rough Magic Theatre Company and new writing co-ordinator the Abbey. But this is the first time – apart from a workshop reading of the play with WillFredd Theatre – that I’m hearing my own work done. It feels very vulnerable, but also immensely, fizzingly exhilarating.

The cast of Buckle (left to right, back to front): Darragh Kelly, Ali White, Sarah O’Rourke and Lloyd Cooney. Photograph: Christine Madden

The cast are amazing – enormous luck to be in the same room with such terrific actors. After half a day’s rehearsal, they totally own the script. Watching, listening to them make it come to life is a magic experience, like watching flowering vines grow in time-lapse photography. I can’t wait to hear the final version!

Buckle will be broadcast at the end of May as part of Near FM’s New Drama Hour, a radio play anthology. The first in the series, These Lights, was broadcast on 8 March at 1pm

Another look at the script: (l-r) Sarah O’Rourke, Darragh Kelly, Ali White, Lloyd Cooney, Christine Madden. Photograph: Gavin Byrne

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