Signs Of A Protestant Power Push In German Politics

Chancellor Angela Merkel is the daughter of a Protestant pastor. Germany’s new president, Joachim Gauck, is an ordained minister. Coincidence? Overall, Protestantism in on the decline Germany – with one notable exception: politics.

Amidst the pews in Dresden (Aleksandr Zykov)
Amidst the pews in Dresden (Aleksandr Zykov)
Robin Alexander

BERLIN -- Before he became Germany's president, the ordained minister wanted a word with his bishop. Which is why Joachim Gauck showed up unexpectedly last Friday at the Mecklenburg church synod in Plau am See.

It was his last public appearance before the vote. Although he hasn't worked as a pastor for the past 20 years, Gauck spoke like a man of the cloth. "What nurtures the soul is linked to the roots that we, as Evangelical Christians, represent," he said, adding that the most important time of his life was when he built up a parish and defended the faith.

But the country's president-to-be wasn't the only one making references to Protestantism. The last speech Angela Merkel made before the assembly met to choose the country's next president was about political Protestantism.

On Saturday, one day before the federal assembly met, the Evangelical Task Force (EAK) of the Union parties – as the conservative Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) are known – celebrated its 60th anniversary in Siegen (Westphalia) with a church service and reception. Angela Merkel attended.

Mission accomplished?

The theme of the EAK meeting was "evangelical responsibility," but it could just as well have taken place under the motto: "Mission accomplished!" When it was founded in 1952 in the then Catholic-dominated CDU, the EAK was a preserve for Protestants. Six decades later the Protestants have taken over not only the party but the whole republic.

There's Gauck the former pastor, and Merkel, a pastor's daughter. There's also the CDU's general secretary, Hermann Gröhe, who was for years a member of Germany's Evangelical Church Council. There's the Union chair, Volker Kauder, and last but not least Christine Lieberknecht, prime minister of the State of Thuringia, who was also formerly a Protestant minister.

The number of Evangelicals was particularly noticeable during the search phase for the new president. Along with Gauck, Wolfgang Huber was also short-listed, and Margot Käßmann and Green politician Katrin Göring-Eckardt were nominated. That makes one former Protestant minister who won out over two former chairs of Germany's Evangelical Church Council, a Council president and the wife of a minister.

It's a coincidence, but it illustrates a trend: Protestantism is playing a role in German politics now as it never has before. Politics being the operative word -- because socially, the Evangelical Church is on the decline. In the country that spawned the Reformation, there are only some 24 million Protestants, not even a third of the population. And never have so few Protestants attended church: in 2010, on average 3.6% of baptized Protestants attended church services.

Protestant churches in the former East Germany, from whose ranks so many in top political positions come, have taken a particularly strong hit: they were never able to recover from the damage inflicted on it by Socialism. The Mecklenburg synod that Gauck attended last Friday is the last of the bunch. Nevertheless, the democratic structures of the Evangelical Church have proven a good testing ground for future political involvement – at least recently.

In the early days of the German republic, educated folk believed that Protestantism was one of the things holding Germany back. Sixty years ago, the founder of the CDU's EAK, Hermann Ehlers, complained to Chancellor Konrad Adenauer not about Catholic dominance but about his own milieu: "In German Protestantism, we have had the idea for much too long that we can easily criticize mayors and members of parliament -- and that we have the right not to cooperate or share responsibility so that we can supposedly be more neutral and objective in our fault-finding."

"More northern, more eastern, and more Protestant"

The leading German church historian, Christoph Markschies, analyzed the Evangelical march through politics and particularly the CDU as follows: "Protestant theology has finally overcome its aversion to a Christian party." Formerly, only left-leaning pastors were involved in Socialist politics; conservatives played no political role at all.

The Protestant base still leans somewhat left. The difference is that the CDU no longer frightens them. When Angela Merkel was EAK chair 20 years ago, she once wrote angrily against the red-green mainstream: "Watch out, dear Evangelical Church, we're Christians too!"

Now, Union politicians like Merkel or Minister of Defense Thomas de Maizière find a very receptive public when they speak at church assemblies. The famous prediction of former CDU General Secretary Volker Rühe has come to pass: the CDU would soon become "more northern, more eastern, and more Protestant," he said in 1990.

On the other hand, things aren't going so well for the Catholics. Although for the first time since the Reformation, there are more Catholics in Germany than Protestants, and they go to church nearly twice as often and make up the majority of the members of the CDU and CSU parties, leadership figures are lacking – or, at least, that is the public perception. Even the Pope's visit to the German Parliament, arranged by its Catholic president, Norbert Lammert, didn't do anything to change the situation.

Maybe the new president is already aware of the problem. After his nomination, Gauck and a few staff members moved into some temporary office space – in the same building as the offices of the Catholic German Bishops' Conference in Berlin.

Read the original story in German

Photo - Aleksandr Zykov

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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