Election campaign posters with headshots of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Social Democratic Party's Martin Schulz, Frankfurt, Germany, September 13, 2017.
Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

The nationally televised election debate in Germany earlier this month between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her rival Martin Schulz of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) lived up to none of the hype. The “duel,” as it was billed, felt more like polite bickering between an elderly couple. It didn’t shake up the sleepy, substance-bereft contest between the two parties that will conclude on election day, September 24.

In stark contrast, the debate between Germany’s five smaller parties the next night showcased a splendid, teeth-baring brawl. The Greens’ Cem Özdemir fired with both barrels at the Bavarian Christian democrat (CSU) Joachim Herrmann, challenging him on the destructive impact of coal and lecturing him on Christian values, such as cherishing God’s creations. Hermann responded, grinning, “But there are no coal plants in Bavaria!” (The CSU, part of Merkel’s coalition, has fought a ban on coal production Germany-wide.) The liberal

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  • PAUL HOCKENOS is a Berlin-based writer and analyst. His most recent book is Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, the Wall and the Birth of the New Berlin.
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