German election

'Don't fix what isn't broken': Tradition is the status quo in CSU stronghold Bad Tölz

In the Bavarian town of Bad Tölz, every second vote goes to the CSU - the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU. But what keeps voters supporting CSU time and time again? DW's Kate Brady reports.

Deutschland Bad Tölz - Bad Tölz, Bayern (DW/K. Brady)

Were Bad Tölz to enter a competition for German stereotypes, this CSU stronghold would win, hands-down. Between the traditional Bavarian lederhosen and dirndls - known locally as "Tracht" - the porcelain beer mugs, schnitzel and cyclists, it's as if Bad Tölz wrote the book. Tradition runs deep in the quaint Bavarian town of Bad Tölz. And politics is no exception.

Read more: Things to know about Bavaria's Christian Social Union

Nestled on the river Isar, Bad Tölz offers an old-fashioned charm, familiar only to the Bavarian region of Germany. In the heat of the summer days, the spa town enjoys an almost Mediterranean flair. Locals and tourists fill the cobbled streets between the listed, pastel buildings; by day for an ice cream, by evening over a beer or wine.

Marktstraße in Bad Tölz, southern Germany

Marktstraße, in the center of Bad Tölz, is lined with buildings on the national registry of historic places

'Life is good here'

Illuminated signs above the doors of shops and restaurants are often replaced instead with a more understated motif or elaborate religious mural. Every alcove is occupied by a statue of the Sacred Heart or of Mary and Jesus. It comes as no surprise that almost 11,000 of the town's 18,000 citizens belong to the Roman Catholic Church.

"Life is good here," says local Sylvia Langanki. "We are proud of our beautiful old houses, we are proud of our traditions, the ancient customs, we are proud of the beautiful landscape."

Sylvia Langanki, voter in Bad Tölz, southern Germany

Sylvia Langanki, a voter in Bad Tölz, says the town is proud of its traditions

Surrounded with beautiful forests, mountains, and endless sports possibilities, the youth can't disagree either.

"Life here's pretty much perfect," says 17-year-old Selina. But unlike more than a half of Bad Tölz, the teenage voter will be voting for Germany's Left Party come September, and not for the Christian Social Union (CSU) - the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.

Read more: What you need to know about Germany's political parties

"I think a lot of people don't inform themselves about what other parties offer," the student says. "But I think tradition plays a big role in why the CSU is the strongest party here," she adds.

Pensioner Herr Hillerbrand sees this as a positive: "Tradition is important. After so many years, you know what you're getting here with the CSU. Why fix what isn't broken?"

Voters Selina und Rebekka in Bad Tölz

Voters Selina und Rebekka believe tradition influences a lot of voters in Bad Tölz

Missing election posters

Despite Germany's election campaign now being in full swing, looking for the placards which take over the countries streets during campaign season would be in vain.

Read more: Welcome to the campaign jungle: Election posters take over Germany's streets

"Most of them were torn down in a storm,” explains local CSU chairman Ingo Mehner. From their absence around the town, it seems no one had the effort to put them up again. Only in front of the city museum are the posters to be seen, hung up in order, according to the latest opinions.

Deutschland Bad Tölz - CSU Hochburg: Stadtmuseum und Wahlplakaten (DW/K. Brady)

Sitting comfortably under the number one position is the CSU. But the party isn’t prepared to take their success for granted. Christof Botzenhart, one of Bad Tölz’s three CSU mayors, says tradition is not enough: "These times are long gone in Bad Tölz. If we were to sit back now and say the CSU belongs to Bavarian folklore, that it elects itself, then we’d be out the door by tomorrow."

"We have to work hard for this every day in our political work,” Botzenhart adds.

Local contact is 'key to success'

We meet with a handful of the group's members in the "Stube" - an old German word for parlor or, by extension, the local pub. Half of them arrive sporting their traditional "Tracht" jacket, dressed down with jeans.

With 25 to 30 events organized every year by the local CSU group, you could be forgiven for mistaking the 150 members for being more of an association than the local branch of political party. But local chairman Mehner says contact is a vital part of their victory in the polls.

CSU meeting in Bad Tölz

Ingo Mehner, chairman of the local branch of the CSU, says that they cannot take their success for granted

"A large part of the CSU's success in Bad Tölz can be attributed to our contact with voters. We're anchored locally and people can easily reach us. We know how people here think,” Mehner adds.

With a population of around 170 associations for just 18,000 citizens, social lives in Bad Tölz are closely intertwined. By a show of hands, the members of the local CSU say they, too, are members of between three and five associations.

Refugee crisis in hand

The so-called “Vereinsleben” or “association life” of Bad Tölz also played a pivotal role in the housing of more than 400 refugees who came to the spa town in 2015. Just 30 km from the Austrian border, like many Bavarian towns, Bad Tölz was one of the first German town's to confront the refugee crisis.

Heinz Hirz, voter in bad Tölz

Local photographer Heinz Hirz is more skeptical of the CSU's success in Bad Tölz

But instead of housing the asylum seekers in the town’s beloved sports halls, Bad Tölz built accommodation, which can be rented in 10 years time to low-income earners. Two years on since the beginning of Europe’s refugee crisis, the refugee aid association in Bad Tölz still has more than 200 volunteers.

Read more: Refugees in Germany: Are they still welcome today?

Mehner is convinced that the refugee crisis would not have been so well-handled had the CSU not driven their sister party - Merkel’s CDU - and the others so hard.

"As a people's party, we know how people tick," says Mehner. Therefore many people in Germany are glad that the CSU is in the Bundestag. he adds.

Read more: Seehofer and Merkel look to mend fences over refugees

Other locals, however, remain unconvinced that the CSU’s success is anything more than tradition.

"In Bad Tölz,” says local photographer Heinz Hirz, "You could write CSU on a cow and people would vote for it."

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