German Election

In the liberal FDP stronghold of Strande, life's a beach

"The party of the better earners" - it's a tagline that Germany's liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) has long sought to shake off. DW's Kate Brady reports from Strande, where the reputation holds true.

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Strande: A stronghold of Germany’s liberals

It doesn't get much more idyllic than this: sun, sea, sand. The smell of salt in the air, the gentle sound of waves lapping on the pristinely-kept beach - hardly sights and sounds that are often associated with the green, yet industrial Germany. But for many of the 1,600 locals who live in the tiny seaside village of Strande, it's just the way they like it.

"It's lovely living here," says 70-year-old fisherman Heinz Grikscheit. "In the winter it's also lonely, just like in the city. But in the summer, it's nice to be able to walk to the beach in a bathrobe."

Tucked away on the Jutland peninsula, Strande lies just 15 kilometers (9 miles) north of the city of Kiel, the capital of the state of Schleswig-Holstein. Within just a couple of hours, local faces become familiar as they head to the beach to set up camp between the iconic Baltic beach chairs. Boat shoes and quilted jackets appear to be the obligatory uniform.

Fisherman in Strande, Heinz Grikscheit

Local Strande fisherman, Heinz Grikscheit

Economically, the former military base and fishing village has flourished in recent years, enticing lecturers, doctors and high-earning freelancers to move to the area. Unemployment is at less then 2 percent.

Down at the harbor, some 300 yachts and small boats are moored, bobbing serenely. For the children, sailing and paddle-boarding are just normal hobbies, aspiring to the somewhat outdated former Olympic village from the 1972 Munich Games, in sight across the bay.

Along the jetty to the fisher boats, a small queue of customers is starting to form, keen to see what's to buy from the latest catch. Among them is 77-year-old, retired university lecturer Jens Bodendiek. 

Strande local and retired universiry lecturer, Jens Bodendiek

Strande local and retired universiry lecturer, Jens Bodendiek

"I think there's definitely a particular clientele here," Bodendiek says. "Relatively well-off people who have big houses and who are probably a bit of the opinion that all of this has happened to them because they are so competent … And don't believe that a lot in life is purely luck."

Among locals, the coastal village is described as the "Bulluby for adults" - a reference to the Swedish 1940s Astrid Lindgren novels, "The six children of Bulluby," a fantasy place of happiness, away from the quarrels, troubles and problems of everyday life.

Even the houses have a fairytale quality in their Nordic, maritime style, with huge sloping eaves and tiny paned glass windows.

But behind many of the whimsical fisher houses is a sign of the new neighbors in town. Huge extensions, with modern, open-plan living spaces span the seafront and the residential estate, affordable only to the "Besserverdiener" - the "better earners" - a tag line which has long become synonymous with liberal, FDP voters.

Germany's liberal FDP sets out its comeback plan

Villa in Strande

The housing estate in Strande is home to huge villas and converted fishing cottages

It comes as no surprise that in the 2017 state election in Schleswig-Holstein, the liberal FDP managed to garner 30 percent of the vote in Strande and 11.5 percent in the entire state.

The FDP suffered a fall from grace in the 2013 national election, when the party failed to meet the 5 percent threshold required to enter the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. But now the Free Democrats are back on the up, currently sitting at around 8.5 percent in the polls.

What you need to know about Germany's liberals, the Free Democratic Party

But beyond the wealth and the coastal views, there's another draw for FDP voters in Strande. Cue the Kubickis. 

Known among members of the local FDP group as the "Queen" and "Chief," Annette Marberth-Kubicki and her husband Wolfang Kubicki, have lived in Strande since 1993.

The local FDP group recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in the municipality. At a standard meeting, the table water and wine are flowing. The camaraderie and banter high. The session feels more like a Rotary Club meeting than that of a political party.

Annette Marberth-Kubicki chairs a local FDP meeting in Strande

Annette Marberth-Kubicki chairs a local FDP meeting in Strande

Widely praised as the key to the party's success in the region, Wolfgang Kubicki - the Deputy Leader of the FDP and parliamentary group leader of the FDP in the state parliament of Schleswig-Holstein - is highly thought of, particularly among the ever-declining fishing community, which faces restrictions due to conservation areas. 

"Kubicki campaigns for us and if he supports us then we should also vote for him," says 69-year-old fisherman Uwe Pettke.

Strande fisherman Uwe Pettke

Strande fisherman Uwe Pettke says Kubicki has time for the fishing community

"The other parties ignore fishing," he adds. "I don't think that's so good. But Kubicki sits down with us and discusses our issues. We've not seen that so far from any of the other parties."

Despite Strande's image of wealth and the "good life," Kubicki says this municipality's criterion is "openness for all."

"Even in our ranks, we have people who earn relatively little but do not feel they are less respected. On the contrary, it depends on the personality, on the people. And that creates the charm that we can achieve a lot here as a community. You can't deny the fact that Strande really is very beautiful. And we mustn't be ashamed of that."

Deputy Leader of the FDP, Wolfgang Kubicki

Deputy Leader of the FDP, Wolfgang Kubicki

Perched on a bar stool, the 65-year-old oozes coolness. No stranger to press attention, Kubicki previously served in the German parliament, both in Berlin, as well as the former capital Bonn.

But what of the other parties? At both ends of the political spectrum, neither the Greens nor the right-wing populist AfD, stand a chance in Strande. Members of the FDP even claim that voluntary Mayor Holger Klink, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU, is in the wrong party.

Voluntary mayor and member of Chancellor Merkel's CDU, Holger Klink

Voluntary mayor and member of Chancellor Merkel's CDU, Holger Klink

"We have a very nice relationship with each other politically. We discuss things very well, and I believe that this is the key to success, so that no one will be left behind," Klink tells DW. "In the past we've made all the big decisions together - almost unanimously."

That's democracy: Strande-style.

Fluttering at full-mast in the garden of a Strande villa is a Jamaica flag. The colors are those of the new state government in Schleswig-Holstein: CDU (black), Greens and FDP (yellow) - known in Germany as the "Jamaica Coalition." With the September 24 election day nearing, could this still be possible at a national level?

Jamaica? Traffic Light? - A guide to Germany's possible coalitions

The FDP now has the Bundestag in is sights with Kubicki as a vital driving force, alongside party leader Christian Lindner.

"If the FDP gets into the German Bundestag, with my help and the help of others, I would understand completely if my party friends said: Now you can't go back to Strande."

With the Free Democrats currently holding between 8 and 10 percent in election polls, the Kubickis could already be settling into Berlin by fall. And leave the seaside behind?

"I'll have to speak to my wife," Kubicki says.

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