Gray skies, wet and cold weather. The place in front of the Berlin Tempodrom is deserted. The only evidence that something big is about to happen here today is the broadcast vans of several television stations and some banners from the Greens.
This year’s party congress has nothing in common with the lavish party that the Greens wanted to celebrate on the occasion of their 40th anniversary. To do this, they can act as pioneers once again: The Alliance Greens are the first political party in Germany to put their multi-day federal party conference online.
Since September it has been clear that the originally planned analog party congress would not be able to take place due to the corona pandemic. Because of the worsening infection rate, the Greens also had to say goodbye to the idea of being able to celebrate the digital party congress from their cradle city of Karlsruhe at the beginning of the month.
Too many members would have had to drive across the republic from Berlin for this, and this should not be done during the lockdown.
Since Friday afternoon, more than 800 delegates have been invited to discuss digitally with one another, on Sunday the party’s basic program will be adopted, the foundation of values for the next decade.
That may sound progressive, but it seems bleak on site at first. Instead of around 1400 people who would have come together here under normal circumstances, there are only around 100 people in the Tempodrom, the stands are empty. Opulent catering has given way to an inconspicuous booth with sandwiches, conversations with old and new friends, networking, the joy of seeing each other, the excited good mood, all of that is missing.
The team has been reduced to a minimum of presidium and employees, otherwise only technology and press are granted access. Most of the members of the press who are able to follow the party conference from home, as recommended by the hosts. The print journalists who sit in the stands can be counted on one hand. If you have decided to attend the event live, the first way is to the test center.
At rush hour, especially in the morning when the technology gets to work and the rehearsals begin, there are six tents with ten to twelve medical staff in protective suits and face-to-face protection.
Everyone who is on stage, the party team, technology and television journalists, has to undergo an antigen test. “When you arrive here, you first have to fill out the documents, which are also the findings sheet, and receive a number. We take a swab from the mouth or nose. Mouth is more pleasant, nose easier. The result is there about fifteen minutes later, ”says medical student Semih Altun, who has been earning something for a few months by supervising corona tests. “The antigen test shows acute infections quickly and efficiently, but has not yet been recognized by the health department.”
All party members have also done a PCR test beforehand, but still have to be tested again every morning. Masks are required in the entire building and in the test center, reports Zippora Lojenburg. She is a trainee in the organizational management of the Greens and was quickly appointed hygiene officer and head of the test center for this weekend.
The mood was initially depressed
At the beginning of the party congress the mood was depressed, says the young woman. “We can’t drink, we can’t dance, we can’t celebrate, of course it was frustrating at first. But now that we know that everything will work out, there is great relief: We are the first to have managed to do something like this, that’s actually another reason to celebrate. “
The test center was also the reason why it was not possible on Friday evening to bring the start of the party congress on Saturday forward by two hours in the old spontaneous manner, and thus to recoup the delay caused by the digital voting.
“We would have liked to let you decide that,” Executive Board member Jürgen Suhr had to withdraw the offer to participate in the Saturday planning, “but due to the rapid test situation and the large number of staff that are involved, we are simply not spontaneous.”
The Greens were two hours behind their program schedule on Friday evening, the situation on Saturday was no different. The delegates at home on the screens received virtual voting cards. Their submission and evaluation took significantly longer than if they could have simply held their voting card up in the air – which the organizers hadn’t expected.
Maybe also because the party congress at home also invites you to have a smoke in between, look in the refrigerator, put the children to bed or go out with the dog – as members of the Presidium joked again and again during the sometimes long waiting times.
It seemed to them for a long time when there were repeated complaints from the delegates in the chat that votes were being closed too quickly.
“A party congress without a full hall is not the same, you never know whether it is going too slowly for some or too fast for others,” says Aminata Touré, member of the presidium. Waiting times were absorbed by presentations from Ninja Binias and Marco Ammer from a living room studio modeled on the 80s and video clips.
“Can you hear me?”
Prepared guest videos are played in the debate and the delegates have their say, who are switched on by video from their living and working rooms – from the wood-paneled living room to the chaotic shared apartment to the chic loft. Every now and then it says: “Can you hear me?”
[Wenn Sie alle aktuellen Nachrichten live auf Ihr Handy haben wollen, empfehlen wir Ihnen unsere runderneuerte App, die Sie hier für Apple- und Android-Geräte herunterladen können.]
The fact that a digital party congress is not a sure-fire success for all delegates required extensive planning in advance: If you feel insecure, you will be provided with technical support. Every speaker is given a sound check in the digital backstage area before their appearance. The regional associations also offered digital delegates’ meetings in advance, also to clarify the technical requirements.
According to the party, a digital party conference is even more complex to prepare and carry out than an analog one. Such a digital party conference is also not cheaper.
Normally, a Green Party conference costs around half a million euros to 600,000 euros, says Federal Managing Director Kellner. Although the district associations save the travel and accommodation costs for their delegates, the basic costs are higher, mainly because of the complex technology.
The on-site program in the Tempodrom is spread over a total of four stages; the programming of the voting tool alone took around three months. In addition, the Greens are working for the first time with a professional director and produced many videos with guest speeches and speeches as well as themed videos with a video production company.
The digital format changes the sound of the party convention
The digital format also changes the sound of the party convention. In front of a large audience, many speakers would put more passion in their voices if they were sure of the applause of their party friends. Instead, the delegates can only applaud with a click, and sunflowers and hearts appear on the screen.
The first real party conference moment came on Sunday morning, when Jürgen Trittin did not get the computer turned off during his committed speech against the referendum and with an “Och, man!” furiously hit the keyboard. “You have to stay as calm as the presidium,” advises Presidium member Jürgen Suhr.
The party chairmen Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock are not put off by the lack of applause during their speeches on stage in the Tempodrom, speaking into the camera like the Federal President or the Chancellor.
They make their appearances like television happenings, for good reason: on Friday evening alone, up to 45,000 viewers were on the channels of the Greens. At the last analogue party conference in Bielefeld in 2019, only a few thousand people followed the live stream.
The lively participation of the members also proves that the digital party congress is right: More than 700 delegates vote late in the evening, a result that is impressive, as the Presidium assures. The Greens’ hope for more focused debates through less distraction seems to have come true.
In any case, Federal Managing Director Michael Kellner is satisfied. He says he is “enthusiastic” that such a lively exchange is possible in digital space. Of course, there was no applause after the speeches and motions, the atmosphere in the hall and coffee together during the breaks. “But the most important thing remains: people who contribute and want to shape things together.”
He would be happy if the next party congress takes place in analog form again. “A digital party conference is an emergency measure in times of the pandemic.”
Aminata Touré’s interim conclusion is similar: It’s great how many delegates have voted on both days, but she still missed the hustle and bustle and the exchange. “It’s something very special when we all come together.”
Even if the experiment worked largely smoothly, there is one thing that will unite many in the party: the hope and anticipation of an old-fashioned, analogue party conference in the summer of 2021.