Ben Mauk in n+1:
LIKE ITS POLITICS, Germany’s version of bowling—kegeln—is a muted affair. You arrive at the kegelbahn by descending into the basement of a certain genus of unpretentious bar, with mastodonic beer mugs, imitation wainscoting, and a permissive smoking policy. The oldest alleys have been operating beneath these pubs for more than a century without mechanization or electronic upgrade, just two narrow wooden lanes—unwaxed and slightly concave—running the length of a bare hallway toward nine pins arranged in a diamond. Due to the slight bowing of the lane you need to bowl the croquet-sized ball so that it traces the path of a sine wave back and forth across the boards, moving gently to the left, then the right, until it reaches the pins, ideally just a hair off-center. A designated teammate reassembles the diamond and returns your ball by rolling it down a freestanding metal chute.
As an American whose experiences of both bowling and politics are those of fully automated, high-gloss, thunderous spectacles, I was excited when a friend invited me to the bowling night of one of the Berlin chapters of Social Democrats (SPD). I imagined that I would learn something about two national traditions. It was plain luck that I happened to come the night Berlin’s mayor, Michael Müller, turned up. We even bowled against each other, using the same craggy gray sponge to moisten our hands before each turn. The center-left politician was an expert bowler. He knew exactly how much force to apply in order to get the ball maneuvering back and forth over the center. I rolled mostly gutterballs.
After the game, we gathered around the basement’s long table for the nightly meeting, where various political issues are traditionally discussed. But tonight everyone was bursting to talk with Müller about the same thing: the previous day’s election results. Three of Germany’s state legislatures had held elections on March 13th, and Alternative for Germany (AfD), the country’s new far-right populist party, had managed to enter all three state parliaments, winning double-digit portions of the vote in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saxony-Anhalt. In the latter state, AfD won a startling 24 percent of the vote, upending the coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU) and SPD. A new, larger coalition would have to be formed, possibly with the Greens, to reach a majority.