Thursday we went to the Bavarian Parliament building, had a crash course in German Federalism from Dr. Ursula Muench, then met with several MPs from different parties. I was personally interested in their perspective on multi-party systems. It's a frustration of mine that our (essentially) two party system forces all issues to eventually polarize during the process — I say goodbye, you say hello.
In Bavaria there are roughly 20 parties but not all have the 5% of the popular vote to be in Parliament. We met with MPs from the Social Democrat Party, Christian Social Union, Green Party, and the Free Democratic party. One thing they agreed on was that smaller parties are able to bring issues into the public discourse that would otherwise stay behind party doors. The Green Party is an example of a grassroots movement that formed into a party 20-some years ago with a single platform that addresses environmental concerns. They came into status because the people wanted them. This forced the other parties to start addressing the issues and we see this in action. The majority leader from the CSU told us later in the day that the environmental concern was his biggest initiative this year and that the party pushed him in this direction long before the EU did.
The MPs also shared a story about an emerging party in Germany called the Pirate Party. They received 2% of the vote this year and everyone felt they will be a growing force in the future. They have a narrow platform focusing on the opening of IP, right to privacy and government transparency. Apparently they have the strongest favor of the youth in Germany so many of the politicians are paying attention. The multi-party concept here seems to be based on issues. In the U.S. we move issues into referendums. Here people party.
In the afternoon we participated in the Müncher Tafel program at a Lutheran Church. It's a program modeled after New York's City Harvest program that collects food from restaurants and groceries that was ready for discard and then distributes it to the poor on the same day. Germany has a strong social welfare program in which all residents receive a stipend and housing. In this supplemental city-sponsored program qualified families may pick up food every two weeks from a designated distribution center. It's a win-win. Food is not wasted and the recipients get fresh vegetables, fruit and bread rather than dry goods.
We heard a few side comments that hinted at the immigration struggle. The majority of recipients were Turkish and Russian at our location and I heard the same kind of comments I hear about "The Mexicans" in the U.S. Despite this the experience was really rewarding and it felt good to be a part of it.
In the evening I went to my sister IDEO studio to see old friends and get acquainted with new ones. It was wonderful to be in the Munich studio, see new faces, share a pizza and beer with Philipp and catch up with former Bostonians, the Mallards, at their apartment. It gave me further insight into the challenges and benefits of operating in a multicultural, multilingual region. The work here is world-class and it's satisfying to see the IDEO culture of optimism alive and well in Bavaria.