* Merkel's electoral district votes on Sept. 4
* Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has high jobless rate
* Far-right NPD campaigns to remain in state assembly
By Stephen Brown
STRALSUND, Germany, Aug 29 One in five people
are on social welfare, 14 percent of teenagers drop out of
school with no qualifications and unemployment is all but a
certainty for many.
In Gruenhufe, part of Chancellor Angela Merkel's
constituency in the northeast German state of
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the shrill slogans of the far right stir
more emotion than anything as remote as debate over the euro
Almost every street lamp bears posters of the National
Democratic Party (NPD) in black and red, with slogans such as
"Criminal foreigners out!"
"Who asks the people what we want? Nobody. They just do
whatever will get them reelected," Thomas Wenk, a 54-year-old
former shipyard worker, said in a housing estate in Gruenhufe.
"The other parties play into the NPD's hands by doing
nothing for young people. The NPD takes the vacuum left by
unemployment and low pay and fills it with slogans."
With nearly 12 percent unemployment -- three times the level
of the wealthy south -- and young people leaving the region to
find work, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is fertile ground for the far
right, like several other former East German states.
In the historic town centre of Stralsund, the district that
Merkel represents in the German parliament which includes
Gruenhufe, colourful gabled houses nestle under towering
red-brick gothic churches in the bustling Baltic port.
Pride in their MP being the first woman and the first East
German to be chancellor ensures Merkel a strong turnout when she
returns for a campaign rally before an election on Sept. 4 for
the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state parliament and premier.
But while her speech on the euro and budget discipline get
loyal applause from the crowd in the cobbled Old Market, these
are not the issues that seem to trouble local people.
"When we ask people 'what do you want from politicians?'
they say: We need work, and our children need work," said Heike
Carstensen, candidate for the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD)
who lead the state's governing coalition with Merkel's Christian
Democrats (CDU) but are unlikely to beat the CDU in Stralsund.
Merkel's conservatives have been punished in a series of
seven state elections this year and the SPD is threatening to
push them out of their partnership in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern,
one of Germany's smallest states by population with 1.6 million
Another setback would undermine Merkel when her leadership
in the euro crisis is being questioned by party barons and the
general public, reducing her chances of a third term in 2013.
Some polls see the SPD getting a record 38 percent and the
CDU 10 points behind. With the former communist Left Party in
line for 17 percent, the SPD threatens to revive the pre-2006
"Red-Red" coalition and snub the CDU.
Merkel told supporters in Stralsund she opposed "governing
with people who don't even know if it was right or wrong to
build the Wall 50 years ago. That is my message to the Social
Democrats", referring to some Left leaders' recent expressions
of nostalgia on the recent anniversary of the Berlin Wall.
While Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is known for its attractive
coastline, islands and nature reserves, locals like Wenk say the
former CDU chancellor Helmut Kohl's promise of a "blossoming
landscape" after unification rings hollow for them.
Among the grey and brown blocks of flats in Gruenhufe, with
peeling tiles, mouldy balconies and overgrown lawns, men with
shaved heads and cigarettes walk fierce-looking dogs. NPD
posters are everywhere.
The party got enough votes at the last state election in
2006 to sit in the regional parliament and receive state
funding. With an aggressive campaign and vague slogans such as
"Honest pay for honest work", polls put the NPD half a point
below the 5 percent threshold for a seat in the state assembly
But, as anti-NPD campaigner Julian Barlen says: "Last time
they were also at this level in opinion polls and ended up with
7 percent. It may be that people willing to vote for the NPD
don't like to admit it."
FORCES OF DEMOCRACY
At a candidates' debate chaired by the local DGB trade union
chief Volker Schulz, only a dozen members of the public turn up
because Merkel is speaking in town in an hour. The CDU do not
show and the NPD are not invited.
"We have to see how we can ensure the NPD does not get back
into parliament," said Shulz. The Left's Karsten Neumann said
the massacre in Norway by right-wing extremist Anders Behring
Breivik showed how vital it was "to stand up for democracy".
When a group of young men campaigning for the NPD near where
Merkel had spoken were asked for comment, they deferred to an
unsmiling young man in spectacles and a black shirt.
"We don't give interviews, the press always twists what we
say," NPD local councillor Dirk Arendt, aged 35, told Reuters.
"You can write if you want that lots of people think like us but
they dare not say it because they are afraid."
Afraid of what? "Consequences," he said, walking away.
With foreigners making up only 2.5 percent of the population
in the state and less in Stralsund, anti-NPD campaigners say
unemployment, poor pay and low educational levels are what help
make the far right flourish.
Merkel's candidate for state premier, Lorenz Caffier, said
the CDU, which has run the regional economy ministry in the
state coalition, has almost halved unemployment.
Careful to take aim at both the far right and far left but
also stating his support for a ban on the NPD, Caffier said all
democratic parties needed to outflank the NPD's aggressive
tactics on core issues like unemployment.
"If the NPD holds 'surgeries' for the unemployed , then the
forces of democracy must do the same," he said.
Caffier said the euro crisis was not a campaign issue
because "people trust Angela Merkel, this is her constituency
and they know she is fighting for the euro and a stable
But the SPD's Carstensen said people were "simply too busy
with their own problems, or just resigned. Kohl talked about a
blossoming landscape. There is no blossoming landscape".
Carstensen said it would be tough to beat the CDU in
Merkel's constituency, where "people say they're proud of the
chancellor even though she doesn't come from here and never
Merkel, who called Stralsund her political "Heimat" (home)
twice in her speech, was born in Hamburg in the west in 1954 and
brought up in East Germany in Brandbenburg state, nearer Berlin.
Out in Gruenhufe, Wenk bristles at the suggestion he should
be proud that the local MP is chancellor of Germany and possibly
one of the most powerful woman in the world.
"Why should I be proud of Angela Merkel? She has done
nothing concrete for Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, not for me or my
family. Nothing that makes me proud of her."
(Reporting by Stephen Brown; editing by Elizabeth Piper)