BERLIN -- Berliners yesterday put the brakes on right-wing parties that have been accelerating across Germany, but they left the major parties still stalled in their tracks and looking directionless.
It was the first district elections in a united Berlin since 1946, but the vote had to compete with a warm, sun-drenched day. Politicians complained that more people went to the parks and beaches than to the voting booths. The vote was the lowest ever in Berlin, about 61 percent of the eligible voters.
Berliners were voting for representatives in their "bezirke," or districts, each of which has its own town hall, burgermeister and legislative council.
In the 23 districts, an amazing 3,134 candidates from 17 parties and 10 community groups ran for 1,035 seats.
The major issues for all parties clearly were housing costs, traffic jams and the cost of reunification.
The Republikaner Party, the biggest far-right party and expected to be a big vote-puller, got only about 8.3 percent of the vote, far less than the 10 percent to 15 percent predicted for them.
The vote in Berlin was also much less than the 11 percent the Republikaners received last month in local elections in southwest Germany, elections that raised fears of a strong push to the right among German voters uneasy about taxes, immigrants, prices and the cost of reunification.
The Republikaners failed most resoundingly in eastern Berlin, which was expected to be fertile ground, where discontent symbolized by skinheads and neo-Nazis was supposed to abound. But on the east side the "Reps" got only 5.4 percent of the vote, a little more than half of what they got in western Berlin.
The east Berliners, in fact, continued to vote for the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the Communist Party born again but with an allegedly benign face.
The PDS received about 30 percent of the vote in east Berlin, only a little less than the Social Democrats, the leading party in the east and in the entire city. The PDS won 11.4 percent citywide.
The Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, which run the city in what is called "the grand coalition," both lost votes since the last election in 1990.
The Christian Democrats are the party of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who came to Berlin to campaign for his party. Despite the stumble of the right, this election may mean more problems for Mr. Kohl, who has been besieged with troubles nationally.
The Christian Democrats control governments only in the former East Germany, where gratitude for unification made Mr. Kohl a patron saint.
Mr. Kohl long ago lost the sandals of sainthood on the paths of high unemployment and slow economic growth in the east. Berlin elections may signal loss of state elections in the east and more political problems for the chancellor.
The biggest winners in Berlin were a coalition of the Green environmentalists and the Alternative List, a moderate leftist party. They ran on a platform advocating bicycles, streetcars, fewer autos, more parks and less pollution.
The major parties seemed to be offering the same solutions they'd offered in the last elections in 1990. Only now the problems were worse.