In large metal letters it stands above the portal of the Berlin Reichstag: the German people. Behind the façade, a modern parliament, the German Bundestag, negotiates the fate of the same people. It has been around for exactly 70 years. Today, the deputies sit in an arena in the blue-gray semicircle. Anyone who wants can listen to them from the floating public arenas or follow their speeches live on parliamentary television.
In the past 19 legislative sessions, the Bundestag met for 4,216 meetings. More than 200 million words have been written down by the stenographers of Parliament during these years. But only tiny excerpts of these speeches make it into the big news, the big rest is on record and then disappears into the archives. A valuable source.
ZEIT ONLINE has collected the complete minutes of all plenary sessions in a database, made them searchable and above all comparable. Any word that MEPs have made in plenary can be presented using our tool and can be related to other terms.
"What someone deliberately wants to conceal, be it only in front of others, be it in front of oneself, or even what he unconsciously carries in himself: the language brings it to light", wrote the romanticist Victor Klemperer in the late forties in his LTI notebook Philologists . The style of speech exposes the essence of humans without any cover. The treasury of the Bundestag offers such access - not only to parliament, but also to the changing state of German democracy.
How seriously did the Bundestag take climate change in recent years? How often did MEPs talk about carbon leakage, greenhouse gases or plastic waste? What were they afraid of, what were they hoping for? If you want, you can look it up now, compare whether the climate was more important to the deputies than pension, unemployment, taxes - or vice versa. Thanks to the graphical analysis, can see at what time which topics were debated and how attention has changed over the years.
Our evaluation begins with the first session of the then newly constituted Bundestag in Bonn on September 7, 1949 and ends with the last meeting in Berlin before the summer break in 2019, the special session on July 24, during which Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was sworn in as Defense Minister.
Our tool makes it possible to look at the history of the Federal Republic of Germany as in a magnifying glass, to understand its twists, its development. The curves show which debates were big and verbose, which ones were small. What was often discussed when, which has rarely or never been the case in all these years, even though it might have been important?
Such as housing. In the fifties and seventies it is a huge topic in the parliamentary speeches. Even in the decades after that, parliamentarians are always concerned with the question of how much publicly subsidized housing is needed. 2003 is over. Suddenly, the keyword housing is no longer available. Even the term social housing disappears from the speeches - for ten years. At the same time, a boom of other terms is visible that had never played a role in the Bundestag until then: real estate and real estate, for example. A wave of privatizations is revealed, with many municipalities selling apartments to settle debts. Only in 2013 will be negotiated again on social housing. Because now rents have risen so much that many people have existential anxiety.
Of course, the comparison of individual words does not give a comprehensive picture. Whether the deputies are for or against an issue can not be read from it. Anyone who wants to understand this must look into the corresponding minutes of the Bundestag speeches. The analysis of a single term can also trap it. For example, if you enter worries and worries, you see a steadily rising curve. However, this does not mean that the members of parliament in the Bundestag are increasingly concerned about the country and its condition. The accumulation is caused by the often used phrases "care" and "take care" - which have a different meaning.
Nevertheless, the graphic analysis of the terms offers the opportunity to learn more about the topics being negotiated in Parliament. Their frequencies are sorted into excitation curves, which not only represent the interests of the political groups and parliamentarians, but also reflect the public mood. Finally, MEPs are also bringing up what is moving voters.
For example, hardly any topic in recent decades has triggered such an intense debate as the influx of more than one million refugees and refugees in 2015. Even the fate of the eight million displaced persons was not mentioned as often in parliament in the 1950s as the migration movement in 2015 and 2016 The terms flight and refugees suggest almost every other topic in terms of frequency, whether safety, care or unemployment. Only a single term has caused a similarly large rash in frequency, and Germany apparently similarly busy, German unity in 1990.
In the Bundestag speeches, however, it is not just the emergence and disappearance of individual topics. The curves also give indications of profound changes in German society.
Thus, in the early 1980s, the Bundestag speeches showed a marked increase in the words fear and anxiety. The eighties are a decade of great upheaval and shocking events. In September 1982, the social-liberal coalition of Helmut Schmidt breaks up. At the end of 1983, the Bundestag agreed to Nato's demand to station new nuclear missiles in Germany, although the majority of the population oppose it. The NATO double-decision, but above all the fear of an arms race and a nuclear war are the dominant themes of this year. Finally, in 1986, the Soviet nuclear power plant Chernobyl exploded. All these events can be assigned to clear peaks in the anxiety curve. Just like the wars later in Yugoslavia, the Islamist attacks of September 11, 2001 or the Fukushima catastrophe - whenever such an event is debated, parliamentarians are more likely to talk about fear and anxiety.
However, something must have changed in the eighties. Since then, the two terms have been used more frequently than before. Have MPs and possibly many other people in the country lost some of their confidence? Helmut Schmidt had warned in a speech to the Bundestag in 1981: "In front of a government that gave itself to the fear, you would indeed be afraid!"
The analysis can also show that the Bundestag not only talks, but that the country is changed by the resulting policy, which in turn is reflected in the choice of words and frequency. For example, the attitude to women. Feminism and women's rights have long been a topic in parliament, only the terms are changing. Originally, the debates on gender equality, emancipation since the second wave of the women's movement in the early 1970s, in the 1980s and 90s MEPs talk about women's politics, then women's quota. Today the topic is discussed with terms such as feminism, women's rights or gender pay gap.
The Bundestag minutes also contain the names, parties and in many cases the titles of the speakers. These show that politics is changing: Experts, ministers and politicians are increasingly speaking. The Chancellor is a woman and in the Bundeswehr serve soldiers. The frequency of naming women and men is becoming more and more similar in speeches over the decades.
Language is a mirror of society, the word comparisons are a way to look into that mirror. The examples of money and companies show that the economy is taking up more and more space in the speeches of the deputies. Over the decades, they are called more and more often. Germany is a significant business location, but few terms in the dataset are mentioned as regularly and as often as these two. Not education, not environment, yes in the past few years not even more work. The richer the country, it seems, the more it deals with money. Or is the relationship the other way around?
The word frequencies also reveal something about German foreign policy or about the countries with which the Bundestag often deals. In the beginning, it is above all the occupying powers and in the Cold War the so-called Eastern bloc. Meanwhile, the picture has changed decisively, Germany is engaged all over the world.
Of course, the data also shows how Members treat each other. Louts, idiots, baddies - some parliamentarians made it to some celebrity thanks to their insults and exclamations. But that was a long time ago, the Bundestag has become more civilized, it is said today, some say: boring. At first glance, this seems to be reflected in word analysis. For example, in the indignant exclamation "unheard of!", When someone approaches one of the otherwise esteemed colleagues a little harder. Or in the issuing of a public order, a complaint by the President of Parliament or the President of the Parliament.
If you look at the terms outrageous and Ordnungsruf, the early years in Parliament must have been quite rude. Democracy and dealing with other opinions obviously had to be practiced first. Of the almost 800 orders that are recorded in the minutes, a large proportion is attributable to the first legislative periods. Between 1970 and 1985 there will be another high-level of strife and exclamation, from then on it will become more and more peaceful.
Or not? Because an upsurge in the interjections experience since the mid-eighties two other words: nonsense and nonsense. It seems that it is not indignation that changes, but only how it is expressed. And since the AFD has moved into the Bundestag in 2017, the calls for office of the parliamentary presidency are increasing again.