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As Germans Prepare To Vote For A New Leader, We Hear Some Of Their Views

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Germany elects a new leader on Sunday. The winner is to replace Angela Merkel, who has spent 16 years in power. Think about that for a moment. During those same 16 years, the United States has had four different presidents, with each one from a different party than the last. Germany has had one leader who presided over times of crisis, but also saw Germany assume greater leadership of Europe. Our own H.J. Mai returned to his hometown to hear how Germans are viewing the election.

H J MAI, BYLINE: It's a quiet afternoon in the small southern German town of Landshut. The sun is shining, and people are enjoying the last days of summer - sitting in one of the many cafes or, like me, walking along the banks of the Isar River. There are countless political posters and billboards dotting the streets, a sign that a pivotal election is only mere days away. Landshut, which was founded in the year 1204, is a quintessential Bavarian town, with many men wearing traditional lederhosen, a medieval town center and even a castle up on the hill. And just like in the rest of Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian arm of Angela Merkel's party the CDU, dominates politics here. But even in this conservative part of Germany, there's an appetite for change.

DOMINIK SCHAEFER: People are extremely wary of the politics of the past 16 years, and I think many are looking for a change.

MAI: Dominik Schaefer (ph) is in his mid-30s and works as an industrial engineer for Germany's national railway, the Deutsche Bahn. He credits Merkel for her steady leadership, but says her pragmatism has also failed to deliver innovation in recent years. It's a sentiment echoed by many people I speak to, including Stephan Schmuck (ph).

STEPHAN SCHMUCK: (Through interpreter) The past four years failed to provide any political innovation. You got the feeling that she's not really interested in creating anymore, but simply maintaining the status quo.

MAI: Schmuck is a filmmaker and business owner. He and his wife recently welcomed a second child, and Schmuck says he's concerned about climate change and other domestic issues, like social welfare and the economy. Another voter, Maria Bimbeck (ph), believes that the government should do everything it can to support families and children. The 65-year-old mother of two also wants Germany to welcome migrants with open arms.

MARIA BIMBECK: (Through interpreter) I also care about immigration. Germany should help others, and I'm all for it.

MAI: However, she says picking the right candidate is particularly challenging this year.

BIMBECK: (Through interpreter) They all have very similar ideas for the future of the country. Some of them differ only in nuances.

MAI: When I compared Germany's election process to that in America, it is far less divisive. People here seem more willing to listen to the views of all the different parties. However, Dominik Schaefer says the discussions around climate policy do tend to divide people.

SCHAEFER: There's a noticeable rift that goes through German electorate. It's especially pronounced when it comes to discussion around climate action and personal economic viability.

MAI: It's a hot-button issue in the region around Landshut, where the automaker BMW has two plants and employs more than 20,000 people. Tougher environmental regulations could be economically painful for this region as the shift toward electric vehicles could mean job cuts. Schaefer says change is inevitable.

SCHAEFER: We can't go on like this.

MAI: But how much change Germans are willing to accept will be shown on Sunday.

H.J. Mai, NPR News, Landshut, Germany. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.