Chris Ward is no stranger to politics: he was a councillor in a town near London before moving to Germany.
But the 37-year-old software developer never believed he would be getting involved in German politics, not least because he couldn’t speak the language when he first arrived.
“In the last six months I’ve learned more German than I did in the entire four years I’ve been here,” Ward tells The Local.
He is standing for election in this Sunday’s Bezirksverordnetenversammlung (BVV or district assemblies) – in Tempelhof-Schöneberg with the Liberale Demokraten party. Berlin is also hosting state elections and a referendum on housing on the same day, while a federal election is also happening throughout Germany.
On the left is a guy four years ago today barely holding his life together at the airport ready to fly to his new home in Berlin not being able to speak a word of German.
On the right is someone standing in a German election this month.
I think I've done alright. pic.twitter.com/rdyS86KlvJ
— Chris Ward (@christopherward) September 3, 2021
ADHD diagnosis changed everything
Ward’s journey to this moment is remarkable. He says that being diagnosed with ADHD, a condition that affects behaviour, and receiving medication for it, changed his life.
“In December 2019 I had a bit of an unfortunate suicidal episode and ended up in hospital with it,” he says. “I’d been medicated with depression and anxiety for a number of years and still something just wasn’t working.
“A friend of mind told me he had ADHD. Reading the symptom list was a eureka moment. What I needed then was a diagnosis.”
One of the reasons he is standing for election in Berlin is because of “how dreadful mental health provisions are”.
“Trying to get a psychiatrist in Berlin is like trying to get blood out of a stone,” he says. “I’ve heard some horrific stories from other people. You’ve got a raffle on whether you get told to drink tea. A friend told me one doctor told him ADHD isn’t a thing.
“The line I use in the campaign is that it’s easier to get medication for your mental health at Görlitzer Park (a notorious drug dealing spot) than it is from your doctor.
“You shouldn’t be going to your doctor and they say: have you tried drinking tea?”
After a few hurdles, Ward managed to finally get diagnosed and was prescribed medication. It was a major turning point. “I could suddenly function as a human being, I could learn easier,” he said. “Once the drugs started working I realised I could do things that I previously couldn’t.”
Ward decided to get involved in politics again because he missed it – and wanted to improve his German language skills.
He’s used apps and works with flashcards to get better language skills. But being in situations where you have to speak German is one of the best ways to learn.
“Putting yourself up for election – you have to start being able to interact with people so that’s helped too,” said Ward. “Standing for election in order to learn German is probably the most ADHD thing I’ve ever done,” he says while laughing.
Path to German local politics
After the Brexit referendum happened in 2016, Ward felt disillusioned and ready to start a new life abroad with his partner – now husband – Josh.
The couple had a few places in mind, but eventually settled on Berlin. Ward also has a connection with Germany – he was born there and moved to the UK when he was seven.
In many cases, foreigners living in Germany can’t stand for election. Britons were also stripped of their right to stand and vote in the district assemblies after Brexit because only EU citizens have that right. Meanwhile, only German citizens can vote in state and federal elections.
Ward is able to run in the district councils because he also has Irish citizenship. He’s in favour of more voting rights for non-German residents. More than 20 percent of the Berlin population was born outside Germany.
“It just can’t work like this,” he says.
As a passionate believer in local politics, Ward has been knocking doors and talking to constituents.
Councillors are very visible in British communities – and that’s something that doesn’t seem to be as common in Germany. Doing this makes Ward feel more connected with the city.
“The moment you start getting down to a granular level on the streets, you do feel much more of a connection,” he says. “That’s why it’s so important that councillors do that. If you only look through your eyes and your ears you’re only viewing things through your own privilege, your own narrow views. So absolutely speaking to people is probably the most important thing you’ll ever do in politics.”
Ward wants to make a difference and help the most vulnerable people. But if his party doesn’t secure enough votes on Sunday for him to be elected, he’ll still continue to do his bit and try to grow the small party.
He will be out talking to voters on Saturday but he’s looking forward to a more relaxed Sunday – a stark comparison to the British style of frantically campaigning until the voting booths close.
“Saturday is a big campaign day,” he says. “I’ll be trying to speak to people individually. On Sunday I might go and sit in a square somewhere with a sign. I like the German way, it’s a lot more civilised. Finishing at 6, having a drink and going home.”