German Language Blog

Curious German Words: Die K-Frage Posted by on Apr 29, 2021 in Culture, News, Politics, Sports, Vocabulary

Like I wrote in a previous post, Germany is going through a Superwahljahr (n, “Super election year”, a year with many regional and national elections). A year like that comes with its own lingo, of course. Let’s look at a word that was pretty relevant this past week in this regard: Die K-Frage (f, the K-question). Mysterious, right?

Laschet vs Baerbock

For months now, the currently governing party, die Union (the Union) of CDU and the Bavarian CSU, has been in a struggle about the K-Frage. Is it going to be Armin Laschet, a carnival-loving North-Rhine Westphalian? Or Markus Söder, the Bavaria-loving Bavarian?

They finally got their answer – just last week, on April 20, the result was in: Laschet becomes the Kanzlerkandidat.

The SPD has Olaf Scholz. The Greens elected Annalena Baerbock. Both without much upheaval. So what is that K-Frage?

A Fight For Power

Kanzler Kanzlerkandidat chancellor German politics

The seat of the German chancellor in Berlin. Photo by Tobias on Unsplash

The K-Frage. It’s the question of the K – short for Kanzler (Chancellor), which is what we Germans call our prime minister. But this isn’t, as it may suggest, the election for the KanzlerIn, but for the KanzlerkandidatIn (Chancellor candidate).

It’s still early days for the national elections in Germany, which are scheduled for September 26. However, the parties (especially the big ones) need to get an idea of who they’ll pose as their candidate for the chancellory. These KanzlerkandidatInnen are also known as the Spitzenkandidaten (“top candidates”).

And that is the Kanzlerfrage, or K-Frage – Wer wird unser(e) KanzlerkandidatIn? (Who will be our chancellor candidate?) The parties that have a real shot at winning the election are asking this question. However, the rules to become KanzlerkandidatIn aren’t clear cut – because it’s nothing official.

The position is usually given to a high-ranking member in a party who is elected on a Parteitag (m, party convention).

The Bundeskanzler isn’t elected directly by the people, like the US president. The people elect the Bundestag, the German house of representatives, and this house, in turn, elects the Bundeskanzler from their ranks. This is normally the KanzlerkandidatIn of the party that received most votes in the election.

So if it is not an official position, what’s the point?

Well, by electing a KanzlerkandidatIn, voters know who is likely to become their next prime minister. By voting for the party of that candidate, they increase their chances of becoming the next Bundeskanzler, too! So a vote is also support for the KanzlerkandidatIn.

The biggest job for the KanzlerkanidatIn before the election, then, is to campaign and gain the public’s favor. That’s not an easy task, but having a likeable, charismatic person at the top helps!

At this point, you might feel like this is eerily familiar to the American presidential election. And that’s because it is. The SPD became the first German party to elect a Kanzlerkandidat in 1960, inspired by the presidential campaign by John F Kennedy.

There is more intrigue and discussion about how such a KanzlerkanidatIn is elected, which you can listen to here:

If you have a hard time following the audio file, you can also read the transcript alongside it. Great practice for your German!

Just one K-Frage? Oh, there’s more!

K-Frage Footbal Kanzler Politics K Question

Photo by Manuel Hoster on Unsplash

The K-Frage is most commonly associated with the Kanzlerkandidatur, like explained above. However, the can stand for more than just Kanzler, of course.

The K-Frage can also be asked after the national elections. Then it is the question of the Koalition (coalition). Who will govern with whom?

The question can also be raised in sports. For example, who is to be the Anführer (m, leader) of the German Fußballnationalmannschaft (f, national football team). The player that gets to be at the helm of the team is also called the Kapitän (m, captain). But who gets this important position? Another K-Frage!

Have you heard of the K-Frage before? Let me know in the comments below!


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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.