Spaßbremse: Applying a Leftist Lens to German Politics

Interview with the producer and presenters of a new Berlin podcast


Interview with Isaac Würmann (IW), Ted Knudsen (TK) and Michelle Hayner (MH)


Hello everyone. To start with can you each quickly describe who you are and what your relationship is to the Spaßbremse podcast?

IW: I’m Isaac, I’m the producer/editor of the podcast. I’m originally from Canada and have a background in journalism.

TK: I’m Ted, one of the hosts. I’m from Washington State in the US and am doing my PhD in political economy.

MH: I’m Michelle, the friendlier Spaßbremse host, also from the US. I work at a Kita and study Heilpädagogik (special needs education).

The podcast is called “Spaßbremse”, which roughly translates as something like “buzzkill”. Does this mean that it’s not any fun?

IW: Definitely not! We want to have some fun with it, while still unpacking some serious issues. Part of the fun we have is in laughing at the absurdity of German politics.

TK: Right, the idea for the name came more from wanting to pump the brakes (“Bremse”) on the overly positive depictions of Germany (the “Spaß”) that you get in English-language accounts of the country. The overall narrative of Germany that you hear in the US or UK is very distorted and we wanted act as a corrective to that, particularly by applying a more leftist lens to German politics.

Why did you start the podcast?

IW: Personally, because I’m quite new to Berlin, I saw the podcast as an opportunity to better understand the German political landscape.

TK: I’m a fairly degenerate podcast addict and I’ve always half wanted to start one myself. I also like to ramble about leftism and politics to whoever will listen, so this is a good way to alleviate the burden on friends and family. The stars aligned with Isaac as producer and Michelle as a co-host so we just decided to go for it!

MH: I’ve been trying to understand German culture for quite some time: I lived in Germany for a couple years as a kid and ended up studying German in college. The pod is the perfect chance to weave together that background knowledge with a socialist critique of German politics.

There are a lot of podcasts out there at the moment. What makes Spaßbremse different?

MH: In our introduction episode Ted runs through some key examples of the drivel found in the English-speaking press about Germany. Seen by many liberal Americans as the end stage of political progress, Germany is often portrayed as a kind of utopia. We want to counter these narratives and shed light on the cruelty, inequality and dysfunction that is the reality of much of German society.

TK: Political podcasts seem to fall into one of two camps. First, a lot of left podcasts come up with the right political conclusions and have a ton of fun riffing but might delve too much into cultural minutiae to appeal to a wider audience. On the other hand, many centrist podcasts do a ton of research but are fundamentally wrong about history and not very insightful (I’m not mentioning any right-wing podcasts here as I wouldn’t know but assume they’re all terrible).

Essentially, our goal is to base critiques of the Germany political system on our own experiences and to connect those insights to real historical research. So, when we skewer Gerhard Schröder or the Treuhand, we’ll have fun with it, but also try to keep it concise and focused and based mostly on rigorous academic and journalistic sources.

So far, you’ve covered the Hartz IV reforms, German reunification, and climate politics. What’s coming next?

IW: We’re hoping to tailor our content over the next couple months to the German election, so covering topics that people need to know about if they want to grasp what the parties are talking about. But generally, we want to discuss some of the idiosyncrasies of German politics and society, and some of the things that made us scratch our head when we first moved here.

MH: After we wrap up our series on Reunification we’ll put out an episode dedicated to Angela Merkel and her legacy. Coming up in September we will be interviewing an activist from the Deutsche Wohnen und Co. Enteignen campaign for an episode on housing politics.

TK: And after the election, we definitely want to branch out a bit from the politics-heavy topics, discussing some more cultural things and other quirks. The German obsessions with Spargel, herbal medicines, the speed limit on the Autobahn, things like that.

Spaßbremse seeks to address the subjects that people are interested in about German politics. How can someone contact you if they have a topic suggestion?

MH: DM us on twitter @spassbremse_pod! We also have an Email for our less internet addicted listeners:

TK: Yeah definitely reach out! We love to hear what people think of the pod and also get any ideas of what people would like to hear about German politics. You can always see our latest episodes here or find us anywhere you usually listen to podcasts.


Ted will be talking about Spaßbremse at the Workshop on Building Left Media at Summer Camp on 4-5 September.