Move over Inge and Olaf: Germany’s weather report has become more diverse as the first pressure fronts of 2021 sweep in with less typically Germanic names.
An initiative called Wetterberichtigung, or “Weather Correction”, aims to highlight Germany’s increasingly multicultural society by buying the rights to name some weather vortexes from the Institute for Meteorology.
The naming rights — high pressure fronts cost €360, low, €240 — have long been given as a quirky gift for friends or children in Germany. Now campaigners have bought up 14 pressure fronts for this year in a “symbolic” move to help make the country’s “diversity visible”.
“Surprise! Our society is diverse,” says the initiative’s homepage. “Germans are also called Ahmet, Chana, Khuê and Romani.”
About 26 per cent of Germany’s 80m people have an immigrant background, according to official statistics, yet social critics say this diversity is not adequately reflected in public life, especially the media.
The “Weather Correction” is led by the New German Media Makers group and said its campaign aimed to convince the media to find more faces “who do not look ‘typically German’” and to promote quotas for journalists from immigrant backgrounds, and other under-represented groups.
The initiative has drawn the ire of far-right party Alternative for Germany. Its parliamentary leaders, Alice Weidel, said in a Twitter message that the campaign “forgets that the low fronts Ahmet & Goran have been moving across Germany since 2015”— a reference to the influx of almost 1m immigrants, mostly from war-torn Syria, that Germany accepted that year.
The German-Moroccan comedian Abdelkarim Zemhoute sent her a reply: “You could gladly call the Ahmet low a Hitler high.”
This is not the first time the naming of weather patterns has caused a political storm. When Germany began naming fronts in 1954, highs were always given male names, while lows — which usually cause storms — were female. In the late 1990s, feminists successfully lobbied for that to change. Now, the gender switches by the year.
Yet politicians have still managed to use the weather to ruffle feathers. Conservative politician Friedrich Merz, one of the leading candidates in the race to take over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, angered feminists in February last year by hinting at a link between Storm Sabine, which was sweeping across Germany at the time, and the shock resignation of the CDU’s chairwoman, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the same week. It was, he said, “pure coincidence that low pressure areas have women’s names”.
Germany’s Institute for Meteorology, which uses the money paid for names to fund student education, has not commented on the Weather Correction campaign directly. It has, however, given interested visitors to its website a pronunciation guide for its newest names.
Additional reporting by Guy Chazan