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Sunday, 2:55 p.m., Aschheim, a community located northeast of Munich
At Bistro Monsalvy, located on a thoroughfare, Martin Siegmund sits on a sunny terrace between cake-eating retirees and waits for a man who sees the world very differently than he does. Siegmund is 27 years old and works as an IT consultant. On this Sunday, he is wearing black work shoes and wide cloth trousers with large side pockets. When the other man arrives on his bicycle, Siegmund stays seated and watches him for a moment. The other man is Daniel Weng, 29, a business administration student and reserve officer in the Bundeswehr, Germany's armed forces, and is dressed in a blue business shirt and suede shoes. Once Weng has locked up his bike and put away his helmet, Siegmund goes up to meet him.
Martin Siegmund: Will there be before-and-after photos, with bruises or something like that?
Daniel Meng: I hope not!
The two men laugh and shake hands.
Meng: It's nice to meet you, I'm Daniel.
Meng and Siegmund are taking part in Germany Talks, a dating platform for political opposites created by ZEIT ONLINE. In the previous few weeks, ZEIT ONLINE posted five yes-or-no questions on its home page and invited respondents to meet someone in their region who provided completely opposite answers. Meng and Siegmund also answered the questions, and now they are one of 600 pairs meeting each other simultaneously to have a political discussion on this Sunday afternoon. All signs point to conflict. Germany's refugee policies, the euro crisis, Russia, same-sex marriage, the country's planned phaseout of nuclear energy: Siegmund and Meng didn't agree on any of these issues.
They each sit at the corner of the table.
Siegmund: Sitting directly across from each other would be so uncomfortable.
Both smile and glance at the waiter. What was the first subject again?
3:02 p.m., Cologne's Mülheim district, Café Vreiheit
Mühlhoff: Pretty weird, isn't it?
Helgers: Yes. I pictured meeting an 18-year-old supporter of the Pirate Party and when I read it would be a police officer, I thought, Oh God, what's my place in this society? I always saw myself as a conservative. And now there's a police officer who is to the left of me.
Mühlhoff: I'm probably also an oddball within the police force. My colleagues have got used to it at this point.
Mühlhoff and Helgers met just a few minutes ago at Café Vreiheit, located in a narrow, one-way street across from the Friedenskirche church in Cologne's Mülheim district. Mühlhoff, 40 years old, has been a police officer for 20 years. Helgers, who is 15 years older, works as an agricultural engineer at a large company in the region. Mühlhoff, the police officer, doesn't believe Germany has taken in too many refugees in recent years, but Helgers does. Mühlhoff is against same-sex marriage, Helgers for it. Now, they're sitting at a bright table for two by the window. It's 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and humid outside.
Mühlhoff: What's your main issue?
Helgers: Well, I'm partnered with a woman. That means that I'm clearly in favor of same-sex marriage. You are not. And I can't believe that anyone would be against it. I love my wife and we have a wonderful relationship. The state says all people are to be treated equally. But at the same time, it is said that you are not allowed to marry.
Mühlhoff: When someone like me says no, do you feel somehow diminished?
Helgers: Yes. There are churches and religious communities that exclude it from the start. I don't understand that either, but I accept it. The fact that the state says that only heterosexuals are allowed to enter a marriage, that's very hurtful.
Mühlhoff: I have nothing against gays and lesbians. It's not that I don't endorse these people living together either. In my surroundings it is always present. There are many serving on the police force. I can understand the legal situation, all the legal hurdles. One is not allowed to participate in life-prolonging decisions, and people need powers of attorney. But originally, the promotion of marriage was about a very egotistical concept: That of protecting the space in which progeny are created. That is increasingly being diluted, not only because of homosexuals. More and more people see marriage as an instrument for financial gain, as a trick. I'm opposed to that.
Helgers: In my circle of friends, there are homosexual couples who have children and are raising them together. These children are happy and are growing up being well taken care of. Research has now confirmed that these children do not have any psychological problems as a result. But with heterosexuals these children are allowed to grow up in a marriage, with homosexuals it is in a partnership. Why don't you want someone like me to be able to enter a marriage?
Mühlhoff: Instinctively, I think that by its nature it is a more logical institution if a man and a woman are together. I can't justify it beyond that. It's simply a feeling.
Helgers: It is hard to argue with biology. The question is: Do we, as a society, want to allow homosexuals to marry? That is an intellectual question. The state shouldn't define how a marriage is supposed to look. When the state forbids homosexuals from marrying, it is a bit like if it is forbidding blond people from marrying. The meaning of life isn't to reproduce.
Mühlhoff: So, what is the meaning of life?
Helgers: For me, a meaning would be to be a constructive part of society and to be a good person. And to enjoy my life. Do you have children?
Helgers: I love children. Thank goodness, I'm very popular among the children in the neighborhood.