Christian Ude works very long days. He’s usually in his office at the city hall at 08.00 and gets home after 23.00. This may be one of Germany’s fastest moving, modern cities, but its 62-year-old mayor is a fan of doing things the old fashioned way. He starts his day reading all the newspapers – some at home and the rest once he gets to the office. Surrounded by papers, he sips tea from a Thermos flask as he reads. There is one personal item in the room – a chest of drawers that belonged to his father.
The spacious office overlooks central Marienplatz and Ude has lined it with local 20th-century paintings. There is a large red painting by Rupprecht Geiger (the mayor’s Social Democrat party colour is red), a portrait and a still life by Gabriele Münter and a piece by Herbert Achternbusch, a subversive avant garde artist.
He keeps in touch with all his department heads in a weekly meeting held in a room hung with Achternbusch watercolours. What’s noticeable about the meeting is how low-tech it is. There are no laptops and no fiddling with BlackBerrys. Ude takes notes with his Waterman fountain pen (there’s an official minute taker too).
On publicity matters, Ude has a policy of answering all press requests within the hour. “I know how important it is to explain background and motivation of political decisions to the people,” says Ude, who started out as a journalist at Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The mayor holds annual open councils in each of the 25 municipial districts, where attendees can complain and comment on everything from slow train connections to the aiport to rising prices at the Oktoberfest. And now people can also put questions to the mayor via the city website, where readers are asked to rate the most interesting questions. Every two weeks, Ude personally answers the three most-voted for questions. Otherwise though, the mayor is not really a hi-tech person. He uses a computer for emails, but dictates his letters. In a typical week he attends 25 conferences. His secret to keeping up the pace is a small room at the back of his office set up for cat naps and power showers. “Here I freshen up before evening events,” he says: “Also I can briefly relax on the sofa between two appointments ... though unfortunately there’s rarely time to do so.”