The Slatest

The Best Photo We Didn’t Use This Week: Just One Luftballon

A balloon in the shape of a smiling man wearing a blue suit and glasses floats above a field with a banner in the foreground that says "Kohle Stoppen" or "Stop Coal"
An Armin Laschet balloon in Luetzerath, Germany, where climate activists gathered on Aug. 7 to protest the planned demolition of two villages to make way for the expansion of the nearby Garzweiler open-pit coal mine. Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

Slate’s homepage editors spend a lot of time looking for editorial photos to put on our site. Those searches sometimes yield unexpected results: random, perplexing, and mesmerizing photos that don’t belong on the homepage, but that are too good not to share. Every week, we’ll share the weirdest photo from the wires.

What were you hoping to find?
A photo of the members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the headquarters of the United Nations, or the changing climate, to accompany our coverage of the alarming new climate report you may have heard about.

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What did you find instead?
A large adult balloon floating behind a protest banner, both bearing slogans in German. The text on the balloon boy’s chest reads, “Klimaschutz bei CDU/CSU? Nichts als heiße Luft!” which means, per Google Translate, “Climate protection at the CDU/CSU? Nothing but hot air!” On his left leg is the logo for the climate advocacy organization Campact. The “Kohle Stoppen” banner in the foreground translates to “Stop Coal.”

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What’s the actual backstory here?
The bespectacled, suited man meant to be represented by the balloon is Armin Laschet, minister-president of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and current head of the country’s ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union. As leader, Laschet is the official party candidate in Germany’s upcoming elections to replace outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel. Laschet represents the same political coalition as Merkel, the CDU/CSU, which allies the Christian Democratic Union with a smaller regional party known as the Christian Social Union in Bavaria. Right now, the CDU/CSU is leading the electoral polls.

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So the next German chancellor could be a balloon?
Not quite, though balloons have historically played a larger part in global politics than you might expect.

This inflatable effigy of Laschet was created by Campact as part of a campaign to denounce the CDU’s inadequate environmental and energy policies. An April blog post by Campact staffer Lara Eckstein explains the organization’s plan to fly the balloon in a prominent setting and spread photos and videos of it across social media in order to undermine Laschet and his party’s image as a climate leader. On June 5, Campact debuted the 5-meter-tall balloon in Düsseldorf, the capital of Laschet’s state, and shared a photo of the floating candidate along with a firm message: “We make it clear: Those who block #climateprotection cannot become chancellor.”

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The balloon was used in other climate protests throughout the summer, which brings us to this week’s photo, taken on Aug. 7. That day, thousands of people gathered in Luetzerath—also located in Laschet’s state, which was recently hit by deadly flooding—to form a 2.5-mile human chain between that village and the neighboring village of Keyenberg. The reason? Both areas are set to be bulldozed to make way for new coal mines, with the approval of the CDU-led government. The arm-linked activists were aiming not only to halt future mining but also to expose Lachet and his party’s environmental commitments as so much “hot air.”

Why is this the weird photo of the week?
As dedicated readers of this column know, we at Slate love nothing more than big ol’ floats.

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