June 18, 2017, ZEIT ONLINE organized the first ever My Country Talks
event. 12,000 people signed up for the experiment, hoping to meet a
neighbour with a different political view.
The idea for the first Germany
Talks event came about after Donald Trump had been elected president,
Britain had voted for Brexit and France was on the verge of electing a
right-wing president. Western societies seemed increasingly divided.
ONLINE's editorial team asked itself: What can we do to overcome
polarization? How can we help our readers to have a conversation outside
their own filter bubble?
On May 4, 2017, ZEIT ONLINE posted a widget on its homepage with the
question: “May we introduce you to someone?” After a couple of weeks,
12,000 people had registered through the widget in the hopes of meeting
someone in their neighborhood with a different political perspective.
The participants answered five yes-or-no questions about their
political views, designed to make differences in political attitudes
appear as clearly as possible. The questions included: Has Germany
accepted too many refugees? Should Germany abandon the euro and return
to the "Deutsche Mark"? Is the West treating Russia fairly? Was
abandoning nuclear energy the right move? Should homosexual couples be
allowed to marry? Respondents also entered their postal codes, email
addresses and mobile phone numbers in order to allow an algorithm to
pair them up (the algorithm was developed with funding from Google and
the software-developing agency diesdas.digital).
On Sunday, June 18, 2017, 1,200 people met up across Germany for a
political one-on-one discussion at 3.30pm – a dialogue involving the
open exchange of opposing views and arguments.
In Berlin, a publisher met an immigrant from Egypt; in North
Rhine-Westphalia, a student (coincidentally) met his conservative
professor. Government employees met up with physicists, engineers with
police officers, a daughter-in-law (coincidentally) with her
father-in-law. Jochen Wegner, editor-in-chief of ZEIT ONLINE, debated
with a machinery and plant operator who had answered differently to four
of the five questions asked in the questionnaire (read more about his