Even though most of the guests at the 71st Federal Press Ball in Berlin came from established politics and the media, the Hotel Adlon probably wanted to be on the safe side. “No Cannabis. Thank you,” was written large and clear on a sign at the entrance to a smoking terrace.

The responsible health minister, Karl Lauterbach (SPD), also commented in a relaxed manner about the possible smoking of weed in hidden corners of the ball: “I would be surprised if we got to this point. But it wouldn’t make me angry.” At least in the first few hours of the event there was nothing similar to be discovered.

Otherwise, the Federal Press Ball tried to appear more political than before. The motto was: “For freedom of the press. Protecting democracy”. The opening speeches were about the fight for democracy and against extremists. The AfD was deliberately not invited by the Federal Press Conference organizing association, the association of capital city journalists – because it does not stand for freedom of the press and therefore not for democracy.

Political celebrities

The most prominent of the approximately 2,200 guests from the media, politics and business was Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who came with his wife and danced the official opening waltz later in the evening. From the federal government, among others, Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD), Family Minister Lisa Paus (Greens) and Health Minister Karl Lauterbach appeared with his new girlfriend.

Lauterbach admitted on the red carpet: “Everything I’m wearing today, the tuxedo, the shirt, the bow tie, the cufflinks, everything is just borrowed from Kreuzberg, nothing is owned.” His girlfriend promptly said: “But I think it looks good on him. He should do it more often.” Lauterbach’s response: “That won’t happen.”

Politics was also represented with ball regulars such as Bundestag Vice President Wolfgang Kubicki (FDP), CDU leader Friedrich Merz and Green Party leader Ricarda Lang. Berlin’s Governing Mayor Kai Wegner and his girlfriend, School Senator Katharina Günther-Wünsch (both CDU), were there for the first time. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens), Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) canceled.

The rejection of the AfD was criticized by Kubicki. “I think it’s a mistake. They’re members of the German Bundestag. If they don’t come, that’s fine. But that’s not good form. But the organizer has to decide that for themselves.” Others understood it well.

Collien Ulmen-Fernandes gives the opening speech

The actress and presenter Collien Ulmen-Fernandes, who sat next to the Federal President, wore double-sized silver glitter trousers despite the evening dress requirement for women and gave the opening speech in the ballroom, praised the motto for democracy as well chosen. “This is of course extremely important, strengthening democracy. I just spoke to Eckart von Hirschhausen, who said that there are two enemies of democracy: those who do not respect it and those who take it for granted.”

Ulmen-Fernandes, who has family roots in various countries, said she was met with massive hostility after speaking out against right-wing extremism on a “Stern” cover photo. “I had 2,000 hate messages and discussed this topic a lot.” Nevertheless, she was torn about disinviting the AfD. Likewise with the debate about a ban. “I’m not so sure that’s the right way to go.” What is crucial, however, is to do everything in our power to stop issues such as racism and intolerance.

Not only Asian food, African dishes, lamb, fish, Maultaschen, raclette and currywurst were announced for the evening, but also performances by magic world champion Marc Weide. Various bands provided music. DJ Noah Becker, son of ex-tennis star Boris Becker, was supposed to play shortly before and after midnight. The heaviest party was traditionally expected in the narrow smoking bar. Otherwise, the guests strolled between bars and sponsor stands, where good-natured politician bodyguards from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) also had their photos taken with guests.

There was clear criticism from the German Taxi Association because the ball organizers chose the driving service Uber as a sponsor and guests were taken home in its car – instead of taking taxis.

Green Party leader Ricarda Lang had hope for the rest of the night and the topic of cannabis smoking. “I don’t know if this fits in, but if it does, it would certainly be a funny sight,” Lang said with a loud laugh. “Perhaps Friedrich Merz will surprise us here this evening. But probably not.”