MASSEN, Germany—On a mild spring evening, Frauke Hildebrandt maneuvered through choked highways and accelerated down county roads, driving straight across her home state of Brandenburg deep into coal country. It was rush hour and Hildebrandt was running a little late.
She was the guest of honor at a gathering here in Massen, a quiet, tidy village along the state’s southeastern rim, and a small group of about a dozen people had turned out to meet her at a tavern on the main road.
Hildebrandt is a member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and sits on the party’s Commission on East Germany in Brandenburg. Equally important, however, is that her name is iconic in this region. Frauke’s late mother, Regine Hildebrandt, was dubbed the “voice of the east”—an SPD politician after German reunification, she spent years battling to bring East Germans’ concerns to the halls of power in Berlin. She was dogged in her pursuit, and for that she was beloved and admired.
Frauke Hildebrandt knows that her mother’s name opens doors across East Germany. Over the past six months, she has crisscrossed the region to meet citizens and gather support for a deeply divisive proposal she is spearheading: a quota for East Germans in top positions across academia, politics, business, media, and law. As she has taken her campaign to national media and talk shows, she has encountered support, but also scorn and skepticism from those who fundamentally oppose quotas and those who reject the premise that East Germans are systematically disadvantaged when it comes to representation.