The sleepy market town of Erftstadt may turn out to be where the election to choose Angela Merkel's successor as German chancellor was decided.
It was here that Armin Laschet, the candidate for Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrat party (CDU) and her annointed heir, was filmed laughing during an event to honour victims of the devastating floods that killed 184 people in Germany this summer.
As President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered a solemn speech, Mr Laschet was seen chuckling with party colleagues behind the scenes, his eyes twinkling with merriment.
It was a shocking gaffe, and it could prove to be the decisive turning point in the election. Mr Laschet came to Erftstadt as clear frontrunner, with an 11-point lead in the polls, but within days, his support began to collapse.
On Monday, with two weeks left until Germany votes, the Christian Democrats are on just 20 per cent in the polls, 6 points behind their centre-Left rivals the Social Democrats (SPD) on 26 per cent, and the gap is widening. If the polls are right, Mr Laschet could be said to have laughed away the German chancellorship.
"The whole thing was portrayed very unfairly in the media," Detlef Seif, the local MP and CDU candidate says. "It's not as if Armin Laschet was even in the same place as President Steinmeier. He was at a different location, at a private indoors meeting where they couldn't even hear the president's speech. But it was filmed and presented as if he was in the same place, laughing in the middle of the speech."
It remains unclear exactly what Mr Laschet was laughing at. No one has claimed responsibility for the joke that may have wrecked an entire election campaign.
"Laughter is a normal human reaction to traumatic events," says Mr Seif. "It's a form of release. I’ve been dealing with the floods for months now, and I can tell you those who laughed the most were those who had suffered the worst."
But he concedes the damage is done. "It wasn't fair but it had a very negative effect. In the days that followed all anyone was talking about was that laughter."
At Mr Seif's constituency office in Euskirchen, 14 miles from Erftstadt, they are still clearing the wreckage from the floods. Twenty-seven eople died here, and two months on there is still no electricity in the town's high street, and many of the shops remain gutted.
There are no CDU election posters on display. "We decided not to put any up, out of respect for the victims. It didn't seem appropriate when people had lost their loved ones," says Mr Seif.
The unused posters remain stacked in a lock-up behind the constituency office. "I decided not to campaign at all in any of the flood-affected towns," Mr Seif says. "Instead I'm spending my time working on getting relief and government help for the victims. I hope the voters will see that and judge me on that."
It is a response Mr Laschet might have been wise to emulate. Mr Seif is also the German parliament's rapporteur on Brexit. "Britain offered us help the day after the floods began," he says. "As it turned out, we didn't need it, but that was a very important signal that the relationship between Germany and Britain remains strong even after Brexit."
The constituency is usually a safe CDU seat, but Mr Seif says nothing is certain this year — either locally or at a national level. "We can't take anything for granted. The election is wide open," he says.
The floods may have turned the election, but not in a way anyone expected. When they hit in July, the initial assumption was that they would revive the flagging campaign of the German Green Party, who were early frontrunners but had slipped behind after a series of scandals surrounding their candidate for chancellor, Annalena Baerbock.
The thinking was that the floods would be seen as further evidence of the urgent need to tackle climate change and lead to a Green resurgence. But the party’s support has continued to fall, and they are now in third place on just 15 per cent, seemingly out of contention,
Instead the floods’ impact has been to focus the campaign on personalities rather than policies.Many German voters were already expressing disquiet over Mr Laschet before his fateful trip to Erftstadt, but the incident appeared to confirm their doubts
"The trouble with Mr Laschet is that he's lasch ," Rose Holledt, a pensioner in Erftstadt said — a popular German language joke that plays on the similarity between Mr Laschet's name and lasch , which means floppy.
The jovial Mr Laschet is seen by many in Germany as simply too lightweight to step into Mrs Merkel's shoes. With the Greens' Ms Baerbock also unpopular with voters, attention has turned to the reassuring figure of Olaf Scholz, the candidate for the Social Democrats.
Mr Scholz has appeared experienced and statesmanlike beside his rivals. He has avoided the gaffes that have plagued their campaigns, and at times has appeared the only grown-up in the room.
Currently finance minister in Mrs Merkel's coalition government, he has sought to portray himself as a centrist in her image and her true heir, but Mr Seif says that is not being honest with voters.
"Olaf Scholz is a false promise," he says, pointing to the fact Mr Scholz is not even leader of his own party. "If you vote for Scholz you get the left."
The Social Democrats were taken over by the hard-Left in a Momentum style campaign two years ago, leaving Mr Scholz to front a campaign for a party he does not control.
For all Mr Laschet's travails, he managed to land a telling blow on Mr Scholz in the first television debate when he asked whether the Social Democrats would go into coalition with the Left Party, a successor to the East German communist party. Mr Scholz prevaricated, but he didn't rule it out.
That raised the spectre of a hard-Left coalition between the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party, and on the streets of Erftstadt it was clear it had an impact with voters.
Mr Laschet came out fighting again at the second television debate last night, attacking Mr Scholz over a raid by prosecutors at the finance ministry. But he failed to deliver the sort of knockout blow that could reverse the polls.
"It's a difficult election," said Volker Siep. "I'm not happy with Laschet, but if we don't vote for him we could end up with a left-wing coalition, so in the end I think I'll probably vote CDU."
It was a sentiment echoed by many voters. "I know so many CDU voters who don't want Laschet, but are afraid of a left-wing coalition," said Ms Holledt, the pensioner who called him floppy.
Mr Laschet will be hoping that concern will be enough to rescue his campaign and turn the election. But for that to happen he'll need to do more than hold onto traditional CDU seats like Erftstadt.
He'll also have to hope the fear of a left-wing coalition proves more resonant with voters than the image of him laughing as flood victims were honoured.
"It was unfair what happened to Laschet over the laughter incident," said Udo Siep. "But that's the reality of running for chancellor. You've got to expect to be under scrutiny 24 hours a day."
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