• Germany edition
 
Profile: Joachim Gauck, Germany's 'President of Hearts'
Photo: DPA

Profile: Joachim Gauck, Germany's 'President of Hearts'

Published: 20 Feb 2012 11:49 GMT+01:00
Updated: 20 Feb 2012 11:49 GMT+01:00

Gauck, expected to be raised to the largely ceremonial post in the coming weeks after winning backing from all major political parties, replaces Christian Wulff, who resigned Friday amid a series of impropriety allegations.

Hailed as "the president of hearts" by the top-selling Bild daily, the popular, grey haired, genial and softly-spoken East German was a leading figure in the peaceful revolution that brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Born in 1940 in Rostock in the north-east of Germany, Gauck received an early lesson in tyranny when his father was arrested and sent to a Siberian gulag after being sentenced to 25 years by a Russian military tribunal.

Thwarted in his dream of becoming a journalist when he failed to secure a place to study German, Gauck instead studied theology, entered the Church in 1965 and was ordained in 1967.

He once told an interviewer that "at the age of nine, I knew socialism was an unjust system" and he used the pulpit to preach human rights and freedom, quickly drawing attention from the authorities.

When the first protests began that would eventually lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gauck became the spokesman of the "New Forum" in Rostock, an opposition movement that demanded democratic reforms.

And when Germany was reunified amid joyous scenes in October 1990, the man who was formerly closely watched by the hated Stasi secret police was placed in charge of sorting through and opening access to their millions of files.

He served there until 2000, earning respect for balancing the causes of truth and reconciliation as the country again became one.

Describing himself as a "conservative from the liberal left", Gauck appeals to all sides of the political spectrum in Germany and to the people themselves, over half of whom wanted to see him as president, according to recent polls.

As a candidate for the post in 2010, the two most influential media outlets in the country, newsweekly Spiegel and Bild, described him respectively as "the better president" and "the president of hearts."

However, he lost that election to Chancellor Angela Merkel's handpicked candidate for the post, Christian Wulff, who became embroiled in scandal and was eventually forced from office under a prosecutor's investigation.

Prosecutors in Lower Saxony state where Wulff was formerly premier said Thursday they had taken the unprecedented move of asking parliament to lift his immunity to probe allegations he enjoyed favours from a film producer friend.

In the wake of Wulff's resignation, Merkel sought a candidate to unite the parties and eventually bowed to pressure from the opposition and her coalition partners to plump for Gauck, supported by the opposition in 2010.

Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant pastor who like Gauck grew up in communist East Germany, hailed him as a "true teacher of democracy" who had helped the country come together since its reunification in 1990.

For his part, the visibly moved father-of-four who lives with his long-term partner Daniela Schadt, confessed he was "overwhelmed and a little confused" at his nomination, which has to be rubber-stamped by a special parliamentary body.

"It is a very special day for me, even in a life where I have had several," he told reporters.

He said he was pleased that "someone like me, born during a terrible war and who lived 50 years under a dictatorship ... should be called upon today to become head of state."

He added he now wanted to help restore Germans' "faith in their own strength" in the face of the eurozone crisis.

However, he sought immediately to play down expectations, saying he was "neither Superman nor a man without fault."

The media, most of which have run a constant barrage of negative stories about Wulff, were jubilant.

"It is a breath of fresh air for German politics, and Gauck presents an opportunity for a new style of politics," opined Bild.

ZDF television said that Gauck "can save the presidency with his personality" and praised Merkel for her about-face.

"Two East Germans at the top of the federal republic. That is almost a political miracle," said ZDF.

AFP/mdm

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

14:30 February 27, 2012 by phil25
"at the age of nine, I knew socialism was an unjust system"

And now aged 72 he is an advocate of free market capitalism...

enough said.
Today's headlines
And the winner of the EU single market is...
German incomes are higher thanks to the EU. Photo: DPA

And the winner of the EU single market is...

Germany and Denmark came out as the winners of the European Union's single market in a study released on Monday. Integrating economically with its neighbours has helped the German economy grow an average of €37 billion a year since 1992. READ  

Synagogue attacked, rabbi gets death threats
Police check the outside of a synagogue in Wuppertal for evidence of arson on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Synagogue attacked, rabbi gets death threats

A wave of anti-Semitism in Germany, unleashed by the Gaza crisis, shows no sign of abating. A synagogue was attacked on Tuesday morning, a rabbi received death threats and anti-Jewish comments online have increased. Attacks on mosques have also risen. READ  

UBS pays Germany €300m in tax fight
Photo: DPA

UBS pays Germany €300m in tax fight

Top Swiss bank UBS settled a long-running legal dispute with Germany on Tuesday by agreeing to pay a fine of €300 million. Germany suspects UBS of having helped account holders hide millions from the taxman. READ  

Man drowns in cellar as heavy rain hits west
Münster was one of the areas worst hit by Monday night's heavy rain. Photo: DPA

Man drowns in cellar as heavy rain hits west

UPDATE: A man drowned in his cellar on Monday night as heavy rain battered parts of north-western Germany. The emergency services were in places overwhelmed by hundreds of calls. There are further weather warnings in place for Tuesday. READ  

EU to hit Russia with tough sanctions
Merkel has finally lost patience with Putin. Photo: DPA

EU to hit Russia with tough sanctions

The EU is set to agree a raft of new wide-ranging sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, after Germany changed its stance on upping the economic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine crisis. READ  

'Mad professor' to swim length of Rhine
Professor Andreas Fath, 49, in training along the Rhine in Baden-Württemberg in June. Photo: DPA

'Mad professor' to swim length of Rhine

German chemistry professor Andreas Fath started on Monday a gruelling four-week solo swim down the Rhine river for the benefit of science and the environment. READ  

Unfair advantage for one-legged long jumper?
Markus Rehm became German champion on Saturday. Photo: DPA

Unfair advantage for one-legged long jumper?

Paralympics gold medallist Markus Rehm triumphed over his non-disabled rivals on Saturday, winning the German long jump championship. But athletics officials are now reviewing whether his prosthetic leg gave him an unfair advantage. READ  

Woodcarving champions - in pictures
Photo: DPA

Woodcarving champions - in pictures

Chainsaws, wood planes and sand paper were out over the weekend in Saxony-Anhalt where more than 30 artists competed in the International Woodcarving Championships. READ  

Hamburg could treat infected Ebola doctor
Liberian health workers in protective clothing bury an Ebola victim in early July. Photo: DPA

Hamburg could treat infected Ebola doctor

UPDATE: A doctor infected with the deadly Ebola virus while trying to help stop it spreading through West Africa could travel to a Hamburg clinic for treatment. READ  

Germany evacuates embassy in Libya
Black smoke billowing from a storage depot of fuel that was hit by a rocket the night before near the airport in Tripoli on July 28th. Photo: EPA/SABRI ELMHEDWI

Germany evacuates embassy in Libya

UPDATE: Germany pulled its embassy staff out of Tripoli on Monday, a day after advising all its citizens currently in Libya to leave the strife-torn country immediately. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Hamburg harbour lit up in blue
Business & Money
JobTalk: 'Application process is failing'
Photo: Bundesarchiv/Bild 183-S45825
Culture
Germany puts 700,000 WWI docs online
Photo: DPA
Society
This man wants to give all of us €12,000 a year
Photo: DPA
Education
Top university switches master's courses to English
instagram.com/gotzemario
Gallery
Germany's World Cup stars share their holiday photos
Travel
Plans unveiled for bike trail along former Iron Curtain
Photo: DPA
Sport
Yoga helped Jogi's boys bring World Cup home
Photo: DPA
National
Pressure on police over anti-Semitic protests
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The Local List: 12 best words in German
Photo: DPA
Politics
View from Germany: 'Nobody will win in an economic war with Russia'
Photo: DPA
Gallery
German Bucket List: How many of these can you tick off?
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Photo: Shutterstock
Features
Some of the most embarrassing mistakes you can make in German
Education
Raising the bar for law & business in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual school turning education on its head
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,221
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd