• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

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

The Local · 20 Feb 2012, 11:49

Published: 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."

Story continues below…

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)

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
Travellers stuck after dozy train driver forgets Freiburg
Photo: DPA

It's one thing to miss a train - it's another when the train misses you.

Berlin airport employee admits taking €150,000 bribe
Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Photo: DPA

The German capital's long-delayed international airport has been haunted by claims of corruption and incompetency.

Teachers' union: school burqa bans only isolate girls more
Women wearing niqabs. Photo: DPA.

A German trade union for teachers has warned of the consequences of banning certain religious attire in schools after a teen this week was told she could not wear a face veil to school.

Bundesliga
Bayern ban big bags and bottles for Bundesliga opener
Photo: DPA

Bayern Munich have tightened security measures at their stadium, banning spectators from carrying big bags and bottles, ahead of Friday's home match - the first of the new German league season.

Drugstore chain DM starts selling pepper spray
Photo: DPA

One of Germany's largest drug stores has started selling pepper spray due to "increased requests" from customers.

AfD accused of using neo-Nazi symbols on campaign car
Photo: Facebook of NO LEGIDA.

The Leipzig branch of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has come under fire for seemingly using Nazi symbols on a campaign car.

Merkel wants migrant return deals with N. African states
Migrants in the Mediterranean. Photo: DPA

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Tuesday on the EU and North African countries to do deals modelled on a controversial agreement with Turkey to stem migrant flows to Europe.

VW reaches supplier deal to resume production
Photo: DPA

German car giant Volkswagen said on Tuesday it has reached a deal with suppliers to begin deliveries again after a stoppage that forced the group to halt production at several plants.

Merkel calls for 'loyalty' from Turkish-Germans
Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: EPA.

Those who have lived in Germany for many years should actively show a "high level of loyalty", the Chancellor said.

Govt paper mulls bringing back army conscription
Photo: DPA

In its new concept paper on civil defence, the federal government discusses the concept of conscription, five years after it was abolished.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
8,635
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd