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Activist pastor takes office as president
Gauck (r), his partner Daniela Schadt and predecessor Christian Wulff.Photo: DPA

Activist pastor takes office as president

Published: 18 Mar 2012 14:49 GMT+01:00
Updated: 19 Mar 2012 11:09 GMT+01:00

Activist pastor Joachim Gauck took office as German president on Monday morning after being elected by an overwhelming majority, marking the first time someone from the former communist east acts as head of state.

Gauck, 72, claimed 991 votes out of 1,232 from a special assembly of MPs and other dignitaries who voted on Sunday - against prominent Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld, 73, who was nominated as a protest candidate by the socialist Left party.

"What a beautiful Sunday," Gauck said to enthusiastic applause from the chamber of the glass-domed Reichstag parliament building in central Berlin after the vote.

It was the third presidential election in three years for Germany after the abrupt resignations of Gauck's two predecessors.

Gauck helped drive the peaceful revolution that brought down communist East Germany and later fought to ensure that the public would be granted access to the vast stash of files left behind by the despised Stasi secret police after reunification in 1990. He oversaw the archive for the next decade.

In a short acceptance speech, he noted that his election fell on the 22nd anniversary of the first free elections in East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall the previous November.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also grew up under communism, gave her backing to the plain-spoken Lutheran pastor in February after then president Christian Wulff stepped down amid a flurry of corruption allegations dating from his time as a state premier.

Wulff only served 20 months of his five-year term in office.

He had replaced Horst Köhler, a former head of the International Monetary Fund who bowed out after an uproar over comments he made appearing to justify using the military to serve Germany's economic interests.

Claudia Roth, co-leader of the opposition Greens party, which supported Gauck's candidacy along with the rest of Germany's mainstream parties, said the country was looking to Gauck to "give this badly damaged office dignity and respect again."

A poll for ARD public television released Saturday indicated that 80 percent of respondents consider him to be trustworthy.

The media and the public cheered his candidacy as an opportunity to remove some of the tarnish from the largely ceremonial office which serves as a kind of moral compass for the nation.

Expectations are outsized for Gauck, who has won a reputation across the country as an inspiring public speaker, albeit with a touch of vanity.

But as a staunch Protestant like Merkel, he is also keen to remind Germans that their hard-won freedoms carry weighty responsibilities with them - a lifelong theme he has said he will take to the presidential palace.

"From Gauck we can learn that democracy means thinking and acting for one's self rather than waiting for political redeemers," the influential news weekly Die Zeit said in its current issue.

Gauck himself warned scandal-weary Germans against seeing him as a redeemer, telling reporters the night he was nominated that they should not expect "Superman."

He said he would seek to relieve Germans of some of their angst as Europe grapples with its sovereign debt crisis and to reach out to immigrant groups to foster integration.

Gauck looked set to buck tradition from the start, as his longtime girlfriend Daniela Schadt said he had no plans to divorce his estranged wife of more than 50 years Gerhild and wed her.

"I see no reason to marry for reasons of protocol," the 52-year-old journalist who is now Germany's First Lady told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"Considering the fact that not only Jochen and I but the whole family accepts our arrangement, I think the rest of society can live with it," she said, using Gauck's nickname.

AFP/bk

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

15:11 March 18, 2012 by klaus stoiber
"It was the third presidential election in three years for Germany after the abrupt resignations of Gauck's two predecessors.

"

This is precisely why we can never bring back a constitutional monarchy.
16:42 March 18, 2012 by marimay
Well, it should come as no surprise why your goverment loves to take from you and give to other people. They think nothing of it, its normal. lol
17:29 March 18, 2012 by deutscherMann
How come we never be able to elect our President?
18:53 March 18, 2012 by taxpayerrr
"Well, it should come as no surprise why your goverment loves to take from you and give to other people. They think nothing of it, its normal. lol "

Yes and it's normal for other people to tell the German as poor , but secretly they want to make a free ride to get some benefits that they themselves cannot afford it. So it's easy for other people to spend their money now because they think there are some other tax payers in this world who will provide the necessary needs of their offsprings . So the only person wh can bullied other countries people are those people who can afford to stand themselves until the end without help from other tax payers in other side of the world.
23:13 March 18, 2012 by lenny van
Whoever said that Germans are moral zombies?
11:31 March 19, 2012 by ChrisRea
Hamilton Nolan used this expression. However he was not referring to Germans, but to passive bystanders who would rather film with their cell phone camera than to try to stop a street fight (like to two women grabbing each other at the Giants' victory parade at the beginning of February). http://gawker.com/5883368/cell-phone-cameras-and-the-end-of-the-fair-fight
14:25 March 19, 2012 by Bravo2
Good man. But he has really bad teeth. Hopefully he'll get them fixed now that he will be representing Germany around the world. Granted, bad teeth don't seem to bother anyone here but in many other countries they are a reflection of basic personal hygiene.
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