• Germany edition
 
German of the Week
'I'm a wealthy man in the eyes of many citizens'
Photo: DPA

'I'm a wealthy man in the eyes of many citizens'

Published: 10 Dec 2012 14:58 GMT+01:00
Updated: 10 Dec 2012 14:58 GMT+01:00

Seen as a prickly but bright politician who once served under Merkel as Germany's finance minister, Steinbrück won plaudits for his handling of the 2008 financial crisis. But the 65-year-old father-of-three from the northern German city of Hamburg now has the uphill task of stopping the world's most powerful woman from winning a third term.

He was nominated officially by his centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) at a special conference on Sunday in Hannover, with 93.45 percent of the party faithful behind him. Burly and bespectacled, Steinbrück has an abrasive manner that should stand him in good stead when battling the German chancellor on the hustings and spice up the campaign for the election expected to be held in September.

Voters recently had a taste of his fiery debating style in the Bundestag lower house of parliament, notably when he accused Merkel of doing the "dance of the seven veils" on saving Greece and challenging her to "tell it how it is." He has also vowed to make the occasionally drab world of German politics somewhat more colourful, saying: "This should not be a boring election campaign. This should not be a humourless campaign. There must be fun and a few jokes."

And he showed plenty of touches of his acerbic sense of humour during a speech lasting nearly two hours ahead of his nomination.

"Mrs Merkel said she is running the best and most successful government since reunification (in 1990). I have rarely laughed so much," said Steinbrück to tumultuous applause. But he has an uphill task ahead of him, with opinion polls suggesting Merkel's conservatives enjoy a significant lead over the SPD, which has found it difficult to dent her popularity.

Off to a rocky start

He has not been helped by a rocky start to his campaign, first accused of using his influence when finance minister to gain sponsorship for a chess match, then admitting he earned €1.25 million ($1.61 million) for speeches.

"In the eyes of many citizens, I'm a wealthy man," Steinbrück said in his speech in Hannover. "That's correct, but what does a bank statement, what does a standard of living say about a person's readiness and ability to help those citizens who are worse off? Nothing. Nothing at all."

Seen as being towards the right of the centre-left Social Democrats, Steinbrück will have to work hard even to persuade his own party faithful to back him, said political analyst Gerd Langguth.

"He will try to pull together the different wings of the party, especially the left wing. His problem for the campaign is that he doesn't have the whole party behind him," he said.

Seeking to appeal to the left, Steinbrück said he would put social justice and equality at the heart of his election bid.

During his stint in Merkel's coalition cabinet, the trained economist worked closely with her to mitigate the effects of the financial crisis caused by the 2008 collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers, and enjoyed a high international profile. Many in financial circles considered them the "dream team" to lead Germany out of the crisis.

It was "his biggest political act", said one of his biographers, Daniel Friedrich Sturm. He acted with "composure, assurance and determination" to put out the fires, said the author. Like Merkel, "he analyses situations soberly, understands everything very quickly and has a slightly cynical sense of humour," he added.

A man of action

Gero Neugebauer, political scientist at the Free University in Berlin, also said Steinbrück's style was similar to that of Merkel's, although more dynamic. "If Merkel is often described as hesitant, Steinbrück is a man of action," said Neugebauer.

But his sense of humour has at times landed him in hot water and led to one newspaper dubbing him the "most hated man in Switzerland" after he compared the Swiss to "Indians" during a bitter tax row between the two neighbours.

And his off-the-cuff comments to journalists have also prompted unintended consequences. During a period of volatility on the foreign exchange markets, Steinbrück joked: "I love cash and I love a strong euro," causing pandemonium on trading floors worldwide, as twitchy analysts interpreted the joke as German acceptance of a high exchange rate.

A sociable man, who enjoys the occasional cigar and whose briefings to journalists over a few beers have been known to extend late into the night, he was said to have good relations with Merkel when they worked together. He quipped that he hopes to have a glass of wine with her after he wins the election, to toast her years as chancellor.

SPD supporters will hope that his campaign follows the example of his favourite animal, the rhinoceros.

"It starts very slowly but when it gets going, nothing can stop it," said Steinbrück.

AFP/DPA/The Local/mry

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

16:07 December 10, 2012 by lucksi
"In the eyes of many citizens, I'm a wealthy man," Steinbrück said in his speech in Hannover. "That's correct, but what does a bank statement, what does a standard of living say about a person's readiness and ability to help those citizens who are worse off? Nothing. Nothing at all."

But if you are full time employed by and for the people, then make this much money on the side; that does say something...
16:24 December 10, 2012 by raandy
I would like to know how he has used his wealth to improve the lives of those with out, or can he only achieve this from public office.

The problem with most rich is that they feel they can never be too rich.

I never liked this individual ,he always comes across as a little too arrogant for me. He could make an excellent chancellor.however. but I remain dubious.
17:38 December 10, 2012 by lucksi
Of course he used the money to help others. Every time the rich buy stuff, it creates demand. Trickle down economics. So having 10 cars because the ash tray could be full or 5 houses is helping the poor...

The only thing missing from US politics is, if he wants a tax cut.
18:00 December 10, 2012 by IchBinKönig
Ha! I LOVE all the Class Warfare these days. You have money = You are a bad person. I'm glad even the Social Justice Marxist are not exempt. Bet they didn't see that coming. :)

It's easier to pull the rich down for 'Justice', than it is to pull the poor up for 'Justice'. TheLocal readership will be happy to hear that the rich will be poorer. However, the poor will be poorer too. But cutting of your nose to spite your face is just your style anyway. Have fun!
18:11 December 10, 2012 by lucksi
I have nothing against people with money.

As long as their vote and their interests carry the same weight as that of a normal person and they pay their frigging taxes. I'm paying mine and am not dying if I have to pay a percent more if I earn more. Same rules for all.

(And not paying 0,003 percent of your networth as a "fine" to stop an investigation into you either)
18:17 December 10, 2012 by Englishted
"politician who once served under Merkel as Germany's finance minister, "

and that is enough for me to dislike him ,if you vote S.P.D. you don't want them to work for or with the C.D.U. the party should purge itself of those who were involved with that groß coalition.Out with the old and in with the new.

@IchBinKönig,

If you have such contempt for "TheLocal readership" why prey do you involve yourself? what a strange little minded person you must be.
19:25 December 10, 2012 by raandy
ucksi How to you know this cheap Pri^k bought all those expensive cars and trickel down crap.

The Real rich , those that inherited wealth not those with the 6 figure jobs and rented BMWs. The real rich do not squander their money in instant gratification, no they are like scrooge, they talk to their financial advisors.
19:31 December 10, 2012 by IchBinKönig
@EnlisTed

Because, It's just far too much fun to repeatedly dribble the truth like a football off your ugly skull. Ha
00:08 December 11, 2012 by pepsionice
I hate to point this out....but if you wrote a list of the top ten SPD figures who could run for chancellor....all ten have substantial income levels and are "rich"...so there's no pure candidate of the people from the SPD. The CDU labeled them correctly.....the media bought into this mess and the win is in for the CDU at this point. The only un-rich candidates that a SPD could vote for? Over with the Greens.
03:17 December 11, 2012 by PNWDev
King 2pts

Ted 0pts

My money is on King for another English style beatdown. 1812 from the front row.
08:32 December 11, 2012 by frankiep
@Englishted

"and that is enough for me to dislike him ,if you vote S.P.D. you don't want them to work for or with the C.D.U."

So what exactly are you trying to say here? That if one party is the majority that all other parties should refuse to work with them? Or are you trying to say that one party rule should be the result of all elections? Seriously, you constantly complain about and demonize everything and everyone that doesn't fit into your far left worldview. But guess what, this is a democracy (republic really, but lets leave semantics out of this) and that means that there will always be other views besides your own that will be represented in the government. To completely write off someone because he had the nerve to actually work together with another party in a democracy is exactly the type of idealogical extremism one would expect from the far right teabaggers in the US.

Then again, maybe you would prefer a system of government which is always dominated by one party - in which case, disregard everything I just said.
18:23 December 11, 2012 by Englishted
@frankiep

If a party wins the majority then I completely agree that they have a mandate to rule and don't find that a problem .

If however I vote for a party's manifesto in the belief that they intend to keep to those promises (naive maybe) ,and then the do a complete u-turn and disappoint all their supporters then I do feel aggrieved.See how popular the Liberal party is in the U.K. for doing such a thing right now.

I believe in democracy and oppose one party states but for the above reasons which I don't consider wrong I think the S.P.D. in the groß coalition sold out it's principals to retain a scrape of power and I don't want that to happen again under his leadership or anyone else s.

p.s .

I don't understand two comments made by adversaries one of whom is simply contemptible anyway.
19:44 December 11, 2012 by frankiep
I understand what you're saying but I just don't see the logic in it for a second. This is just like saying that when things are going your way that it's best to just take your ball and go home rather than try to do what you can under the circumstances. Yes, principals are of course important, but part of being in a democracy is accepting the fact that are others with different principles. You can not say on one hand that you believe in democracy and then turn around and say that you want nothing to do with trying to work and compromise with other parties - that is not what democracy is. If you want a government where the people in power all meet the required level ideological purity, and where other ideas are no where to be found, then you are going to have to go to a place like China, North Korea, Cuba, etc.
16:35 December 12, 2012 by Englishted
@ frankiep,

On you last point first I would like a government that did not include so many people who were caught cheating in their exams and using a title to which they were not entitled that in any other walk of life would be fraud .

If we adopt your ideas of democracy then every party would be the same run by rich uncaring individuals who only want power and will do any deal to achieve it (oh thats now ) ,are you saying that if I vote on a promise to say end nuclear energy and when they get in power they build more plants because their new found friends in the coalition expect a compromise I should not be angry and just accept they don't have "the required level ideological purity " or as I would phrase it the have lied and I will not trust them again until I see a fundamental change .
Today's headlines
Germanwings' pilots to strike on Friday
Photo: DPA

Germanwings' pilots to strike on Friday

UPDATE: Pilots at Lufthansa's budget airline Germanwings are set to strike on Friday, after talks between management and a union broke down on Thursday. READ  

Germany posts weaker job figures
Photo: DPA

Germany posts weaker job figures

Unemployment in Germany remained steady in August, official data showed on Thursday, as clouds continue to build over Europe's biggest economy and the eurozone as a whole. READ  

Police suspect arson in Berlin mosque fire
The facade of the Mevlana mosque was badly damaged by smoke from the fire. Photo: DPA

Police suspect arson in Berlin mosque fire

UPDATE: Investigators now believe a fire which damaged a mosque in Berlin earlier in August was started deliberately. READ  

Berlin struggles to sell former Goebbels villa
The Haus am Bogensee. Photo: DPA

Berlin struggles to sell former Goebbels villa

After two failed attempts, Berlin is trying again to sell the sprawling estate and villa once known as Joseph Goebbels' illicit love nest, but so far, nobody's buying. READ  

Greens boss films ice challenge with cannabis
Cem Özdemir empties a bucket of water over his head next to a cannabis plant. Photo: Bündnis 90/Die Grünen

Greens boss films ice challenge with cannabis

What looked like just another ALS ice bucket challenge video has become a political statement after the leader of Germany's Green Party Cem Özdemir confirmed he filmed his clip next to a cannabis plant. READ  

What's next for East Berlin?
Photo: Gehry Partners LLP/Timo Hermann - bbz landschaftsarchitekten/DPA/Living Bauhaus/DPA

What's next for East Berlin?

In the second of a two-part series on Berlin’s future, The Local looks at the major developments in former East Berlin. From palaces to bridges, what’s next for the East? READ  

Germany sends six soldiers to Iraq
A transport plane which carried German aid in Erbil. Photo: DPA

Germany sends six soldiers to Iraq

Germany has sent six soldiers to northern Iraq to coordinate deliveries of aid and military equipment to Kurds fighting Islamist terror group Isis. READ  

Berlin's most expensive flat sells for €5.7 million
Berlin's Gendarmenmarkt is one of the most luxurious addresses in the city. Photo: DPA

Berlin's most expensive flat sells for €5.7 million

A Berlin property firm has set a city-wide record for the most expensive apartment sold, closing a deal for €5.7 million on a centrally-located penthouse. READ  

Uber pushes expansion despite legal pitfalls
Uber is going head-to-head with taxi services across Germany. Photo: DPA

Uber pushes expansion despite legal pitfalls

Chauffeur car service Uber plans to expand into more German cities and double its activity in the country by the end of the year in the face of bitter opposition and a court case. READ  

Germany to lock out 'cheating' EU migrants
Demonstrators hold up a banner against Roma deportations in 2013. Photo: DPA

Germany to lock out 'cheating' EU migrants

UPDATE: Germany on Wednesday announced new measures to stop EU citizens from abusing its social welfare system, reacting to what some politicians have labelled "poverty migration". READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: Shutterstock
Gallery
Ten of the oddest things found by German border control
Photo: Gerkan, Marg and Partners/Tegel Projekt GmbH/J. Mayer
Berlin
How will Berlin look in five years' time?
Photo: DPA
Culture
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? 10 reasons why you should
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The best of Berlin's mayor Klaus Wowereit in 14 pictures
Photo: DPA
Politics
Germany sends burgers and sausages to Kurds
Photo: DPA
National
Size does matter in this case, rules judge
Photo: Matthias Kock
National
Tribes, ties and a movie: A German's Afghan life
Photo: DPA
Gallery
10 things to do before summer in Germany is really over
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The mysteries of Berlin's abandoned theme park
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Education
Raising the bar for law & business in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
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

3,497
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd