German media roundup: Kudos for Merkel’s ‘freedom’ speech

The Local’s German media roundup surveys the overwhelmingly positive response to Chancellor Angela Merkel's historic address to a joint session of the US Congress on Tuesday.

German media roundup: Kudos for Merkel's 'freedom' speech

Merkel, freshly re-elected to a second term in September, used the opportunity to highlight the successes of German-American friendship and extol the virtues of defending freedom ahead of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. But she also drew attention to politically sensitive issues, such as environmental policy and the war in Afghanistan.

News magazine Der Spiegel commended Merkel in an editorial titled, “Bravo, Chancellor!”

“With this speech, the German chancellor has proved that her generation should not be underestimated,” it said. “Symbols of the renewed German-American friendship are no longer the soldiers standing at Checkpoint Charlie, but online bloggers, iPhone users, the transatlantic mourners of Michael Jackson, politicians like Barack Obama, and now Angela Merkel.”

The importance of symbolism was also highlighted by the centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung. “Merkel’s speech in Washington urged Western values and solidarity with our allies. The metaphor of today’s walls (between rich and poor, lavish lifestyles and scorched earth) accurately describes the challenges of tomorrow,” wrote the paper.

Right-wing daily Die Welt noted that “Americans can be very sentimental” and praised Merkel for explicitly thanking Democratic President John F. Kennedy, Republican President Ronald Reagan and the American pilots who participated in the Berlin Airlift. “It is good for Germany to have a Chancellor speak before Congress and celebrate a success,” the paper concluded.

But contemporary problems, such as global warming and the war in Afghanistan, may strain German-American relations in the future, wrote centrist daily Der Tagesspiegel.

Chancellor Merkel “used this auspicious moment to remind Congress of the positive aspects of the German-American alliance. This is important since governments in Washington and Berlin are in disagreement over a number of critical issues. In the White House, Barack Obama and Angela Merkel discussed climate change, war in Afghanistan and the world economy – issues that do not call to mind harmonious memories, but rather tangible conflicts of interest,” wrote the paper.

In an editorial titled, “An Ode to Freedom,” the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said that “Frau Merkel did more than simply outline the foreign policy programme of a second-term chancellor.” According to the paper, Merkel has made it clear that the NATO mission in Afghanistan is a cornerstone of German security policy.

“One who offers such an ode to freedom before the Congress in Washington, cannot offer anything less to those in the Bundestag and the German public,” the paper said.

Meanwhile left-wing paper Die Tageszeitung called the speech a “chance for niceties,” and a “new beginning,” during which Merkel highlighted only the positive aspects of the German-American relationship. This is important “because right now there are serious differences of opinion between the governments in Washington and Berlin.”

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.