• Germany's news in English

Merkel opens up privately ahead of election

The Local · 17 May 2013, 10:41

Published: 17 May 2013 10:41 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

She has spoken about her early years in the former East Germany but insisted she never served as a propaganda secretary in its communist youth league.

For a notoriously guarded leader, the tidbits about the private life of Europe's most powerful woman have recently turned from a trickle into a steady election-year flow. It is a tactic that analysts say could either help humanise Merkel or backfire in a close race ahead of the September 22 vote.

Amid the eurozone's debt troubles, Merkel has been vilified abroad and portrayed with a Hitler moustache for pushing austerity, and applauded at home for her prudent crisis management.

But beyond the stereotypes, little was known about the 58-year-old, who is variously painted as dour and matronly by her detractors, and sharp and pragmatic by her fans.

This has changed in recent weeks as Merkel has opened the door, albeit just a crack further, on her private life.

The German public has recently learned about her roots in neighbouring Poland, her grandfather's homeland, and watched her chat wittily at a forum organised by popular women's magazine "Brigitte."

At that event, where she quickly won over the room with anecdotes and quiet charm, Germany's first female leader revealed, for example, that she has a "camel-like" ability to store energy for sleepless all-night summits.

Addressing her cautious governing style, often characterised as the politics of small steps not grand visions, she spoke about the importance of "silence, so you can then speak intelligently."

Merkel also explained her habit of forming a diamond shape with her index fingers and thumbs in photo shoots as a way of solving the problem of where to put her hands.

And when pressed on what she finds attractive in men, the trained physicist Dr. Merkel, rather than deflecting the question, confessed to a weakness for nice eyes.

"Merkel is usually seen as very matter-of-fact and has always managed to keep her private life entirely out of politics," said political scientist Lothar Probst of Bremen University.

"There used to be a public 'wow'-effect just when she changed her hairstyle. Now we're seeing Merkel undergo a role change and, in small doses, open up and reveal a little more of her human side."

Volker Kronenberg, a political scientist at Bonn University, said he senses that the charm offensive is "highly choreographed ... none of it is authentic."

"You can be sure that in her inner circle, every anecdote is discussed five times before it is realised in a carefully controlled way."

At another event last Sunday, Merkel showcased her favourite movie, the 1973 tragicomic romance "The Legend of Paul and Paula" filmed in East Germany, where she grew up as the daughter of a left-leaning Lutheran pastor.

It is the period before the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall that has brought up some unscripted and less flattering claims, revived this week in the book "The First Life of Angela M.," one of a raft of new biographies to hit the market.

Merkel has made no secret of her former membership in a communist youth organisation, which was normal at the time, but the authors claim that as a young comrade, Angela also served as a secretary for agitation and propaganda.

Confronted with the claim at the movie event, Merkel insisted, "I have never hidden anything," but also acknowledged that some facts may have stayed buried "because no one has ever asked me about them."

She added, "I can only rely on my memory here ... Should something else come up, then one will be able to live with that, too."

Biographers have pointed to Merkel's youth in a totalitarian police state, where a careless phrase could wreck lives, as the reason she can hide her thoughts behind a poker face.

Story continues below…

Analysts are split on whether the new, carefully managed openness will help her win more hearts and minds.

Political scientist Gero Neugebauer said he saw the hand of Merkel's campaign team seeking to soften her "closed" image as she competes against Social Democrat rival Peer Steinbrück, who is proud of his political "straight talk" but guilty of occasional gaffes.

"I think now she's pushing a more personal image, but strategically I don't think that's smart," said Neugebauer of Berlin's Free University.

German voters "don't care about home stories" but choose politicians mostly along party lines and based on their leadership qualities, he said.

"They ask themselves, is she credible, is she assertive, is she trustworthy? They don't care so much about what she eats, what she cooks, how she dresses."


The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

Germany stalls Chinese takeover of tech firm Aixtron
Aixtron headquarters in Herzogenrath. Photo: DPA

The German government on Monday said it had withdrawn approval for a Chinese firm to acquire Aixtron, a supplier to the semiconductor industry, amid growing unease over Chinese investment in German companies.

Politicians call for tough sentences for 'killer clowns'
File photo: DPA.

Now that the so-called 'killer clown' craze has spread from the US to Germany, elected officials are drawing a hard line against such "pranks", with some threatening offenders with jail time of up to a year.

Nearly one in ten Germans are severely disabled
Photo: DPA

New figures reveal that 9.3 percent of the German population last year were considered severely disabled.

The Local List
Germany's top 10 most surreal sites to visit
The Upside-Down House, in Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania. Photo: Olaf Meister / Wikimedia Commons

From upside-down houses on Baltic islands to a fairy-tale castle near the Austrian border, Germany is a treasure trove of the extraordinary.

Bavarian critics back Merkel for Chancellor again
Photo: DPA

The Christian Social Union (CSU) have long delayed backing Angela Merkel as their candidate for Chancellor in next year's general election. But now key leaders are supporting her publicly.

Four taken to hospital after hotel toilet bursts into flames
File photo: DPA.

Four guests at a Nuremberg hotel were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation early Monday morning after a toilet there burst into flames.

Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German towns, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd