Bernd Lucke celebrates on Sunday night. Photo: DPA
Bernd Lucke, an economics professor with boyish looks, seems an unlikely revolutionary, but in little over a year he has led his German anti-euro party from the political wilderness straight into the European parliament.
Lucke's small Alternative for Germany (AfD) party demands nothing less than Germany's return to its once beloved Deutschmark, an end to EU bailouts and the orderly dissolution of the euro common currency.
Like populist leaders elsewhere in Europe, Lucke wants to repatriate many powers from Brussels to the national level, although he doesn't want to scrap the EU itself - a stance summed up in the vague campaign motto "Have Courage to Be Germany".
Unlike many populist leaders, the father-of-five, who lives in a modest red brick house and only travels by bicycle and train, doesn't shout and punch the air but explains his position like a patient academic in a soft voice and with a ready smile.
Celebrating his party's European debut result on Sunday - projected at just below seven percent - he allowed himself a little more exuberance than usual, exclaiming: "It's springtime in Germany. Some flowers are blossoming, some are wilting."
Lucke's party looked set to send seven legislators to the EU parliament. "The AfD in this election blossomed into a new people's party in Germany, as a liberal party, as a social party and as a value-oriented party."
Lucke, whose party has been accused of flirting with the far-right, on Sunday again rejected cooperating with "any populist right-wing parties", as France's anti-immigration National Front and Britain's anti-EU UKIP party booked strong gains.
Instead the party leader, who once infamously referred to immigrants as "social dregs", pledged to speak for those disenchanted with the conservative mainstream, telling the crowd: "We want the best for Europe. We are the true Europeans."
'Draghi gambles, you pay'
Lucke, 51, who once studied at Berkeley, has been on leave from his post as professor at macroeconomics at Hamburg University while forging his political career, which saw him elected party speaker in April last year.
An Evangelical Christian and a former member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, whose youth wing he joined as a teenager, he has said that for years he felt a growing unease over the euro-bailout policy.
This eventually made him look beyond the world of social science and academia and seek a larger audience than his lecture halls - initially with guest articles for newspapers, then as a politician on the campaign trail.
"We scared the wits out of the other parties," he said after his party narrowly missed out on entry into Germany's parliament in September's general election, falling just shy of the five-percent threshold.
Its growing support, seemingly coming out of nowhere through 2013, had been a surprise in a country that has arguably benefited the most from European integration.
The AfD now boasts 18,000 members from diverse backgrounds, including the former president of the Federation of German Industries, Hans-Olaf Henkel, who had once supported the euro's introduction.
During the election campaign, the party's eye-catching posters bore slogans such as "For a Solid Currency Instead of Euro Debt Insanity" and "Draghi Gambles, You Pay", referring to the European central bank president.
Broadly economically liberal and socially conservative, Lucke also opposes Germany's energy transition toward renewables because of the "catastrophic" costs and wants to establish a direct democracy with referendums, based on the Swiss model.
Critics accuse Lucke and its AfD of luring voters with simple answers to complex problems and trivializing the serious consequences of a breakup of the euro zone, not least for export nation Germany.
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