‘Angela I’: Bremen theatre premieres play about Merkel

As Chancellor Angela Merkel readies to slowly leave the political stage and her party consigns her immigration policy to history, a German theatre is putting on a play that already suggests the end of an era: "Angela I."

'Angela I': Bremen theatre premieres play about Merkel
Actress Silke Buchholz plays Angela Merkel, pictured here during a rehersal on February 19th. Photo: DPA

The veteran leader affectionately known as “Mutti” (mummy) plans to close the curtain on her marathon reign by 2021, but the Bremen Shakespeare Company has wasted no time imagining her legacy.

The play which premiered Thursday is neither political cabaret nor is it a biographical take on the pastor's daughter who grew up behind the Iron Curtain and went on to lead the top EU economy for 13 years so far.

Rather it is a non-linear, experimental collage of scenes in a “future history” centred on the themes of a democracy in crisis, populism and a deepening chasm between politicians and the people.

In the play, Merkel, long dubbed the “eternal chancellor”, is finally out of office, and sharing a cigarette with her former driver (she doesn't smoke in real life).

'Merkel' sharing a smoke with her former driver Markus Seuß on stage. Photo: DPA

Around her, democracy is falling apart, symbolised by a scene where the eagle that hangs in parliament takes flight and escapes with the jarring sound of a screeching vulture.

In one scene children riot amid dry ice that wafts like teargas or smoke as the set collapses. They wear the yellow vests used both in German kindergartens and by French street protesters.

“We start the play with Merkel gone, and there I have some dystopian visions,” said the author Katja Hensel.

“Despite all criticisms I have, I do believe it will be difficult because Merkel brought a lot of stability to a Europe that has been looking quite shaky.”

'Alien to me'

Back in the real world, Merkel, 64, has seen her share of backstage manoeuvres and power plays that last year rang in the beginning of the end of her chancellorship.

Merkel has said she won't run again when her current term ends in 2021, and some expect she won't last that long if her unhappy left-right “grand coalition” implodes before then.

In upcoming regional elections in ex-communist eastern Germany — where many despise Merkel for her 2015 welcome to a mass influx of refugees and migrants — CDU candidates are shunning Merkel rather than asking her to campaign for them.

“There is an election campaign in eastern Germany, and she as chancellor is asked not to campaign for her own party in her own home region,” Hensel said.

“To me that's a true tragedy, something that I'm sure the most powerful woman in Germany, if not Europe or even the world, would have liked to turn out differently.”

On stage, Merkel's character, played by Silke Buchholz, voices her antipathy to those disenchanted East Germans who lean toward authoritarian political systems.

“Those East Germans who don't want this system are so alien to me,” exclaims Merkel, herself raised an “Ossie”, the nickname for the former East Germans.

“But even more alien to me are the West Germans who won't defend this system,” the character adds, sporting Merkel's trademark pantsuit and blonde hairdo.

A dramatic scene featuring Merkel and her former driver. Photo: DPA

'Clever and lucky'

Merkel, long considered an anchor of stability, saw the central drama of her leadership with the turbulent refugee influx that eventually brought over one million asylum seekers.

She was initially cheered for the humanitarian gesture of letting them in, but quickly suffered a strong backlash from political forces that reject immigration, multiculturalism and Islam.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party entered parliament in 2017, while handing bruising losses to Merkel's CDU and her coalition allies the SPD.

Attacked with increasing ferocity from within her conservative bloc after further regional election setbacks, Merkel last year stepped back from the chairmanship of her Christian Democratic Union.

The job went to her anointed successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, usually dubbed “AKK” because of her tongue-twister name.

While Merkel remains very much in charge of the government, and has become more outspoken in her final stretch, she has also taken symbolic steps in her long farewell, including deleting her official CDU Facebook account.

Just days ago she stayed away from a CDU leadership meeting, which meanwhile agreed to further dismantle her immigration legacy with a plan called “Humanity and Toughness” that aims to claw back votes from the AfD.

But as Merkel's final bow looms, director Stefan Otteni said she has so far been both “clever and lucky” in plotting her exit.

“She was clever to announce her own departure, and then she was lucky that AKK got elected, because I don't think the crown princess will behead Angela Merkel,” he said.

“She will be the first chancellor who is not chased out of office,” he predicted, judging that “this will make her era perfect.”

SEE ALSO: End of an era: What you need to know about Merkel's planned departure

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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”.