Merkel braves dense Delhi smog for fourth Indian visit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel got a toxic welcome to India on Friday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi treated her to a military parade in New Delhi's severely polluted air.

Merkel braves dense Delhi smog for fourth Indian visit
Merkel meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday morning. Photo: DPA

Ignoring medical advice to the choking megacity's 20 million inhabitants, Merkel and Modi reviewed a guard of honour at the presidential palace without pollution masks.

On Thursday evening, air quality was rated as “severe plus” by the Central Pollution Control Board. 

As was the case with similar ceremonies following health concerns earlier this year, Merkel, 65, sat for the national anthems. The EU's longest-serving leader, who has been in office since 2005, is due to step down in 2021.

After Merkel suffered a series of involuntary shaking spells at official ceremonies, she began sitting at meetings, stating that “I take care of my health.”

READ ALSO: Should Germany be worried about Merkel's health after trembling spells?

In the meantime, the chancellor has been stepping out of the public spotlight. It was reported that she gave 22 interviews in 2018, versus an average of 60 per year beforehand. 

Merkel participating in a military parade on Friday morning. Photo: DPA

Fourth visit to India

Merkel, on her fourth visit to India, thanked Modi for the “very warm and gracious welcome” and said German-Indian ties were “broad-based and deep”, the Press Trust of India reported.

Merkel added that Germany and India want to cooperate more closely than in the past on high tech, climate protection and renewable energies. 

India has great potential, especially in the area of digitization and artificial intelligence, Merkel said on Friday.

Modi thanked Merkel for her contribution to strengthening relations between the two countries in recent years. 

He spoke of wide-ranging strategic cooperation, which had made progress, particularly in the area of high tech. 

Modi also mentioned the areas of climate protection and India's desire for more intensive economic cooperation. 

He added that Germany and India shared values such as democracy and the rule of law, and will continue cooperating in large international organizations on fighting extremism and terrorism.

At the same time, the Chancellor stressed that the economic relations between the two countries could be even more intensive. Behind the UK, India has the most of its European investments in Germany.

As a whole, there are around 100,000 Indians living in Germany, and 175,000 of Indian origin. The fifth largest group of international students to Germany comes from India, and one third of all so-called Blue Card holders – or highly qualified workers, especially in IT – in the Bundespublik come from India.

READ ALSO: Explained: How to get a Blue Card to live – and work – in Germany

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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”.