AKK: What caused the rise and fall of Merkel’s heir apparent?

In the end, the "mini Merkel" nickname was perhaps too big to live up to.

AKK: What caused the rise and fall of Merkel's heir apparent?
'AKK' and Merkel at a CDU meeting in January 2019. Photo: DPA

Barely a year after replacing her mentor as head of Germany's CDU party, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has thrown in the towel — throwing Chancellor Angela Merkel's succession plans into disarray.

Kramp-Karrenbauer, best known by her initials “AKK”, unexpectedly announced she was standing down as CDU leader and would not seek to become the centre-right party's new chancellor in a general election slated for next year.

READ ALSO: Merkel 'heir' AKK will not run for German chancellor

It's a swift fall from grace for AKK, whose spell in the spotlight was marred by high-profile blunders and weak showings by the CDU in regional polls.

A political fiasco in the small state of Thuringia last week cast further doubt on her leadership skills and ultimately proved the final blow.

Not only did AKK fail to persuade rebellious CDU lawmakers against siding with the far right in a key vote there, she could not get them to back snap polls afterwards in the face of nationwide outrage.

Merkel had to weigh in from South Africa to condemn the vote as “unforgivable” — breaking an unwritten rule not to comment on domestic rows during trips abroad.

Even before the Thuringia debacle, critics had long argued that AKK, who is also defence minister, had not lived up to expectations.

“She acted and maneuvred in such clumsy ways that she must have realized herself: this can't go on,” the centre-left Tagesspiegel wrote.

Rival Merz

It had all started so well for the 57-year-old.

A popular politician in her tiny home state of Saarland, the Catholic mum-of-three was catapulted into the big league in early 2018 when Merkel tapped her to become the party's number two as general secretary.

READ ALSO: Merkel's crown princess seeks to chart own path

The move was read as a sign that the veteran chancellor was preparing her exit and AKK, dubbed “mini Merkel” by German media, was the chosen heir to continue her centrist policies.

When Merkel announced she was stepping down as party chief after 18 years and would not seek reelection when her fourth term ends in 2021, it was her protegee who took the reigns of the CDU in December 2018.

Merkel and AKK together in 2018. Photo: DPA

But AKK had to fend off an unexpectedly strong challenge from the ambitious Friedrich Merz, who is favoured by the CDU's most conservative wing.

AKK initially sought to carve out her own profile in a party thirsty for change after years of Merkel's moderate course in a loveless coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats.

She notably championed a tougher stance on asylum seekers and floated the idea of reintroducing compulsory military service. She also spoke out against gay marriage.

But Merkel's decision to abandon the party leadership while staying on as chancellor made it difficult for AKK to impose her authority.

In announcing her departure as CDU leader on Friday, a party source quoted AKK saying: “It's clear that the party presidency and the chancellorship need to be in the same hands.”

AKK was badly weakened by a string of bruising election results, particularly in eastern Germany's former communist states, where the CDU bled support to the anti-immigrant AfD.

Her rival Merz aims to woo them back by shifting the party to the right.

READ ALSO: 'I can win back AfD voters': CDU candidate hoping for Merkel's job


Several blunders further eroded confidence in her ability to turn the tide on the CDU's woes.

A transgender bathroom joke backfired badly, while an ill-judged retort to a YouTube star's criticism of the government's climate policies left her looking out of touch.

“Of course I would avoid a few mistakes here and there, perhaps respond differently to a certain video,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said late last year.

READ ALSO: Merkel successor slammed over intersex toilet joke

Born into a large, Catholic family, AKK grew up a self-described nerd who adored reading and never dared to cut class.

She married Helmut Karrenbauer in 1984, the same year she started her studies in law and political science.

The couple have three children and AKK has paid tribute to her husband for being a stay-at-home father so she could climb the ladder.

A keen participant in her region's annual carnival celebrations, AKK is famous for performing a comedy routine dressed up a “cleaning lady Gretel” who pokes fun at the political bigwigs in Berlin.

She does not plan to reprise the role at next week's festivities.

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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”.