‘Life as we know it will return’: Merkel makes emotional appeal for more caution in coronavirus crisis

With a deeply emotional appeal, Chancellor Angela Merkel called on people in Germany to persevere in the coronavirus crisis.

'Life as we know it will return': Merkel makes emotional appeal for more caution in coronavirus crisis
Merkel speaking at the Bundestag on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

“Let us all, as citizens of this society, take more care of each other again”, the Chancellor stated in the Bundestag on Wednesday. 

She said that people’s cautiousness was starting to dwindle, and that “we are currently risking everything we have achieved in recent months,” warned the politician from the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU). 

The rising number of infections in Germany – which reached its highest level since April on Sunday – is a sign that the pandemic is far from over, said Merkel.

“I am sure life as we knew it will return. Families will celebrate again, clubs and theatres and football stadiums will be full again. What a joy it will be,” Merkel stressed. 

“But now we have to show that we can continue to act patiently and rationally and thus save lives”.  She added that it was up to each and every person to do this.

‘Distance as an expression of care’

Merkel spoke at the Bundestag's general debate on the 2021 budget – probably her last as Chancellor. 

The 66-year-old, who has held Germany’s top title for 15 years, stressed that she could not give a routine speech in view of the pandemic. 

Everyone longed for closeness, contact and togetherness again, she said.. “I can feel that myself. I am no different from others.”

But one thing remains clear, said Merkel.  “We still need distance as an expression of care.”

The Chancellor also expressed serious concern about the recent spike in coronavirus numbers. She stressed that sticking to the rules now not only protects older people, but also the open and free society as a whole. 

READ ALSO: 'Pandemic is in full swing now': Germany sees spike in number of positive coronavirus tests

As of Wednesday, Germany had recorded 2,046 cases over the past 24 hours, and 13,273 cases over the past seven days, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Germany could grow as a community through this historic challenge, she said. 

However, Merkel was met with sharp criticism from opposition members of the parliament.

Free Democratic (FDP) leader Christian Lindner and Greens faction leader Anton Hofreiter warned that there was still no forward-looking testing strategy, such as rapid tests for people in care institutions and teaching professions. 

Die Linke (Left) parliamentary party leader Dietmar Bartsch said the car industry was more important to Merkel than schools.

Alternative for Germany (AfD) faction leader Alice Weidel, on the other hand, called on the government to: “Stop stirring up panic.” In her view, excessive measures had made the crisis the worst recession in Germany's history.

New measures of autumn and winter

Merkel reminded her audience of a difficult autumn and winter, stating that stricter measures adopted by the federal and state governments would be necessary. 

In future, for example, guests face a fine of €50 give false information in restaurant lists. These lists are intended to make it easier to trace contact in cases of infection.

READ ALSO: 'More masks, less gatherings': Germany limits events and family gatherings to curb coronavirus

There are also upper limits for private parties, depending on the number of infections: if there are more than 35 confirmed infections for 10,000 people within seven days, a maximum of 50 people should be allowed to celebrate.

For parties in private rooms, a maximum number of 25 people is “strongly recommended.” If the number of infections continues to rise, only 25 or 10 people are allowed to celebrate. 

Critics doubt, however, that the rules can be controlled and enforced.

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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”.