With the same stoicism that had marked Angela Merkel’s 16 years in office, the outgoing German chancellor left power behind on Wednesday, looking straight ahead as the Audi car she was in drove out of the chancellery.
Merkel accompanied key moments of a highly symbolic day when Scholz and his coalition of SPD, Greens and the liberal FDP officially took power.
Dressed in her signature blazer-trouser set, this time in deep blue, she was seated up in the public stands next to former president Joachim Gauck as Scholz was formally elected by parliament.
The Bundestag lower house opened the day with a two-minute standing ovation for her, something that she acknowledged standing and waving.
As she climbed into her car at the end of the ceremony in the chancellor, it was also to applause from her staff.
A handful of people had gathered outside the gates, hoping to catch a glimpse of the veteran leader who was once the world’s most powerful woman.
“I came to see Merkel for a last time,” said Enrique Velazco, 30. “She stood for stability for the world, including Europe and Germany. I like her because she is pragmatic, I’m a little sad today.”
But Merkel herself did not shed a tear, at least publicly.
And little else betrayed her emotions, something that the mask that she was obliged to wear under coronavirus rules perhaps helped to hide
During the handover of the Chancellory on Wednesday, Merkel gave a short speech and urged Scholz to work in the country’s best interest as she came to the end of 16 years in office.
“I know you are starting work highly motivated,” she told Scholz at her chancellery in Berlin, adding: “take this office and work in the best interest of our country – that is my wish.”
Merkel said she knew from her own experience that it was a moving moment to be elected to office in Germany.
“As you perhaps can imagine it’s an exciting, fulfilling job – and a demanding one,” said Merkel. “But if you approach it with enthusiasm then it is perhaps one of the most wonderful jobs there is – to bear responsibility for this country.”
Scholz thanked his predecessor for her service as Chancellor to Germany.
During her time in office, Merkel had to deal with many crises, said Scholz – some of which they had overcome together.
“That brought us together,” Scholz said, adding that there has always been trust and cooperation between them.
Scholz also thanked the people of Germany – and the Bundestag – for giving him the “mandate” to become chancellor.
The changeover marked the end of 16 years of Merkel in the top job in German politics. She announced in October 2018 that she intended to step down after her term ended.
Angela Merkel’s 16 years in power in one image pic.twitter.com/SF8rVyo9yC
— Thomas Sparrow (@Thomas_Sparrow) December 8, 2021
‘Take a little nap’ –
Merkel herself was sworn in on November 22nd, 2005, then taking over from Gerhard Schröder of the centre-left SPD and putting her conservative CDU-CSU bloc in charge.
This time, the power transfer went the other way, though both sides had so often stressed “continuity” that one could be forgiven for thinking they were from the same political families.
The first chancellor not to seek reelection of her own accord, Merkel walks away from politics after three decades as an MP.
Her popularity remains intact and observers believe the 67-year-old could have won a fifth term had she sought it.
She has offered few clues on what she might do in her retirement, saying only in a trip to Washington this year that “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”.
However, she did reveal on Tuesday that she would in the future be based from the former office of Margot Honecker — the wife of East Germany’s longtime leader and the communist state’s education minister, just steps away from the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.