Angela Merkel's Subtle Climb Into History

After Sunday night's victory
After Sunday night's victory
Heribert Prantl

BERLIN — The all-conquering hero is traditionally a masculine figure, but in Angela Merkel it finds its feminine embodiment. Her election result is more than a victory; it is a triumph. Moreover, it is her triumph, and not her party’s. It is Merkel as an individual, as the chancellor with unprecedented approval ratings, who has won this election.

Thanks to her victory at the polls, Angela Merkel has risen almost to the level of Konrad Adenauer, the leader who won the Christian Democrats’ first and only absolute majority in 1957. That year was the high point of Adenauer’s career. For Merkel, we may one day be pointing back to 2013 as her apex. This election confirms that whatever the next term holds, her time in government constitutes an era – the era of Merkelism, of a subtle, unflashy brand of power politics.

She has been criticized as lacking in conviction. Some say that under her leadership the conservative element of the party has been replaced by a politics of vagueness. But for her many supporters, Merkel is anything but indecisive.

German voters see their Chancellor as the representative of enlightened liberal-conservatism, a politician who does not shy away from recognizing gay marriage. Throughout the euro crisis, she has excelled in the role of the good German Hausfrau (homemaker) keeping a tight rein on the household expenses. And that is exactly what many Germans want.

In Merkel’s hands, power becomes mundane. That is what Germans want too. That is how her own popularity has remained untainted by her coalition’s faltering record. Anything that is going well is thanks to the Chancellor, while anything that goes badly is down to the coalition.

“No Experiments”

In 1957, Adenauer won an absolute majority of 50.2% with a simple, innocuous slogan: “No Experiments.” The German people certainly didn’t want any. Adenauer had negotiated with Moscow to secure the return of the last war prisoners and could point to the reintegration of Saarland into West Germany as a resounding success.

Merkel has no such spectacular achievements, but the Germans are doing well and they believe that she has led them competently through the euro crisis. Perhaps a rude awakening lies in store on this front, but that remains to be seen. Merkel has been buoyed to victory by the German public’s belief that although almost every other country in Europe is going under, Germany is keeping its head above water.

And so Merkel could conclude her television debate against Peer Steinbrück with a reformulation of the old slogan: “You know me. You know what I want to do. We had four good years.”

Adenauer’s victory 56 years ago was followed by crises that did not show the old man in his most flattering light. He almost lost the 1961 election, and it was only a matter of time until he lost the Chancellorship. But Merkel will not allow that to happen. She is too clever to try for a fourth term in office.

The post-Merkel future is ever more uncertain. The leadership ranks of her CDU party that used to dominate the German political scene have withered. Without Angela Merkel, the party is nothing. That is the flipside of her triumph: when she is gone, it will be time for another party to step up to the mark.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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