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Angela and Me

A good bit of my job these days (as Berlin Bureau Chief of The Economist) is to follow people like Angela Merkel around. Sometimes I find myself right behind her (1), other times looking down on her in the Bundestag (2), yet other times with the hack pack in a press conference (3), or in a small circle (4), or just before or after some exhausting negotiation (5), or plugging some old buddy’s new book (6).

As you can see, she always wears the same uniform, which comes in beige, white, tan, pink, grey, beige again….

What is she like? More fascinating than you would think. Publicly, she has become a rhetorical robot, reusing the same over-rehearsed phrases (platitudes?) on any given topic, saying exactly the same thing whether she is “on” or “off” the record, staying relentlessly “on message”.

But when the group gets smaller, she shows tiny hints of her old witty side, which I’m told she has in spades. From what I hear, in private she can be hilarious. But politics and the euro crisis have beaten that spontaneity out of her.

Anyway, I’m just observing. Every gesture, every phrase, every involuntary smirk. Even if the only difference is that there is a “the” where last time there was an “a”. If Machiavelli were alive today, he would be sitting right next to me, doing the same thing, doing his homework.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. For some reason, I’ve always thought that German politicians were much more “renaissance” than other western politicians–Peter Struck for example. AM has always seemed a lot more inscrutable (and beseiged) lately. Hope you get a chance to have a chat someday!

    Have a great holiday with your family.

    December 20, 2012
    • And you too, Thomas.

      The closer you get to anything, the less Renaissance it appears. But yes, they’ve come a long way.

      December 21, 2012
  2. Good to see you back. I hope your new assignment is going well.

    That the private Angela Merkel may be much different from the public one isn’t surprising. This dichotomy in personality arguably applies to most public figures, whose public persona is best understood as a “brand”.

    While the public Angela Merkel expresses confidence that the Euro will survive, and even triumph in the end, what does the private Angela Merkel say and think? I, like, intuit that deep down she knows the Euro in its present form is doomed, absent the formation of a truly federal Europe – an eventuality extremely remote.

    December 20, 2012
    • Thanks, Christopher.
      As to her “brand”, she really has built a very interesting one (totally different inside Germany than outside).

      One example that, to me, sums it up:
      This year, at the Bayreuth Wager festival (a big event on the summer social calendar), she showed up wearing the same dress she wore last year. A few snobby journalists made headlines out of it, but “the people” (especially women) loved it, and still bring it up in all sorts of contexts. She has convinced the Germans that she has an aw-shucks simplicity and reliability and unpretentiousness. It’s probably not all fake.

      As to your second point, boy, that’s the big one. Lots to say. I’ll post something now about a historical comparison….

      December 21, 2012
  3. Does Angela know you’re following here, or are you wearing your Tarnkappe?

    December 21, 2012
    • Sorry, that got garbled: her

      December 21, 2012
    • I probably might as well be wearing a Tarnkappe, being invisible either way. Although sometimes i think that NOTHING escapes her attention. She has a way of staring us down in these meetings….

      December 21, 2012
  4. Thomas #

    Good to have you back blogging. And once again I’m amazed at how you can write something both conceptually and linguistically simple, and make it so exciting and meaningful.

    Happy New Year Andreas!

    January 4, 2013
    • Happy new year to you too, Thomas. And thanks for the compliment.

      January 4, 2013

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