Back to the Future

In case you didn’t notice, Germany lost its President a month ago. Don’t worry, it was no great tragedy. After initial resistance – including trying to intimidate the editor-in-chief of Germany’s most-sold newspaper into withholding a particularly damning news-article – Christian Wulff finally decided he needed to resign after embarrassing revelations finally emerged concerning a loan for a house he had received in the past, and denied receiving, from a prominent businessman. So not tragic – just sleazy, certainly in light of the standards the Germans usually like to uphold post-1945, and thus also rather embarrassing. It’s little wonder your local German ambassador/Goethe Institute/German expat down the street was less than keen to draw this news to your attention.

Naturally, now they need to pick another one, and in Germany that is done indirectly, by a one-time body (the Bundesversammlung) composed of all the members of the lower house of parliament (the Bundestag) plus an equal number of state delegates, totalling 1,244 people in all. But Chancellor Angela Merkel moved fast to gain approval from almost all the main parties for Wulff’s main opponent the last time, Joachim Gauck, to become the new president. So he’s a shoo-in for that, although the German Left Party (Die Linke) has obstinately put forward its own candidate anyway, Beate Klarsfeld.

And with all that, Germany finds itself thrust backward into the 20th century, in the opinion of Stern writer Lutz Kinkel:

Gauck und Klarsfeld: Willkommen im 20. Jahrhundert!: Die Wahl des Bundespräsidenten setzt uns in eine…


Look at the candidates, Kinkel says. Joachim Gauck, a Lutheran pastor, gained fame as a dissident in the former Communist East Germany. When the Wall fell, he was appointed as the first Federal Commissioner for the Stasi archives, or at least what was left after the Stasi had done their best to destroy them as the DDR fell. In Germany his last name has even been elevated to the status of “KIeenex” or “Hoover”: to “Gauck” someone is to go see whether he/she might have a file kept on them by the Stasi, and if so, what it says.

Then there is Beate Klarsfeld. A journalist, she has spent most of her adult life (along with her husband) hunting down ex-Nazis, such as Klaus Barbie, Maurice Papon, and others. At times her anti-Nazis efforts have perhaps gone too far – if you define “too far” as being sent to jail – including her most (in)famous incident in 1969 when she slapped the current West German Chancellor, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, because of his history of working for/in the Nazi Party during the Second World War (and, again, that was not the only time she has been jailed).

Look at them! Both are admirable, driven people – but what “made” them was fighting the old wars of the 20th century, the struggle against the Nazis, the struggle against Communist dictatorship! Haven’t we finally moved on from that, Kinkel asks? On the other hand, did not Christian Wulff seem just perfect for this new era? Big business; bribery; bling-bling; Bundespr√§sident – surely that’s what we’re all about following the financial crash/scandals of the last few years. After all, a President must reflect his people – just take a look across the Rhine to France!

Even if Kinkel’s analysis is borne out, at least Germany is not being propelled too far back into the twentieth century. A little of that may do no harm; a lot, not so much, historically speaking.

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