Tschüss Frau Merkel…in Public Interpretations and Pop Culture
From surprising musical choices to contrasting opinions to fictional characters to a retiring doppelganger the former German Chancellor’s farewell saga was as varied as her tenure
The above photograph is an advert from the German job site StepStone, in the run up to the 2021 German elections. The same expresses gratitude to outgoing Chenacellor Angela Merkel in a very succinct manner.
Danke fur 16 jahre harte arbeit (Thank you for 16 years of hard work), it says before anointing Merkel as Mutter der Nation (Mother of the nation). The advert also makes it a point to issue a public message: Nicht vergessen am 26 September ist Wahltag (Don’t forget September 26 is Election Day).
It’s a seminal elections in Germany this year with Merkel deciding against a fifth term in office. It’s the end of an era in more ways than one. In a farewell interview to DW Deutsch Merkel said, “Ich habe meine Arbeit immer gern gemacht (I have always enjoyed my work)”. Enjoyed she did, and in the process established herself as the most powerful politician in Europe.
Even as her Social Democrat successor Olaf Scholz took over in early December Merkel became only the second woman — after Ursula von der Leyen in August 2019 — to be honored by the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) with a big tattoo (Großer Zapfenstreich) in front of the Berlin office of the Federal Ministry of Defense.
It was here that the 67-year-old politician left her compatriots wondering how well they really know the person who has governed them for 16 years by picking a song by Nina Hagen — the singer being a pre-eminent punk figure of the 1980s in the erstwhile West Germany (FRG) — as the soundtrack for her farewell.
Like her predecessors, Merkel had also been allowed to request three songs to be performed by a marching band during the military ceremony. While Gerhard Schröder and Helmut Kohl had made conventional musical choices for the occasion —with Frank Sinatra’s My Way and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, among others — some of Germany’s first female Chancellor were somewhat surprising, and to an extent personal.
Großer Gott, wir loben Dich (Great God, we praise you) — a popular Christian hymn from the 18th century, was possibly a nod to her upbringing as the daughter of a Protestant pastor and the religious identity of her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Hildegard Knef’s Für mich soll’s rote Rosen regnen (For me it should rain red roses), her second choice, is about teenage ambition and juvenile arrogance, while her third was Nina Hagen’s Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen (You forgot the color film).
Merkel’s unconventional choices palpably raised a few eyebrows and left many thinking for a while, similar to the thought process of the hoi polloi during her elaborate tenure. It is a fact that even in the final months of her tenure Germany’s first woman Chancellor continued to have high approval ratings, and without doubt retires as the country’s most popular politician. The manner in which she steered her country through many critical periods and the many successes during her tenure will always make her a respected figure. That said, there were also a significant lot who didn’t approve of her preferred strategy of deferring things or for that matter making contentious decisions like allowing the unregulated entry of refugees in 2015.
Even as the election campaign was on in full swing messages like Gegen Merkel (Against Merkel), Merkel muss weg (Merkel must go) and Nie wieder 2015 (Never again 2015) could be noticed at many public places in many German cities and towns. With Merkel having decided on her future it was her party that suffered in the final analysis, the CDU ending up with historically the worst result and Armin Laschet, Merkel’s preferred choice as her successor, failing to inspire.
If some wondered what Merkel would do following her retirement author David Safier has provided for a fictional alternative. In his crime comedy Miss Merkel — Mord in der Uckermark (Miss Merkel: Murder in the Uckermark) the author imagines the eponymous character as a homicide investigator, and makes her solve criminal cases.
The novel alludes to the fact that just like the real life personality the lead character has an analytical brain, and always tries to approach and recognize everything rationally. No points for guessing the book made it onto the bestseller list straight away. Furthermore, there are even plans for a sequel.
Likewise, her star doppelganger also stepped down. Ursula Wanecki’s second life as an impersonator started almost by accident. The 65-year-old has been impersonating the former chancellor for almost the entire duration she was in the office, and her public presence as Germany’s leading Merkel double included everything from satirical television shows to supermarket openings, and from private weddings to birthday parties, the multiple assignments keeping her busy even as she retained her regular job as an assistant tax consultant.
In 2021 the Poland-born has also opted for retirement like the original. In an interview with The Guardian she said, “It was important for me in all the years to not lose the essence of Ursula Wanecki, the real me. I hope that the same goes for Angela Merkel.”
Meanwhile, the prominent politician has been quoted as saying in one of her farewell interviews that she is satisfied with the timing of her departure and is now looking forward to dedicating time to things she had to neglect during her time as Europe’s most powerful politician — things like traveling a bit, reading or enjoying some quality time without having to worry about what’s going to happen next.
Even as the veteran politician recedes to the background for the first time in so many years and Germany heads into the new year with a new government, her successor will have onus of matching up to her legacy. And that is definitely something to worry about.