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Angela Merkel – A different type of politician.

19 September 2017 No Comment

Having been brought up mainly on a diet of UK politics, with a bit of Cyprus, Malaysia and Germany added to the mix, I have a commonly held opinion of most politicians.

I was lucky enough to have lived overseas three times when I was a child. And although I still travel a lot in my adult life, these days I am firmly rooted in London. I’ve met a handful of politicians in the UK, at various Chambers of Commerce, and on each occasion I have always found time to talk with them after the end of each event. Meeting them in person seems to reinforce my views, rather than change them.

It’s the German election in a few days time, on Sunday 24 Sep 2017. And I’m reminded of a documentary I saw on LCI a couple of weeks ago. I was briefly in France, staying at a hotel, and just happened to catch this documentary on TV as I was channel hopping. Although I had missed the beginning, it was sufficiently compelling, and I did get to see around 20 minutes before it ended. It caught my attention because a particular interviewee was speaking elegant French in a slow and thoughtful way. I like to think that’s how I speak French – slow and thoughtful – though I am neither elegant nor accomplished, and the slowness is down to the cogs whirring in my head as I try to construct the end of the sentence which I have just started, irrespective of whether the grammar is accurate or not.

Anyway, my French is not that bad, but it’s definitely not good. Likewise, my German. And although I lived in Germany as a teenager, and I studied the language there (in a British school – gaining my O level) I never made the most of that opportunity. I used to watch a lot of Dutch television! Hence I’m one of those rare Brits who have ever learnt a bit of Dutch!

French TV is normally far too intense for me to follow properly, but this slow, thoughtful, elegant speaker was talking about Angela Merkel and I was hooked. It turns out that two of the guests on the programme were German diplomats who were speaking near perfect French. I was also impressed with a couple of German journalists who, largely obscured by the French narration, could nonetheless be heard speaking impeccable English with a hint of an American accent.

If only I could speak foreign languages as well as these professionals can! I content myself with a passable knowledge of three foreign languages (I have a degree in Japanese) and the utter basics in Spanish and Dutch.

So, how is Merkel different to the UK politicians that I know and loathe? This is my understanding from the French dialogue, so it may not be a perfect representation, but I’m confident that the gist of this is right:

Merkel speaks a reasonable amount of Russian, and Putin is almost fluent in German (he was stationed with the KGB in Dresden for years). As a result, when Merkel and Putin meet, almost nothing is lost in translation!

In the Bundestag (German parliament) politicians are highly mobile, and move around as and when required, in order to engage in discussions (away from the mic – but not really in secret) with various politicians across the parties. I got the impression that not only does Germany have a two party coalition, but that all parties, get a fair share of the dialogue on policy making. There were many segments of video showing Merkel consulting groups of four or five politicians, seated on the periphery of the main forum, but still in touch with the whole chamber.

Merkel regularly goes shopping at a local supermarket (near the Bundestag) on a Friday afternoon, irrespective of the demands of her role. On one occasion when the Chinese Premier was visiting Germany, he too was invited and he took part in that regular Friday excursion!

The checkout operator explained that all of this was “normal” and (apart from perhaps a security service agent or two) everybody was taking this in their stride, as if the Chancellor and visiting dignitaries were just everyday customers.

Merkel apparently makes time to be a “normal” guest at a variety of events. Clearly she is not, but she makes firm efforts to maintain a low profile. She attended an assembly at a large secondary school, where a German astronaut was the guest of honour. He gave a talk which was well received, and Merkel sat and listened. At the end, she and the other invited guests left, in slow fashion, sharing a few comments and a few hand shakes with some students along the way. She gave the appearance of just being “another one of the parents”. Incidentally, she has no children, but her (second) husband Joachim Sauer has two adult sons.

The documentary also shared with us a visit to a musical gathering. I can only describe this as a singular and unique German mix of barbershop quartet and oompah band and the old sailors society. It was none of those in isolation, but that’s the best I can do! They performed some acapella songs and some more songs accompanied by acoustic guitars and/or accordions. These choral society gentleman clearly relished the attention of the TV cameras, and proudly wore their navy styled club attire, whilst Merkel clearly enjoyed the “good, wholesome and authentic” German entertainment. Afterwards, she took time to speak to many of the performers and enquired about the support that the society needs in order to keep going. Evidently, they need a continuing supply of retired sailors who can sing and play music!

Had I not missed the start of the LCI documentary, I might have understood the objective of the programme. What I did learn from the 20 minutes that I saw, was that this was not about party politics, and was not actually about the 24 Sep election. It was about Angela Merkel as a person, and about the time she takes to meet ordinary people and to listen to what they have to say!

Perhaps we could get LCI to dub that programme into English and show it to UK politicians?

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