Taking Germany and Europe by surprise, Angela Merkel’s decision to retire from politics after the end of her chancellorship sparked an array of often contradictory political analyses and speculation, all with the sense of an ‘end of an era’. But what does it mean on a day-to-day life basis in Germany?
Amid the flurry of reactions, one stood out in particular for your author, who divides her time between the Brussels bubble and Germany: that of Frederic Huwendiek, editor-in-chief of the digital edition of ZDF Heute, a news magazine broadcast on German public television.
In a tweet, he illustrated how much the world has changed since Merkel took the CDU chairmanship in the early 2000:
Back then, Michael Schumacher was still world driving champion with Ferrari. Nokia was the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer. AOL was the world’s largest internet provider. And Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was 13 years old.
In the pure pavlovian ‘oh-my-god-how-time-goes-by’ reaction, this brought me immediately back to my daughter who was just two and a half months old when Merkel won the election in September 2005.
In a country where, in my view, it is still very difficult for women to combine a professional career with a family life, my daughter’s generation, as it was growing up, has been accustomed to seeing a woman at the head of one of the most influential countries in the world.
They have not seen anyone else leading Germany. For them, Angela Merkel as chancellor is as obvious as a pretzel in a bakery, still standing despite all the political controversies whose issues and stakes they learn at school.
For them, being a woman is not a matter of discussion, it is a matter of course, Selbstverständlichkeit, to use a German word I like.
That is in sharp contrast to the situation in France.
Being raised as a German and French citizen, my daughter saw in the same period of time four different French presidents – a time capsule that was nicely captured by French broadcaster France Info in a video that shows Angela Merkel with a succession of male presidents: Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, Francois Hollande and Emmanuel Macron.
After seeing this, who can possibly wonder why Germany’s current chancellor is seen as an anchor of stability on the other side of the Rhine river?
Asked why France has never had a ‘présidente de la République’, I had to explain to her that, somewhat paradoxically, French women can combine their work and family life more easily than in Germany, but is easier for women to enjoy a full political career in Germany.
At least, they are not confronted with such reactions from their male colleagues as demonstrated by this French MP imitating the cluck of a chicken while his female counterpart is speaking.
This explanation was greeted by a puzzled look and the conclusion that French pupils have it better because they can enjoy a two-month summer break whereas in Germany, they are only allowed up to six weeks.
If that, I said to myself, is my daughter’s main worry, then Merkel has really turned Germany into a safe haven. Right now in France, the government is thinking about introducing police forces on school grounds, after a pupil threatened one of his teachers with a mock gun, the latest worrisome evidence of mounting violence in French schools.
by Alexandra Brzozowski
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Views are the author’s