So very Merkel: German chancellor celebrates 60th with brainy lecture

A reporter's impromptu serenade is about as controversial as much loved German Chancellor Merkel's birthday is apt to get.

Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the media at the end of an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels on Thursday.

It’s telling that an impromptu birthday serenade to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, by a German journalist at a press conference, has made world news. It speaks in part to how powerful the German leader is, not just in Europe but across the world.

It also shows, to a certain extent, how very “scandal-free” she is. It’s probably about the juiciest news that will be made as she celebrates her 60th birthday today.

The last big birthday in Germany’s political sphere actually was scandalous. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder celebrated his 70th back in April with Europe’s number one bad boy, at least in terms of popularity in the West: Russian President Vladimir Putin. It sparked stinging criticism across Germany’s political spectrum.

Ms. Merkel’s guest list is sure to be uncontroversial. In fact, it’s up for debate as to whether those guests are even going to a party. The main feature of the evening? A lecture by a German historian who will address the less-than-festive theme of globalization.

This is right in character for Merkel. As Derek Scally at the Irish Times recalls in a piece today, for her 50th birthday guests were treated to a lecture by Wolf Singer, one of Germany’s leading brain researchers.

Prof Wolf Singer … explained to puzzled guests how the world was now so complex that it was impossible to predict future developments.

Rather than make radical interventions in social or economic systems, he argued, politicians should proceed in small, sensible steps.

Few guests realized at the time the significance of what they were hearing. Some were desperate for the canapés, others were distracted by the first public appearance of Free Democrat (FDP) leader Guido Westerwelle’s boyfriend.

In the front row, however, the birthday girl listened intently to a blueprint of what would become the “Merkel method” of leadership.

To that end, Mr. Scally wonders whether tonight’s lecture, called The Horizon of History, will equip the German electorate with clues about her upcoming political agenda.

But guests – and the nation at large – are also wondering about far more than that agenda’s content. As Merkel turns 60, she’s at the top of her political game, with indisputable popularity at home, and no signs that she’d risk letting any of it fade away.

The nation is now speculating about whether she is contemplating stepping down.

Spiegel Online wonders just that in a headline this week, accompanied with a photo montage marking Merkel’s maturation as a politician. The piece, written by Nikolaus Blome, who has followed Merkel throughout her career, says that she has “joined Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl as the most influential chancellors in Germany's postwar history.” But “neither Adenauer nor Kohl left the Chancellery voluntarily; one was forced out by his party, the other was voted out by the electorate. They left under a cloud of defeat, one which, at least for a time, overshadowed their achievements." 

Merkel, he argues, "would prefer to do things differently."

Official answers to whether she is in fact planning on stepping down are to the point: "No," her government says. 

But Mr. Blome writes, “almost all of those closest to her professionally – be it in her party or her cabinet – are convinced that she will eventually step down.”

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