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20th Jan 2020

Merkel: 'I don't feel like I'm chancellor when cooking'

  • 'I am not a feminist. Rather an interesting case,' says Merkel (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Chancellor Angela Merkel is not renowned for her humour and skills in smalltalk.

And yet the people who filled the Maxim Gorki theatre in Berlin on Thursday (2 May) were surprised to discover a light-hearted self-confident Merkel who could talk about those moments when she forgets she's a chancellor.

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"Of course there are such moments. I don't feel like a chancellor when I'm stirring the (cooking) pot," she said, at the event organised women's magazine Brigitte.

Asked if she considered herself to be a feminist, the first-ever female chancellor of Germany said: "A feminist, not. Perhaps an interesting case of a woman in power, but no feminist. Real feminists would be offended if I described myself as one."

When talking about how difficult it still is for women to achieve equality, Merkel replied, smiling: "I don't think men have it easier than women these days. Fathers who take paternity leave have to fight against the same kind of stereotypes as women did."

Putting all women into one big stereotype of "woman politician" would be wrong, Merkel said. Women are very different and sometimes also very unpleasant to one another. She recalled being photographed by a female photographer when she environment minister in the 1990s . "I was shocked when I noticed that she was pointing her lens to my dirty heels. A woman, doing that. I was speechless."

And what does she like in a man? "Beautiful eyes."

If she envies men for anything, it is their deep voice. "It matters in politics. And I tend to use deeper tonalities more often," said Merkel, who as a young politician and protegee of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl was known as "Kohl's girl."

Asked by a six-year old why she wanted to become chancellor, Merkel said she entered politics during Germany's reunification: "I thought people from the ex-German Democratic Republic should take responsibility, but I didn't go into politics to become a chancellor. That question came up later, when I became head of the Christian Democratic Union."

Since she was 34 years old and already had a career as a chemistry scientist before entering politics, Merkel appreciates people who have already had some "real-life experience" before becoming politicians.

"I never wondered whether I can also do something else besides politics, because I had already done something else," she said.

Eight years into her chancellorship and with record-high popularity rates ahead of her re-election bid in September, Merkel exudes the self-confidence of someone enjoying her work.

"These meetings like the one we're just having, I am enjoying them very much because I can meet people, and I am a curious person. The thing I like best about my job is that every day brings something new."

Could a woman with small children do the job? "I hesitate to answer, because as a chancellor you have to be available all the time. Some things you just can't delegate. The same goes for small children. And if two emergencies overlap.. But then again, the father could take care of the children," said Merkel, who has no children.

She speaks fondly of her family. Her husband, Joachim Sauer, who sometimes "speaks up" about political issues. Her mother, whom she likes to visit at short-notice to avoid disappointing her by cancelling. Her siblings and friends, who act normally around her, even though it was a "learning process" not to ask her too many questions about her job.

Daughter of a protestant pastor of Polish origin, Merkel still describes herself as "religious." Christian virtues such as 'loving thy neighbour' or forgiveness are, to her mind, guiding principles in politics, too. "Faith is not something that is allocated to one day in the week when you go to church."

Often criticised as too rational and too slow in taking big decisions, such as bailing out Greece, Merkel said she simply needs time to weigh all arguments. "It is never 0-100 percent, rather 40 percent on one side and 60 percent on the other. I try to look at the whole range of arguments and then once I made up my mind, that's it, I stick to it."

Silence and time to think are often "in short supply", Merkel said. "Silence is becoming a rarity in our society. I think it was much quieter in the old days. But, of course, I come from the countryside," she quipped.

Though she might enjoy being silent, it does not mean her face is completely non-committal. "Sometimes I wish I had a poker face. But I wouldn't be human if I did. It's true my face gives me away, but I stand by it."

And if she were to be reelected?

She would spend more time on demographic challenges. Germany is ageing. People retire in their mid-sixties. But then they enjoy another 10-20 years of good health, and society does not have a role for them.

"There are all these questions about quality of life. Jobs and economic growth are important, of course. But just as important is how many people will take care of you if you are sick."

At one point, a picture projected above the stage showed her and her Social-Democrat challenger, Peer Steinbrueck. "Ah, it was from the time we were in the grand coalition. But I don't want people here to draw any conclusions," she joked.

A grand coalition with the Social Democrats is seen as a possible outcome of the elections, if neither of the camps has enough votes to govern with a junior partner.

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