The interview with Angela Merkel excerpted below was conducted in 1991, long before she became “Mutti”.
Many thanks to Hellequin GB for translating this piece from Die Achse des Guten. The translator includes this note:
My impression of what we know now about her is that Günter Gaus saw through her already back then, something most of the German population still cannot see today.
The translated article:
By chance I came across this interview on YouTube from 1991, which Günter Gaus conducted with a young Angela Merkel.
This 45-minute conversation is fascinating in many ways.
First of all, it documents an equally old-fashioned and brilliant interview style that is almost unknown to me as a young person.
Gaus — born in 1929, first head of the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic to the GDR (SPD) and experienced journalist, among others at Spiegel and the Süddeutsche — knows how to get closer to Angela Merkel through sensitive and intelligent questioning techniques and at the same time to lure her out of her reserve with subtle provocations.
All this happens with exquisite linguistic dexterity, which is only broken in a funny way by the fact that he stumbles over the sharp stone while speaking.
Merkel, on the other hand, appears more natural and blunt than we know her today.
Above all, she is much more articulate than in her capacity as Federal Chancellor.
It would be interesting to investigate where their expressiveness has gone over the years.
What is unmistakable, however, is that the then-37-year-old already knew exactly where she was going and her modesty on display should by no means be confused with unpretentiousness.
The most important thing about this interview, however, is that Gaus succeeded in revealing traits of the then-Federal Minister for Women and Youth, which today, after almost 16 years as Federal Chancellor, must be considered official.
In retrospect, parts of the conversation seem almost prophetic.
In the following I would like to reproduce the most important parts of the interview from my point of view, for everyone who does not want to watch the conversation in full.
About Merkel’s self-image as a politician — from 03:59
If you observe how you publicly present yourself as a politician, then you can get the impression — I got the impression — your ongoing search for a specific, specific location within your party is connected with the tactical talent, to hold back wisely and to be functional with ambition.
Is such an assessment of you completely wrong?
What can you agree with? What do you want to contradict?
Well, I’ll disagree with the ‘wise’.
With the restraint — that has something to do with the solid ground again.
Even on unfamiliar terrain, I don’t act in such a way that I trumpet everything I know about other terrain, but rather that I try to get ground under my feet, and that can then have to do with restraint for a while.
In addition, I may be the type of person who first observes his surroundings fairly closely and tries to assess them.
In this respect — a certain reluctance. At certain points, however, I begin to give things about myself that are important to me.
I wouldn’t call it ‘smart’, I would just say it’s vital for my type of person.
And the ambition with the functionality?
On television and also now in the stormy times of the ‘quasi-revolution’…
I have seen a lot of people who may have been overwhelmed in their function and I believe that functionality is important.
And better in a level lower or a little less functional than overused and not functional.
And I don’t know if that has anything to do with ambition.
I want to do the things I do properly.
But that is correct, if you describe it with ambition, then you are right.
(Short pause. Merkel smiles uncertainly.)
Are you aware when something sounds beautiful?
(Short pause from Merkel.)
No, I will now say what I really mean.
I come from a scientific profession, and it was very clear there that something can only be done sensibly and properly and on a sensible basis.
Everyone will agree with you! Everyone will say: ‘Angela Merkel is great!’
(Merkel shakes her head uncertainly.)
Well, it’s not so much about ‘someone is one step lower’, but with you it is — and so the question I asked at the beginning — still ‘one step higher’.
And now it’s about becoming the deputy of Helmut Kohl, the chair of Bonn’s strongest ruling party, the CDU.
At the same time, because you are ready to be elected and can expect that you will be elected, you also say in our interview here:
There are some things that you still have to get to know.
…How does that get along with your self-esteem?
Well, my self-esteem tells me that I can only do as much as I can…
Why are you getting involved?…
I would say that I had great anxiety when I saw the thing coming my way.
A very important reason is that I am not very familiar with the CDU, at least not with the Western CDU. […]
I think I can make a small contribution to contribute to — as they say so beautifully today — the ‘growing together’ of the East and West CDU.
I am not sure whether this fully fulfills this function.
I also see great dangers of failure in this […] I did it because I think someone from the East has to do it.
And a woman and Protestant.
No, I don’t think that a woman has to do it, Lothar de Maizière wasn’t a woman…
If you can get all three together: ‘East, woman and evangelical’ then that’s better than ‘man, western and Catholic’.
Well, I say, I don’t really care…
The important thing is that someone from the East does it.
After much deliberation, I have come to believe that I can try.
But in this case it is really an attempt to see if you can do it properly.
I’m a little irritated, but that could be because I’m so much older than you…
What happens to you is customary in the party.
But that it is actually the case that someone is raised to such a post who says of his own accord: ‘I don’t even know my way around.’
(Merkel looks ready to annihilate.)
But because it appears useful to the party chairman, the party — I say this completely impartially, I just say it with amazement — it is done.
In other words, to put it very sharply: Our system aims, for visual and image reasons… to heave someone into a post that fits well in terms of appearance and image. Not yet suitable in terms of competence.
(Merkel kills him with her look.)
Yes, it will turn out whether the competence is right or not…
On Merkel’s understanding of authority — from 26:30
I came to the ‘democratic awakening’ late because I had been looking for a long time where I should get involved and in some places deeply distrusted grassroots democratic groups and didn’t feel comfortable there.
Because I believe that in political work you also have to come to what is feasible and not fall in love with your own discussions for too long…
Maybe I have an authoritarian behavior in me…
A need for a certain structure of the work, which always has something to do with authority.
Does this pose a risk of becoming sterile
Because after all, structures are taken more seriously than the imagination that generates content?
The danger is certainly there, and you have to fight it off, and I don’t want to be one of those who avoid any discussion.
But I think the citizens expect some kind of service from politicians.
And the service consists of solving certain problems.
And every solution to a problem contains a mistake and you have to be able to live with it.
You are ready to agree, I claim that you need these people who are motivated by basic democracy so that politics does not dry up, does not become sterile?
(Merkel rocks her head back and forth.)
Or do you want to deny that?
Yes, they are a good addition. But…
… you have to keep it in place.
No, it’s not about ‘keeping in place’.
We have democracy and we have elections.
I am only saying that I have the impression that the majority of citizens now and then also expect actions or certain decisions.