A Tale of Two Presidents

Yes, there’s some ranting about German politics behind the cut, so just skip if you don’t care:

First of all, a bit more about Joachim Gauck. The media are still dismissing any arguments against Gauck. But now Albrecht Müller, economist, political blogger and former member of the German parliament for the socialdemocratic party SPD, has summed up the arguments against Joachim Gauck’s candidacy in a book with the clear title Der falsche Präsident (The wrong president). Nachdenkseiten has more about the book as well as an open letter by a West German Lutheran priest who distances himself from Gauck’s candidacy and criticizes Gauck’s attacks on West German priests as being “too left” and “haters of freedom” in the 1970s and 1980s.

The more you hear about Gauck, the more it seems as if he is inevitably on the wrong side of every single issue of relevance after 1989 and on many before as well.

Meanwhile, ousted former president Christian Wulff seems determined to grab every benefit he can in a big “Fuck you” to the people, press and politicians. He already accepted the extremely high honourary payment for former presidents (there’s four of them still alive plus Wulff) as well as the office, secretary, bodyguards, etc… he is entitled to and also insisted on the traditional “Großer Zapfenstreich”, a creepy military ceremony with lots of soldiers with torches and brass band music that is translated as “great military tattoo” and even dared to ask for one song more than is common.

However, since the “Großer Zapfenstreich” is a ceremony of military honour, a lot of people believe that Wulff, having been dishonourable enough to receive low credit rates and free Skodas, is not deserving of this ceremony. Hence, all other surviving four former presidents excused themselves from the ceremony (or maybe their own “Zapfenstreich” permanently scarred them – I know it would scar me), while prominent opposition leaders were not even invited in the first place. What is more, several hundred protesters decided that they hated the idea of Wulff getting a military ceremony of honour so much that they protested the ceremony by blowing vuvuzelas outside the park of Schloß Bellevue, seat of the German president. Apparently, the vuvuzelas were loud enough to disturb the ceremony.

Now I don’t think that an able-bodied 51-year-old man needs exorbitantly high honourary payments nor that any of his predecessors need those payments, since they all had highly paid jobs (Wulff’s immediate predecessor Horst Köhler, while otherwise an something of a douchebag who resigned because some bloggers said mean things about him on the internet, actually did the honourable thing and did not take the money). And I can think of few things more creepy and disturbing than the “Großer Zapfenstreich”. If someone were to arrange such a ceremony for me, I would run away very quickly. And frankly, I think both should be abolished. But they haven’t been abolished and like it or not, Wulff has the right to both the honourary payment and the creepy ceremony. Besides, Wulff has always been an opportunist, as can be seen all too clearly by the fact that he never turned down a free Skoda or a holiday on Sylt at someone else’s expense. Did anybody honestly think that he would turn down any benefits he is entitled to? And given how he was pretty much publicly executed by the media led by the tabloid Bild, I can almost understand why Wulff decided to send a big, fat “fuck you” to the people. Because let’s face it, he was treated badly. And while I wish that he wouldn’t take his frustrations with the Bild Zeitung, the Axel Springer corporation, the German media in general, the political system and Angela Merkel out on the German taxpayers (especially since he still had quite a bit of public support until recently), I can still understand that he’s angry.

Of course, taking his anger out on the public and the taxpayers is rather counterproductive, but it’s not as if he has a political future of any sort anywhere. And it was always clear to everyone watching that Christian Wulff was ambitious. He was never going to be content being minister president of Lower Saxony, he wanted more. He was actually aiming at Angela Merkel’s job, but since Merkel is pretty skilled at finding cushy but non-threatening jobs for her rivals in her own party, he ended up president instead. It was not the exact job he wanted, but it certainly was the career. And this scandal about home loans and holidays and free Skodas abruptly ended that career some 14 years shy of the official retirement age. So yeah, of course he’s angry.

And besides, arch-plagiarist Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg also got a “Großer Zapfenstreich” (he was secretary of defense before he had to resign) and there were no protesters with vuvuzelas. Even though I personally consider plagiarizing your doctoral thesis a lot worse than accepting low interest rate home loans, free Skodas and holidays on Sylt.

That’s probably what bothers me most about the vehemence of the hatred for Christian Wulff – that it shows all too clearly what is considered important in Germany. Plagiarizing your doctoral thesis – who cares? It’s just footnotes, after all. And besides, at 500 pages who cares if some of them were copied from elsewhere? After all, no normal person can be expected to write so many pages. Yes, I actually heard such comments during the Guttenberg affair. But Christian Wulff – he got a home loan at an extra low interest rate! And a Skoda, free of charge! And holidays on Sylt, paid for by his wealthy friends! And Mrs. Wulff, who was much too young and too attractive anyway, got clothes free of charge! Now there’s a scandal! Off with his head!

I hate this whole affair because it shows the ugly, anti-intellectual face of the German public. All they care about are houses, cars, holidays and clothes and someone getting something cheaper than they do. They believe every lie the Bild Zeitung feeds them and are willing to take to the streets armed with vuvuzelas not for intellectual and scientific integrity, not even to protest the creepy and outdated ritual of the “Großer Zapfenstreich”, but because someone got a cheap home loan and a free Skoda and a free holiday on Sylt.

Political blogger Jacob Jung has a neat commentary on one of Christian Wulff’s song choices, “Over the Rainbow”. Personally, I would have hoped for something a bit hipper than “Over the Rainbow”, though it is a lovely song. Wulff is allegedly a fan of Robbie Williams, so how about “Karma Killer” which is the perfect “Fuck you” song. Or maybe “Come undone” to demonstrate the sense of self-criticism that Wulff seems to be sorely lacking.

And finally, can we please do away with enormous honourary payments for former presidents and with the “Großer Zapfenstreich” for anybody once and for all?

Though I’d love to see those vuvuzela blowing protesters dogging Joachim Gauck’s every step.

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4 Responses to A Tale of Two Presidents

  1. Sherwood says:

    The big military honorarium is too popular among military types the world over to vanish any time soon, at least not until the need for a military vanishes. Napoleon required one every week before the Tuileries. They go back even farther.

    But deserving? Yeah. The total hypocrisy there is NOT confined to Germans, not by a long shot!

    • Cora says:

      There’s no doubt that the military types like that sort of ceremony and politicians as well, since it makes them feel big and important. According to a recent poll, the majority of Germans supposedly like the ceremony (though I know no one who doesn’t find it creepy) and the annual international military marching band festival in Bremen is always sold out as well.

      Though I wish the German version would at least leave out the torches, because soldiers marching with torches in the middle of Berlin cannot help being reminiscent of Hitler’s fondness for soldiers marching with torches and that’s just plain creepy. Though Hitler probably got it from the Prussians who were very fond of that sort of thing as well. My great-uncle was a soldier in the Prussian “Lange Kerls” parade squad towards the end of the German Empire, so he probably marched through Berlin with torches and flags at some point.

      If I ever had the misfortune to have soldiers parading in my honour, I’d have them play John Cage’s 4’33. At least that would be funny and the soldiers wouldn’t have to learn a new piece of music.

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