The Velvet-gloved Chancellor by Richard Byrn
Members of West Dartmoor U3A welcomed Richard Byrn, one of their own, who gave a talk on Angela Merkel, “The Velvet-gloved Chancellor”, at their June meeting.
Richard, who formerly taught German at Leeds University, has a depth of knowledge and understanding of German history and an appreciation of its culture and music in particular. In fact, he recently attended the Bach Festival in Leipzig. This is also the place where the subject of his talk studied “incorruptible” physics and met and married her first husband, Ulrich Merkel.
It was evident from the questions and comments at the end of Richard’s talk that many in the audience shared his admiration of Mrs. Merkel. He traced her life from her birth in Hamburg, showing how her clergyman father’s move to East Germany, and the experiences she had, growing up there, influenced her personality, especially her integrity and the pragmatism which brought her to the position of Germany’s first woman Chancellor.
Richard expressed his amazement at this achievement, stating, that, “She isn’t just the first woman Chancellor: she is a Protestant leader of a political party-the CDU- which has always (and still is) dominated by Roman Catholics.” He also pointed out that as an Ossie-an Easterner-many in Germany consider her to be an outsider.
Mrs. Merkel “enjoys” the nickname “Mutti” among the general public but her political rivals are well aware that she can bite. Among her many talents and strengths are her linguistic abilities (fluent Russian), an instinct for networking and the fact that she has built a tight knit and very loyal private office.
Not having a crystal ball, Richard wisely avoided discussing the immediate present, and somewhat difficult, European political landscape. However, it does seem that Chancellor Merkel’s current problems lie in the open-door policy she had for Syrian refugees. At a meeting of EU Heads of State in October 2015, Victor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary forecast that it would be only a matter of time before Germany built a fence (as had others in the region).
Mrs. Merkel’s reply was, “ I lived a long time behind a fence. It is not something I wish to do again.”
Richard’s well researched talk put flesh on the bones of a quiet woman of great stature. He chose the title “Velvet-Chancellor”, to contrast with Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor. But that’s another story.
As an afterthought, he told the meeting that Mrs. Merkel loves football and Wagner. She is a brilliant mimic and procrastinates. She is human.