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Germany

Christian Wulff: The quiet modernizer

Characterized by supporters as a builder of bridges, Christian Wulff wants to bring the people of Germany together. If he wins the election, a young famliy will be taking up residence in Berlin's Bellevue Palace.

Christian Wulff

Wulff wants to represent Germany's mild and meek

With the World Cup in full swing, German politicians often like to openly display their support of the national soccer team. Chancellor Angela Merkel has made a habit of visiting the German team's camp, but this year she has more than usual on her plate, following the suprise resignation of President Horst Koehler last month.

The man the government has nominated to become Germany's next president is the premier of Lower Saxony, Christian Wullf, who is a member of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

When recently asked to describe his political style, Wullf used a soccer analogy: "I like to jump into the attack from midfield," he said.

The 51-year-old conservative presidential candidate's love of soccer is well documented. He is a paid-up member of both Bundesliga club Hannover 96 and his hometown club, VfL Osnabrueck. And he still reminisces about how Borussia Moenchengladbach's Guenter Netzer subbed himself on in the 1973 German Cup final and then went on to score the winning goal.

Goodnight, Chancellor Kohl

But when Netzer was at the height of his playing career, the Wulff family was going through a rough patch. Just before Christian Wulff turned 14, his stepfather left the family, forcing Wulff to care for his younger sisters and his ill mother, who suffered from multiple sclerosis.

But Wulff never took his eye off the ball: He got his high school diploma and went on to earn a law degree. He joined the CDU at a relatively young age, and became president of the party's national high school student's society. It's been said that he even had a poster of then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl on one of the walls of his bedroom.

Wulff names Ayguel Oezkan as Minister of Social Affairs and Education for Lower Saxony

Wulff has received praise for his integration policies

Wulff's career in the CDU took a relatively smooth path, with only one real stumbling block:It took Wullf three tries to be elected as premier of Lower Saxony. His perseverance, however, earned him the title of "marathon man" among his allies.

Praise for integration policies

Wulff's time in office has has been devoid of affairs or scandals. Only one thing caused a stir: Two years after taking office, Lower Saxony's premier split up with his wife of nearly two decades. In the spring of 2006, on a trip to South Africa, he met his current wife Bettina duiring a visit to a tire factory. At the time, she was the press person for the tire company. Two years later, before his divorce was through, Wulff, who is Catholic, had his second child – this time with his new partner.

Wulff had come to national attention a few times before being named a candidate in the presidential election. The last time was this past April when he named to his cabinet the first female Muslim minister in Germany - a lawyer of Turkish extraction named Ayguel Oezkan.

Wulff's policies on integration have received praise, even from a prominent political foe, the former Social Democrat chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, who defeated him in two elections in Lower Saxony.

Bridge builder

Wulff has been called a capable politician by the German Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Ursula von der Leyen, who worked alongside him in Hanover for years. Von der Leyen said her former boss he had a rare gift for sharing the spotlight with others.

"In the seven years (I worked for him), "I experienced how a government leader can persistently and calmly work to modernize his state," she said.

Wulff's friends refer to the man as both conservative and modern, while his opponents accuse him of not taking clear stands on the issues.

When asked what makes him qualifies him to become president, Wulff has repeatedly stated that he is not a polarizer, but a bridge builder.

Christian Wulff, Angela Merkel and Roland Koch

Wulff did not want to compete with Merkel for chancellor

No desire to be chancellor

One sociologist has referred to the candidate as "Feel-good-Wulff." In fact, the man with the "son-in-law" image was for a time Germany's most popular politician in surveys. Many saw Wulff as Chancellor Angela Merkel's only serious competition within the Christian Democrat old boy's club.

But media speculation about Wulff's ambitions to become chancellor ended abruptly in summer of 2008 with an interview for Stern magazine, in which Wulff admitted that he lacked the "absolute will to power - and the readiness to put that above everything else." The politician told his interviewer that he gained no pleasure from positions of power and was not interested in becoming chancellor.

Along similar lines, Wulff likes to recount the story of his shoot with photographer Herlinde Koelbl, who is known for her portraits of German politicians. The photographer told Wulff that she did not see in his face the desire for power that she recognized in the faces of Gerhard Schroeder, Joschka Fischer and Angela Merkel.

The politician confessed to her that - rather than rattle the gate outside of the chancellery, as Schroeder had once done, yelling, "I want in!" - he would be more likely to inquire about the opening hours.

Wulff reasserted in an interview earlier this month that it was good to have "not just the alpha leaders in politics and on the political stage."

"The future belongs to the meek and the mild," he added. "Maybe it does politics good when there are some politicians who take a different approach."

A little glamour

Christian and Bettina Wulff kissing

The Wulffs aren't your typical Catholic family

The German presidency, which carries very little actual power, has long been seen as the final station in a successful political career. If Christian Wulff does become the next president, he and his 36-year-old wife Bettina, will be the youngest couple ever to reside at Berlin's Bellevue Palace - along with two children from each partner's first marriage and the son they had together.

With permanent ink on her upper arm, Bettina Wulff could also become Germany's first tattooed first lady. She has also been given credit for a shift in her husband's image; no longer boring, and not averse to a little glamour.

Author: Bernd Graessler/dl
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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