Two years ago, it looked like German Chancellor Angela Merkel was done for. But now, she is at the heart of the Christian Democratic Union's election platform. And she looks like a safe bet.
Enjoying a coffee on one of Berlin's many rooftop terraces, a helicopter suddenly rises from the Chancellery, the center of German power. These days, that's nothing unusual. Just before the national election, Angela Merkel is on the move throughout the country. As the leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), she will have made more than 50 campaign appearances before Germans go to the polls on September 24. She regularly draws crowds of several thousand people. And during this campaign, her rallies are also regularly interrupted by groups of protesters from the right-wing populist or far-right scene.
The 63-year-old is at the center of every CDU event, and at the heart of its entire election platform. When the ruling party campaigns, it essentially comes down to who is sitting in the Chancellery. People would be forgiven for thinking that Merkel is the president of Germany. After all, she is responsible for issues of national importance: security, Germany's role in the world, the integration of immigrants. She largely determines how comfortable Germans feel in their own country. With her numerous demanding trips abroad, Merkel is also Germany's chief diplomat, someone who could one day be named UN secretary general.
The meaning of 'merkeln'
She doesn't always bring up the topic of refugees in her remarks these days, and when she does, she speaks about the issue from a European perspective. But it was only two years ago when she put her political future on the line by opening the doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees. In 2015, the word "merkeln" was a trendy new verb among young people. It means to do nothing, to not make a decision. Up to that point, she was known for being cautious, sitting on the fence. But then came her mighty and moral decision to accept huge numbers of refugees, and suddenly "merkeln" was a thing of the past.
Her name is now linked with political milestones in core social issues: the abolition of conscription, for example, or the nuclear phase-out. Most recently, there was parliamentary approval for same-sex marriage (though she personally voted against it). She says that she now "has the impression that this has helped make the social discourse more peaceful."
On the campaign trail, Merkel is trying to shake off her cautious image and reach out to Germany's youth
Appealing to young voters
Through it all, she says that the CDU's core values have remained intact. "Those are the roots that feed our politics," Merkel once said. But ever since "merkeln" became a thing, Merkel herself has been marketed differently. In 2015 and again this year, the chancellor gave interviews to young internet stars. She feels a responsibility to keep in touch with youth culture despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that the average age of a CDU member is 60.
In Berlin's hip Mitte district, the CDU invites passersby to experience its "walk-in" election program, located in a former department store. Merkel, whose home is not far away, has already popped in a few times. Young people like the chancellor for her seriousness. She seems to inspire a curiosity, a desire to innovate. "Now you're probably thinking, here comes grandma to talk to us about the war," she once joked about herself. But it's easy to see how the former scientist enjoys interacting and communicating with adolescents. She gives them a sense of confidence in the future. "We live in a time of upheaval," she said recently in an interview, adding that what happens now will determine how well Germany is positioned in 20 years' time. "I would like to use all my experience to ensure that our country is on the right course."