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Germany

Klöckner and Merkel: Beyond the politics

Education and refugees were the main issues as the CDU's Rhineland-Palatinate candidate Julia Klöckner stepped out with Chancellor Angela Merkel. But DW's Kate Brady gives an alternative perspective on proceedings.

Arriving at the hotel foyer in Bad-Neuenahr-Ahrweiler on Wednesday, I was greeted with a crowd of white-haired and balding heads. The turnout largely reflected the Christian Democratic Union's (CDU) aging demographic, with the over 60s still playing a pivotal role in the fate of Germany's traditionally conservative party.

In the 2013 federal election, 50 percent of the electorate aged over 60 voted for the CDU or their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), compared to 31 percent of the 18 to 24-year-old age group.

Pruning presents

Outside the conference hall, a crowd had gathered around a table. This much excitement at a political campaign could have only meant one of two things, free food, or free CDU merchandise. It turned out to be the latter. After the CDU's political party conference in Karlsruhe in December, I thought I'd seen it all. CDU waffles, tissues, matches, instant coffee.

Julia Klöckner in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler

Heads up: the CDU's most ardent supporters are largely the 'over 60'

But on Wednesday I was in the provinces of Germany's red wine region, where some 13,000 wine producers generate 80 to 90 percent of the German wine export. Amid the hubbub, I half expected to hear the chinking of glasses. Instead, it turned out the excitement was over a rapidly decreasing mound of pruning gloves, personalized with the words: "There's much to be done in the countryside."

"I managed to sneak an extra pair!" one gentleman excitedly told his wife, shuffling to make a quick exit, presumably fearing that one of Merkel's burly security team might overhear him.

Lyrical message?

As seats began to fill, the atmosphere was more reminiscent of a school concert than a political congress. A few rows ahead, one elderly lady passed around a bag of Werther's Originals to her neighbors. "No, they're not the chewy ones," she assures her friend.

Minutes later, a group of young musicians from a local Ahrweiler school struck up the band, entertaining their guests before the arrival of Merkel and Klöckner.

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Poor showing by Merkel's CDU ahead?

Looking around the press department, it seemed I was the only one there to have acknowledged the band's performance of Gerry Rafferty's 1978 hit, "Baker Street."

"You used to say that it was so easy, but you're tryin', you're tryin' now. Another year and then you'd be happy, just one more year and then you'd be happy, but you're cryin', you're cryin now."

CDU gloves

CDU merchandise: "There's much to be done in the countryside."

With next year's federal election just over a year away, and sporadic calls for Merkel to step down both as chancellor as well as leader of the CDU, the choice of soundtrack, seemed all too fitting. Add to that the fact that the band followed up their performance with John Denver's "I'm leaving on a jet plane," I couldn't help but wonder how much amusement the set list had provided the school's music teacher.

Weighty problem

After a delayed arrival, Merkel and Klöckner entered the conference room where they were met with the epitomy of a 2016 welcoming committee. No faces, only smart phones. Bouncing on the balls of her feet, one young girl around the age of 10 was left beaming after successfully making it to the front of the two crowds, brandishing what appeared to be a homemade "CDU" poster for the chancellor.

Briskly whisked up onto the stage, Merkel and Klöckner greeted their public with a customary political wave. For their supporters, the first matter of the evening was neither Klöckner's proposals for improving education in Rhineland-Palatinate, nor Merkel's contended refugee policy, but instead the fact that both women had turned up in a somewhat similarly colored red jacket.

"We didn't plan the jackets beforehand," Klöckner said to rapturous laughter. In the back rows, two men turned to eachother to appreciate the joke.

"I like that about her," one said to the other. "She knows how to make people laugh."

CDU Youth Union member Sam-Raphael Kemnitze

CDU Youth Union member Sam-Raphael Kemnitze proudly shows off his "#ourJulia" t-shirt

"She's a beautiful looking woman too," his friend added, "especially since she lost all that weight."

"She'll go far."

Clearly, she needn't have bothered with the theology degree or the journalism training.

'#ourJulia'

No sooner had they arrived, Merkel and Klöckner were heading to their next appearance further down the Rhine in Simmern - their exit promptly followed by a mass exodus to the cloakroom.

Making my way through the crowds, an elderly lady stopped me on the stairs, asking if I could help her back down as she struggled against the tide of people rushing to collect their coats.

"Thank you dear," she said, taking my arm. "You and your friends have been awfully helpful today," gesturing to the group of CDU Youth Union members, posing for a selfie in their "#ourJulia" t-shirts. Largely due to her vice-like grip, I didn't dare protest.

The Youth Union, however, might well have trumped the pruning gloves.

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