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Germany

Up close and personal with Martin Schulz in Brandenburg

There are still seven months to go until Germany's federal election, but Social Democrat Martin Schulz is bringing his message to the people in his own unique way. Heiner Kiesel reports from Brandenburg.

At some point while it's still early in the day, Dietmar Woidke, a giant of a man and the state premier of Brandenburg, says: "How nice that I get to say something too!" The man to whom he says this is two heads shorter, and gives a polite laugh. Martin Schulz, head of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and chancellor candidate, is campaigning in Brandenburg. Three appointments, in which he meets with workers, employers and volunteers. His stated mission on his trip through Germany is to get to know the country that he hopes to govern following this September's federal election. It's also a good opportunity to get a closer look at candidate Schulz.

For example, in a conference room at Pedag International in Königs Wusterhausen, just east of Berlin. The company manufactures insoles for shoes, and is the biggest local employer. The family-run firm is known as a model social employer, committed to further education and employee management. Managing Director Thomas Timm explains that this has a positive effect on both the working atmosphere and the company's balance sheets.

Schulz nods earnestly. "This is the future of our competitiveness, not just in Germany but also in Europe," he says. It all comes down to how you value your employees, he continues, adding that they often feel they're not being heard. "In the end that can lead to an atmosphere where people are nothing more than cost factors."

Deutschland Martin Schulz in Brandenburg (DW/H. Kiesel)

Schulz met with Brandenburg State Premier Woidke and local politician Stephan Loge

The SPD's figurehead

Schulz is somewhat restrained, but everyone gets the sense that he is the alpha man here. He concentrates so intensively when he listens that soon everyone's attention is on him, no matter what he says.

Schulz doesn't just listen to the managers in Königs Wusterhausen; the younger company employees also get their turn. They talk about job training and future career prospects. Schulz is a top-level politician without a secondary school diploma. He was trained as a bookseller. His interest in daily working life comes across as very authentic to his audience. "That was a very positive discussion," says 21-year-old logistics employee Adrian Schröder.

Martin Schulz and the average worker

The managers warn Schulz not to try and shake up the limited work contract system. Schulz recently questioned this form of employment. He asks for a tour of the company. In one of the three long company buildings, the insoles are stamped out of long pieces of leather.

Schulz stops at one of the stations where the stamping happens, and leans over the workspace. The woman behind him hands him a piece of leather, and he holds it up to smell it. He takes everything seriously, and the people around him notice. It's too soon for him to be discussing political issues or a campaign platform, a full seven months ahead of the election. For now, Schulz himself - with his receptiveness for people - is the message.

He moves on to the next station, where the leather pieces are sewn. Petra Wilke finds herself next to Schulz, so she starts to explain her job to him. But then she finds the spool is empty, as is her supply of white border tape. Schulz gives her an understanding smile, asks a nice question, and then moves on.

"It is kind of exciting, but at the same time, he's just a normal person," says Wilke. Schulz has made a good impression on her. Would he be a good candidate in her eyes? Wilke tilts her head to one side and says that she hasn't voted in years. But then you see the Schulz Effect take over: "Maybe I should think about changing that."

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