While defending a controversial remark about the real use of gender-neutral bathrooms, the head of the CDU decried the "madness" of cultural sensitivity in kindergarten Carnival parties.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer used her first Ash Wednesday speech as head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to hit back at critics who accused her of ridiculing minorities.
The conservative politician faced a backlash from LGBTI activists and opposition politicians after she mocked the idea of gender-neutral bathrooms during a speech at a Carnival celebration last week.
Addressing supporters in the northern town of Demmin on Wednesday evening, she defended her joke and said she couldn't understand the response it had provoked. The spirit of Carnival, she said, meant "not having to weigh your every word."
"If we're so rigid, as has been the case in the past few days, then a piece of tradition and culture in Germany will be ruined, and we shouldn't allow that," she added. "Right now it's as if we're the tensest people in the world. This cannot go on."
During last week's Carnival gig, Kramp-Karrenbauer said gender-neutral bathrooms were "for the men who can't decide if they want to sit or stand when they pee."
While Kramp-Karrenbauer said the joke was about the relationship between men and women, critics accused her of making fun of toilets for intersex people and then using Carnival's frivolity to cover up her offensive turn of phrase.
"Clumsy jokes against minorities are the last thing that our society needs," said Social Democrat (SPD) Justice Minister Katarina Barley in a speech on Wednesday. "Carnival should take aim at the powerful, at politicians, at companies, at banks but not at those who already have to fight."
Cultural sensitivity 'madness' in kindergarten
Kramp-Karrenbauer also used her speech to criticize a campaign by a Hamburg kindergarten to discourage children from dressing up in what some view as culturally offensive Carnival costumes. The center in question had sent a letter to parents saying costumes of Native Americans, Indians or sheikhs weren't recommended.
The CDU audience applauded when Kramp-Karrenbauer said she wanted a Germany where children could play cowboys and Indians, and "where they're allowed to play with dolls or with Legos or what they want in kindergarten, without you having to tell a 3-year-old that they have to be culturally sensitive. That's the type of madness we're witnessing here."
What else was covered in AKK's speech
It is a 100-year-old tradition for top German politicians from all parties to give colorful speeches and take aim at their rivals on Ash Wednesday.
At the CDU event in Demmin, Kramp-Karrenbauer called on party members to deliver a strong campaign in the leadup to EU parliamentary elections in May.
"This is not a European election like any other," she said. This time around, "it is about the question of whether … what we in Germany and in Europe think is right, and the values we hold dear, still have a role to play in the world."
Referring to the populist, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), she said: "Those who want hate, who want exclusion, who want nationalism, who want Germany to fall out of the EU, can vote for them."
There is some concern among European leaders that populist and eurosceptic parties could make significant gains in the upcoming elections by exploiting issues such as migration and border security.
nm/sms (epd, AFD, dpa)