I.n 2005, Norbert Lammert said a sentence that still gives some politicians goose bumps to this day. That’s how they tell it. It was November 22nd, the day on which the members of the Bundestag elected Angela Merkel as Chancellor for the first time. The result of this vote was announced by Lammert, who was then President of the Bundestag. “After Konrad Adenauer, Ludwig Erhard, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder, the MP Angela Merkel was elected the first female Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany with the required majority of the votes of the members of the German Bundestag. “
Applause broke out. Chancellor Schröder, who had been voted out of office, was the first to come to Merkel and congratulate her. There was nothing else he could do now. Others applauded, and more well-wishers pressed forward. Lammert exclaimed cheerfully that he had the “reasonable impression” that Merkel would accept the election, and she assured me: yes. Applause again. Amid the hustle and bustle, Lammert spoke into the microphone: “Dear Doctor Merkel, you are the first democratic head of government in Germany. This is a strong signal for many women, and certainly for some men too. “
Role model for girls and women
That sounded funny, but it was serious. Lammert did not want to agree with anyone, but rather emphasize: There are some and there are others. His sentence expressed what many women felt, namely that a signal was needed, not only to them, the women, but also to the men. Just like a traffic light has to show some red so that others get green. Some politicians from Merkel’s generation still enthusiastically quote this sentence today. One says: “I’ve never forgotten that.” Another: “I thought that was sensational.” Lammert, a powerful man, advised other men to see a powerful woman as a harbinger of something even more powerful.
Merkel has been Germany’s most powerful politician for sixteen years. What has that changed for women? Merkel herself gave part of the answer in 2013, in a speech to the Women’s Union. “Women are also people and therefore very different and by no means always of the same opinion, and that makes women even more interesting than they already are.”
Because that is the case, women tell very different stories when they talk about Merkel as a woman. Most of them revolve around one of three questions. First: What has Merkel changed, simply by being the first female Chancellor in a line of Federal Chancellors? Second: How feminist is Merkel? And thirdly: What has she changed politically for women from her office as Federal Chancellor?
The first question is answered quite unanimously. Merkel is a role model for girls and women. That’s what schoolgirls in Berlin and students in Jordan, taz journalists and the President of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde say. And in 2017, the then Prime Minister of Finland also said it when he presented Merkel with a prize for her contributions to equality. “You have shown that women can also reach the highest management positions,” praised the Finn, and the Chancellor said thank you, and then said that there was still a lot to do. Even Annalena Baerbock, the Chancellor candidate of the Greens, who wants to do a lot of things very differently, admitted in an interview in 2018 how cool she found the Chancellor. “How she can withstand these testosterone-controlled rounds and the many attacks and peaks on herself as a woman, you can learn from it.”