The poster girl for German prosperity
Potsdam, Germany - Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is the most popular party in the country, and there is little question the centre-right party will win the most seats in the Bundestag, or parliament, on September 22.
And Chancellor Angela Merkel is even more popular than her party. On Monday night, Merkel made a pit stop in the city of Potsdam as part of a nearly 60-stop tour that began on August 14.
Within walking distance, the CDU's biggest rivals, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), were holding a rally of their own featuring party chairman Sigmar Gabriel – but the audience was several times smaller.
As an opening band at the Merkel rally played a surprisingly passable version of Daft Punk's Get Lucky hit song and vendors sold sausages and beer, many in the crowd said they did not feel especially fond of the CDU.
But the chancellor was another matter altogether. For a politician widely regarded as uncharismatic, Merkel manages to arouse strong feelings among her supporters. One woman at the rally, Eleonore Muller, said she prefers the SPD but described Merkel as "down-to-earth … You can trust her. Her word really counts. When she says something, it's really what she means."
And Irmgard – a woman from the nearby city of Werder who declined to give her last name – said she likes Merkel's economic policies, opining that the chancellor is perhaps "supposed to belong to another party".
'Anchor of stability'
Luckily for Muller and Irmgard, Germans get to vote twice in elections: once for a specific candidate, and once for a party. This second vote decides how many representatives each party will have in the Bundestag – and, ultimately, who will become chancellor. So Muller plans to vote for an SPD candidate with her first vote, and for the CDU with her second vote, so that Merkel can remain chancellor.
In what is perhaps a sign of how much more popular Merkel is than the SPD's chancellor candidate, Peer Steinbruck, the chancellor did not deign to mention him by name once during her speech.
Instead, Merkel's roughly hour-long address laid out the case for why she should remain the leader of the European Union's most populous country: "Ten years ago, they said we were the 'sick man of Europe'. Today, we are the motor of growth and the anchor of stability."
Unemployment is low, and she boasted about the country's vaunted "Mittelstand" – the medium-sized, often family-owned companies that are the dynamo behind Germany's exporting power.
Merkel also hit some lighter notes, taking a populist swipe at the Greens – the third-strongest party in Germany – for their proposal for a national "Veggie Day" in which cafeterias would abstain from serving meat once a week. "Politics shouldn't decide everything," she declared.
Children and old men in the crowd waved posters reading "Angie". But not everyone was happy: Hecklers at the back chanted and whistled for much of the speech. Among them was 26-year-old Mike Schneider, who had torn an "Angie" poster in half. Schneider, fed up with Germany's major parties and unhappy with what he said was Merkel's appropriation of left-wing policy ideas in recent years, plans on voting for the ultra-right National Democratic Party.