WYou can guess what Markus Söder intended with his carnival appearance as Otto von Bismarck. The Bavarian Prime Minister, who can only be surpassed in his self-promotion by the German Foreign Minister, wanted to show the voters with a Veitshöchheim grin what kind of iron chancellor they could have in him. But not only because he was clearly sweating under the mask, very few people probably recognized him as the revenant of the great Prussia. Rather, Söder's appearance unintentionally pointed to a blank space: there is no longer a Bismarck in this country; nor any Stresemann or Adenauer. With a few exceptions, impressive politicians in Germany are only available in disguise, as caricatures.

Jochen Buchsteiner

Political correspondent for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in Berlin.

Some even view this with relief. As is well known, people have had enough of greatness, they say, especially since supposed merits are, from today's perspective, strange or even overshadowed by outrages. In “progressive circles,” Bismarck is no longer seen primarily as a shrewd unifier of Germany who gave the country decades of peace (after the war against France) in a tense European environment, but rather as a pioneer of excessive nationalism and, almost worse, as an unscrupulous one Exploiters of distant colonies. Even with Konrad Adenauer, some people no longer have any mercy. In November, a pro-European quote from the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany was removed from their party program at the instigation of the Green delegates because Adenauer was “not feminist and anti-fascist” enough.

Germany is not a special case

But some citizens also regret the diminished stature of their politicians and wonder where the roots of this actually lie. They don't seem to be purely German, as a look across the borders illustrates. In Great Britain, the former Empire, only one of the last five prime ministers was remembered, Boris Johnson, and he was largely seen as the heir to Winston Churchill. In the Spanish Kingdom, which other countries also once looked up to, no head of government has been known by name since Felipe Gonzales. Even in the United States, the current Western leading power, personnel have been going downhill in waves since George Bush the Elder. One of the exceptions to the rule is French President Emmanuel Macron, who knows how to combine strategic thinking and assertiveness with personal aura.

So Germany is not a special case, apart from the fact that the Germans perhaps suffered a little less from their representatives than other nations. After all, they had Angela Merkel, whom they valued because of her inconspicuousness rather than despite her – but who was nevertheless admired abroad as a “leader”. The fact that today both Merkel and her long-time junior partner, current Chancellor Scholz, are exposed to so much criticism and are suddenly perceived by many citizens as inadequate, as somehow mediocre, is not due to their lackluster appearance, but rather to (late) recognized political mistakes, Failure and non-performance of services.