It wasn’t that long ago when Gerhard Schröder said to me, “Du bist ein Amerikanischer Schlamassel.” That was after he turned around with his SDP grin and told me that he was only following the mark of his campaign: “Vertrauen in Deutschland,” Trust in Germany. Born and bred on Germany soil, I was nonetheless an American interloper. I was to get the hell out.
Back at headquarters, Schröder and Merkel got into some mean fisticuffs. You see, the two seemed to have the same problem that Gore and GW did back in the day, but this time, Schröder took the high road. Sort of. No courts convened, no dragged out legal processes. He simply said: “Take it.” Then he smiled his SDP smile and turned to walk out of the Chancellor’s office.
“Oh, one more thing…” Merkel turned around, dressed to the nines, a scowl on her face. Politics doesn’t happen so easily and a once-was Chancellor knew the tricks of the trade.
“Ja?” She pushed through tight lips, waiting.
“The office is yours, if the SDP gets control of the Bundestag. Just umm, create a coalition. That should do it. CDU marries SDP.”
Merkel stared him down like a soon-to-be mother-in-law saddled with a disgusting engagement. But Schröder was no timid ass. He simply stared back at her grinning. Until, finally, she agreed.
It’s hard to believe I got this nitty-gritty over cafe und kuchen at a Hanover street-side cafe. Politicians don’t talk shop, and it’s never a hobby. They’re in, all or none. Practically speaking, Schröder is out of the picture—and has been for years. But politics eats your soul and flesh, which makes memories a habit of recalling legislative victories and administrative failures. We didn’t talk about children learning to walk or Weinachten in Berlin. Those things were politically-motivated, underlined, tinged, tainted, and corrupted. Life was politics. And it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.
“Was bringt die Zukunft?” I quietly asked after a moment of windy silence. He took a sip of his ersatz latte and laughed, growing his trademark SDP grin.
“What happens,” he said resignedly, “happens. It is enough to know I have no hand in the matter.”
And when reflection paused, troubled by the cold, we took our coats and walked the platz back home—me to my hotel, he to his office. There was nothing but a taste of usual about it. And in that, it was the most bizarre encounter I have ever had.