Germany’s election: flipping the bird and other poses

On Sunday, German voters will elect a new government for the next four years. That means politicians will try until the last minute to persuade undecided voters to side with their party.

As Americans well know, politics are not always about content but about how candidates look and act. Who hasn’t seen photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin shirtless on a horse? Well, German politicians these days have their own ways of raising some attention in public — intentionally or unintentionally

Show your middle finger, and you get attention. Former Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democrat Party (SPD) candidate who wants to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel, appeared in this pose in a German news magazine. Answering questions just with his body language, this picture expresses what the 66-year old politician thinks about his critics.

His PR adviser tried to convince him not to adopt this pose for publication, but Steinbrück insisted. Bad example for young people, some commentators say. Others ask: Can such a person lead the country?

One could take another view: A bad pose is still exposure.

There’s another famous German example of a public figure who did this. Not in politics, but in soccer. In 1994, Stefan Effenberg flipped the bird (in German, the action is called “stinky finger”) at the World Cup, held in the United States that year, to the stadium fans and got kicked out of the national team.

Some journalists assume that Steinbrück gave the finger over frustration about the tight race in which Merkel could again head parliament with her party the Christian Democrats (CDU).

Merkel is not a person of exaggerated body language. Her pose is the way she positions her hands on her body. It is known as the Merkel-Raute (Merkel rhombus), Merkel-Diamond or the Triangle of Power. She places her hands in front of her stomach. The fingertips meet, with the thumbs and index fingers forming a quadrangular shape.

Do you know Mr. Burns from The Simpsons? That is what Merkel does.

However, Mutti Merkel — the name some of her colleagues, and now the media, habitually use, more or less ironically, to call her the mother of the nation — got some attention at a television debate some weeks ago. Her necklace, in the colors of the German flag, snagged more chatter from some quarters than the topics of the chancellor’s election debate.

What will result from all these side issues about flipping fingers and colorful necklaces will be known soon enough. It’s likely Sunday’s close election will lead to a coalition of the CDU and the SPD.

What could the common pose of both parties look like? There are several options. One could be the two politicians riding together on a horse, like Putin. Merkel would be holding the reins between her hands formed as a triangle. Steinbrück would be embracing Merkel from behind with one hand, with the other showing his middle finger secretly to the sunset.

Too bad Steinbrück has already declared that he doesn’t want to govern the country in tandem with the CDU — although looking at current polls it might be his only chance.

Max Holscher is an Arthur F. Burns fellow at the International Center for Journalists and interning this summer at the Miami Herald. Holscher is a reporter and junior editor at Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine Zeitung (HNA) in Germany.

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