Last weekend, Germans had a chance to see their president Joachim Gauck at his best.
At an open day at the Bellevue Palace, the president’s office in Berlin, Mr. Gauck charmed his guests. He spoke with them and more importantly, listened to them. He posesses a gift for connecting with people and understanding them.
After Germany’s disgraced President Christian Wulff stepped down in February 2012, in an unpleasant welter of accusations of corruption, people craved a new type of president: Mr. Gauck fitted the bill. He operated independently of the political parties, resisted the zeitgeist, and had an impeccable career, having spent his life working for freedom. He also brought a new glamour to the country, showing independence of spirit by moving into president’s residence with his unmarried partner.
A mid-term evaluation shows that Mr. Gauck, the pastor from the northeastern city of Rostock and former head of the government’s archive from East Germany’s secret police, has only partially achieved all that people hoped he would in his first two-and-a-half years in office. Last year, a biographer already speculated about signs of fatigue.
Mr. Gauck is surely the most popular politician in the country: Most of Germany’s presidents are liked by their citizens. But his speeches frequently set Berlin’s political arena abuzz. He frequently challenges the official line and takes on politicians, violating diplomatic practices and making life difficult for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Most recently, he used strong words about Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine. At a speech in Gdańsk, Poland, remembering the outbreak of the Second World War, Mr. Gauck said Russia had “de facto” terminated a partnership built after the fall of the Berlin Wall between Russia, the European Union, NATO, and the group of leading industrialized nations. “We will adapt our policies, economies and readiness to defend to the new circumstances,” he said.