Desire defines existence, the desire for recognition, power, money, conquest and savoir vivre. The lower the social status, the stronger these desires can be. German politicians like Franz Josef Strauß and Joschka Fischer know this desire, as does Gerhard Schröder.
Growing up, Mr. Schröder’s family was so poor, they would now have qualified for welfare benefits. He grew up in towns like Bexten and Osterhagen, places that are easy to forget and yet remain imprinted on his memory. He talked about these places during his campaigns. It was clear they had shaped him.
His emphasis on his roots is one of the reasons Germans are so well informed about his mother Erika Vosseler’s survival skills, his nagging and jealous stepbrother, and the local soccer club, where Mr. Schröder, an aggressive center-forward nicknamed “the plower,” was a reliable scorer.
“I wanted to get out of there,” Mr. Schröder admitted. He yearned for activities like singing, painting and reading: the things that children in wealthier homes took for granted. He freely talks about how he suffered as a result of what he called the “shortcomings of my background.”
Mr. Schröder lived up to his childhood nickname. Today, he has risen so far above his humble beginnings that he commands substantial fees for advising entrepreneurs and important companies, and gives statesmanlike speeches at conferences. There are several biographies and books about his politics. He wrote his own memoirs early, and as a result they are incomplete.
The latest book about Mr. Schröder is a hefty tome by the seasoned biographer Gregor Schöllgen. It will be launched on Tuesday by Chancellor Angela Merkel, his successor in office. Mighty Schröder himself will also be present at the event.
In the introduction, the author quotes Ms. Merkel, who said that while the former chancellor had a “bourgeois attitude,” he lacked a “classic bourgeois core.” But no matter what anyone says, Mr. Schröder’s reputation as a chancellor of reform and as an opponent of the disastrous Iraq war gets better from one year to the next.