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Thread: The Rocking Baron Guttenberg Gees Up Germany

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    The Rocking Baron Guttenberg Gees Up Germany

    Times

    GERMAN politicians have never been known for their sex appeal. Then along came Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the aristocratic finance minister, who is inspiring a level of public excitement normally reserved for rock stars and Hollywood actors.

    The extraordinary rise of Guttenberg, a Bavarian baron, since his appointment only a few months ago has bewildered experts who thought that the 37-year-old lawyer and rock enthusiast was unqualified to lead Europe’s largest economy through a recession.

    Not only has the “rocking baron”, as they call him, become as popular as Chancellor Angela Merkel, his mentor, he has emerged as one of her best electoral assets as she campaigns to win another four-year term in office.

    It has made Guttenberg – friends call him “KT”, after his initials – the favourite target of opponents in Merkel’s governing “grand coalition” who have questioned his methods and ridiculed his full name – Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester.

    The attacks have seemed desperate, particularly criticism over his hiring of a British law firm to help draw up a new banking law. They are back-firing on Walter Steinmeier, the Social Democrat foreign minister whose attempt to replace Merkel as chancellor in a general election next month appears doomed, judging by opinion polls putting his party’s popularity at one of its lowest levels since the war.

    Steinmeier, described by one commentator as “clinically boring”, has not been helped by the scandal surrounding a key member of his campaign team: Ulla Schmidt, the health minister, was accused of using her official, chauffeur-driven limousine to ferry her around Europe on holidays since 2004.

    Allegations that Merkel had misspent taxpayers’ money on a birthday dinner for Deutsche Bank’s chief executive and friends seemed innocuous by comparison.

    Guttenberg, a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian partner of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, benefits from being a relative newcomer – he was elected an MP only in 2002 – and likes to present himself as an “unpolitician”, comparing politics to a “circus” and often referring, disparagingly, to “the business of politics”.

    His hobbies, too, help to set him apart: his holiday reading this year was Plato in the original Greek; and the passion for rock included an appearance earlier this year at a concert by the Australian hard rock band AC/DC. Next to him, with red devil’s horns on her head, was Stephanie, his glamorous wife, a great-granddaughter of Otto von Bismarck, founder and so-called “Iron Chancellor” of the 19th-century German empire.

    The hip image helps Guttenberg, the most eloquent defender of free markets in Merkel’s conservative block, reach out to the young who often sit around drinking beer at his rallies. His campaign has been labelled “Woodstock for conservatives”.

    With their two young daughters, Anna and Mathilda, the Guttenbergs are manna from heaven for editors but also seem an incarnation of family values that strikes a chord with the public. “I want to give back to Germany what she has given me,” the baron often proclaims.

    His father, Enoch zu Guttenberg, a renowned orchestral conductor and ecologist, is credited with having helped the young “KT” develop his moral compass, reminding him that his great-uncle was executed by the Nazis in 1945 for “resistance” and that his maternal grandfather participated in the plot to kill Hitler.

    The baron excelled at managing the family’s £450m fortune and this has stood him in good stead with corporate Germany whose titans admire his hands-on experience.

    Guttenberg’s first big test came soon after he had been hired by Merkel as finance minister in February. The chancellor was in favour of a bailout for Opel, the limping carmaker, but Guttenberg was against spending billions on what he regarded as a politically driven mission to win workers’ votes ahead of the election. Companies, he said, “must recover by themselves”.

    His threats to resign were considered courageous even if, in the end, he did not act on them. His father seemed pleased, calling him “a dolphin in the political shark pond”.

    The baron’s approval rating went up, particularly when it emerged earlier this month that the worst recession in the history of postwar Germany was over. It may be too soon to celebrate, but Guttenberg is getting the credit.

    “The baron with the gel-styled hair and old-fashioned charm is perhaps the only political star in Germany,” purred Der Spiegel magazine, not often inclined to praise conservatives.

    When members of the audience of a television chat show were invited recently to send in comments about Guttenberg, who was one of the guests, the studio was flooded with comments such as “finally an attractive politician” and “at last, someone we can trust”.

    He has even made it into the fashion magazines, an unprecedented achievement for a German politician. Readers of Laviva, a women’s magazine, last week voted him Germany’s “sexiest politician”.

    The baron has tried not to let any of it go to his head. “Power,” he says, “has the bitter taste of all transient things”.

    Additional reporting: Bojan Pancevski

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    Although I don't like the conservative CSU or even the Union in general, I see Theodor zu Guttenberg as a competent, earnest and even somewhat sympathetic man and a charismatic politician. I wouldn't necessarily want him as a Bundeskanzler, but he does a good job as the minister of economy (not finance, the minister of finance is Peer Steinbrück, that's not the same in germany). Whoever wins the election, I hope he's allowed to stay in the cabinet.

    You can think about our governors as you wish, but this one's at least honest, halfway competent and stands by his word.

    I never heared someone calling him the "Rock Baron" though.
    "Lever dot as slav."

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    Quote Originally Posted by totenlicht
    You can think about our governors as you wish, but this one's at least honest, halfway competent and stands by his word.
    He's a politician, so I would be careful with the word honest

    But I agree, that he dares to stand to common sense and against his party-agenda is at least a start.

    It is to see though if he can hold this course for longer, after all he's just started in february, amidst the crisis, when the incapable bunch seemed completely panic-driven to do something... we'll see
    Ein Leben ist nichts, deine Sprosse sind alles
    Aller Sturm nimmt nichts, weil dein Wurzelgriff zu stark ist
    und endet meine Frist, weiss ich dass du noch da bist
    Gefürchtet von der Zeit, mein Baum, mein Stamm in Ewigkeit

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