“Merkel-Raute” – sign of power and reminder for democracy
by Jelena Berner
The “Merkel -Raute” is a famous hand gesture of Germany’s current chancellor Angela Merkel which is also known as “triangle of power” and as “Merkel diamond” in the English-speaking world: Chancellor Merkel brings together the fingertips of thumbs and forefingers to form a diamond in front of her stomach. She explains her gesture as an expression of “a certain love for symmetry”, to keep her hands calm and her back straight.
Even though it definitely was not invented by Mrs. Merkel, this rather practical and meaningless gesture became strongly linked with her person and suddenly got perceived by the public as a symbol of her power. Becoming German chancellor in 2005, Chancellor Merkel was strongly underestimated both at home and abroad. She received acknowledgement for being the first female German chancellor but her power-base was seen as rather weak. One reason for that might be how much she differs from her male predecessors and stands out in mainly testosterone dominated international politics.
As a divorced, childless woman in second marriage, Mrs. Merkel is part of a female generation breaking with the traditional gender roles. These gender roles had a strong impact on German society until the late 1990s. In defiance to her current success, these also affected Merkel at the beginning of her political career. The whole nation made fun of her hair styles which fitted to the cliché of women from the G.D.R: mannish and old fashioned. Her former career as quantum chemist supported these resentments. When Chancellor Merkel wore a very female dress for the opening of the new Oslo Opera in 2008 the public reactions turned out contrary: confronted with Merkel’s femininity the Germans felt uncomfortable. This shows a still existing ambiguity in German society.
Nevertheless, Angela Merkel distinguished herself as one of the world’s most powerful persons throughout the last years. Especially after the financial crisis she was credited to play a central role in Europe and became known for her polarizing “alternativlos”- leadership (“leadership of no alternatives”). The latter damaged her popularity first of all abroad, e.g. in Greece and led to accuses of her having a “Machiavellian” negotiation style.Even though it mainly raised her popularity in her home country she was also criticized for being opportunist. The fact that she did not dare to go further than the German elector’s will throughout the debt crisis negotiation was interpreted as fear of losing power rather than a strong will to fight for German interests. Nonetheless, Merkel receives today, the highest approval ratings by German people among all German politicians.
Due to the campaign for the federal elections in autumn 2013 the hash tag “#merkelraute” got introduced to the social media and spread fast in the international online community. Mrs. Merkel’s party CDU installed a huge campaign poster dedicated to her trademark accompanied by the slogan “Put Germany’s future in good hands” close to the central train station of Berlin. The poster linked this already relatively known gesture with Merkel’s image of a caring mother but without mentioning any of Merkel’s political aims – unusual in post-war German politics. The idea behind it might be to lead the elector’s attention to female qualities which are generally well seen but especially in her own conservative party: mother qualities. Still, that the campaign management thought that it is worth to invest in a huge poster with nothing but a picture of the chancellor’s hands, evoked a discussion about whether this is a huge underestimation of the people’s interest in politics or a sign for its increasing disenchantment with politics.
The election campaign in autumn 2013 became known as the ‘Wahlkampf der Gesten”, due to an interview with Merkel’s rival candidate Peer Steinbrück where the picture above was taken. Until then (provocative) gestures like this were avoided or rather an accompaniment than subject of interpretation in German politics. The reason for that lies in German history. After Hitler and his “Hitlergruß” German politicians tried to get rid of the abhorred Nazi-image and to score with contents. If today’s German elector’s votes are really to win by two hands, a very simple, non-political message and a clever marketing idea, it would be another reason to wonder if 60 years after the end of the 2nd World War there is an increasing lack of appreciation for democracy in Western European countries.
The partner of the U.S. in the deepening conflict of Ukraine crisis is again Angela Merkel. It is an awkward situation: Merkel fights in Minsk as the major negotiator for democracy and freedom in Ukraine and sits at the very same time with an 80 per cent-majority-collation in the German parliament. It is her government sending weapons to the Kurdish people in Iraq for the fight against the cruelty of the “Islamic State” but exporting as well weapons to Saudi Arabia, a nation violating human rights. Chancellor Merkel is no anti-democrat but still does not make clear to her people that democracy needs endless effort. In the end Angela Merkel profits from the lazy comfort of her people and even encourages it with campaign posters like the one of September 2013.
Therefore the keyword “merkelraute” should be a reminder for all societies of the 21st century – especially in the Western World – that even after more than 60 years of maintenance, democracy is nothing which runs by itself or is self-evident. It is an endless process of learning and practicing. Angela Merkel might be a new type of leader on the world stage. Nevertheless it needs a critical mass – in Germany as in the rest of the world – to keep up the values of democracy and to make a good democratic leader.
1. Bergfeld, Mark. “The many faces of Frau Merkel”. Aljazeera.com (September 21, 2013). 14 February 2015: “The many faces of Frau Merkel” gives a good portrait of the opaque person Angela Merkel.
2. Grottian’s article is an interesting opinion piece about missing criticism on Angela Merkel.
Grottian, Peter. “Die Mängel der Merkel”. Cicero: Magazin für politische Kultur: Kampf der Kulturen (February 2015 Issue): 42 – 50:
3. Burmeister, Silke. „S.P.O.N. – Helden der Gegenwart: Muttis Höhle für alle Schwestern“. Spiegel Online Kultur (September 15, 2013). 14 February 2015: In her column Silke Burmeister analyses in an amusing way different meanings of the “merkelraute” and the hype around the federal election poster.
4. Mozart, Franziska: “Merkelraute: “Gesunde Respektlosigkeit gegenüber Politik”. wuv.de (September 06, 2013). 14 February 2015: In the Interview with the social media expert Jo Weddening, Mozart discusses reasons for and consequences of the online trend “merkelraute”- especially the parodies of the federal election poster.
5. Jungholt, Thorsten. “Wo die Merkel-Raute den Tod bringt“. Welt.de (September 15, 2013). 14 February 2015: Jungholt’s article describes well the endless struggle of Germany between the desire of pacifism and the allure of international influence.