German election TV debate: Live

September 13, 2009

9:15 p.m. – The whole country has come to a standstill for this debate, it seems. It’s like during the World Cup soccer tournament — with “public viewing” arenas like this one in Berlin set up from The Black Forest to the Baltic.

9:00 p.m. – The sparks are flying here in the first half hour. The four interrogators, network heavyweights, are grilling both Merkel and Steinmeier and there’ s an unexpectedly good discussion going on here without a lot of long speeches. They’re debating about Opel right now — who deserves credit for saving the carmaker. Steinmeier said it would be “Mausetot” (dead as a mouse) if it had been up to Merkel and a centre-right government. Merkel counters — nonsense.





8:50 p.m. – Steinmeier and Merkel don’t use the informal “du” with ach other, the world has just learned. It might sound like a trivial question but I bet a lot of people will remember Steinmeier’s answer to that unusual question: “We don’t use ‘du’ — that’s not something that I consider necessary in politics,” Steinmeier says.



8:36 p.m. – Merkel is also at pains to show her more optimistic side, using her opening question to give a little spiel about how successful the grand coalition has been working “under my leadership”. She doesn’t waste any time ticking off her accomplishments and points out that unemployment fell from 5 million when she took office to under 3 million. What she doesn’t mention is that unemployment is now rising again and her predecessor actually deserves quite a bit of the credit for that initial decline.8:33 p.m. – The debate gets off to a quick start. No messing about. Steinmeier gets the first question and it takes him less than 3 minutes to rattle off all his campaign buzz words: “There’sa better alternative — me,” Steinmeier says with a wide smile. The Foreign Minister seems to be at pains to show he’s in a good mood and silence all those media critics who say he talks like a cold bureaucrat. He goes right on the attack, criticising Merkel for resisting the SPD’s calls for a minimum wage and limiting manager pay. And then Steinmeier pulls out the hammer in his last opening comment — nuclear power. He wants to scare voters worried about CDU/CSU plans to extend the use of nuclear power into his camp. “With us there won’t be any retreat into nuclear power,” he says.
7:15 p.m. – Merkel arrives after Steinmeier and on her own. Her husband will be watching from home.


7:00 p.m. – Steinmeier arrives to the studio first, accompanied by his wife — a Berlin judge. The pressure is clearly on the challenger but he flashes a wide, confident grin to the waiting photographers. ”With the SPD trailing Merkel’s conservatives in the polls by 11-14 points, the onus is on Steinmeier to land a punch on Merkel and win over undecided voters,” my colleague Madeline Chambers wrote in her afternoon update story. “Analysts say up to 40 percent have still to make up their mind.” Steinmeier is wearing a bright red tie — matching the colour of his centre-left Social Democrats. There will be a lot of speculation about Merkel’s outfit — but one thing is certain: her husband won’t be with her. He’s watching at home.

5 p.m. – So where is this TV studio where German history could be made tonight? The Adlershof TV studio in the southeastern corner of Berlin is the same venue for the 2005 debate. It’s the former production site for Communist East German TV and it’s a corner of Berlin Merkel knows well — not only did she square off in the same studio against Schroeder but she also worked as a physicists at the East Germany Academy of Sciences in the adjoining Technology Park before the Berlin Wall fell and she ended up in politics. As my German language service colleague Kim Bode pointed out in her story from a visit to Adlershof, “If you look past the red carpet where Merkel and Steinmeier will be standing, Studio B is a rather small and sober-looking place,” she notes. CDU campaign manager Peter Radunski warned her against expecting too much: “Neither candidate is an entertainer of the same calibre as Obama.” Her headline summary of what to expect: “The TV debate could be dull, but it could also decide the election.”
4 p.m. – German newspaper Bild am Sonntag calls tonight’s debate “the climax of the election campaign.” It notes that both Merkel and Steinmeier have cleared their calendars for the last several days to prepare and relax for the debate. “Steinmeier’s going to go for a long walk this morning after having breakfast with his family and spend the afternoon studying for the debate — his wife Elke Buedenbender will drive with him to the TV studio and watch it from an adjacent room,” Bild am Sonntag writes. “Merkel’s husband, Professor Joachim Sauer, will be watching the debate on TV at home.”

3 p.m – Schroeder was again far behind in opinion polls in 2005 when he went into the one TV debate with Merkel, then the leader of the opposition. As my colleague Noah Barkin pointed out in his preview story, Schroeder also seemed to come out of the encounter with the edge even if his second comeback rally in 2005 fell just short of catching Merkel’s conservatives. “But Steinmeier lacks the quick wit of Schroeder, one of the most rhetorically gifted German leaders of the post-war era.” His story also quotes Manfred Guellner, head of the Forsa polling group, saying: “It will be tough to score points against Merkel, who has gained a lot of experience with public events like this over the past years.” Barkin wrote the essence of this debate is: ”Steinmeier gets a last chance to turn around his troubled campaign.”


1 p.m. – The TV debate idea was imported rather reluctantly at first from the United States ahead of the 2002 election. Previously, incumbent German chancellors had “keine Interesse” in letting their challengers get up on the same stage with them. Before 1998, post-war Germans had never voted out an incumbent chancellor. German leaders had only left or were ousted midterm through resignation. But in 1998, Gerhard Schroeder beat incumbent Helmut Kohl at the ballot box — without a TV debate. In 2002, Schroeder was far behind conservative challenger Edmund Stoiber in opinion polls and had little to lose when agreeing to the first debate that has since become a tradition.   

12:00 noon – It’s “high noon” in the German election campaign and in a little over eight hours millions of Germans will get the chance to witness what could perhaps be the highlight of the contest two weeks before the vote when Chancellor Angela Merkel and her challenger Frank-Walter Steinmeier square off in a 90-minute live TV debate. But because both have been exceedingly cautious campaigners it could also end up being a damp squib. It is the only TV debate of the campaign that culminates in the Sept. 27 election and it’s of critical importance both for Merkel, who is looking to protect her 11 to 14 point lead in opinion polls, as well as for Steinmeier, who desperately needs to start scoring points now if he wants to narrow the gap. It’s unlikely either will score a knock-out blow — they’ve been working together in the same grand coalition government for the last four years and obviously know the material like the back of their hands. But the potential for a gaffe will keep an estimated 20 million TV households glued to their sets when the country’s four main networks (ARD, ZDF, RTL, SAT-1) all broadcast the head-to-head battle live at 8:30 p.m. “Is Merkel v. Steinmeier going to be a duel or a duet?” ZDF television asked in its preview report last night. We’ll keep you updated with all the key moments on this blog.





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I hope Ms. Merkel continues to stay, and the sensible members of her party as well. They’ve been a voice of sense and sensibility in these financially turbulent global times. I appreciate their firmness with the US and companies that have become idiotic, crazy and cruel to people (and their basic survival). I also welcome her and her party’s effort to connect and support emerging economies that deserve a chance to shine, and appreciate their contribution with turning everything into arrogant mean-spirited competition. We need more smart, soft but strong women in power – women who are not wimpy, churlish and petty, nor the ones trying to prove their strenght by acting macho all the time. I hope to see Germany do well in space research too – especially in intelligent collaboration with China, India, the US and possibly Brazil. Danke Schon, und Auf Wiedersen

Posted by Dr. MS | Report as abusive

wow, this is the most biased report I’ve read in a long time!

Posted by Per | Report as abusive

The Chancellor is the most distinguished and trusted leader of all the western democracies. Please let the Germans have the good sense to keep her!

Posted by mark | Report as abusive

your country (Germany) is in dire straits right now. Reverse demographic trend, a credit crises starting this fall, corrupt politicians, higher taxes, Hartz IV increasing and you are worried about space research? This is what i dont get about you Germans. Fascinated by a Green effort, lack of furthering the V2 dominance, 40% of the popluation on welfare and you worry about space travel? Hallo.. Again, clearly shows that the common people of these welfare states are so out of touch with reality. Germany is a country falling apart and space research will not be on top of the agenda. Hallo!

Posted by Tschuess | Report as abusive

Dr. MS: If you don’t like so-called ‘idiotic, crazy and cruel’ companies, then don’t work for them and don’t buy products from them.Government interference in the economy, and on companies consists of giving an unearned benefit, extorted by force, to some people (in your case, the looters who can’t hack it on their own) at the expense of others (in your case, the industrious hard working people).If enough people rally against so-called evil corporations, then they will wise up to stay competitive to companies who are compassionate – whatever that means.XopherPS. I’d love to see the standard by which you measure all of this.

Posted by Christopher | Report as abusive

Germans are smart…they will stay with Merkel. She is is leader…and there is a shortage of real leaders in the world today. Vote Merkel.

Posted by Leif Jensen | Report as abusive

I believe its time for Merkel to go. She is seeking pure power, a dangerous characteristic we have seen from previous german chancellors, with terrible results. Her lack of leadership, and willingness to embrace thw status quo, continues to drive germany further down.

Posted by muhammed atta | Report as abusive

Germany’s decline continues! Since the end of World War 2 the Germans have continued to pat each other on the back extolling their greatness, however, I see a country who population shrinks every year and it’s old demons, no matter how cleverly disguised rear their head when Germany finds itself in a crisis. Germany will be the first Caucasian nation to go Brown since it needs people to pay for the old and their few Caucasians that have been born this century in Germany can not support the older population. Myrkel is perfect for Germany, a weak look woman that shakes her head a lot. Last thing Germany needs is a man that thinks the country is great.

Posted by Jonathan | Report as abusive

I am an American – and I have always felt strongly that to involve yourself in another Democracies election process is wrong. It bothers me when Europeans comment on ours – since – after all – you don’t live here and you can’t fully understand the day to day concerns we have. Likewise for Germany.But I will say this . . . not everything in American Politics is worthy of “transporting” to Europe. Our political process has become so commercial and scripted that there is a real disconnect from reality involving the candidates. Its disgraceful that candidates are often “created” Hollywood style. Its just a caution.Secondly . . . I do wish Angela Merkel were an American. I envy you a tough politicians with a heavy dose of common sense.

Posted by Diana | Report as abusive

Jonathan & Diana, I agree with you. Germany and their people love tp tell people what to do. its part of their controlling, overbearing, listen and do genetic makeup. This time, Germany has been saying Schadenfreunde to the US for the last 2 years. the US will be saying this to Germany the next 5 years as Germany’s economy will be held down.Leif Jensen, Germans are not smart. Its all deception. I lived in Germany for 3 years. American universities, companies, health care and government policies are way far advanced than the Bundesrepublic. Hyperinflation will crush the DAX in a year or 2. No Weimar this time around…Merkel should stay in Berlin. Her fathers communist ways are comming to present as you saw with her way of handling Opel. What a step back for Germany. She knows she is useless. There is rampant syping in the culture. Germany will be an Islamic state in 40 years. With the recent pullout of the missles shield in Poland and Czecho, I always said Russia should take back CEE but now, I say, let them take everything back up to the Mosel River (Germany)!

Posted by Tschuess | Report as abusive