gThe next German coalition government, which will be sworn in on Wednesday, will be accompanied by new faces, a new set of political priorities and a new dose of energy. He will also speak with a distinctive accent.
Olaf Scholz, the center-left politician who will replace Angela Merkel, is a man from northern Germany not only by his education but by his voice. When the former mayor of Hamburg recently warned parliament that Covid-19 had yet to be defeated, he looked at the elongated fricatives typical of Germany’s second largest city: Scholz utters the word besiege like besiecht.
His cabinet meetings will be more likely to open with a casually mumbled Moin Moin that the Servus greeting exclusive to southern states. In Scholz’s chief of staff, Wolfgang Schmidt, (also from Hamburg), the vice-chancellor, Robert Habeck (from PlÃ¶n in Schleswig Holstein), the foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, and the labor minister, Hubertus Heil, (both from Lower Saxony), several great voices around the table are from the northern third of the country.
Regional representation is a matter of the utmost importance in Germany’s decentralized political system and governments are working hard to give each of the 16 federal states their rightful share of the seats of power in Berlin.
But a change of balance under Scholz is already noticeable. On the one hand, his cabinet will be the first in the country’s post-war history without a Bavarian minister. The largest and southernmost state in Germany found itself “on the submarine bank,” grumbled this week the secretary general of the Christian Social Union in power in Bavaria.
In many ways, the northward drift of German political power goes against the grain. The south dominates the country in economic terms: it has most of the large companies listed on the German stock exchange, hosts more start-ups, employs more IT professionals and files more patents than the north. It reigns supreme in German football, where traditional northern clubs like Werder Bremen and Hamburg SV are in decline as Bayern Munich take trophy after trophy.
But in politics, the center of gravity has slowly shifted north since the seat of parliament was moved from Bonn in the Rhineland to Berlin. After Merkel, born in Hamburg and raised in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and Hanoverian Gerhard SchrÃ¶der, Scholz is the third chancellor of the North in a row; the last four deputies have all come from the northern states.
To some extent, the strength of the north is the result of the weakness of the south and southwest, where the Conservative Party bloc is particularly prone to internal feuds. Had the Christian Democratic Union gotten over its complicated relations with its sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union, the Bundestag might have seen CSU leader Markus SÃ¶der being sworn in as chancellor on Wednesday.
Tom Mannewitz, a political scientist at the Federal University of Public Administration, said: âWith the party’s internal factionalism and the historic split between CDU and CSU, the conservative bloc has a strategic disadvantage in southern Germany. “
Even so, accents play a surprisingly important role in German politics. Scholz’s speech, while still displaying distinctive Nordic markers, is a far cry from the strong Hamburg dialect of his idol Helmut Schmidt. As with Merkel and SchrÃ¶der, most Germans would probably identify her accent as Standard German or Hochdeutsch, giving him an ordinary man’s quality that politicians in the south of the so-called Uerdingen line, separating the “high” and “low” dialects of German, can strive to achieve.
“We are increasingly finding that the type of North German politician who speaks High German is better accepted across the country,” said JÃ¼rgen Falter, political scientist at the University of Mainz. “Southern politicians, on the other hand, often find it difficult to shake off an air of provincialism.”
The last two contenders who failed in their race for the head, the Social Democrat Martin Schulz in 2017 and Merkel’s designated successor, Armin Laschet, in the September elections, both from Aachen, near of the former power center of the republic of Bonn, and sounded like that when they spoke.
Their folkloric appeal, a boon at the state level or in the European Parliament, became a burden as they attempted to storm the national stage, evoking stereotypes of cheerful but not very serious carnival jesters: grim event in a city hit by flash floods in summer.
Michael Elmentaler, professor of linguistics at the University of Kiel, said: âAfter World War II there was a series of powerful German rulers whose regional accents were accepted as part of their identity, from Konrad Adenauer and Ludwig Erhard to Kurt Kiesinger. and Helmut Kohl.
âWhat we’re seeing now, however, is that tolerance for regional dialects is waning. If a German politician spoke like Adenauer today, people would laugh at him.
Linguists like Elmentaler have recorded the disappearance of regional dialects not only from the German national parliament, but also from town halls and television networks, where the language of news presenters has become more relaxed but also more standardized. Linguistic quirks associated with specific towns or villages have given way to larger âregiolectsâ.
If Scholz’s Nordic identity helped him claim the chancellery, will it also shape his management of the country?
âThere is a powerful clichÃ© of a certain type of politician from northern Germany, the Hanseat “, said Christoph Strupp, historian at the Hamburg Research Center for Contemporary History. “They are supposed to be sober pragmatists, humble in their public appearance, with an independence of mind suited to a city-state, and with a knack for compromise.
While large states like North Rhine-Westphalia have different centers of power whose interests may be difficult to reconcile by a single politician, in Hamburg âthere is a closeness to politics, business and media that can facilitate consensus building, âStrupp said. .
âScholz certainly lives up to many Hanseatic clichÃ©s,â Strupp said – both in a negative and a positive sense. âHe proved that he was able to hold together a red-green coalition that was not lacking in conflict. He managed to find decisive and workable solutions to the simmering problems in the city, such as the over-budgeted Elbphilharmonie concert hall or the shortage of housing.
Hamburg’s town hall is adjacent to the city’s chamber of commerce, with an air bridge connecting the two buildings – a symbol, according to some, of a closeness between political and business interests that has created a culture of backstage deals. A candidate for mayor of Hamburg in 2011, Scholz simply recruited the president of the chamber of commerce as a business senator – and won.