Booze, Porsches and secrets: Germany's candidates get real


Berlin (AFP)

Germany's 2017 election campaign, in which Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to cruise to a fourth term, may have been widely panned as a snoozefest.

But a closer look reveals that the candidates themselves are anything but dull.

Here's a rundown of some of the most interesting tidbits about the main players in Sunday's vote.

- Martin Schulz: from broken dreams to Brussels -

Life almost took a very different turn for Merkel's main challenger, Martin Schulz of the Social Democrats.

After quitting high school without a diploma, he pinned his hopes on becoming a professional football player. But a knee injury crushed that dream, and a despondent Schulz turned to alcohol.

He credits his brother with getting him back on the right track and after overcoming his battle against the bottle, Schulz opened a book store.

Not long after, he became the youngest-ever mayor in his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia. His career eventually took him to Brussels, where he went on to become the head of the European Parliament.

Along the way, he taught himself five languages.

- Alice Weidel: the rightwing paradox -

Alice Weidel is an openly gay, former Goldman Sachs banker who is raising two children with her Sri Lankan-born partner.

She's also one of the leading candidates for the rightwing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which prides itself on its anti-immigration and anti-elite leanings.

Acknowledging the apparent paradox, Weidel said: "If we're being honest, of course the AfD doesn't seem like the first port of call when it comes to gay rights."

But she has also railed against the "Muslim gangs" who she says make it difficult for gay couples to hold hands in the street.

- Christian Lindner: Porsche-loving poster boy -

The pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) have plastered black-and-white close-ups of their leader Christian Lindner's face on campaign posters across the country. Not bad for a man who was overweight as a teenager.

Determined to fight the flab, Lindner says he shed 30 kilogrammes (66 pounds) after taking up jogging and going on a strict diet.

Showing the same tenacity elsewhere in life, he started his own ad agency at the age of 17. At 19, he bought his first Porsche. "I shouldn't have done that," he says now.

After his studies, he launched a software business that went under in the dotcom bubble of the early 2000s.

- Sahra Wagenknecht: mystery of missing father -

The leader of the far-left Die Linke party Sahra Wagenknecht was born behind the Iron Curtain in communist East Germany in 1969, to a German mother and an Iranian father.

When she was just three years old, her student father went on a trip to his home country and was never heard from again.

His fate remains a mystery and Wagenknecht has said "the chances are slim that he is still alive".

She is one half of a political power couple with former Social Democrat heavyweight Oskar Lafontaine, a one-time finance minister who later defected to Die Linke.

- Cem Ozdemir: marijuana stunt -

Co-leader of the Greens party, Cem Ozdemir is Germany's best-known politician of Turkish origin.

Last year, he attracted the wrath of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for backing a parliamentary resolution that recognised the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians as genocide.

Such was the outrage over the resolution that Ozdemir needed police protection.

But the lawmaker has also made headlines for more light-hearted reasons.

In 2014, at the height of the "ice bucket" charity challenge craze, Ozdemir was filmed dousing himself in freezing water while standing next to a marijuana plant.

He later said he had wanted to make "a gentle political statement" to decriminalise cannabis.

- Angela Merkel: recipe for success -

The famously guarded Angela Merkel shook up a sleepy campaign when she shared the secret of her potato soup recipe, revealing that she uses a masher instead of a blender.

"Then there'll always be a few lumps left"," Europe's most powerful woman told Bunte magazine in August.

She also opened up about her reclusive husband Joachim Sauer, a music lover so media-shy he has been dubbed the "Phantom of the Opera".

"He supports me by doing a lot of the grocery shopping," Merkel said. "His help allows me to focus on the campaign."