Merkel bids farewell to Stralsund, her longtime constituency
Stralsund (Germany) (AFP) –
In 1990, local politician Wolfhard Molkentin was desperately looking for someone from his CDU party to stand in the first election of a newly reunified Germany in a Baltic coast constituency, when someone whispered "Merkel" in his ear.
Then completely unknown, Angela Merkel went on to win the seat in constituency 267, which includes the Baltic Sea town of Stralsund and the island of Ruegen, beginning her journey to the chancellery.
Even after 16 years holding the reins of Europe's biggest economy, Merkel "basically hasn't changed," Molkentin told AFP, sitting at the table where he once welcomed her for coffee and cake.
"She was a very simple, stable and trustworthy person, which she still is," said the octogenarian of Merkel, who will step down after Sunday's elections following four consecutive terms as chancellor.
Merkel will return to her constituency for the last time as chancellor on Tuesday, along with her would-be successor Armin Laschet, who is badly in need of a boost just days before the country goes to the polls.
The still immensely popular chancellor will also be joined by Georg Guenther, the local CDU candidate hoping to succeed her in the constituency.
With a haircut to rival Merkel's in 1990, Guenther was just three years old when she was first elected there.
By a stand where CDU activists were grilling sausages, Guenther admitted he has big shoes to fill. "I'm proud, it's a good legacy," said the tax official.
But while his mentor has given him some sound advice, he intends to forge his own path. "It's important to remain a little independent," he said.
- 'Who is Merkel?' -
With the heavy load on her plate at the national level, Merkel hardly has time to return to Stralsund to see the people who helped launch her political career.
Molkentin last welcomed the chancellor, who still sends him birthday cards, at his home in Grammendorf in December.
He delivered her Christmas goose every year until 2020, and she invited him to all of her swearing-in ceremonies, as well as to a reception with George W. Bush in 2006.
He still has a photo of himself sitting next to the president. "You even lent him your glasses -- he forgot his!", recalled his wife Christa.
Recalling the day when the name Merkel was given to him as a possible candidate, Molkentin said he responded: "Who is Merkel?"
But having observed the young politician at a meeting with activists, Molkentin was convinced. "I thought, 'With her, we'll be able to achieve something'," he said.
Merkel was elected as an MP with 48.5 percent of the vote. She went on to be re-elected seven times, a plaque with her name on it standing proud for 31 years outside her office on a picturesque street in Stralsund's old town.
- Fisherman's schnapps -
Hans-Joachim Bull, a former fisherman who lives on the island of Ruegen with its white sand beaches, has not forgotten his first meeting with Merkel when she was 36 years old.
He recalls how she listened patiently as the fishermen shared their grievances about European quotas.
"She never promised us that it would get better. But she told us 'I'll take your problems on board'," recalls the 64-year-old.
The dilapidated fishing hut where the discussion took place is no longer standing, but a photo remains of the then future chancellor, cheeks rosy from fisherman's schnapps.
"She had four or five of them," Bull recalls with amusement.
© 2021 AFP