Her penitential shirt is a collarless, egg yolk yellow costume jacket, and her face shows an expression of cheerful relief – as if someone had taken great pressure off her.
Angela Merkel’s apology appearance on Wednesday was symbolically not a demonstration of failure, but a liberation. The performance culminated in the proverbial sentence “This mistake is only my mistake”.
The sentence, which Merkel formulated not proudly but with a touch of stubborn bravery, is linguistically in a rather Catholic tradition. The mea culpa, the confession of great, even maximum, personal guilt, has been spoken in church services since the 11th century.
In the history of German politics, Merkel’s admission of guilt forms a sharp contrast to the unfortunate Prussian intransigence taught by Frederick the Great. “Be firm in your decisions!” Demanded the stern man. “Weigh up the pros and cons beforehand: but once your will has been declared, you never go away from it.”
Far from this doctrine, a mostly historically tinged art of apology has developed in modern politics since Willy Brandt’s kneeling in Warsaw in December 1970 at the latest. Pope John Paul II apologized for the Inquisition, US President Bill Clinton for the slave trade and Switzerland for bunkering Nazi gold. And, that probably also shows where the apology reaches its limits or becomes a hollow phrase: Practically all indigenous people around the globe should also be provided with apologies by now.
In any case, public officials are usually only capable of confessing guilt in the current phase of exercising power if they finally leave their job. The national coach Christoph Daum, who had been unable to work, was considered to have set the standard so far. I left it in the rain and in the dark. And I’m sorry. ”
Merkel is leaving in the fall. After all, you have to attest to having admitted a mistake on the big stage when a re-election was still pending – in 2016 in the vicious criticism affair of Jan Böhmermann. At that time, however, she did not correct her course.
Merkel’s appearance on this historic Wednesday was characterized by the fact that she wanted to spare her country colleagues every kind of cold shower and gloomy shame. One sacrifices herself for the other. In terms of emotional impact, she was able to compete with Brenda Lee’s pop classic from 1960, in which the singer proclaimed: “I’m sorry / that I was such a fool”.
Slightly younger people may be reminded of Julia Roberts’ great apology scene in “Notting Hill”, in which the heroine proclaims: “I am just a girl / standing in front of a boy / asking him to love her”. Merkel’s practice of penance possessed the charm of this “I am also only human” admission; at the same time, her cheerfully pleading tone announced the desire to please be loved by the people in Germany.
In fact, Merkel can hope for forgiveness. Every thorough, cleverly thought-out admission of guilt is similar to the gesture with which a defeated dog throws itself on its back in front of the opponent and offers him the defenseless throat – and this gesture is only advisable if you trust that the opponent will not under any circumstances bites.
More confident than it has been in a long time
One last example: The trip to Canossa, with which the then German King Henry IV humiliated himself in front of a Pope named Gregory VII in the eleventh century, only happened because it had already been negotiated that he would be accepted back into the Church with grace . We, too, should absolutely be willing to forgive Angela Merkel. Because her appearance was that of a chancellor who apparently has little more to lose than our confidence that she is indeed acting from the best of her knowledge and will.
At the end of her short speech, Angela Merkel looked more confident than she had in a long time. Perhaps she should have recommended Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s fable “Reineke Fuchs” to her listeners, in which it is written: “Nobody can raise himself higher than when he forgives.”
Note: In an earlier version of this text it was stated that Christoph Daum was the national soccer coach in 2000. In fact, a drug scandal prevented his appointment.