What is a political landscape

2018: The political landscape in Germany is reforming

In my memory, the most meaningful picture of the past year is a photo of Angela Merkel with Horst Seehofer on the balcony of the Chancellery. The Chancellor turns her back on her insubordinate interior minister and walks away annoyed - as if Seehofer were a dog that she had just caught distributing rubbish in her kitchen. The wind messed up Merkel's normally perfectly fitting hairstyle. The Chancellor looks unhappy, tired and old.

At this point, Merkel had every reason to be a little disheveled. Merkel's summer was marked by seemingly endless negotiations with CSU Interior Minister Seehofer - about the rejection of certain asylum seekers at the border. An issue that almost brought the government to collapse and could only just barely be resolved through a lazy compromise. The photo was strange to me, having watched Merkel for a long time. Merkel was always the stress-resistant chancellor. Five hours of question-and-answer in front of a Bundestag committee of inquiry into the cell phone wiretapping affair? No problem for Merkel. She didn't even need a toilet break.

Merkel didn't want any breaks

But that was before 2018. The image of an exhausted Merkel fleeing from the tormentor Seehofer can easily be transferred to the German republic as a metaphor. If you believe a recent report in "New Yorker" magazine, then Merkel decided in 2017 to run for a fourth candidacy for chancellor partly out of the conviction that the world needs a rational counterweight to Trump. But in 2018 the moderate Merkel and the political system she embodied showed the first serious cracks under this burden.

Martin Schulz and the SPD experienced a dramatic crash in 2018

Ironically, the Chancellor, who likes to seek compromises and stands above the dirty political squabbles of everyday life, could mostly not help the ruptures in the system. The year began for them in an almost accustomed manner with negotiations on a third grand coalition made up of the Union and the SPD. Only this time the partner SPD threatened to break away. Like many observers, I was amazed at the constant fluff that cost Martin Schulz the party leadership. In contrast, Juso boss Kevin Kühnert made a positive impression on me. The then 28-year-old student probably doesn't like ties or expensive suits, but he knew exactly what he wanted and what not. He expressed himself clearly and consistently.

Earplugs for the SPD

That cannot necessarily be said of all SPD executives. I almost felt sorry for party general secretary Lars Klingbeil when, during a public discussion of the disastrous 2017 election campaign, I asked him whether the problem of the SPD was simply that there was hardly an industrial working class in Germany any more. What could the poor man say? Another scene made the decline of the SPD particularly clear to me. In front of the hall in Wiesbaden, where the SPD party congress, somewhat reluctantly, elected the loud Andrea Nahles as the new chairman, a few jokers from the Junge Union handed out earplugs. They also took SPD delegates with them. The fourth Merkel government depends on this party.

Political suicide in slow motion

The biggest problem for Merkel came from within her own ranks, as Seehofer was by no means the only conservative trying to undermine the government's migration policy. This fundamental dissent broke out in the ugliest way on the streets of Chemnitz, but it forms a social break point everywhere in the country - especially in the east. In August I went to Dresden. There, around 1,000 AfD and Pegida supporters hurled hateful slogans at the Chancellor when she visited the Saxon state parliament. It was impossible to tell how much populist aggression Merkel actually saw on the short walk from her limousine into the building.

Conservative rivals from the Union such as Horst Seehofer troubled Chancellor Angela Merkel

The voters punished the conservative bickering over migration policy. And that forced the Chancellor to undertake an unexpected maneuver. After poor election results in Bavaria and Hesse, Merkel heralded the beginning of the end of her political life by announcing that she would be relinquishing the party chairmanship and not running for chancellor again. The conservative self-dismantling was less spectacular than that of the SPD. Nonetheless, it was a kind of suicide that no one had foreseen in January.

What now, little country?

In the end, the GAU did not materialize. The quarreling Merkel IV government survived the difficult year, and in December the Chancellor was able to console herself with the fact that her favorite Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer took over the CDU party chairmanship. But Merkel and her centrism have lost the nimbus of the lack of alternatives. If the polls don't lie, the Greens will establish themselves as the second political force, while the AfD may dispute third place for the SPD. The political landscape is being reformed. The current GroKo will probably be the last until further notice. Many believe: The alliance of the future is called black-green. Merkel is often said to have a weakness for this type of coalition. But she won't lead any more.

New party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer: The CDU is divided into a moderate and a conservative wing

At the beginning of 2018, many people hoped that Merkel and Germany could somehow balance out the narrow-minded nationalism of the Trump administration on the international stage. That was naive. As the "New Yorker" correctly concludes: "Angela Merkel is not and will not be the leader of the free world". It is not even certain that she will still lead Germany at all by the end of 2019.