Italian Mayor 'I Am Embarrassed by the Photos of Merkel'
Paparazzi have managed to snap rare shots of Angela Merkel in private as she vacations in Italy with her family, and Germany's chancellor is angry about the intrusion. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke with the local mayor about the fuss.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is vacationing in the fishing village of Sant'Angelo on the Italian island of Ischia, and Italians are watching closely. Paparazzi photos of the chancellor have been splashed across the Italian media in recent days, and even the buttoned-up newspaper La Repubblica featured 27 images of the German leader in her swimming suit.
There have also been photos of Merkel spending time with her husband, Joachim Sauer, and her stepson's children, in addition to coverage of her visit to a favorite hotel employee who has been laid off since her last visit.
In Germany, the private lives of politicians are off-limits to the media, and Merkel has expressed her displeasure at the kerfuffle in Italy. "You can imagine that's it's not always relaxing when one takes a vacation somewhere and has the feeling that a camera lens is lurking at every corner," her deputy spokesman, Georg Streiter, said on Wednesday in Berlin. All of the photos were taken without Merkel's knowledge and published without permission, he added.
The paparazzi affair has created quite a fuss about the chancellor, who had intended to take a much-needed break for eight days in Sant'Angelo, where she has frequently vacationed in the past. Rosario Caruso, the 39-year-old mayor of the municipality to which the village belongs, discusses the chancellor's visit with SPIEGEL ONLINE:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Caruso, are you glad that Chancellor Merkel takes her vacations in your community?
Caruso: Of course. She has been coming for years. It's become normal for us. She has also found many friends here who know her as a normal politician and not as a government leader.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Have you seen the chancellor yourself?
Caruso: No, no, no. I have only been mayor since 2011. But my predecessors also never met her face to face. She is very withdrawn here and wants to relax. But, this year and last, I sent Signora Merkel a bouquet with a little card wishing her a quiet, happy and relaxing time.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What kind of flowers were they?
Caruso: I am not sure, since my secretary picked them out. But it was orchids in 2012.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Did you get a response from the chancellor?
Caruso: Well, not really. But I heard from a few friends that she was delighted and said "Thank you." As I said, she is very withdrawn here.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What do the villagers have to say about their prominent guest?
Caruso: We are all proud that Merkel chose our location. On the one hand, she is a humble person who doesn't seek out a lot of glamour while on vacation. On the other, she is generating positive headlines for the community.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: At the moment, the chancellor doesn't enjoy a very good reputation in Italy due to her euro-crisis policies.
Caruso: There are those who support her and others who criticize her. But it's like that for every topic or person. Public opinion is of course critical of her excessive austerity policies. But that's not just here, but also in Spain and Greece. We feel the crisis on our island, too.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How has the crisis manifested itself there?
Caruso: We are still a wealthy area, but the hotels used to stay open eight or nine months a year. Now many tourists from the mainland and Germany are staying away. The hotels can only stay open for six months. But we hope that Merkel's visit will be a good advertisement for us to you Germans. We don't just have the sea, mountains and sun; we also have thermal springs.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: That sounds good. However, the chancellor is angry about the paparazzi that followed her there.
Caruso: Yes, I saw about 10 photographers here. I appealed to the them to please show the utmost respect for the private space of our guests. There is an all-out siege.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: It didn't do much good.
Caruso: No, they still took photos of Signora Merkel, for which I am honestly embarrassed.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And the weather wasn't that great, either.
Caruso: The Friday on which the chancellor arrived was nice. But Saturday to Tuesday was bad. But today it's so-so.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Merkel will be there for another day. What do you recommend for her to do?
Caruso: Hike across the entire island. I also hope she will come again and attend our San Michele festival, which we celebrate in September.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Germany has a national election scheduled for September.
Caruso: That's too bad; she won't come then. But we'll send a CD with photos and videos of the festival. I wish the chancellor a nice time for the rest of her visit. Until next year!
Interview conducted by Fabian Reinbold