Undignified Memoirs: Bettina Wulff Was the Wrong First Lady

A Commentary By Jürgen Dahlkamp

Christian Wulff, who resigned as president in February for taking favors from rich friends, was the wrong man for the job. It now turns out that his wife was the wrong first lady, too. She has written a book revealing personal and banal details about her life as the president's wife. It goes too far for such a prestigious position.

Bettina Wulff with her husband Christian Wulff in May 2011, when he was still president and she the first lady. Zoom
DPA

Bettina Wulff with her husband Christian Wulff in May 2011, when he was still president and she the first lady.

Let us turn to page 120 of Bettina Wulff's memoirs, where Germany's former first lady complains about the difficulties of being a president's wife. "It was also great to lie in the hotel room and to know that officers are awake 24 hours in the room opposite, effectively playing babysitters and looking after us. Some people might find that stimulating, but it wasn't for me. Instead, I kept thinking: 'Well, one will have to be damned quiet, doing all the things one does. Maybe the walls aren't that thick after all.'"

Savor that nugget of information. In her book, published just seven months after Christian Wulff resigned in disgrace for accepting minor favors from rich acquaintances, Bettina claims she is sick of having her life scrutinized by the media. But then she goes on to expose her life in more detail than any newspaper would have dared, or bothered, to do.

She has given lengthy interviews to four magazines to accompany the launch of "Beyond the Protocol," which has an initial print run of 100,000. The book exudes an aura of revelation, and Bettina Wulff may find it flattering that so many media outlets are offering her a stage, as if her oeuvre were an act of emancipation, of liberation. In truth, she's just getting undressed in public.

If it were just Bettina Wulff, née Körner, who married Wulff in 2008 after he got divorced, one would just shrug or congratulate her on her business sense. But she is married to a man who until recently was Germany's head of state. She helped him represent the country, and she wasn't just his silent pendant, she wanted to be seen as part of a team, of a modern couple intent on giving the nation a more modern image.

A Lasting Obligation

But she also has an old-fashioned obligation to the office and its dignity. An obligation that didn't end when Wulff quit. She evidently no longer feels beholden to that duty.

In the book, we learn how Bettina Wulff once fell for a lifeguard on the island of Sylt. She was 16, he was 24 and "didn't have the worst of bodies." A later boyfriend had "dark beautiful eyes," and she thought: "He looks good." She added that she doesn't go for any particular type of man.

Do we want to know that? If yes, only because Bettina Wulff is the wife of the former president. Because the celebrity her husband's former job still bestows on her lends significance to the most everyday details.

The notion that she might have wanted to set the record straight and counter public opinion in the scandal surrounding her husband gets dispelled in the first few pages. She spouts out trite facts about her personal life as if she had won her one-and-a-half years in Bellevue Palace in a magazine competition.

She Overstepped the Limits Herself

It is hard to imagine one of her predecessors verbally exposing themselves in such a way. She reveals marital problems but then writes: "The limits of privacy were grossly overstepped several times," referring to the journalists who had investigated the discounts, airline upgrades and free vacations her husband had been accepting. In fact, it is her book that breaches those limits.

Unless Christian Wulff has lost all common sense, he can't be happy about many passages in this book.

It was a fortunate coincidence that the book launch was preceded by media coverage of legal action she took against some media publications for spreading false rumors that she was a prostitute.

Those rumors do indeed belong to the dirtiest tittle-tattle to have made the rounds in German political circles in recent years, and there is no question that Bettina Wulff is a victim here. No one who spread those rumours came up with a shred of proof.

The rumors were whispered, not just by many journalists but by a former minister from the opposition Social Democrats, two current ministers of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the manager of a power company, the head of a trading company and even the representative of a religious community.

She has made clear in the book that she never prostituted herself, never sold her body. But a woman can also sell herself without selling her body. She can sell her private life and that of her family. She can sell the reputation of the highest office in the land, not to mention her own dignity, by writing such a book.

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