Caricaturing the Chancellor How Angela Became Miss Germany

Anyone wondering why Chancellor Angela Merkel is so popular with German voters may find some answers in an unlikely place this week. The first ever cartoon biography of the German leader has hit book stores around the country and it gives some comic insights into what makes her tick.

If Angela Merkel has a problem with it, she should blame Nicolas Sarkozy. Apparently it was the French president who inspired German journalist Miriam Hollstein to put together "Miss Tschörmänie," a new comic book focusing on Merkel's life and times.

Hollstein was in France when she saw a series of biographical comic books about Sarkozy that poked fun at his penchant for bling, his manipulative ways and the behavior of his third wife, ex-model Carla Bruni. Inspired, the political writer returned home and teamed up with her colleague, cartoonist Heiko Sakurai who has been supplying illustrations to Die Welt, the newspaper Hollstein writes for. The result is "Miss Tschörmänie - How Angie Became Our Chancellor."

The 64 page book starts off in the future, with two of Merkel's macho, past-political foes -- Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, and Edmund Stoiber, the former premier of the state of Bavaria -- crying into their beer in a bar on the night of Germany's upcoming general election. "How does she do it?" the cartoon Schröder mopes. How did the woman they once called "Kohl's girl," because she was considered naïve, a token Easterner brought into politics by former chancellor Helmut Kohl, become "the Mother of the Nation" and one of Germany's most popular leaders ever?

A Chancellor Who Can't Figure Work Out Right from Left

The book then goes on to try to answer those questions. First she takes readers through Merkel's infancy: Her mother took her from West to East in the 50s, when she was just a baby and she grew up in Communist Germany with a devout Protestant pastor for a father. Then comes her childhood: Angie never learned to ride a bicycle, the satirists joke, because she couldn't work out her right from her left.

The illustrative biography also documents some of the 54-year-old Merkel's most important moments on her path to power. This includes little-known episodes such as the time in 2002 when Merkel visited Stoiber, who had outmaneuvered her to become their party's candidate for chancellor, to let him know that she was happy to endorse him. In the cartoon Merkel carries a bag of buns to the meeting. Did she really? Who knows. Even though almost all of the instances in this fable of the dimple-faced political trickster are based on Merkel's real life, Hollstein has also told German reporters that, "in a comic you can make it up".

The book also looks at some of Merkel's lighter moments. Sakuri, who has caricatured the chancellor many times, says that during Merkel's time as deputy secretary of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), "her hairstyle was a disaster." In the book, Angie finally goes to see star hairdresser Udo Walz after she becomes chancellor. Perched in the salon she must listen while the stylist toys with her head, snipping at her locks: "Well, really Ms. Merrrr-kel, a peach colored gown on a red carpet -- you know, that will NEVER do!."

The book also pokes fun at Merkel's reticent hubby, Joachim Sauer. Just as in real life he is not often seen. In the book he's usually covered by Merkel's speech bubbles or, in one case, smoke from a barbecue that's being fired up for visiting US president George W Bush.

Is Merkel Getting off Easy?

As some English writers have been quick to point out, it's taken the Germans a long time to start making fun of their leader. Merkel's predecessor, Kohl, had a cartoon book about him published shortly after he came to power. But Merkel has already been at the top for four years. Additionally, the jokes at Merkel's expense are not even all that nasty. Commentators have speculated that Merkel may get more respect because she's a woman and she doesn't come across as particularly arrogant.

Of course this may be due to the difference between the German sense of humor and the British or American. Then again even critics in the media have been giving the cartoon biography good reviews. "It is a delight for political junkies to see the main actors in federal politics reduced to their pictorial essence," writes Lars von Törne in the center-left Berlin daily, Der Tagesspiegel. "And for comic book fans, who don't really find politics that interesting anyway, this book is a quick course in the dynamics of political power."

Which makes the average international reader think that, just maybe, the cover illustration of Merkel -- aka Miss Tschörmänie (Miss Germany) -- posing on a pedestal in her best, cleavage-enhancing gown, gold crown and all, while assorted foreign leaders look on, may not be all that far from the truth come this September.

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