The location was well chosen -- right next to Berlin's central station with the Chancellery and the Reichstag in sight, a place tens of thousands of people pass each day by car, foot or train. On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party hung what it claims is the largest billboard ever used in a German election campaign on the scaffolding of a new hotel being built in the capital city.
The CDU recently said it would shift its focus from the actual political issues to the incumbent chancellor herself in the final weeks of the campaign, and the massive new billboard is the culmination of that strategy in the run-up to the Sept. 22 vote.
The 2,400-square-meter (25,833-square-foot) billboard's main section features the trademark diamond gesture Merkel frequently makes with her hands. The image, comprised of more than 2,000 individual photos featuring the hands of Merkel supporters, is flanked by a sign that reads, "Put Germany's future in good hands."
This is what campaigns look like when they focus on their strongest asset -- in this case, Merkel's overwhelming personal popularity. And that just one day after the only televised debate to take place between Merkel and her Social Democratic Party challenger, Peer Steinbrück, when at least some campaign issues were discussed.
"The billboard embodies our election message," CDU General Secretary Hermann Gröhe said proudly as the billboard was unveiled. He said the use of the photo mosaic of thousands of supporters is intended to convey that, "Together we are strong."
Turning the Tables
Still, it's a bit odd that Merkel's diamond-shaped hand gesture is being used so prominently. In the past, people have poked fun at the chancellor, describing the gesture as a reflexive tick exhibited when she has nothing to do with her hands and a camera is within snapping distance. Now she seems to be turning the tables on her detractors.
Merkel is no stranger to this game. Indeed, she's a master. Just take her nickname "Mutti," or "mom." She obviously doesn't use it herself, but she knows it is used -- usually without malice -- not only by voters, but by people within her own party. It may come across as being vaguely sexist, but why should the CDU leader be offended by it?
Or what about Merkel's gaffe in the wake of the scandal surrounding revelations that America's NSA intelligence agency spied on Germany? The chancellor described the Internet as "Neuland," or "uncharted territory," and got flack from people who noted that the Web has already been around for two decades. Merkel countered with an election ad for the CDU that said, "Sometimes we too enter uncharted territory." Call it whatever you like -- silly or self-confident -- it certainly reflects a certain amount of self-irony.
Now Merkel is offering the diamond-hand pose. With the mega billboard, Merkel's hands have become an icon of power. Why bother wiith political content?