WHEN Martin Schulz entered the village hall in Nunkirchen on March 24th, in the hilly German state of Saarland, the cheer nearly blew the roof off. To a beery crowd of villagers and party activists, the candidate for Germany’s centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), who hopes to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor, was introduced as a near-messiah: “the man who made politics in Germany interesting again, who has reinstated the SPD’s self-belief, who has put social justice back on the agenda, who will be our next chancellor!” As he ascended the stage a hush fell. The bells of the church next door began to peal: “I didn’t ask for that!”, he insisted.
His speech quickly transcended the borders of Saarland, which was about to elect a new government. Mr Schulz ruminated on Europe; cracked folksy jokes; solemnly intoned about Germany’s historical burden; cast his family, neighbours and acquaintances from the campaign trail as characters in a compendium of parables about the country. He lingered on Willy Brandt, the SPD chancellor of West Germany from 1969 to 1974, who had once spoken in the very same hall. In reverential tones Mr Schulz recalled his 20-year-old self…Continue reading