Merkel’s successor

With a Swiss panorama and in the same place for 40 years: This is how Chancellor candidate Armin Laschet spends his holidays

CDU leader Armin Laschet has the best chance of becoming Germany’s new Federal Chancellor. When what may soon be the most powerful man in Europe goes on vacation, that reveals a lot about him – and about the power of German customs. A visit to Lake Constance.

Hagnau on the northern shore of Lake Constance: CDU Chancellor candidate Armin Laschet likes traditional holiday greetings.

Photos: sva; Assembly: mia

He will come this year too. Like every summer for 40 years. When Armin Laschet goes on vacation, nothing new is in sight. Always the same hotel on Lake Constance where his in-laws stayed. All the familiar dining rooms. The view of the Swiss Alps. “It’s nice, I know my way around,” Laschet recently said himself.

Holidays as praise of the custom. Everything is familiar and wonderfully similar. This is exactly what the new strong man in Europe’s most influential party likes. The CDU chairman is the Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, the largest state in Germany with almost 18 million inhabitants.

According to the polls, in September he has the best chance of succeeding Angela Merkel as the new Chancellor. And thus one of the most powerful people in the world.

For 40 years, Susanne and Armin Laschet and their family have been staying in a hotel right on Lake Constance.

For 40 years, Susanne and Armin Laschet and their family have been staying in a hotel right on Lake Constance.

Image: Gisela Schober /
German Select

Shortly before the end of the election campaign, Laschet and his family allowed themselves a few more days on the German north shore of Lake Constance.

His goal: the winegrowing village of Hagnau. A contemplative idyll. 1400 inhabitants, orchards and vines along the paths, fisheries and a park by the lake. A liner goes over to Altnau in Thurgau. The place is equally popular with young families, pensioners in beige and bicycle excursionists – and with guests from Switzerland.

The vacation spots of the rulers are always a public matter in Germany. Anyone who is or wants to become Chancellor does not simply disappear from everyday life. “Vacation is a private matter, but a Federal Chancellor is never a private person”, the “Frankfurter Allgemeine” once analyzed. Where and how he spends it is a political issue. After all, this says something about the person, and it should also say something.

Helmut Kohl, for example, made his summer vacation celebrated by the media at the Austrian Wolfgangsee “a cult”, recalled the “Spiegel”. Some compatriots went there especially because of him. Konrad Adenauer caused an outcry in 1956 after he found accommodation in Ticino with a landlord with a fascist past. After that, he preferred to relax on Lake Como. Meanwhile, Angela Merkel is spending her Christmas holidays secluded in Pontresina; in a “sparkling clean hotel with simple, cozy rooms”, as “Bild” noted.

Bourgeois virtues? A plea for not having to discover anything

However, none of them can show a four-decade routine like Armin Laschet. He calmly exposes himself to the suspicion of being narrow-minded. His holiday habits should now gradually move into the focus of the Berlin journals.

In Hagnau, of course, Laschet and his family never attracted much attention – in the best sense of the word. The bodyguards who have accompanied him since his election as Prime Minister: discreetly in the background. This is what people tell who are very familiar with local conditions.

“The Laschets are Rhinelander, as they come to us in armies in the summer,” says one of whom the party leader regularly goes shopping. «Gmiadliche Leit, always to have a chat.» The longtime holiday friend does not want to reveal what is being talked about. Discretion is important to us in Hagnau. A landlady says:

“Not that the Laschet will not come to us again when he becomes Chancellor!”

Postcards, mini golf course and the Swiss Alpine panorama

The Laschets have always stayed in a hotel directly on the lake; the name is not revealed here. Just discretion. The rooms are spacious, the windows run down to the floor and a lot of wood dominates. The facility with no frills. The breakfast buffet is plentiful.

The view is actually as spectacular as it is promised in the house brochure. You can see over to the Swiss bank, garnished with a view of the Alps. Armin Laschet appreciates this panorama. He has already made this known several times. The local mini golf course is nearby and the Laschets have also been spotted here.

Harbor in Hagnau: If you don't have your own boat, you can get on a liner to Altnau (Thurgau), among other things.

Harbor in Hagnau: If you don’t have your own boat, you can get on a liner to Altnau (Thurgau), among other things.

Image: sva

Hagnau has flown to the chancellor candidate as a summer destination. “That was on top of that at the wedding,” jokes the seller and Laschet acquaintance. In fact, his wife Susanne, whom he has known since childhood, came to the village every year with her parents. At some point, Armin Laschet was also allowed to ride. More relatives followed, and the couple’s grown-up children still join them for a few days.

The laschets during the holidays, that means: Carefully celebrate the annual return of the same in the same place. The holiday routine à la Laschet follows various rituals.

It is guaranteed, for example, that he does not send his holiday greetings virtually. The 60-year-old relies – culture pessimists can breathe a sigh of relief – apparently on the handwritten greeting. At the kiosk, he works his way through the postcard stand and selects relevant Lake Constance motifs, how to find out. Swimming in the lake is also compulsory.

An explosive political oath of loyalty to Lake Constance

Nothing has to be rediscovered, no holiday flop has to be risked. In Hagnau the Laschets come to the restaurants they are familiar with; where the innkeepers you trust may not cause a stir. The Christian Democrat prefers meat to fish, that much can be revealed. Local catch or not.

Met Laschet for explosive discussions at Lake Constance: Jens Spahn.

Met Laschet for explosive discussions at Lake Constance: Jens Spahn.

EPA

And one more thing: Sometimes Laschet also uses his holiday resort for private, emphatically informal conversations with other top politicians. Then he usually invites you to a neat inn with a manned boat dock. The tables are barely visible from the promenade.

Last summer, Jens Spahn stopped by in Hagnau, the ambitious CDU health minister and ex-adversary, who had been said to have his own ambitions as chancellor. On a rather cool July day on Lake Constance, the two took the political oath of loyalty. Spahn renounced in favor of Laschet and has supported him ever since.