No one had ever become Federal President as young as Christian Wulff. And no one was catapulted out of office as quickly as he was. Now his hometown honors him – and his successor pays tribute to him.

It is probably a belated satisfaction for him: On the one hand, Christian Wulff had to wait two and a half years before his hometown of Osnabrück could ceremonially award him honorary citizenship. The Council decision on this dated December 3, 2019. But the corona pandemic has so far prevented the proper ceremony.

On the other hand, the eulogy for the former Federal President was given by none other than the current Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. That made me sit up and take notice.

It was a very personal speech – based on one of the favorite books of the 63-year-old former CDU politician, “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Steinmeier and Wulff have known each other for a long time. Steinmeier was head of the state chancellery in Hanover under Prime Minister Gerhard Schröder (SPD) when Wulff was still leader of the opposition in the state parliament. Nowadays they see each other from time to time, call each other or write to each other.

Steinmeier recognizes Wulff’s merits

The incumbent used his speech to acknowledge the achievements of his predecessor during his brief tenure of just 598 days. Above all, the sentence “Islam now also belongs to Germany” from Wulff’s speech on October 3, 2010.

A sentence that is still offensive to conservative circles in the Union. And whom Steinmeier in Osnabrück called “brave”. “Because it came at a time when there were debates with many racist and especially anti-Muslim undertones and when a book that believed that Germany was getting rid of itself was a bestseller. Here the Federal President has said a necessary, a courageous, a decisive word. »

Steinmeier also recalled Wulff’s greeting of Pope Benedict during his visit to Germany in 2011. He had earned a great deal of respect by asking the Pope publicly how merciful the Church was in dealing with people who had fractures in their life story.

The big break

Keyword “breaks”: Of course, Steinmeier could not ignore the big break in Wulff’s life – his resignation. In 2011, the head of state Wulff caught up with a story from Prime Minister Wulff from 2008: It was about a private loan from an entrepreneur’s wife of 500,000 euros to buy a house, which was not disclosed in the state parliament in Hanover.

When the “Bild” newspaper wanted to make this public in December 2011, Wulff called editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann to prevent the report. He only reached the mailbox and threatened the Springer publishing house with “war”. The media dug deeper, found, for example, vacations at and with friendly entrepreneurs, where the question arose as to who paid for them. Wulff resigned when the public prosecutor’s office in Hanover asked the Bundestag to lift his immunity in order to be able to investigate him. In February 2014, however, he was acquitted by the Hanover Regional Court.

So was Wulff the victim of a media hunt? Or did he stumble on the fine line between what is legal on the one hand and simply not befitting a top politician on the other?

Steinmeier made no assessment and certainly no condemnation, but left no doubt with a subtly formulated sentence that he certainly sees wrongdoing on the part of Wulff: “Where there are mistakes that led to the bitter step, Christian Wulff will judge for himself.” But it is also important: “He was acquitted of all legal charges.”

«Experience the mercilessness of public opinion»

And Steinmeier also did not hide what he thought of Wulff’s prejudice in the media at the time: he “experienced a merciless public opinion that I would not wish on anyone”. Wulff should have done that just as well as Steinmeier’s appreciation of his work on the city council in Osnabrück, in the Lower Saxony state parliament, as prime minister and then as federal president.

In his speech, Wulff pointed out that Germany, as a free country, thrives on diversity, on different life plans and on being open to new ideas. “Our country must endure diversity, it must even want it.”

The threats to democracy, including from within, worried him, said the former Federal President. It hasn’t gotten any easier to get involved. “Those who do nothing in a democracy leave the field to those who are up to something bad,” he said. He wishes for more humanity and empathy.