SINGAPORE – From the moment he entered high school in the Central German town of Quurz, Olaf Scholz has always been something of a political nerd.
Sure, at first his father ran political clubs and mock congresses. But Scholz’s foray into the grand political stage came when he spent his school’s summer break in 1991 studying in West Berlin, which was then still divided into East and West.
After that, Scholz, who grew up in a town of about 25,000 people, worked for various German political parties. Most of those jobs paid little, but that didn’t bother him. Scholz also became an enthusiastic and prominent presence at often rowdy football matches, even getting paid for the political work. That, too, wasn’t hard to understand. In that Germany in the early 1990s, children became political activists at school just as soon as they could walk.
Scholz also lived in East Berlin for a little over a year in 2004 and 2005. It was there that he helped draw up a dream list of candidates for the Aufstehen party that he and his college-aged friends would run together. They wanted to establish a large opposition party that’d draw youth support.
The man he’d chosen to lead the party was Miro Nitschke, who was still part of the East German Party for Unity. He was Scholz’s university buddy, too. Scholz had felt that Nitschke didn’t take real people like him seriously, so he wanted to test him.
“That was the big motivation for my current activity in politics,” Scholz told The Washington Post. “I wanted to create a starting point. It was a lesson in how to let go and accept life without totally winning.”
Scholz is now head of Germany’s social ministries. He grew up in a strict Lutheran home, but moved to a non-religious Jewish family in Cologne. His support for Israel means he became a political hot-button topic in the German right-wing scene, which typically would call for the extermination of Jews and Israelis to boot.
“The term from the Arab world in which they used to use is ‘Zionism,’ ” Scholz said. “I would say ‘Zionism.’ That is not an acceptable term, you have to say something else. I have stated that many times.”
Scholz has said many times that he wants to lead Germany into the future with the dignity it deserves, but despite all the years in political arena, he’s fairly new to politics himself. He’s actually not much of a poll expert himself, he said.
“Because of my life experience, the national experience, the 24 years I’ve been in the public service — I don’t even follow this,” he said. “I don’t have a clue who will be the next chancellor, and that’s the way it should be.”
Whether he’ll succeed Merkel, or the German people as a whole, remains unclear. Merkel, Germany’s longest-serving chancellor, has stayed at the helm since 2005. At the time of her recent drubbing in state elections, many saw her a prohibitive favorite to easily win a third term.
But after the Social Democrats called for her to step down, some analysts began to wonder if Germany might finally elect its first female chancellor.
Scholz could be Merkel’s foil in a third term, however, and could be a force to be reckoned with on the European stage.
As Scholz has said several times before, however, it will be up to Germany’s electorate to decide.