German Language Blog

The German Haushaltswoche – Part 2: Merkel’s Speech Posted by on Dec 11, 2020 in Culture, Holidays, Language

It’s an exciting week in the German Bundestag (the German legislative body, its lower house of Congress). Earlier this week, German Bundesfinanzminister (secretary of finance) Olaf Scholz presented the Haushaltsentwurf (budget draft) for 2021. The Bundesregierung (federal government) has agreed; now it’s time for the Bundestag to follow suit. But before that happens, they have four days to discuss and criticize the Entwurf, and suggest changes where they so deem necessary. At the end of the week, on Friday, they have to vote on it. Like in all countries, the Haushalt is a very, very important subject, as it decides where all the money flows for an entire year. But this year is particularly interesting, as the coronavirus put additional strain on the German economy and therefore the German Haushalt. It’s not just a little spike, but a big one in Ausgaben (spending): It’s a Rekord-Haushalt (record budget). Furthermore, 2021 is a Wahljahr (election year) in Germany, where Scholz will be a candidate. So let’s learn some German and get to know some German politics in the process. What does the Haushalt say? What is it criticized for? And what did Merkel say to go viral during the Generaldebatte (general debate) yesterday? I’ve broken this post down into two parts, one on Thursday and one on Friday. Yesterday, we looked at the Haushalt. Today, we’ll see how Merkel’s emotional speech went viral.

Click here for to read all parts of this series.

Heute haben wir eine andere Angela Merkel erlebt

On Wednesday, the Generaldebatte took place, an event where Bundeskanzlerin (Federal Chancellor) Angela Merkel gets to speak and defend the Haushaltsentwurf. And it was a special speech. The Tagesthemen1(“Daily Themes” a daily in-depth news programme of the ARD) boldly began their programme on Wednesday with the words:

So wie heute war das noch nie im deutschen Bundestag. Heute haben die Abgeordneten bei der Generaldebatte zum Haushalt eine andere Angela Merkel erlebt. Hier sprach nicht wie sonst nur die Politikerin die pragmatisch denkt und abwägt, es sprach nicht nur die Wissenschaftlerin die Fakten siziert. Es sprach auch eine Frau, der fast die Stimme brach, die schier verzweifelt darum flehte, doch bitte endlich auf die Wissenschaft zu hören und das Leben in Deutschland wieder stärker auszubremsen. Angesichts der Neuinfektionen die wieder steigen und angesichts eines neuen traurigen Rekords von 590 Todesfällen innerhalb eines Tages.

(Like today it has never been in the German Bundestag. Today, the legislators experienced a different Angela Merkel during the general debate regarding the budget. Unlike usually, this was not just the politician that thinks and weighs, this was not just the scientist that dissects the facts. Here spoke also a woman whose voice almost broke, who practically begged in desperation to finally listen to science and brake life more strongly in Germany once again. In light of the new infections that are rising again and in light of a new sad record of 590 deaths within one day.)

So yes, here was a Merkel that was different, and made Schlagzeilen (headlines) with her emotional address to the Bundestag and Germany in general. But what did she actually say?

Merkel’s Speech

Wir leben mit einer Herausforderung, wie sie die Bundesrepublik Deutschland noch nicht in dieser Art gekannt hat. (We live with a new kind of challenge that the Federal Republic of Germany has never seen before.)

With these words, she also hinted at strengere Maßnahmen (stricter measures) surrounding the upcoming holidays. She quite explicitly warned of the higher risk that older people, like the Großeltern (grandparents) have of dying of the coronavirus, too:

Wenn wir jetzt vor Weihnachten zu viele Kontakte haben und anschließend es das letzte Weihnachten mit den Großeltern war, dann werden wir etwas versäumt haben. Das sollten wir nicht tun, meine Damen und Herren. (If we now before Christmas have too many contacts and if it subsequently turns out to be the last Christmas with the grandparents, then we have neglected something. And we shouldn’t do this, ladies and gentlemen.)

But despite these strong words, a majority of Germans seem to be agreeing with her. Most people are pessimistic of Empfehlungen (recommendations) and think that Verbote (restrictions) will be more effective, even though it will drastically change this year’s holidays. However, there is still about a quarter of the German population that ablehnen (reject) the Maßnahmen from the Bundesregierung.

It makes sense that people long for clear Regeln (rules) on what’s allowed and what’s not, especially coming from the Bundesebene (federal level). A few months ago, the rules were very different per Bundesland (federal state), leading to a real Flickenteppich (hotch-potch) in the country.

And yet, it will depend on people’s Wolle (willingness) to follow the rules and guidelines. Despite her Beliebtheit (popularity), Merkel can’t magically make people be more careful. As Politologe (politologist) Albrecht von Lucke said in an interview with news outlet Deutschlandfunk about Merkel’s speech:

“Sie spricht auch heute als die Kanzlerin, die weit, weit mehr Reputation und Autorität genießt als jede andere Politikerin oder jeder andere Politiker im Lande. Aber trotzdem weiß sie, dass sie bei dieser Coronakrise in der Tat an die Grenzen des Möglichen stößt, denn sie hat erkannt und erkennen müssen, dass ohne die Tätigkeit und das Mitwirken der Bevölkerung alle Maßnahmen im Sande verlaufen.”

(Also today, she speaks as the chancellor who enjoys much, much more reputation and authority than any other politician in the country. And yet she knows that she is reaching the limits of what’s possible with this corona crisis, as she had to and did recognize that without the actions and cooperation of the people all the measures will come to nothing.)

COVID-19 Rules during the Holidays

Image by Volodymyr Hryshchenko at

Merkel’s desperation is understandable. Christmas is a very important event for people and families to come together, and initially, the Maßnahmen were going to be gelockert (loosened) around the holidays. However, this doesn’t seem likely now. Despite the “lockdown light” that is currently in place in Germany, Infektionszahlen (infection cases) are rising rapidly all around the country.

The Bundeskanzlerin recommends to follow the advice of the Wissenschaft (science), and in particular that of scholar’s association Leopoldina. Their advice is to bring social contacts to a minimum from December 14, including by suspending the Schulpflicht (mandatory school attendance) until Christmas. From Heiligabend, December 24 until January 10, there should be a hard lockdown. Also over the holidays, contacts should be reduced to the absolute minimum.

We will see in the coming days whether these recommendations will become hard rules or will remain mere guidelines. But with most Germans agreeing that guidelines alone are not enough to get satisfying results in fighting COVID, these guidelines may turn into hard rules soon.

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    (“Daily Themes” a daily in-depth news programme of the ARD)
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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.