He’s seen them all. Adenauer, Erhard, Kiesinger, Barzel, Kohl, Schäuble, Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel. And when on Saturday at eleven o’clock the CDU chairman Armin Laschet goes to the microphone in the Nuremberg exhibition hall for what is perhaps the most important speech of his career, he will sit in the front again and listen: Theo Waigel, the honorary chairman of the CSU. Since 1961, the 82-year-old has hardly missed a party convention, he has witnessed all the family quarrels in the Union that sometimes took place on the stage at the CSU party congresses.
In 2021 there will once again be a thundery and humid mood over the party congress after CSU boss Söder issued the ultimate slogan: “If there is still a chance to break the trend, it will be this weekend”. This is another nod in the direction of Laschet. Nevertheless, Waigel believes that the CDU and CSU will celebrate unity, if only because there is no other way: In such a situation, says Waigel, “we stick together”.
The success of a speech and the quality of relationships are often measured in terms of the duration of the applause. Even in the best case scenario, Laschet will not be celebrated like the then Federal Chancellor and CDU chairman Konrad Adenauer at Waigel’s first party congress in July 1961. At that time, 10,000 people cheered him in Munich. Two months before the federal elections in September, the Cold War and attacks on the “non-governable SPD” shaped Adenauer’s speech.
But the greatest success with the public was achieved by the new CSU chairman and Federal Defense Minister Franz Josef Strauss: he presented Adenauer with a hat with a chamois beard as a gift. When Adenauer puts it on, “the crowd rages with enthusiasm,” says the report Süddeutsche Zeitung. Especially since Strauss addressed a few smug words to Adenauer: “The Gamsbart is something like a symbol of Bavarian rebellion. It was worn by many Bavarian kings. That is why I would like to present them with the hat as a Bavarian honorary monarch, so to speak.”
Waigel can’t remember the Gamsbart gag, but the old-fashioned words of the 85-year-old Adenauer in the direction of Strauss: “That’s a really good man. Sometimes less would be a little more.” Adenauer was the last person who could have afforded something like that to Strauss, says Waigel.
Decades later he was at the top himself: Waigel was chairman of the CSU from 1988 to 1999 – the turning point for Germany and the climax of the Kohl era, as demonstrated by his appearances at the CSU party congresses. When Prime Minister Max Streibl read his speech, the meeting management had to warn the delegates to calm down. When Kohl went to the lectern, it fell silent. “He used his size and corpulence very deliberately,” recalls Waigel. And at CSU party congresses, Kohl was only too happy to flirt with the fact that he came from the Palatinate, which once belonged to the Kingdom of Bavaria, which also raised him to the rank of honorary monarch and earned him sympathy.
After the end of the Kohl era and the election victory of the SPD and the Greens, the time without a chancellor began at the CSU party congresses. From the point of view of the CSU delegates, the CDU appeared more like the burned-down relatives. It was the best years of party leader Edmund Stoiber, who overshadowed all others with his loud speeches and powerful self-confidence.
Of Angela Merkel’s numerous visits as CDU Chairwoman and Chancellor, one in particular has been remembered: On November 20, 2015, party leader Horst Seehofer presented the Chancellor in an unprecedented manner when he gave her a 13-minute lecture on the CSU stage. Held positions in refugee policy and simply left them standing by their side. Then he pressed a bouquet of flowers into her hand.
The photos of the snubbed Merkel and the senior teacher Seehofer have since held a special place in the Union’s family album. Merkel left the hall through a side entrance – the CSU applausometer showed zero. “She wanted it that way,” Seehofer is said to have told confidants afterwards.
The response was devastating, also in parts of the CSU. Waigel still remembers how Seehofer then asked him for his opinion on the performance. Waigel told him that it was a serious mistake, both humanly and politically. In 2016, Merkel did not even come to the CSU party congress, instead the CDU parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag, Volker Kauder, represented the sister party.
Seehofer wrested a kind of apology for his disrespectful behavior a year earlier: “You get smarter with age,” he said and received applause. The reconciliation between the CSU and CDU only took place at the 2017 party conference. The scene was the same as in 2015, Seehofer at the lectern, Merkel next to her, only this time Seehofer said: “Dear Angela, even if you don’t believe me, I’m happy, you’re there!”
It could sound something similar on this Saturday – even if Markus Söder will require a lot of acting skills to enthusiastically promote Armin Laschet as Chancellor. As for the choreography around it, they keep a low profile in the CSU headquarters.