OPINION - Angela Merkel’s wild punk pick for her leaving ceremony shows we never really knew her at all

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 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

Most of us have had the Desert Island Discs fantasy in which the nation tunes in to hear the stories of our life and praise our musical selection. Clearly the prospect has long played on the mind of the outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Allowed three personal requests to be performed by a military marching band at a final parade tonight, she departed from the default choice of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and the mawkish male ego-trip My Way favoured by her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, selecting instead a Seventies number by the former East German star Nina Hagen as one of her tunes.

You Forgot the Colour Film is a quirky oom-pah-meets-Kurt Weill offering in which a Hagen, the most famous wild child from the staid East, laments that her boyfriend missed the couple’s Kodachrome moment: “Me in my bikini — and on the nudist beach.”

This frolicsome image is hardly one associated with Mutti over her 16 years at the helm of German politics. The surprise factor is akin to, say, Theresa May choosing Siouxsie and the Banshees for her leaving do.

Yet the contrast of sexy lyrics and strait-laced Merkel deftly reclaiming her old identity as an Ossi show the time portal of pop at its most evocative.

This Proustian moment comes in the same week the great composer and librettist Stephen Sondheim died at the age of 91, and the West End’s theatres duly dimmed their lights in his memory. Sondheim famously wrote musicals for people who don’t like musicals — and there is immortality in lines from his early writing in West Side Story such as “It’s alarming how charming I feel”, as well as later acidic takes on the conformist, hob-nobbing intelligentsia in Merrily We Roll Along: “Meet the Blob: you never see one — they come as a set” (insert your own names for London context — these days, they’d be running to head Ofcom.)

Perhaps it’s the early dark nights and clearing out vinyl and tapes from cupboards to reach the winter coats, but I’m struck in both cases by how we don’t get to choose what means a lot to us in music. If you first fell in love to the Eighties schmaltz of True by Spandau Ballet, you can’t escape the lurching feeling when it’s on the radio, even though you’d rather the finest moments had been accompanied by something a bit grander. When I ask my daughter and her Gen Z friend what their Proustian performers are, I get One Direction and Billie Eilish as their indelible memories.

In other news...

Christmas parties are back (Omicron permitting)

On the grounds that we should roll along merrily for as long as the Omicron variant permits, I decided to revive the art of changing out of work/Zoom clothes for December parties, starting with one given by the arts PR Carolyn Dailey. Step one was to pull on a new festive silk shirt. Step two was to squeeze brown liquid blusher over it while trying to catch one of the few Ubers still on the roads. Step three was to change to hurt-like-hell boots to match the replacement shirt, only to realise I could not run for the disappearing Uber in the torture footwear.

Tonight, I am heading to my old Russian friend Natalia Vodianova’s return-to-London cocktails at The Londoner. On present form, my arrival at a soiree hosted by a cool-as-a-cucumber supermodel will be in the manner of Seinfeld’s enduring klutz, Kramer. Doormen, you have been warned.

Anne McElvoy is Senior Editor at The Economist

What do you think Angela Merkel’s legacy is? Let us know in the comments below.

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