Canada Obituary for SPD politicians: Thomas Oppermann, the language acrobat
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Clear his throat was his trademark. Short, loud, dry - and yes, also a little bit dominant. In any case, in such a way that you stood at attention because you knew that now he has sorted his thoughts, now something is coming. What came next was often clever, mostly pointed, and it was almost always ready for printing.
Thomas Oppermann loved the language. He enjoyed formulations, especially when they were pointed. He worked on his sentences with passion. The rhetorical foil that he carried formed the basis of his political career. It led him up to the office of the SPD parliamentary group chairman and finally to the Presidium of the German Bundestag.
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A career as a parliamentarian was never actually his goal. Oppermann saw himself as a man of the executive. He always wanted to go into government. When you walked with him through his hometown of Göttingen, references to his time as Lower Saxony's Minister for Science and Culture came to mind at every corner.
How they had a historic church built for the university library. How they initiated the renovation of the historic observatory. How they fought for tuition fees and lost in the process. Looking back, Oppermann once described his years as a government politician in Lower Saxony from 1998 to 2003 as the “most exciting time of his life”.
He would have liked to continue it in Berlin. Federal Minister of the Interior, that would have been his dream. Minister of Justice, he could have lived with that. As the parliamentary managing director of the SPD parliamentary group, he had developed an almost ideal starting position for the jump into the cabinet. But when the SPD entered the grand coalition in 2013, there were too many men from Lower Saxony who pushed into the cabinet.
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In addition, the party leader at the time, Sigmar Gabriel, insisted on an experienced man at the head of the parliamentary group. Oppermann submitted. The office, which for many would have been the culmination of their political careers, was only a consolation prize for him.Edathy affair was the greatest political crisis
And at the same time it was a lucky coincidence, because only a few months after taking office Oppermann found himself at the center of a political affair that shook the country and his own career. Public prosecutors were investigating Sebastian Edathy, then SPD domestic politician, on suspicion of possession of child pornography, and suddenly the accusation was raised that Edathy might have been warned from SPD circles.
Oppermann came under fire twice in the affair: On the one hand, because a telephone conversation about the case between him and the then BKA boss Jörg Ziercke became public, on the other hand, because a press release from him on the resignation of the then Federal Minister of Agriculture Hans-Peter Friedrich ( CSU) led.
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Oppermann had stated that the SPD head of Friedrich, who had previously been Interior Minister, had been informed about the ongoing proceedings against Edathy. In the Union, and especially in the CSU, many people called for Oppermann's head. As a minister, he could hardly have been kept, but as a parliamentary group leader he survived the storm - albeit with a few wounds.
He had always had a clear conscience on the matter, said Oppermann to the end. And he showed strong nerves. Confidants said that even at the height of the affair, he skipped crisis meetings to play soccer with his children. He has nothing to reproach himself for, why should his children now suffer from the situation?
Oppermann himself practically never gave such insights into private life. It is known that he had four children from two relationships and that he liked to go hiking during the holidays - with a group of college friends, including Lower Saxony's Prime Minister Stephan Weil.
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Stimulus figure of the SPD left
In the SPD, Oppermann, who had always fought for a pragmatic and never for an ideological social democratic policy, was not without controversy. Comrades on the left saw in him a traitor of social democratic values and a person primarily responsible for everything that, from their point of view, has gone wrong in the SPD in recent years.
In the parliamentary group, some added that he had entered into a pact with Andrea Nahles after the 2017 general election, which secured her the leadership of the parliamentary group and the office of vice-president for him. Oppermann, who was known for his humor, could be power-conscious and callous when it really mattered.
He celebrated his physical fitness, which still had something mischievous about it even after his 60th birthday, also in his job - whether as a footballer for the FC Bundestag or as a hiking guide who invited the capital's press to march on the Brocken.Confusion and sadness in political Berlin
The seemingly effortless pace that Oppermann struck shortly before the summit, while he willingly gave interviews, was feared among reporters and staff. To make amends after the exertion, he took a Eichsfeld sausage from his backpack, cut it into slices as thick as a thumb and served it on brown bread.
“With him, our country is losing a strong fighter for democracy, for the rule of law, for progress and justice,” said Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Oppermann collapsed on Sunday evening during a recording for the ZDF program “Berlin direkt” and later died in the hospital in Göttingen. The last interview was no longer granted to him. His sharp tongue is silenced forever. She will be missing. (RND)
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