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Recollections of Peter Altmaier: When the airplane starts to sway, Schäuble calmly solves his Sudoku

By BUNTE MAGAZIN

Our last encounter was on November 7 at an event celebrating Klaus Töpfer’s 85th birthday. Wolfgang Schäuble sat right next to me. I couldn’t observe any noticeable deterioration in his health. He was as alert, friendly, and highly focused as always.

Despite some differences of opinion we had in recent years: If I had known that I would not see him alive again, I would have liked to thank him once more: For everything he has done for our country.

After the 2005 election, Angela Merkel appointed Wolfgang Schäuble as Interior Minister, and for four years, I had the privilege of experiencing and accompanying him as Parliamentary State Secretary almost every day from close quarters. Wolfgang Schäuble was wrongly regarded by many as emotionally distant and uninterested. “Duzen” (the use of the informal “you”) was also not his thing. One of the few exceptions was Friedrich Merz.

I was deeply moved when Wolfgang Schäuble gave a small speech at my 50th birthday celebration, which clearly showed how closely he had followed my work and recognized my weaknesses and strengths.

I chuckled when Wolfgang Schäuble celebrated his 65th birthday in 2007: As a completely normal working day – with a meeting of the EU Council of Ministers in Brussels. We were not allowed to make any fuss because he carefully avoided everything that could draw attention to his age.

Impressed by Schäuble at a pre-election meeting

I had my first personal encounter with Wolfgang Schäuble shortly after the 1994 election. Schäuble, who was then the party’s parliamentary leader, had invited the younger members of parliament for a personal introductory discussion. We were very curious about this meeting because even then, he was seen by most of us as the political hope for the future after Helmut Kohl. Wolfgang Schäuble deliberately took a lot of time, was curious, and addressed our questions. This impressed us very much, especially since we knew that at the time, it was still very difficult for him to sit upright in a wheelchair for a long time.

The most exciting were the discussion evenings with him: He would leisurely smoke a pipe, weigh the political arguments, and encourage us to break free from old ways of thinking. Many of us younger members would have wished in 1998 that the change of chancellor from Kohl to Schäuble had happened before the election. We admired Helmut Kohl as the father of German and European unity, but Wolfgang Schäuble seemed to us as the man of the future. After the devastating defeat, Wolfgang Schäuble then took over the party and parliamentary leadership, but Helmut Kohl still pulled many strings in the background. You could feel how much it hurt him – but he hardly talked about it to us.

When the airplane starts to sway, Schäuble calmly solves his Sudoku

Although Wolfgang Schäuble was fully committed to politics, he repeatedly created smaller and larger margins for himself. During flights, he usually had an interesting book with him and in free moments, he enjoyed solving Sudoku puzzles. Even in precarious situations, he always kept his composure and calm: Once, our plane started to sway during landing in Berlin due to bad weather and came to a stop on the grass next to the runway. Everyone was shocked. Wolfgang Schäuble glanced up briefly – and calmly solved the next Sudoku puzzle.

I fondly remember his extensive repertoire of Baden sayings and maxims. He particularly liked to say, “Not scolding is praise enough”.

Wolfgang Schäuble placed his life in the service of the country, the people, and politics. He deserves great gratitude across party lines.

The original of this article “When the airplane begins to sway, Schäuble calmly solves his Sudoku” comes from Bunte.de.

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