With crisp sentences, Franz Müntefering became a political institution. His wording "This is the most beautiful office alongside the Pope – being the leader of the SPD" is legendary.
In 1998, as federal director of the SPD, he organized Gerhard Schröder's victory. He was the architect of the change of power after 16 years of Helmut Kohl's chancellorship to red-green. Müntefering is 80 years old today.
Anyone who meets Müntefering will find a concentrated, precisely formulated interlocutor – with an interest in dignified aging, in politics. His willingness to provide modest and precise information is striking. He still sees the victory of Red-Green as a positive cut: "It was a real liberation for openness and liberalism in the country." But he admits that the SPD and the Greens were not well prepared at the time – and initially jerked it accordingly ,
The Sauerlander had been Schröders' companion for many years, but he did not share his buddy nature. "I was glad when his first phase with Brioni and cigars was over after he took office as Federal Chancellor," he says. It was just right for the party soldier to plunge into government work. The minister of labor and state chairman of North Rhine-Westphalia had already held that Müntefering went wherever he was needed.
He started his political career as a city councilor in Sundern, Sauerland. In Berlin, Müntefering was Secretary General, Group Leader and twice Federal Minister. In the turbulent introduction of the Hartz reforms, he was seen as a key figure for the cohesion of the Social Democrats. After Schröder's withdrawal after the lost election in 2005, he initially became the undisputed party leader – and vice chancellor in Angela Merkel's first government.
In 2007 he resigned as Federal Minister of Labor because he wanted to assist his second wife Ankepetra. She died of cancer the following year. In 2009 Müntefering married Michelle, 40 years her junior, now Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office. Müntefering has two daughters from his first marriage.
"Münte" became a social democratic symbol and a bit of a cult figure, not least with its concise sentences. «Milk and honey will not flow. Healthy bread and a good spread will be there, however, ”said the SPD leader after the Groko coalition negotiations in 2005. Today's SPD leader Norbert Walter-Borjans describes it as“ a great honor to succeed him in this job ”. Last but not least, he was thrilled that “he can do sentences much shorter than me”. Müntefering delivers everything via subject, predicate, object. Müntefering was party leader twice: a year and a half in 2004/05 and then another year in 2008/09. Until 2013 he was in the Bundestag.
The trained industrial clerk has remained active since then: As president of the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund, for example. Since 2015 he has also been chairman of the Federal Association of Senior Citizens' Organizations (BAGSO). He takes part in more than 100 events every year for BAGSO across Germany, says spokeswoman Barbara Stupp. "He always takes the train."
In March 2019, his book “Unterwegs” appeared on the chances of getting older. Müntefering always goes on a reading tour from his home in Herne. His credo: “People shouldn't have the impression that they are no longer needed.” Müntefering, once a pioneer of retirement at 67, says: “Most want to do something or do something – and don't stop abruptly.”
Brimborium around him is foreign to him even today. When he meets in a hotel lobby, he is rather relieved that a hotel employee leaves him unmolested, does not specifically greet him or ask for an order. And then there is no car at the door – Müntefering sets off on foot to the next station.
Müntefering has remained true to the Sauerland. Last year he came there three times alone to read his book, reports Irmgard Sander, who worked for Müntefering from 2006 to 2013 as constituency secretary in Meschede. «I really appreciate him. He is always friendly and correct. I never found him excited, but as a person who was at peace, ”says the 64-year-old. He was still very active and "traveled a lot".
The last time she met him was in Meschede in mid-December when he was giving a lecture on aging in the country. Your impression? "You wouldn't think that the man would turn 80." She is pleased that Müntefering is still in contact with her. "He'll call when it's my birthday." Conversely, she'll write to him now, "because I can't tell if I'm disturbing."