Who is Annalena Baerbock, the ex-trampolinist aiming high in German politics?

As a former medal-winning trampolinist, Annalena Baerbock is used to aiming high. But the 40-year-old's next move may be her boldest yet, as she sets her sights on becoming Germany's first Green chancellor.

Who is Annalena Baerbock, the ex-trampolinist aiming high in German politics?
'Everything is possible': Annalena Baerbock on Monday. Photo: DPA

The opposition Greens on Monday tapped Baerbock to lead the left-leaning, ecologist party into the September 26th general elections.

With the party polling in second place, just behind Angela Merkel’s conservatives, the Greens are poised to play a crucial role in the formation of the next government, even if they don’t nab the top job.

The decision to go with Baerbock as chancellor candidate over fellow party leader Robert Habeck, a writer and philosopher seen as the more charismatic of the pair, might once have come as a surprise.

But the mum-of-two and trained lawyer has stepped out of Habeck’s shadow in recent months, savvily using the media spotlight on the pandemic to criticise the government for not prioritising children during the crisis, while laying out her own proposals.

Observers often describe Baerbock as smart and determined, with a meticulous attention to policy details.

“She keeps asking questions until she has really understood an issue,” a party source told the Handelsblatt daily. “She won’t be fobbed off.”

READ MORE: Germany’s Greens name co-leader Annalena Baerbock as chancellor candidate

Critics point out that Baerbock has never held a government role, raising doubts about her stamina for the election battle and the likely coalition haggling afterwards.

“Three years as party leader, being a lawmaker and mother of young children tend to toughen you up,” Baerbock has countered.

Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, co-leaders of the Greens in March. Photo: DPA

Taught to ‘be brave’

Raised on a farm near the northern city of Hanover, Baerbock got an early taste of politics when her parents took her to anti-nuclear demonstrations in the 1980s, a movement that spurred the creation of the Green party.

As a teenager Baerbock took part in trampoline competitions, winning three bronze medals in German championships. The sport taught her to “be brave”, she has said.

Baerbock studied political science and public law in Hanover before getting a master’s degree in public international law from the London School of Economics.

After trying her hand at journalism, Baerbock joined the Greens in 2005 and rose to become head of the party’s Brandenburg branch in 2009.

She entered the Bundestag lower house of parliament as a lawmaker in 2013.

Along the way she met her husband Daniel Holefleisch, a public affairs manager at Deutsche Post. They have two daughters and live in Potsdam near Berlin.

‘Head and heart’

As the Greens’ co-leaders since 2018, Baerbock and Habeck have been credited with completing the party’s transformation from its hippy, peace activist roots to a mainstream force to be reckoned with.

Growing concerns about climate change and disenchantment with the political establishment have fuelled support for the Greens among urban voters, middleclass families and “Fridays for Future” youths.

On a regional level, the Greens are now part of government coalitions in more than half of Germany’s 16 states.

In the 2019 European Parliament elections, the Greens soared to 20.5 percent of the vote in Germany while Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc and their centre-left SPD coalition partners suffered losses.

The Greens rewarded Baerbock and Habeck by re-electing the leadership duo, Baerbock with a record score of 97 percent.

READ ALSO: This is the duo vying for a spot as the first ever German Green candidate

In a break with tradition, both Baerbock and Habeck represent the “Realo” wing of the Green party, seen as more pragmatic and centrist than the radical “Fundi” camp.

Should the Greens come to power, Baerbock says they would bring forward Germany’s coal exit to 2030, the same year they want to ban the sale of new fossil fuel cars.

Baerbock favours greater European responsibility in security and defence matters, and has been critical of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Russia that has Merkel’s backing but irked allies.

Having first-hand experience of juggling homeschooling with working from home during the pandemic, Baerbock has called for more support for families and teachers.

She has not ruled out governing in tandem with the CDU-CSU should they remain Germany’s biggest bloc after Merkel bows out, but she describes the conservatives as representing the past.

Germany’s next chancellor, she told the RND newspaper group, “should have both feet in the real world” and “do politics not just with the head, but also the heart”.


Member comments

  1. The Greens have backed themselves into a corner over energy. Baerbock is anti-nuclear, anti NordStream 2, and, thank God, wants to eliminate the use of coal by 2030. How is a country that relies on energy to sustain its industrial might going to square that circle? Merkel, a physicist, knew that nuclear was the only real answer but had to succumb to irrational post-Fukushima pressures. This is all going to be a huge problem for the country.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Germany’s ‘traffic light’ parties sign coalition agreement in Berlin

Two and a half months after the federal elections on September 26th, the three parties of the incoming 'traffic light' coalition - the SPD, Greens and FDP - have formally signed their coalition agreement at a public ceremony in Berlin.

Traffic light coalition
Germany's next Chancellor Olaf Scholz (front, left) on stage in Berlin with other members of the new coalition government, and their signed agreement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The move marks the final stage of a 10-week week process that saw the three unlikely bedfellows forming a first-of-its-kind partnership in German federal government. 

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz is now due to be elected Chancellor of Germany on Wednesday and his newly finalised cabinet will be sworn in on the same day. This will mark the end of the 16-year Angela Merkel era following the veteran leader’s decision to retire from politics this year. 

Speaking at the ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday morning, Scholz declared it “a morning when we set out for a new government.”

He praised the speed at which the three parties had concluded their talks and said the fight against the Covid crisis would first require the full strength of the new coalition.

Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck, who is set to head up a newly formed environment and energy ministry, said the goal was “a government for the people of Germany”.

He stressed that the new government would face the joint challenge of bringing climate neutrality and prosperity together in Europe’s largest industrial nation and the world’s fourth largest economy.

Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock spoke of a coalition agreement “on the level of reality, on the level of social reality”.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, who managed to secure the coveted role of Finance Minister in the talks, declared that now was the “time for action”.

“We are not under any illusions,” he told people gathered at the ceremony. “These are great challenges we face.”

Scholz, Habeck and Lindner are scheduled to hold  a press conference before midday to answer questions on the goals of the new government.

‘New beginnings’

Together with the Greens and the FDP, Scholz’s SPD managed in a far shorter time than expected to forge a coalition that aspires to make Germany greener and fairer.

The Greens became the last of the three parties to agree on the contents of the 177-page coalition agreement an in internal vote on Monday, following approval from the SPD and FDP’s inner ranks over the weekend.

“I want the 20s to be a time of new beginnings,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly, declaring an ambition to push forward “the biggest industrial modernisation which will be capable of stopping climate change caused by mankind”.

Putting equality rhetoric into practice, he unveiled the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet on Monday, with women in key security portfolios.

“That corresponds to the society we live in – half of the power belongs to women,” said Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”.

READ ALSO: Scholz names Germany’s first gender-equal cabinet

The centre-left’s return to power in Europe’s biggest economy could shift the balance on a continent still reeling from Brexit and with the other major player, France, heading into presidential elections in 2022.

But even before it took office, Scholz’s “traffic-light” coalition – named after the three parties’ colours – was already given a baptism of fire in the form of a fierce fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Balancing act
Dubbed “the discreet” by left-leaning daily TAZ, Scholz, 63, is often described as austere or robotic.
But he also has a reputation for being a meticulous workhorse.
An experienced hand in government, Scholz was labour minister in Merkel’s first coalition from 2007 to 2009 before taking over as vice chancellor and finance minister in 2015.
Yet his three-party-alliance is the first such mix at the federal level, as the FDP is not a natural partner for the SPD or the Greens.

Keeping the trio together will require a delicate balancing act taking into account the FDP’s business-friendly leanings, the SPD’s social equality instincts and the Greens’ demands for sustainability.

Under their coalition deal, the parties have agreed to secure Germany’s path to carbon neutrality, including through huge investments in sustainable energy.

They also aim to return to a constitutional no-new-debt rule – suspended during the pandemic – by 2023.

FDP cabinets
Volker Wissing (l-r), FDP General Secretary und designated Transport Minister, walks alongside Christian Lindner, FDP leader and designated Finance Minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), the incoming Education Minister, and Marco Buschmann, the incoming Justice Minister. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler


Incoming foreign minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens has vowed to put human rights at the centre of German diplomacy.

She has signalled a more assertive stance towards authoritarian regimes like China and Russia after the commerce-driven pragmatism of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Critics have accused Merkel of putting Germany’s export-dependent economy first in international dealings.

Nevertheless she is still so popular at home that she would probably have won a fifth term had she sought one.

The veteran politician is also widely admired abroad for her steady hand guiding Germany through a myriad of crises.