With every new social media platform, inevitably, comes the gaffe. This week, a popular German state prime minister learned that lesson with his botched entry to the new hit audio app Clubhouse.
Bodo Ramelow, leftwing leader of the German state of Thuringia, stirred nationwide debate after telling Clubhouse users he played Candy Crush during pandemic crisis meetings, and described Chancellor Angela Merkel in one conversation as Merkelchen, or “little Merkel”.
Clubhouse is social media’s answer to the salon gathering — invite-only users set up “rooms” to discuss topics of their choice. As in the US, the app has become a fad in Germany among young fashion “influencers” and older politicians alike. Enthusiasts call it a welcome break from pandemic-era isolation, while its audio-only set up offers a sense of intimacy that is perhaps what led Mr Ramelow astray.
Last weekend, in a room entitled “Trash and Feuilleton,” the former union organiser and Die Linke party member said he played games to get through the 10-hour long coronavirus summits. This and the “Merkelchen” comment were published in the German tabloid Bild the next day and sparked immediate backlash.
His own state interior minister expressed outrage, while Paul Ziemiak, general secretary of Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said Mr Ramelow was “obviously not suitable” to take part in the meetings, and pointedly noted Thuringia was among the states worst-hit by the coronavirus.
“He should apologise to his colleagues and especially to the population of Thuringia,” Mr Ziemiak told Bild. “He let us look deep into his thinking — the way he talks about women, the way he talks about the chancellor.”
Mr Ramelow has apologised for the Merkel diminutive, writing on Twitter that after a conversation with a woman on Clubhouse, he wanted to apologise for “an act of male ignorance”.
Meanwhile, Markus Blume, general secretary of the CSU, the CDU’s sister party in Bavaria, suggested Mr Ramelow resign: “Then he’d have lots of time to play.”
Mr Ramelow is not the first German politician to come under fire for such blunders. Former finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble was scolded for playing Sudoku on his iPad during parliamentary debates on the Greek debt crisis.
The state premier defended his game playing. During the marathon meetings, he argued, all participants need ways to kill idle time: “I am happy to admit that one person is playing Sudoku, the other is knitting or crocheting or doing something else — and I just play Candy Crush.”
Among Clubhouse users, some young Germans lamented their already lost window of unfiltered access to political leadership.
“It was the first time I’ve been able to talk to politicians so freely, so unapologetically,” Artur Weigandt, a young journalist and the chat room moderator, wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine. “Their presence on television talk shows seems too distant, too powerful. In our room, we could talk beyond the artificial showrooms.”