A soccer jersey ignited a dress-code debate in the German parliament recently, when Dorothee Bär, a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Merkel's CDU, turned up in the brightly colored jersey of her favorite club, Bayern Munich.
At the instigation of Alexander Ulrich of the far-left Left Party, the Council of Elders of the Bundestag, Germany's lower legislative chamber, now must give careful consideration to 37-year-old Ms. Bär’s attire. The body is made up of 23 members of parliament and meets to discuss and mediate on disputes that arise.
Ms. Bär defended her choice of shirt, saying that after a tough game, it was right to “stand up tall for your team.” Bayern Munich had just lost to Barcelona in a Champions League semi-final match.
Mr. Ulrich said the problem is not the jersey, nor the club. The transgression is that the shirt is emblazoned with the company logo for team sponsor Deutsche Telekom and members of government are forbidden from displaying advertising when in governmental chambers.
“If we don't clear up this issue, then in the future, any parliamentarian can appear in the legislative chambers with advertising on his or her clothes,” Mr. Ulrich explained.
It is not the first time that Dorothee Bär has been criticized for her sartorial choices. She wore a dirndl – a traditional Bavarian dress – to government meetings last fall and provoked the scorn of Green Party representative Sylvia Kotting-Uhl.
“The Bavarians think it’s appropriate,” Ms. Kotting-Uhl tweeted. “For the rest of the world, it’s way behind the times.”
Someone on the executive committee should not show up in casual clothing. Thomas Oppermann, Social Democrats
Ms. Bär gave as good as she got, saying criticism of her appearance by the Left Party was hypocritical and “narrow-minded for a party that always preaches the value of tolerance.”
Meanwhile, she enjoys support from her own party's hierarchy. “Cool action” was the comment on Facebook by the CSU headquarters after she wore the soccer jersey. The Left Party was advised to “concentrate on real issues” in the Bundestag.
When Joschka Fischer of the Greens wore sneakers to his swearing-in ceremony as a minister in the state parliament in Hessen 30 years ago, the CSU viewed it as a spiteful provocation. Mr. Fischer would go on to be the country's foreign minister from 1998 to 2005.
Five years ago, the Bundestag president Norbert Lammert ejected several members of the Left Party because they wore shirts protesting the large German rail project Stuttgart 21. And just last year, conservative politicians insisted that all party secretaries wear a necktie or bow tie when in parliament.
The tie issue escalated into a full-blown controversy in 2011 when Andrej Hunko of the Left Party and Sven-Christian Kindler of the Greens refused to don the approved neckwear, and weren't allowed to assume office. Jens Koeppen of the CDU argued at the time that proper attire was imperative to preserve the dignity of the institution.
Mr. Hunko and Mr. Kindler argued the rules of order make no mention of an obligation to wear neckties – in their eyes, the “floral-patterned neckties” worn by politicians didn't enhance the dignity of the institution either.
Other parliamentary groups were also indignant. Dagmar Enkelmann of the Left Party declared the Council of Elders had turned “the most superfluous piece of clothing in the world into a matter of principle.”
The Social Democrats, in contrast, defended the dress code. “Someone on the executive committee should not show up in casual clothing,” said Thomas Oppermann.
Things have relaxed a bit on the executive committee, but still, when newly elected representatives took office in 2013, Mr. Lammert presented all 30 of them with a necktie. Even self-declared opponents of ties like Green parliamentarian Dieter Janacek didn’t want to break ranks.
There has never been a specific dress code for the Bundestag, though there are rules of the house, which includes a code of behavior that states “calm and order are to be preserved” and cites the obligation “to preserve the dignity of the institution.”
The Bundestag has had to deal with quite a few fashion provocations over the years. In 1949, 17 representatives of the Bavarian Party marched in wearing traditional leather Lederhosen. In the 1950s, Bundestag President Eugen Gerstenmaier was irritated by parliamentarians wearing suspenders and demanded they wear belts. In 1970, conservative legislators were aghast when Lenelotte von Bothmer, a member of the SPD, wore a pants suit.
With the emergence of the Green Party in 1983, dress-code critics were on the losing side as the legislative chamber was flooded with overalls, woolly sweaters and sandals.
It is quite possible that Ms. Bär will be censured because of her soccer jersey, as letting her get away with it would set a precedent for others in the future. In any case, showing enthusiasm for soccer goes down well with voters, Chancellor and super-fan Angela Merkel has shown the way in this respect.
This article first appeared in the Tagespiegel daily newspaper. To contact the author: [email protected].