Robert Habeck How a successful novelist became a successful Green Party politician

Now co-head of the Green Party, the politician was once living the author's life in a grassy north German village.
Quelle: imago/Emmanuele Contini
Everyone says I fold clothes better than anyone.
(Source: imago/Emmanuele Contini)

The potential plot of a feel-good novel that’s made into a blockbuster film: A reactionary writer living a bucolic life in northern Germany stumbles into politics and becomes a surprise success. It’s also the the life of Robert Habeck, the co-head of Germany’s environmentalist Green Party.

Habeck was front-page news this week when he became one of the key targets of a high-profile hack. He then intensified the media focus by rage, quitting both Facebook and Twitter.

In the hack, a 20-year-old computer hobbyist publicized Habeck’s address, phone number and other personal details along with similar, but less detailed, information for hundreds of other politicians and celebrities. The event drew widespread media coverage and the culprit has since confessed to the crime, saying he was peeved at the actions of politicians, including Habeck.

It's not you Twitter, it's me 

Habeck himself said he was ditching Twitter and Facebook, not only because the sites are toxic, but because he himself can’t behave – he was mocked earlier this month for announcing on social media that his party would make the eastern state of Thuringia an “open, free, liberal, democratic” state. Though, as many observed, that state is already most – if not all – of those things.

The faux pas followed an earlier misstep where he welcomed “the return of democracy” in Bavaria … following a democratic vote. “You can make a mistake once but not the same one twice. There must be consequences,” he wrote in explanation of his leaving social media.

For anyone paying attention, Habeck’s social media reactionism isn’t surprising. Indeed, fed up with his own incessant empty complaining and political inaction in 2002, he sped off to a county meeting of the environmental Green Party, and, by his own account, came home as county chair.

At the time, he was a doctor of philosophy and lived in Flensburg, a north German town on the Baltic coast. He and his wife Andrea Paluch, also an author, seemed to be leading the perfect writer’s life, co-authoring novels and childrens books while equally sharing in the responsibilities of raising four children on the wind-swept, sheep-strewn meadows of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany's northernmost state that borders on Denmark.

You're folding it wrong

In interviews, the couple has been careful to reflect the 50/50 nature of their child-rearing. Hoping to catch the duo out, an interviewer for Stern, a glossy magazine, asked Habeck his kids’ clothing sizes. Although he seemed to know them well, he was corrected a few times by Paluch. He said he knew the sizes because he often folded laundry, to which Paluch agreed, noting there was a load waiting for him at home post-interview.

"Good,” he said. “I can fold better than you.”

It's this same willingness for rhetorical sparring that likely got him in trouble on Twitter but has also made him the most popular German politician on German talk shows. He appeared on shows on the country's public broadcasters 13 times last year, according to news agency Redationsnetzwerk Deutschland.

And it may also be what has rocketed Habeck up the party ladder. After working on the county level, he lead his party’s contingent when it entered the Schleswig-Holstein state government in 2009. Following yet another state election in 2012, he become deputy head of the state and its environment minister.

Although he admits the political work ate into his personal and family life, both Habeck and Paluch say his professional profile matured along with their children – their increasing independence tracked his expanding success. However, he and his wife wrote their final joint novel in 2009.

Chancellor Robert?

He made his first bid to lead the national branch of his party in 2016 and was seen as an outsider, yet he only lost the election by two-tenths of a percent to party celebrity Cem Özdemir. Still, he was part of a team that tried to negotiate a coalition in late 2017 with Angela Merkel’s CDU, the business-friendly FDP and the Greens, though the FDP ultimately kiboshed the plans.

He was then elected co-head of the Greens alongside Annalena Baerbock in January 2018. With the Greens now polling slightly ahead of the center-left SPD, Habeck will most certainly run as a chancellor candidate for the Greens in the 2020 elections and could, depending on their votes, win a federal cabinet position.

But we won’t know about it from social media.

Andrew Bulkeley is an editor with Handelsblatt Today in Berlin. To contact the author: [email protected]m