German Chancellor Olaf Scholz talks with citizens during an event in Magdeburg, Germany, August 25, 2022. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The demonstrators first have to rehearse their message to the Federal Chancellor. “We’re now practicing again how to greet Scholz,” calls a local AfD politician from the back of a blue pickup truck. Immediately, protesters are blasting their whistles and horns, banging on drums and shouting “Get out, get out, get out!”

Two hours before Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to Magdeburg, the demonstrators are standing in a meadow on a four-lane road, the sun is beating down, a few cans of beer are being opened. “Stop traitors to the people!” and “Open Nord Stream 2 Against Energy Emergency,” read banners. The SPD politician has announced that he will be on the second stop of his Chancellor Talks tour through all 16 federal states. The AfD and other right-wing groups have mobilized in advance to receive him. It’s supposed to be the beginning of a hot autumn in Saxony-Anhalt, but despite the many calls, only 200 to 300 supporters came.

“Now the time for resistance has come,” says a Saxony-Anhalt AfD member of the state parliament, lamenting the high gas prices, inflation and arms deliveries to Ukraine. “We are not ready to give up our prosperity for Ukraine.” The audience enthusiastically hit the drums. But they miss their big performance. The bodyguards lead the Chancellor’s limousine undetected down a side street to the venue.

The chancellor talks with 150 randomly chosen citizens will take place in the Mark Fortress, a former defensive barracks. Of all things. The chancellor has been in defensive mode for weeks. The bizarre appearance in front of the Cum-Ex investigative committee in Hamburg, the downplaying of the Holocaust by Palestinian President Abbas in the Chancellery, the anger about the maskless government flight to Canada. It’s a difficult summer for Scholz, also personally. The constant comparisons with Robert Habeck gnaw at him. In a recent Spiegel survey on the chancellor question, he came in third, far behind the Economics Minister. Still behind CDU leader Friedrich Merz and on a par with Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder.

But in the Mark Fortress in Magdeburg, Scholz experiences a peaceful evening. Under a large awning in the courtyard of the brick building there are pretzels, cakes and cold drinks – non-alcoholic beer is also promised after the Chancellor’s meeting. The audience favors the chancellor, applauding politely as he steps onto the circular stage. Then the question marathon begins.

“What about the future of the nine-euro ticket,” Danielo from Magdeburg wants to know. “First of all, the nine-euro ticket is a great thing,” says Scholz. But you can’t keep it up forever at that price. However, the traffic light gained important insights: “We found out that the tariff associations are far too small,” says Scholz to Danielo, who is a trainee at Deutsche Bahn. Then the Chancellor promises a successor model. “We have made it our goal that we will develop something that is now coming soon.”

It’s a typical Scholz sentence. A little awkward, pretty vague. Scholz will remain so with the next questions about compulsory insurance for the self-employed (“there’s something else coming”), the future of language day-care centers (“that will be built into a program”) or further relief because of inflation (“there are others to come things we do”).

In Saxony-Anhalt, the oldest federal state in the republic with an average age of around 48, Scholz has to explain a particularly large number of questions about the situation of pensioners. “We have made it our goal to do something about it,” says Scholz. Later he promised twice more that he would support the pensioners in the third relief package. That resonates with the audience.

The Chancellor doesn’t let himself be thrown off course by unusual questions: “Are you planning to use emetic torture? And if so, can you start with Christian Lindner,” a man from Burg near Magdeburg wants to know. Scholz grins, but then explains dryly about his time as Hamburg’s Interior Senator when he had emetics used against dealers who swallowed drugs to hide them. “European courts did not consider that to be a suitable way,” said Scholz, which is why no one plans to use it. “Besides, I think you’re doing Herr Lindner a complete injustice.”

It is a colorful bouquet of questions that the Federal Chancellor will be confronted with in Magdeburg. A man wants to know why dog ​​food is taxed at seven percent and baby food at 19 percent. “There is no one at all who understands that,” says Scholz. A pensioner wants to know why the chancellor no longer communicates. He suggests a weekly program on ARD or ZDF, “in which you, as chancellor, explain the world.” He thanks him for the idea, but then refers to his podcast.

“When will Bubatz be legal, Mr. Chancellor?” finally Carsten Müller wants to know. The Chancellor is prepared for the question of cannabis legalization. “In this legislature,” he promises again vaguely. The Chancellor admits that it took him a while to get that right. He knows a lot of people “who have smoked their brains out”.

Other topics are not of interest in Magdeburg. No question about Cum-Ex, no question about Corona, no question about climate protection. Scholz is asked about the Ukraine conflict several times. “Don’t you have the feeling that we are gradually being drawn into the war because of the arms deliveries,” asks a man from Magdeburg.

Russia has violated all principles, Scholz replies: “It is important that we support Ukraine in repelling an imperialist attack.” Scholz promises that there will be no going it alone when it comes to delivering weapons. “It’s always level-headed and considered. I want to give you that as a guarantee,” says Scholz. There is a long round of applause for that.

Unlike in front of the fortress, Scholz is well received in the inner courtyard. In the federal elections, he did remarkably well in the eastern German states. Although Scholz often remains technical in Magdeburg, does not tell private anecdotes and does not use humorous punch lines, his calm, factual manner is appreciated by the audience. “Such town meetings are what I like most about what I do politically,” says Scholz at the end.

He should have been a bit more specific, rail trainee Danielo criticizes afterwards. Overall, however, he is satisfied: “The format is a nice idea. His predecessor didn’t do anything like that,” he says, then he stands in line. To say goodbye, each guest gets a selfie with the chancellor.