15 September 2009

Edmund Stoiber: A charismatic Bavarian?

Whilst running a course last week, I met a German who asked me if I’d heard about Edmund Stoiber, former premier of Bavaria, who's well known in the German speaking world for his incoherent speeches and frequent faux pas.

As I hadn’t, he’s kindly sent me a specimen from YouTube with English subtitles, that, as you can see HERE, makes George W Bush and John Prescott sound like amateurs in such matters.

All of which prompted me to find a bit more by typing ‘Edmund Stoiber+gobbledygook’ into Google - which quickly came up with the following background information (fuller version is HERE):

The gentleman that he is, Stoiber was going to compliment German Chancellor Merkel on her tough stance against US President George W. Bush. But that's where things got a little complicated.

"I found it refreshing," Stoiber said, "that the Chancelor criticized Guantanamo in front of US President Brezhnev."

US president Brezhnev? Hello, Bavaria, this is earth speaking! What was Edmund Stoiber thinking when he mixed up Bush – himself a master of the Freudian slip – and Brezhnev – a man who loved vodka as much as communism?

He's done it before

Stoiber is known for not always saying the right thing. The country is laughing to this day about the time he addressed Sabine Christiansen – the people's princess of German political talk shows – as "Frau Merkel."

Admittedly, not all of his faux pas were equally entertaining. The entire population of eastern Germany, for instance, was not in the least amused when Stoiber – during the 2005 election run-up – called them "the frustrated ones" and said he was not leaving the country's fate to them.

Stoiber has raised his inability to form complete sentences to the level of rhetorical bravado. One of his speeches about the transrapid railway system, for example, has inspired numerous music geeks to remix his staccato gobbledygook into a musical and poetic firework that became an instant success on the German-speaking internet.

Very few politicians get to have their speeches set to cheap techno or German rap. But Stoiber is not like other politicians. He could easily make the transition from Herr Prime Minister to MC Kool Dawg Eddie and land a contract with a major record label, without even trying.

Hilarious stuff that gets you wondering what other gems we students of rhetoric and communication in the English speaking world are missing out on because of our linguistic incompetence.

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