Sign Up

Gerhard Schröder: An Image to “Dye” For?

Does German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder have an image worth “dyeing” for?

April 25, 2002

Does German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder have an image worth "dyeing" for?

s it turns out, the German Chancellor isn’t always a cool customer, especially when it comes to matters close to his heart, or — more accurately — his head.

As if he did not have more pressing matters to pursue, Germany’s 58-year-old leader has gone to court — seeking a fashion judgment of sorts.

In January 2002, a German news agency allegedly cast doubt on the authenticity of Chancellor Schröder’s brown locks, which are shaped and styled by Udo Walz — Berlin’s hairdresser to the stars.

The DDP wire service quoted German image consultant Sabine Schwind von Egelstein that “if he didn’t dye his gray hair” Mr. Schröder might fare better with the voters.

Although the news agency has since retracted the story, the Chancellor is seeking an injunction to prevent DDP from repeating its “accusation” that he is coloring his hair.

The normally jovial Mr. Schröder says that it is his credibility — and not his vanity — that is on the line. After all, opposition MPs such as Karl-Josef Laumann are already ridiculing the Chancellor as a politician that both “tints his hair [and] touches up statistics.”

And as Mr. Schröder prepares to face off with conservative challenger Edmund Stoiber in a federal election later this year, image is becoming more important than ever in a country that is accustomed to drab policy debates.

In fact, the silver-haired Mr. Stoiber, 60, underwent an image change himself in January. The conservative Bavarian governor unveiled an election poster that showed him posing without his necktie — a rare sight indeed. Commentators were quick to point out the significance of Mr. Stoiber’s attempt to “re-fashion” the stuffy image of his party.

All of this may be seen as further evidence of the “Americanization” of German politics. After all, it was Bill Clinton who first made his hair a super-charged election issue when he received a haircut by Christophe of Beverly Hills aboard Air Force One — while it was parked at Los Angeles International Airport.

Unfortunately, the haircut delayed Air Force One’s departure and — because of the extensive security precautions that go with the President wherever he travels — impeded traffic all over the airport. Thousands of delayed travelers were not amused.

All of this goes to show that the “Americanization” of elections the world over means that image — not issues — now carry the day. Consultants are paid to fine-tune a candidate’s personality, neckties, suit colors and even hair-dye.

For better or for worse, personality and image can no longer be written off as irrelevant — even in previously stodgy German politics. Perhaps the Chancellor’s hairdresser, Mr. Walz, gets to the root of the issue when he says that the German people must be “very fortunate” indeed if the color of Mr. Schröder’s hair is their most pressing problem.