Germany's 'rocking baron,' Merkel's possible successor
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany’s economy minister and “sexiest politician,” is making waves on the German political scene recently, leaving many asking if he might be Germany’s next political superstar.
"He is our hero,” said Markus Oesterlein, 18, in a T-shirt bearing the image of his idol. “Almost a messiah, you could say. Even at my school, people are bowled over."
Greta, a sprightly 90-year-old, agreed. "He has expertise, he has presence, he gets people listening ... He is excellent," she said. "It would be nice to have a few more like him."
The excitement was rising earlier this week in the main square of the German town of Kronach, in the picturesque Franconia region of Bavaria, as a rock band warmed up a growing crowd and beer tables were set out. Even the sun dropped by for a visit.
But this was no preacher, rock legend or movie star they were waiting for.
It was for a politician: a conservative, slightly goofy aristocrat with lots of first names who since becoming economy minister in February has shaken up the usually staid and sober German political scene.
Seven months later, and on the eve of an election, Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg -- Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg or "KT" for short -- is riding high.
The rocking baron
At just 37 years old, zu Guttenberg has been given the moniker "the rocking baron" for his love of rock music and has shot past Chancellor Angela Merkel to become Germany's most popular political figure.
And although opinion polls suggest that Merkel is on course to remain chancellor after Sunday's election, zu Guttenberg -- also voted Germany's sexiest politician -- is tipped as a possible successor some day.
But surprisingly in a country with growing gap between rich and poor, voters are not overly bothered with his lack of pretension. Zu Guttenberg goes from AC/DC rock concerts to even DJing, apparently winning the electorate over in due course.
His rallies have been dubbed "Woodstock for conservatives," and judging by the atmosphere at the one in Kronach, he certainly has people rooting for him to go all the way, Markus and Greta included.
He has even been mentioned in the same breath as another politician who has shaken things up recently, albeit a long way from Bavaria.
"Guttenberg is no Obama but the effect is definitely comparable," gushed Stern magazine earlier this year, with the grinning minister, replete with gelled-back hair, on the cover under the headline "The Cool Baron."
His speech in Kronach -- not to mention the T-shirt design -- was certainly not dissimilar, with him jumping onto the stage to call for politicians to rise above their day-to-day squabbles, and for Germany to be confident about itself.
"When you have the water up to your neck, it's extremely bad for your health to hang your head," he quipped. "In extraordinary times, Germans have always shown themselves to be capable of extraordinary feats."
All that was missing was a call of "yes we can." The crowd, most of who were over age 50, was glued to his every word, delivered without notes and with the de rigueur enormous beer in hand. He spoke for over an hour. It helped, however, that he comes from Franconia, and that Kronach is his base.
An aristocratic maverick
Zu Guttenberg's noble family goes back to the Middle Ages, with a castle and a coat of arms. His wife is a direct descendent of Otto von Bismarck, the 19th century "Iron Chancellor" and father of the modern German state.
Politically, he also has also made a name for himself as something as a maverick, most notably threatening to resign over Berlin's decision to offer billions of euros (dollars) in state aid to automaker Opel.
He backed down but such outspokenness may also be his undoing.
"In Angela Merkel's world political ideas are unwelcome, particularly when they don't come from her," the influential Spiegel magazine warned. "Guttenberg could end up marginalised, like so many before him."