A holiday photo of the German president from a few weeks ago came back to bite him, after he lectured anti-mask protesters on being responsible during the Covid-19 pandemic – his face was not covered when the picture was taken.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered a stern tirade earlier this week, calling “irresponsible” those who object to social distancing measures advocated by the German authorities. While his current office is largely ceremonial, it also carries certain moral authority, which the former foreign minister channeled into a call to observe the rules.
“Each and every one of us is now responsible for preventing a second lockdown,” he said on Monday in a video address. “Unless we are especially careful now, we would endanger the health of many. And we would also undermine the recovery of our society, our economy, our cultural life.”
He went on to stress the importance of wearing face masks in public, maintaining distance from strangers, and follow other hygiene guidelines. The speech was apparently meant as a rebuke to the thousands of people who gathered in Berlin last Saturday to protest the coronavirus restrictions. Deliberately not wearing masks during the rally was one of the ways they tried to make their point.
Steinmeier, however, soon found himself under fire online, as people accused him of being hypocritical. Their proof was a new photo in which the president was shown cozying up with the governor of the Italian region South Tyrol and four local musicians. Everyone present was standing close together and seemed pretty happy, which any observer could tell because none of them had masks on.
The photo was taken on July 22 during Steinmeier’s vacation in the Alpine resort. The contrast to this week’s lecture quickly made it go viral in Germany. Angry commenters accused him of “preaching water and drinking wine,” a German idiom roughly equivalent to ‘practice what you preach’. Some demanded his resignation. Others suggested cutting the man some slack and not judging him too harshly for a minor slip-up.
The Tyrolean host, Arno Kompatscher, took flak earlier over the photo at home, where Covid-19 restrictions remain in place. He said that he and his German guest actually discussed social distancing rules during the meeting and did wear masks, but took them off for the photo opp.
“Ashes on my head, we are human too,” Kompatscher told media, apologizing for sending mixed signals to his constituents.
After the photo made the rounds in Germany, Steinmeier’s office told WELT that he takes the Covid-19 rules very seriously and explained the maskless pic as a “spontaneous wish to take a joint photo in the fresh air” that he and Kompatscher felt.
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