Page last updated at 11:26 GMT, Monday, 28 September 2009 12:26 UK

Angela Merkel's cult of dependability

Angela Merkel doll (file photo)
Angela Merkel is a global superstar and Germany's first woman chancellor

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been returned to power in Germany, after a sweeping win in Sunday's election. Steve Rosenberg accompanied Mrs Merkel on an election campaign which, while quietly efficient, could not be described as exciting.

I know there are still three months to go before Christmas. But allow me to propose a few gift ideas from Germany. I have collected quite a few out on the campaign trail.

For the girls, what about an Angela Merkel Barbie doll? It looks very smart with its little pink blouse, dark jacket and Merkel-like blonde bob.

The kids will have hours of fun playing at being the German chancellor. For the older generation, I would suggest an Angela Merkel lemon squeezer - entertaining and practical. To use: simply squish out your citrus with the help of Mrs Merkel's pointy head.

And to help the Christmas pudding go down just that little more smoothly, what could be more pleasant than a cup of Angela Merkel tea? Yes, here in Germany, you can buy tea bags with Mrs Merkel's face on them. Move over Earl Grey - it is Lady Angie.

Most powerful

If you are surprised by this extraordinary range of Merkel memorabilia, do not be. After all, Angela Merkel is a global superstar - Germany's first woman chancellor and the first from former East Germany.

She has become an international celebrity, leading the fight against climate change and battling for tighter regulation of the world's financial markets.

Forbes magazine recently named her the most powerful woman on the planet for the fourth year running. Imagine how much caffeine there must be in those tea bags.

Angela Merkel at a campaign rally in Berlin
Mrs Merkel is seen as a leader to steer Germany through the recession

But the one thing Mrs Merkel is not is Mrs Charisma. She is low-key and she likes it that way. She cannot energise a crowd like President Obama, nor does she try very hard to. In short, Angela Merkel is less Hollywood and more Cricklewood.

I saw her campaigning in Leipzig. She walked through the town surrounded by bodyguards and party officials.

There was no kissing babies, no giving autographs. She did shake a few hands.

But when one woman in the crowd shouted: "You're Superwoman, you are!" Mrs Merkel seemed a bit embarrassed and disappeared into a museum.

The image Angela Merkel has tried to project is one of dependability. She wants Germans to see her as a safe pair of hands, someone who can steer the great German frigate through the stormy seas of recession into calmer waters. And do so without having to kiss any babies and without making too much fuss.

Mutti knows best

But is that really what Germans want?

Germans... like charismatic people, but not as their own high ranking politicians
Miriam Hollstein, journalist

Well, the opinion polls suggest it is. Angela Merkel is the most popular chancellor in the history of the Federal Republic.

If Germans could vote directly for their leader, instead of just for parties, Mrs Merkel would win hands down.

Many Germans like to refer to her as "Mutti" - "Mummy". And mother always knows best.

It is not that Germans do not like to get excited by politics and politicians. When Barack Obama came to Berlin last year, 200,000 people filled the streets to hear him speak.

Obama-mania made German politicians look pale and grey and rather dull. But even so the German public seems in no hurry to come up with an Obama of its own.

To understand why, I went to see Miriam Hollstein. She is a journalist who has written a cartoon biography of Angela Merkel.

Angela Merkel shakes hands with Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a television studio in Berlin (13.9.09)
Mr Steinmeier has struggled to separate himself from Mrs Merkel

"That's typical for Germans," Miriam told me. "They like charismatic people, but not as their own high ranking politicians. They want more consensus people."

Mrs Merkel's main challenger in this election understands that. At times, Frank-Walter Steinmeier comes across as even more uncharismatic than she is.

Like Mrs Merkel, Mr Steinmeier stresses his reliability and avoids the razzmatazz.

But this is an odd election. The two contenders for chancellor have been working together for the last four years in the same coalition government - Mrs Merkel as chancellor, Mr Steinmeier her deputy.

They come from different parties, different ideological backgrounds - and yet they clearly get on well together and they seem so similar.

TV 'duet'

A German friend of mine described Mr Steinmeier as a "Merkel clone or Angela Mark two". German television has created a wonderful poster - it shows the two politicians photo-shopped into one body. It has Mr Steinmeier's face, Mrs Merkel's jacket and trousers.

Earlier this month, Mrs Merkel and Mr Steinmeier faced off in a live television debate dubbed the "TV duel." But they were so polite to one another, that one of the presenters said it was more like a "TV duet" and described the two of them as being like an old married couple.

Which is bad news for Mr Steinmeier. He has struggled to separate himself from Chancellor Merkel, and to explain to voters why they should trade "Mutti" for him.

He has no tea bags, Barbie dolls and lemon squeezers to promote his face. Most opinion polls predict that after this election Angela Merkel will remain chancellor.

She can even afford a few slip-ups along the way. I witnessed one in Hamburg.

Picture the scene. A Merkel election rally - a large crowd of supporters with banners declaring "Angela!" Suddenly the pro-Merkel rock band bursts into song:

"Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight!".

Could Angela be about to vote for her opponent…?

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