BERLIN—Does German Chancellor Angela Merkel consider herself a feminist? When asked at a women’s event with Ivanka Trump Tuesday, she hesitated. Merkel doesn’t want to just give herself a label, which others have fought so hard for: “If you think that I’m a feminist, then vote on it,” she said, laughing.
Sitting in a room full of powerful women, Merkel was at her most frank and relaxed. The same cannot be said for Trump, who appeared perfectly composed between Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, and Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland.
“I’m still learning,” Trump evaded, when responding to the question posed by the panel’s moderator, Miriam Meckel, which was probably on many people’s minds: was she here to represent President Trump, the American people, or her business?
Merkel, who had nudged the committee to invite Trump to appear at the G20 summit on women in the first place, regards today’s discussion with the First Daughter, and now advisor to the President, as “very significant,” her spokesperson said yesterday.
German press initially described Trump’s visit to Berlin as a soft power diplomacy coup for Chancellor Merkel, but they were probably overstating the case.
“Merkel has handled Trump badly so far,“ according to Hans Kundnani, a senior transatlantic fellow for the German Marshall Fund. “She started from a bad place with her initial statement, which was tactically disastrous and unrealistic.. this visit now is damage limitation.”
Really, Merkel may only be figuring out quite late that she has to reach out to people like Ivanka Trump to get things done—and it’s not clear at all what she stands to benefit from this one visit.
The “two most powerful women in the world“, as Die Welt billed them this morning, met six weeks ago when Trump sat next to Merkel during her visit to Washington. A series of conflicting rumours followed, in which Merkel was either annoyed or very pleased about getting the chance to chat with the president’s daughter and advisor. Photographs from the meeting also inspired several memes, including one labelled: “What is a handbag designer doing in this meeting?”
But at today’s conference, the mood on the panel was glossy and cheerful. Ivanka Trump politely thanked the chancellor for her “very generous invitation.”
Meanwhile, President Trump did a celebratory tweet about his daughter’s début as international advocate for women who work. He shared an Financial Times article that Ivanka wrote together with the President of the World Bank, with the words: “Proud of Ivanka Trump for her leadership on these important issues. Looking forward to hearing her speak at the W20!”
But when Trump described her father as “a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive,” the audience jeered.
Taking a chance, moderator Meckel probed: “Some attitudes toward women that your father has displayed might leave one questioning whether he’s such an empowerer of women?”
“I’ve certainly heard the criticism from the media, that’s been perpetuated,” Trump replied smoothly.
The Hotel InterContinential, which housed the event, is an ugly concrete construct in the city centre, which is best known as the former drinking haunt of Harald Juhnke, a singer who (unsuccessfully) once aspired to be the German Frank Sinatra. In that sense, it represents wasted American dreams.
Later in the evening, Ivanka Trump had plans to attend a gala dinner, hosted in the rooms of a Deutsche Bank shop close to the Brandenburg Gate. Police officers guarded the street, while around a hundred young adults were dancing to a live punk band in the center of the road, next to a banner reading “Bank-a-Trump.“
“This is not a protest against the conference itself,” Morgan, a young theatre producer who was wearing a large white hat with rhinestones glued to it, explains: “We are just partying out here while they,” she motions at the Deutsche Bank, “are gushing over how empowered they are in there.”
One young man who has arrived to this alternative “Gala for Everyone” street party dressed in a suit and clutching a briefcase says meaningfully: “You know Deutsche Bank are also the biggest Trump fans.”