Portrait: Palmer: Celebrated mayor, despised provocateur

"Nazis out, Nazis out, Nazis out," the crowd shouted at Boris Palmer on Friday in front of a university building in Frankfurt am Main.

Portrait: Palmer: Celebrated mayor, despised provocateur

"Nazis out, Nazis out, Nazis out," the crowd shouted at Boris Palmer on Friday in front of a university building in Frankfurt am Main. Palmer calls along, even though he knows the calls are aimed at him. He, who is described by many as lightning smart and quick-witted, struggles for words with obvious excitement.

Then Palmer utters the sentence that puts him, once again, at the center of a raging debate: "It's nothing but the Star of David. It's because I used a word that you attach everything else to. If you use a wrong one word says, you are a Nazi." He had previously attempted to explain to the group how and why he uses the "N-word" publicly.

The sentence is the trigger of a case whose depth is so far unclear. One thing is certain: The crash is unprecedented even for Palmer, who was once traded as a possible successor to Baden-Württemberg's Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann, who was able to win the mayoral elections in Tübingen three times in a row with his local politics - and still failed again and again, in the right way Just don't say anything for a moment. And it's another occasion that makes it clear why some despise the self-confident mayor and call him a racist, while others celebrate him for his successful local politics.

In the crossfire of public excitement

It is by no means the first time that the 50-year-old political professional, who is never at a loss for a provocative quote, has been caught in the crossfire of public excitement. It is also part of his recipe for success: With polarizing statements, he became Germany's best-known mayor and received invitations to all talk shows in the republic. Again and again he produced scandals with statements that actually have little to do with his office as mayor. As early as May 2021, he had used the so-called N-word in a Facebook post about former national soccer player Dennis Aogo, who has a Nigerian father. This had triggered massive criticism from his Green party colleagues at the time - and brought him a party expulsion process. The so-called N-word describes a racist term for black people that was used in Germany in the past.

During the corona pandemic, he said in an interview: "In Germany we may save people who would be dead in six months anyway". And thus again brought his party and many voters against himself. In refugee policy in particular, he repeatedly offended with his statements - especially in his own party. The reactions of the Green officials about his departure from the party therefore seem rather relieved. The state chairmen, for example, speak of a "consistent step" and the Green Youth speak of "good news".

But because he is also a local politician who prefers to act quickly rather than talk long, and hits tones that help the Greens in the political center, other Greens regret his resignation. "Personally, I'm sorry about this clever mind, who has enriched our party for a very long time," said Prime Minister Kretschmann. He spoke of a drama. "That touches us very much. I find what happened there extremely painful." The Bavarian Greens district administrator Jens Marco Scherf, with whom Palmer had addressed an appeal to Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) on refugee policy, wants Palmer to keep a return to the party open: "For their part, the Greens should not close the door permanently. That is important to me," he said.

Absolute majority and jubilation in Tübingen

It wasn't long ago that the party from which Palmer has now left celebrated him: For his climate protection policy in Tübingen and his impressive election victory last October. At that time he got the absolute majority in the first ballot, also because he focused on Tübingen topics with which he can undeniably score. The city can become climate-neutral by 2030, and new jobs have been created at the same time. At that time he visibly enjoyed the jubilation about his person, conducting the brass band on the market square with great gestures.

It is also clear to Palmer and those around him that his polarizing statements at home in Tübingen tend to deter, or at least not exactly help. "He is a passionate politician who has had enormous successes in Tübingen, but also personal weaknesses that keep getting him into these situations," says Palmer's campaign manager and adviser Lorenz Brockmann. Palmer has repeatedly been accused of deliberately breaking taboos. Brockmann doesn't see it that way. Palmer couldn't help it: "It's his concern to address socio-political issues and to describe language bans as undemocratic. The way he repeatedly manages to lead himself onto slippery ice torments and burdens him."

Palmer himself explains his emotional statements in Frankfurt as follows: "When I feel wrongly attacked and react spontaneously, I defend myself in a way that only makes everything worse," wrote the politician in a personal statement. Being called a Nazi by a large group of people "revoked deep memories in me."

Palmer's Jewish ancestors had themselves been persecuted by the Nazis. His family was just able to evade the Star of David by fleeing. "My father Helmut was called Moses at school and was sentenced to prison several times after the war for calling Nazis Nazis," Palmer wrote on Facebook on Saturday. In the post-war period, Helmut Palmer was active, among other things, as a civil rights activist and was known as the "Remstal rebel" for his provocative appearance.

It quickly becomes lonely around Palmer

After the scandal surrounding the statements in Frankfurt am Main, Boris Palmer quickly became lonely where he is actually best connected: in Tübingen. Close companions turned away from him, such as his lawyer and friend Rezzo Schlauch, who had defended him in the party exclusion proceedings. Prominent people from Tübingen, such as pop singer Dieter Thomas Kuhn, who supported Palmer in the election campaign, also kept their distance.

At the weekend, Palmer, who was otherwise so self-confident, apparently realized that things couldn't go on like this. "As long as I am not sure that I have mastered new mechanisms of self-control that will protect me from repetition, I will avoid all confrontations with apparent potential for escalation through abstinence," Palmer wrote in a surprisingly self-critical personal statement. A short time later, he left the party he had belonged to since 1996 and for which he also sat in the state parliament before becoming mayor. Palmer then announced Tuesday night that he would be taking a month-long hiatus in June. On his Facebook profile, on which some of the debates had taken place in the past, he published a picture with the word "time out" in large letters.

On Tuesday, he also made it clear on Facebook that he would return afterwards - with Tübingen topics: Palmer posted a picture of newly planted trees on the median of a street. "I'm excited about developments like this," Palmer wrote. He will continue to work on that. "Next year we aim to establish at least 100 new street tree sites," he wrote.