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Family and career: mother life | ZEITmagazin


The first thing about the SPD politician that evening at the Hotel Adlon Katarina Barley and notices her 16-year-old son Nico is their likeness. She is wearing a white, sleeveless dress with a large collar and a narrow belt. He was wearing a beige suit with an orange and black pocket square and the matching tie. They have the same big eyes, the same nose with the soft tip, the same reddish shimmering brown hair. It is around ten o'clock on the evening of the Federal Press Ball, and Nico, who doesn't really like political appointments, came along exceptionally today.

"There is the Federal President!" He calls.

It is not easy to spend time with your mother when she is a politician. Barley travels and works a lot, Nico lives with his father. Today he flew from school to Brussels to Berlin after school, then he and his mother met with Lars Klingbeil, the general secretary of the SPD. Its members have just elected their new left-wing party leadership. If Nico and Barley already know the result, which will shock half of Germany the next day, don't show it that evening in December.

A photographer rushes to them. "Ms. Barley – a photo of you and your son?" She pauses, actually she doesn't want to spread pictures of her children in public. She looks questioningly at Nico: "What do you think?" He nods.

Katarina Barley, SPD, is Vice President of the European Parliament. Her son says she has the mug with her at almost every session.
© Jelka von Langen

The photographer directs them in front of a white balustrade, behind them a chandelier illuminates the room. Nico puts his right arm around his mother's shoulder. They look at the camera with a smile. Click.

Barley will later say, "My son is 16 now, and I have seen him little in the past four or five years. Very little seen. These were important years for him, but there was no other way. "

Katarina Barley is one of four women who spoke to ZEITmagazin about a very personal topic: How difficult is it as a politician to pursue a career if you also want to see your own children? How family-friendly is this job? And is the answer to these questions the reason that there are so few women politicians?

One should actually think that this topic will no longer be a problem in 2020. Not after almost 15 years with a chancellor. Not after the countless parental leave, day care, and father debates. Hasn't a great deal already been achieved in terms of compatibility? With the rise of the AfD and the decline of the popular parties, aren't there more pressing problems in politics?

But if you deal with these questions for a long time, you will find that the political is also related to the private. The state of democracy has a major impact on the lives of those who work for it. The doubts about the system increase the pressure they are under. The AfD is getting stronger, the popular parties are getting weaker, the corona virus is overriding normal life. These are times that make the job of a politician an extreme job for everyone. This story will show that women are under particular pressure, especially those with children.

Four mothers are to be portrayed here who live different models: Dorothee Bär, CSU, which has a job in the Chancellery in Berlin and a family with three children in Bavaria. Franziska Brantner, member of the Greens, who is raising her daughter alone. Kristina Schröder, the former CDU family minister, who has withdrawn from her office and now lives with her husband and three children in her hometown Wiesbaden. And Katarina Barley, SPD, who was the minister and is now Vice President of the European Parliament in Brussels, where her patchwork family lives.

When Dorothee Bär scurries late through the auditorium of a school in Bavaria shortly before Christmas, the moderator doesn't miss a reference to a notorious interview. "Welcome! Here we are again with the topic of air taxis: If politicians could travel there, it would be faster!" Bär smiles broadly and professionally, then steps onto the stage, which is decorated with two posters. Children in research coats can be seen, they are experimenting with a kiwi. The Jack Steinberger High School in Bad Kissingen has just been recognized as a "mint-friendly school" for maths, computer science, natural sciences and technology. To celebrate this, not only 120 teachers from the region were invited, but also, as a star guest, the Minister of State for Digitalization. Bär has represented the constituency of Bad Kissingen for the CSU in the Bundestag since 2002.

Dorothee Bär, CSU, works in the Chancellery. When she puts on her high shoes, her son knows that she has to go to work.
© Jelka von Langen

She looks flawless with her dark blue pantsuit, black shoes with gold buckles and carefully made-up face. But when she thanks the microphone for the "great honor" of being able to speak to two district administrators today, she croaks more than just speaking. Her voice sounds rough like sandpaper. She is sick, really sick. She has had a sleepless night and a long weekend, she had a fever this morning. In another profession you would have stayed at home in your situation, but Bär is a politician and politicians have to work, always.

The 41-year-old is considered the modern, feminine face of a party that is primarily known for her men. In the Bavarian State Parliament only every fifth CSU member is a woman, in the Bundestag the situation is even worse: only the AfD parliamentary group [10.9 percent] has a lower percentage of women than the CSU [13 percent]. In the entire fraction from CDU / CSU, it is 20.7 percent.

This impression of male dominance has intensified since three men applied to take over the CDU chairmanship from Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and presumably to inherit Angela Merkel in the chancellery. Now that the women are giving up, it becomes clear how much they are missing in the party. The Southgerman newspaper has recently asked 20 Union politicians why. The majority replied: because politics is so hostile to the family.


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