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August 21, 2009

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No jokes, this comedian could make chancellor

HE sports a pot belly, scruffy mustache and ugly glasses, and likes to burp on live TV, yet 18 percent of German voters would be willing to vote for him in next month's national election.

What could they be thinking?

Horst Schlaemmer, the alter ego of German comedian Hape Kerkeling, has taken the country by storm, generating a buzz that rivals that of Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, her challenger in the September 27 elections.

The comedian's press conference announcing his spoof bid was carried live on two networks. He was given a king's welcome by the city of Grevenbroich, the fictitious Schlaemmer's real home town northwest of Cologne.

In a plodding campaign lacking divisive issues, Kerkeling's campaigning focuses not so much on civic duty as on drumming up publicity for the film "Horst Schlaemmer - I'm a Candidate," which opened yesterday.

Germans are complaining that this year's race for the chancellery is one of the most boring ever. But Schlaemmer's Ruhr Valley accent and ready wit have brought comic relief to a campaign in which Merkel and Steinmeier have offered little to set the pulse racing.

"He is ridiculing the politicians' election promises, which is an accurate parody of the real election campaign," said Michael Spreng, an adviser to a conservative candidate in the 2002 election.


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