Karl Lauterbach was the big warning of the corona pandemic. As Federal Minister of Health, however, he now supports a significant relaxation. In his favorite café, he explains his point of view.
It had been a long time since a day had started so relaxed for Karl Lauterbach. In a café in the Belgian quarter of Cologne, he orders a coffee and a vegetarian breakfast.
The 59-year-old lives nearby and is a regular here. When he takes a seat at one of the small tables in the evening, everyone acts as if they don’t even notice him. The emaciated figure with tousled hair is of course unmistakable.
“He’s completely alone here,” says owner Paulina. Lately, however, he doesn’t come as regularly as he used to. Table tennis games with his friend Günter Wallraff, a ten-minute bike ride away, are now rare, although they still happen.
Change to Berlin
Since being sworn in as federal health minister last December, Lauterbach has lived mainly in Berlin, in a shared apartment with one of his daughters. He was very happy when Olaf Scholz called because he wanted the job. He wanted to help shape not only the management of corona, but also the reform of the healthcare system. Today, four months later, he confesses to the German press agency: “The task is much more difficult than I had imagined. In terms of time, but also in terms of the complexity of the requirements. I am working early in the morning until late at night, and yet I wish there were more hours in the day. It’s a burden that I never imagined to be so much.”
Critics accuse him of changing his role in a matter of months, going from a reminder and a whistleblower to a loser – after all, most protective regulations were scrapped on Sunday. If you ask Lauterbach about it, his unease is palpable. He can’t pretend. “I know the political scene, I’ve been a professional politician for 17 years,” he says. “And that’s why I know that compromise is part of the essence of politics.”
Lauterbach wanted to keep the general obligation to wear masks, but Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann (FDP) considered that this was no longer legally justifiable because there was no longer a fear of overloading the national health system. . And he prevailed. Lauterbach was only able to get federal states to have the ability to regulate regional hotspots.
Less dangerous variant
Can he understand that many are now accusing him of first urging them to be disciplined every day and he is now letting things go? “I have to deal with that,” he says thoughtfully in his typical Rhenish song, which parodists can so easily imitate. “But that’s because we now have a less dangerous variant. And for that I’m grateful. I’d rather be able to support easing because the situation has improved than having to take drastic action.” But then he adds: “By the way, I don’t think Omicron is as harmless as many others. Between 200 and 300 people currently die per day, which still represents one plane crash per day. I find it oppressive.”
After all: Thursday the Bundestag could decide on a general vaccination that Lauterbach hopes for. “In my opinion, it will be a blessing, because it will fundamentally improve the starting position next fall, when the situation could get even worse.” However, this could mean that the vaccination only applies from the age of 50 – and not from the age of 18, as Lauterbach wishes.
accelerate the pace of change
Shortly before taking office, the professor – who has almost a million followers on Twitter – completed a book for which he has been researching for a long time. It’s called “Before it’s too late – what we’ll face if politics don’t follow science”. A plea to massively accelerate the pace of change, particularly in terms of climate protection. He dedicated it to his daughters Luzie (15) and Rosa-Lena (27), two of his five children. “They represent the generation that will have to live with the damage caused by climate change in ways we can’t even imagine.”
The book has now been published – but the discussion is not about the climate, but almost exclusively about the war in Ukraine. With good reason, of course, as Lauterbach points out: “I did not expect such a war. If you had asked me six months ago, I would have thought that was unthinkable. It’s a throwback to a time I thought I had overcome. Children are sacrificed here, innocent people are brutally killed.”
However, Lauterbach believes that the terrible war can do something good in at least one respect: “Suddenly everyone realizes how quickly we have to move away from gas and oil. Much faster than we thought until recently.” And this is again the message of his book: “The energy transition is the most important long-term political decision – along with restoring and securing peace and the prevention of new pandemics”.
Lauterbach also reveals some personal details in his book: How he grew up in a Catholic working class family in Niederzier in the district of Düren, got good grades in primary school, but was still sent by teachers to a school secondary. His friend, writer Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre, recently described him in a television documentary by Markus Feldenkirchen as a chronic underdog catapulted into the center of the action by the pandemic: “It’s like an American feature film where someone passes through a coincidence, a dinner party, suddenly becomes American president.”
Lauterbach’s father died a few years ago, but his mother still lives in the small town west of Cologne. “My sister and I continued to visit her during the pandemic, then we sat on the terrace in all weathers, in the freezing cold, when she was not yet vaccinated,” he says. . The 87-year-old follows his many talk show appearances with great attention. “She’s very judgmental. But I have to deal with that.”
The cell phone rings, the next appointment calls. When he says goodbye, there is a warm hug for the landlady, whom he has known for a long time and is with on the basis of first names. Three bodyguards follow him as he walks out into the street. While his popularity rating is still high, those who reject him often do so with particular fervor. Charming Lauterbach character. But now it’s raining and no one pays attention to it. Only an older bearded man sitting by the second story window recognized him. He laughs, waving his hand dismissively. It can mean anything. From “Him again” to “Let him do it”.