Berlin - Thuringia's state premier, Bodo Ramelow (Die Linke), has come under fire for admitting to playing Candy Crush during all-important government-state summits, and has apologised for referring to chancellor Angela Merkel with a patronising nickname on audio streaming app Clubhouse.
The comments were made during the talk show "Trash und Feuilleton", organised by young SPD hopeful Lilly Blaudszun on Clubhouse, which allows users to conduct their own audio broadcasts that anyone can listen in on. She told the dpa news agency that the show was only meant to involve "trash talk" about celebrities and gossip between her and five friends.
"Then all of a sudden Bodo Ramelow joined in, completely unplanned," she said.
During the conversation, Ramelow described how he would often devote his attention to playing the mobile game Candy Crush during the regular summits between state premiers and chancellor Merkel, where major decisions regarding corona restrictions have been made throughout the pandemic. The Welt am Sonntag reported that he claimed to have made it through 10 levels in one go.
And apparently, Ramelow's not the only one not paying full attention during the meetings. "Some people play Sudoku, others play chess or Scrabble on their phones, and I play Candy Crush," Ramelow told dpa on Sunday.
Shockingly, he then seemed to make things worse by failing to apologise for such activities during the conferences. Given the virtual summits can last up to 10 hours, he said he was "happy to admit" distracting himself on his phone during idle moments. In a jovial tweet addressing his gaming habits, he wrote: "It would be nice if there were no more hours-long debates about pandemic defense. Then I could use long car rides or annoying party conferences again."
However, he did apologise for referring to chancellor Merkel with the nickname "Merkelchen" (little Merkel) on the platform. "To belittle the chancellor's name was an act of male ignorance," he tweeted later on Sunday. "For this, my sincere apologies."
"Disrespectful and irresponsible"
Ramelow's comments on the platform have provoked criticism from politicians in his home state, including his own cabinet. Thuringia's interior minister, Georg Maier (SPD), told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland on Monday: "If it turns out to be true that Bodo Ramelow is playing phone games during the premiers' conference, then he should review his behaviour. The situation is too serious for that."
Thuringian CDU leader Christian Hirte was also unimpressed, tweeting on Sunday: "Either it is an expression of arrogance of power or official fatigue. In any case, it is disrespectful and irresponsible." He described the ongoing pandemic as a matter of life and death, as well as the livelihoods of millions and the future of a generation of students, adding "whoever understands his office as premier in this way gambles away citizens' trust."
The Thuringian FDP faction called Ramelow's actions during the pandemic "chaotic", while AfD parliamentarian Stephan Brandner called Ramelow "embarrassing for Thuringia".
"The enemy is always listening"
Returning to Clubhouse on Sunday to address his comments, Ramelow said the incident had taught him to be more cautious in future. "When I now turn on this format, I will now have the learning curve of the day before yesterday and yesterday in the back of my mind," he said. He said he would be more aware of the principle that "the enemy is always listening" when using the app.
Ramelow is not the only politician to have recently taken to Clubhouse. It is currently proving popular in Germany, including with figures such as former chancellor Gerhard Schröder. And he isn't the only one to have suffered an awkward moment on the platform. Bundestag member Philipp Amthor (CDU) gave a less than tuneful performance of the Prussian classic Pommernlied on the app on Saturday night, which is now doing the rounds online.