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The climber of the year TIME ONLINE

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Knew exactly a year ago Saskia Esken hardly anyone in Berlin – apart from a few nerds. The SPD politician had only developed a certain reputation among those who were familiar with digital politics. The trained IT specialist was considered to be knowledgeable, quick-witted and was usually easy to reach.

Now Esken is not that easy to reach. Appointments with her now run through the party headquarters. Scoffers claim that Esken is being helped by the crisis-proven press corps of the SPD shielded. Which is also better. Because otherwise one would have to defuse or revise one of their statements every few hours.

"I have to get used to a lot of things connected with this new role," says Esken himself. "I was a specialist politician before. Now I'm challenged as a generalist." And, of course, her prominence has multiplied within a few days. Her face and voice can now be seen and heard in the media every day. Your three grown-up children and the husband also have to get used to it – their presence on all channels is simply too much for them. "My family quips: We can no longer see you, you are in newspapers and on TV everywhere," she says.

It should sound self-ironic, even a dash of bitterness resonates. It is the week before Christmas in Bundestag, the last parliamentary group meeting this year is coming up. Esken, closely followed by a press spokeswoman from the Willy-Brandt-Haus, took time for a coffee. She no longer appears as aggressive as a month ago at the last meeting. Her words now generate a different, a larger echo. Only their tone is the same: fast, Swabian, confident.

Their rise is unprecedented in the SPD

She reports on her new daily routine, on the many appointments. The social-democratic state ministers await them for their breakfast rounds. The civil society associations want to get to know them. The journalists, the lobby groups, even the Chancellor – they are all curious about this new SPD leader, who has hardly been known before.

Saskia Esken has achieved a rise that is rarely seen in German top politics. He is unprecedented in the SPD. Until now, one had to be at least prime minister, general secretary or EU president before being considered for the "most beautiful office next to the Pope" according to Franz Müntefering. Esken, on the other hand, has only been in the Bundestag since 2013. Her highest function has been deputy spokeswoman for digital policy. When Andrea Nahles resigned in June, no one had Esken as the successor on the slip.

Nobody except yourself. It was Esken who took the initiative after Nahles' withdrawal. she asked Norbert Walter-Borjans via SMS whether he could imagine a joint candidacy, which he only confirmed after a period of reflection. Questionable whether Walter-Borjans would have started without Esken.

It was she who set the tone in the social democratic election campaign. Your rival Olaf Scholz attacked her hard and directly. And fundamentally questioned the government. ("The groko is crap.") So Esken shaped the sound of this duo. While her tandem partner Walter-Borjans, the former minister and government spokesman, formulated his criticism in a more polished and moderate manner, she was the more edgy and uncompromising.

"100 days of puppy protection"? Not for you

Esken also gave the election campaign a grassroots, anti-elitist touch. She did call Walter-Borjans "Robin Hood" because of his campaign against tax evaders in North Rhine-Westphalia. In fact, she embodied the role of the rebel much more. The entire elite of the SPD, the federal ministers, the country heads and most of the members of the Bundestag – they all wanted to prevent Walter-Borjans at the top, and above all they wanted to prevent Esken. Not least from this, the duo drew its strength.

Even during the election campaign, Esken's criticism attracted attention with her research. For example when she agreed to Olaf Scholz to be a "steadfast" social democrat, for which she later apologized. However, it was more of a niche debate that hardly anyone interested apart from the Social Democrats. Since she has been SPD leader, criticism of her has also become tougher. There is hardly a day on which a malicious commentary about them does not appear anywhere, be it in the media or from party friends of the political opponent.

"The first verdict was violent across the board," she said during a conversation in the Bundestag. Normally, politicians who take up a new position would be granted "100 days of puppy protection". It was "no longer valid after 100 seconds". Her explanation for this: Many journalists were "apparently very surprised" that they "did not expect our election victory".

. (tagsToTranslate) Politics (t) Saskia Esken (t) Saskia Esken (t) SPD (t) Bundestag (t) Norbert Walter-Borjans (t) Olaf Scholz (t) Franz Müntefering (t) Andrea Nahles (t) German Bundestag

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