At the end of September, at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin, there he was, this moment that Wolfgang Tiefensee has so often experienced as a top candidate: the moment of disappointment.
Once again, the Thuringian Minister of Economic Affairs had sat for hours with various Federal Ministers of the Union and the SPD to work on a compromise on basic pensions. And again there was no agreement.
Tiefensee told SPIEGEL that he had gone to Berlin believing that it would work this time. But when he saw the list of details still open, he realized, "It will not work."
Nevertheless, the 64-year-old is optimistic. What else is left to him? In two or three weeks, he says, the final pension decision could fall. Thus he would have a real success immediately before the state election in Thuringia on 27 October, in which he leads the SPD as a leading candidate. Incidentally, the same applies to the Thuringian CDU lead candidate Mike Mohring, who also negotiated with the Chancellor on Friday.
A sense of achievement would also be urgently needed. The recently announced climate package of the grand coalition has helped neither the Union nor the SPD. Do those voters who do not go far enough go to the Greens - and the notorious doubters to the AFD. And so goes the free fall of the SPD, throughout Germany, but especially in Thuringia.
At present, the party is at 14 percent in the federal government, in some surveys in the country it comes to 7 to 9 percent. From the Thuringian duel between the CDU and Left, in which the SPD was already grated in previous elections, has become a tragedy since the rise of the AfD, in which the Social Democrats threaten to perish.
In their distress, the state SPD relies exclusively on a man whose career five years ago was considered finished and who had little to do with Thuringia. Wolfgang Tiefensee is at the center of a campaign tailored exclusively to him, in which he presents himself as a local.
Formally, it's true: Tiefensee was born in 1955 in Thuringia, in Gera. But he grew up in Saxony, in a Catholic, art-loving Leipzig family, in opposition to the GDR: no pioneers, no FDJ, no service on the weapon. Nevertheless, he was able to graduate from high school and became an engineer.
30 years ago, in the autumn of 1989, began his first political life. Through the civic movement in Leipzig, he got into the SPD, became mayor, mayor, mayor, eventually organized the city's Olympic bid and managed company settlements.
Tiefensee was soon considered the East German hope of the party. In 2005 he moved to the first Cabinet of Angela Merkel as Federal Transport Minister. But his second political life was not a success. In the party he was many after the failed railway privatization as overvalued lightweight. After leaving the grand coalition in 2009, the SPD leadership downgraded him to a mere MP and did not even consider him when he returned to the government in 2013.
Then, a year later, in Thuringia was just red-red-green negotiations, offered him the SPD state chairman Andreas Bausewein the post of economics and science minister. Tiefensee reached out and began his third political life. The new beginning in the province was ridiculed in Berlin and Saxony. A former political star wants to improve his pension with his old fame, were still the friendlier interpretations.
But Tiefensee soon showed that he was serious, both in the state government and in the party. When Bausewein at the end of 2017 defeated the state chairmanship, he attacked and later secured the top candidate. The SPD needs a reboot, he said in his election in March 2018, adding, "The road ahead will be rocky."
"It's bad that this staffing debate overlays all content"
How arduous this way would actually become, he probably did not suspect. Neither in the federation nor in the country the partly quite presentable policy balance of the SPD is appreciated. However, this is also because the party takes half a year to seek a new head in the midst of the East German election campaigns.
In the small Thuringian SPD one is pretty angry about it. Tiefensee tries to formulate the collective frustration diplomatically. "It is good that in an exciting personnel debate we are demonstrating just how grassroots democracy we are," he says. "But it's bad that this staffing debate overlays all content." He had therefore desired a faster process.
But that can not be changed now, says Tiefensee, and moves into an election campaign, which mainly consists of himself. The advantage here is, surprisingly, his past: Especially from his first political life as Lord Mayor of Leipzig he is as well known among the Thuringians as the left Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow - and therefore after him, with some evening, the second most popular top candidate in the country.
So Wolfgang Tiefensee is one of the last two hopes of the Thuringian SPD. The other: that before 27 October in Berlin, there is still an agreement on the basic pension. It would give a small premium to the pensioners in Thuringia, who have to live on basic security, even though they worked for 35 years. And the SPD may be the same.
And if not? Recently, the candidate tour of the SPD station in Erfurt, the leading candidate took over the welcome. To get in the mood, a short commercial ran over him. Tiefensee rows in black-and-white pictures and carried cello music over a lake, alone. He talks about what to do for the country. It takes a long time to arrive at the shore.
Later, Petra Köpping, Saxon Minister of Integration and candidate for the SPD presidency, addressed Tiefensee: "Wolfgang, your film has impressed me a lot," she said. And then: "He was a bit sad maybe." There it was again, that moment of disappointment.