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Britta Ernst and Olaf Scholz: marriage at eye level

Olaf Scholz will know a lot about the problems at Brandenburg schools. Because his wife Britta Ernst has been Minister of Education in Brandenburg for more than four years. Never before has she received so many letters from worried, often outraged and angry parents as in the past two years. Some want more safety for their children in the pandemic, others find tests and mask requirements excessive. A few days ago the State Parents’ Council even called for the minister to resign.

Britta Ernst was sitting in the stands in the Bundestag on Wednesday when her husband was elected Chancellor. But she won’t be a first lady. She made this clear during the election campaign, she did not want to appear together. The local SPD association in which she is organized is not in her husband’s constituency. Equality is important to her in the partnership, no one should suffer from the other’s careers.

The 60-year-old trained clerk in the housing industry, who later studied social economics, has herself had a successful political career. For fourteen years, from 1997 to 2011, she sat for the SPD in the Hamburg parliament. When Scholz was elected First Mayor, she had to withdraw from the parliament of the Hanseatic city, which she found difficult. She worked in Berlin, initially on a deputy, as managing director of the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag. Three years later she moved to Kiel and became Minister of Education in the Schleswig-Holstein government.

But the northern SPD lost the state elections in 2017, and Ernst was no longer in office. Brandenburg’s Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke brought her to Potsdam as Minister of Education in the same year. The renewed formation of a grand coalition in the federal government in early 2018 meant that her husband, now Federal Minister of Finance, followed her to Potsdam. The couple first moved into an apartment on Glienicke Bridge on the border with Berlin, and recently they moved into a larger apartment on Alter Markt.

Ernst is pleasantly Hanseatic to deal with, has a dry sense of humor. The couple met in 1984 at the Hamburg Jusos, and they only got married in 1998. When it comes to love, her husband doesn’t express himself as coolly as he often does. His wife, who is most important to him, has made him a different, better person. The passionate runner encouraged him to run 20 years ago. When Scholz was asked in July whether his wife would continue to work if he became Chancellor, he said that the question outraged him. And: “I don’t know whether the men who are spouses will also be asked.” Britta Ernst, currently chairwoman of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs, will remain in politics.

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