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Blazers out, nail varnish in: as Merkel steps down, so does star doppelganger | Germany

Ursula Wanecki has a dream, which is to finally meet Angela Merkel and swap tips with her about how to make Silesian plum cake. “I know for a fact she likes to make it, with a crumble topping. I imagine us sitting in her garden, having a coffee and eating the cake – with a crunchy crumble – away from the public eye.”

She has been told “by people in the know”, she says, that her idea is not so far-fetched. Merkel knows about Wanecki, who has been impersonating her for almost as long as she has been chancellor, and has even sent her a signed book, which Wanecki takes to be tacit approval of her unconventional role.

Her public presence as Germany’s leading Merkel double in everything from satirical TV shows and supermarket openings to private weddings and birthday parties has kept her busy over the past 16 years, even as she calls it her “hobby” and has retained her day job as an assistant tax consultant. When Merkel, 67, retires from her role next month, 65-year-old Wanecki plans to do the same.

“What I’m looking forward to most is being able to wear nail varnish and big earrings again, something Merkel never does,” she jokes. “But I think that ditching the blazers will not mean people don’t continue to shout ‘Hallo Angie’ at me for some time to come. She will not disappear from the public consciousness for some time.”

Her second life started almost by accident, with absolutely no effort on her part, Wanecki said in a recent online interview from her modest three-room flat in Attendorn, west Germany.

“When he was very young my grandson saw Angela Merkel on the TV news and told his mum: ‘That’s granny.’ Then I wore an apricot-coloured suit at a wedding, something similar to what she had worn – the colour suits us both – and later dressed as her for a laugh to go to carnival. And it went down so well that it took off from there.”

She is indeed more or less Merkel’s spitting image, mimicking her down to her slightly stooped posture, even her cautious gait and sometimes childlike glee.

In a compelling series of sketches made for a popular TV show, in which she copies Merkel undertaking everyday tasks ranging from drawing money from a bank machine to throwing a stick for a dog, she has Merkel’s cautionary approach down to a T as she hesitates before stepping on to an escalator.

Angela Merkel and her doppelganger Ursula Wanecki.
Who’s who? Angela Merkel and her doppelganger Ursula Wanecki. Composite: AP/Avalon

“But I swear I never learned the mimicry. It is truly how I am. I hardly need to make any effort, I just put on a bit of makeup and an oversized blazer and when I walk out the door I am simply Angela Merkel,” she said.

Despite being taller “by a head” and having a shoe size of 40, compared with Merkel’s 38, as well as “longer, slimmer legs”, she says most people fail to notice the difference, “especially if they’ve never seen Merkel in the flesh”.

Wanecki was born in Poland and despite having lived in Germany for years, has a strong Polish accent. “Therefore I am the necessarily quiet chancellor,” she said. “I arrive somewhere in a limousine, walk up the red carpet, hold my hands in her trademark rhomboid position. There’s a gasp when people first see me – the shock effect is what’s most important. But as soon as I open my mouth, the secret is out. Sometimes I’ve joked that I’ve spent too long speaking to Vladimir Putin and his accent’s rubbed off. That almost always draws a laugh.”

She has an agent who deals with impersonation requests, who has seen demand grow steadily over the years, reaching its peak in the recent, last months of Merkel’s fourth term. In October Wanecki took part in a feature film, though she is not allowed to go into detail. She has also starred in numerous films and tableaux by the British photographer and film-maker Alison Jackson, who specialises in faux scenarios using celebrity lookalikes, after the artist issued an appeal in the German media for a Merkel doppelganger.

Ursula Wanecki.
Wanecki says most people fail to notice the difference, ‘especially if they’ve never seen Merkel in the flesh’. Photograph: Avalon

Wanecki made the cover of Le Monde in Jackson’s 2013 depiction of the revival of the Franco-German alliance, eating croissants and bretzels with François Hollande. She even made headlines once, a few years ago, after appearing in an advert for a new magazine for gay women, in which Merkel appeared to be in an intimate setting with another woman in what the magazine’s editor said was an attempt to win a reluctant Merkel over to support same-sex marriage.

“I come from a strict Catholic family and I had had absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality,” Wanecki said. “But after I was approached by the magazine I started to do my homework and realised what an important topic it was.” But she was unprepared for the reaction that followed. “The furore around it throughout the world was extraordinary. I think it might even have helped Merkel change her mind about gay marriage.”

Merkel did not in fact vote in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in 2017, but she made no attempt to block it and subsequently said she supported the parliamentary approval it received.

Wanecki has also turned down plenty of offers, in particular, she said, if they appeared disrespectful towards a woman she described warmly as “clever, thorough and an excellent crisis manager”. These included a Russian TV advert for an underwear company, “and various other lurid invitations”.

Among the personal highlights was a trip to Greece at the height of the euro crisis to star in an ad in which she had to dip her hand into a barrel of olives and declare: “This is Greek gold with which Greece will manage to clear its debts.”

The low points came during the migrant crisis of 2015, when she was showered with offensive remarks while on assignments after welcoming refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and elsewhere.

“That was the first time I felt scared about being mistaken for her,” she said. “And to be frank, the fear has never left me. I always take care, even in my home town, when I’m walking down the street to see who else is nearby. If someone comes up behind me unawares, I’m easily alarmed. In Berlin when I’m standing at the top of a flight of stairs with my suitcase, I always wait until it is clear before hugging the railing and walking down, in case someone tries to shove into me. There are a lot of crazy people out there who maybe want the chance to make the headlines.”

Soon Wanecki plans to hang up the blazers. She fancies a cruise and to explore more of her native Poland. “It was important for me in all the years to not lose the essence of Ursula Wanecki, the real me,” she said. “I hope that the same goes for Angela Merkel.”

Classic recipe for Pflaumenkuchen mit Streusel (plum cake with crumble)

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 680-700g ripe empress plums (Zwetschgen/Pflaumen), stoned and quartered

  • 125g plain flour

  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 150g granulated sugar

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • ½ tsp grated lemon zest

  • 115g unsalted butter (not chilled)

  • 2 eggs

For the Streusel (crumble)

Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly grease a 22-23cm springform pan

In a bowl, combine the flour and baking powder with a mixer. Add the sugar, vanilla extract, lemon zest, butter and eggs, and beat on a low speed. Once combined, increase speed to medium-high and beat until smooth and creamy.

Spread the batter mix into the springform. Place the plums on the dough and press in gently with finger tips.

For the streusel: In a bowl combine sugar, flour, butter, cinnamon by hand using finger tips, until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.

Spread the streusel by hand evenly over the plums.

Bake for 50 minutes or until the top is lightly golden. Bake for a little longer for a crunchier crumble. Let the cake rest for 10 minutes before releasing the outer ring of the springform. Serve warm with hot vanilla sauce or whipped cream.




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