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Fischer fights flab to save German government

July 15, 2005

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) – Overweight and facing widespread
ridicule for his swollen girth, German Foreign Minister Joschka
Fischer is taking on the flab and his critics at the same time
with a crash diet and punishing exercise regimen.

Vowing to return to his “fighting weight” in time for an
election campaign now heating up, the man whose wild waist line
gyrations have fascinated a generation of Germans has lost 22
pounds in a month and plans to shed another 22 soon.

Whipping himself into shape while trying to toughen the
resolve of his demoralized Greens party, Fischer has put on his
running shoes and hopes once again to become the lithe marathon
runner who led his party to power in 1998 and 2002 elections.

“The flab has got to go,” Fischer was quoted as telling
Bild newspaper in late May shortly after the daily published an
unflattering photo montage of a ridiculously obese Fischer next
to the headline: “Joschka is too fat for the campaign.”

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s government, made up of his
Social Democrats and Fischer’s Greens party, faces an uphill
battle in an election expected in September. They trail an
alliance of conservative parties by about 15 percentage points.

Fischer lost 82 pounds in 1997.

After his third wife left him then, he took up jogging and
turned himself from a self-described “heavy-breathing barrel
with two legs” into a skinny marathon runner and then wrote a
best-selling book about it — “My Long Run to Myself.”

But he regained at least 44 pounds of that in the last two
years and because he made such a public issue of his weight
loss and changed lifestyle the first time, critics –
especially heavyweight journalists — reveled in mocking his
new bulges.

Some joked Fischer should write another book called “My
Long Run Around Myself” or “My Long Run To Myself and Back.”

At the Foreign Ministry, where Fischer’s overbearing style
has earned him many enemies, some employees refer to him as
“Kugel-Fischer” — a wordplay between “bullet-proof,” “rotund
Fischer” and the name of a German ball-bearing manufacturer.

Even Germany’s top television comedian, Harald Schmidt,
ridiculed Fischer’s weight when he first announced plans to get
back into shape, reminding viewers of Fischer’s criticism of
ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl as a “300-pound piece of meaty German
history.”

When he first vowed to lose weight again, the Financial
Times Deutschland daily said photographers should get their
long-distance lenses out for pictures of Fischer jogging.

“On second thought, the photographers will probably need
their wide-angle lenses to get all of his bulky form into their
pictures,” wrote Timm Kraegenow in the daily newspaper.

But the laughter has been fading recently as Fischer, 57,
steadily lost weight again. From 247 pounds — he is 5 feet 111
inches) tall — Fischer is down to just over 220.5 pounds.

Some newspapers have reported Greens leaders pressured him
to lose weight, warning his obesity suggested an air of
laziness and complacency that might turn off voters, especially
women.

RADICAL CHANGES

Fischer has long captured the imagination of his generation
by going through a number of remarkable changes in his life –
from cop-beating street-fighter after dropping out of school to
the country’s respected foreign minister.

“The radical manner in which he changed his life has long
captivated the public’s attention,” said Dietmar Herz,
political scientist at Erfurt University. “His first big diet
had a special significance: it symbolized all the changes he
made.

“He had a new body, new suits, a new wife, and a new role
in the government instead of an opposition leader,” added Herz,
who at a state dinner once saw Fischer limit himself to
strawberries and water while everyone else tucked into six
courses.

“But the pressures of everyday life caught up with him and
he gained it back,” Herz said. “He wants to lose it all again.
But what will that accomplish this time? I have my doubts
whether his latest diet will make any difference politically.”

Once again on an ascetic’s menu of steamed fish, fruits and
no alcohol, Fischer runs for about an hour every day and can
been seen surrounded by bodyguards jogging along busy Berlin
streets or in the city’s parks — albeit at a slower pace than
at the turn of the millennium when he ran marathons in New
York, Berlin and Hamburg in well under four hours.

“The first week I went out and ran 60 km (37 miles) right
away,” Fischer said recently. “That almost knocked me out.”

At a Greens party rally in Berlin over the weekend, a
notably slimmer Fischer matched his new form by dropping the
dry diplomatic language that dulled many of his speeches in
recent years. He turned himself back into the colorful orator
that once made him Germany’s most popular politician.

He got so worked up on the podium that his shirt was
drenched with sweat. He spent the next half hour mopping
perspiration from his face and downing bottles of water.

Greens party members joked Fischer probably lost a few
pounds during the speech, which left him looking exhausted, and
that he wouldn’t need to go running that day.

Fischer said the diet was giving him new strengths.

“I’m working on improving my fitness so that you’ll be able
to see a few weeks from now that I’m as good as I was before,”
he recently told N-24 television. “I’ve had an incredible
amount of work to do this year, but am going all out to get fit
again.”