Published: 02 March 2017 Thursday, 11:05 AM
Bonn, 02 March (deutschenews24.de/dpa)- Martin Schulz, Chancellor Angela Merkel`s challenger from the centre-left, used this year`s Ash Wednesday rally to set the scene for the September election by vowing to fight nationalism and bashing the incumbent government.
Speaking in the Bavarian town of Vilshofen, Schulz - whose return to national politics from Brussels has boosted the SPD to a 4-year poll record - said his party was a "bulwark against exclusion, isolation and ultra-nationism."
He referred to his party`s grand coalition with Merkel`s Christian Democrats as a "forced marriage," saying: "They don`t talk to each other, they talk over each other - they`ve lost their marbles."
The usual restraint shown by German politicians is replaced at the beer-fueled annual event in Bavaria and other states to mark the end of Carnival with acerbic speeches and colourful insults.
Also in attendance in Vilshofen was Austrian Prime Minister Christian Kern - Schulz`s counterpart as the head of the Social Democrats (SPOe) in his country - who issued a strong endorsement for Schulz.
"After a phase of little optimism, a political turning point in Germany is within reach," Kern said. "Austria and Germany will have a red chancellor," he said, referring to his SPoe and the SPD`s official colour.
Speaking in the Bavarian town of Osterhofen, Frauke Petry - the head of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) - took the opportunity to ridicule Schulz.
Petry said Schulz suffered from "pathological self-overestimation" and that his many years as a politician in Brussels disqualified him as a self-proclaimed man of the people.
Merkel will give her speech in her home state Mecklenburg-Vorpommern later in the day.
According to a survey released Wednesday by the Forsa research group, the CDU is polling at 33 per cent, followed closely by the SPD, which comes in at 31 per cent. The study shows the AfD gaining 1 percentage point to reach a 9-per-cent vote share.
Last year, the Ash Wednesday rallies were called off due to a head-on collision of commuter trains which killed 10 people near the Bavarian town of Bad Aibling in southern Germany several days before.