The Prime Minister's whistle-stop tour of Europe saw her meet the German chancellor in Berlin on Wednesday, and the local press were gushing.
It's been a bloody big month for our PM. First, she was basically mobbed at an arts festival in Wanaka. Then she flew to Paris to catch up with the other world-leaders-under-40 gang members, Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron, where they talked about New Zealand joining the European Union or something – who knows because everyone was so attractive.
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Then Ardern appeared on the Today show in the US, where she referred to herself as a "girly swot" and vehemently rejected a statement that she's the "Donald Trump of New Zealand". The presenter observed that Ardern is more like Bernie Sanders, with Winston Peters as her Ted Cruz, which was difficult to visualise. And she brought up a Daily Mail hack's remarks that she was betraying her country by being pregnant, to which Ardern muttered a laconic Kiwi "eh".
In the midst of all this, the Black Forest gateau of Ardern's Overseas Experience: a date with Angela Merkel in Berlin. Merkel literally laid out a red carpet, and full military parade, for Ardern. Once alone, they chatted about Syria and Russia, and missile strikes, trade between New Zealand and the EU, and working holiday visas. But the German press didn't care, because all it wanted to know was what Ardern was hiding in her Babybauch and the quality of her compression stockings.
The tabloid Bild led with the headline "Mit Babybauch bei Merkel" (At Merkel's with a baby bump), and featured a photo of Ardern and Merkel sharing a joke. Ardern, said the story, had flown 36,000 kilometres when seven months pregnant, and revealed she'd had to wear "schreckliche Kompressionsstrümpfe" (hideous compression stockings) aboard the flight. But thanks to her gothic New Zealand fashion sense, "with a black coat and black dress, one can hardly recognise the Babybauch", read the caption.
The German radio show SWR3 marvelled that even though being the youngest head of government in the world is pretty special, what’s even more special is that Ardern is "kugelrund und hochschwanger" (round as a pudding and highly pregnant). And "since she's traveling with her Babybauch for 27 hours, she's promised her worried people that she'll move around a lot on the flight – and wear those appalling thrombosis stockings".
The much cooler Der Spiegel opted for a more ironic headline (yes, Germans know how to be ironic, don't be racist) "Krass! Die Frau macht ihren Job! Schwanger!" (Whoa! The woman does her job! Pregnant!). It quoted Ardern saying she’d like to be remembered for being more than a pregnant leader, then, ironically, went on to discuss her pregnancy, detailing the length of her parental leave, and adding that her partner, who works with fish, is to stay at home with the child.
Angela Merkel, aka the actual leader of the free world, is in her 13th year as Chancellor of Germany. She has no children (neither do the leaders of Britain, Italy, France, Holland, Sweden, Luxembourg and Scotland, just by the by). A strangely progressive conservative leader and former Eastie with a bowl haircut, Merkel has a doctorate in quantum chemistry, but no one ever remembers to call her Doctor. Unlike Jacinda, she is not known by her first name in the manner of Madonna or Rihanna – she is known by her people as Mutti (Mummy).
Like Ardern, the Bundeskanzlerin is no stranger to speculation on her physical form. Forbes magazine recently ran an online slideshow exploring the frumpiness of her pant suits. Once, the English rag Sun snapped a pic of her changing into her togs in Italy under the criminally bad headline "Big in the Bum-destag". Another time, she attended the opera wearing a midnight blue evening dress that revealed a great deal of her boobs. The Daily Mail raved about "Merkel's weapons of mass distraction", while the gossip website Gawker squawked "Deutschland Boober Alles".
Merkel sure has had to deal with her fair share of jerks. Back in the day, that holder of bunga bunga parties, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, enjoyed f**king with her by doing things like hide behind a lamppost and yell "boo!" during bilateral talks, or keep her waiting for ages on the red carpet at a NATO summit while he chatted on his phone. And the douchebags keep coming. These days, if she's not mildly rebuking Vladimir Putin for annexing Crimea, she's gently admonishing Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan for being evil and, I imagine, trying to avoid Donald Trump – a German descendant, though surely few would claim him – as much as possible.
Which might be why, when Mutti met Jacinda, their mutual appreciation seemed actually genuinely refreshingly real. Merkel inquired after Whauwhau, the kiwi she released on Motutapu Island in 2014, and Ardern gave her a stuffed toy. In the photos, the women are not only smiling, but laughing. Afterwards, Ardern said the NZ press "want to know if you find me likeable", and Merkel, in the most adorably German way possible, answered, "Mein Gott! Couldn't you tell that was a wonderful meeting? Time flew by! It was highly interesting, and it was fun!"
But too soon, the fun was over, and for Ardern, it was Auf Wiedersehen to Berlin, on with the compression stockings and back on the plane.
Julie Hill is a journalist, fiction writer and documentary maker.