Gerhard Schroder, the incoming Chancellor, has another view: "Joschka Fischer has evolved into an unusually rational political person," he declared recently. Certainly the former streetfighter has changed beyond recognition in the past decade.
Born 50 years ago into a conventional family - his father was a master butcher - Mr Fischer has spent the best part of his life defying convention. In the Sixties he joined a group called the "Revolutionary Struggle", fought on the side of Frankfurt's squatters against the police, filled his head with Marx and Hegel, and lived off mainly casual work, including taxi-driving. These were the days of urban guerrillas; but the violent methods favoured by some soon disgusted Mr Fischer.
When the ultra-left parted ways in the late Seventies, he went with the Greens, the fledgling movement that set out to subvert West German society by democratic means. Mr Fischer, a brilliant speaker, entered the Bundestag in 1983, as one of the Greens' "co-MPs". Two years later he became the Greens' first office-holder anywhere in Germany when he was sworn in, famously wearing trainers, as environment minister in the state of Hesse.
Mr Fischer's changing dress sense is the most frequently noted aspect of his many transformations. These days he wears real shoes, snazzy dark suits, and almost always a trendy black T-shirt. For important Bundestag debates, he puts on a shirt and sombre tie. This is likely to be his Foreign Minister's uniform. Forget the cliches about sandals: the Greens (especially the men) are the nattiest dressers in Bonn.
As leader of his party, often accused of authoritarianism, Mr Fischer tries to set an example by looking good. After separating from his third wife two years ago, he took to jogging and a radical fruit-and-vegetable diet. He has shed five stone, now runs marathons, and will squeeze in five miles even on the busiest days. Indeed, whatever he turns his hand to, Mr Fischer does it well, if perhaps with a little fanaticism.
Although he has pledged continuity in German foreign policy, changes are inevitable. An ecologist representing one of the most powerful nations in the world will surely move the environment nearer to the top of the international agenda.
Out of Bonn and Berlin, new thinking will emanate on Third World debt, foreign aid, human rights, and that elusive matter: morality. The cocktail- party circuit should be warned: this renegade revolutionary secretly still harbours ambitions of changing the world.Reuse content