After around 16 years – 5860 days to be exact – an era has come to an end in Germany: the era of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Germany is a different country today compared to when Merkel became the political leader back in 2005. Using figures and statistics in an entertaining way, this project shows how Germany has changed and what Merkel was all about – personally and professionally, from CO₂ emissions to bubble tea.
This story was part of Funke Mediengruppe’s pre-election coverage, which we as the Interactives team contributed data-driven pieces to. It was published one week before the federal elections. The end of her term was widely covered at the time, but this project stood out as the most comprehensive data-based chronicle.
The project was one of Funke Mediengruppe’s most popular pieces of content around the federal elections with several peaks in demand: first a week before the election, then the day after the election, as well as the day before the new chancellor’s inauguration. Our work was also adapted to a print version published by one of the newspapers (link 2). The high average amount of time users spent on the online page was a remarkable more than five minutes.
Through social media distribution, the project also reached readers from outside the Funke Mediengruppe’s readership. The project was featured by blogs (e.g. datawrapper) and other data visualization professionals.
Because a lot of different metrics were included, the data collection process involved all kinds of different sources (government-issued pdf’s, federal statistics, market research data, figures from different ministries, research groups, NGOs etc.) as well as methods (custom requests, OCR, scraping, manually created spreadsheets). For calculating the total number of hours Merkel spoke in parliament, we even manually opened each recorded speech of hers (available at the parliament’s media center) and recorded the lengths of the speeches.
The csv’s used in the frontend were created in R by wrangling and cleaning raw data from various sources and in various formats.
The frontend was built using a state-of-the-art frontend technology stack based on React with next.js, emotion for CSS-in-js, and d3 for data visualization. As most of our users visited the page on their smartphones, we paid extra attention to a good user experience on small devices with low bandwidth.
What was the hardest part of this project?
As we were looking for consistent data across the time span of 16 years, many different problems arose: some official statistics changed their methodology in the middle of the time span (e.g. statistics on employees per profession, also numbers of fathers staying at home to look after children), some statistics were discontinued or only started later than 2005.
Especially for the less common and more niche-y topics, figures are often collected by hobbyists or enthusiasts, and these kinds of projects are often not kept alive for many years.
Still, it was important to us to include witty and surprising aspects as opposed to only rather dry official statistics. One solution to this was to think creatively about figures that could be obtained and offered some interesting insights – for example, the starkly declining number of members of a video rental association (which we could get from their books) became an impressive way to demonstrate the rise of streaming and online culture.
With the very vast concept of tracing developments of a whole country over 16 years, appropriately selecting and representing changes was of course also a challenging task. One strategy was to think of the different areas of life / categories we thought important (e.g. environment, poverty/wealth, public services, …) and another important approach was to include different aspects of each topic to paint a more nuanced and not one-sided image – to include both positive and negative, or successful and less successful developments.
What can others learn from this project?
The project is an example of how one can present a variety of statistics on an overarching topic without overwhelming readers. In total, 39 sets of data are visualized in the article (1 counter, 1 timeline, 8 key figures, 30 barcharts). Still, with the clever use of visual stimuli and a clear structure, the piece does not feel dry or boring. The structure integrates data of different granularity (from weekly polls to figures summarizing 16 years in one) in its two main parts:
The visual introduction features 16 (one for each year in office) photo tiles of the ex-Chancellor’s famous hand gesture, the “Merkel Raute”, and a ranking of the Chancellors longest in office (where she places second, missing the first by 10 days). These playful elements create a light entry into a data-heavy project. A line chart showing Merkel’s approval ratings since she took office follows. This sets the historical context by reminding of key events during the time span. The last element of the first half is made up of a dashboard with different numbers, some funny, others serious, which allowed to create some “summary” figures, while the following graphs rather focus on developments over time.
In this main part, selected statistics are grouped into 8 categories and describe how things developed during Merkel’s era in areas of: climate/environment, wealth/poverty, public services, migration, rise of the far-right, society, foreign policy, everyday life. Short texts put the graphs into context and explain Merkel’s relationship to the various developments. Because they follow the same pattern, the graphs feel like small multiples and are easy to digest or get a first overview by quickly scrolling through. Changing colors and category icons engage readers, create orientation and prevent the repetitive structure from feeling boring.