German elections are one month away, but the man who promised a centre-left revival is lagging ever further behind the chancellor

At the end of a speech in which Martin Schulz had summarised social democracy’s birth after the industrial revolution, evoked his party’s heroic lone stand against Hitler in 1933 and brought Kaiserslautern’s Fruchthalle concert hall to its feet with a rousing attack on contemporary rightwing populism, it took a gift from his hosts to drag the man challenging Angela Merkel for the top spot in Europe’s biggest economy back down to earth.

The party branch of Schulz’s Social Democrats (SPD) presented their candidate for chancellor with a figurine of local hero Fritz Walter, who had captained Germany to their comeback victory in the 1954 World Cup final. “Walter knew a thing or two about coming from behind,” said the local councillor, with all the enthusiasm he could muster.

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