Joachim Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor and civil rights activist from the former East Germany, has been elected as Germany’s new president.
Joachim Gauck, 72, won 991 votes out of 1,232 at a special assembly of German MPs.
The Germany’s new president has no party affiliation, but has gained a reputation as an eloquent speaker not afraid to address controversial issues.
Joachim Gauck will replace Christian Wulff, who resigned last month in a scandal over financial favors.
Chancellor Angela Merkel had supported Christina Wulff, her ally, against Joachim Gauck when they ran against each other for the largely ceremonial role of president in 2010.
This time round Angela Merkel has backed Joachim Gauck, although observers say her hand was forced by the liberal Free Democrats, whose support she needs in the coalition government.
Joachim Gauck was elected by an overwhelming majority at the Bundestag on Sunday, easily defeating his main rival – former Nazi hunter and journalist Beate Klarsfeld. She won 126 votes.
Lawmakers and dignitaries greeted the result with a standing ovation.
“What a beautiful Sunday,” Joachim Gauck then said, prompting loud cheers in the chamber.
The new president and Angela Merkel share a similar background.
They were both raised in the East, which disintegrated in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Angela Merkel is the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, while Joachim Gauck is both a pastor himself and the son of a pastor.
Joachim Gauck became interested in politics in the East after his father was deported to Siberia for his civil rights activism.
He became a Lutheran pastor after opting to study theology when other university courses were denied him because of his father’s dissidence and because he was not a member of the communist youth organization.
As a pastor, Joachim Gauck held services which preceded the demonstrations that eventually toppled the communist government.
After the fall of the wall, Joachim Gauck was made head of the body which investigated the activities of the Stasi, the East German secret police – earning the admiration of all but diehard communists for his work in exposing the crimes of the communist era.
In recent years Joachim Gauck has concentrated on campaigning against both left and right extremist threats to Germany’s democratic system.
Joachim Gauck describes himself as a “liberal left conservative”, and has expressed support for the policies of both Social-Democrat and Christian-Democrat coalition governments on a non-partisan basis.
A father of four, Joachim Gauck is separated from his wife.
Joachim Gauck’s partner since 2000, the journalist Daniela Schadt, will take on the ceremonial duties of First Lady.