So there he stands in front of the cameras in his familiar outfit – dark three-breasted suit, gold-plated wire-rimmed glasses – and lectures his well-known sentences in a familiar monotone voice. “Thuringia needs a political change,” says Hans-Georg Maaßen. “There is a great need among voters to elect a party that is not radical, that is not extreme.”

Behind him you can see a few displays with the inscription “Union of Values”, behind them nicely restored half-timbered buildings. The party, which has only existed for a few weeks and whose federal chairman is Maaßen, meets at a former manor in Munich – although it is not the Bavarian capital, but in a village near Weimar.

But somehow this location, which triggers cognitive dissonance, fits in with what was announced at an impromptu press conference there on this sunny Sunday afternoon: Maaßen actually plans to become Prime Minister of Thuringia. “I want to show people: There is an alternative to Bodo Ramelow,” he says.

Ramelow is the left-wing Prime Minister who has been in power for almost ten years and who Maaßen would like to replace after the state elections on September 1st. That’s why his values ​​union founded a state association with around 50 members this Sunday and is electing a state list. At its head, of course, must be Maaßen.

Or to be more precise: it should be standing there. Because Maaßen has given up. “We will compete in pairs,” he says, looking at the man standing next to him in the gray pinstripe suit. “Albert Weiler is the top candidate and will lead the parliamentary group in the state parliament. I will then be the candidate for prime minister.”

Weiler nods eagerly. The former train driver and later administrative specialist came to Thuringia as a social democrat from the west in order to switch to the CDU and sit in the Bundestag for eight years until he lost his constituency to the AfD in 2021. Shortly after he announced his entry into the Union of Values ​​in February, he was elected one of the three vice-chairmen.

So now Weiler and his federal leader Maaßen are part of a so-called Thuringian double pack – which means that the politically plagued Free State can once again boast a very special premiere: a state party that has around 50 members and is measured at one percent in surveys is choosing a candidate for prime minister , who is not their top candidate.

Maaßen, as he publicly confirmed for the first time during the press conference when asked by stern, had moved his main residence to Thuringia last summer. The reason for this, the Union of Values ​​assured for months, was the supposedly planned candidacy for the state parliament.

But why does Maaßen chicken out? The party unanimously states that he fears a legal challenge to a possible application. In order to run for the state parliament, Maaßen not only has to prove that he had his main residence in Thuringia at least a year before the election. According to the registration law, he must have “predominantly used” this apartment – which the Berliner by choice from Mönchengladbach would hardly be able to prove.

When asked about this by Stern, Maaßen contradicts it. “No, that didn’t matter,” he says. Rather, Weiler is “a top man” who knows the country and its people even better than he does.

Regardless of how credible this denial may be: Maaßen’s next comeback attempt has begun. But why does it have to be Thuringia? To understand this, it helps to take a quick look back.

After Maaßen was fired as head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in 2018, he joined what was then the Values ​​Union association and made Thuringia, which was already politically extreme, his new territory in the beginning of the state election campaign. When Ramelow lost the red-red-green majority in the state parliament in autumn 2019, Maaßen aggressively campaigned for the election of a CDU prime minister with the help of Björn Höcke’s AfD parliamentary group. And he publicly cheered when FDP politician Thomas Kemmerich was made head of government by the CDU, AfD and Liberals instead.

After Kemmerich’s resignation, the ex-constitutional protector loudly complained about a “coup”, described Ramelow as a “left-wing extremist” and allowed himself to be nominated as a Bundestag candidate by some rebellious CDU district associations in southern Thuringia, which had lost their representative because of a mask scandal. He joined the regional association, hiked through the dying spruce forest to the media’s attention and ate countless bratwursts.

But Maaßen clearly failed against the local ex-Olympic champion Frank Ullrich from the SPD. He then finally developed into a CDU renegade and provoked his own party with increasingly extreme statements. At the beginning of 2023, the Federal Executive Board initiated exclusion proceedings against him.

At the same time, Maaßen flirted with founding his own party in interviews and conversations and secretly moved his main residence to southern Thuringia. But he delayed the final break. Only when Sahra Wagenknecht’s alliance had been formed did he leave the CDU and in mid-January in Erfurt, the Values ​​Union Association decided to found the party, which was carried out in February on an excursion steamer near Bonn.

So now, on this warm summer Sunday, the Thuringian regional association has been constituted, parallel to the association in Schleswig-Holstein. Of course, says Maaßen, the focus is on the state elections in East Germany. It will be Saxony’s turn in a week, Brandenburg should follow soon. Things are now happening “in quick succession”.

The goal of the operation: “We don’t want to run to be the opposition,” says Maaßen. “We want to form a coalition to have a power option.” And to achieve this, every other party is right, including the AfD and its state leader Björn Höcke. “We want to work with those who share our positions,” he says. “I don’t really care who it is in the end.”

Weiler puts it similarly. Nothing is being “blocked off like a firewall” from the Union of Values, he says. And if a future member of the state parliament wants to elect Höcke as Prime Minister, then this is just the way it is: “Everyone has to decide for themselves. We have not foreseen any requirement for factions.” But of course Maaßen is the better “alternative to the alternative,” he quickly adds.

After the press conference, the approximately 30 members present vote for the state list. Weiler, who is also designated as state chief, was elected first place almost unanimously. One of the applicants behind him is the entrepreneur Peter Schmidt from Gera, who was on stage at demonstrations together with the right-wing extremist Christian Klar. His hometown “resisted,” he said at the party conference. “That makes me very proud.” But now he no longer just wants to “run in circles” but really wants to make a difference.

On the one hand, this fits badly with Weiler’s statement that the Union of Values ​​wants to avoid “that we get radical currents, be it from the left or the right, into the party.” On the other hand, the ex-member of the Bundestag knows Schmidt quite well. On October 3, 2022, for example, when the AfD, among others, called for a large demonstration in Gera and Höcke gave a particularly demagogic speech, the two took part in it together.

The question for the Union of Values ​​will now be how strongly it will be perceived with its candidate for Prime Minister, who is not a top candidate, in the state election campaign between the CDU, AfD and the Wagenknecht party – especially since the right-wing conservative camp is also fragmenting. Parallel to the founding of the Thuringian Union of Values, the “Alliance of Germany”, with which Maaßen fell out, drew up its own list in Altenburg, eastern Thuringia. A woman who once served as Höcke’s deputy in the state AfD was elected to the top.

But perhaps for Maaßen, who will be chosen as the candidate for prime minister early on Sunday evening with 100 percent, it is not so important how the state elections in his supposed new homeland turn out. He is clearly one of those men who are sufficiently convinced of their own historical importance. So he answers the question of whether he will run for the federal election in Thuringia again in 2025 with, among other things, this sentence: “I’ll put it this way, I honestly believe: I’m needed.”