Angela Merkel’s party has got off to an embarrassing start in the election race to choose her successor with a campaign poster gaffe.

The Christian Democrats (CDU) unveiled new posters featuring people from "ordinary" walks of life this week, including a nurse, a police officer and a solar panel engineer.

However, the party was forced to admit it had not bothered to find real people for the posters, but had dressed up some of its staffers instead.

A uniformed nurse depicted comforting an elderly man in a wheelchair is in fact Isabelle Fischer, the party’s deputy spokeswoman. While a police officer photographed in full uniform and stab-proof vest is Clara von Nathusius, the head of the party’s online campaign.

The ensuing furore has been damaging for a party that likes to portray itself as understanding the needs of ordinary citizens. And to make matters worse, the German Police Union complained about the use of a police uniform in the posters.

The CDU is currently leading the polls ahead of the election in September, and its candidate Armin Laschet is favourite to become the next chancellor

Credit: Thomas F. Starke/Getty Images Europe

"Just as police officers are not allowed to go to party meetings in uniform, political parties should not advertise themselves with fake police officers in our uniform. We are not window dressing for election campaigns," said Jörg Radek, the deputy head of the union.

The party attempted to defend itself by claiming it had not wanted to take nurses or police officers away from their work in the midst of the pandemic or break coronavirus regulations.

However, Jo Groebel, a German media psychologist, dismissed the party’s excuses as "threadbare and silly".

"It is completely underestimated how important it is these days to come across as authentic," Prof Groebel told Bild newspaper. "They not trying to sell margarine, they want to govern Germany."

The party reportedly feared bad publicity if it had used normal citizens who turned out to be supporters of rival parties such as the far-Right Alternative for Germany (AfD). But the choice to use staffers appears to have done just as much harm.

Germany goes to the polls in September to choose a successor to Mrs Merkel after her 15 years in power. The CDU is currently leading the polls, and its candidate Armin Laschet is favourite to become the next chancellor.

The poster gaffe is an embarrassing misstep, but it is unlikely to change the race. The CDU’s nearest competitors, the Greens, currently have their own problems to worry about after their candidate was accused of plagiarism in a recently published book.