Frank-Walter Steinmeier: Can Germany's 'anti-Trump' end Merkel's political crisis?

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been thrust into the limelight this week after coalition talks collapsed.

(CNN)Just over a year ago, Frank-Walter Steinmeier was nominated for the job of German President. "My joy at the task is great," he said in an acceptance speech in Berlin.

But not everyone was happy.
Some doom-mongers grumbled that Steinmeier was much too important for him to be "consigned to the periphery of power."
    After all, as Torben Luetjen and Lars Geiges wrote in their biography of Steinmeier, German presidents "don't really have to make many decisions."
      That all changed on Monday.
      After coalition talks to form a new government unexpectedly collapsed late on Sunday, dealing a blow to longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel, it was President Steinmeier -- a man more accustomed to unveiling monuments than dirtying his hands with parliamentary politics -- who was given the unenviable task of restoring order.
      This week he's meeting with five party leaders, urging them to restart talks -- or begin new ones.
        If they refuse, Steinmeier is the man who could set the country on a complicated path to new elections -- unprecedented in post-war German history.
        "Courage is the lifeblood of democracy," he said in his first speech as President in March this year. He'll need plenty of that in the days and weeks ahead.
        So who is Frank-Walter Steinmeier?

        The pragmatic bureaucrat

        Steinmeier's journey from a working-class home in northwest Germany -- his father was a carpenter and his mother a factory worker -- to the office of the President is a remarkable one.
        But he's otherwise unremarkable, according to Luetjen. "There's nothing extraordinary about him ... He's usually described as someone rather dull."
        Steinmeier's first foray into politics came in 1991 when he took a job with Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder -- state president at the time and later German Chancellor -- and was soon running his office.
        According to Luetjen, Steinmeier quickly began to fit the mold of a typical German bureaucrat.
        As German Foreign Minister, Steinmeier supported Barack Obama's bid for the presidency and the two men worked closely together. Steinmeier has spoken much less favorably about President Trump.
        His two stints as Foreign Minister -- during which he tackled a military crisis in Ukraine, Greece's financial meltdown and unprecedented levels of refugee arrivals to Europe and was instrumental in negotiating the nuclear deal with Iran -- only confirmed that impression.
        He may not be "overly exciting," as Luetjen admits, but he's pragmatic, patient and rarely fazed.
        "He's good at finding deals and talking to all sides," says Luetjen. "Now that we have this situation -- close to a constitutional crisis -- those are talents that are really needed."

        The deal maker

        Steinmeier's nomination as President came as a surprise to many. He's a man who "enjoyed real power," Luetjen explains.
        In the aftermath of the Second World War, the previously powerful role of President became largely ceremonial.
        He or she is the public face of the nation, a German ambassador to the world. When Steinmeier speaks, people listen.
        But he's not known as a great speaker. And "he didn't seem comfortable with becoming a public figure" at the start of his presidency, Luetjen says.
        On Tuesday, Steinmeier met with Christian Lindner, leader of the Free Democrats and the man who announced his party's withdrawal from coalition talks Sunday night.