I'm having trouble understanding the implications of calling Merkel "Herbergsmutter." What do the author mean by "Da war mir die Herbergsmutter-Rhetorik unserer Kanzlerin weitaus lieber." Does he mean 'patronizing rhetoric'?
Herbergsmutter is a woman who is the host in an inn or (youth) hostel and takes care of the needs of the residents.
Angela Merkel has been given the nickname "Mutti Merkel", see here for an attempt at explanation:
From that link, a statement from Ms. Merkel herself:
Weiterhin verriet sie, dass der Spitzname "alles andere als ehrenrührig" sei, da die Bezeichnung "Verantwortung für die Regierung, aber auch Verantwortung für die Menschen im Lande" mit sich bringe.
"patronizing" originates from "I talk to you as somebody whose duty it is to take care of you" (as a father, or 'patron' in the ancient Roman sense) - while the listener thinks "I can take care of myself, thank you very much."
I would say that it is Ms. Merkel's duty to take care of Germany's citizens, objectively and also in her own mind; so I assume the author meant something like "matronizing", but in a nice way without the negativity.
"Herbergsmutter-Rhetorik" is neither patronizing nor "motherly caring". A "Herbergsmutter" is the only one to whom the place is home and the situation is every day business. She has the unique objective of wanting to keep things from getting out of hand, plus an acquired ability to do so verbally. This gives her rhetoric a sense of minimal damage or even providence oriented diplomacy. As a politician, Angela Merkel is known to be particularly good at that.