Merkel: power player who changed Germany


* She is well know for her abilIty to survive on little sleep and stay alert during late-night negotiations

* While working at the Academy of Sciences in East Berlin she held the title of Secretary for Agitation and Propaganda, though she has said her task mainly involved organising book readings and theatre visits

* She lives in an ordinary apartment in the centre of Berlin and grows her own veggies

* She is a massive fan of the national soccer team


Germany’s long-serving chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is running for a fourth term in office on September 24, is known as an intensely private person who shuns most forms of self-promotion.


Born in 1954 to Protestant pastor Horst Kasner and English teacher Herlind Kasner, Merkel moved from Hamburg to the east German town of Quitzow – then part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) – when she was just a few years old. The oldest of three children, she spent her childhood in the seminary where her father worked.

From her earliest years in school, “Kasi” – a nickname derived from her last name by peers – was a brilliant student with a passion for the Russian language and Soviet culture.

After finishing her doctorate in Berlin, Merkel worked as a quantum chemist at the East German Academy of Sciences. Former colleagues described her as shy, diligent and always seeking the most reliable data.

Merkel was 35 when the wall came down. In an incident considered typical for the plodding politician, Merkel kept a weekly sauna date with a friend on November 9, 1989, before joining the throngs of people streaming across the border to West Berlin.

Suddenly freed of the scrutiny of the Communist government and the Stasi secret police, Merkel joined the Berlin office of a new East German party called the Democratic Awakening, whose sister party in the West was the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

She quickly sought a meeting with CDU leader Helmut Kohl, who became her mentor. Within months, Merkel became known as “Kohl’s girl,” and was appointed as part of his first cabinet in a reunified Germany, as minister for women and youth.

In the early days of her career, Merkel was often presented by Kohl and others as a sort of novelty: an east German political up-and-comer and a woman in the boys’ club that was the CDU.

“Even when she was awkward and shy … you could feel her power from the beginning,” said Herlinde Koelbl, a photographer who met Merkel once a year for decades to take her portrait for a series depicting how high office changed a person’s physical appearance.

But Merkel didn’t hesitate to abandon her former mentor in 1999 amid a CDU financing scandal. Indeed, she moved to replace him as party leader.

In 2002, Merkel ceded the role as the CDU’s election candidate to rival Edmund Stoiber, who headed its Bavarian sister party. The move worked out in her favour: Stoiber lost the vote to the SPD’s Gerhard Schroeder, whose government lost power three years later.

Two months after early elections in 2005, Merkel was sworn in as Germany’s first female chancellor. The next 12 years were to dramatically alter Germany’s political landscape and the country’s role on the global stage.

Observers of Merkel have posited that her years in power were shaped by three major developments.

The first and perhaps most daunting challenge of Merkel’s tenure was the eurozone crisis, which jeopardised not only the integrity of the euro currency, but also threatened to undermine the very premise of the European Union.

Merkel quickly became the face of the European banker preaching austerity to Mediterranean nations.

Merkel endured sustained criticism for her stance on Greece, especially for the initial phase, in which she was slow to commit German taxpayers’ money to a bailout fund.

In 2011, two years into her second term, Merkel responded to the Fukushima nuclear disaster by reversing her party’s position on nuclear power.

She unveiled a plan to phase it out over the next decade, in a decision that continues to be felt by conventional power producers such as RWE and Eon.

In September 2015, half way through her third term, Merkel threw open Germany’s doors to refugees.

The audacious act was both lauded and criticised, and resulted in what was arguably the biggest-ever threat to Merkel’s power: the rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), Germany’s first successful post-war right-wing movement.

To a certain extent, the refugee decision debunked the perception of Merkel as a talented tactician without a larger vision. Some critics, however, maintain that Merkel prioritises short-term tactical gains over long-term outcomes.

In the words of her challenger, Martin Schulz of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel is “extremely proficient, precise, coldly calculating and intelligent.”