On September 24, Angela Merkel won a fourth term as chancellor of Germany. Here is what you should know about the most powerful woman in the world:
1. Merkel was born Angela Dorothea Kasner in Cold War-era Germany in 1954. Three weeks after she was born in the pro-Western city of Hamburg, her father moved the family behind the Iron Curtain into the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Her father, Horst Kasner, was a Lutheran pastor who moved the family to GDR to “build a distinctly East German Protestantism” that included separating “state and church—rendering, as the scriptures taught, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
2. Merkel is a Lutheran member of the Evangelical Church in Berlin, Brandenburg and Silesian Upper Lusatia. In a 2012 interview she said about her faith, “I am a member of the evangelical church. I believe in God and religion is also my constant companion, and has been for the whole of my life. We as Christians should above all not be afraid of standing up for our beliefs.”
3. From 1973 to 1978 Merkel studied physics at the University of Leipzig (which at the time was called Karl Marx University), and from 1978 to 1990 she studied at the Central Institute of Physical Chemistry, Academy of Sciences of the GDR in Berlin. While there as both a student and research scientist, Merkel earned a doctorate in quantum chemistry. She also became fluent in Russian, earning a state prize. From 1980 to 1998 Merkel published 8 papers in science journals, including the journals Chemical Physics, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, and Science.
4. When Merkel applied for an assistant professor position at an engineering school, she was told she would be required to join the Stasi (the East German secret police). She refused, as Time magazine says, claiming “she would make a bad spy because she was too much of a blabbermouth.” Had she accepted the deal to work for the Stasi she likely would have never been able to have a political career in post-unification Germany.
5. In 1977 she married Ulrich Merkel. Although they divorced in 1982 (and she would later marry a scientist named Joachim Sauer), she kept her first husband’s last name. After her divorce, she lived like a squatter in an illegal apartment while pursuing her doctorate. On her 30th birthday, her father came to visit, telling her, “You haven’t gotten very far.”
6. In 1990, a month after fall of the Berlin Wall, Merkel joined Democratic Awakening, a new East German political party. She initially served as a volunteer setting up office equipment. A few months later Merkel handled the media when the party’s leader was exposed as a former Stasi informant. She so impressed Lothar de Maiziere, East Germany’s first democratically elected prime minister, that he made her his deputy spokesperson.
7. That same year, she was elected to the German parliament was soon after appointed to the Cabinet, serving as Minister for Women and Youth under Chancellor Helmut Kohl. In 1994, she was promoted to the position of Minister for the Environment and Nuclear Safety, and in 1998 became the Secretary-General of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Germany’s center-right party.
8. In November 2005, Merkel assumed the office of Chancellor of Germany, becoming the country’s first female chancellor. She would be reelected in 2009, 2013, and 2017. She is currently the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the European Union (EU) and one of the longest-serving leaders in the free world.
9. Merkel’s tenure has coincided with four major international crises: the global financial crisis of 2008, the eurozone debt crisis, the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and the crisis over refugees and intra-EU migration. Because Germany has taken the lead on these issues in Europe, Merkel has called for the European Union to develop a united and coherent foreign policy. “The world has to see that member states won’t deviate from a European consensus on these issues,” she said recently, adding that it was important to recognize that a country’s position would sometimes be overruled in favor of the EU.
10. In 2015, Time magazine chose Merkel as their “Person of the Year” and described her as the “de facto leader of the European Union, the most prosperous joint venture on the planet.” Forbes magazine has also chosen her a record ten times for the top slot in their list of “The World’s Most Powerful Women.” She is currently also the senior leader of the Group of Seven (G7), an informal bloc of industrialized democracies that includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Joe Carter is an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College, an editor for several organizations, and the author of the NIV Lifehacks Bible.
Photo Credit: Angela Merkel, Chancellor, Germany. Source: Arno Mikkor (EU2017EE) (via Flickr).