Angela Merkel

The Book of the Week is “Angela Merkel, Europe’s Most Influential Leader” by Matthew Qvortrup, published in 2016. This is a career biography of a recent Chancellor of Germany. It had a bit of sloppy editing, as politician Friedrich Merz was alternately called “Metz” in several places.

Born in July 1954, Merkel grew up in Hamburg and Templin in East Germany, where her father was a Lutheran theologian at a seminary. Although Communism preaches godlessness, the supervising Soviet government allowed some religious activity among the local citizens. Merkel’s family was spied on by the Stasi- the secret police. It was cost-effective and efficient. For, all the  socially dangerous elements (potential subversives) were in one place.

Merkel’s perfectionist nature meant that she graduated at the top of her school classes. Because East Germany was a police state with a Socialist mentality, the people availed themselves of a free university education. Merkel got hers, as well as a doctorate in nuclear physics. In exchange, she was required to work for the government for a specific period. In September 1977, Merkel got married. She divorced in early 1981.

In the autumn of 1989, Merkel started her political career by joining an informal Democratic club. She used every political advantage at her disposal: trilingualism (German, Russian and English), networking skills, strong work ethic and her geographic origin, among other traits.

Upon the collapse of Communism, Merkel’s club converted to a political party. Upon the reunification of East and West Germany, free and fair elections were held for one new government. Merkel became a mouthpiece for her party. In the autumn of 1990, a Cabinet member took a liking to her, hiring her in the communications department. Besides, she was elected as a Member of Parliament, and a month later, a Cabinet minister with a women’s-issues-and families portfolio.

The author’s description of Germany’s government employees was confusing– it was unclear whether the government selected its employees via exams or by appointment. Besides, in November 1991, “Merkel replaced all the top civil servants.” However, the author later wrote, “Respect for civil servants [in Germany]… are well paid, and have life-long careers…”

Anyway, Merkel was tapped for progressively higher government positions– Deputy Chair of her  political party, then Minister of the Environment, then Secretary General. Some called her a back-stabber, as in 1999, she had no qualms about using a poison pen in a nationwide publication to excoriate the former Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and by connotation, his replacement, Wolfgang Schauble. Merkel’s divide and conquer plan worked– the two chancellors attacked each other. In April 2000, she was elected Christian Democratic Union party head.

The media in Germany behaved similarly to that in the U.S. by reporting on Merkel’s hairstyle. They even pressured her into getting married again, even though she was a conservative Christian, rather than a Catholic.

Read the book to learn how Merkel, through shrewd maneuvering, continued to claw her way to the top of the German government in the next six years and what she did when she got there, how she dealt with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and learn which issue prompted Donald Trump to comment on her in 2015: “She is destroying Germany.”