Angela Dorothea Merkel is a German politician serving as Chancellor of Germany since 2005 and leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since 2000. Merkel has been widely described as the de facto leader of the European Union, the most powerful woman in the world, and the leader of the Free World.
Merkel was born in Hamburg in then-West Germany and moved to East Germany as an infant when her father, a Lutheran clergyman, received a pastorate in Perleberg. She obtained a doctorate in quantum chemistry in 1986 and worked as a research scientist until 1989. Merkel entered politics in the wake of the Revolutions of 1989, and briefly served as a deputy spokesperson for the first democratically elected East German Government headed by Lothar de Maizière in 1990. Following German reunification in 1990, Merkel was elected to the Bundestag for the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and has been reelected ever since. As the protégée of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Merkel was appointed as the Federal Minister for Women and Youth in Kohl's government in 1991, and became the Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in 1994. After her party lost the federal election in 1998, Merkel was elected Secretary-General of the CDU before becoming the party's first female leader two years later in the aftermath of a donations scandal that toppled Wolfgang Schäuble.
Following the 2005 federal election, Merkel was appointed Germany's first female chancellor at the head of a grand coalition consisting of the CDU, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). In the 2009 federal election, the CDU obtained the largest share of the vote and Merkel was able to form a coalition government with the Free Democratic Party (FDP). At the 2013 federal election, Merkel's CDU won a landslide victory with 41.5% of the vote and formed a second grand coalition with the SPD, after the FDP lost all of its representation in the Bundestag.In the 2017 federal election the CDU again became the largest party, and she was reelected to her fourth term on 14 March 2018.
In 2007, Merkel was President of the European Council and played a central role in the negotiation of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Berlin Declaration. One of Merkel's consistent priorities has been to strengthen transatlantic economic relations. Merkel played a crucial role in managing the financial crisis at the European and international level, and she has been referred to as "the decider." In domestic policy, health care reform, problems concerning future energy development and more recently her government's approach to the ongoing migrant crisis have been major issues during her Chancellorship. On 26 March 2014, Merkel became the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the European Union and she is currently the senior G7 leader.
Merkel was born Angela Dorothea Kasner in 1954, in Hamburg, West Germany, the daughter of Horst Kasner (1926–2011; né Kazmierczak), a Lutheran pastor and a native of Berlin, and his wife Herlind (née Jentzsch), born in 1928 in Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), a teacher of English and Latin. She has two younger siblings, Marcus Kasner, a physicist, and Irene Kasner, an occupational therapist. In her childhood and youth, Merkel was known among her peers by the nickname "Kasi", derived from her last name Kasner.
Merkel is of German and Polish descent. Her paternal grandfather, Ludwik Kazmierczak, was a German policeman of Polish ethnicity, who had taken part in Poland's struggle for independence in the early 20th century. He married Merkel's grandmother Margarethe, a German from Berlin, and relocated to her hometown where he worked in the police. In 1930, they Germanized the Polish name Kazmierczak to Kasner.Merkel's maternal grandparents were the Danzig politician Willi Jentzsch, and Gertrud Alma née Drange, a daughter of the city clerk of Elbing (now Elblag, Poland) Emil Drange. Since the mid 1990s Merkel has publicly mentioned her Polish heritage on several occasions and described herself as a quarter Polish, but her Polish roots became better known as a result of a 2013 biography.
Religion played a key role in the Kasner family's migration from West Germany to East Germany. Merkel's paternal grandfather was originally Catholic but the entire family converted to Lutheranism during the childhood of her father, who later studied Lutheran theology in Heidelberg and Hamburg. In 1954, when Angela was just three months old, her father received a pastorate at the church in Quitzow (a quarter of Perleberg in Brandenburg), which was then in East Germany. The family moved to Templin and Merkel grew up in the countryside 90 km (56 mi) north of East Berlin.
Merkel and Lothar de Maizière, 1990
In 1968, Merkel joined the Free German Youth (FDJ), the official communist youth movement sponsored by the ruling Marxist–Leninist Socialist Unity Party of Germany. Membership was nominally voluntary, but those who did not join found it difficult to gain admission to higher education. She did not participate in the secular coming of age ceremony Jugendweihe, however, which was common in East Germany. Instead, she was confirmed. During this time, she participated in several compulsory courses on Marxism-Leninism with her grades only being regarded as "sufficient".
Later, at the Academy of Sciences, she became a member of its FDJ secretariat. According to her former colleagues, she openly propagated Marxism as the secretary for "Agitation and Propaganda".However, Merkel has denied this claim and stated that she was secretary for culture, which involved activities like obtaining theatre tickets and organising talks by visiting Soviet authors.She stated "I can only rely on my memory, if something turns out to be different, I can live with that."
At school, she learned to speak Russian fluently, and was awarded prizes for her proficiency in Russian and Mathematics. Merkel was educated at Karl Marx University, Leipzig, where she studied physics from 1973 to 1978. While a student, she participated in the reconstruction of the ruin of the Moritzbastei, a project students initiated to create their own club and recreation facility on campus. Such an initiative was unprecedented in the GDR of that period, and initially resisted by the University; however, with backing of the local leadership of the SED party, the project was allowed to proceed.
Near the end of her studies, Merkel sought an assistant professorship at an engineering school. As a condition for getting the job, Merkel was told she would need to agree to report on her colleagues to officers of the Ministry for State Security (Stasi). Merkel declined, using the excuse that she could not keep secrets well enough to be an effective spy.Merkel worked and studied at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof from 1978 to 1990. At first she and her husband squatted in Mitte. After being awarded a doctorate (Dr. rer. nat.) for her thesis on quantum chemistry in 1986,she worked as a researcher and published several papers. In 1986 she was able to travel freely to West Germany to attend a congress; she also participated in a multi-week language course in Donetsk.