Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel, née Angela Dorothea Kasner, (born July 17, 1954, Hamburg, West Germany), German politician who in 2005 became the first female chancellor of Germany.

Merkel’s parents, Horst and Herlind Kasner, met in Hamburg, where her father was a theology student and her mother was a teacher of Latin and English. After completing his education, her father accepted a pastorate in Quitzow, Brandenburg, and the family relocated to East Germany (German Democratic Republic) just weeks after Merkel’s birth. In 1957 they moved again to Templin, where Merkel finished high school in 1973. Later that year she went to Leipzig to study physics at Karl Marx University (now the University of Leipzig). There she met her first husband, fellow physics student Ulrich Merkel, and the two were married in 1977. After earning her diploma in 1978, she worked as a member of the academic faculty at the Central Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in East Berlin. In 1982 Merkel and her husband divorced, though she kept his last name. She was awarded a doctorate for her thesis on quantum chemistry in 1986.

As was the case for most children growing up in the German Democratic Republic, Merkel participated in the state’s youth organizations. She was a member of the Young Pioneers (from 1962) and the Free German Youth (from 1968). Her involvement with the Free German Youth has led to controversy, as some of her former colleagues from the Central Institute of Physical Chemistry claimed that she was active as a secretary for agitation and propaganda at the institute, though Merkel maintained that she was responsible for cultural affairs (e.g., procuring theatre tickets). Merkel was not nor did she apply to be a member of the Socialist Unity Party, and when approached by personnel of the Ministry for State Security (Stasi) to become an informant, she refused.

In November 2018, Merkel stepped down as leader of the Christian Democratic Union and announced she wouldn’t seek another term as chancellor in 2021.

Merkel remains the de facto leader of Europe, leading the region’s largest economy after steering Germany through financial crisis and back to growth.

Her leadership is marked by her steely reserve, from standing up to Donald Trump to allowing more than a million Syrian refugees into Germany.