The New Yorker has an amazing extended profile of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in its December issue, and we’ve identified some of the gems.
In office, Merkel has gone from being viewed as too pro-market for German voters to the ultimate pragmatist and deal-maker. The piece charts her journey to become the most dominant political leader in modern Europe, along with her childhood in East Germany.
In 1999, when Merkel was still new to front-line politics, she knifed long-time German chancellor Helmut Kohl, who had helped to bring her into the public eye:
Within a few months, Merkel had been elected Party chairman. Kohl receded into history. “She put the knife in his back — and turned it twice,” Feldmeyer (Karl Feldmeyer, a German political journalist) said.
That was the moment when many Germans first became aware of Angela Merkel.Years later, Michael Naumann (former German culture minister) sat next to Kohl at a dinner, and asked him, “Herr Kohl, what exactly does she want?”
“Power,” Kohl said, tersely. He told another friend that championing young Merkel had been the biggest mistake of his life. “I brought my killer,” Kohl said. “I put the snake on my arm.”
Unlike millions of others that tried to get under the Iron Curtain and head west, Merkel’s father moved the family to the east. As a result, she’s a fluent Russian speaker, giving her a unique position in relations with Vladimir Putin
During talks with Putin in 2007, the Russian President brought his dog into the room. Merkel is reportedly afraid of dogs, with some suggestions that the situation was deliberately arranged to try and intimidate her. Here’s her amazing response, according to the New Yorker:
The German press corps was furious on her behalf — “ready to hit Putin,” according to a reporter who was present. Later, Merkel interpreted Putin’s behaviour. “I understand why he has to do this — to prove he’s a man,” she told a group of reporters. “He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this.”
Merkel is also likened to Obama in the profile: both are seen as low on ideology, high on calculated problem-solving, even if their administrations have clashed over economic policy:
Obama and Merkel are like “two hit men in the same room. They don’t have to talk — both are quiet, both are killers.” For weeks in 2011 and 2012, amid American criticism of German policy during the euro-zone crisis, there was no contact between Merkel and Obama — she would ask for a conversation, but the phone call from the White House never came…
Benjamin Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national-security adviser, told me that “the President thinks there’s not another leader he’s worked closer with than her.” He added, “They’re so different publicly, but they’re actually quite similar.” (Ulrich joked, “Obama is Merkel in a better suit.”)
Despite a sensible but slightly joyless public image, Merkel is apparently dry and witty in private. Like the UK’s late Queen Mother, she’s a big fan of impressions:
In off-the-record conversations with German journalists, she replays entire conversations with other world leaders, performing wicked imitations. Among her favourite targets have been Kohl, Putin, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, former Pope Benedict XVI, and Al Gore. (“Ah have to teach mah people,” she mimics, in a Prussian approximation of central Tennessee.) After one meeting with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, during the euro crisis, she told a group of journalists that Sarkozy’s foot had been nervously jiggling the entire time.
The profile is full of amazing little nuggets like this: Merkel is also apparently concerned about innovation in Germany, that it hasn’t produced an Amazon or a Facebook, and the tidbits about her early life are fascinating. Check it out.
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