Meet Angela Merkel, the most 'powerful' woman in the world

by 16/01/2016 07:30:00 0 comments 1 Views

Before we get too far into the New Year, we must talk about Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” for 2015. It has been 30 years since Time named an individual woman (Corazon Aquino, president of the Philippines) as their person of the year, so, let’s talk about Angela and see what she can teach us.

Angela Merkel, born in the mid-1950s, was one of those very clever, very quiet little girls, with a hidden sense of humour, but who prefer to blend away in the middle of the class, even in photographs.

Little wonder few of her ‘primary’ school teachers can remember her. But she was always possessed of patience, intellectual rigour and a hidden ferocious drive.

As a teenager growing up behind The Wall in East Berlin, she dreamt of someday going to visit California. But the Communist East German government of those days only allowed people past 60 to go see the ‘decadent West,’ so Angela at 18 resigned herself to seeing America in 2016, and instead pursued quantum chemistry in Leipzig with characteristic zeal and zest (both her husbands – the first one she divorced – are Quantum Chem scientists, talk of love titrated in the laboratory).

When the Berlin Wall fell unexpectedly at the end of 1989, Merkel – then 35 and always quietly political – exploited the zeitgeist of the time, dashing north-west to run as MP in a remote area, spending the months campaigning in a collarless shirt, denim skirt and drinking brandy with smelly bearded fishermen in their huts, to win over hearts.

And votes! She also quietly flattered, clove to and cultivated Helmut Kohl as her political mentor, as she would through the 1990s, and from insignificant chemist at 35 in 1989, as a 36-year-old lady MP in 1990, she was named into the Unified Germany cabinet as Minister of Women and Youth.

Timing, readiness, and calculated older male patronage when necessary. By that year, she was on an official visit to Washington DC, in a country half a lifetime ago, she had thought she would see only in our current calendar year.

In 1998, when she took over, the brass-balled new chancellor Gerrard Schroder recognised her dedicated work ethic and named her Environment Minister but dismissed her as ‘that pitiful woman’ and kept her far from real power. “He has put me away in the corner,” Angela vowed, “one day I will have him in a tight corner.”

That moment came during a party leadership struggle seven years later. With all the preening male peacocks against each other, the ‘mother hen’ (Merkel by now was nicknamed ‘mutti’ or ‘cosy mother’ by the public) emerged as the compromise candidate – and became Chancellor of Germany in 2005.

She did sideline Schroder in the party, so much so he left the country and went to Russia at the invitation of its strongman, Vladimir Putin, to be CEO of the oil giant, Gazprom. Back in Berlin, in the last ten years, Angela Merkel has made her country the wealthiest in Europe.

I visited Munich, Bayreuth and Nuremberg in mid-2014 and prosperity is on the street level. She handled Greece’s Euro crisis with aplomb (not like our ‘where is the Euro bond?’ debacle) and has opened Germany to refugees.

Still, she lives in the same central Berlin apartment she bought 20 years ago. And if you are around on a Friday afternoon at Kroeger’s in Berlin (the equivalent of our Tusky’s) and are lucky, you just might run into the most powerful woman on earth pulling her own trolley, at the top of which will be a bottle of white wine, and a fish, which she is cooking for her husband for dinner because although they do have a cleaner, the Merkels have no chef.