The Chancellor on Thursday also urged the world to do “everything humanly possible” to combat climate change and pledged to do her part in her address to students at the elite US university.
Merkel, who was receiving an honorary doctorate in law at Harvard's 368th commencement, was treated like a pop star during her speech on the open-air stage in front of 20,000 new graduates, former students and professors.
Frequently interrupted by applause and cheers, the Chancellor looked at times to be in disbelief at the hugely warm reception she was receiving.
The event was a world away from the Chancellor's current troubles – her party, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was bruised by a poor showing in the European elections on Sunday.
Meanwhile, her successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has come under fire for her comments about regulating comments online ahead of elections.
It was Merkel's first visit to Harvard and she had prepared well for the performance, talking about growing up in the former East Germany, discussing the Berlin Wall and about her own rise to the top in politics.
In the 35-minute speech, Merkel lauded the benefits of the European Union, transatlantic cooperation and multilateralism.
In front of the US audience, Merkel also clearly wanted to make a point about an open, democratic world – and indirectly took aim at US President Donald Trump.
Graduates cheer for Merkel. Photo: DPA
On Trump's own territory, she carried out a remarkable diplomatic balancing act. Without even naming the president once, in her speech Merkel took apart key points of his policy, above all the punitive tariffs and his “America First” policy.
In the speech, dubbed by German media such as Spiegel Online as her first 'Anti-Trump speech', German leader deplored attacks on free trade, “walls” of any kind and “lies (described) as truth.”
“We can find good answers even to difficult questions if we always try to see the world through the eyes of others (…) and if we don't always act on our first impulses,” she said.
“Protectionism and trade conflicts endanger free world trade and thus the basis of our prosperity,” she added. “More than ever we must think and act multilaterally instead of unilaterally, globally instead of nationally, open to the world instead of isolationist. In short: together instead of alone”.
Merkel also indirectly took a stab at Trump's penchant for hiding the truth. “We shouldn't call lies truths, and call truths lies,” she added, receiving the largest round of applause. One audience member shouted “Bravo.”
Her comments were met with cheers and a standing ovation.
„Reißen Sie Mauern der Ignoranz und Engstirnigkeit ein, denn nichts muss so bleiben, wie es ist.“
„Tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, for nothing has to stay as it is.”
Die 368. Graduierungsfeier der @Harvard-Universität mit Kanzlerin #Merkel #Harvard19 pic.twitter.com/A1ygaTKEmW
— Steffen Seibert (@RegSprecher) May 30, 2019
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert posted a video on Twitter with highlights from the speech.
'We must do everything possible'
Merkel also vowed to tackle climate change. The pledge came after her party, the CDU, was slammed in a viral video created by German YouTuber Rezo for failing to tackle environmental issues.
“Climate change poses a threat to our planet's natural resources,” Merkel said. “It and the resulting crises are caused by humans.”
“We can and must do everything humanly possible to truly master this challenge to humankind,” said Merkel, whose government stands accused of dragging its feet on reducing carbon emissions.
“It is still possible. However, each and every one of us must play our part (and), I say this with a measure of self-criticism, get better,” she added in a speech delivered mainly in German at the prestigious university.
“I will therefore do everything in my power to ensure that Germany, my country, will achieve the goal of climate neutrality by 2050.”
Merkel receiving her honorary doctorate. Photo: DPA
The Chancellor urged the graduates never to take democracy or peace for granted.
The 64-year-old, who has been in office since 2005, also mentioned in enigmatic terms the end of her time as chancellor. Her term ends in 2021.
“I believe time and time again we need to be prepared to keep bringing things to an end in order to feel the magic of new beginnings,” she said.
“Who knows what life will bring after my time as a politician?” she mused.
“It's completely open. Only one thing is clear – it will again be something different and something new.”