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Merkel: 10 photos that tell the story of Germany’s ‘eternal’ chancellor

We look back at some of the key moments and photos that have shaped Angela Merkel's remarkable life in Germany.

Merkel: 10 photos that tell the story of Germany's 'eternal' chancellor
Merkel sharing a laugh with Bulgaria's President Bojko Borissow on her 66th birthday. Photo: DPA

We dug out photos that help show how the Chancellor went from a young scientist to one of the most powerful politicians in the world.

1. Rebel, rebel

Angela Merkel on a camping trip in former East Germany in 1973. Photo: DPA

Angela Dorothea Merkel was born on July 17th, 1954 in Hamburg to her parents Herlind and Horst Kasner. The family moved to Templin in Brandenburg – the former East Germany – just weeks later after her father, a pastor, took up a post there.

Merkel isn’t one to divulge too much private information about what her life was like growing up behind the Iron Curtain. But she did tell a group of young people last year that she had smuggled “Westgeld” as a holidaymaker in the Eastern Bloc, where she travelled regularly.

Westgeld was a term used in the GDR to describe the Deutschmark (DM), as well other western currencies. Unlike the GDR Mark, West German money was not a legal tender in the GDR, and had a higher value which made it a desirable for those living in the east to have.

Those caught smuggling the currency could even face prison. 

The admission showed Merkel’s rebellious and non-conformist side. 

2. From “das Mädchen” to political star

Merkel and Kohl at the CDU party conference in Dresden in 1991. Photo: DPA

Merkel, who is a trained scientist, became politically active in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell.

She briefly served as a deputy spokeswoman for the first democratically elected East German government, before winning election in 1990 to the reunified German parliament as a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.

Then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who gave Merkel the patronizing nickname “das Mädchen” (the girl), named her minister for women and youth in 1991, setting off her career.

However, when Kohl got involved in a political slush fund scandal, it was Merkel who told her mentor that it was time to go, signalling she was a politician who wasn’t afraid to stand her ground.

3. Becoming CDU leader  

Merkel in Essen after being elected as new chairwoman of the CDU in 2000. Photo: DPA

She was elected CDU party chief in 2000 with more than 95 percent of the vote, signalling that the party was ready for change after Wolfgang Schäuble’s rocky reign. 

Despite being leader of the party for 18 years, it was a turbulent time. Most recently, Merkel’s decision to keep the German borders open during the height of the refugee crisis in 2015 has split the party (and the country).

SEE ALSO: From Kohl’s girl to ‘mutti’: Germany’s ‘eternal’ chancellor embarks on last lap

Commentators argue she moved the CDU more to the centre of the political spectrum, allowing the far-right anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) to step in and scoop up support from disenfranchised voters. 

Merkel passed the baton on to her successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, in December last year as she gets set to step down from the political stage.

4. Snagging the top spot

Merkel taking over the Chancellorship from the SPD’s Gerard Schröder in 2005. Photo: DPA

If Merkel looks a little smug in this picture, we can’t blame her. It was a momentous moment: she became the first woman chancellor of Germany in 2005, pushing out the centre-left Social Democratic party’s Gerard Schröder. 

Similarly to her leadership of the CDU, Merkel’s chancellorship has not been without hurdles. Yet under her, Germany’s economy has prospered despite the global financial crisis of 2007-08. 

Merkel, who is frequently called the EU’s most influential leader and the most powerful woman in the world, has said she will leave politics at the end of her term, in 2021.

5. Ability to surprise

Merkel, as federal minister for the environment, visits the atomic power station at Gorleben in 1995. Photo: DPA

Merkel stunned the world when, after Japan’s 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdown, she reversed her pro-nuclear stance and announced that German atomic reactors would be phased out by 2022.

Long called the “climate chancellor”, she has also pushed Germany’s energy transition, which has ramped up wind and solar power and aims to meet 80 percent of demand with renewables by 2050.

However, Merkel’s green credentials have been damaged because Germany’s continued strong reliance on coal means it will miss its 2020 targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

She has come under major pressure from campaigners, including young people who form the Fridays for Future movement. 

6. Friends in high places

Angela Merkel Barack Obama in 2009 in the run-up to the NATO summit. Photo: DPA

When Merkel likes someone she shows it (and when she doesn’t it’s pretty clear too). And that’s the case with former US President Barack Obama, who is clearly on Merkel’s Christmas card list. 

When he visited Germany in April the pair were spotted laughing together. Obama even called the Chancellor “my friend Angela Merkel” during an event. 

A friendship developed between the pair during his eight-year term in office, with Obama also visiting the Chancellor in 2013 and 2017.

It’s clear that Merkel had a better working relationship with Obama than she does with his successor, as tensions between the US and Germany increase. 

7. “We can do it’ 

Angela Merkel pictured in Berlin during a phone selfie with refugee Shaker Kedida from Mossul in Iraq in September 2015. Photo: DPA

Merkel’s move to keep open German borders in 2015 to a mass influx of refugees, may have polarized the country, but many praised her for it. 

As leaders across the world struggled with what to do during the crisis, Merkel made a firm decision, telling the country: “We can do it.” 

At the time, some refugees asked for selfies with Merkel, or “Mutti” as she was dubbed. 

8. Once a scientist, always a scientist 

Angela Merkel takes part in an experiment at a school. Photo: DPA

In recent weeks the focus has been on Merkel’s health after she suffered three shaking spells during public ceremonies. 

But she hasn’t cancelled one meeting during this time and is always out and about, meeting people and getting on with business. 

We chose this photo of the Chancellor taking part in experiments with young people at a school in North Rhine-Westphalia because it reflects her enthusiasm for scientific experiments (despite not being involved in that industry in many years) and shows her ability to not take herself seriously, to get involved and have some fun. 

The photos of Merkel enjoying beer also allude to the lighthearted side to the Chancellor. 

9. Close ties with loved ones

Angela Merkel and her mother Herlind Kasner in Templin, Brandenburg in November 2000. Photo: DPA

Merkel was close to her parents. However, she experienced heartache earlier this year when her mother Herlind Kasner died. Her father had died in 2011. 

Merkel’s mum was always present when her daughter was elected head of government. When Merkel was awarded Templin’s honorary citizenship in February this year, her mother and her siblings – Marcus and Irene Kasner – accompanied the Chancellor to the reception. 

Merkel is married to quantum chemist and professor Joachim Sauer, who has largely remained out of the media spotlight.

10. The iconic diamond hand pose 

Members of the ‘Go Your Own Way’ initiative with German Chancellor Angela Merkel making the ‘Raute’ (Rhombus) hand gesture. Photo: DPA

One of the first things that used to come to mind for Germans when they thought of Merkel was her trademark diamond-shaped pose, which seemed to symbolize her balanced and calm personality. 

It’s a look that seems to suggest: ‘I’m in control’. 

However, the pose has not been so much of a talking point in recent years (perhaps everyone is just used to it?) but Merkel still falls back on it for group photos, such as this one at a recent event promoting immigration and integration in Germany.

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Germany’s ‘traffic light’ parties sign coalition agreement in Berlin

Two and a half months after the federal elections on September 26th, the three parties of the incoming 'traffic light' coalition - the SPD, Greens and FDP - have formally signed their coalition agreement at a public ceremony in Berlin.

Traffic light coalition
Germany's next Chancellor Olaf Scholz (front, left) on stage in Berlin with other members of the new coalition government, and their signed agreement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The move marks the final stage of a 10-week week process that saw the three unlikely bedfellows forming a first-of-its-kind partnership in German federal government. 

The SPD’s Olaf Scholz is now due to be elected Chancellor of Germany on Wednesday and his newly finalised cabinet will be sworn in on the same day. This will mark the end of the 16-year Angela Merkel era following the veteran leader’s decision to retire from politics this year. 

Speaking at the ceremony in Berlin on Tuesday morning, Scholz declared it “a morning when we set out for a new government.”

He praised the speed at which the three parties had concluded their talks and said the fight against the Covid crisis would first require the full strength of the new coalition.

Green Party co-leader Robert Habeck, who is set to head up a newly formed environment and energy ministry, said the goal was “a government for the people of Germany”.

He stressed that the new government would face the joint challenge of bringing climate neutrality and prosperity together in Europe’s largest industrial nation and the world’s fourth largest economy.

Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock spoke of a coalition agreement “on the level of reality, on the level of social reality”.

FDP leader Christian Lindner, who managed to secure the coveted role of Finance Minister in the talks, declared that now was the “time for action”.

“We are not under any illusions,” he told people gathered at the ceremony. “These are great challenges we face.”

Scholz, Habeck and Lindner are scheduled to hold  a press conference before midday to answer questions on the goals of the new government.

‘New beginnings’

Together with the Greens and the FDP, Scholz’s SPD managed in a far shorter time than expected to forge a coalition that aspires to make Germany greener and fairer.

The Greens became the last of the three parties to agree on the contents of the 177-page coalition agreement an in internal vote on Monday, following approval from the SPD and FDP’s inner ranks over the weekend.

“I want the 20s to be a time of new beginnings,” Scholz told Die Zeit weekly, declaring an ambition to push forward “the biggest industrial modernisation which will be capable of stopping climate change caused by mankind”.

Putting equality rhetoric into practice, he unveiled the country’s first gender-balanced cabinet on Monday, with women in key security portfolios.

“That corresponds to the society we live in – half of the power belongs to women,” said Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”.

READ ALSO: Scholz names Germany’s first gender-equal cabinet

The centre-left’s return to power in Europe’s biggest economy could shift the balance on a continent still reeling from Brexit and with the other major player, France, heading into presidential elections in 2022.

But even before it took office, Scholz’s “traffic-light” coalition – named after the three parties’ colours – was already given a baptism of fire in the form of a fierce fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Balancing act
Dubbed “the discreet” by left-leaning daily TAZ, Scholz, 63, is often described as austere or robotic.
But he also has a reputation for being a meticulous workhorse.
An experienced hand in government, Scholz was labour minister in Merkel’s first coalition from 2007 to 2009 before taking over as vice chancellor and finance minister in 2015.
Yet his three-party-alliance is the first such mix at the federal level, as the FDP is not a natural partner for the SPD or the Greens.

Keeping the trio together will require a delicate balancing act taking into account the FDP’s business-friendly leanings, the SPD’s social equality instincts and the Greens’ demands for sustainability.

Under their coalition deal, the parties have agreed to secure Germany’s path to carbon neutrality, including through huge investments in sustainable energy.

They also aim to return to a constitutional no-new-debt rule – suspended during the pandemic – by 2023.

FDP cabinets
Volker Wissing (l-r), FDP General Secretary und designated Transport Minister, walks alongside Christian Lindner, FDP leader and designated Finance Minister, Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP), the incoming Education Minister, and Marco Buschmann, the incoming Justice Minister. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler


Incoming foreign minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens has vowed to put human rights at the centre of German diplomacy.

She has signalled a more assertive stance towards authoritarian regimes like China and Russia after the commerce-driven pragmatism of Merkel’s 16 years in power.

Critics have accused Merkel of putting Germany’s export-dependent economy first in international dealings.

Nevertheless she is still so popular at home that she would probably have won a fifth term had she sought one.

The veteran politician is also widely admired abroad for her steady hand guiding Germany through a myriad of crises.