‘One of us’: Merkel’s German hometown a refuge from wild world

There's a place just 90 minutes' drive from Berlin where Angela Merkel can escape the crucible of her office, see the people who've known her longest and let her hair down

'One of us': Merkel's German hometown a refuge from wild world
View of the house in which German Chancellor Angela Merkel grew up in, in Templin, taken on September 10th, 2021. Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP

The picturesque town of Templin, population 16,000, is celebrating its 750th birthday this year, one year late due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Set in the verdant Uckermark, dotted with glistening lakes hidden in lush pine forests, it’s where Merkel grew up and has served as a sanctuary that helped sustain her in 16 crisis-racked years in power.

Merkel chose one recent late summer day, just weeks before she retires from political life, to pay tribute to her hometown.

“Despite all the state surveillance and the lack of freedom we had,” she said, referring to the authoritarian regime of the former GDR. “I have many fond memories of my childhood and my youth here in Templin.

“This is where I come from, this is where my roots are and they will always be here,” she said to applause from a crowd of about 100 that gathered to welcome her.

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

Merkel was actually born in the bustling port city of Hamburg in 1954 but her pastor father moved the family to communist East Germany when she was still a baby before settling in Templin when she was three.

Three years later, the Stalinist state would close the borders and build the Berlin Wall to try to stop a mass exodus of its citizens.

Never really left

Her father, Horst Kasner, ran a Lutheran theological seminary aimed at addressing a chronic lack of clergy in a regime that was officially hostile to religion.

Her mother, Herlind, an English instructor, ran up against restrictions on teaching the “language of the enemy” and became a homemaker for the children: Angela, the eldest, Marcus born in 1957 and Irene, seven years younger.

They lived in a sprawling house painted green and yellow on the edge of a wood, while running a home for the disabled next door. Both are still standing.

Although she eventually headed off to university, the future chancellor never really broke ties with Templin, returning to visit her family and eventually buying her own modest holiday home nearby.

Both her parents, with whom she had a close relationship, are now buried here.


On a radiant September afternoon in Templin, which is still ringed by an intact medieval city wall, Merkel inaugurated a new daycare centre and planted a lime tree in the local “citizens’ garden”.

Angela Merkel, the mayor of Templin Detlef Tabbert and Chairman of the City Council, Franz-Christoph Michel, plant a lime tree in the citizens’ garden in Templin. Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP

The event resembled any other good-natured small town ceremony, with its touch-too-long official speeches and homegrown entertainment.

Patiently, music lover Merkel listened to a young girl who did her best to play a passage from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony on the accordion.

“She’s one of us. When she’s here, she’s completely natural, like us,” said local Manuel Wichmann on the town square lined with restored pastel-coloured buildings.

Although he said he does not vote for Merkel’s conservative CDU party, the 46-year-old teacher values the economic and social stability he said she helped maintain in Germany.


Merkel frequently flees the pressure cooker of Berlin for Templin, just 80 kilometres (50 miles) to the north, at the weekends with her chemist husband Joachim Sauer.

Except for attending church, the couple largely keep to themselves.

“She’s completely normal. When she goes shopping, you hardly notice her, she’s practically incognito,” said 68-year-old pensioner Bernd Retter, who said he attended the same school as the future German leader.

Back then, she didn’t stand out, he said, apart from with her academic achievements.

View of the town hall (Rathaus) and the market square of Templin, taken on September 10th, 2021. Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP

A gifted student, she excelled in maths and Russian, passed her leaving exams with top marks and went on to study physics in Leipzig before entering politics.

“What she has achieved is huge,” an admiring Retter told AFP.

READ ALSO: Merkel, Germany’s ‘eternal’ chancellor, prepares to leave the stage

Mayor Detlef Tabbert, a member of the far-left Die Linke party, is unabashedly proud of Templin‘s link to the world’s most powerful woman, praising in particular her crisis-fighting abilities.

“Maybe the mentality of people here in the region has been useful to her”, he told AFP with a smile — “calmness, patience and, when necessary, a healthy dose of tenacity”.

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.