Angela Merkel

Germany’s First Female Chancellor: “Chancellor of the Free World”


Angela Merkel (pron. AHN-gay-luh MEHRK-ell), Germany’s first female chancellor, was born Angela Dorothea Kasner in Hamburg on July 17, 1954. That same year, her father Horst Kasner, a Lutheran pastor, accepted a pastorship at a church in the village of Quitzow in East Germany. Her mother Herlind (nee Jentzsch) was a teacher of Latin and English. In 1957, four years before the Berlin Wall was erected, the family moved to Templin, about 50 miles north of Berlin. Angela Merkel, along with her brother Marcus and her sister Irene (both born in East Germany), thus grew up in the socialist German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik).

Angela Merkel in 2015

German chancellor Angela Merkel during an official visit to Brazil in 2015.
PHOTO: Elza Fiùza/Agência Brasil (Wikimedia Commons)

Merkel attended school in Templin (Brandenburg) and studied physics at the University of Leipzig, graduating in 1978. She later earned her doctorate in quantum chemistry and pursued research in that field. She also received an award for outstanding proficiency in Russian, a required language in the East German education system.

In 1977 Angela Kasner married Ulrich Merkel, a physics student she had met during an exchange trip to Moscow and Leningrad, but they divorced in 1982. Her second and current husband is chemistry professor Joachim Sauer. They have no children, but Sauer has two grown sons from a previous marriage.

After the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Merkel got involved in politics, getting elected to the East German caretaker government. Following reunification in 1990, she was elected to the Bundestag (German parliament). Later, Chancellor Helmut Kohl took Merkel under his wing and she rose rapidly in the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) party. After the CDU/CSU candidate (Edmund Stoiber of Bavaria) failed to defeat Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD, Social Democrats) in the 2002 election, Merkel became the leader of the opposition in the Bundestag.

In the September 2005 national election, the CDU/CSU won by a slight margin, but neither the SPD (Schröder) nor the CDU (Merkel) had a majority. In the end, after protracted negotiations, Merkel became chancellor under a “Grand Coalition” (CDU-SPD) deal. She was sworn into office on Nov. 22, 2005, the first female ever to hold that office.

Angela Merkel was re-elected in 2009, 2013, and 2017, and is now in her fourth term as German chancellor. The growing European refugee problem in 2015, with Syrian and other Muslim refugees flooding into Europe, has been one of Merkel’s greatest challenges since she first came into office. Nevertheless, she and her CDU/CSU party were once again elected to hold Germany’s highest office in 2017, although with a smaller margin than in previous elections.


1954: Born in Hamburg on July 17.

1973: Graduates from high school in Templin with her Abitur (diploma).

1973-1978: Physics studies at the University of Leipzig, graduates with a Diplomphysikerin degree.

1977: Marries Ulrich Merkel. They divorce in 1982.

1978-1990: Member of the academic staff at the Zentralinstitut für physikalische Chemie at the Akademie der Wissenschaften (Academy of Sciences) in East Berlin (Berlin-Adlershof).

1984: Meets Joachim Sauer during an exchange student visit in Russia. They will marry in 1998.

1986: Receives her doctorate degree, travels to West Germany for several days, a rare privilege for a citizen of East Germany.

1989: Becomes a member of the Demokratischer Aufbruch (Democratic Awakening) party.

1990: Joins the CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands) party.

1990: Deputy government spokeswoman of the East German de Maizière government.

1990-present: Member of parliament (Mitglied des Deutschen Bundestages)

1991-1994: Federal Minister for Women and Youth (Bundesministerin für Frauen und Jugend)

1993-2000: Chairwoman of the CDU Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern)

1994-1998: Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (Bundesministerin für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit)

1998: Marries longtime companion Joachim Sauer.

1999-1998: Deputy Chairwoman of the CDU (Stellvertretende Vorsitzende der CDU Deutschlands).

1998-2000: Deputy Secretary of the CDU (Generalsekretärin der CDU)

2000-present: Chairwoman of the CDU (Vorsitzende der CDU)

2005-present: Chairwoman of the CDU/CSU faction in parliament (Vorsitzende der CDU/CSU-Fraktion im Bundestag)

2005: Sworn in as Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzlerin) on November 22. The CDU forms a coalition government with the SPD (Social Democrats).


The Kanzleramt (“Chancellor’s office”) in Berlin is where Angela Merkel works. It stands directly opposite the Reichstagsgebäude, the German parliament building. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

2009: Re-elected in the September 27th election. The CDU obtains the largest share of the votes and forms a coalition government with the CSU and the Free Democratic Party (FDP).

2009: On November 3, following her re-election as chancellor in September and just days before the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (Nov. 9), Merkel makes a historic speech to both houses of the US Congress. She is only the second German chancellor to address Congress since Konrad Adenauer in 1957 (to separate sessions), and only the eighth foreign dignitary ever to do so. Merkel called on the US to join international efforts against global warming. Before her speech on Capitol Hill, Merkel met with President Barack Obama at the White House. The US president thanked Merkel for her country’s military support in Afghanistan.

2010: June: Merkel and German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble announce the key measures of the largest budget cuts in Germany’s history in an effort to stem a drop in the country’s GDP, and adjust for the EU’s stability package that deals with economic problems in some parts of the euro zone.

2011: Following the Fukushima atomic power plant disaster in Japan in the spring, the German government resolves to move away from nuclear power by shutting down all atomic power plants by 2022, and expanding the use of renewable energy. The policy draws criticism from all sides because in fall 2010 the chancellor had supported an extension of the time that German nuclear power plants could operate.
June 7: During a state visit to the United States Angela Merkel receives the Medal of Freedom from President Obama. It is America’s highest civilian honor.

2012: March: 25 of the 27 EU nations sign off on a new European fiscal package put forth by Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
May: During the G-8 summit at Camp David, Merkel re-emphasizes the importance of budget cuts. Other state heads, including President Obama, push for more investment and the need to create economic growth.

Merkel - Time magazine cover

Angela Merkel on the cover of Time in December 2015.

2013: On December 17 the German Bundestag elects Angela Merkel to her third term as German chancellor by a vote of 462 to 150, with nine abstentions. Following the September parliamentary election, the CDU emerges as the strongest party, and forms a coalition government with the SPD.

2014: Angela Merkel is invited to speak before both houses of the British parliament on February 27th. The only other Germans to receive that honor before her were Willy Brandt, Richard von Weizsäcker, and Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger, born in Bavaria in 1927).

2015: December: “Chancellor of the Free World” – Time magazine names Angela Merkel its Person of the Year, citing her resolve in leading Europe through the Greek debt crisis, and her encouragement of other countries to open their borders to migrants and refugees. Time editor Nancy Gibbs wrote: “Leaders are tested only when people don’t want to follow. For asking more of her country than most politicians would dare, for standing firm against tyranny as well as expedience and for providing steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply, Angela Merkel is Time’s Person of the Year.”

2017: October: Angela Merkel is re-elected to her fourth term as chancellor, although the refugee crisis in Europe and Germany plays a role in reducing her margin of victory to her lowest ever. She faced problems in forming a governing coalition after the SPD decided it wanted to play an opposition role rather than partner with the CDU/CSU, as it had done since 2013.

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