Is It das Madchen's Day? Andrea Merkel Is No Iron Lady. but the Former Physicist Is Calculating, and Betting That Germany Is Ready for a Change

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Byline: Stefan Theil

Angela Merkel's foes like to paint the Christian Democrats' leader as a neoliberal extremist who'll sacrifice Germany's welfare state to the free market. But even her supporters concede she is no fire-breather. The question really is whether Merkel possesses the force of character and political strength to push the economic reforms Germany needs.

Whatever Merkel, 51, might lack in Thatcheresque zeal, she makes up for in candidness. If Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is all personality and charisma, she is his antithesis: plain, almost boring on the stump--yet often refreshingly clear and direct. And much like Margaret Thatcher, her status as an outsider to German politics (and her own party) gives her the freedom to rethink a system in obvious need of change, says Dominik Geppert, a political scientist and author of a book in which he compared Merkel to the former British prime minister. As an East German physicist who came late to politics, he says, Merkel is a welcome addition to Germany's close-knit old-boy network.

The daughter of a Protestant country pastor, Merkel retreated under communism to the apolitical world of a quantum-physics lab. …