A Radical Change Agent; Angela Merkel Lived under the Boot of Communism. Now She's a Good Bet to Become the First Woman Chancellor in Berlin
Byline: Stefan Theil (With Andrew Horesh in Washington)
Her offense was wearing jeans and listening to Western music. As a gesture of protest, when her classmates sang the "Internationale"--the global socialist anthem--she sang it in English, not German or Russian. As it was, she was a Lutheran pastor's daughter and practicing Christian. In communist East Germany, that was enough for even a 12th-grade science whiz to get a visit from the dreaded Stasi, or secret police. Eventually she was barred from teaching, her chosen profession.
Today there are no more bars to Angela Merkel's rise. The 50-year-old leader of Germany's conservative Christian Democrats is poised to replace Gerhard Schroeder as the country's chancellor in less than four months, if elections proceed as planned. Though his term isn't up until 2006, an embattled Schroeder called an early vote after his party, the left-wing Social Democrats, suffered crushing defeats in two regional elections. Germans are largely fed up with Schroeder's seven-year record: 12 percent unemployment, two recessions and a series of unpopular welfare cuts. Last week, as her party formally nominated Merkel in Berlin, pollsters gave her a formidable 20-point lead.
Merkel's career has been spectacular and unusual. It wasn't until she was 35, in the heady days of German reunification, that she left her job as a quantum physicist at East Berlin's Academy of Sciences and stumbled into politics. Until then, she'd struck friends as "apolitical and disillusioned," says Michael Schindhelm, a former Academy colleague. Joining the fledgling democratic movement in 1989, she soon became a protege of then Chancellor Helmut Kohl. …