Angela Merkel: Forged in the Old Communist East, Germany's Chancellor-in-Waiting Is Not like the Others
Boyes, Roger, New Statesman (1996)
Helmut Kohl, with typical oafishness, used to call Angela Merkel "das Madchen"--the Girl, his girl, his discovery. It was never as simple as that. Although she retained the look of a blackboard monitor deep into middle age, Merkel's girlhood was over long before Kohl became chancellor. Merkel is a product of communism; she embodies its aesthetics and its rigidities. She was 35 when East Germany was dissolved and her instincts, her distrust of men, her nose for conspiracy, had already been formed. Even her career seems to follow a very personal five-year plan.
As she moves closer to becoming the leader of Germany, with elections likely on 18 September, it is time to ask: how communist is Angela Merkel, the great white hope of Tony Blair? What did she get up to in the German Democratic Republic?
On paper, of course, Merkel's policies are new-look Continental conservative: she wants market reforms in the health system, she leans towards workfare, wants to use a hike in VAT to cut labour costs. She is suspicious of Vladimir Putin and fawning towards George W Bush. She could contemplate change in the Common Agricultural Policy. Barring a few issues, notably entry to the EU, she smacks of Blairism. Yet scratch the conservative and you find a woman who appears to yearn for a lost age and defunct state. She is neither fish nor fowl. The most dangerous politicians are always the hybrids--the mermaids and centaurs. Germans will be offered an increasingly well-packaged modern conservative. But listen to the undertones, study her preference for polit-bureaucratic decision-making, and the true Angie emerges. She has been hardened in a different way from her western colleagues.
Merkel's version of the communist years is littered with little lies or inconsistencies. The campaign biographies of Merkel are designed to celebrate the first Ossi (the first easterner) to make a serious bid for the job of chancellor. Every other high-flying politician, from Gerhard Schroder through Edmund Stoiber to Wolfgang Schauble, has been able to chart a rise from postwar deprivation and up the ladder of regional politics; love affairs and backstabbing are brushed out, naturally; the general impression is of worthiness and service, the two main vote-winning qualities for Germans. An Ossi biography has to be written, and read, differently. In Merkel's case the obvious question is quickly posed and quickly answered: no, she did not work for or collaborate with the Stasi. A few family snaps and a sheaf of school pictures show a shy girl dutifully passing through the stages of East German socialisation: as a member of the Free German Youth (FDJ), cooking on a sailing trip, an uncoordinated teenager smiling nervously at the camera during a compulsory volleyball game.
Yet Merkel was never an entirely normal Ossi. Her father, Horst Kasner, was a Lutheran pastor who had moved from the West to the East, eager to help prop up Christianity under communism. He was a daunting figure. At the Waldhof vicarage in Templin, outside Berlin, he helped train other priests. The church adjoined a centre for handicapped children, thrust out of view by the communists. Angela's problem, says her latest biographer, Gerd Langguth, was Kasner's coldness: his warmth was reserved for the trainee priests and the disabled children. From his eldest daughter he expected more and he seemed to be constantly disappointed by her. When at the end of the 1970s he visited her in her own first flat, in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, he cast a quick eye around the place as his daughter waited anxiously for approval. "Couldn't you have done better?" he said at last, turning to go.
Angela Merkel's relationship with her father is not just a story of unrequited or inadequately expressed paternal love. That is common to many high-achieving women. It is about Horst Kasner's emotional involvement with communism. Plainly Kasner--who is still alive and who still vaguely disapproves of his daughter--tried to justify his decision to settle in the East by showing an exaggerated loyalty to the system. …