Possibly the most important politician in modern history, German Chancellor Angela Merkel kept the democratic world safe from assaults by would-be demagogues and ambitious authoritarians. In journalist Kati Marton’s telling, Merkel’s story features its own mythos: Born in obscurity in the police state of East Germany, the shy, awkward scientist rose to become the de facto leader of the Free World. While Merkel’s legacy may be her genius for pragmatic realpolitik and thwarting bullies, she also possesses an abiding humanity.
Growing up in Cold War East Germany shaped Angela Kasner Merkel’s worldview.
The German Democratic Republic (GDR) was founded in 1949, and the USSR controlled it until 1989. By 1954, the year Angela Kasner was born, 331,000 refugees had fled from the East to the West to avoid Moscow’s oppressive rule.
It was peculiar, then, that – when she was an infant – her father, clergyman Horst Kasner, would move his young family from Hamburg in the West to a small town in East Germany that was hostile to him for being “bourgeois.” To Kasner and his wife, the move was akin to being missionaries in some remote, primitive nation. Their East German village, Templin, was quaint, and Angela Kasner will always see it as home – even though its region witnessed brutal atrocities in World War II. The Kasner family was poor, but Kasner’s mother, Herlind, never complained.
In 1961, Moscow shut the border between East and West Germany, rendering the East a prison state. In that enclosed sphere, young Kasner found refuge in books, especially biographies of statesmen. East Germany remained the most militarized nation in the Soviet bloc until its dissolution in...