7 things you probably didn’t know about Angela Merkel
Herzlichen Glückwunsch, Angela Merkel! Today Germany’s favourite politician celebrates her 66th birthday. In honour of the occasion, we’ve assembled seven fun facts about the German chancellor.
1. She speaks fluent Russian
Merkel’s father moved his family from Hamburg to Soviet-controlled East Germany six weeks after Angela was born in 1954, just as thousands of other Germans were fleeing the other way. Like other children who grew up in the GDR, Merkel learned Russian at school. She went on to become the three-time champion of East Germany’s Russian-language competition. She rarely speaks the language in public.
2. She was a bartender at university
While studying physics at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig, Merkel worked on the side as a barmaid at student discos. “I did the barmaid thing,” she said. “I got an extra 20 to 30 pfennigs for each drink I sold and that added up to 20 to 30 extra Marks each week. That pretty much paid the rent.” She went on to earn her doctorate in East Berlin in 1986.
3. She was offered a job with the Stasi
At the end of the 1970s, Merkel applied for an assistant professor position at an engineering school. As a condition for getting the job, she was told she would have to report on her colleagues to the Stasi, the much-feared secret police in East Germany. Merkel says she refused because she was far too much of a blabbermouth to make a good spy.
Unsurprisingly, she didn’t get it. If she had, a future career in politics might have been made impossible, since in post-reunification Germany any past association with the Stasi was nothing short of political suicide.
4. She celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall at a sauna
On November 9, 1989, the night the Berlin Wall fell, signalling the end of 40 years of communist rule in East Germany, a 35-year-old Merkel visited a sauna. She then wandered across the border to celebrate with a single beer, before quickly returning home, because she had work the next day. “I didn’t want my head to sag at my desk,” she apparently said.
5. She uses her first husband’s surname
Born Angela Kasner, she became Angela Merkel when she married physicist Ulrich Merkel in 1977. The marriage lasted about five years. Rather than reverting to her maiden name after the divorce, Merkel has retained her first husband’s surname ever since.
Merkel’s second husband, Joachim Sauer, is a professor at Humboldt University of Berlin and dislikes publicity. He eschews public appearances so frequently - he famously didn’t attend Merkel’s inauguration as chancellor in 2005 - that the German media have nicknamed him, “The Phantom of the Opera”.
6. She’s a mean cook
Merkel reportedly takes great pride in her cooking skills and is especially famed for her plum cake. She is regularly spotted shopping at supermarkets in Berlin, where she pays for her groceries in cash. She once told former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan that she makes breakfast for her husband every morning.
7. She’s scared of dogs
After being bitten by one in 1995, Merkel developed a mortal fear of dogs. It is alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin brought his large pet to a joint meeting in 2007 in an attempt to intimidate the chancellor. Merkel later said, “I understand why he has to do this - to prove he’s a man… He’s afraid of his own weakness.”
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