The first time most people heard of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor busted NSA cold when the secret agency tried to bug her cell phone. “Spying among friends,” Merkel famously said, “That simply isn’t done.”
That’s Angela (pronounce that ‘g’ with some strength or she’ll bodyslam you) Merkel in a nutshell. A straightforward leader who keeps quiet until it’s time to call some blowhard out on their crap. The German Chancellor’s hard-nosed attitude, combined with her quietly progressive mindset has seen Angela Merkel catapulted to the position of de facto world leader in a whiplash-inducing amount of time.
In 2015, if aliens had arrived on Earth, they would have landed on the White House lawn. If aliens came to Earth now, they’d probably set down stakes outside Bundeskanzleramt, which is not gibberish; it’s the formal name of the German chancellery. The person who figures out why German people do stuff like that to themselves will have gotten closer to the meaning of life than anyone living.
The fact that Merkel has ascended to the highest level of international leadership while spewing words like Bundeskanzleramt makes her accomplishments even more impressive. If you’re not familiar with Angela Merkel (and why she might be our only hope), then keep reading for Cliff’s Notes on the lady who is doing her damnedest to save the world.
Angela Merkel Is (Way) Smarter Than You (and Me … and Your Dad)
For the first part of her professional career, Angela Merkel worked as a chemist on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. The daughter of a Lutheran pastor grew up in the atheist country, eventually earning a doctorate in physics from the University of Leipzig. When the Berlin Wall fell, however, Merkel quickly got political, leaving her job and getting involved in politics. Ten years later, in 2000, the pugnacious woman was elected head of the Christian Democratic Union party.
Five years after that, she orchestrated a deal between the left-leaning Social Democrats and won herself the job of Chancellor of Germany. Not only was Merkel the country’s first female chancellor, but she’s also the first woman to lead Germany since it became a nation all the way back in 1871. In the thirteen years since she took over Germany Angela Merkel has applied her cultivated brand of bland to steer not just her nation, but the larger continent toward a brighter future.
These days the only people on the planet who don’t believe that Angela Merkel is the most influential person in the world are Donald Trump and three dudes in Florida who haven’t worn a shirt since 1986.
Of course, for all her ferocity, Merkel does move at her own pace. The German people have even coined a verb to describe the glacial speed with which Merkel gets things done. They call it “Merkeling.”
Still, though, no one can deny that Angela Merkel gets shit done.
Merkel Smashes Barriers Like the Hulk in a Pantsuit
Throughout her career, Merkel has also had the good fortune to encounter a series of male buttheads who are quick to dismiss her because she prefers to play the quiet person in the back of the room.
In the mid-1990s, Gerhard Schröder, the leader of the Social Democrat party called Merkel’s performance “pitiful.” Merkel remained quiet publicly, but confessed to one photographer that she would handle the situation by putting Schröder “in the corner.”
This kind of quiet determination is Merkel’s secret strength. Her ability to look past the insults tossed her way and get the job done is the reason that she’s the most powerful person in the world. That quiet strength also leads to awesome moments like this one:
Sometimes the World Just Needs a Good Scolding
In 2015, Angela Merkel asserted herself as head lady in charge when she navigated the European Union through an international freakout over the value of the euro (thanks for nothing, Greece) and led Germany toward one of the continent’s most progressive migration policies.
That one-two punch nabbed Merkel the honor of TIME Person of the Year. She actually beat out Donald Trump.
Last year, when a certain President of the United States was railing on about how bogus America’s allies in the EU were, Angela Merkel was the world leader who stood up and proclaimed, “The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over.” Unfortunately, the statement was made with subtlety, so it’s very doubtful that its intended recipient understood what was happening. Thank God Merkel and subtlety got a divorce in the year since, because she’s the reason we have this photo:
She may as well have captioned that photo, “SERVED.”
That no-nonsense willingness to confront obliviousness in its basest form is going to be necessary if Merkel plans to move forward with dragging the rest of the world — kicking and screaming — into the future.
Dark Times Lie Ahead, Angela
Over the last few years, Germany’s progressive streak has been challenged by a far-right party called Alternative for Germany. Their numbers have been steadily creeping upward over the last several years, and now they’re inflaming Merkel’s migration pet project by coloring it as a crisis in the hopes that Angela Merkel will look weak.
In other words, they’re pulling a Trump, and Donald Trump is joining in the fun.
Scooting right on past the horror invoked by a far-right political group from Germany who think foreigners are a lesser type of human, these Alternative for Germany folks have given Angela Merkel a very lenient two-week deadline in which she’s expected to solve an international immigration crisis that’s plagued the world for several decades.
Thirteen years into the job, it’s still not getting easier for the most powerful woman in the world. However, if anyone can put the brakes on the car that is careening so perilously close to the edge, it’s the understated chemist from East Berlin.