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Easy Does It

Liam Hennessy
Angela Merkel: The Authorized Biography, by Stefan Kornelius, Alma Books, 300 pp, £20, ISBN: 978-1846883071 This is not an easy book to read. It is perhaps the hagiographical style, or the somewhat turgid prose – a product, it might be, of a clunky translation from the German. It is also not quite up to date, its subject having since won another general election victory last autumn, making her Chancellor for the third successive time and placing her for the second time in a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats. Perhaps it is just that there are some truths about how Merkel has handled the euro crisis and about the prospect of German economic hegemony in Europe which make for uncomfortable reading. It is difficult not to feel a little wary when the term “master plan” is used in relation to the euro zone countries (in fairness, it is a coinage of Kornelius which he does not attribute to Merkel). Is it possible that the translator – whatever about Kornelius himself – was not aware of the resonances of this phrase? Stefan Kornelius is the leading foreign correspondent with Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung and has had access to Merkel and her inner circle since the fall of the Berlin Wall when she was the then virtually unknown spokeswoman for the church-based opposition group Democratic Awakening. She was subsequently an important source for him as a relatively junior member of Helmut Kohl’s cabinet when he served time as a political reporter in Bonn. Unfortunately, he does not offer a satisfactory account of her meteoric ascent to the higher levels of German politics nor satisfactorily chronicle her part in the dramatic toppling of Kohl, her mentor. He does however trace the story back to the Chancellor’s origins as a Lutheran pastor’s daughter in Templin, in what was then the German Democratic Republic. Indeed it would be impossible to understand Merkel’s psyche and her various approaches without reminding oneself that she spent the first thirty-five years of her life as a citizen of country ruled by a deeply repressive regime, a country which no longer exists. A classic account of the GDR is Stasiland, by the Australian Anna Funder, according to The Sunday Times “a journey into the bizarre, scary, secret history of the former East Germany”. A more populist insight into that grim history can be found in the award-winning film The Lives of Others. Angela Merkel was exposed to…

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