by Kati Marton
“WIr schaffen das.”
“We can handle it” is the translation given here. It is what Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a news conference about how Germany was going to handle the surging refugee crisis in 2015. I remember hearing this. In my memory, which may not be perfect, the question was particularly what was going to happen if the rest of Europe did not step up to the challenge. The emphasis was on the “Wir,” “we”, meaning Germany. If the rest of Europe did not step up, well, Germany would handle it. Germany would do what was right. And they did. This is when I first considered Merkel a personal hero.
“The fact that one million refugees had been allowed into Germany was, of course, the headline of 2015. However, an equally startling figure…: six million to seven million Germans helped them.”
“For Germany’s self-image – and how the rest of the world regards the former Third Reich – Angela Merkel’s regugee policy has been transformational. Nothing short of astonishing is the fact that the country responsible for the Holocaust is now regarded as the world’s moral center.”
This book is really a gem. It never devolves into a boring litany of Germany political mundanity (“first the Socialist Democrats formed a coalition with the Democratic Socialists who in turn…”). It has a somewhat chronological arc without being strictly chronological; after some straightforward early life biography, the book is divided into chapters which showcase different aspects of Merkel’s chancellorship: a chapter on the refugee crisis; one each on her relationships with W. Bush, Obama, and Trump; one on Ukraine (written alas before the latest invasion); etc. It really sustains interest.
Merkel has a doctorate in physics, as does her husband (who avoids all media attention and just likes to do his physics in peace). She honestly doesn’t seem to have gone into politics for any reason other than to get things done. She does her own shopping. The most lovable photo is captioned thus:
“Shortly after her heartfelt warning to the nation regarding the looming Covid pandemic, the chancellor was seen shopping in her neighborhood grocery store. Note that there are more bottles of wine in her cart than rolls of toilet paper. Merkel beseeched her countrymen not to hoard.”