January 2, 2006

Merkel once worked as waitress, biography reveals

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - Angela Merkel worked as a cocktail
waitress in a disco while studying physics in Communist East
Germany and later moved into an empty East Berlin flat as a
squatter after leaving her first husband.

These are among the illuminating details to emerge about
Germany's first female chancellor in a new biography entitled
"Merkel, Macht, Politik" ("Merkel, Power, Politics") by German
journalist Patricia Lessnerkraus.

As a child, Merkel struggled to overcome a fear of walking
downstairs. As a teenager, she was the top student in her
school and wanted to become a teacher but that dream was dashed
by the Communist government, which viewed her family as
suspect.

So she studied physics and worked part-time in a disco.

"I did the barmaid thing," Merkel 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.

"And considering my allowance was 250 marks (about $15) per
month, that extra income was rather important," said Merkel,
who studied in Leipzig from 1973 to 1978. She earned her
doctorate in East Berlin in 1986 -- under the tutelage of
Professor Joachim Sauer, who later became her second husband.

Merkel, 51, has kept many intriguing details of her private
life under wraps, even after her startling rise from spokesman
of the last East German government in 1990 to the top of the
conservative party in 2000 and into the chancellor's office
last November.

That is partly a result of the way Merkel and her family
have carefully shielded the privacy of Germany's first leader
to come from the ex-Communist east.

FASCINATING ANECDOTES

The basic details of Merkel's career since her drift away
from East Berlin academia and into politics in the heady days
of unification in 1990 are well documented, but little about
her life before then has surfaced.

The book, by a woman who has known Merkel since 1990,
includes profiles of other leaders such as Mary McAleese of
Ireland and Ukraine's Yulia Tymoshenko but contains fascinating
anecdotes about Merkel's past.

She describes how Merkel, born Angela Kasner in Hamburg,
moved to the Communist east six weeks after her birth in the
west. Her clergyman father came from the east and his church
work took him back there in the era before the Berlin Wall was
built, when such a move was less unusual.

As a small child, Angela quickly learned to speak but took
longer to walk. She managed by ordering her younger brother
around.

"She turned her brother into an errand boy," Lessnerkraus
writes. "She gave the orders. He brought her what she wanted."

Merkel long had a fear of walking downstairs or downhill.

"I was a sheer idiot when it came to moving," Merkel said.
"My parents had to explain how to walk downhill, from a purely
technical point of view. Something that a normal person can do
automatically I had to think about in my mind and practice."

Young Angela, who was six when the Wall was built in 1961,
faced problems in the Communist east, an atheist state, because
her father was a pastor, or "Pfarrer" in German.

"Tell people you are a 'Fahrerstochter' (chauffeur's
daughter)," a friend said, urging her to obscure her father's
job by mispronouncing it in order to avoid problems. "That's
not lying directly; it just has a slightly different
intonation."

Her mother had been an English and Latin teacher in West
Germany but was banned from working because of that and her
husband's work for the church. She implored Angela to excel at
school "otherwise they'll never let you into university."

ENJOYED "MONOPOLY"

The young Kasner was a brilliant student, excelling in
Russian. "She graduated from high school with perfect marks,"
wrote Lessnerkraus, who added that Merkel wanted to become a
teacher but that was denied because of her family.

"Angela Kasner not only had to be better than the rest of
her classmates, she also had to keep secret how she and her
family lived at home," Lessnerkraus added. Among other things,
they enjoyed playing the capitalist board game "Monopoly."

"They watched west German television, they complained about
Erich Honecker and their shelves were filled with books from
the 'enemy' west. It was a terrible burden for a happy girl who
had to learn at an early age to think before opening her
mouth."

Kasner was allowed to study physics and left her home in
Templin, north of Berlin, for Leipzig where her life changed.

"She didn't spend all her time studying physics formulas,"
Lessnerkraus wrote, noting she was also a party girl. "She
enjoyed student life with the parties, trips and part-time
jobs"

In 1977, aged 23, she married a fellow student, 24-year-old
Ulrich Merkel.

They had a one-room flat in Leipzig and a year later, after
graduating, moved to East Berlin, finding a run-down flat with
no toilet and no hot water.

Ulrich Merkel spent the next three years fixing up the flat
after work while his wife made progress on her doctorate.

"In 1981 Ulrich was done renovating but at that moment his
wife left him and 'occupied' an empty flat," Lessnerkraus
wrote.

In a rare reference to her marriage to the man whose name
she nevertheless kept, Merkel said: "We got married because
everyone got married. It sounds stupid, but I didn't go into
the marriage with the necessary amount of seriousness."

Merkel lived as a squatter in the sparsely furnished flat,
earned 650 marks a month and was a happy single woman who liked
to go dancing. In the early 1980s, she got involved with Sauer,
who was divorced from his wife in 1985.

Only after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 did Merkel drift
into politics, at first helping to connect computers in the
office of a new democratic party and later joining the
Christian Democrats (CDU), two months before German
unification.

From there, her career took off: first as deputy press
spokeswoman to East Germany's last prime minister, Lothar de
Maiziere. She won a seat in parliament for the CDU in the
December 1990 election and in January, at 36, was picked by
Chancellor Helmut Kohl as minister for women's issues.

"She can thank her lightning political career to the fact
that Helmut Kohl needed to have a woman and an east German in
his cabinet in 1991," wrote Lessnerkraus. "By appointing
Merkel, Kohl killed two birds with one stone."