Germany's Angela Merkel exits political stage. What does she leave behind?
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fairly difficult
Angela Merkel, a once-obscure scientist who claimed the global spotlight, leaves a mixed legacy as her tenure as Germany's chancellor ends.
Angela Merkel, that most pragmatic of world leaders, is perhaps the last person one would associate with things mystical.

But the German chancellor, now in the waning days of a titanic 16 years in power, veered away from her trademark empiricism two years ago when she spoke to an American graduating class.

"'In all beginnings dwells a magic force,'" Merkel told a Harvard commencement, quoting the German-Swiss writer Hermann Hesse.

Merkel's own beginnings were so unassuming that they lend almost fairy-tale overtones to her rise: an obscure scientist who emerged from behind the fallen Berlin Wall to become not just Germany's first female chancellor, but also one of the world's most famous women, and Europe's most powerful leader.



Many now worry what lies ahead without the leader often seen as the glue holding the European Union together. "The European project has always had its fault lines, but they have rarely caused earthquakes," Ana Palacio, a former foreign minister of Spain, wrote last month on the global affairs website Project Syndicate, musing about potential ruptures within the bloc over defense, economy and foreign policy.

In a post-Merkel era, she wrote, "is the EU in for a tremor — or worse?"

For younger Germans, Merkel has been the only head of government in memory. That simple fact — a confident woman comfortable at the heart of power — will probably prove a lasting legacy.

"My daughters have only known one leader, and it's been a woman," said Julius van de Laar, a political consultant in Berlin. "That in itself is substantial."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives a bouquet from outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder during a handover ceremony in Berlin on Nov. 22, 2005. (John MacDougall / AFP/Getty Images)

Her matter-of-fact mien, unfussy personal style and calmly rational discourse sometimes lent themselves to satire, but Merkel in many ways embodied the self-image Germans aspired to: unadorned, smart,…
Erik Kirschbaum, Laura King
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