During Angela Merkel’s final weeks as German chancellor, a stirring fact came out in The New York Times: immigrants have been naming their daughters Angela, and sometimes their sons also received a male version of her name.
I have been delighted to learn this about Chancellor Merkel because she has been a familiar figure in my consciousness since the 2006 World Cup, as my wife and I had a glorious time taking trains to games in bustling cities all over the modern nation.
The chancellor showed up for her country’s games, her bright jackets making her findable among the staid politicians in the VIP tribunes of the stadiums. Her soft, thoughtful face was always findable, right above the lime and yellow and red jackets, comfortable with herself. As she endured in office, I came to think of her as one of the most stable forces in a world getting meaner by the hour.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is being appraised by experts who know her best: slow to act on climate change and aggression in Europe, plus Jeopardizing her country by encouraging immigration.
But I always thought of her as the pastor’s daughter, growing up in an East Germany crawling – and I use the word advisedly – with cold-eyed officers from the old Soviet Union, like Vladimir Putin, whom she would meet again, later.
The tolerance for immigrants reflects Merkel’s open attitude toward the poor, the desperate of the world. Some countries turned immigrants away – even viciously separated parents and children, as if to punish them for their dire straits.
But there were fewer barricades for millions who came to Germany, and began, as immigrants do, to work, to make life better for their families, to fit in.
Perhaps she had heard her Lutheran pastor father, Rev. Horst Kasner, referring to the Biblical passage (Matthew 19:14): "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'" (The word "suffer" means to allow something or tolerate an action, in earlier forms of English.)
Without preaching, she lived the words. (The other great religions surely stress compassion for the poor.)
A recent article in the Washington Post traced the stance of the Chancellor to her father:
“Germany and even its churches are dominated by economic thinking,” Pastor Kasner said in 1991. “But the Bible’s message calls on us to judge political and economic systems from the perspective of their victims.”
Perhaps in retirement, Mrs. Merkel will elaborate on the sources of her views.
For now, she is the kind face of world politics.
I also think of the published photos of her with some of the male “leaders” she met.
In tribute to Angela Merkel, I have borrowed a few from the world’s archives.
I never had to use a word of German, not one, in a month of trains, hotels, stadiums and restaurants during the World Cup of 2006, so, may I say:
Danke, Kanzlerin Merkel
Here's my NYT column from a stay in Essen during the 2006 World Cup, when I tried to trace the last steps of my Belgian-Irish aunt in 1944; and realized how carefully Germany acknowledges those days:
Hoping you can open these fine strories:
A current appraisal of the Merkel regime:
More and More, I Talk to the Dead--Margaret Renkl
NASHVILLE — After my mother died so suddenly — laughing at a rerun of “JAG” at 10 p.m., dying of a hemorrhagic stroke by dawn — I dreamed about her night after night. In every dream she was willfully, outrageously alive, unaware of the grief her death had caused. In every dream relief poured through me like a flash flood. Oh, thank God!
Then I would wake into keening grief all over again.
Years earlier, when my father learned he had advanced esophageal cancer, his doctor told him he had perhaps six months to live. He lived far longer than that, though I never thought of it as “living” once I learned how little time he really had. For six months my father was dying, and then he kept dying for two years more. I was still working and raising a family, but running beneath the thin soil of my own life was a river of death. My father’s dying governed my days.
After he died, I wept and kept weeping, but I rarely dreamed about my father the way I would dream about my mother nearly a decade later. Even in the midst of calamitous grief, I understood the difference: My father’s long illness had given me time to work death into the daily patterns of my life. My mother’s sudden death had obliterated any illusion that daily patterns are trustworthy.
Years have passed now, and it’s the ordinariness of grief itself that governs my days. The very air around me thrums with absence. I grieve the beloved high-school teacher I lost the summer after graduation and the beloved college professor who was my friend for more than two decades. I grieve the father I lost nearly 20 years ago and the father-in-law I lost during the pandemic. I grieve the great-grandmother who died my junior year of college and the grandmother who lived until I was deep into my 40s.
Some of those I grieve are people I didn’t even know. How can John Prine be gone? I hear his haunting last song, “I Remember Everything,” and I still can’t quite believe that John Prine is gone.
Jan. 30, 2023