Angela Merkel - first woman German Chancellor

It was not as easy as she hoped, but Angela Merkel, a shy pastor's daughter from the ex-communist east, has finally crowned her unlikely rise to the top of German politics and will become the country's first woman chancellor.

A month ago, Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU) were riding high in the polls and widely expected to trounce Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) in what was billed as a landmark election that would set Germany on a new course of reform, Reuters reports.

But a disappointingly narrow victory for Merkel's party following a widely criticized campaign doomed her ambitious economic plans and forced her to fight a defiant Schroeder for the top spot - a battle she finally won on Monday, according to senior members of the CDU and SPD.

Holding together fighting factions while pushing through the reforms economists say Germany desperately needs will be a formidable challenge - one made all the more difficult by her shaky campaign and the SPD's success in securing the key Finance Ministry in the government she will lead.

"If she is to become chancellor, it is not sufficient to defeat (Schroeder). She must also win over the people," the German weekly Die Zeit said last week.

Sixteen years ago when the Berlin Wall fell and Merkel, 51, began her meteoric rise in the CDU of then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, few would have predicted the awkward, unassuming former scientist would make it this far.

But a clever analytical mind, a knack for being in the right place at the right time and a cold readiness to sideline rivals vaulted her to the top of her male-dominated party and put her in position to become Germany's eighth postwar leader.

A bookworm who guards her privacy fiercely and has only recently begun looking comfortable in the media spotlight, Merkel was born in the western port city of Hamburg on July 17, 1954, but moved with her family to East Germany when just a baby.

As the daughter of a Protestant pastor in a communist state where organized religion was viewed with suspicion, Merkel was told early on by her parents to keep a low profile and always be above reproach.

"Everything was always a battle - a battle not to attract attention, a battle to be just a little better than all the others," Merkel said of her childhood.

These experiences seem to have molded Merkel, who is married to a Berlin chemistry professor and has no children, into a hard-nosed - some say ruthless -- politician.

Helmut Kohl plucked Merkel from obscurity after German reunification in 1990, making her a cabinet member and famously whisking her off on a U.S. tour where the wide-eyed "Angie", still sporting Spartan eastern German dresses, was photographed eagerly riding cable cars in San Francisco.

But when her political mentor was floundering in the midst of a funding scandal in December 1999, she pounced, penning a guest column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper urging the CDU to move on "without its old battle horses".


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