German elections: How Angela Merkel changed her country

As one of the world’s most influential leaders, Angela Merkel has helped to determine the course of European and global politics. But during her 16 years as German chancellor, she’s also had a considerable impact on her own country, shaping the lives of millions of citizens for better or worse.

Among them, the students who celebrated the end of their school days this summer.

At one prom in Berlin, excited teenagers in smart jackets and formal dresses danced to a thudding bass in a marquee. The class of 2021 has come of age in Mrs Merkel’s Germany; they have never known another German leader.

“We don’t have a perfect democracy,” says Ole Schroeder, “but I think we have a good democracy.”
Germany is good with the immigration system,” adds Alisa Gukasov. “Everyone has the chance to live here and to achieve their dreams.”

But they worry about the future.

Lina Ziethen’s main concern is climate change. “We have to stand up and say stop driving cars, stop flying on holiday because we need to reduce emissions – but we should have also already done this 50 years ago, not just now.”

It is on the minds of many Germans, not least because of this summer’s deadly floods in the west of the country.

Under Mrs Merkel, Germany has reduced emissions and invested in renewables.

But it’s widely acknowledged that current targets aren’t strict enough; and Germany is still burning coal, in part because Mrs Merkel abandoned nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster in Japan 10 years ago.

If you wander through the fairy-tale forests that carpet so much of this country, you can see the damage wrought by climate change.

The Borkenkäfer, a beetle that bores into trees and destroys them, is proliferating in warmer, drier conditions.

The trees’ natural defences are weakened too. Hans Schattenberg, who manages the forests of the eastern Harz region, says all he and his staff can do is cut down acres of woodland to try to halt the spread.

“We never thought the forest would react so quickly to climate change,” he says. “‘What shocked us most is that it wasn’t just the conifers that were badly affected, but also old oak and beech trees.”

Old certainties are shifting here.

Under Mrs Merkel, Germany has prospered, though her predecessors must take some of the credit for the wealth of today. And critics worry that, as competitors move ahead with technological and digital advances, this economic giant is struggling to keep up.German elections 2021

Germans vote in parliamentary elections on Sunday 26 September.

Mrs Merkel’s conservative CDU has led coalitions for four terms, but the latest opinion polls suggest the centre-left is on course to win.

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