The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is next week, and that's the primary reason for Merkel's speech.
But, according to an AP piece in the Times (here), a major focus of Merkel's remarks was the need for coordinated action on climate change (the talks in Copenhagen start in December).
I've just done some reading about Merkel on Wikipedia, inspired by a very enthusiastic profile by Anne Applebaum that I read earlier in the week. Merkel was born in 1954 in Hamburg and is a scientist by training: she wrote her doctoral thesis about quantum chemistry (I didn't know there was such a thing). She speaks fluent Russian -- I guess that's one reason why many of the articles about her emphasize her work on improving German/Russian relations.
Merkel was first elected as Chancellor in 2005 and then re-elected this fall. Her party is the Christian Democrats, but she has had to govern through parliamentary coalitions.
Applebaum's piece (here) argues that Merkel has quietly become the most important and influential person in Europe. Applebaum posits that some of Merkel's success may stem from her clever use of her woman-hood:
The more I watch Merkel, the more I am convinced that her femaleness holds the key to her success. Under her watch, Germany has continued to grow more powerful, more influential, and more dominant than ever before. Yet not only has no one noticed, they applaud and ask for more ...349. Do Obama and Merkel get along well? Which of the current European leaders does Obama have the best relationship with?
Merkel provokes no jealousy or competitiveness among the alpha males who run large countries, and she inspires no fear among the citizens of smaller ones. On the contrary, Germany even has good relations with most of its neighbors to the east, many of whom are inclined to distrust Germans as a matter of principle.
This is partly because she is so willing to show up when asked and offer mild-mannered words of friendship and apologies for World War II. After which she returns home and works to make Germany stronger and more dominant in the region. And everyone smiles.
350. Do scientists make better politicians/leaders than lawyers do? Of the leading American politicians, who has the most experience and background in science?
351. What product does Germany produce that is most imported into the US? Would it still be cars? Or is there some other industrial product?
352. How many German troops are there in Afghanistan? Obama made a point of thanking Merkel for Germany's cooperation there -- what is the extent of their participation?