December 9, 2015 6:14 AM EST

Born Angela Kasner (Merkel is the name of her first husband) in West Germany in 1954, her father, an official in the Lutheran Church, moved the family to socialist East Germany just a few weeks after her birth—an unusual move, since most Germans who could were fleeing toward the freedom of West Germany. Merkel was the oldest of three children, and grew up on the outskirts of Templin, a small town near the Brandenburg forest. She had an early interest in politics—at fourteen, she secretly listened to radio broadcasts from West German elections—but pursued science instead, getting a degree in physics and then a doctorate in quantum chemistry. Her East German upbringing, tendency toward caution and scientific training may have shaped her leadership approach as the most powerful woman in Europe.

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