Today, the importance of Angela Merkel—Germany’s first female chancellor and its first born in East Germany—isn’t exactly in question. She has the most influential voice in European politics, she has a leading role in shaping the answers to the world’s biggest questions and she’s just been named TIME’s 2015 Person of the Year. But 15 years ago, her first appearance in this magazine was very different.
In fact, she didn’t even get mentioned.
On Jan. 31, 2000, TIME ran a story about the legacy of Helmut Kohl, the Chancellor who presided over German reunification, and the problems within his Christian Democratic Union party. Merkel, who was once described as Kohl’s protégée, wasn’t mentioned in the piece, irking one German reader of TIME.
“[You] did not do justice to Wolfgang Schauble and Angela Merkel,” wrote Hans-Gunter Kruppa of Osnabruck. “They have both worked hard to weed out the dark jungle of bank accounts, to bring secrets to light and to report to the public in agonizing press conferences and countless embarrassing talk shows.”
Another five years would pass before that name—Angela Merkel—again appeared in the magazine.
By then, Merkel was the leader of the Christian Democrats, and Merkel’s party was suddenly poised to beat the leading Social Democrats in an election called a year before it had been originally scheduled. By that September, Merkel was the front-runner to become Chancellor. “Ten years ago, the idea that we’d have a female Chancellor from East Germany would have raised nothing but laughs,” political analyst Alfons Söllner told TIME. “Today it will make people proud.”
The elections that year did not yield a majority for the Christian Democratic Union or for the incumbent Social Democrats, but Merkel became Chancellor of a coalition government.
“We are obliged to achieve success,” she said at the time, of the need to work together. “We have to succeed.”
A decade later, there’s no question that she has.