It's a gray but mild winter afternoon in Berlin; the night before, the House of Commons in London voted against Theresa May's Brexit deal. The guards at the gate to the Chancellery are friendly, the head of the press department leads photographer Dominik Butzmann and DIE ZEIT reporter Jana Hensel to the elevator, which takes them up to the seventh floor, where German government spokesman Steffen Seibert joins them. Almost exactly to the second of the agreed upon appointment, they are led into the chancellor's office. Angela Merkel seems concentrated and calm, although perhaps a little tense -- not because of the interview, more likely because of the failed Brexit deal. But this interview is going to be more about the chancellor herself. Merkel asks her visitors to take a seat at the long conference table and pours coffee. A total of 45 minutes have been granted for the interview, and it will end exactly 45 minutes later.
DIE ZEIT: Madame Chancellor, when you announced your intention to stand down as the chair of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, I wrote a very personal farewell article in DIE ZEIT. Among other things, it mentioned how important your chancellorship has been, particularly for many women in eastern Germany. Do you like it when you are viewed from an eastern German perspective?
Angela Merkel: Just as much as I like being viewed as a woman or as a person over 60. The German Democratic Republic (GDR) is part of my history. I didn't grow up in the West, after all, so you can't describe me from that perspective.
ZEIT: Are your East German roots important to you?
Merkel: All my roots are important to me, and the East Germans ones are part of that. I neither emphasize them every day, nor do I deny them.
ZEIT: After the publication of my article, I was surprised to see how many women wrote to me saying that you were important to them. Are you aware that many women in our country have developed a particularly strong emotional bond with you?
Merkel: No, that isn't especially clear to me. I sense a certain appreciation for trying to do my job properly, but I also generate many negative emotions in others. Both can come from women as well as men. That's how it was in the euro crisis – and also when it came to the refugee issue. I was the target of criticism just as much as a man would have been. I don't think it's possible to make the generalization that women admire other women. Even among women, there are sometimes hard feelings.
ZEIT: Still, you are a role model for many women. But it tends to be more of a silent sisterhood: It is seldom the case that you address women.
Merkel: I rarely address only women. After all, I'm not just the federal chancellor of women in Germany, I'm the federal chancellor of all people in Germany. I'm also not at all certain that women always expect me to address them specifically. Of course, when you get to where I am in your career, you're in the spotlight. The fact that women compare themselves to me arises from the fact that I am a woman and other women also sometimes face difficult tasks. I don't really need to turn specifically to them.
ZEIT: Do you think you communicate with women subconsciously or indirectly?
Merkel: No, not subconsciously. Automatically. When I say or do something, I am saying or doing it as a woman.
ZEIT: Exactly 10 years ago, we sat down here in your office and talked about feminism. It was a rather tentative conversation, as became clear in re-reading the interview. You weren't willing to call yourself a feminist at the time.
Merkel: I consider women like Alice Schwarzer to be feminists. Or Marie Juchacz, who together with others fought for women's suffrage 100 years ago and won. I don't want to seek out false praise. They fought all their lives for women's rights in ways that I cannot claim to have done myself. As a woman, I of course also had to find my way like any other, so that one day we would really find our way to gender parity. It's not only as chancellor that I have worked together with many men, but also during my time as a physicist. Parity in all areas just seems logical to me. That's not something I have to constantly bring up.
ZEIT: But that's a significant development! To use a term like parity in a self-confident, almost self-evident way actually does make you a feminist!
Merkel: At the G-20 Women's Summit, Queen Máxima of the Netherlands found a definition of feminism that I can endorse: For her, it's feminism if I am in favor of men and women having the same life opportunities.
ZEIT: Did you become a woman during your time in office?
Merkel: No, certainly not in office. I was already a woman before that.
ZEIT: But have you become more conscious of it?
Merkel: I wouldn't say that either. Even as a physics student, I experienced men at the university as being extremely dominant. In politics, a different version of the same situation became apparent. My awareness of the disadvantages faced by women has broadened because I have gained insights into many areas of life. And I looked around attentively, not least because I was minister for women in the beginning. This interest never again left me.
ZEIT: Did you ultimately reach the realization that being a woman is a kind of blemish?
Merkel: It is in no way a blemish. But of course, we experience disadvantages. On the one hand, it is rightly expected today that women are represented in all areas. And that this diversity, as we so nicely put it, enriches us. On the other hand, there are, of course, areas in which women have a harder time because they first have to shape new paradigms. There is one point where it has been easier for me as a woman politics: It has traditionally been expected that the woman at a chancellor's side does voluntary charity work. It wasn't like that for me and my husband. He does his job as a scientist and I do mine. And this was accepted more quickly than it would have been if it had been the other way around – as had always previously been the case.