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Merkel once worked as disco waitress

By STEFAN NICOLA, UPI Germany Correspondent

KEHL AM RHEIN, Germany, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is set to meet U.S. President Bush at the White House Friday, once sold cheap booze in a disco to finance her studies in former Communist East Germany.

"I played the barmaid, I got an extra 30 pfennig for each sold glass," Merkel said. "That added up to 20 to 30 marks a week, which almost paid my room. ... At 7 a.m. classes began, the disco lasted until midnight. In between I was always on the run to get cherry liquor, because that was the drink of the moment."

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This and other interesting anecdotes are compiled in a new book on female world leaders that includes a lengthy biography on Germany's first female chancellor.

The book "Merkel, Macht, Politic" ("Merkel, Power, Politics," VDM, $15.50) was written by Patricia Lessnerkraus, a German journalist who has known Merkel since 1990.

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Merkel has managed to keep much of her private life to herself despite her meteoric rise from a spokeswoman to Germany's leader in roughly 15 years.

Much of her recent career had once been improbable given her tumultuous youth: Merkel was born 1954 in Hamburg, but her parents moved to the East soon after her birth when her father took a job as a protestant preacher in the Soviet zone.

Young Angela was a fast and early talker, Lessnerkraus reveals, but she had trouble walking for long. Merkel managed by ordering her younger brother around.

"She turned him into an errand boy," Lessnerkraus writes. "She gave the orders. He brought her what she wanted."

Fear of falling led to Merkel evading downhill paths until puberty.

"I was an idiot when it came to moving," Merkel said. "My patient parents had to explain how to walk downhill, from a purely technical point of view. Something that a normal person can do automatically I had to think about in my mind and practice a long time."

But Merkel was an excellent student, excelling in math and languages, making it to the "Russia Olympics," an international speech contest in Moscow.

Her mother, an English teacher who couldn't practice her job because of the communist regime, motivated Angela to be better than her classmates. The communists shouldn't have a reason to deny her a university education, her mother felt.

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"She couldn't reveal that they watched West German television, that they complained about Erich Honecker all the time and that their shelves were filled with books from the 'enemy' West -- a terrible burden for a happy girl ... who had to learn at an early age to think before opening her mouth."

Merkel learned to play innocent very early on, which still makes some politicians underestimate her, Lessnerkraus writes.

In 1977, while at Leipzig University, Angela married a fellow student, 24-year-old Ulrich Merkel. She chose a wedding dress in blue, her favorite color.

While on a job hunt, she came into contact with the feared communist interior intelligence, the Stasi, who made her an offer to join its ranks. Merkel refused, and soon moved with her husband to an apartment in Berlin without a toilet or hot water.

Hardly anything is known of her first husband, whose last name the chancellor still bears. In 1981, Merkel left her husband, shortly after he had renovated the flat, and moved into an empty apartment to live a single life.

"We got married because everyone got married. That sounds stupid, but I didn't go into the marriage with the necessary amount of seriousness, I was wrong," she said.

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Soon, Merkel became involved with Joachim Sauer, with whom Merkel lives to this day. They married in 1998 without telling friends or family.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Merkel slowly entered politics, becoming head of media relations for an East German democrat group whose computers she was originally hired to network.

In 1991, in an unexpected move, then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl made Merkel a federal minister, after she had joined his Christian Democratic Union just a few months earlier.

It was the beginning of a meteoric rise that culminated in her election as German chancellor late last year.

She still tries to keep her private life to herself, though, "not because I want to withhold something from the people, but because I want to save myself a little freedom and spontaneity."

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