Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Sunday, 27 September 2009 18:00 UK

Profile: Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel is described as "pragmatic, not histrionic"

Angela Merkel has been re-elected to a second term as German chancellor, exit polls suggest.

Over the past four years she has had to steer Germany through some difficult times, but remains very popular.

The dowdy image that supporters feared would stymie her progress to the top is long forgotten.

Partly that is because she spruced up her appearance, wearing bright colours and sporting more stylish hairstyles - but largely it is because few people think it matters.

"Some people said Angela Merkel was boring and provincial, but they underestimated her," says Detmar Doering, the head of the Liberal Institute in Potsdam.

He says Mrs Merkel - the first chancellor from the former communist east - does not need to rely on charisma to win over voters, because she is a pragmatic politician who inspires confidence.

"German voters aren't stupid - they don't want a Britney Spears as the chancellor of Germany, they want a serious leader whom they can trust. Merkel knows what she's doing."

She has certainly impressed Germans, scoring approval ratings of 60% in the lead-up to the 27 September, 2009 election.

Break with tradition

As a Protestant east German woman Angela Merkel, 55, broke the leadership mould of the Christian Democrats (CDU), traditionally dominated by Catholic west German men.

She had also been divorced - though she kept her first husband's surname - and, in the "party of the family", had no children.

Analysts say she cowed many in the party by her decisive role in seeing off a giant of the party, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

1954: Born Hamburg
1978: Earned physics doctorate
1990: Joined CDU
1994: Takes environment job
2000: Becomes CDU leader
2005: Becomes chancellor

When he was caught in a slush fund scandal, she was the first former Kohl ally to publicly break with the man who brought her into the cabinet, writing a front-page article calling for his resignation.

It helped put her in pole position when the party felt it needed a new beginning.

But if her role in the Kohl saga suggests a ruthless streak, she is known more for her pragmatism and ability to compromise.

After being elected in 2005 she entered into coalition with her rivals in the Social Democrats (SPD), including her 2009 election challenger, and foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

That has meant ditching some of her planned free market reforms, and agreeing to more left-leaning measures like a minimum wage in some sectors and a huge fiscal stimulus.

Many thought the coalition would break apart, but Mrs Merkel managed to hold it together, and in fact take the credit for Germany's emergence from recession, and the deal that kept Opel a going concern.

She has been criticised by some in her own party for an apparent shift to the left. But some analysts believe this is simply pragmatism.

If the exit poll results are confirmed, allowing her to ditch the SPD as a coalition partner in favour of the pro-business FDP, she is likely to resurrect her promised economic reforms, analysts say.

Science background

Born in Hamburg, Angela Merkel was only a couple of months old when her father, a Lutheran pastor, was given a parish in a small town in East Germany.

She grew up in a rural area outside Berlin in the communist east, and showed a great talent for maths, science and languages.

She earned a doctorate in physics but later worked as a chemist at a scientific academy in East Berlin.

She had never been involved in politics but, at the age of 36, she became involved in the burgeoning democracy movement in 1989 and, after the Berlin Wall came down, she got a job as government spokeswoman following the first democratic elections.

She joined the CDU two months before the reunification of Germany and within three months she was in the Kohl cabinet as minister for women and youth.

She established herself in the party, rising through the ranks until she was chosen to lead it in 2000 and was elected Germany's first female chancellor in 2005.

She is married to a chemistry professor from Berlin, Joachim Sauer. The couple do not have any children.

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