On a summer evening in July, Angela Merkel had good reason to be showing signs of strain. Britain had just cut the cord with Brussels. Russia’s border war with Ukraine was smoldering despite the Minsk agreement. In Ankara, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a key partner for the European Union, was asking for refugee funding, respect, and his good name back in a German court. In Vienna, Austrian justices threw out the country’s presidential election results, giving life to a far-right candidate. In Munich, a Bavarian ally, Horst Seehofer, complained about coming so often to Berlin, refusing to be her “traveling uncle.”
But on this warm night in the capital, the German chancellor seemed at ease, soaking in the mild weather, conversing, joking and networking at three events over a glass of wine. At two of the stops, she worked her way good-naturedly through the crowds, taking selfies with more than 10 people at each event. “You would think that with all that’s going on, a normal person would show it,” says Axel Wallrabenstein, a Berlin publicist who led the youth wing of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) for part of the 1990s.