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Merkel says German COVID rise worrying, urges vaccination

Merkel says German COVID rise worrying, urges vaccination

Chancellor Angela Merkel says that new coronavirus infections in Germany are once again rising at worrying speedBy GEIR MOULSON Associated PressJuly 22, 2021, 11:39 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that new coronavirus infections in Germany are once again rising at a worrying pace. She appealed to reluctant citizens to get vaccinated and urged compatriots more enthusiastic about the jabs to help persuade others.Germany’s infection rate remains very low compared with some other European countries. But it has been rising steadily since it bottomed out at 4.9 new weekly cases per 100,000 residents on July 6. The rise is being fueled by the more contagious delta variant, which is now dominant. On Thursday, the infection rate stood at 12.2.The figures are rising with “worrying momentum,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin. “We have exponential growth.”She appealed to Germans to stick to distancing and mask-wearing rules, but said that “we all know the key to overcoming the pandemic, the only way, is vaccination.”That, she said, would allow the country to deal with higher case numbers in the “looming fourth wave” of infections without overloading the health system.Slightly over 60% of the German population had received a first dose of vaccine by Thursday, while 48% were fully vaccinated. But the pace of vaccination has slowed in recent weeks even as new cases rise.“We all want our normality back,” Merkel said. “But we won’t get this normality back alone — only as a community. And for this, we need significantly more vaccine protection.”Every shot is “one small step” toward bringing life back to normal for everyone and contributes to protecting loved ones, she said, adding: “My request to all those who are already convinced of vaccination is, please try to help convince others.”The German government and many of its counterparts in the 27-nation European Union faced sharp criticism in the first months of this year when the EU’s vaccination drive got off to a slower start than those in the U.K., the United States and Israel. It has since made up much of the difference.But Merkel made clear Thursday that she considers the European approach vindicated, saying that it was “absolutely right” to order vaccines via the EU rather than Germany going ahead alone, and to allow significant European vaccine exports to the rest of the world.“That distinguishes us and we can be proud of it,” she said. “And if we see that, because of that, we are perhaps one or two months later than many other countries that gave away nothing at all, then I think this was all very good.”“Now we are at a point where we have to plead for people to get vaccinated so that we can really overcome the pandemic,” she said.———Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

Germany defends preparation for floods, considers lessons

Germany defends preparation for floods, considers lessons

German officials are defending their preparations for flooding in the face of the raging torrents last week that caught many people by surprise and left over 190 people dead in Western EuropeBy GEIR MOULSON Associated PressJuly 19, 2021, 9:40 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBERLIN — German officials are defending their preparations for flooding in the face of the raging torrents that caught many people by surprise and left over 190 people dead in Western Europe, but they concede that they will need to learn lessons from the disaster.Efforts to find any more victims and clean up the mess left behind by the floods across a swath of western Germany, eastern Belgium and the Netherlands continued on Monday as floodwaters receded. So far, 117 people have been confirmed dead in the worst-affected German region, Rhineland-Palatinate; 46 in the neighboring state of North Rhine-Westphalia; and at least one in Bavaria, parts of which saw heavy rain and flooding over the weekend. At least 31 people died in Belgium.The downpours that led to usually small rivers swelling at vast speed in the middle of last week had been forecast, but warnings of potentially catastrophic damage didn’t appear to have found their way to many people on the ground — often in the middle of the night.“As soon as we have provided the immediate aid that stands at the forefront now, we will have to look at whether there were things that didn’t go well, whether there were things that went wrong, and then they have to be corrected,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told the Bild newspaper. “That isn’t about finger-pointing — it’s about improvements for the future.”The head of Germany’s civil protection agency said that the country’s weather service had “forecast relatively well” and that the country was well-prepared for flooding on its major rivers.But, Armin Schuster told ZDF television late Sunday, “half an hour before, it is often not possible to say what place will be hit with what quantity” of water. He said that 150 warning notices had been sent out via apps and media.He said he couldn’t yet say where sirens sounded and where they didn’t — “we will have to investigate that.”Officials in Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate state said they were well-prepared for flooding and municipalities had been alerted and acted.But the state’s interior minister, Roger Lewentz, said after visiting the hard-hit village of Schuld with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday that “we of course had the problem that the technical infrastructure — electricity and so on — was destroyed in one go.”Local authorities “tried very quickly to react,” he said. “But this was an explosion of the water in moments. … You can have the very best preparations and warning situations (but) if warning equipment is destroyed and carried away with buildings, then that is a very difficult situation.” Cellphone networks also were knocked out by the flooding.There were already broader questions about Germany’s emergency warning system after a nationwide test last September, the first in 30 years, largely failed. Sirens didn’t sound in many places, or had been removed after the end of the Cold War, and push alerts from the national warning app arrived late or not all.Schuster, the head of the civil protection agency, noted that a program to reform civil protection was launched earlier this year, including a drive to encourage local authorities to install more sirens. Germany doesn’t have a text messaging system for disaster warnings, but Schuster told Deutschlandfunk radio it is exploring the possibility.As local communities contemplate the huge task of rebuilding smashed homes and infrastructure such as the water system, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet is set to draw up a package of immediate and medium-term financial aid on Wednesday.Asked on Sunday whether there should be obligatory insurance for people living in high risk areas, Merkel sounded skeptical, arguing that it could “overload the economic capacity” of companies and individuals. Rhineland-Palatinate’s governor, Malu Dreyer, favors the idea.“Obligatory insurance could lead to very high premiums and they aren’t affordable,” Merkel said.

Merkel tours 'surreal' flood scene, vows aid, climate action

Merkel tours 'surreal' flood scene, vows aid, climate action

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel surveyed what she called a “surreal, ghostly” scene in a devastated village on Sunday, pledging quick financial aid and a redoubled political focus on curbing climate change as the death toll from floods in Western Europe climbed above 180.Merkel toured Schuld, a village on a tight curve of the Ahr River in western Germany where many buildings were damaged or destroyed by rapidly rising floodwaters Wednesday night.Although the mayor of Schuld said no one was killed or injured there, many other places weren’t so lucky. The death toll in the Ahrweiler area, where Schuld is located, stood at 112. Authorities said people are still missing and they fear the toll may still rise.In neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia state, Germany’s most populous, 46 people were killed, including four firefighters. Belgium confirmed 31 deaths.Merkel said she came away from Schuld, still partly strewn with rubble and mud in bright sunshine, with “a real picture of, I must say, the surreal, ghostly situation.”“It is shocking — I would almost say that the German language barely has words for the devastation that has been wreaked,” she said at a news conference in a nearby town.Merkel said authorities will work to “set the world right again in this beautiful region, step by step,” and her Cabinet will approve an immediate and medium-term financial aid program on Wednesday.Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that more than 300 million euros ($354 million) will be needed immediately. And he said officials must set up a longer-term rebuilding program which, from experience with previous flooding, will be in the billions of euros.“Thankfully, Germany is a country that can manage this financially,” said Merkel, who is stepping down as chancellor following an election in September. “Germany is a strong country and we will stand up to this force of nature in the short term — but also in the medium and long term, through policy that pays more regard to nature and the climate than we did in recent years. That will be necessary too.”Climate scientists say the link between extreme weather and global warming is unmistakable and the urgency to tackle climate change undeniable.Scientists can’t yet say for sure whether climate change caused the flooding, but they insist that it certainly exacerbates the extreme weather disasters on display around the world.“We must get faster in the battle against climate change,” Merkel said, pointing to policies already set in motion by Germany and the European Union to cut greenhouse gas emissions. “And nevertheless, the second lesson is that we must pay great attention to adaptation” to climate change.Investing in fighting climate change is expensive, she said, but failing to do so is even more costly.“One flood isn’t the example of climate change, but if we look at the loss events of recent years, decades, then they are simply more frequent than they were previously — so we must make a great effort,” Merkel said.Residents in the devastated areas will be needing support and comfort for a long time yet.“This flood will leave scars on the people of Schuld — scars that you don’t forget, that can’t be overcome, because our lives changed from one day to the next,” Mayor Helmut Lussi said, breaking into sobs as he spoke.Although the rain has stopped in the worst-affected areas of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, storms and downpours have persisted elsewhere in western and central Europe. There was flooding Saturday night in the German-Czech border area, in Germany’s southeastern corner, and over the border in Austria.About 130 people were evacuated in Germany’s Berchtesgaden area after the Ache River swelled. At least one person was killed and the rail line to Berchtesgaden was closed.The Berchtesgaden area also is the home of the sliding track in Koenigssee, the site of major international bobsled, skeleton and luge events for more than 50 years. Large segments of that track were destroyed, parts of the concrete chute turned into rubble by the rushing water.A flash flood hit the nearby Austrian town of Hallein late Saturday, but there were no reports of casualties. Farther west, flooding struck parts of the town of Kufstein. Heavy rain and storms caused serious damage in several parts of Austria.Pope Francis prayed for the flood victims and in support of the “efforts of all to help those who suffered great damage.”“I express my closeness to the populations of Germany, Belgium and Holland, hit by catastrophic flooding,” he said Sunday in his first public appearance to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square after major surgery. “May the Lord welcome the deceased and comfort the family members.”In the eastern Belgian town of Pepinster, soldiers and firefighters on Sunday searched for any remaining survivors or bodies, according to public broadcaster RTBF. All the houses still standing have been searched, so the effort focused on those that collapsed and in a valley downstream for anyone possibly swept away by the raging torrent.The ground in the town remains unstable and several more houses could collapse. “We have to be careful with every step we take,” fire officer Olivier Jiust was quoted as saying.The flood-stricken Dutch town of Venlo allowed most residents back home Sunday, and trains began running again in the area, authorities said.Meanwhile, a cow swept 100 kilometers (60 miles) along a flooded Dutch river will live out its days in a meadow, according to its owner. Farmer Har Smeets told local broadcaster 1Limburg that he lost 10 other cows to high water in the southern part of the Netherlands, but one was found by a cyclist outside the town of Escharen and rescued by firefighters.The cow, originally from the town of Echt, was seen Saturday standing with only its nose poking out of the muddy water of the Maas River, unable to free itself. Fire brigades managed to pull the animal onto dry land, and authorities traced the owner via an ear tag. Smeets says the cow has eaten and is resting comfortably.“It is unbelievable that such an animal can swim or float for so long and then still have the strength to come ashore,” he said.—-Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris and Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed.—-Follow all AP stories on climate change at https://apnews.com/hub/climate

Europe flooding toll over 180 as rescuers dig deeper

Europe flooding toll over 180 as rescuers dig deeper

The death toll from flooding in Western Europe has climbed above 180 after rescue workers dug deeper into debris left by receding watersBy GEIR MOULSON Associated PressJuly 18, 2021, 9:21 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBERLIN — The death toll from flooding in Western Europe climbed above 180 on Sunday after rescue workers dug deeper into debris left by receding waters. Heavy rain fueled new floods in southeastern Germany and Austria, though not on the scale of last week’s devastating onslaught.Police put the toll from the hard-hit Ahrweiler area of western Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate state at more than 110 and said they feared the number may still rise. In neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia state, Germany’s most populous, 45 people were confirmed dead, including four firefighters. And Belgium has confirmed 27 casualties.Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to visit Schuld, a village near Ahrweiler that was devastated by the flooding, later Sunday. Her visit comes after Germany’s president went to the area on Saturday and made clear that it will need long-term support.Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said he will propose a package of immediate aid at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, telling the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that more than 300 million euros ($354 million) will be needed. And he said that officials must start setting up a rebuilding program which, from experience with previous flooding, will be in the billions of euros.Although rain has stopped in the worst-affected areas of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, storms and downpours have persisted in other parts of western and central Europe. There was flooding Saturday night in the German-Czech border area, across the country from where last week’s floods hit, and in Germany’s southeastern corner and over the border in Austria.About 130 people were evacuated from their homes in Germany’s Berchtesgaden area after the Ache River swelled. At least one person was killed. The railway line to Berchtesgaden was closed.A flash flood swept through the nearby Austrian town of Hallein late Saturday, but there were no reports of casualties. Further west, parts of the town of Kufstein were flooded. Heavy rain and storms caused serious damage in several parts of Austria.Climate scientists say the link between extreme weather and global warming is unmistakable and the urgency to do something about climate change undeniable.Scientists can’t yet say for sure whether climate change caused the flooding, but they insist that it certainly exacerbates the extreme weather that has been on show around the world.

Death toll from Europe floods tops 150 as water recedes

Death toll from Europe floods tops 150 as water recedes

The death toll from disastrous flooding in Western Europe has risen above 150 as rescue workers toil to clear up the devastation revealed by receding water and prevent further damageBy GEIR MOULSON Associated PressJuly 17, 2021, 9:46 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBERLIN — The death toll from disastrous flooding in Western Europe rose above 150 on Saturday as rescue workers toiled to clear up the devastation revealed by receding water and prevent further damage.Police said that more than 90 people are now known to have died in western Germany’s Ahrweiler county, one of the worst-hit areas, and more casualties are feared. On Friday, authorities gave a death toll of 63 for Rhineland-Palatinate state, where Ahrweiler is located.Another 43 people were confirmed dead in neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia state, Germany’s most populous. Belgium’s national crisis center put the confirmed death toll in that country at 24 and said it expects the number to rise.By Saturday, waters were receding across much of the affected regions, laying bare the extent of the damage.German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier planned to travel Saturday to Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne, where a harrowing rescue effort unfolded on Friday as people were trapped when the ground gave way. At least three houses and part of a mansion in the town’s Blessem district collapsed.The German military used armored vehicles on Saturday to clear away cars and trucks overwhelmed by the floodwaters on a nearby road, some of which were still at least partly submerged. Officials feared that some people didn’t manage to escape in Erftstadt, but by Saturday morning no casualties had been confirmed.In the Ahrweiler area, police warned people of a potential risk from downed power lines and urged curious visitors to stay away. They complained on Twitter that would-be sightseers were blocking some roads.Many areas were still without electricity and telephone service — something that, along with multiple counting in some cases, appeared to have accounted in part for large numbers of missing people that authorities gave immediately after the floods hit on Wednesday and Thursday.Around 700 people were evacuated from part of the German town of Wassenberg, on the Dutch border, after the breach of a dike on the Rur river.Train lines and roads remained blocked in many areas of eastern Belgium. The national railway service said traffic would start returning to normal on Monday.A cafe owner in the devastated town of Pepinster broke down in tears when King Philippe and Queen Mathilde visited Friday to offer comfort to residents.European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo were visiting flood-damaged towns Saturday, according to Belgian state broadcaster RTBF.In addition to worst-hit Germany and Belgium, southern parts of the Netherlands also have been hit by heavy flooding.Volunteers worked through the night to shore up dikes and protect roads. Thousands of residents of the southern Dutch towns of Bunde, Voulwames, Brommelen and Geulle were allowed to return home Saturday morning after being evacuated on Thursday and Friday.Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who visited the region on Friday, said that the region faced “three disasters.”“First, there was corona, now these floods, and soon people will have to work on cleanup and recovery,” he said. “It is disaster after disaster after disaster. But we will not abandon Limburg,” the southern province hit by the floods. His government has declared the flooding a state of emergency, opening up national funds for those affected.Among other efforts to help the flood victims, Dutch brewery Hertog Jan, which is based in the affected area, handed out 3,000 beer crates to locals to help them raise their belongings off the ground to protect them from the flooding.In Switzerland, heavy rain as caused several rivers and lakes to burst their banks, with authorities in the city of Lucerne closing several pedestrian bridges over the Reuss river.———Angela Charlton in Paris, and Molly Quell in Amsterdam, contributed to this report.

Neck rubs, tapped phones: Merkel has history with US leaders

Neck rubs, tapped phones: Merkel has history with US leaders

BERLIN — Neck rubs, pricy dinners, allegations of phone tapping, awkward handshake moments.Angela Merkel has just about seen it all when it comes to U.S. presidents.The German chancellor is making her 19th and likely final official visit to the U.S. on Thursday for a meeting with President Joe Biden — her fourth American president — as she nears the end of her 16-year tenure.Merkel, who turns 67 on Saturday, will be heading into political retirement soon after deciding long ago not to seek a fifth term in Germany’s Sept. 26 election.One of the longest-serving leaders of one of the closest U.S. allies, Merkel is set for a warm welcome when she meets Biden during her first visit to Washington since he took office in January.Still, contentious issues are on the table — notably the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany, which the U.S. has long opposed, and Biden’s efforts to convince European allies to drop objections to intellectual property waivers for sharing COVID-19 vaccines with the developing world.It’s a fitting coda for Merkel’s dealings with American leaders. A look at some of the highs and lows over the years:GEORGE W. BUSHMerkel came to power early in Bush’s second term and set about repairing relations chilled by predecessor Gerhard Schroeder’s vocal opposition to the war in Iraq.She quickly became a close ally, perhaps finding that the way to the president’s heart was through his stomach. During a visit to Merkel’s parliamentary constituency in northeastern Germany in July 2006, Bush couldn’t stop talking about a wild boar roast the chancellor laid on for him.At a Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, a few days later, Bush gave Merkel an impromptu neck-and-shoulder rub that quickly spread across the internet. Merkel hunched her shoulders in surprise, threw her arms up and grimaced, but appeared to smile as Bush walked away. When Merkel visited the White House the following January, Bush promised: “No back rubs.”In November 2007, Bush welcomed Merkel to his Crawford, Texas ranch. “In Texas, when you invite somebody to your home, it’s an expression of warmth and respect and that’s how I feel about Chancellor Merkel,” a jeans-clad Bush said as he greeted Merkel at the property’s helipad and drove her in his pickup to his home.BARACK OBAMAMerkel’s relationship with Obama didn’t have the greatest start. In July 2008, the chancellor squashed the idea of candidate Obama delivering a speech at Berlin’s signature Brandenburg Gate, saying it was a backdrop for speeches by presidents. Obama switched to another Berlin landmark, the Victory Column.Still, the chancellor — who shared Obama’s businesslike manner but, unlike the new president, never had much time for soaring political rhetoric — forged a strong working relationship with him. It appeared to gain personal warmth over time.During Merkel’s 2011 visit to Washington, the two leaders caught dinner at a high-end restaurant, an unusual overture by Obama. A few days later, he hosted Merkel at the White House for a formal state dinner, where he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. honor bestowed upon civilians.Obama got his chance to speak at the Brandenburg Gate in June 2013. Merkel was there to introduce him.A tough test followed with reports later that year that the U.S. National Security Agency had listened in on German government phones, including Merkel’s. Merkel declared that “spying among friends” was unacceptable. But she didn’t let it cast a lasting shadow over trans-Atlantic ties.Obama made a last visit as president in November 2016, dining with Merkel at his Berlin hotel. He was back as ex-president a few months later, participating in a public discussion with Merkel and calling her “one of my favorite partners throughout my presidency.”DONALD TRUMPMerkel’s congratulations to Trump after his 2016 election set the tone for much that followed. In a pointed message, she offered “close cooperation” on the basis of shared trans-Atlantic values that she said include respect for human dignity regardless of people’s origin, gender or religion.The former physicist and the former reality TV star were never an obvious personal match but generally kept up appearances when in public together.Merkel’s first visit to the Trump White House in March 2017 produced a famously awkward moment in the Oval Office. Photographers shouted “handshake!” and Merkel quietly asked Trump “do you want to have a handshake?” There was no response from the president, who looked ahead with his hands clasped.Trump never made a bilateral visit to Germany in four years in office, though he did come for the Merkel-hosted Group of 20 summit in Hamburg in 2017.At the 2018 Group of Seven summit in Canada, Merkel’s office released a photo of her leaning on a table in front of Trump, surrounded by other apparently frustrated allied leaders.Merkel’s Germany was a favorite target of Trump’s ire. The president called the NATO ally “delinquent” for failing to spend enough on defense and announced that he was going to pull out about 9,500 of the roughly 34,500 U.S. troops stationed in Germany.Merkel suggested in 2017 that Europe could no longer entirely rely on the U.S. And, speaking at Harvard University in 2019, she said a new generation of leaders must “tear down walls of ignorance” and reject isolationism to overcome global problems.JOE BIDENMerkel greeted Biden’s 2020 election with barely disguised relief, saying he brought decades of experience to the job, that “he knows Germany and Europe well” and citing good memories of previous meetings.In February, she welcomed his first address to a global audience effusively.“Things are looking a great deal better for multilateralism this year than two years ago, and that has a lot to do with Joe Biden having become the president of the United States,” Merkel said.As vice president, Biden had a rapport with Merkel during the Obama presidency, but the two were never particularly close.Seeking to strengthen ties, Biden made a priority of engaging with Merkel in several early videoconference meetings shortly after taking office. He also waived sanctions on the company behind the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, even as he reiterated his preference that Germany abandon the project.Since Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, there hasn’t been much opportunity for in-person interaction. Both attended last month’s G-7 summit in England and NATO summit in Brussels, but Thursday will be their first significant bilateral meeting.Merkel will be the first European leader to visit the White House in the Biden administration.———AP writer Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

Neck rubs, tapped phones: Merkel has history with US leaders

Neck rubs, tapped phones: Merkel has history with US leaders

BERLIN — Neck rubs, pricy dinners, allegations of phone tapping, awkward handshake moments.Angela Merkel has just about seen it all when it comes to U.S. presidents.The German chancellor is making her 19th and likely final official visit to the U.S. on Thursday for a meeting with President Joe Biden — her fourth American president — as she nears the end of her 16-year tenure.Merkel, who turns 67 on Saturday, will be heading into political retirement soon after deciding long ago not to seek a fifth term in Germany’s Sept. 26 election.One of the longest-serving leaders of one of the closest U.S. allies, Merkel is set for a warm welcome when she meets Biden during her first visit to Washington since he took office in January.Still, contentious issues are on the table — notably the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany, which the U.S. has long opposed, and Biden’s efforts to convince European allies to drop objections to intellectual property waivers for sharing COVID-19 vaccines with the developing world.It’s a fitting coda for Merkel’s dealings with American leaders. A look at some of the highs and lows over the years:GEORGE W. BUSHMerkel came to power early in Bush’s second term and set about repairing relations chilled by predecessor Gerhard Schroeder’s vocal opposition to the war in Iraq.She quickly became a close ally, perhaps finding that the way to the president’s heart was through his stomach. During a visit to Merkel’s parliamentary constituency in northeastern Germany in July 2006, Bush couldn’t stop talking about a wild boar roast the chancellor laid on for him.At a Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, a few days later, Bush gave Merkel an impromptu neck-and-shoulder rub that quickly spread across the internet. Merkel hunched her shoulders in surprise, threw her arms up and grimaced, but appeared to smile as Bush walked away. When Merkel visited the White House the following January, Bush promised: “No back rubs.”In November 2007, Bush welcomed Merkel to his Crawford, Texas ranch. “In Texas, when you invite somebody to your home, it’s an expression of warmth and respect and that’s how I feel about Chancellor Merkel,” a jeans-clad Bush said as he greeted Merkel at the property’s helipad and drove her in his pickup to his home.BARACK OBAMAMerkel’s relationship with Obama didn’t have the greatest start. In July 2008, the chancellor squashed the idea of candidate Obama delivering a speech at Berlin’s signature Brandenburg Gate, saying it was a backdrop for speeches by presidents. Obama switched to another Berlin landmark, the Victory Column.Still, the chancellor — who shared Obama’s businesslike manner but, unlike the new president, never had much time for soaring political rhetoric — forged a strong working relationship with him. It appeared to gain personal warmth over time.During Merkel’s 2011 visit to Washington, the two leaders caught dinner at a high-end restaurant, an unusual overture by Obama. A few days later, he hosted Merkel at the White House for a formal state dinner, where he awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. honor bestowed upon civilians.Obama got his chance to speak at the Brandenburg Gate in June 2013. Merkel was there to introduce him.A tough test followed with reports later that year that the U.S. National Security Agency had listened in on German government phones, including Merkel’s. Merkel declared that “spying among friends” was unacceptable. But she didn’t let it cast a lasting shadow over trans-Atlantic ties.Obama made a last visit as president in November 2016, dining with Merkel at his Berlin hotel. He was back as ex-president a few months later, participating in a public discussion with Merkel and calling her “one of my favorite partners throughout my presidency.”DONALD TRUMPMerkel’s congratulations to Trump after his 2016 election set the tone for much that followed. In a pointed message, she offered “close cooperation” on the basis of shared trans-Atlantic values that she said include respect for human dignity regardless of people’s origin, gender or religion.The former physicist and the former reality TV star were never an obvious personal match but generally kept up appearances when in public together.Merkel’s first visit to the Trump White House in March 2017 produced a famously awkward moment in the Oval Office. Photographers shouted “handshake!” and Merkel quietly asked Trump “do you want to have a handshake?” There was no response from the president, who looked ahead with his hands clasped.Trump never made a bilateral visit to Germany in four years in office, though he did come for the Merkel-hosted Group of 20 summit in Hamburg in 2017.At the 2018 Group of Seven summit in Canada, Merkel’s office released a photo of her leaning on a table in front of Trump, surrounded by other apparently frustrated allied leaders.Merkel’s Germany was a favorite target of Trump’s ire. The president called the NATO ally “delinquent” for failing to spend enough on defense and announced that he was going to pull out about 9,500 of the roughly 34,500 U.S. troops stationed in Germany.Merkel suggested in 2017 that Europe could no longer entirely rely on the U.S. And, speaking at Harvard University in 2019, she said a new generation of leaders must “tear down walls of ignorance” and reject isolationism to overcome global problems.JOE BIDENMerkel greeted Biden’s 2020 election with barely disguised relief, saying he brought decades of experience to the job, that “he knows Germany and Europe well” and citing good memories of previous meetings.In February, she welcomed his first address to a global audience effusively.“Things are looking a great deal better for multilateralism this year than two years ago, and that has a lot to do with Joe Biden having become the president of the United States,” Merkel said.As vice president, Biden had a rapport with Merkel during the Obama presidency, but the two were never particularly close.Seeking to strengthen ties, Biden made a priority of engaging with Merkel in several early videoconference meetings shortly after taking office. He also waived sanctions on the company behind the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, even as he reiterated his preference that Germany abandon the project.Since Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, there hasn’t been much opportunity for in-person interaction. Both attended last month’s G-7 summit in England and NATO summit in Brussels, but Thursday will be their first significant bilateral meeting.Merkel will be the first European leader to visit the White House in the Biden administration.———AP writer Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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