The enduring electoral appeal of 'aloof' Angela Merkel in Germany

In the 12 years since she was first elected, through steady pragmatism, with no frills, no stardust, Angela Merkel has become the planet's most powerful woman and Europe's most influential leader.

Against the global trend of political change (or is it because of it?) this uncharismatic, dour scientist-turned-politician has secured another four years as German Chancellor.

In this immigration-sensitive global climate, it is a notable achievement that a leader who allowed in more than a million refugees still manages to secure re-election. It wouldn't happen in many countries. It demonstrates that Germany is still overwhelming a tolerant country.

So what is the secret to her endurance? How has she survived and what makes her tick? How will she deal with Trump and Putin and will she cut the UK some slack over Brexit?

:: German election: Not so boring now, is it?

Two men who know her well are Volker Stanzel and John Kornblum.

Mr Stanzel was Germany's ambassador to China between 2004 and 2007, and oversaw many of Mrs Merkel's visits there. Between 2009 and 2013, he was his country's ambassador to Japan.

Mr Kornblum is a distinguished American diplomat who served as US ambassador to Germany at the time of reunification.

He oversaw the pivotal "tear down this wall" speech by former US president Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987.

With more than 40 years at the forefront of the American diplomatic service in Europe, he is widely regarded as a leading expert on US-European relations. He also counts Mrs Merkel as a friend.

:: On her longevity

Mr Kornblum: "She suits the Germans. The rest of Europe and especially the Americans and the British, if I may say so, tend to misinterpret how the German system works.

"The German public consciousness is not focused on achievement, it's focused on stability. It's focused on predictability, it's focused, if you will, on comfort. She gives them all of those things. She makes the Germans feel good."

Mr Stanzel: "I am pretty sure that she has very concrete ideas about who else would be able to lead Germany, namely no one. Yet she is not obviously a leader, a statesman, stateswoman, because she does not display any intention of being a leader."

Mr Kornblum: "Recently, she has doubled down. She has made herself more stable, more predictable because she knows what the German voter needs, which is stability.

"She's made it through her toughness and through her focus on where she is going."

Mr Stanzel: "Germany is better off now than at any time since reunification in 1990, so why change a situation with which you are satisfied? That explains her success."

:: On her character

Mr Stanzel: "She is approachable, or at least she gives you the impression that she is approachable.

"Yet there is still this kind of coldness in the way she talks to people without which she maybe would not be as successful as she is.

"Aloofness is an important personal characteristic of hers."

Mr Kornblum: "She's got a highly developed sense of focus and responsibility. It was that sense of responsibility which prompted what almost cost her her job." (Her decision to open Germany's borders to refugees).

Mr Stanzel: "You know, of course, the German nickname for her is 'Mutti' - Mum - and I think that catches it extremely well. The traditional mother, at least in a German household, gives you the feeling that you are in control."

Mr Kornblum: "She is actually very engaging and has lots of humour.

"When you sit with her in a small group, she tells jokes, she makes sarcastic comments, she is very lively and humorous.

"She is not at all dour as she often seems."

:: On her vision

Mr Stanzel: "What is her long-term vision? I think the most important objective for her is to avoid damage. She sees risks very clearly; she is a natural scientist. She sees things that can go wrong.

"She has observed a lot of things that have gone wrong - look at international terrorism. And to keep damage contained is a major ambition of hers.

"She knows it's a high ambition given the situation as we have it in the world right now. So - to grasp the moment, to act when it's necessary but only then. I think that is her ambition, her political vision: to avoid damage."

:: On her relationships with other world leaders

Mr Stanzel: "Observing her with other world leaders is something that confounded me and I am fairly sure it confounds her interlocutors too. She is absolutely sober. She doesn't bat an eye.

"You have someone who loses his temper, who enters into a long long discussion about what needs to be done to save the world. And Merkel replies calmly, 'Well, we'll see how it works out'. I'd like to have seen her with Trump, but I've never had the chance."

Mr Kornblum: "Even those leaders who believe they too are focused are not as focused as she is. She is always ready to stick in a little pin or a knife maybe.

"She's already ready to come up with another argument, she is always ready to make a compromise and they are not quite attuned to that. I have seen her with American presidents and she is simply brilliant in such meetings."

Mr Stanzel: "You have strong leaders who are the alpha personality type who usually enjoy having strong people around them, as long as they know they are the ones in command. Not so with Angela Merkel.

"She does not wish to get into controversies with people who patronise her or contradict her. I can't recall ever having seen her snap at anyone and it's hard for me to imagine that."

Mr Kornblum: "With Putin she has been extremely tough, even harsh at times, because she truly despises him I think.

"With Trump, she obviously doesn't like him very much, but she tries to balance him out."

Mr Stanzel: "Putin she's known for a long time. And she's a Russian speaker.

"I think she has a feeling of where he's heading and what kind of damage he can do. She cannot manage someone like Putin, she can only contain the damage."

Mr Kornblum: "She has her principles but she uses them slightly differently with each of these major leaders."

:: On the paradoxes of her success

Mr Stanzel: "She, as a woman becoming the head of a male dominated party; she as an East German becoming the head of the main West German political party; the daughter of a Lutheran minister becoming the head of a Catholic dominated party; even with hindsight it still seems sort of a miracle.

"It really speaks for her great talents. She is one of the most skilful politicians we ever had in Germany, I think."

:: On her hidden ruthlessness

Mr Stanzel: "Not recognising her ruthlessness is a mistake that a lot of former rivals made, rivals who you don't see anymore on the political scene.

"There were a lot of men who thought they would become Chancellor, and it never happened. They were all decapitated."

Mr Kornblum: "She has pushed half a dozen or more potential opponents out of the way; some of them didn't even know they were being pushed out of the way until they woke up."

Stanzel: "No one expected her to act as ruthlessly as she actually did. I think they even now don't really know what happened to them. Former chancellor Kohl, until his death, regarded her as a traitor, for stabbing him in the back."

Mr Stanzel: "The same ruthlessness is evident in international affairs. You look at how she handled the euro crisis.

"The Greeks at one point compared her to Hitler because the way Germany handled the Greek crisis was not satisfactory to a lot of the Greeks, who suffered in the crisis, yet she resolved that crisis in a manner no one had expected.

"She was attacked internationally for austerity polices that would lead to the compete downfall of the southern European countries; she would lead the euro into its biggest crisis - and none of that happened."

:: On Brexit

Mr Kornblum: "She was quite devastated by Brexit because she feels very close to the British. She sees the British as her moderniser for Europe and to lose them is a very big blow to her.

"She has said we have to be careful and we have to be balanced with Britain. Unfortunately, the Brussels people have a totally different point of view."

Mr Stanzel: "What difference will her re-election have on the Brexit negotiations? None at all.

"Brexit is now being managed by Brussels. The result has to be agreed by all 27 member states. Each one has veto power.

"Even with Germany's influence, if any other country feels short-changed, they will veto it. I don't think anything will be changed in the Brexit process."