Theoretical chemist Joachim Sauer is the husband of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, considered by many to be the most powerful woman in the world. She will be meeting U.S. President Donald Trump for the first time since Trump took office in Washington, D.C. on March 17.
Despite being married to the leader of the most populous country in the European Union, Sauer is known to go out of his way to avoid the media and lead a private life. He gets the kind of publicity research scientists aren’t used to. Sauer didn’t even attend Merkel’s swearing in ceremony.
The 67-year-old Sauer and the 62-year-old Merkel do not have any children together, but Sauer does have two sons, Daniel and Adrian, from a previous marriage.
Here’s what you need to know about Sauer.
1. Sauer & Merkel Have Been Married Since 1998
Sauer and Merkel have been married since December 1998. According to Bild, the marriage was so secretive that neither brought their parents or friends. The paper reports that even some of Merekl’s closest confidants learned about the wedding from a newspaper.
It was the second marriage for both of them. Merkel, whose maiden name is Kasner, was previously married to physics student Ulrich Merkel from 1977 to 1982. The name of Sauer’s first wife has not been revealed publicly.
Their marriage might have been politically motivated. According to Reuters, the two first met in 1981 while they were both married to other people. They lived together for a decade before getting married, reportedly under pressure from the church and the Christian Democratic Union. Members of the party thought it might be inappropriate for the leader of Germany’s conservative party to be living with a man for so long and not married.
2. He’s a Professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin
Sauer is currently a professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin, one of the oldest universities in Germany. He was also a chemistry student there from 1967 to 1972 and earning a doctorate in the field in 1974. Three years later, he joined the Academy of Sciences, Central Institute of Physical Chemistry.
As Reuters points out, Sauer wasn’t able to leave the Soviet bloc until 1989 because he wasn’t a member of the Communist Party. When he was finally allowed to leave, he went to San Diego for a year to work for BIOSYM Technologies. Around that time, his future wife was just leaving the science field to get into politics.
In 1992, he returned to Humboldt. He’s also a member of the Max Planck Society.
3. He’s on the Board of Trustees for the Friede Springer Foundation
Sauer is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Friede Springer Foundation. He’s one of seven members of the board, which also includes former German President Horst Köhler.
The foundation was created by Horst Köhler, the widow of publisher Alex Pringer and the current owner of Europe’s largest newspaper, Bild. She’s also one of the richest people in Germany with an estimated net worth of $4.1 billion, Forbes reports. After her husband died, Springer founded several charities, including the non-profit foundation and the Friede Springer Heart Foundation.
4. His Bad Temper Was Seen as a Threat to Her Becoming Chancellor
Sauer’s last name literally translates to “sour” in English and he reportedly has a demeanor to match. He is very guarded about his life and reportedly threatened his students with expulsion if they said anything to the media about him.
The Telegraph reported in 2005 that Sauer’s bad temper was so well-known that some feared it would ruin Merkel’s chance to become Chancellor. Of course it didn’t, since she’s been leading Germany for over a decade now.
But others dispute this portrait of Sauer. “He has a nice, sarcastic, English sense of humour,” a spokesman for Merkel told the Telegraph in 2005.
“The clichés that circulate in the German media about Joachim Sauer are a total fallacy,” Reinhold Messner, a mountain climber who is friends with Sauer, told Reuters. “The fact is that he’s his own man. He’s witty, he’s profound, he can be incredibly funny, and he’s an extremely bright guy. He’s an ideal counterpart to the Chancellor.”
5. He’s a Devoted Richard Wagner Fan
Sauer is a well-known opera fan and particularly enjoys Richard Wagner. Express reports that he’s even earned the nickname “Phantom of the Opera” because he attends the Bayreuth music festival every year.
When a reporter tried to ask him a question at the event in 2005, he replied, “I’m not going to say anything for your microphone.”
Sauer rarely goes to official events, although he was seen at the 2015 G7 summit in Japan with Merkel. He also made the trip to Washington in 2011, when President Barack Obama presented Merkel with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.