Konrad Adenauer anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reached across the Iron Curtain. Helmut Kohl, her onetime mentor, became synonymous with German unity. Gerhard Schröder paved the way for the country’s economic success.

Ms. Merkel’s legacy is less tangible but equally transformative. She changed Germany into a modern society — and a country less defined by its history.

She may be remembered most for her decision to welcome over a million refugees in 2015-16 when most other Western nations rejected them. It was a brief redemptive moment for the country that had committed the Holocaust and turned her into an icon of liberal democracy.

“It was a sort of healing,” said Karin Marré-Harrak, the headmaster of a high school in the multicultural city of Offenbach. “In a way we’ve become a more normal country.”

lingering inequality between East and West three decades after reunification is still evident, even though taxpayers’ money has flowed east and things have gradually improved. With the government planning to phase out coal production by 2038, billions more in funding are promised to help compensate for the job losses.

But as Mike Balzke, a worker at the nearby coal plant in Jänschwalde, put it: “We don’t want money — we want a future.”

Mr. Balzke recalled his optimism when Ms. Merkel first became chancellor. Because she was an easterner and a scientist, he expected her to be an ambassador for the East — and for coal.

Instead, his village lost a quarter of its population during her chancellorship. A promised train line from Forst to Berlin was never built. The post office shut down.

Mr. Balzke, 41, worries that the region will turn into a wasteland.

That anxiety runs deep. And it deepened again with the arrival of refugees in 2015.

was up in arms, but only a decade later, it has become the new normal.

Ms. Merkel never backed same-sex marriage outright, but she allowed lawmakers to vote for it, knowing that it would go through.

Mr. Winkler left the party again in 2019 after Ms. Merkel’s successor as conservative leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, disparaged same-sex marriage. But he acknowledged his debt to the chancellor.

On June 30, 2017, the day of the vote, he wrote her a letter.

“It is a pity that you could not support opening marriage to same-sex couples,” he wrote. “Still, thank you that you ultimately made today’s decision possible.”

Then he invited her to visit his family, “to see for yourself.”

She never replied. But he and his family used to live just around the corner from Ms. Merkel, who never gave up her apartment in central Berlin. They would see her occasionally in the supermarket checkout line.

“There she was with toilet paper in her basket, going shopping like everyone else,” Mr. Winkler’s partner, Roland Mittermayer, recalled. Even after 16 years, they are still trying to figure the chancellor out.

“She is an enigma,” Mr. Winkler said. “She’s a bit like the queen — someone who has been around for a long time, but you never feel you really know her.”

Six hours northwest of Berlin, past endless green fields dotted with wind farms and a 40-minute ferry ride off the North Sea coast, lies Pellworm, a sleepy island where the Backsen family has been farming since 1703.

Two years ago, they took Ms. Merkel’s government to court for abandoning its carbon-dioxide emission targets under the Paris climate accord. They lost, but then tried again, filing a complaint at the constitutional court.

This time they won.

“It’s about freedom,” said Sophie Backsen, 23, who would like to take over her father’s farm one day.

Sophie’s younger brothers, Hannes, 19, and Paul, 21, will vote for the first time on Sunday. Like 42 percent of first-time voters, they will vote for the Greens.

“If you look at how our generation votes, it’s the opposite of what you see in the polls,” Paul said. “The Greens would be running the country.”

Pellworm is flush with the sea level and in parts even below it. Without a dike ringing the coastline, it would flood regularly.

“When you have permanent rain for three weeks, the island fills up like a bath tub inside the dikes,” Hannes said.

The prospect of rising sea levels is an existential threat here. “This is one of the most important elections,” Hannes said. “It’s the last chance really to get it right.”

“If not even a country like Germany can manage this,” he added, “what chance do we stand?”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

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In Poland, an L.G.B.T.Q. Migration As Homophobia Deepens

For months, government ministers spewed vicious rhetoric about gay people. Trucks blasted anti-gay hate messages from loudspeakers on the streets of Poland’s cities.

Finally fed up with an increasingly hostile environment for gay people in Poland under the governing Law and Justice party, Marta Malachowska, a 31-year-old who works in social media, decided to move to Berlin with her girlfriend in December.

“Last year the situation became too much for me,” Ms. Malachowska said, adding that she had suffered a nervous breakdown during the country’s presidential election last summer when anti-L.G.B.T.Q. rhetoric engaged in by the governing party became especially shrill in an effort to appeal to socially conservative voters. The final straw came when a close friend was assaulted because of her sexual orientation, she said.

Arriving in Berlin, she knew she had made the right choice.

“The first thing I saw was a giant rainbow flag hanging across the street from our flat,” she said. “I take my girlfriend’s hand when we walk in the street, without thinking.” She added: “Back in Poland, there was always this fear inside me. Here, literally no one cares.”

People have for decades left Poland looking for opportunities elsewhere in Europe — an exodus that grew after the country joined the European Union in 2004. But now their numbers are being added to by gay people fleeing an increasingly hostile environment in Poland.

According to a 2020 survey by ILGA-Europe, an international gay rights organization, Poland now ranks as the most homophobic country in the European Union. Activists say that violence against gay people in Poland surged last year, and included cases of physical violence, insults and the destruction of property.

Its hard to know how many gay people there are in Poland, or how many are leaving. There is no polling on their views or preferences. And since they are unable to form civil unions, gay couples are practically invisible in official terms. The law does not recognize sexual orientation or gender as motivations for hate crimes, either.

“This is not an accident,” said Jacek Dehnel, a writer who originally moved to Berlin for a literary scholarship with his husband, and decided to stay for good after watching what he called last summer’s “vicious” presidential campaign. “If there are no statistics, there is no problem.”

But anecdotally, especially within the country’s well-educated gay urban communities, there are many stories of young L.G.B.T.Q. professionals emigrating.

Piotr Grabarczyk, a 31-year-old journalist, left Poland for Barcelona with his boyfriend last July, attracted by Spain’s more liberal way of life.

Originally from a small town in northern Poland, he described his childhood as one of “complete loneliness and alienation — the internet was my only escape.”

“When I found out gay marriage in Spain had been legal since 2005, it knocked me off my feet,” he said. “I was 16 in 2005. My life would have been so different if I lived in such a country.”

As he was preparing to leave Poland, a cardboard box filled with rainbow T-shirts, leaflets and educational books that he left outside his home in an upscale gated community in Warsaw was defaced with the message “BURN LGBT!”

“I realized it must have been one of my neighbors,” he said. “We probably saw each other in the staircase, said hello.”

He said he received many messages from people across Poland, “who would like to leave for the same reasons as us, but cannot because of money, family, or their career choices.”

Homosexuality has long been taboo in Poland, where the Roman Catholic Church, which plays a prominent role in the country’s social and political life, has worked hand in hand with the government to promote a conservative way of life.

The church, which is particularly powerful in rural areas, has adopted an actively hostile attitude toward gay people. Mr. Dehnel, the writer who moved to Berlin last year, said it was “the driving force of hate” toward the gay community.

Responding to a request for comment, the Catholic Church pointed to an official document outlining its position, stating that homosexual “inclinations” did not constitute “moral guilt,” but homosexual acts did. It declined to comment on hate speech employed by priests, and the accusation that they were contributing to the general deterioration of the safety of gay people in Poland.

Marek Jedraszewski, Poland’s archbishop, has described L.G.B.T.Q. people as an “ideology,” calling it a “rainbow pest.”

The Law and Justice party, which has been in power since 2015, has whipped up its base by waging hate campaigns, first centering around migrants, and later the L.G.B.T.Q. community. Neither the government nor the president responded to requests for comment.

In April 2019 Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the chairman of the Law and Justice party and Poland’s de facto leader, called homosexuality a “threat to Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence, and thus to the Polish state.”

Mr. Kaczynski’s message was amplified by the state-owned news media and other government figures, including local politicians.

“We should defend families from this type of corruption, depravation, absolutely immoral behavior,” Przemyslaw Czarnek, a Law and Justice deputy, who has been promoted to the position of education minister, said in an interview with the public broadcaster last year. “These people are not equal to normal people.”

Trucks funded by ultraconservative organizations have roamed the country, blaring slogans from speakers accusing gay people of pedophilia. There have been increasing cases of violence during pride marches, and against individuals.

In one incident in a village in southern Poland, a young gay man was harassed by neighbors hurling homophobic abuse at him, and one tried to poison his dog. In March 2021, another gay man was verbally attacked and then stabbed for holding hands with his partner in Warsaw.

As a gay person in Poland, Mr. Grabarczyk, the journalist who moved to Barcelona, said that psychological violence was “an everyday experience” for him.

“You are constantly reminded that you will never get the same rights as everyone else, that you are not an equal citizen,” he said.

Emboldened by the narrative coming from the country’s top officials, nearly 100 local governments declared themselves “free from L.G.B.T. ideology,” making gay Poles feel unwelcome in their own towns.

The legal status of L.G.B.T.Q. people in Poland has not changed under the rule of the Law and Justice party. They never had the right to enter civil partnerships or get married. But what changed was the viciousness of the rhetoric at the highest echelons of government and in the state-controlled news media, activists say.

And policy could yet change. In a bid to get re-elected last year, President Andrzej Duda signed a draft law that would amend the Constitution to ban adoptions by gay people.

Before Ms. Malachowska, the social media specialist, moved to Berlin, she was concerned about the practical implications of the legal limbo she and her girlfriend would be in if they stayed in Poland. There, they would not be considered next of kin in a medical emergency, or be able to inherit from each other.

In Poland, she also began to get emotionally attached to the idea of marrying her partner.

“We already checked how to do it in Berlin, and I started visualizing how it would look like — the first time in my life I dared to even imagine that,” she said.

While she is happy to be in Berlin, she is sad that her grandmother still doesn’t know about her sexual orientation. “I told her I am moving to Berlin with my flatmate,” she said. “It feels awful to lie to my closest family.”

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Japan Court Backs Same-Sex Marriage. Laws Still Block It.

TOKYO — A Japanese court on Wednesday ruled that the country’s failure to recognize same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, a landmark decision that could be an important step toward legalizing the unions across the nation.

The ruling, handed down by a district court in the northern city of Sapporo, came in a civil suit against the Japanese government by three same-sex couples. The lack of recognition of their unions, they said, had unfairly cut them off from services and benefits accorded to married couples, and they sought damages of around $9,000 per person.

The couples argued that the government’s failure to recognize same-sex unions violated the constitutional guarantee of equality under the law and the prohibition against discrimination regardless of sex.

The court agreed, writing in its decision that laws or regulations that deprived gay couples of the legal benefits of marriage constituted “discriminatory treatment without a rational basis.”

almost 80 percent of respondents 60 and under said they supported the unions.

Even the country’s notoriously rigid business community has begun to embrace the notion of marriage equality, marketing products to gay couples and improving protections for employees.

On the individual level, however, many gay people are still hesitant to come out because of fears of discrimination from a society that is infamous for its often intense pressure to conform.

For the plaintiffs, Wednesday morning was an emotional roller coaster. The first headlines about the decision highlighted the court’s rejection of the compensation claims, provoking a moment of deep anxiety, one of the plaintiffs, Ryosuke Kunimi, told a news conference later in the day.

But when he saw the rest of the decision, he said, “I couldn’t stop my tears.”

Same-sex couples have long felt that “discrimination was natural, that there was nothing we could do about it,” he said, adding that the court decision clearly showed “that’s not true.”

The couples filed their suit in February 2019 as part of a broader national campaign to pressure the Japanese government into recognizing same-sex marriage. An additional 10 couples filed similar suits on the same day in three other courts across the country, and another couple later filed a similar suit in the city of Fukuoka. Rulings in those cases are expected later this year.

Wednesday’s ruling is likely to have a positive impact on the outcomes of those cases, Takeharu Kato, one of the lawyers representing the couples, told reporters.

The other suits were argued using nearly identical language to the one heard in Sapporo, he said, adding that “naturally, we will submit the ruling to other courts as evidence.”

In the meantime, the plaintiffs’ legal team plans to appeal the court’s decision to deny compensation, Mr. Kato said, adding that “we want to keep up pressure on the government.”

While the couples said they were pleased by Wednesday’s decision, they voiced caution about the road ahead. The ruling may face legal challenges. Ultimately, they will need Parliament to drop its longstanding opposition.

Campaigners will continue pursuing the case “until the Supreme Court,” said Makiko Terahara, a director of Marriage for All Japan, a nonprofit organization that has taken the lead on the marriage equality cases.

At the same time, she said, the campaign will step up pressure on Parliament “to amend the law to allow same-sex marriage as soon as possible.”

Lawmakers “are obligated to respect the Constitution,” Ms. Terahara added. They “cannot allow the current situation, which is clearly in violation of the Constitution, to continue.”

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Vatican Says Priests Can’t Bless Same-Sex Unions

ROME — The Vatican said on Monday that priests could not bless same-sex unions, calling any such blessing “not licit.”

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, issued the judgment in response to questions raised by some pastors and parishes that sought to be more welcoming and inclusive of gay couples.

In an explicatory note signed by the prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Luis F. Ladaria, the congregation said that Pope Francis had “given his consent to the decision.”

The ruling said that the church should be welcoming toward gay people, but not their unions. Catholic teaching holds that marriage between a man and woman is part of God’s plan, and since gay unions are not intended to be part of that plan, they cannot be blessed by the church.

should have legal protection, but only in the civil sphere, and he has continued to oppose gay marriage.

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