After rolling out the welcome mat in September for Syrian refugees streaming into Europe, to the alarm of many European leaders who were not consulted, she has now gambled on a last-minute deal with Turkey to stop the migrant flow.
Whether that tentative bargain - improvised in the middle of the night a week before German regional elections in which her party faces losses - will turn out to be a breakthrough or a landmine in the migrant crisis remains to be seen.
Reaction at home to Merkel's Turkish gamble has been mixed. Top-selling Bild newspaper welcomed the deal with the headline "Ball in Turkey's court", but some of her own conservative lawmakers object to giving Turks visa-free travel in exchange.
German officials say it was Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who surprised everyone by arriving at a meeting with Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Brussels on Sunday night with a bold plan offering to take back all migrants who cross into Europe in return for political and economic rewards.
Merkel immediately sensed that the deal could "change the whole dynamic", a German official said, adding that the gains would far outweigh concessions the EU would make in return.
Davutoglu's price was a doubling of European money to keep Syrian refugees in Turkey, faster visa liberalization for Turks and accelerated EU membership talks for Ankara.
European Union diplomats and officials in Brussels were flabbergasted by the proposal sprung on them at a summit on Monday, with some irritated at having been kept in the dark during the preparations.
"Ask Mrs Merkel," one responded when asked how the idea of sending back all migrants, including Syrian refugees, to Turkey was compatible with international law.
Note EU-Digest: if you like her or not, Mrs. Merkel is sticking "head-and-shoulders" above just about any European political leader, if not, probably also most Global leaders, when it comes to long-term vision.
Read more: Merkel's Turkish gamble: breakthrough or landmine in migrant crisis? | Reuters