"The situation is serious. Take it seriously. Not since German reunification, no, not since the Second World War has our country faced a challenge that depends so much on our collective solidarity," Merkel said in a televised address on Wednesday.
In her dramatic appeal, Merkel called on every single German citizen to heed sweeping confinement measures and play a part in slowing down the novel virus that has struck the entire world and triggered unprecedented peace-time lockdowns.
"I truly believe we can succeed in this task, if all citizens truly understand their own tasks," she added.
Merkel, who hails from Germany's former communist East, said she understood how hard it was to give up "hard-fought rights" like freedom of movement and travel.
Such decisions were never taken lightly in a democracy, she said, and could only be temporary. "But they are necessary right now to save lives."
Merkel’s televised speech was particularly significant as she had never taken to the airwaves to address citizens directly outside of traditional New Year's greetings despite having faced blows like the 2008 financial crisis, the 2015 refugee crisis and Brexit during her 15-year service.
Merkel's historic speech echoed that of French President Emmanuel Macron, who in a somber address on Monday likened the outbreak to war after ordering almost the entire population to stay at home for at least two weeks.