|Helmut Kohl – Chancellor of Germany (1982–1998) and architect of German Reunification
Kohl was born in Ludwigshafen am Rhein
(at the time part of Bavaria
, now in Rhineland-Palatinate
, the third child of Cäcilie (née
Schnur; 1890–1979) and her husband Hans Kohl (1887–1975), a civil servant. His family was conservative and Roman Catholic, and remained loyal to the Catholic Centre Party
before and after 1933. His older brother died in the Second World War
as a teenage soldier. In the last weeks of the war, Kohl was also drafted, but he was not involved in any combat.
Kohl attended the Ruprecht elementary school, and continued at the Max-Planck-Gymnasium. In 1946, he joined the recently founded CDU
. In 1947, he was one of the co-founders of the Junge Union
-branch in Ludwigshafen. After graduating in 1950, he began to study law in Frankfurt am Main
. In 1951, he switched to the University of Heidelberg
where he majored in History and Political Science
. In 1953, he joined the board of the Rhineland-Palatinate
branch of the CDU. In 1954, he became vice-chair of the Junge Union in Rhineland-Palatinate
. In 1955, he returned to the board of the Rhineland-Palatinate branch of the CDU.
Life before politics
After graduating in 1956 he became fellow at the Alfred Weber Institute of the University of Heidelberg
where he was an active member of the student society AIESEC
. In 1958, he received his doctorate degree for his thesis “The Political Developments in the Palatinate and the Reconstruction of Political Parties after 1945”. After that, he entered business, first as an assistant to the director of a foundry in Ludwigshafen and, in 1959, as a manager for the Industrial Union for Chemistry in Ludwigshafen. In this year, he also became chair of the Ludwigshafen branch of the CDU. In the following year, he married Hannelore Renner
, whom he had known since 1948, and they had two sons.
Early political career
In 1960, he was elected into the municipal council of Ludwigshafen where he served as leader of the CDU party until 1969. In 1963, he was also elected into the Landtag
and served as leader of the CDU party in that legislature. From 1966 until 1973, he served as the chair of the CDU’s state branch, and he was also a member of the Federal CDU board. After his election as party-chair, he was named as the successor to Peter Altmeier, who was minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate at the time. However, after the Landtag-election which followed, Altmeier remained minister-president.
The 1976 Bundestag election
Leader of the opposition
In the 1980 federal elections
, Kohl had to play second fiddle, when CSU-leader Franz Josef Strauß
became the CDU/CSU’s candidate for chancellor. Strauß was also unable to defeat the SPD/FDP alliance. Unlike Kohl, Strauß did not want to continue as the leader of the CDU/CSU and remained Minister-President of Bavaria
. Kohl remained as leader of the opposition, under the third Schmidt cabinet (1980–82).
On 17 September 1982, a conflict of economic policy occurred between the governing SPD/FDP coalition partners. The FDP wanted to radically liberalise the labour market, while the SPD preferred to guarantee the employment of those who already had jobs. The FDP began talks with the CDU/CSU to form a new government.
Chancellor of West Germany
Rise to power
On 1 October 1982, the CDU proposed a constructive vote of no confidence
which was supported by the FDP. The motion carried, and, on 4 October, the Bundestag voted in a new CDU/CSU-FDP coalition cabinet
, with Kohl as the chancellor. Many of the important details of the new coalition had been hammered out on 20 September, though minor details were reportedly still being hammered out as the vote took place.
Though Kohl’s election was done according to the Basic Law
, some voices criticized the move as the FDP had fought its 1980 campaign on the side of the SPD and even placed Chancellor Schmidt on some of their campaign posters. Some voices went as far as denying that the new government had the support of a majority of the people. To answer this question, the new government aimed at new elections at the earliest possible date.
Since the Basic Law is restrictive on the dissolution of parliament, Kohl had to take another controversial move: he called for a confidence vote only a month after being sworn in, in which members of his coalition abstained. The ostensibly negative result for Kohl then allowed President Karl Carstens
to dissolve the Bundestag in January 1983.
The move was controversial as the coalition parties denied their votes to the same man they had elected Chancellor a month before and whom they wanted to re-elect after the parliamentary election. However, this step was condoned by the German Federal Constitutional Court
as a legal instrument and was again applied (by SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder
and his Green
allies) in 2005.
The second cabinet
The second Kohl cabinet
pushed through several controversial plans, including the stationing of NATO
midrange missiles, against major opposition from the peace movement.
On 24 January 1984, Kohl spoke before the Israeli Knesset
, as the first Chancellor of the post-war generation. In his speech, he used liberal journalist Günter Gaus’ famous sentence that he had “the mercy of a late birth” (“Gnade der späten Geburt”).
On 22 September 1984 Kohl met the French president François Mitterrand
, where the Battle of Verdun
between France and Germany had taken place during World War I. Together, they commemorated the deaths of both World Wars. The photograph, which depicted their minutes long handshake became an important symbol of French-German reconciliation. Kohl and Mitterrand developed a close political relationship, forming an important motor for European integration
. Together, they laid the foundations for European projects, like Eurocorps
. This French-German cooperation also was vital for important European projects, like the Treaty of Maastricht
and the Euro.
In 1985, Kohl and US President Ronald Reagan
, as part of a plan to observe the 40th anniversary of V-E Day
, saw an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of the friendship that existed between Germany and its former foe. During a November 1984 visit to the White House, Kohl appealed to Reagan to join him in symbolizing the reconciliation of their two countries at a German military cemetery. As Reagan visited Germany as part of the G6
conference in Bonn
, the pair visited Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
on 5 May, and more controversially the German military cemetery in Bitburg
, discovered to hold 49 members of the Waffen-SS
In 1986, more controversy was caused by an essay published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
on 25 April 1986 entitled “Land Without A History” written by one of Kohl’s advisors, the historian Michael Stürmer
, in which Stürmer argued that West Germany lacked a history to be proud of, and called for effort on the part of the government, historians and the media to build national pride in German history. Though Stürmer insisted that he was writing on behalf of himself and not in an official capacity as the Chancellor’s advisor, many left-wing intellectuals claimed that Stürmer’s essay also expressed Kohl’s views.
Kohl faced stiff opposition from the West German political left and was as well mocked upon for his provincial background, physical stature and simple language. Similar to historical French cartoons of Louis-Philippe of France
, Hans Traxler
depicted Kohl as a pear
in the left leaning satirical journal Titanic
The German expression Birne
(“pear”) became a widespread nickname and symbol for the Chancellor.
Kohl became one of the most popular politicians in some regions of Eastern Germany and a greatly respected European statesman.
In 1988, Kohl and Mitterrand received the Karlspreis
for his contribution to Franco-German friendship and European Union.
In 1996, Kohl received an award for his humanitarian achievements from the Jewish organisation B’nai B’rith
Kohl is honorary citizen of both Frankfurt am Main
and Berlin. On 2 September 2005, he was made an honorary citizen of his home town, Ludwigshafen