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Helmut Josef Michael Kohl (born 3 April 1930) is a German conservative politician and statesman. He was Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998 (of West Germanymarker between 1982 and 1990 and of a reunited Germany between 1990 and 1998) and the chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from 1973 to 1998. His 16-year tenure was the longest of any German chancellor since Otto von Bismarck and oversaw the end of the Cold War and the German reunification. Kohl is widely regarded as one of the main architects of the German reunification and, together with French President François Mitterrand, the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union.

Kohl and François Mitterrand were the joint recipients of the Karlspreis in 1988. In 1998, Kohl was named Honorary Citizen of Europe by the European heads of state or government for his extraordinary work for European integration and cooperation, an honour previously only bestowed on Jean Monnetmarker. In 1996 he won the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award in International Cooperation

Kohl has been described as "the greatest European leader of the second half of the 20th century" by U.S. President George H. W. Bush.



Kohl was born in Ludwigshafen am Rheinmarker (at the time part of Bavariamarker, now in Rheinland-Pfalzmarker) Germanymarker, to Cäcilie (née Schnur; 1890–1979) and her husband Hans Kohl (1887–1975), a civil servant. He was the third child born into this conservative, Roman Catholic family which, before and after 1933, remained loyal to the Catholic Centre Party. His older brother died in the Second World War as a teenage soldier. In the last weeks of the war, Helmut 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 Mainmarker. In 1951, he switched to the University of Heidelbergmarker where he majored in History and Political Science. In 1953, he joined the board of the Rhineland-Palatinatemarker branch of the CDU. In 1954, he became vice-chair of the Junge Union in Rhineland-Palatinatemarker. 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 Heidelbergmarker 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 of Rhineland-Palatinatemarker and served as leader of the CDU party in that legislature. From 1966 until 1973, he served as the chair of the CDU, 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.

Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate

Helmut Kohl, 1969
On 19 May 1969, Kohl was elected minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinatemarker, as the successor to Peter Altmeier. During his term as minister-president, Kohl founded the University of Trier-Kaiserlauternmarker and enacted territorial reform. Also in 1969, Kohl became the vice-chair of the federal CDU party.

In 1971, he was a candidate to become chairman of the federal CDU, but was not elected. Rainer Barzel remained in the position instead. In 1972, Barzel attempted to force a cabinet crisis in the SPD/FDP government, which failed, leading him to step down. In 1973, Kohl succeeded him as federal chairman; he retained this position until 1998.

The 1976 Bundestag election

In the 1976 federal election, Kohl was the CDU/CSU's candidate for chancellor. The CDU/CSU coalition performed very well, winning 48.6% of the vote. However they were kept out of government by the centre-left cabinet formed by the Social Democratic Party of Germany and Free Democratic Party , led by Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt. Kohl then retired as minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate to become the leader of the CDU/CSU in the Bundestagmarker. He was succeeded by Bernhard Vogel.

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 Bavariamarker. 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 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 allowedPresident 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 Courtmarker as a legal instrument and was again applied (by SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his Green allies) in 2005.

The second cabinet

In the federal elections of March 1983, Kohl won a smashing victory. The CDU/CSU won 48.8%, while the FDP won 7.0%. Some opposition members of the Bundestag asked the Federal constitutional courtmarker to declare the whole proceedings unconstitutional. It denied their claim.

The second Kohl cabinet pushed through several controversial plans, including the stationing of NATOmarker midrange missiles, against major opposition from the peace movement.

On 24 January 1984, Kohl spoke before the Israelimarker Knessetmarker, as the first Chancellor of the post-war generation. In his speech, he used Günter Gaus' famous sentence, that he had "the mercy of a late birth".

On 22 September 1984 Kohl met the French president François Mitterrand at Verdunmarker, where the Battle of Verdunmarker between France and Germany had taken place duringWorld 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 and Arte. 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 Bonnmarker, the pair visited Bergen-Belsenmarker concentration camp on 5 May, and more controversially the German military cemetery in Bitburgmarker, discovered to hold 49 members of the Waffen-SS buried there.

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 be 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.

The third cabinet

After the federal elections of 1987 Kohl won a slightly reduced majority and formed his third cabinet. The SPD's candidate for chancellor was the Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphaliamarker, Johannes Rau.

In 1987, Kohl received East Germanmarker leader Erich Honecker - the first ever visit by an East German head of state to West Germany. This is generally seen as a sign that Kohl pursued Ostpolitik, a policy of détente between East and West that had been begun by the SPD-led governments (and strongly opposed by Kohl's own CDU) during the 1970s. Following the breach of the Berlin Wallmarker in 1989, Kohl's handling of the East German issue would become the turning point of his chancellorship.

The road to reunification

Taking advantage of the historic political changes occurring in East Germany, Kohl presented a ten point plan for "Overcoming of the division of Germany and Europe" without consulting his coalition partner, the FDP, or the Western Allies. In February 1990, he visited the Soviet Union seeking a guarantee from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that the USSR would allow German reunification to proceed. On 18 May 1990, he signed an economic and social union treaty with East Germany. Against the will of the president of the German federal bank, he allowed a 1:1 exchange rate for wages, interest and rent between the West and East Marks. In the end, this policy would seriously hurt companies in the new federal states. Together with Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Kohl was able to resolve talks with the former Allies of World War II to allow German reunification and the expansion of the NATO into the former East German state. On 3 October 1990, the East German state was abolished and its territory reunified with West Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall Kohl, confirmed that historically German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line were definitively part of the Republic of Polandmarker, thereby finally ending the West Germanmarker territorial claims. In 1993, Kohl confirmed, in a treaty with the Czech Republicmarker, that Germany would no longer bring forward territorial claims as to the pre-1945 ethnic German so-called Sudetenland. This was a disappointment for the German Heimatvertriebene, displaced persons.

Chancellor of reunified Germany

Helmut Kohl in 1990.
After the 1990 elections the first free, fair and democratic all-German elections since the Weimar Republicmarker era Kohl won by a landslide over opposition candidate and Minister-President of Saarlandmarker, Oskar Lafontaine. He formed the Cabinet Kohl IV.

After the federal elections of 1994 Kohl was narrowly re-elected. He defeated the Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate Rudolf Scharping. The SPD was however able to win a majority in the Bundesratmarker, which significantly limited Kohl's power. In foreign politics, Kohl was more successful, for instance getting Frankfurt am Mainmarker as the seat for the European Central Bankmarker. In 1997, Kohl received the Vision for Europe Award for his efforts in the unification of Europe.

By the late 1990s, the aura surrounding Kohl had largely worn off amid rising unemployment. He was heavily defeated in the 1998 federal elections by the Minister-President of Lower Saxonymarker, Gerhard Schröder.

Retirement and legal troubles

A red-green coalition government led by Schröder replaced Kohl's government on 27 October 1998. He immediately resigned as CDU leader and largely retired from politics. However, he remained a member of the Bundestag until he decided not to run for reelection in the 2002 election.

CDU finance affair

Kohl's life after politics was characterized by the CDU-party finance scandal and by developments in his personal life.

A party financing scandal became public in 1999, when it was discovered that the CDU had received and maintained illegal funding under his leadership.

Investigations by the Bundestag into the sources of illegal CDU funds, mainly stored in Geneva bank accounts, revealed two sources. One was the sale of German tanks to Saudi Arabiamarker (kickback question), while the other was the privatization fraud in collusion with the late French President François Mitterrand who wanted 2,550 unused allotments in the former East Germany for the then French owned Elf Aquitaine. In December 1994 the CDU majority in the Bundestag enacted a law that nullified all rights of the current owners. Over 300 million DM in illegal funds were discovered in accounts in the canton Geneva. The fraudulently acquired allotments were then privatized as part of Elf Aquitaine and ended up with TotalFinaElf, now Total S.A., after amalgamation.

Kohl himself claimed that Elf Aquitaine had offered (and meanwhile made) a massive investment in East Germany's chemical industry together with the takeover of 2,000 gas stations in Germany which were formerly owned by national oil company Minol. Elf Aquitaine is supposed to have financed CDU illegally, as ordered by Mitterrand, as it was usual practice in African countries.

Kohl and other German and French politicians defended themselves that they were promoting reconciliation and cooperation between France and Germany for the sake of European integration and peace, and that they had no personal motives for accepting foreign party funding.

These scandal matters are still under investigation. The German-Canadianmarker businessman Karlheinz Schreiber, a longtime associate of Kohl's late CSU political rival Franz Josef Strauß, is wanted by Bavarian prosecutors on charges of fraud and corruption, but Schreiber has been fighting extradition from Canada to Germany for more than eight years, since the summer of 1999. Schreiber who is freed on bail in Canada as of April, 2008, filed an affidavit implicating former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, another business associate of his. The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called on 13 November 2007, for a public inquiry to probe Schreiber's statements.

Life after politics

In 2002, Kohl left the Bundestag and officially retreated from politics. In recent years, Kohl has been largely rehabilitated by his party again. After taking office, Angela Merkel invited her former patron to the Chancellor's Office and Ronald Pofalla, the Secretary-General of the CDU, announced that the CDU will cooperate more closely with Kohl, "to take advantage of the experience of this great statesman", as Pofalla put it. However, Kohl has retreated from public life to a far greater extent than his predecessor Helmut Schmidt.

On 5 July 2001, Hannelore Kohl, his wife, committed suicide, after suffering from photodermatitis for years. On 4 March 2004, he published the first of his memoirs, called "Memories 1930–1982", covering the period 1930 to 1982, when he became chancellor. The second part, published on 3 November 2005, included the first half of his chancellorship (from 1982 to 1990). On 28 December 2004, Kohl was air-lifted by the Sri Lankanmarker Air Force, after having been stranded in a hotel by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquakemarker.

He is a member of the Club of Madrid.

As reported in the German press, he also gave his name to the soon-to-be launched Helmut Kohl Centre for European Studies (currently 'Centre for European Studies'), which is the new political foundation of the European People's Party.

In April 2008, Kohl was reported to be in intensive care due to a falling accident earlier in the year, and incapable of speaking. Subsequent to his recovery, he married his 43-year-old partner, Maike Richter, on 8 May 2008.

Political views

Kohl had strong, although complex and somewhat ambiguous political views, focusing on economic matters and on international politics.

Economically, Kohl's political views and policies were influenced by Ronald Reagan's and Margaret Thatcher's capitalistic beliefs like reform of the welfare state and lowering taxation.

In international politics Kohl was committed to European integration, maintaining close relations with the French president Mitterrand. Parallel to this he was committed to German Reunification. Although he continued the Ostpolitik of his social-democratic predecessor, Kohl also supported Reagan's more aggressive policies in order to weaken the USSRmarker.

Public perception

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 pear in the left leaning satirical journal Titanic. The German expression Birne became a widespread nickname and symbol for the Kanzler.

The public ridicule subsided as Kohl's political star began to rise: as the leader of European integration and an important figure in the German reunification. Kohl became one of the most popular politicians in Germany and a greatly respected European statesman.



  1. Helmut Kohl
  2. Time, Helmut Kohl, by George H. W. Bush
  3. Hans Traxler wird 80, Der Erfinder der "Birne" (Hans Traxler 80, the inventor of the pear) Taz 20.05.2009
  4. Birne auf Breitwand, Dreharbeiten zu "Helmut Kohl - Der Film" (The pear in Cinemascope - Shooting of Helmut Kohl - the film) Sueddeutsche Zeitung 05.10.2008, 15:40

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