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Willy Brandt, born Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm (18 December 1913 - 8 October 1992), was a Germanmarker politician, Chancellor of West Germanymarker 1969‚Äď1974, and leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) 1964‚Äď1987.

Brandt's most important legacy is Ostpolitik, a policy aimed at improving relations with East Germanymarker, Polandmarker, and the Soviet Unionmarker. This policy caused considerable controversy in West Germany, but won Brandt the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

In 1974, Brandt was forced to resign as Chancellor after G√ľnter Guillaume, one of his closest aides, was exposed as an agent of the Stasi, the East Germanmarker secret police.

Early life, the war

Willy Brandt was born Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm in L√ľbeckmarker, Germanymarker to Martha Frahm, an unwed mother who worked as a cashier for a department store. His father was an accountant from Hamburg by the name of John M√∂ller, whom Brandt never met. As his mother was working six days a week he was mainly brought up by his mother's stepfather Ludwig Frahm and his second wife Dora.

After passing his Abitur in 1932 at Johanneum zu L√ľbeck he became an apprentice at the shipbroker and ship's agent F.H. Bertling. He joined the "Socialist Youth" in 1929 and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1930. He left the SPD to join the more left wing Socialist Workers Party (SAP), which was allied to the POUM in Spain and the ILP in Britain. In 1933, using his connections with the port and its ships from the time he had been apprentice, he left Germany for Norwaymarker on a ship to escape Nazi persecution. It was at this time that he adopted the pseudonym Willy Brandt to avoid detection by Nazi agents. In 1934, he took part in the founding of the International Bureau of Revolutionary Youth Organizations, and was elected to its Secretariat.

Brandt visited Germany from September to December 1936, disguised as a Norwegian student named Gunnar Gaasland. Gaasland was married to Gertrud Meyer from L√ľbeckmarker in a fictitious marriage to protect Brandt's partner from deportation. Gertrud Meyer had joined Brandt to Norway in July 1933. In 1937, during the Civil War, Brandt worked in Spainmarker as a journalist. In 1938, the German government revoked his citizenship, so he applied for Norwegian citizenship. In 1940, he was arrested in Norway by occupying German forces, but he was not identified because he wore a Norwegian uniform. On his release, he escaped to neutral Swedenmarker. In August 1940, he became a Norwegian citizen, receiving his passport from the Norwegian embassy in Stockholmmarker, where he lived until the end of the war. Willy Brandt returned to Sweden to lecture on 1 December 1940 at Bommersvik college about the problems experienced by the social democrats in Nazi Germany and the occupied countries at the start of World War II. In exile in Norway and Sweden Brandt learned Norwegian and Swedish. Brandt spoke Norwegian fluently for the rest of his life, and retained a close relationship with Norway.

In late 1946, Brandt returned to Berlinmarker, working for the Norwegian government. In 1948, he joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and became a German citizen again, formally adopting the pseudonym, Willy Brandt, as his legal name.


From October 3, 1957, to 1966, Willy Brandt was Mayor of West Berlin, a period of increasing tension in East-West relations that led to the construction of the Berlin Wallmarker. During Brandt's first year as the Governing Mayor, he also served as the President of the Bundesrat in Bonnmarker. Brandt was outspoken against the Sovietmarker repression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and against Nikita Khrushchev's 1958 proposal that Berlin receive the status of a "free city". He was supported by the influential publisher Axel Springer.

Brandt became the Chairman of the SPD in 1964, a post that he retained until 1987, longer than any other party Chairman since its foundation by August Bebel. Brandt was the SPD candidate for the Chancellorship in 1961, but he lost to Konrad Adenauer's conservative Christian Democratic Union of Germany (GDU). In 1965, Brandt ran again, but he lost to the popular Ludwig Erhard. Erhard's government was short-lived, however, and in 1966 a grand coalition between the SPD and CDU was formed, with Brandt as Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor.


At the 1969 elections, again with Brandt as the leading candidate, the SPD became stronger, and after three weeks of negotiations, the SPD formed a coalition government with the smaller liberal Free Democratic Party of Germany (FDP). Brandt was elected Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Foreign policy

As Chancellor, Brandt gained more influence to develop his Neue Ostpolitik. Brandt was active in creating a degree of rapprochement with East Germanymarker, and also in improving relations with the Soviet Unionmarker, Polandmarker, Czechoslovakiamarker, and other Eastern Bloc (communist) countries. A seminal moment came in December 1970 with the famous Warschauer Kniefall in which Brandt, apparently spontaneously, knelt down at the monument to victims of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The uprising occurred during the Nazi German military occupation of Poland, and the monument is to those killed by German troops who suppressed the uprising and deported remaining ghetto residents to the concentration camps for extermination.

Time magazine in the U,S.A. named Brandt as its Man of the Year for 1970, stating, "Willy Brandt is in effect seeking to end World War II by bringing about a fresh relationship between East and West. He is trying to accept the real situation in Europe, which has lasted for 25 years, but he is also trying to bring about a new reality in his bold approach to the Soviet Union and the East Bloc."

In 1971, Brandt received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in improving relations with East Germanymarker, Polandmarker, and the Soviet Unionmarker.

Brandt negotiated final peace treaties between the Federal Republic of Germany and Poland, and agreements on the permanent boundaries between the two countries, signifying the official and long-delayed permanent end of World War II. Brandt negotiated parallel treaties and agreements between the Federal Republic and Czechoslovakia.

In West Germany, Brandt's Neue Ostpolitik was extremely controversial, dividing the populace into two camps: one camp, embracing all of the conservative parties and most notably the victims i.e. those German-speaking, West German residents and their subsequent families who were driven west ("die Heimatvertriebene") via Stalinist Soviet ethnic cleansing from Historical Eastern Germany, especially the part that was arbitrarily given to Poland by the Stalinists; western Czechoslovakiamarker (the Sudatenland); and the rest of Eastern Europe, such as in Romaniamarker. These groups of displaced Germans and their descendants loudly voiced their opposition to Brandt's policy, calling it "illegal" and "high treason".

A different camp supported and encouraged Brandt's Neue Ostpolitik moves with Eastern Europe as aiming at "Wandel durch Ann√§herung" ("change through rapprochement"), i.e., encouraging change through a policy of engagement with the (communist) Eastern Bloc, rather than trying to isolate those countries diplomatically and commercially. Brandt's supporters claim that the policy did help to break down the Eastern Bloc's "siege mentality", and also helped to increase its awareness of the contradictions in its brand of Socialism/Communism, which ‚Äď together with other events ‚Äď eventually led to downfall of Eastern European Communism and Stalinism.

Domestic policies

Political and social changes

West Germany in the late 1960s was shaken by student disturbances and a general "change of the times" that not all Germans were willing to accept or approve. What had seemed a stable, peaceful nation, happy with its outcome of the "Wirtschaftswunder" ("economic miracle") faced the first economic turbulences. Also, the German baby-boom generation wanted to come to terms with the deeply conservative, bourgeois, and demanding parent generation. The baby-boomer students were the most outspoken, and they accused their "parental generation" of its Nazi past. Also, even worse, they accused it of being outdated and old-fashioned. Compared to their forebears, the "skeptical generation", the newer generation was much more capricious, willing to embrace more extreme socialist ideology (such as Mao bible), and public heroes (such as Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara), while new and more promiscuous lifestyles also came about. Students and young apprenticees could afford to stay away from their parents' homes, and left-wing politics was considered to be chic, as well as taking part in American-style political demonstrations against having American military forces in South Vietnam.

Brandt's popularity

Brandt's predecessor, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, had been a member of the Nazi party, and he was an old-fashioned German bourgeois and conservative intellectual. Brandt, having fought the Nazis and having faced down communist Eastern Germany during several crises while he was the Mayor of Berlin, became a controversial, but credible, figure in several different factions. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Kiesinger's grand coalition cabinet, Brandt helped to gain further international approval for Western Germany, and he laid the foundation stones for his future Neue Ostpolitik. There was a wide public-opinion gap between Kiesinger and Brandt in the West German polls.

Willy Brandt as the Chancellor talking to the parliament, 1971
Both men had come to their own terms with the new baby boomer lifestyles. Kiesinger considered them to be "a shameful crowd of long-haired drop-outs who needed a bath and someone to discipline them". On the other hand, Brandt needed a while to get into contact with, and to earn credibility among, the "Ausserparlamentarische Opposition" (APO) ("the out-of-parlimentary opposition"). The students questioned West German society in general, seeking social, legal, and political reforms. Also, the unrest led to a renaissance of right-wing parties in some of the Bundeslands' (German states under the Bundesrepublik) congresses.

Brandt, however, represented a figure of change, and he followed a course of social, legal, and political reforms. In 1969, Brandt gained a small majority by forming a coalition with the FDP. In his first speech before the Bundestag as the Chancellor, Brandt set forth his political course of reforms ending the speech with his famous words, "Wir wollen mehr Demokratie wagen" (literally: "We want to take a chance on more Democracy", or more figuratively, "Let's dare more democracy"). This speech made Brandt, as well as the Social Democratic Party, popular among most of the students and other young West German baby-boomers who dreamed of a country that would be more open and more colorful than the frugal and still somewhat-authoritarian Bundesrepublik that had been built after World War II. However, Brandt's Neue Ostpolitik lost for him a large part of the German refugee (from the East) voters who had been significantly pro-SPD in the postwar years.

First cabinet

Cabinet changes

  • 13 May 1971 - Karl Schiller (SPD) succeeds M√∂ller as Minister of Finance, remaining also Minister of Economics
  • 15 March 1972 - Klaus von Dohnanyi (SPD) succeeds Leussink as Minister of Education and Science.
  • 7 July 1972 - Helmut Schmidt (SPD) succeeds Schiller as Minister of Finance and Economics. Georg Leber (SPD) succeeds Schmidt as Minister of Defence. Lauritz Lauritzen (SPD) succeeds Leber as Minister of Transport, Posts, and Communications, remaining also Minister of Construction.

1972 crisis

Brandt's Nobel prize-winning Ostpolitik led to a meltdown of the narrow majority Brandt's coalition enjoyed in the Bundestag. In October 1970, FDP deputies Erich Mende, Heinz Starke, and Siegfried Zoglmann had crossed the floor to join the CDU. On 23 February 1972, SPD deputy Herbert Hupka, who was also leader of the Bund der Vertriebenen, joined the CDU in disagreement with Brandt's reconciliatory efforts towards the east. On 23 April 1972, Wilhelm Helms (FDP) left his faction; the FDP politicians Knud von K√ľhlmann-Stumm and Gerhard Kienbaum also declared that they would vote against Brandt; thus, Brandt had essentially lost his majority. On 24 April 1972 a vote of no confidence was proposed and it was voted on three days later. Had this motion passed, Rainer Barzel would have replaced Brandt as Chancellor. To everyone's surprise, the motion failed: Barzel got only 247 votes out of 260 ballots; for an absolute majority, 249 votes would have been necessary. There were also 10 votes against the motion and 3 invalid ballots. It was not revealed until much later that two Bundestag members (Julius Steiner and Leo Wagner, both of the CDU/CSU) had been bribed by the East Germanmarker Stasi to vote for Brandt.

New elections

Though Brandt had remained Chancellor, he had lost his majority. Subsequent initiatives in parliament, most notably on the budget, failed. Because of this stalemate, the Bundestag was dissolved and new elections were called. During the 1972 campaign, many popular West German artists, intellectuals, writers, actors and professors supported Brandt and the SPD. Among them were G√ľnter Grass, Walter Jens, and even the soccer player Paul Breitner. Brandt's Ostpolitik as well as his reformist domestic policies were popular with parts of the young generation and led his SPD party to its best-ever federal election result in late 1972. The "Willy-Wahl", Brandts landslide win was the beginning of the end; and Brandts role in government started to decline.

Many of Brandt's reforms met with resistance from state governments (dominated by CDU/CSU). The spirit of reformist optimism was cut short by the 1973 oil crisis and the major public services strike 1974, which gave Germany's trade unions', led by Heinz Kluncker, a big wage increase but reduced Brandts financial leeway for further reforms. Brandt was said to be more a dreamer than a manager and was personally haunted by depressions. To counter any notions about being sympathetic to Communism or soft on left-wing extremists, Brandt implemented tough legislation that barred "radicals" from public service ("Radikalenerlass").

Guillaume affair

Around 1973, West German security organizations received information that one of Brandt's personal assistants, G√ľnter Guillaume, was a spy for the East German intelligence services. Brandt was asked to continue working as usual, and he agreed to do so, even taking a private vacation with Guillaume. Guillaume was arrested on April 24, 1974, and then the West German government blamed Brandt for having a communist spy in his in his inner circle. Thus disgraced, Brandt resigned from his position as the Chancellor on May 6, 1974. However, Brandt remained in the Bundestagmarker and as the Chairman of his political party, the Social Democrats, through 1987.

This espionage affair is, in any case, widely considered to have been just the trigger for Brandt's resignation, not the fundamental cause. Instead, Brandt, was dogged by scandals relating to his serial adultery, and reportedly also struggled with alcohol over-consumption and the illness of depression. There was also the economic fallout on West Germany of the 1973 oil crisis, which almost seems to have been enough stress to finish off Brandt as the Chancellor. As Brandt himself later said, "I was exhausted, for reasons which had nothing to do with the process going on at the time." [Where "the process" seems to have been the unfolding of the Guillaume espionage scandal.]

Guillaume had been an espionage agent for East Germanymarker, who was supervised by Markus Wolf, the head of the "Main Intelligence Administration" of the East German Ministry for State Security. Herr Wolf has stated after the reunification that the resignation of Brandt had never been intended, and that the planting and handling of Guillaume had been one of the largest mistakes of the East German secret services.

Brandt was succeeded as the Chancellor of the Bundesrepublik by his fellow Social Democrat, Helmut Schmidt. For the rest of his life, Brandt remained suspicious that the other fellow Social Democrat (and his longtime rival) Herbert Wehner, who had belonged to the first (troika?), had been scheming for Brandt's downfall. However, evidence for the reality of this suspicion seems to be scant.


Willy Brandt in 1988 at the M√ľnster party rally
After his term as the Chancellor, Brandt retained his seat in the Bundestagmarker, and he remained the Chairman of the Social Democratic Party through 1987. Beginning in 1987, Brandt stepped down to become the Honorary Chairman of the party. Brandt was also a member of the European Parliamentmarker from 1979 to 1983.

Socialist International

For sixteen years, Brandt was the president of the Socialist International (1976 ‚Äď 92), during which period the number of Socialist International's mainly European member parties grew until there were more than a hundred socialist, social democratic, and labour political parties around the world. For the first seven years, this growth in SI membership had been prompted by the efforts of the Socialist International's Secretary-General, the Swede Bernt Carlsson. However, in early 1983, a dispute arose about what Carlsson perceived as the SI president's authoritarian approach. Carlsson then rebuked Brandt saying: "this is a Socialist International ‚ÄĒ not a German International".

Next, against some vocal opposition, Brandt decided to move the next Socialist International Congress from Sydney, Australiamarker, to Portugalmarker. Following this SI Congress in April 1983, Brandt retaliated against Carlsson by forcing him to step down from his position. However, the Austrianmarker Prime Minister, Bruno Kreisky, argued on behalf of Brandt: "It is a question of whether it is better to be pure or to have greater numbers".

Brandt Report

In 1977, Brandt was appointed as the chairman of the Independent Commission for International Developmental Issues. This produced a report in 1980, which called for drastic changes in the global attitude towards development in the Third World. This became known as the Brandt Report.


In October 1979, Brandt met with the East German dissident, Rudolf Bahro, who had written The Alternative. Bahro and his supporters were attacked by the East German state security organization Stasi, headed by Erich Mielke, for his writings, which had laid the theoretical foundation of a leftist opposition to the ruling SED party and its dependent allies, and which promoted new and changed parties. All of this is now described as "change from within". Brandt had asked for Bahro's release (from jail? from East Germany?), and Brandt welcomed Bahro's theories, which advanced the debate within his own Social Democratic Party. In late 1989, Brandt became one of the first leftist leaders in West Germany to publicly favor a quick reunification of Germany, instead of some sort of two-state federation or other kind of interim arrangement. Brandt's public statement "Now grows together what belongs together," was widely quoted in those days.

Hostages in Iraq

One of Brandt's last public appearances was in flying to Baghdad, Iraqmarker, to free Western hostages held by Saddam Hussein, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwaitmarker in 1990. Brandt secured the release of a large number of them, and on November 9, 1990, his airplane landed with 174 freed hostages on board at the Frankfurt Airportmarker.

Death and memorials

Willy Brandt died of colon cancer at his home in Unkelmarker, a town on the Rhine Rivermarker, and was given a state funeral. He was buried at the cemetery at Zehlendorfmarker in Berlin.

When the SPD moved its headquarters from Bonn back to Berlin in the mid-1990s, the new headquarters was named the "Willy Brandt Haus". One of the buildings of the European Parliament in Brusselsmarker was named after him in 2008.

A private German-language secondary school in Warsawmarker, Polandmarker, is named after Brandt.

Brandt's family

From 1941 until 1948 Brandt was married to Anna Carlotta Thorkildsen (the daughter of a Norwegian father and a German-American mother). The two of them had a daughter, Nina Brandt (born in 1940). After Brandt and Thorkildsen were divorced in 1946, Brandt married the Norwegian woman Rut Hansen in 1948. Hansen and Brandt had three sons: Peter Brandt (born in 1948), Lars Brandt (born in 1951), and Matthias Brandt (born in 1961). Today Peter is a historian, Lars is an artist, and Matthias is an actor. After 32 years of marriage, Willy Brandt and Rut Hansen Brand divorced in 1980, and from the day that they were divorced, they never saw one another again. On December 9, 1983, Brandt married Brigitte Seebacher (born in 1946).

Rut Hansen Brandt outlived Willy Brandt but died on July 28, 2006 in Berlin.

Matthias Brandt

In 2003, Matthias Brandt acted the role of Guillaume in the movie Im Schatten der Macht ("In the Shadow of Power") directed by the German filmmaker Oliver Storz. This movie deals with the Guillaume affair and Willy Brandt's resignation from the Chancellorship. Matthias caused a minor controversy in Germany when it was announced that he would portray the man who betrayed his father, and who caused him to resign in 1974. Earlier in 1974 - when the Brandts and the Guillaumes took a vacation in Norway together - it was Matthias, then twelve years old, who was the first to discover that Guillaume and his wife "were typing mysterious things on typewriters the whole night through."

Lars Brandt

In early 2006, Lars Brandt published a biography of his father called "Andenken" ("Remembrance"). This book has been the subject of some controversy. Some see it as a loving memory of the father-son-relationship, but others label it as a ruthless statement of a son who still thinks that he never had a father who really loved him.

Selected works

  • 1960 Mein Weg nach Berlin (My Path to Berlin), autobiography
  • 1966 Drau√üen. Schriften w√§hrend der Emigration. (Outside: Writings during the Emigration) ISBN 3-8012-1094-4
  • 1968 Friedenspolitik in Europa (The Politics of Peace in Europe)
  • 1976 Begegnungen und Einsichten 1960-1975 (Encounters and Insights 1960-1975) ISBN 3-455-08979-8
  • 1982 Links und frei. Mein Weg 1930-1950 (Left and Free: My Path 1930-1950)
  • 1986 Der organisierte Wahnsinn (Organized Lunacy)
  • 1989 Erinnerungen (Memories) ISBN 3-549-07353-4
2002f, Berliner Ausgabe, Werkauswahl, ed. for Bundeskanzler Willy Brandt Stiftung by Helga Grebing, Gregor Schöllgen and Heinrich August Winkler, 10 volumes, Dietz Verlag, Bonn 2002f, Collected Writings, ISBN 3-8012-0305-0


  • Lars Brandt, Andenken (ISBN 3-446-20710-4)
  • Peter Merseburger, Willy Brandt (ISBN 3-421-05328-6)
  • Barbara Marshall, Willy Brandt, A Political Biography (ISBN 0-312-16438-6)
  • Nestore di Meola, Willy Brandt raccontato da Klaus Lindenberg (ISBN 88-7284-712-5)


  1. "Willy Brandt", Time Magazine, 4 Jan. 1971, online archive accessed 11 July 2007
  2. Talk by Hans-Jochen Vogel on 21 October 2002
  3. Gregor Schöllgen: Willy Brandt. Die Biographie. Propyläen, Berlin 2001. ISBN 3549071426
  4. quoted in: Gregor Schöllgen. Der Kanzler und sein Spion. In: DIE ZEIT 2003, Vol. 40, 25 September 2003
  5. "Mideast Tensions", The New York Times, 9 Nov. 1990 accessed 3 January 2008

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