Helmut Kohl was one of Germany’s most notable presidents, and he was solely responsible for the unification of East and West Germany into one entity. He was born into a humble family and began his political career at a young age. In 1973, he was chosen chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a position he held for over two decades, until 1998. During his tenure as chairman, the CDU formed an alliance with the Free Democratic Party (FDP), which eventually led to the formation of a coalition government. Kohl reaped the most benefit from the change, as he was appointed Chancellor of West Germany. During his 16 years in office, he made significant contributions to the country’s progress. He predicted that favorable relations with France would grow. The turning moment, however, occurred when he anchored Germany’s reunification process. Kohl is widely considered the driving force behind German reunification. “The greatest European leader of the second half of the twentieth century,” he is said to be.
Childhood and Adolescence
Helmut Kohl was born to Hans Kohl and Cacilie in Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Germany, into a Roman Catholic household. He was the couple’s third child.
Academically, he received his elementary education at Ruprecht Elementary School before enrolling in the Max-Planck Gymnasium.
Meanwhile, he joined the Christian Democratic Union in 1946 and was one of the co-founders of Ludwigshafen’s Junge Union branch in 1947.
He began his legal studies in Frankfurt am Main after graduating in 1950. He transferred to the University of Heidelberg the next year, specializing in History and Political Science. During his time at university, he was elected to the board of the CDU Rhineland-Palatinate branch.
He became a fellow at the Alfred Weber Institute of the University of Heidelberg after finishing his studies and was
an active member of the AIESEC student society. In 1958, he finished his doctoral studies.
His first work was as a director’s assistant at a foundry in Ludwigshafen. He became the manager of the Ludwigshafen Industrial Union for Chemistry a year later.
The Career of Helmut
His political career began in 1960 when he was chosen as the CDU party’s leader in the Ludwigshafen municipal council, a position he held until 1969.
Meanwhile, he was elected to the Landtag and served as the CDU party’s head in that body.
He was the chair of the CDU’s state branch from 1966 to 1973.
He earned a reputation as a good administrator over time, and he was soon tipped to succeed Peter Altmeier, the then-minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate.
In 1969, he took over for Altmeier. He was elected vice-chairman of the federal CDU party the same year. He instituted territorial reform and established the University of Trier Kaiserslautern during his tenure as Minister-President.
He succeeded Rainer Barzel as chairman of the federal CDU in 1973, a position he held until 1998.
Kohl ran for chancellor of the CDU and the Christian Social Union (CSU) alliance in the 1976 federal elections but was defeated by the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Franz Josef Strauß was the CDU/candidate CSU’s for chancellor in the 1980 federal elections. The CDU/CSU coalition failed to overcome the SPD/FDP coalition.
Kohl was chosen to succeed Strauß as CDU/CSU leader since he did not want to continue in the post. He was the Opposition Leader at the time.
Conflicting ideas and policies among the ruling coalition partners, the SPD/FDP, prompted talks between the FDP and the CDU/CSU to establish a new government.
On October 1, 1982, a vote of no confidence in the incumbent cabinet was approved, and a new coalition was established with the FDP and the CDU/CSU. Kohl emerged as the preferred choice for the chancellorship.
Kohl’s status as Chancellor of West Germany was cemented further in the 1983 elections when the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition secured a massive 58-seat majority.
During his time as Chancellor, he pursued moderate policies that backed West Germany’s NATO commitment against strong opposition from the peace movement. He cut government spending and expenditures.
During his tenure as Chancellor, the historic France-Germany reconciliation took place. He and French President Francois Mitterrand exchanged handshakes in remembrance of those who died in both World Wars. The two countries built tight political ties that were crucial to their economic success.
He also helped to mend a troubled relationship with the US by inviting then-President Ronald Reagan to a German military cemetery.
In response, Reagan attended the G6 summit and visited the German military cemetery at Bitburg alongside Kohl.
The CDU/CSU and FDP alliance secured a majority of 45 seats in the 1987 federal elections, allowing him to keep his job as Chancellor.
In the same year, he invited East German leader Erich Honecker to Berlin, signaling the start of the reunification process. However, his own party members chastised him for the move.
Following the Soviet Union’s abandoning of Eastern Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, he accelerated the reunification of West and East Germany, which proved to be a watershed moment in his presidency.
Taking advantage of the political upheavals, he offered a ten-point strategy for overcoming Germany’s and Europe’s split. Mikhail Gorbachev also gave him his vote of confidence for peaceful reunification of Germany.
When East Germany had its first democratic elections in 1990, he ran a robust campaign for the CDU’s sister parties, which were successful in forming a government.
He then drafted a treaty that merged the economies and social welfare systems of the two countries. He also stated that East German money will have the same value as the West German currency.
On August 31, 1990, a reunion treaty was signed, and both parliaments overwhelmingly ratified it. On October 3, 1990, East Germany formally ceased to exist, and both portions of the country became part of a unified Germany.
In December 1990, the reunified Germany held its first free election. In the Bundestag, the CDU/CSU-FDP alliance won a whopping 134 seats. He kept his job and became the reunified Germany’s first Chancellor.
With such a large region to oversee, the administration became a challenge, as he was forced to implement additional taxes and reduce government spending in order to finance the country as a whole. As the country was rocked by a severe recession in 1992-93, citizens were dissatisfied with the rising tax burden.
The country’s deteriorating financial situation, along with a rising unemployment problem, had a direct impact on his popularity, as seen by his narrow victory over Rhineland-Palatinate Minister-President Rudolf Scharping in the 1994 elections.
Further financial, economic, and social problems befell him, as he suffered his first parliamentary election defeat in years on September 27, 1998. The next year, he was embroiled in a scandal involving unlawful political contributions.
He resigned from his party’s positions in 2000. He was accused of significant allegations of financial mismanagement. Throughout, he was plagued by legal issues and charges, for which he was fined in February 2001.
Major Projects of Helmut
From 1982 to 1990, he was the Chancellor of West Germany. He also played a pivotal role in German reunification and establishing the groundwork for long-term democratic peace between the two halves.
He was also the first Chancellor of a unified Germany, serving in that capacity from 1990 until 1998.
Achievements & Awards
He was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award, Grand Cross in Special Design of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Gold Medal of the Jean Monnet Foundation, and Henry A.
Kissinger Prize at the American Academy for his outstanding achievements as Chancellor of West Germany.
He received honorary degrees from the Catholic University of Louvain, the Ateneo de Manila University, and Brandeis University, among others.
The European Council also bestowed upon him the title of Honorary Citizen of Europe. He was even made an honorary citizen of both Frankfurt and Berlin.
Personal History and Legacy
In 1960, he married Hannelore Renner, a long-time acquaintance of his. Two sons were born to the couple. After years of suffering from photodermatitis, Hannelore committed suicide in 2001.
He had a stroke and a fall in February 2008, and he has been confined to a wheelchair since then due to partial paralysis.
On May 8, 2008, he married his partner Maike Richter. Helmut Kohl, who lived in Ludwigshafen’s Oggersheim area, died on June 16, 2017, at the age of 87.
Estimated Net worth
Helmut Kohl is a German politician with a $1.5 million net worth.