Cold War legend Kohl dies, 87
“We mourn,” Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) tweeted.
Kohl oversaw reunification in 1990 and was chancellor of West Germany and then united Germany from 1982 to 1998.
The 194cm-tall Kohl had been frail and wheelchair-bound since a fall in 2008, and was effectively housebound in Ludwigshafen in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
Despite his reputation as an economically conservative, Cold War hardliner, Germany’s longest-serving chancellor since Bismarck often did not take himself too seriously in person. He admitted he was surprised by the Soviet Union’s rapid implosion.
Kohl rose to the occasion presented by East Germany’s collapse with a determination that alarmed many in the west, not least then UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Kohl took a huge political and personal risk by pushing for a rapid reunification.
In a series of bold and rapid moves in 1990, he travelled to Moscow to seek Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s agreement to German reunification, signed a fast-track economic and social union treaty with the East German leaders who had toppled Erich Honecker’s Communists and won the backing of the US.
He easily won the 1990 federal elections after the initial euphoria but saw his majority reduced in 1994.
By the 1998 election he was a fading political force and was defeated by the Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) Gerhard Schroeder.
He was seen as the mentor of CDU colleague Merkel before their relationship soured.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Kohl was “the right man at the right time” as the Warsaw Pact began to crumble.
“We all should be grateful what Helmut Kohl achieved during many years he served for us Germans and our country. He will live in our memories as the great European and the chancellor of our reunification. I bow before his legacy,” she said.
Former US presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton both called Kohl the greatest European leader of the second half of the 20th century.
“Working closely with my very good friend to help achieve a peaceful end to the Cold War and the unification of Germany within Nato will remain one of the great joys of my life,” a Bush statement said. “Throughout our endeavours, Helmut was a rock – both steady and strong. We mourn his loss today, even as we know his remarkable life will inspire future generations of leaders to dare and achieve greatly.”
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said: “A truly great German and above all a truly great European has died.”
Helmut Kohl in Berlin in December 1989. Picture credit: Wikimedia