Kohl’s surprise vision
After the death at the weekend of the architect of German reunification, Helmut Kohl, aged 87, his legacy is a nation that dominates Europe’s economic and political future.
Frederick Studemann wrote in the Financial Times that before the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, Kohl was struggling politically. The press was talking about a party coup against the “provincial bumpkin” who enjoyed Saumagen (pig’s stomach). “Many Germans saw Kohl as a bit of an embarrassment,” Frederick argued.
“He was the butt of jokes; his imposing physical presence earned him the nickname Birne (pear). His government’s policies were sound, if uninspiring. The idea that such a figure would emerge as the driving force of unification seemed implausible to say the least,” Studemann said.
After the fall of the wall, he toured East Germany, leading crowds in singing the national anthem, the words of which were largely unknown to the audiences.
The eruption of patriotic feeling in Germany which had felt uneasy about its identity since 1945 was deeply unsettling to the political establishment. But Kohl pushed ahead with the result a slightly chaotic ceremony of unification in front of the Reichstag in October 1990.
Less than a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the division of Germany had been overcome.
Kohl displayed a disregard for economics, putting politics ahead of the financial concerns, aware there was a limited period when unification could be achieved.
Germans from both sides of the former border were angered by his promise in 1990 that East Germany’s landscapes, damaged by mining and pesticides, would soon be transformed into “flowering meadows“ at no cost to the taxpayer. The bill for unification has been estimated at €2-3 trillion.
He took over politically restrained, self-doubting West Germany of the early 1980s and left a very different nation when he lost power in 1998.
A year later, Kohl was embroiled in a party financing scandal. His CDU had been accepting undisclosed donations (including from an arms dealer) and maintaining secret funds. His successor as party leader, Angela Merkel, ended Kohl’s influence. She wrote an article on the front page of a national newspaper calling for the CDU to drop him. She has been the undisputed party leader ever since.
Kohl in 1974. Picture credit: Wikimedia