On June 16, in the industrial town of Ludwigshafen, Helmut Kohl passed away peacefully.
Helmut Kohl has been called “the greatest European leader of the second half of the 20th century.” He was also a mentor to current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and gave her the first position as a cabinet minister.
Kohl will be honored later this month by the European Union. What makes this man so great so as to deserve such elaborate praise and a dignified funeral?
Rise To Leadership
Helmut Kohl was born on April 3, 1930. He entered politics early in life, at age 16. However, he did not become an elected politician until 1959.
As a member of the newly formed CDU (Christian Democratic Union), Kohl wanted to make his party more inclusive towards the younger generation. From there, he slowly worked up the ranks of his party. Eventually, he won the German Chancellorship in 1982 after convincing the Free Democratic Party to join his side.
Helmut Kohl is most well known for his time as Germany’s Chancellor. Kohl, along with France’s president Mitterrand, was instrumental in forming the European Union. The European Union has helped unify Europe under a single, strong economy complete with its own currency. Peace in Europe has been achieved largely due to the European Union.
Most importantly, Kohl was largely responsible for reunifying Germany into a single country. After World War II, Germany was split in two. The US, France, and Great Britain controlled the western half, and the Soviet Union controlled the eastern portion.
West Germany became a new capitalist powerhouse, with help from the U.S which gave $13 billion to rebuild the country - an initiative known as the Marshall Plan. Eastern Germany became a new republic within the communist USSR. Over time, economic disparity between the two Germanys grew. Communist East Germany could not keep up with capitalist West Germany. Many East Germans moved to Western Germany before they were stopped in 1961 by the building of the Berlin Wall.
In 1989, the Berlin wall fell along with the Soviet leadership of Eastern Germany. Helmut Kohl seized this opportunity to reunite Germany. Soon, with the blessing of the Mikhail Gorbachev, Eastern Germany was annexed and became a single country once more. This reunification hurt the USSR’s reputation on the world stage and allowed Germany to slowly become the European economic superpower it is today.
Helmut Kohl’s funeral will be held on July 1 in Strasbourg. Several world leaders, including Bill Clinton, Angela Merkel, and France’s new president Macron will speak at the ceremony.