AIn no other place has the memory of Helmut Kohl been as vivid as in the center of Berlin on Tuesday evening. Entire cabinets of his reign could be reproduced on Gendarmenmarkt: former Interior Ministers such as Rudolf Seiters or former Defense Minister Rupert Scholz, loyalists such as Chancellor Horst Teltschik or Bernhard Vogelall in their ninth decade had come.
In addition, several former CDU generations, among whom the former Minister of Health, Hermann Gröhe, seemed downright youthful at the age of sixty-one. And of course Angela Merkel, since 1990 “curious student of Helmut Kohl” in the cabinet. Merkel knew how to report that Kohl only wanted to know from her when they first met in Bonn: “How do you get on with other women?” Her answer – as good or bad as it is with men – was probably enough to get her to the Federal President as Minister for Women to suggest.
“What matters is what comes out at the end”
That evening was the former chancellor, next to the welcome speaker Friedrich Merz, the eagerly awaited speaker of the evening. Announced as a “closing word” would have allowed the former chancellor to be brief and conclusive. Instead, she dedicated a speech to Kohl that was characterized by anecdotes, but also passages of sober admiration for the European statesman. Kohl persistently pursued his goals, including reunification: “Don’t decide too late, but don’t decide too early either.”
The importance of the personal, the will to shape things – and thinking in historical contexts, that was important for him, as it was for her. The destruction that Russia currently wreaking havoc, be both military, political and personal. One must “do everything possible to restore the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine”. In the spirit of Kohl, however, one must also think of the currently unthinkable, namely having a relationship with Russia. Putin must be taken seriously, what he says is not a bluff, warned Merkel, who probably knows Putin better than any other current or former head of government.
Kohl’s companions and friends gathered under the dome of the Friedrichstadtkirche for the first public event of the “Bundeskanzler Helmut Kohl” Foundation, as did members of the current Union parliamentary group, led by Chairman Friedrich Merz. He was still surrounded by the gunpowder of his battle for the sovereignty of interpretation in current affairs, which he lost in the morning. Accusing the Ukrainian war refugees of “social tourism” was also reminiscent of embarrassing statements made by Kohl, who at the time had seriously insulted the Soviet leader Gorbachev (“Goebbels comparison” was the name of the affair), but was then able to win politically masterfully for German unity.
On the rise and fall of Kohl
And that evening should be about the virtuosity of this politician, reminiscent of times when the CDU and CSU governed and Kohl got almost 49 percent of the votes, that was in 1987. It took 13 years for the Union to succeed after its first loss of power to move back into the chancellery. That was in 1982 and Helmut Kohl was the opposition politician who made it in the Bundestag, the Social Democrats Helmut Schmidt to get out of office.