Helmut Kohl was born April 3, 1930 in Ludwigshafen. He grew up during World War II and personally experienced most of the 124 allied air attacks that destroyed 80% of his hometown. As an adult he joined the army but never saw action. He studied Law, Political Science, and History at the Universities of Frankfurt and Heidelberg, and received his PhD from the U of Heidelberg in 1958.
In 1947 Kohl became a member of the Christian Democratic Union and was elected to Chancellor in 1982. He is credited with having been highly instrumental in the unification of Germany with the consent of the Soviet Union and as a member of NATO. On November 28, 1989, he unveiled his 10-Point plan for unification, just three weeks after East Germany opened its border. The unification process was formally completed on October 3, 1990 and in December of that same year, Kohl won the first nationwide election since before the war. In addition, Kohl is credited, more than anyone else, for setting on course the historic process of Europe’s economic and political integration.
Kohl, often labelled ‘Colossus’ because of his size, has a down-to-earth predictability and comfort that endeared him to the average German citizen. He was often criticized, however, for being a bit of a bumbler. Franz-Josef Strauss, governor of Bavaria, once said that he was fascinated with Kohl because he gave “the impression that anybody could be Chancellor.” Kohl has been a continual source for comedic material and as the London Times observed “rarely has a West German politician been subjected to so much criticism, humiliation, and derision.”.
As regards his personal life, Kohl and his wife, Hannelore worked hard to keep their family away from the public eye. It was in 1960 that Kohl married Hannelore Renner, born March 7, 1933. They had met when he was 18 and she was 15, but did not marry until 12 years later after he wooed her with more than two thousand love letters. She was initially dismissed by the public as the “Barbie of Rhineland” given her stiff platinum hair. Hannelore was trained as a translator and put great focus on charitable causes. On July 6, 2001, at the age of 68, Mrs. Kohl committed suicide. It was reported that she had been suffering from a penicillin-induced allergy to the sun for seven years that forced her to remain indoors. She is said to have been on heavy painkillers, but was desperate to end the pain of the irreversible disease. The disease prevented Hannelore from attending the marriage of one of her two sons, Peter Kohl, to Elif Sozen. The young couple, keeping in the tradition of his parents, had known one another for 11 years before marrying, having met while studying at MIT.
Kohl was voted out of office after more than 15 years when he lost the September 1998 election to Gerhard Schroeder, the leader of the Social Democratic Party. It was certainly not a quiet exit as Kohl left under the fire of criticism and scandal. He admitted to having taken DM2m in illegal contributions between 1993 and 1998, but many speculate that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The Christian Democratic Union had made many efforts to detach themselves from their former leader, but after a quarter of a century of ruling the party with an iron fist the CDU is still quite influenced by Kohl.
Video clips of Kohl, all dubbed in English
Kohl’s influence on Germany and its foreign relations
Hannelore Kohl's death