Gerhard Schröder was born on April 7, 1944 in Mossenburg. His father was killed in World War II the year he was born. His mother raised him and his four siblings alone. Schröder attended school until he was 14, and then left for an apprenticeship. Later on he attended Göttingen University and earned a law degree. As a lawyer he became active in the Social Democratic Party (SPD). He headed the SPD youth group in 1978 only two years after he had graduated university. From 1980 to 1986 Schroeder was a legislator and from 1990 to 1998 he was the premier of Lower Saxony.
In 1998 Gerhard Schröder was elected chancellor of Germany ending a 16 year streak of conservative politics lead by Helmut Kohl. The first months of Schröder's chancellorship were marked by dissagreements with Oskar Lafontaine, SPD chairman and finance minister. As the new chancellor, Schröder was quick to promise the German people more jobs after Kohl had left over 4 million unemployed. But in the last year of his first tern the unemployment was almost back to where Kohl left off. Schröder's foreign policy took on a different stance than Kohl had. He improved relations with Russia , but less so with the European Union and NATO. Schröder also supported the U.S. in its attacks on Afghanistan - putting a strain on Green Party relations.
In the next election (2001) Schröder won an extremly close race against Edward Stoiber. During his campaign Schröder had rejected any participation of Germany in military action against Iraq. Fear of recession was also a point of concern of the German people re-electing Schröder. Rising unemployment, economic depression, and a record number of business failures almost cost Schröder the election.
2001 brought about the resignation of two cabinet members, totaling the loss of seven cabinet members over two years. Last to go were Andrea Fischer, the health minister, and Karl-Heinz Funke, the Social Democratic agricultural minister. Both left after a poorly handled outbreak of BSE (mad cow). Fischer announced a few days before the Christmas holidays that some sausages might be dangerous, this was just days after she had announced there was no threat of BSE, following the confusion that 10 cases were confirmed. Recently the transportation minister, Reinhard Klimmt, was involved in a financial scandal and the culture minister, Michael Naumann, chose to return to the publishing industry. Klimmt was actually a replacement for Franz Müntefering who left along with Bodo Hombach and Oskar Lafontaine. In addition to the resignations there were issues with three top ministers. Foreign minister Joschka Fischer caused an uproar with photos of him beating a police officer in the 1970's when he was a militant leftist. The finance minister Hans Eichel was accused of using air force planes for personal flights and Rudolf Scharping, defense minister, was questioned about depleted uranium usage in NATO.
These difficulties in the ministry had little impact on Schröder's popularity but did give the opposing party ammunition in the election.
In 2002 Schröder refused to support military action in Iraq. He referred to the US-led attack as a "military adventure." German-American relations were further torn when Schröder's justice minister, Herta Däubler-Gmelin, said that President Bush was using Iraq to distract from his own political problems back home and compared this political strategy to Hitler's. She was immediately fired and Schröder wrote Bush an apology. This all took place while Schröder was looking to be re-elected. But as more than two-thirds of Germans oppose the Middle East war, Schröder pulled ahead in the polls.
German Government and Politics To polish up on the structure of the German government try this site. Each aspect of the political system is explained from the Chancellor to the various political parites.
Germany Votes Site on the election of 1998, run by CNN. There is a small biography on Schröder and various articles drawing from many sources on Schröder's past politics. There are many links at the end of the page that range from SPD sites to German news online.
Election Watch This site is also run by CNN but offers a more formal appraoch to the election and provides a background on German elections.