Helmut Kohl, father of German unification, dies at age 87

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2017, 12:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2017, 1:55am

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the architect of German reunification, died on Friday, the mass-selling newspaper Bild reported. He was 87.

Bild reported in its online edition that Kohl died in the morning in his home in Ludwigshafen, in western Germany.

“We mourn,” Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) tweeted with a picture of the former chancellor.

Germany’s longest serving post-war chancellor from 1982 to 1998, Kohl was a driving force behind the introduction of the euro currency, convincing sceptical Germans to give up their cherished deutsche mark.

An imposing figure who formed a close relationship with French President Francois Mitterrand in pushing for closer European integration, Kohl had been frail and wheelchair-bound since suffering a bad fall in 2008.

At home, he is celebrated above all as the father of German reunification, which he achieved after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall despite resistance from partners such as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

He won voters in communist East Germany by promising them “flourishing landscapes”.

Germany was divided into West and East Germany after World War Two.

The tributes began pouring in:

“Helmut Kohl changed my life decisively,” said now German chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in the formerly communist East Germany and only started her political career after the Berlin Wall fell, as a protegee of Kohl.

“Helmut hated war -- but he detested totalitarianism even more,” former US president George H.W. Bush said in a statement of the former German chancellor.

“Working closely with my very good friend to help achieve a peaceful end to the Cold War and the unification of Germany within Nato will remain one of the great joys of my life,” he added.

Former president Bill Clinton said he was “deeply saddened” by the death of “my dear friend” whose “visionary leadership prepared Germany and all of Europe for the 21st century.”

“He was called upon to answer some of the most monumental questions of his time, and in answering them correctly he made possible the reunification of a strong, prosperous Germany and the creation of the European Union,” Clinton said.

“I will never forget walking with him through the Brandenburg Gate in 1994 for a large rally on the eastern side, and seeing genuine hope in the eyes of tens of thousands of young people,” he said.

“I knew at that moment that Helmut Kohl was the man who could help them realise their dreams. History continues to prove that he delivered.”

Shortly after leaving office, Kohl’s reputation was tarnished by a financing scandal in his centre-right party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), now led by Merkel. Kohl mentored Merkel early in her career, appointing her to her first ministerial post.

Until his death, Kohl refused to identify the donors, saying he had given them his word.