Helmut Kohl – German Chancellor for Reunification, RIP

Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998, winner of four general elections, Helmut Kohl had political weight and enjoyed throwing it about — it helped that he had the physique of a steamroller. The re-unification of West and East Germany happened during his watch, and it was probably the biggest political surprise of post-war Europe. At the beginning of 1989, the year the Berlin Wall came down, Kohl himself was still not anticipating the historic change at hand. Kohl shared the common assumption that Mikhael Gorbachev, general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, would declare a state of emergency and introduce martial law rather than let East Germany go.

Valentin Falin, Gorbachev’s advisor on German affairs and an experienced hard-liner, told me in an interview that he had been advising Gorbachev to stand firm. In July 1990, Kohl flew to the Soviet Union for a period of 52 hours, in the course of which he and Gorbachev went for a walk without advisors. Telephoning afterwards, Falin repeated his view that the Soviet Union could never…

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