Helmut Kohl, the physically imposing German chancellor whose reunification of a nation divided by the Cold War put Germany at the heart of a united Europe, died today at his home in Ludwigshafen. He was 87.
Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Source: Associated Press
"A life has ended and the person who lived it will go down in history" said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking from Rome.
"It will take some time, however, until we can truly judge what we have lost in him. Helmut Kohl was a great German and a great European."
During his 16 years at the country's helm from 1982 to 1998, first for West Germany and then all of a united Germany Mr Kohl combined a dogged pursuit of European unity with a keen instinct for history.
Less than a year after the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, he spearheaded the end of Germany's decades-long division into East and West, ushering in a new era in European politics.
"When a new spirit began to sweep through Eastern Europe in the 1980s, when freedom was won in Poland, when brave people in Leipzig, East Berlin and elsewhere in East Germany staged a peaceful revolution, Helmut Kohl was the right person at the right time," said Ms Merkel.
"He held fast to the dream and goal of a united Germany, even as others wavered."
It was the close friendships that Mr Kohl built up with other world leaders that helped him persuade both anti-communist Western allies and the leaders of the collapsing Soviet Union that a strong, united Germany could live at peace with its neighbours.
"Helmut Kohl was the most important European statesman since World War II," Bill Clinton, the former US president, said in 2011, adding that Kohl answered the big questions of his time "correctly for Germany, correctly for Europe, correctly for the United States, correctly for the future of the world."
Former US President George H.W. Bush said the world had lost "a true friend of freedom".
"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," Bush said. "Throughout our endeavours, Helmut was a rock — both steady and strong."
Russian President Vladimir Putin credited Kohl with "playing a key role in putting an end to the Cold War and with the reunification of Germany".
Famed for his massive girth on a 1.93-metre frame, Mr Kohl still moved nimbly in domestic politics and among rivals in his conservative Christian Democratic Union, holding power for 16 years until his defeat by centre-left rival Gerhard Schroeder in 1998.
That was followed by the eruption of a party financing scandal which threatened to tarnish his legacy.
For foreigners, the bulky conservative with a fondness for heavy local food and white wine came to symbolise a benign, steady, even dull, Germany.
Kohl's legacy includes the common euro currency, now used by 19 nations, that bound Europe more closely together than ever before. Kohl lobbied heavily for the euro, introduced in 1999, as a pillar of peace, and when it hit trouble more than a decade later, he insisted there was no alternative but for Germany to help out debt-strapped countries like Greece.
Kohl served longer than Konrad Adenauer, West Germany's first post-World War II chancellor and his political idol. Only Otto von Bismarck, who first unified Germany in the 1870s, was chancellor longer, for 19 years.
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