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Helmut Kohl

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Dr Helmut Kohl (pronounced Helmoot Kaul) is a former German chancellor. He is the longest serving head of government of the Western democracies. He won four consecutive general elections in 1983, 1987, 1990 and 1994.

Kohl was born on 3 April, 1930 in Ludwigshafen, which then still belonged to Bavaria; but he does not speak a single word of the renowned dialect, so he should not be mistaken for a Bavarian. Regarding his age, he coined the phrase 'grace of late birth', meaning that the Third Reich had perished in 1945, before he had reached adulthood. Thus, unlike his predecessors in office, he did not participate in World War II and, as he would have it, he does not bear any responsibility for the war or the crimes of the Third Reich.

Kohl studied history in Heidelberg. His dissertation was History of the political parties of the Palatinate after World War II. In 1966, he became Ministerpräsident of Rheno-Palatinate, one of the German Länder or parliamentary regions; and in 1973, he was elected chairman of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

In 1982, he overthrew the Government of Helmut Schmidt (Social Democrats) in midterm and became chancellor. Elections were held early the next year. Owing to what was regarded as his clumsy way of speaking, 'intellectuals' never took to him. A typical joke handed down from those years goes something like,

It seems there was a power cut in Bonn and Mr Genscher [the foreign secretary of the period] was stuck for three hours in a lift. In the meantime, Mr Kohl sternly faced the same fate on an escalator.

Soon he was nicknamed 'pear' in reference to the shape of his head. Nevertheless, he won the election in 1987.

The turn of the tide came in 1990. Helmut Kohl implemented German reunification on 3 October, 1990, after the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November, 1989. This was perhaps the most historically significant achievement of his government.

He easily won the next two elections and was only beaten in the 1998 poll by Gerhard Schröder (Social Democrats). With 16 years in office, he had already surpassed Konrad Adenauer, the first German chancellor after World War II, (14 years) and only narrowly missed Bismarck's mark (19 years).

Helmut Kohl died on 16 June, 2017. He was 87 years old.

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