In This Review

Helmut Kohl
Helmut Kohl
By Hans-Peter Schwarz
Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt GmbH, 2012, 1506 pp.

For most of his political career, Helmut Kohl was easy to underestimate. Yet political enemies did so at their peril. Ridiculed as a big, fat provincial with a suspiciously lightweight doctoral thesis, few clear ideals, and a ponderous speaking style, Kohl was nicknamed “the pear.” He was a political insider who cultivated tight personal relationships and accumulated bitter enemies, clambering slowly up the greasy pole of German politics with few achievements of true distinction. On reaching the top, in the early 1980s, he turned in a mediocre first term as chancellor. That all changed when the Soviet Union began to collapse. Kohl focused on reunifying Germany, strengthening the EU, and establishing a diplomatic agreement with Moscow. In this mammoth biography, destined to become the standard work on Kohl for some time to come, Schwarz portrays him as shrewd in politics but a bit naive on substantive matters. This combination still has relevance for contemporary European politics. For example, Kohl supported the establishment of the euro but did not fully consider its potential long-term effects. Europe is still living with the consequences.