Helmut Kohl, Architect of German Reunification, Dies at 87

Helmut Kohl, apart from being Germany's longest serving post-war chancellor, was also a driving force behind the introduction of the European single currency

This file photo taken on September 4, 1990 shows German Chancellor Helmut Kohl cheered by the crowd of thousands of East Germans who gathered at the Peace Square, Germany.
AFP PHOTO / DPA / Mark Oliver Multhaup

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the architect of German reunification, died on Friday at age 87.

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.

This file photo taken on February 19, 1988 shows West German Helmut Kohl (R) listening to US President Ronald Reagan at the White House.
AFP Photo / James Colburn

>> Helmut Kohl: King of Two Unifications - Interview

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 deutschemark.

Kohl was born in 1930 in Ludwigshafen on the banks of the Rhein in Germany. He joined the Hitler Youth but missed service in the Nazi army and was 15 when the Second World War was over. While he was too young to fight, his brother Walter was killed at the front in Westphalia at the age of 18.

This file photo taken on May 14, 1998 shows then US President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl sharing a joke 14 May aboard Air Force One while en route to Frankfurt, Germany.
AFP Photo/ Joyce Naltchaya

The young Kohl would never forget the horrors of war. "My childhood ended in 1942," he would say later on in life. "I was 12, and for the next three years I lived under incessant bombings. It was a life of constant fear. At nights, we had to dig under the ruins of homes, to rescue survivors, to dig out bodies. All my generation is influenced by the same trauma. Some still hear the shrieking of the bombings. None of the children who experienced it has stayed `normal.'"

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.

Once viewed as a provincial bumbler, Kohl combined an understanding of the worries of ordinary Germans with a hunger for power, getting elected four times.

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.
"Voters do not like Kohl, but they trust him," Rita Suessmuth, a former speaker of parliament, once said.

This file photo taken on September 24, 2011 shows Pope Benedict XVI with Kohl during a seminary in Freiburg, southern Germany, on the third day of the Pontiff's first state visit to his native Germany.
AFP Photo/ Pool KNA / Wolfgang Radtke

Often harsh and thin-skinned, Kohl also could display a quick wit and jovial earthiness that served him well in building up German clout. He ate pasta with Clinton and took saunas with Russia's Boris Yeltsin.

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.

For foreigners, the bulky conservative with a fondness for heavy local food and white wine came to symbolize a benign, steady — even dull — Germany.

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

This file photo taken on June 06, 1995 shows Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin (L) shows the way German Chancellor Helmut Kohl at the end of the official welcoming ceremony at the Rose Garden in Jerusalem.
AFP Photo / Patrick Baz

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 Chancellor Angela 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 in 2008.

In an interview for Haaretz in 2001, Kohl said: "The two main goals of my political life were the foundation of the `European house' and the reunification of Germany. I am very happy that both of these goals were achieved during my period in office"

Helmut Kohl passing the Brandenburg Gate during a private walk in Berlin,  Jan. 8, 2003.
AP Photo / Jan Bauer

"I don't want to give myself grades," he added. "I will leave evaluation of my achievements to history." Kohl prefered to discuss the motivations and the essence of his deeds: "I experienced Nazism as a child. Like many of my generation, I was motivated by the desire to prevent another war at any price."