The 79-year-old, now using a wheelchair and speaking with some difficulty, was the affectionately regarded star of a ceremony to award him the Hanns-Martin Schleyer prize in Stuttgart.
Kohl's reputation was seriously damaged after he left office in 1998, due to a political donations scandal which engulfed his Christian Democrat Union (CDU).
He was largely ignored by the new cadre of CDU politicians, including current Chancellor Angela Merkel, despite the fact that he had championed her early career.
Yet after a number of years in the wilderness, during which is wife Hannelore committed suicide, Kohl is being rehabilitated by his party and the country.
Hailed as the reunification chancellor, his political achievements are likely to be re-examined this year in the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the start of reunification of the two Germanies. In the 60th year of the German republic, Kohl is also taking his place among the important chancellors who have shaped the country, and Europe.
On Friday as he accepted the prize – for "taking the historical chance for reunifying Germany in peace and freedom" - named after Schleyer, the businessman held hostage and then shot dead by the leftist terrorist group the Red Army Faction in 1977.
“I lost a good friend,” he said a number of times.
Kohl seemed to accept that his state of health would be in focus during the appearance. “This today is my first public appointment,” he said. “I thought it over for a long time.” But he said his friendship with Schleyer was enough to persuade him to attend.