• Germany's news in English

Horst Köhler profile: The modest but outspoken president

AFP · 31 May 2010, 18:01

Published: 31 May 2010 18:01 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

A former head of the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Köhler, 67, was elected to the largely ceremonial post of president in 2004 and re-elected almost exactly a year ago.

The German president, who serves as a sort of moral arbiter for the nation, welcomes visiting heads of states and signs government bills into law, but Köhler frequently used his position to make statements on topical subjects.

And he did not mince his words. In 2008, he hit the headlines by attacking banks for allowing financial markets to become a "monster" that he said nearly caused a global collapse. He also lashed out at overpaid bankers.

He had earlier risked controversy after Germany hosted the football World Cup in 2006 by saying that flying the national flag was a sign the country was "returning to normal" after decades of shame over its Nazi past.

But his latest comments - interpreted as referring to the highly sensitive topic of Germany's military involvement in its unpopular mission in Afghanistan - provoked a maelstrom of criticism he felt he was unable to withstand.

In a radio interview on May 22, returning from a visit to Afghanistan, he said that for export-oriented countries such as Germany, "in emergencies, a military deployment is necessary to protect our interests."

He later said his remarks were not intended to refer to Afghanistan, where Germany has 4,350 troops as part of an international force battling the Taliban, but he returned to a torrent of criticism.

Click here to see photos of Horst Köhler.

In a tearful resignation speech that caught political Germany off guard, he´said he was stepping down immediately, expressing regret that his comments on such an "important and difficult" topic could have lead to misunderstanding.

It marked a spectacular end in politics for a modest and unassuming man, who, when he was first elected, was greeted by the tabloidy daily Bild with the headline "Horst Who?"

During his campaign for election in 2004, the married father-of-two, a political ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, said he "doesn't want to be a Rambo" but simply "the president of every German."

Köhler's early life was certainly anything but uneventful.

The seventh of eight children, he was born in 1943 in Skierbieszow, Poland, which the Nazi regime was trying to populate with Germans. His parents had fled there from Romania as it surrendered territory to the Soviet Union.

Story continues below…

In the face of the Red Army's advance, the family fled again to the region near Leipzig in eastern Germany.

Coming late to politics, he joined the Christian Democratic Union in 1981 becoming a close ally of former chancellor Helmut Kohl.

In 1990, Kohl named him to the Finance Ministry to replace Hans Tietmeyer after the latter was named Bundesbank chief, putting Köhler at the centre of German monetary reunification on July 1 of that year.

In 1998, he was appointed head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), helping guide the institution to concentrate on loans to small and medium-sized companies. Two years later he moved to the IMF.

Related links:

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd