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Helmut Kohl's son tells of failed relationship

The Local · 25 Jan 2011, 18:34

Published: 25 Jan 2011 18:34 GMT+01:00

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Walter, the son of Kohl and his late first wife Hannelore, has written a tell-all story of growing up as the offspring of Germany’s giant of conservative politics in the late 20th century.

The book, Leben oder gelebt werden (“To Live or be Lived”) lays out in uncompromising detail the broken father-son relationship between Helmut and Walter and reveals the failed efforts at reconciliation.

“For decades I hoped for a ‘conversation to clear the air’ with my father,” Walter writes, according to extracts published this week in news magazine Focus. “Today I know that we will never have that conversation. All my attempts failed and ended in a cycle of arguments, misunderstandings and fresh pain.”

Helmut Kohl, who turned 80 last year, was chancellor for 1982 until 1998, making him the longest-serving German leader since Otto von Bismarck. He is recognized as a key architect of the European Union and also as the leader who oversaw the reunification of Germany at the end of the Cold War. For decades he dominated the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party now headed by his former protégé, Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But it is the private man that is revealed in the new memoir, in which Walter Kohl argues that his father neglected the family out of his single-minded love of politics.

“Politics was and is my father’s real home,” he writes. “His true family is called CDU, not Kohl.”

Walter describes his father as practically one and the same as his beloved party, branding him a “clan chief of a tribe called the CDU.”

“The party was at times the most important and enduring source of his energy,” he writes. “He never, with very few exceptions such as my brother’s accident in Monza in autumn 1991, gave up a party meeting or official meeting in favour of a family duty. For decades he invested his best efforts in party and committee work, ‘churning out decisions,’ as he called it.

“He concentrated his thoughts and wishes on this. It ranked far above family and private life. We moved on his political stage as props, without major roles. We can also say we felt like spectators in his life because we saw him almost every day on television.

“It was part of our mother’s job always to propagate the hope that at some time it will be different, but in this she let herself be deceived.”

Walter Kohl, now 47, has an economics degree and works in the car parts industry and is described by his publisher as a “committed Christian.” He no longer has contact with his father, according to daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

He also writes about the misery of his mother Hannelore, who suffered a rare allergy to light and was largely confined to her home. She committed suicide in 2001.

Walter Kohl writes that he considered suicide himself after his mother’s death and thought about how to do it in a way that guaranteed his life insurance would be paid out. He resolved to kill himself in a phony scuba-diving accident on the Red Sea, but eventually changed his mind out of concern for his own son.

According to Walter’s account of their relationship, Helmut Kohl remained distant and became defensive when his son tried to broach the subject of their troubled relationship.

“Every boy wishes for a father with whom he can explore the world, go camping or play football. Every boy wishes for a father who is there for him. I never managed to reach my father. Now more than 40 years have passed and the essential form of this father-son relationship remains unchanged.

“My father often reproached me for not appreciating the advantages I had because of my background. But I didn’t want advantages; I simply wanted to be allowed to be like others my age.

“He thought I saw everything from a negative perspective and was unfair to him. My response was always the same, whether as a timid suggestion or an angry accusation: a father had to be judged as a father and not a chancellor. This was the point at which our discussion usually degenerated into a rhetorical boxing match. In the end we were both frustrated: each felt himself unfairly treated and emotionally exhausted.”

The extracts published by Focus also describe the atmosphere of terror that reigned in the 1970s when the leftist militant group the Red Army Faction (RAF) began its campaigns of kidnappings, bombings and murders against West German politicians, business leaders and state prosecutors.

Walter Kohl describes the alienation of what he calls “life behind bullet-proof glass,” in which his father was “a guest in our house.”

There is a moving passage in which Kohl recalls instantly bonding with business association leader Hanns-Martin Schleyer, when their paths crossed while each was waiting to see Helmut Kohl in Bonn. Schleyer was soon afterwards murdered by the RAF in 1977.

Story continues below…

Kohl, then 14, was surprised to find Schleyer, who he had seen on television as head of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations, treat him without any pretension or condescension.

“Here was once again finally a person who was probably worth getting to know because he took me seriously and almost spoke to me like an adult.

“It was a very nice conversation, the kind I’d often wished for, like a conversation with a fatherly friend, even though we’d only just got to know each other. So I gathered all my courage. I needed someone to whom I could pour out my heart and tell my woes: the constant security, the isolation from my schoolmates, the constant expectation about what could happen.”

They talked about terrorism, which was a source of fear for the young Kohl. Schleyer reassured him there was nothing wrong with being scared, but he should remember the chances were slim of ever being affected by a terrorist attack. Shortly afterwards, Schleyer was kidnapped and then killed by the RAF.

“The kidnapping and later the murder of this man, who had spoken so openly and honestly to me, upset me most deeply,” Kohl wrote.

The Local/djw

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

19:39 January 25, 2011 by auniquecorn
really sad, The man was on a power trip. And leave it to germany to ignore and neglect the most important things in the world. Family.
21:19 January 25, 2011 by Bishopbayern
selfish brat, given every opportunity and still complaining. he should get his own life and stop blaming his father who was a great man.
22:39 January 25, 2011 by elev8tor
why have a family if you are so committed to something else?
23:33 January 25, 2011 by fryintl
Germany and the world are better after Helmut Kohl. He seemed a decent man, what I saw of him, and I have a personal story of how he went to visit a friend of mine after only meeting him once on a forrest path in Rheinland Pfalz.

He did for Europe and Germany what few could have. As a man of importance in German History, I'd would say he ranks in the top ten.

He lacked the fatherly time as he had greater fish to fry. I am sorry for his son and family, soemone else sacrificed for the greater good of Germany and I guess some deal with this one way and others a different way. The son has a right to feel as he does. It is sad and tragic when one is related to soemone who is great and moving worlds.

Still, to call him selfish (Chancellor Kohl) is unfair. As great a man as Ron Reagan was, and as great a leader as Margaret Thatcher was, so too should Mr Kohl be described.

Walter should be proud of his father and the achievements. There are many fathers that are not in the life of the son who never achieve anything. Sad as it may be, at least when you look at history books, the loss of the son was a gain for his country, it may be no consolation, but it is at least something.

Walter, one note to you. I never saw my dad much when growing up, he was working or drinking. He is still a hero to me for the things he taught me when I did see him, and the many lessons of life he left me before he passed away. Forgive your father, give him a chance to be with you without the hate and anger. He will be gone soon and you will never get another chance to try to at least get his side. I will pray for you and your heart.
08:52 January 26, 2011 by yhsanjay
What Walter has written is a revelation.The family lives of many successful politicians is more or less like that.The family has every luxury but the intra-family bonding is missing.

But there are very few members of politician's families who write about it to let the world know about the intra-family matters. And that's why I have used the word "revelation" in my first sentence.

My consolations are with Walter as its the family member who feels that something is missing in his or her life. No outsider can have any real feel of this kind of deprivation and no words are enough to express such a vacuum especially during the growing years.

But all said and done Helmut Kohl is a great man and has done wonders for Germany, Europe and the world as a whole.
10:12 January 26, 2011 by freechoice
as a committed Christian I think he has to forgive and make peace with his father. even God let his son Jesus died for our sins to forgive us, much less alone his own father.
11:20 January 26, 2011 by golfcricket
@ freechoice - "your" opinion of god having anything to do with this is strictly your opinion. Individuals are responsible for ones actions and has nothing to do with anyone one else but the people stated in this article. Pertaining "strictly" to this article, I find it very sad that any parent can push any family member to the side for there own personal/career gains. Family and friends are important in ones life and should take priority over anything.

@ auniqecorn - As far as family values!! I believe Germany is above and beyond the US. Just take one look at the US kids "today".. Family value sure are not like they were 25 years ago..

No I'm not slamming America - I happen to be a proud American and love my country, but have spent the majority of it here in Germany for the past 20+ years. Yes,, I still call home "America", but wouldn't have it any other way but for my kids to grow up in Germany..
13:03 January 26, 2011 by catjones
@golfcricket...the article does not compare countries...stay in Germany.

You don't have to be a Chancellor's child to have estranged relations. Hey, Walter, grow up.
16:22 January 26, 2011 by Manuelaxxx
I am very sorry but I have NO mercy for the Chancellor whatsoever. H had chosen to have a family, probably, for the sole reason that his career could set off, many men do that. In most cases they chose a very ordinary woman who provides them with the necessities of being respected, eg 2 kids, ironed shirts, food on the table etc. It is not about the family and is very hypocritical. My heart goes out to Walther Kohl, who has not had a father, I know from my own experience what it means to grow up with neglect, nothing later on in life can make up for this. And my message is to all adults, if you are not able to give your children time and love, please refrain from having them, because you are messing up human lifes.
19:19 January 26, 2011 by fryintl
It is amazing how much hate can come from people. GolfCricket, man, you have soem issues with God. You need to see your priest and do a few "hail mary"s but I bet you haven't seen the inside of a church in ages- I haven't either, but pray daily.

Kids are kids. 200 years ago adults said the same thing about that generation of kids, so take that!!!!

We all can draw conclusion about another person's actions, but why just assume the worst and that the Chancellor did this for himself. There are times when no one steps up, or the wrong person does. This great man stepped up and the world benefitted. Golfcricket, I think if you were in his shoes you would muck everything up and tahnk God you weren't (but, I know, God has nothing to do with this).

But I still say that Walter's loss, and it is a tragic loss, is still the world's gain. If every good and decent man stayed home and didn't venture outside to do soemthing for his land, we wouldn't have cars, rockets, medical advancement-all advancements come at a cost to families. It takes time, dedication, and perseverance to make anything happen in any short amount of time. Some of us have to sacrifice the life we would want to have so that others can benefit from that time and society, as a whole, can advance.

I have a 6yo son, I try to spend every moment I can with him, and it crushes my heart to know he misses me when I work long hours. But I have to pay the bills, I have to help others while paying the bills and there is always something greater to strive for. I am sure that Dr Kohl is sorry in his heart, and that he did what he felt he needed to. He may be wrong, but only time will tell, and by then, his son and all of us will be irrellevant
20:04 January 26, 2011 by auniquecorn
My son turned ten just the other day, ...Can you teach me to throw? I said, Not today, ...I got a lot to do. He said thats OK. He said, I'm gonna be like him, ...Yeah, you know I'm gonna be like him. ...When you coming home dad? I don't know when........

It does´nt happen only in the Kohl family.
03:00 January 27, 2011 by Prufrock2010
When describing Helmut Kohl, the adjective "great" doesn't immediately spring to mind. "Bloated, disgusting pig" is more apt. He ruined Germany with reunification and the introduction of the euro, but hey, it's easy to see why he got along so well with his moronic American counterpart, Ronald Reagan.

Let's see. Among his other achievements, he drove his wife to suicide and nearly did the same for his son. And what did Helmut's mistress have to say about all this?

I'm glad the son is trashing the old man in a book. It's about time somebody did.
16:25 January 27, 2011 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
Cost aside...

I'd like to remind you all how long we all fought and bled to have a unified Germany, how many people never wanted to see that day, and how much of a disaster the first two attempts were. Kohl finished the work of the 1849ers. A united, democratic Germany where all people are free - and he did so under the specter and maneuvering of two superpowers who saw Germany as not much more than a pawn.

Whether Chancellor Kohl was a great man is debatable, and I won't speculate the issue. However, he was also the one of the greatest statesmen to ever walk the earth, and while we bicker about what he did in a short-sighted, temporal way because it hinders our pocketbooks, he was also the greatest German hero since Arminius for unifying us.
00:11 January 28, 2011 by fryintl
der Crenadier aus Aachen: I don't think I have seen this eloquent a posting in quite some time. Your insight, and prose is a true work of intelligence and indepth ability to put thought to pen (or keyboard).

Thank you for a direct, concise, and thoughtful post!!

Prufrock2010: Dude. It is no surprise that teh US, GB, France and the RUssians had their way with the little Virgin called Germany. Of course, after two world wars of conquest who can blame them. I say that WWII wasw brought on by the Versailles treaty, but none the less, I am not sure that Germany would have rebuilt sooner or have rehabilitated as it did without the direct interest of the selfinterested Super powers.

As I recall, Rheinland Pfalze, the Eifle, Hesse, Swabia, and the area around Fulda profitted very well from the presence of the allies. Saarland, with the French fared less so well. THE billions of Marks made renting houses to us, the retirements secured with our car and product purchases, and the jobs still filled today attest to teh dual benefits of those listed Benefactors. I do say though, you have a very graphic way of discussing the chancellor, and I see that you are able to bring any intelligent conversation down to a level of mockery, name calling and basic ignorant ranting...your mother must be proud. If I could see you, I would bet you are about middle aged, or older, over weight, balding, wear glasses, probably wear suspenders and abuse yourself to blindness.

But, what do I know?
01:00 January 28, 2011 by Prufrock2010
What do you know? Obviously, nothing. As illustrated by your illiterate posts, your misapprehension of history, and your sophomoric (and grossly) inaccurate image of me. Dude.
16:23 January 28, 2011 by GermanAussier
I think the name calling is a bit much. But I do not agree what so ever that reunification has ruined Germany. Saying it has is pretty stupid. Whether Kohl was a great man who did great deeds fro Germany, or an unloving father to his son, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that if by writing this book , Walter Kohl is able to come to peace with his father and his memory, then it is a good thing. We all have our crosses to bear, lets hope this book helps Walter bear his.
14:10 January 31, 2011 by Johnny Cash
A great man? Just another criminal politician that should have been put behind bars for breaking electoral finance laws just like Frau Clinton in the US . A liar, anbody else remember the promise of reunification surcharge only being there for a short time? A big fat blowhard only interested in reserving his place in history as the reunifier of Germany at our cost and his glorification. The type of politician that makes the population regard the people in the profession as the lowest form of life on the planet. This expose by his family is no surprise. I haven't seen a statesman in politics for an long time.
02:50 March 2, 2013 by wendyb
There are many dysfunctional families in our societies. I'm so glad that Walter did not take his own life. If he had he would have passed on the said pain and rejection to his son that his father passed on to him. We cannot undo the wrongs that our parents perpetuated on us. We can only purpose to set the standard for a better model of family for the next generation. This can be difficult when we have nothing to use as a reference, but we must try and try and try so that history does not repeat itself. God bless you Walter.
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