Helmut Kohl, the physically imposing German chancellor whose reunification of a nation divided by the Cold War put Germany at the heart of a united Europe, died Friday June 16,2017 at his home in Ludwigshafen. He was 87.
"A life has ended and the person who lived it will go down in history" said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking from Rome. "It will take some time, however, until we can truly judge what we have lost in him. Helmut Kohl was a great German and a great European."
During his 16 years at the country's helm from 1982 to 1998 — first for West Germany and then all of a united Germany — Kohl combined a dogged pursuit of European unity with a keen instinct for history. Less than a year after the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, he spearheaded the end of Germany's decades-long division into East and West, ushering in a new era in European politics.
It was the close friendships that Kohl built up with other world leaders that helped him persuade both anti-communist Western allies and the leaders of the collapsing Soviet Union that a strong, united Germany could live at peace with its neighbors.
Famed for his massive girth on a 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) frame, Kohl still moved nimbly in domestic politics and among rivals in his conservative Christian Democratic Union, holding power for 16 years until his defeat by center-left rival Gerhard Schroeder in 1998.
That was followed by the eruption of a party financing scandal which threatened to tarnish his legacy.
For foreigners, the bulky conservative with a fondness for heavy local food and white wine came to symbolize a benign, steady — even dull — Germany.
Kohl's legacy includes the common euro currency — now used by 19 nations — that bound Europe more closely together than ever before. Kohl lobbied heavily for the euro, introduced in 1999, as a pillar of peace — and when it hit trouble more than a decade later, he insisted there was no alternative but for Germany to help out debt-strapped countries like Greece.
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.