Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl dies

German statesman Helmut Kohl, the architect of German reunification after the end of the Cold War, has died, his Christian Democratic Union party announced with a memorial message Friday. He was 87.

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl gives a speech during the “Happily united – from German Unity to European Unification” event on December 19, 2014 in Dresden, eastern Germany. The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) political foundation organised the event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Kohl’s visit to Dresden, where he called on December 19, 1989, just after the fall of the Wall, for a German reunification within a united Europe.
(ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Kohl served as chancellor for 16 years — from 1982 to 1998 — and was Germany’s longest-serving leader since 1945.

He worked tirelessly for the reunification of West and East Germany, the countries separated in the ashes of World War II.

“Helmut’s death hurts me deeply,” European Commission Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker said in a Twitter post. “My mentor, my friend, the very essence of Europe, he will be greatly, greatly missed.”

Kohl was born in Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Germany, an industrial port city in what is now the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

He began working in the CDU in 1947. He served in the Rhineland-Palatinate legislature from 1959 to 1976, and served as minister-president of the same state from 1969 to 1976.

Rising politician

Kohl was CDU chairman from 1973 to 1998. He was a member of the Bundestag, West German’s lower house of parliament from 1976 to 1990.

He became chancellor of West Germany in 1982 and served until 1990, then became chancellor of Germany after reunification.

His chancellorship was marked with centrist policies that stressed commitment to NATO and modest cuts in spending.

After the Soviet Union relinquished control of Eastern Europe, Kohl launched his push for reunification, with constant reassurances to Western leaders that a united Germany posed no threat.

Reunification was consummated with the dissolution of communist East Germany.

The fusion of East and West after decades of forced separation occurred after Kohl secured the approval of NATO and the Soviet Union.

Dissatisfaction with Kohl’s rule and high unemployment led to his defeat in 1998 by the Social Democrats. Kohl was succeeded in the chancellorship by Gerhard Schroeder.

Honors and a scandal since ’98

Kohl was named an Honorary Citizen of Europe for his work in the integration of Europe and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton at the White House in 1999.

He faced a political scandal after his days in office.

In 1999, he admitted that he accepted anonymous political donations between 1993 and 1998, totaling more than $1 million. Under German law, acceptance of such funds is a crime.

The fund-raising spurred an investigation in 2000. Kohl, who refused to discuss details of the funds, was harshly criticized.

The criminal investigation into illegal fund-raising was dropped in 2001. Kohl agreed to pay a fine of 300,000 German marks ($142,000).