Helmut Schmidt, 1918-2015

The eminent politician and statesman Helmut Schmidt died on November 10 at the age of 96 and a state funeral took place in Hamburg on November 23. Many obituaries and tributes have been written outlining his career and achievements. The high point of his career was undoubtedly his years as chancellor of West Germany from 1974 to 1982. But when he lost the chancellorship to Helmut Kohl and left parliament he continued to be in the public eye as he became an editor of the weekly Die Zeit in which he regularly wrote columns. He offered his advice and analysis in interviews, appeared on radio and television, gave speeches and much more. All this activity resulted in numerous publications many of which are held by the University Library. Our catalogue lists over 40 entries for Helmut Schmidt as author, editor or contributor.Helmut Schmidt 001edsmall

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Germany’s First Ladies

Considering the vast amount of topics covered by the holdings of the University Library, it is probably not that surprising that we own our fair share of literature on the chancellors of Germany. Possibly less obvious, though, are the UL’s holdings of books about their partners, or about “Germany’s first ladies”. Having often been  perceived as merely the chancellor’s wife, these women have been largely overlooked, even though their stories are equally as fascinating. With Angela Merkel being the first female chancellor, or chancellor with a husband, there is unfortunately still a lack of publications on Germany’s “first gentleman”, Joachim Sauer (and this is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future as he is not someone who relishes publicity).

Hannelore and Helmut Kohl at the election in 1983

Hannelore and Helmut Kohl at the election in 1983 (Bundesarchiv on Wiki Commons)

Hannelore Kohl, wife of German chancellor Helmut Kohl, is probably the most tragic of Germany’s first ladies. She was raped by Soviet troops towards the end of the Second World War, leading to a spine injury that caused her lifelong problems.  In 2001, at the age of 68, she committed suicide. Interestingly enough, she was not overly fond of politics but supported her husband’s ambitions. She was also allegedly involved in the development of the “ten point programme” (Zehn-Punkte-Programm) for the reunification of Germany. Probably because of her own injury, she was inspired to establish the Kuratorium ZNS, a foundation devoted to help those with damages to their central nervous system, which was later renamed as ZNS – Hannelore Kohl Stiftung. She developed photo dermatitis, a condition which meant that exposure to sunlight would cause her pain and effectively confine her to a darkened home day in, day out. It is this condition that is said to have eventually driven her to commit suicide. However, her death was surrounded by some dubious circumstances and thus remains controversial. Hannelore Kohl was a very private woman and did not talk much about her personal life. However, Heribert Schwan, a journalist who knew Hannelore during the 1980s while writing a biography about her husband, claims that she opened up to him during the last years of her life. In 2011, Schwan eventually published a biography of Hannelore Kohl entitled Die Frau an seiner Seite : Leben und Leiden der Hannelore Kohl (C206.c.3945). Claiming that she confided several ‘secrets’ to him during the last few months of her life, his book tries to look beyond Hannelore’s public persona and to explore what other reasons beyond her condition might have driven her to commit suicide. Continue reading