Funeral plans for former chancellor reveal extent of rift with those who were once closest to him

When he is laid to rest on Saturday, it might well be expected that Helmut Kohls role as the architect of German unification would be uppermost in peoples minds.

But instead of being remembered as an astute politician who had the foresight to realise unification before the euphoria around the collapse of communism faded, the late chancellors legacy is in danger of being overshadowed by the discord he appears to have sown among his family, friends and political allies.

His apparent anger and bitterness towards them is said to be behind his refusal to even allow a state funeral to take place on German soil. Many of his former colleagues and friends have not been invited. Even his driver, Eckhard Ecki Seeber, often described as his closest confidant, is believed to have been excluded. So too Germanys president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

His elder son has gone so far as to describe the funeral plans as unworthy of his father. It is unclear whether Walter Kohl or his younger brother Peter, who have been estranged from their father for years, will even attend.

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Walter Kohl, second from right, and his two children were denied access to his late father Helmut Kohls house after his death. Photograph: Michael Deines/Promediafoto/EPA

Following his fathers death on 16 June, Walter appeared at his house with his children to pay their respects, but was barred from entering by a policeman in a humiliating confrontation recorded by German media. He has openly talked of his devastation that Kohl will not be buried next to his first wife, Hannelore, the sons mother, in the family grave in Ludwigshafen, calling the decision an insult to her memory.

A banner left by a well-wisher outsides Kohls home in Oggersheim reads, Thank you for German unity but, noted an editorial in Die Welt, at the family grave in his home town his sons are mourning a family that will be forever divided.

Kohls sons had wished their fathers coffin to first be taken to Berlin for an ecumenical requiem against the backdrop of the most potent symbol of German unity, the Brandenburg Gate, where ordinary Germans could bid him farewell.

Instead, there will be a ceremony at the European parliament in the French city of Strasbourg, after which his coffin will be carried by boat along the Rhine to Speyer in south-west Germany for a funeral mass in the ancient cathedral. He is to be buried in its grounds. Advisers to the family say it is not a snub to anyone, but an expression of Kohls love of Europe, which only deepened as death neared.

But just how much Kohl himself was behind the careful decision-making and how much was the responsibility of his second wife, Maike Kohl-Richter, remains a matter of huge speculation in Germany.

Kohl-Richter announced shortly after the 87-year-olds death that he was to have a European state ceremony outside Germany. It was said to emphasise his contribution to European unity and the importance of the Franco-German bond Kohl forged with the French president, Franois Mitterrand.

It has also been suggested that shifting the stage to France may have been a deliberate move to overshadow or even exclude certain politicians against whom Kohl openly bore grudges. He is said to have felt an overwhelming lack of appreciation for his services to Germany, and resented disrespectful nicknames, such as the Pear, widely used to describe his bulkiness.

In particular, Kohl greatly resented Steinmeier, who as chief of staff to his successor Gerhard Schrder launched an investigation into whether Kohl had destroyed documents in his final days in the chancellery.

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German chancellor Angela Merkel leaves after writing in the book of condolences for Helmut Kohl at the CDU headquarters in Berlin. Photograph: Kay Nietfeld/AP

But the main focus of his wrath was Angela Merkel, whom he blamed for his fall from political grace. Kohl is credited with having discovered Merkel in the early 1990s and helped her up the ranks, famously referring to her as his Mdchen or girl. But in 1998, when he became entangled in a party funding row, she distanced herself from him and went on to supplant him as leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU).

The two never reconciled. Kohl referred to her as the traitor general, even accusing his successor as party leader of destroying my Europe over her handling of the euro crisis.

Protocol dictates that a state funeral in Berlin would have seen Merkel deliver the eulogy. Reports that Kohl-Richter wished to exclude her by shifting the ceremony to Strasbourg have not been confirmed or denied by either side.

An initial list of speakers failed to include a single German, according to Der Spiegel magazine. The Hungarian rightwing nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbn, who idolised Kohl and was one of the few politicians to visit him in his bungalow last year, was due to speak a position reportedly reversed after much diplomatic scrambling. Merkel will now stand alongside the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev, former US president Bill Clinton and the European commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, as well as the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, all of whom will deliver tributes.

But the guest list estimated to be about 1,000 strong continues to be described as delicate by insiders.

There is also the matter of Kohls estate, specifically files relating to his time as chancellor and other political correspondence. In 2010 Kohl asked a political foundation associated with the CDU if he could borrow more than 400 ring binders containing correspondence from his 16 years in government so that he could write a book.

Michael Hollmann, the head of Germanys federal archive, this week urgently called on Kohl-Richter to hand back the files so that they can be properly archived. He appealed in a letter to recognise the significance of Helmut Kohl for German and European history and insisted that historians should have access to the files.

Kohls lawyer, Stephan Holthoff-Pfrtner, has responded by saying that a special trust is to be established to deal with Kohls estate, but he will not discuss the question of how the trust will be constituted before the funeral.

Commentators have stressed that the row not only concerns the memory of Helmut Kohl, but also a significant chapter in German history. Considerable gaps exist in the government archives from the Kohl era, including correspondence between the chancellor and his ministers in 1989, when German unity was on the agenda. Kohl always vehemently denied removing any documents.

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Helmut Kohl and his wife Maike Kohl-Richter at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Photograph: Daniel Roland/AFP/Getty Images

Bernd Neumann, a Kohl confidant and former state secretary of culture, has described repeated uncomfortable visits to the couple in order to discuss what should happen to Kohls archives after his death during which, he recalled, the former chancellor was only able to nod at the suggestions made by his wife.

Kohl-Richter, an economist 34 years younger than her husband, first appeared at his side in public in 2005 at his 75th birthday celebrations in Berlin. Four years earlier, his first wife, Hannelore, had taken her own life.

Shortly after the couples relationship became public, contact between Kohl and his sons broke down. One by one, those who had been close to Kohl including his longstanding office manager, Juliane Weber, and erstwhile friends and ministers in his cabinet Norbert Blm and Heiner Geissler were told they were no longer welcome to visit. Seeber, his driver over decades, has described the humiliation of being asked to hand over the keys both to the official car and to Kohls house and told that his services were no longer wanted.

The couple married in a convalescent home three months after Kohl suffered a near-fatal fall in 2008. His sons were not invited.

Both a special session in the Bundestag and a mass in Berlins Catholic cathedral have offered candid insights into the considerable tensions ahead of this weekends funeral. Norbert Lammert, the parliamentary speaker, praised Kohls achievements, but added: Kohls path was lined with injuries both those he suffered and those he inflicted on others.

At St Hedwigs Cathedral, at a ceremony attended by the political elite, including Merkel, Prelate Karl Jsten made a particular point of addressing the many who had a difficult relationship with him, and stated: May God reconcile us to him, if we did not find reconciliation with him in life.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/30/awkward-farewell-for-helmut-kohl-who-united-germany-but-divided-family

Awkward farewell for Helmut Kohl, who united Germany but divided family
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