Kohl, Helmut: A Speech on Konrad Adenauer

A Speech on 19 April 1997 in Bad Honnef

at the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the death of Konrad Adenauer

Today, we commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Konrad Adenauer, the unforgotten founder and first Federal Chancellor of our republic.

Many of you here in this hall knew him; several of you were very close to him. Those of you who hear the speeches and discussions taking place today, those of you who have the opportunity, as I have had, to view the new exhibition, will feel as though it was only yesterday that Konrad Adenauer left us. His image endures for every one of us, and yet, thirty years is a long time. A time in which a statesman’s work can be recognised for the great achievement it represents. Or a time in which it can be largely destroyed.

Thirty years after the death of Otto von Bismarck, in 1928, the Empire which he had created out on the battlefields no longer existed. The elaborate fabric of foreign policies which he had woven with the aim of securing peace for the German Empire, situated precariously in a central position, had long been torn asunder. Germany had lost one World War and was nearing the abyss of totalitarian dictatorship which was to trigger a second. We all know how things developed from there.

What a difference then, when today we look back on the life and achievements of Konrad Adenauer! Thirty years on from his death, his presence is still felt to an unparalleled extent. The things which he created are still with us today, are part of present-day life and will determine the future of our nation. The democracy in which we Germans live today, in unity and liberty, rose up from the foundations which Konrad Adenauer helped to create, and which, indeed, he was instrumental in shaping. The German Basic Law, formulated under his chairmanship of the Parliamentary Council, has been an outstanding success over the decades; it has proved capable of accommodating new developments, and today – having been modified only slightly – continues to provide a sound platform for a unified Germany. And finally, the unified Europe towards which we are working is being built in accordance with the plan that Konrad Adenauer drew up together with his European partners; together with them he created the foundation walls and the supporting pillars.

All his life, Konrad Adenauer was a sceptic. Even shortly before his death he was beset by fears and anxieties as to how Germany would evolve. Yet it was he who enabled the Federal Republic of Germany to attain its much admired stability. Many great men and women were involved in developing our political system, but it was Adenauer who set the standards and pointed the way forward. It was he who strengthened the young state both internally and externally.

Creating and securing the famed stability of the German democracy is without doubt one of Konrad Adenauer’s greatest national political achievements. And nowhere is it acclaimed more vigorously than in the letter which Carl J. Burckhardt wrote to Carl Zuckmayer a few days after Adenauer’s death. The letter contains the following words on Germany’s first Chancellor: “He eliminated the fundamental risk inherent in a democratic state system, that of dissolving into anarchy or leading to dictatorship, by placing state authority where it belonged and by justifying it – from success to success – with his powerful personality. Amidst the chaos of fruitless theory and discussion, he ensured that common sense – a rare quality – prevailed. By blending his way of thinking, his instinct, his actions in the most complete unity he has restored the world’s long-lost faith in Germany in a remarkably short time.” Such was Carl J. Burckhardt’s view.

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