Kohl set to slug it out to the end

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THE CAFe on the corner of Wuppertal's main square has prepared a bitter-sweet welcome for the illustrious visitor. For DM16 customers can hog themselves on Helmut Kohl's favourite dish, Saumagen, stuffed pig's stomach, from his native Palatinate. A nice touch, but shame about the dish's appellation: Kanzlerdammerung - "Twilight of the Chancellor" Special.

This may indeed be the old campaigner's last hurrah but on the stumps he is still capable of rolling back the years: 68 in total, including the last 16 in power.

He enters the square like a prize-fighter striding into the ring. "Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer yells, "I give you the Chancellor of Unity, the Great European: Helmut Kohl." With one bound, Mr Kohl mounts the rostrum decorated with posters of his beaming profile above the logo "World class for Germany".

"Helmut, Helmut," chant the fans. They are of every age and appear to represent a cross section of every class. Some look dazed and enthused, others merely curious. Outside the cordons, over a thousand people, faces contorted with anger, are massing under hostile banners. "To the Moon with Kohl's gang," a mock rocket proclaims.

The Chancellor begins the one-hour performance with a bout of shadow- boxing, directing his punches at the mostly young hecklers at the back. "We shall cut unemployment," he warns. "Then you will have to get jobs and start paying taxes. And then you'll vote Christian Democrat, too."

The crowd laughs and Mr Kohl lets fly a few more jibes. Soon it is clear the feint is a prelude for a sustained attack on the "Reds", meaning Gerhard Schroder's Social Democrats. "I am fighting for the politics of the centre," he proclaims. Everyone else, by implication, is an extremist.

The Red scare has kept Mr Kohl in good stead throughout his long career, and is featuring prominently in this year's campaign. As is German unification, the crowning glory of his reign. Even here in the west German textile town of Wuppertal, the greatest moment in post-war German history continues to resonate. The Social Democrats, he reminds the 5,000 people in the audience, had "given up on German unity".

He scores a few more points by praising the police and sticking up for the armed forces then takes a swipe at foreigners. They had better behave, otherwise out with them, is the gist of the message. The audience go wild.

But the fun is soon over. Mr Kohl switches to the economy, to the reforms he has not got around to completing in 16 years but promises to implement now. The applause dries up.

The Chancellor wraps it up with Europe, careful not to dwell too long on the most controversial achievement of his last term: monetary union. Then he is off to Bielefeld, another factory town in the neighbourhood where the Social Democrats proved the bigger attraction last time. In 1998, it could be even worse. Since the elections four years ago, the SPD have achieved an eight-point swing, making them favourites to capture the government.

But the Chancellor is not about to throw in the towel. He plans to address two rallies a day between now and 27 September. Say what you like about Helmut Kohl, he never gives up.