Manfred Rommel: Field-Marshal's son who served as the popular and successful mayor of Stuttgart for 22 years

 

Manfred Rommel was a successful German politician, serving as mayor of Stuttgart from 1974-96. But he inevitably lived in the shadow of his father Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox". He later became friends with the sons of his father's two principal wartime adversaries, General George Patton and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.

Manfred Rommel was born in Stuttgart, the only son of Erwin Rommel and Lucie Maria Rommel, neé Mollin, in 1928. His early childhood was spent in Dresden, Goslar and Potsdam and then from 1938 to 1943 in Vienna, where the then Colonel Rommel served as commandant of the War Academy in the Neustadt district. The family then moved to Herrlingen bei Ulm.

At the age of 15, in January 1944, Manfred joined the growing number of youngsters serving as auxiliaries in anti-aircraft batteries. Given the favourable publicity extended to his father by Goebbels, it was a severe shock when he learned that the Field-Marshal had been forced to commit suicide to save his family; Erwin Rommel had been accused of being involved in the failed 20 July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. He was accorded a state funeral, and the cause of his death was announced as a heart attack.

In April 1945 Manfred Rommel became a prisoner of the advancing Free French First Army. Released in September 1945, he joined the Wieland-Gymnasium in Biberach an der Riß. On matriculation in 1947 he enrolled in the law faculty of the University of Tübingen. Graduating in 1956, he joined the civil service of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, where he rose rapidly, partly due to being "discovered" by Hans Filbinger, Minister of the Interior – both were members of Konrad Adenauer's Christian Democratic Union.

Rommel worked for Filbinger, who from 1966 to 1978 was Premier of Baden-Württemberg and a leading member of the CDU. Rommel rose with his mentor. Filbinger was a former member of the Nazi party, however, and his days were numbered. In 1978 he was forced to resign after his wartime activities as a military judge were exposed. By that time Rommel was the successful mayor of Stuttgart.

His predecessor, Dr Arnulf Klett, had died unexpectedly in 1974 and Rommel was chosen as the CDU's candidate to succeed him. Klett, who was not affiliated to any party, was a hard act to follow; not having been a Nazi, he was installed by the French in 1945, and was repeatedly re-elected and credited with the rapid rebuilding of the city after the massive destruction caused by Allied bombing. Rommel, who had been urged to stand by Filbinger, faced an imposing opponent in the Social Democrat Peter Conradi, an architect and member of the Bundestag, but Rommel beat him on the second ballot in December 1974.

He was re-elected with larger majorities in 1982 and 1990; his success was the first for a CDU candidate in a town with more than 500,000 inhabitants. Rommel's success was part of a trend towards the right – Chancellor Willy Brandt had been forced to resign in May because of a spy scandal and his Social Democrats had lost ground in regional elections.

Although a member of the CDU from his youth, Rommel attempted to run Stuttgart by consensus. He was known as a fair-minded individual of liberal sentiments, of which he soon faced a severe test. His first term coincided with the Baader-Meinhof terrorist campaign aimed at West Germany's "fascist" system by the young, self-proclaimed revolutionaries of the Red Army Faction.

Once captured, several of the group were held in the top security Stammheim prison in Stuttgart. On the night of 18 October 1977, three of them, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe, killed themselves, while a fourth, Irmgard Möller, survived her injuries (she was released in 1994). The terrorist attacks before and after the suicides caused growing anger, fear and dismay, and Rommel became embroiled in the controversy over what to do with the suicides' remains.

To the anger of many he insisted they be given a decent burial, saying, "I am of the opinion that all wrath, justified as it may be, must end with death and that there are no first and second- class graveyards and that all graveyards are the same."

Partly thanks to Mercedes-Benz, which had its headquarters in Stuttgart, immigrants were attracted to the city. With an immigrant population of 24 per cent the city competes with Frankfurt for Germany's highest percentage. This represented a sizable challenge for Rommel, who courted controversy by insisting on equal rights for the incomers, hoping to make his city a model for others to follow.

Experienced in financial management, he reduced the city's debt and put money into roads and public transport. Looking beyond Germany, he sought to develop Franco-German friendship; he was later made a Chavalier of the Ordre National de la Légion d'Honneur by France for his efforts. He also worked for reconciliation between Germans and Jews, while among his many other decorations was an honorary CBE.

When he retired in 1996 it was calculated that he had given 5,000 speeches in 22 years. By that time he was worried by the beginnings of Parkinson's disease so he got to work on a memoir. Trotz allem heiter [Stay cheerful in spite of everything] was published in 1998. He wrote other successful books, including 1944, The Year of Decision: Erwin Rommel in France (2012) in which he advances the view that his father was seeking to bring about a capitulation of the Wehrmacht, which he commanded, in the West.

He was married to Liselotte Daiber, whom he had met on a train journey. They had one daughter, Catherine. Norbert Lammert, the president of the German Bundestag, paid tribute to him, saying: "Our country has lost a passionate democrat and an immensely popular figure, who made an outstanding contribution to his city of birth and to the political culture of this country."

David Childs

Manfred Rommel, politician: born Stuttgart 24 December 1928; Honorary CBE 1990; married Liselotte Daiber (one daughter); died Stuttgart 7 November 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea