The tragedy of Helmut Kohl and his 'Lady Macbeth'

He did more than anyone to bring Germany back together – but a new marriage and the euro crisis have put the ailing 'father of unity' under new scrutiny

Helmut Kohl is still the "Unification Chancellor" – a giant of contemporary European history who holds an unassailable reputation of having done more than any other post-war German leader to end his nation's division and rid the capital Berlin of its infamous wall.

But as Germany today celebrates the 22nd anniversary of the reunification that Mr Kohl did so much to bring about, the former architect of unity has become a tragic figure.

Confined to a wheelchair because of a bad fall and injuries to his head he suffered four years ago, he cannot speak for more than 10 minutes at a time and when he does, he slurs his words.

The 82-year-old former conservative leader is said to be still fully compos mentis, but he has been prematurely aged by his disability.

To make matters worse, the father of German unity and the ardent advocate of the single currency now stands accused of causing the deepening euro crisis, while his tumultuous private life is likely to be the subject of an upcoming book.

"Reunification is not only one of the underlying causes of the euro crisis, it is also one of the reasons behind our inability to solve it," Wolfgang Münchau, one of Germany's leading economic analysts, said this week. "This is exactly the tragedy of Helmut Kohl: with his great political coup of German unity, he sowed the seeds for the destruction of his greatest political dream of European unity."

Some analysts argue forcibly that Mr Kohl was so blinded by his political obsession with European unity that he pressed ahead with an ill-advised single currency that has plunged the Continent into crisis.

But nowadays it is not only the Unification Chancellor and his euro policies which have become a chief focus of attention. It is rather the neatly dressed, petite 48-year-old woman who never leaves his side. Maike Kohl-Richter has been Mr Kohl's second wife and unofficial carer since the spring of 2008. German media have painted her as a controlling figure, saying she is "building a wall" around Mr Kohl. She is alleged to have terminated close friendships that have endured for decades and is even reported to have been behind a police decision to force Mr Kohl's two sons off the premises of their bungalow home in the west German village of Oggersheim.

"She is looked upon as the Lady Macbeth of Oggersheim," is how Der Spiegel magazine described Ms Kohl-Richter earlier this week. And the heavyweight Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a German national newspaper, said of Ms Kohl-Richter: "There were times when she joined thousands of others to cheer him on. But now she has him for herself, completely herself. They live like two people who have been locked in a museum overnight by mistake. But this is no mistake. This is how she wanted it."

Ms Kohl-Richter grew up in the town of Siegen, near Bonn, and joined the local youth wing of Mr Kohl's conservative Christian Democratic Party. She worked her way up, eventually becoming a government official in the economics department of the Berlin Chancellery in the late 1990s. It was then that she finally managed to meet the man in person.

Mr Kohl's first wife, Hannelore, committed suicide in 2001 after suffering for years from an allergy to light called photodermatitis. In 2005 Mr Kohl announced to the world that Ms Kohl-Richter had become his new companion. In 2008 they were married. But even at this stage it became evident that things had gone seriously awry in the Kohl household. Mr Kohl's two sons, Walter and Peter, with whom the former Chancellor had had an on-and-off relationship for decades, were not invited to the wedding. They were told about it by telegram. "You could feel that my father saw his future with Maike, even if it meant ending his relationship with us," Walter Kohl wrote afterwards.

The German media are convinced that Ms Kohl-Richter is behind the "drawbridge up" mentality that appears to prevail in Oggersheim. The press bases its claim on her alleged treatment of a man who was arguably closer to Mr Kohl than anyone else during the 16 years in which he became Germany's longest-serving Chancellor since Bismarck. Eckhard Seeber, Mr Kohl's former chauffeur, was a combination of personal batman and butler to Mr Kohl for 46 years. "Ecki" folded Mr Kohl's shirts, mowed his lawn and even joined him in the sauna. But when a distressed Mr Seeber went to visit his boss in hospital in 2008, while he was still recovering from his fall, he was confronted by Ms Kohl-Richter in the car park. "Maike told me to park the car in the garage and put the keys in the house. That's what I did and that was the end of it," Mr Seeber told Germany's Bunte magazine. He has not met his former employer since.

Ms Kohl-Richter has so far declined to respond to the criticism. But Hans-Peter Schwarz, a historian who has just completed a new, favourable biography of Mr Kohl, has dismissed the allegations against her as unfair: "It is obviously difficult for her and her husband because of the disabilities Helmut Kohl now suffers from. On certain issues somebody has to decide for him."

And Mr Kohl has told friends that without Ms Kohl-Richter he would probably not be still alive.

But more hurtful allegations could be in the pipeline. One of the figures to have been wounded most is Heribert Schwan, a 67-year-old journalist who spent years ghost writing Mr Kohl's memoirs. Mr Schwan claims he was obliged to sever all contacts with Mr Kohl in 2009.

But now he is planning to respond with a book that may further damage the reputation of Mr Kohl and his wife.

Mr Schwan has 630 hours of recorded interviews with Mr Kohl and intimate details that were revealed to him by his former wife shortly before her death. He has also gained access to the secret police files the East German Stasi kept on him. The book could make interesting reading.

The life of a unifier

Born in 1930, Helmut Kohl was a member of the Nazi Hitler Youth movement but became the first post-war German Chancellor not to have been old enough to serve in the armed forces during the Second World War.

He was a leading figure in regional politics, before entering national politics in the late 1970s. He went on to become the Conservative Party leader and was elected Chancellor in 1982.

He seized the initiative in 1989 by offering Germans the prospect of unity. Intense consultations with the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the leaders of the United States, France and Britain led to a plan being hatched for unification in 1990. Kohl went on to serve two more terms as Chancellor.

His first wife, Hannelore, committed suicide in 2001 after suffering from an allergy to light. He is Germany's longest-serving Chancellor since Bismarck

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker