King blinded by the canvas of life

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The Independent Online
What do you give to a leader beating all records for political longevity but one who has just delivered a speech remarkable only for its duration?, writes Imre Karacs.

The answer, if you are a German Christian Democrat, is a hideous painting that is too large to hang above his fish tank.

Old King Kohl's gift from a grateful party, The Brandenburg Gate by Inge Schmidt, was held aloft by two of his subjects. Faces all around beamed. The Chancellor took one look, and turned his gaze back towards the cameras, his face frozen in an expression of wonder. What did they mean, those swirling colours, the ruins in the background, and those fuzzy human shapes leaping out of the canvas?

They had something to do with his historic role in forging German unity, he was told. The vague brush strokes were not a comment on his policies.

He had been in power for 14 years. At the end of this month he will overtake Konrad Adenauer as the longest serving chancellor this century.

It is a feat no one could have predicted, and it appeared at times that even the CDU's delegates to this auspicious party conference were rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

Somebody in his entourage had clearly decided that one shock deserved another. Mr Kohl's artistic tastes are not exactly modern. In his musical tastes Vivaldi marks the boundary of tolerance; his main visual inspirations come from the time of Durer. A lifetime of artistic achievement is encapsulated by a cookery book written with his wife, Hannelore.

Now he had the chance to become a modern man, to indulge in contemporary art. He was very honoured, he stammered, and headed out of the hall. He had urgent business to attend to - somebody was about to be fired.