Born January 5, 1876
Died April 19, 1967
Rhoendorf, West Germany
West German chancellor
K onrad Adenauer was the first chancellor of West Germany, officially known as the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). He held the office from 1949 to 1963, taking West Germany from postwar military occupation to national independence. This was a critical period for reestablishing governmental relations with other nations and for encouraging economic recovery after Germany's defeat in World War II (1939–45). Adenauer's period of leadership coincided with the early years of the Cold War (1945–91). The Cold War was an intense political and economic rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted from 1945 to 1991.
Adenauer, a staunch anticommunist, created strong economic and military ties with the democratic West (Western Europe and the United States). Through his fourteen years of leadership, postwar West Germany established sound foreign and domestic policies and made an astonishing economic recovery. Adenauer was the longest-serving democratically elected leader in modern German history.
An early start in politics
Konrad Adenauer was born in January 1876 to a middle-class Roman Catholic family in the city of Cologne, Germany. His father, Johann Konrad Adenauer, was a Prussian soldier and government worker who insisted on college educations for his three sons. After graduating from high school in 1894, Konrad Adenauer studied political science and law in college. Following graduation from the University of Bonn in 1900, he passed the German bar exam and briefly worked in the Cologne prosecutor's office as a lawyer. Adenauer joined a private law firm in 1902 and through this job became acquainted with politically influential Cologne residents. The head of his law firm was the leader of the Central Party in Cologne, a nationwide Catholic-oriented political party. The Central Party's power base was in several regions of Germany that had large Catholic populations, including the Rhineland, where Cologne was located. Adenauer advanced further into the political life of Cologne, and in 1904 he married Emma Weyer, daughter of a wealthy and prominent family. Her uncle was mayor of Cologne. Konrad and Emma would have three children.
Interested in holding political office, Adenauer won his first public position in 1906 on Cologne's city council. By 1909, Adenauer had become an assistant to his wife's uncle, the mayor. When World War I (1914–18) broke out, Adenauer took charge of managing Cologne's food supply, an important responsibility in such a large city. During the war, Adenauer suffered two personal traumas: In October 1916, his wife died from lingering complications of childbirth. Then in March 1917, Adenauer was in a serious car accident and received severe facial injuries. Numerous surgeries permanently changed the appearance of his face.
Mayor of Cologne
While recovering in the hospital, Adenauer won election as mayor of Cologne in September 1917. At only forty-one years of age, he was mayor of the third-largest city in Germany. In August 1919, Adenauer remarried. With his new wife, Auguste Zinsser, he had four children. Serving as mayor of Cologne for sixteen years, Adenauer gained prominence as a political representative of the Rhineland's regional interests and a leading Central Party member. Adenauer was a very hardworking, reserved person who could be very forceful. Cologne prospered under his leadership, and he was popular with the voters. There was public pressure for him to run in the 1921 and 1926 elections for chancellor of the national German government—the Weimar Republic—which was established after Germany's defeat in World War I. However, he chose not to run for chancellor and, instead, won reelection as mayor of Cologne in 1929.
Adenauer was one of the early opponents of Adolf Hitler (1889–1945), the leader of the Nazi Party (known primarily for its brutal policies of racism) in Germany. In February 1933, two months after Hitler gained power in Germany, Adenauer was forced to flee Cologne with his family because he had refused to raise the Nazi flag on city buildings when Hitler came for a visit. Adenauer was arrested in 1934 and again in 1944, narrowly avoiding execution. His wife would later die from injuries she sustained while being questioned about his whereabouts. Between 1933 and 1945, Adenauer remained out of politics and kept out of sight, sometimes staying in a religious monastery.
Creating a new Germany
When Cologne was liberated from Nazi control in March 1945, Adenauer temporarily regained his mayor position. However, conflicts with officials of the British-occupied zone of Germany led him to depart once again in October 1945. Adenauer harbored a disdain for the British throughout the rest of his political career. He turned his attention to national politics and helped form a new political party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Hoping to gain wider appeal than the Central Party, the CDU sought support from both Catholics and Protestants. Adenauer became head of the party in the British-occupied zone of Germany in 1946, at age seventy. By 1949, he served as head of the party for all of West Germany. The CDU was so strong that it essentially governed West Germany while West Germany remained under Allied occupation forces. In his leadership position, Adenauer played a key role in deciding the future direction of West Germany. He helped draft the West German constitution, completed in May 1949. The new country would be democratic and capitalist and strongly allied with the West. By 1949, Germany was formally divided into two countries: West Germany became the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG); East Germany became the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and aligned itself with the communist bloc, or group, of countries led by the Soviet Union.
West Germany held its first parliamentary elections in August 1949. Victorious, Adenauer became the first chancellor of postwar West Germany. Adenauer was vehemently anticommunist and believed the best alliance for his country was with the United States. Adenauer planned to lead West Germany through major steps of economic development and rearmament, or building up its military supplies, all the while hoping that communist rule in East Germany would eventually come to an end. As he put his plan into action, he became recognized as a major European statesman. Ultimately, he hoped to reunite West and East Germany.
A plan for independence
The first step in his plan came in 1950: Adenauer believed Germany needed a renewed relationship with France to begin building a strong, unified Europe. However, after suffering through two world wars in the past forty years, both of which Germany began, the French population was fearful of the Germans. In forging foreign ties, Adenauer had to over-come the horrible legacy of Hitler. France responded to his overtures with the Schuman Plan. This was an economic plan that proposed having West Germany and France pool their coal and steel resources, both critically needed by West Germany for its rebuilding. Adenauer was very pleased. It was a first step toward European integration. It was also the first formal acceptance of the West German government by a foreign nation.
Next, Adenauer sought to build a European defense alliance, called the European Defense Community (EDC). However, France rejected the proposal. Adenauer was dismayed by this rejection. When Adenauer threatened to join an alliance with the Soviet Union for defense, Western European countries and the United States invited West Germany to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO was a recently
formed defense alliance including Western European countries, the United States, and Canada. West Germany joined NATO in 1955. To reduce France's fears about Germany, Adenauer agreed to limit the size of the West German military, and Britain agreed to station fifty thousand troops in West Germany for fifty years, for military defense purposes. France feared a remilitarized Germany after suffering through two wars with Germany already in the twentieth century. In May 1952, Adenauer had signed a treaty to formally end military occupation of West Germany in May 1955, meaning Germany could now make its own political decisions.
Perhaps in a last-ditch effort to derail Western European integration involving West Germany, the Soviet Union proposed a plan for reunifying East and West Germany. Though that was one of Adenauer's ultimate goals, he did not trust the Soviets and believed they were simply trying to impede West Germany's growing attachments to the West; he thought they would eventually seek to gain control of West Germany, just as they had done in East Germany. Adenauer wanted German reunification, but only on his own terms. He endured substantial criticism from the West German population for favoring Western alliances over Soviet reunification proposals.
Membership in NATO gave West Germany a higher status. Quickly, the Soviets invited Adenauer to Moscow for talks to establish formal relations. He went to Moscow in September 1955. Until 1966, the Soviet Union was the only nation to officially recognize both East and West Germany. The United States would not recognize East Germany until 1974. The Soviets also agreed to return German prisoners of war from World War II, who had been held for over a decade.
The next step for Adenauer was formation of the European Economic Community, more commonly known as the Common Market, in March 1957. The Common Market created much stronger economic ties between the European countries. Having achieved military and economic alliances for West Germany, Adenauer rose to the pinnacle of his popularity. At eighty-one years of age, he won reelection in a landslide. His CDU party held a strong majority in the West German government.
An aging leader
When Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) returned to power in France in 1958, Adenauer renewed his efforts to strengthen ties with France. Discussions between the two leaders began in September 1958. In 1963, the two countries signed the Franco-German Friendship Treaty. The treaty called for military cooperation and much closer coordination on foreign policy decisions.
A Cold War crisis came to Adenauer's doorstep in 1961, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971; see entry) ordered the construction of the Berlin Wall. Khrushchev wanted to stop the steady flow of residents from the communist East Germany into the democratic West Germany. Adenauer chose not to contest construction of the wall, bringing considerable criticism from the West German population. As a result, Adenauer's political party, the CDU, lost strength in the West German government in the September 1961 elections. Now eighty-five years old, Adenauer refused to step down as chancellor, despite increasing pressure. In 1963, his last year as chancellor, Adenauer accompanied U.S. president John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63; see entry) on Kennedy's famous visit to the Berlin Wall. However, by that time, Adenauer was considered out of touch with the younger generations and with changing international relations. He finally resigned in October 1963 but remained chairman of the CDU party until March 1966. Much of his time, however, was spent writing a four-volume set of memoirs, tending his rose garden, and painting. Adenauer died on April 19, 1967, at the age of ninety-one. His funeral drew worldwide tributes unprecedented for a German leader.
For More Information
Adenauer, Konrad. Memoirs. 4 vols. Chicago: H. Regnery, 1966–68.
Hiscocks, Richard. The Adenauer Era. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1966.
Wighton, Charles. Adenauer: A Democratic Dictator. London: Muller, 1963.
Williams, Charles. Adenauer: The Father of the New Germany. New York: J. Wiley, 2000.
Konrad Adenauer led West Germany through its initial years, establishing its place in the world community of nations. He looked toward the United States for protection from potential Soviet communist expansion. Serving as West German chancellor from 1969 to 1974, Willy Brandt (1913–1992) continued to expand West Germany's international influence by seeking to ease tensions with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
Like Adenauer, Brandt (born Karl Herbert Frahm) fled from the Nazis in 1933. After World War II, Brandt returned to German politics. He was elected to the first West German legislature in 1949. Brandt then served as mayor of West Berlin from 1957 to 1966.
In the late 1960s, Brandt introduced a new policy called Ostopolitik, which recognized East Germany and territorial changes that occurred at the conclusion of World War II, including the new boundaries of Poland. Brandt signed nonaggression agreements with the Soviet Union and Poland in 1970. He also recognized the territorial gains the Soviet Union had made in
Eastern Europe during World War II. Later agreements would ease travel restrictions between East and West Germany. In 1971, Brandt received the Nobel Peace Prize for easing Cold War tensions. After leaving office in 1974, he became a leader in the European antinuclear movement in the early 1980s. He lobbied against U.S. escalation of a new nuclear arms race and placement of new nuclear missiles in Europe.
The German statesman Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) was chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) from 1949 to 1963.
Aconservative, Francophile Rhinelander, Konrad Adenauer successfully presided over the creation of a Western-oriented German state after World War II. By providing an efficient political mechanism for German life, he aided the astonishing recovery of West Germany and its acceptance into the Western bloc during the cold war. As a statesman, he was often compared to the 19th-century German leader Otto von Bismarck. But while Bismarck led a largely Protestant, militarist, and aristocrat-dominated government, Adenauer shaped a heavily Catholic, civilian, business-dominated "half-Germany" firmly tied to the West.
Konrad Adenauer was born in 1876 in Cologne, and his career was always closely connected with this city in the Rhineland region of Germany. Although his father was a Prussian soldier and minor civil servant, Adenauer shared the common ambivalence of the Rhinelanders to the Prussian-dominated German Empire.
Even as a young man, Adenauer was reserved, somewhat ascetic, and hardworking rather than brilliant in his studies. Severe thrift and the support of friends enabled him to study law at the universities of Freiburg im Breisgau, Munich, and Bonn. Adenauer then worked for an influential Cologne lawyer, who was the head of the local German Center party organization. (The German Center party had been formed by Catholics to protect their interests against the Protestant-dominated government.) Through hard work, ambition, and party contacts, Adenauer became an assistant to the lord mayor of Cologne in 1906. He soon became the equivalent of deputy mayor and finally lord mayor in 1917. During these years Adenauer had married and had three children.
Tenure as Lord Mayor
Adenauer faced many crises in his 16-year tenure as mayor. He successfully dampened the fires of revolution that swept Cologne at the end of World War I. After flirting with movements for a Rhenish state separate from Prussia (and possibly even Germany), Adenauer became noted as a strong representative of Rhineland interests against the central government in Berlin. As a leading member of the Center party, he was chairman of the upper house of the Prussian state legislature from 1920 to 1933.
Adenauer's life was not without dark sides. His first wife died during World War I, and he suffered severe facial injuries in an automobile accident which left him a victim of insomnia. In 1933 Adenauer, an opponent of Nazism, was driven from office by the new regime of Hitler. He was persecuted sporadically, and in 1934 and 1944 he was arrested by the Gestapo. On the latter occasion his second wife was mistreated and later died. Adenauer narrowly escaped being sent to the concentration camp at Buchenwald. But for the most part he spent the years from 1933 to the end of World War II quietly in his villa on the Rhine, cultivating his garden and avoiding politics.
West German State
When American troops seized Cologne, Adenauer was offered his old post of lord mayor. Although he was almost 70, his reputation as a good administrator untainted by Nazism gave him a political edge. Conflicts with the British occupation authorities late in 1945, however, led to Adenauer's dismissal. He then threw himself into reviving German Center party activities. He concurred with other former leaders of the party that it must broaden its base to include all faiths that supported democratic institutions. To achieve this end, he was a cofounder of a new political party—the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). With the backing of the Catholic Church and influential Cologne businessmen, Adenauer rapidly advanced from head of the local CDU (1945) to chairman of the party for the British Zone (1946) and finally for all of West Germany (1949). In 1948 he was elected president of the Parliamentary Council, a body that drew up the political foundations for a new German republic composed of the British, American, and French occupation zones.
Tenure as Chancellor
When the first federal parliamentary elections in 1949 resulted in a victory for the CDU, Adenauer outmaneuvered his many adversaries to become the first chancellor. The decisive single vote which gave him a majority was his own. He was reelected in 1953, 1957, and 1961.
As chancellor, Adenauer was often criticized for behaving more autocratically than the Basic Law (constitution) of 1949 intended. He generally left economic matters in the hands of private enterprise and of Ludwig Erhard, his capable economics minister. Although Adenauer had never before held a diplomatic post, he developed great stature as a statesman. He served as his own foreign minister from 1951 to 1955. A Franco-German rapprochement and a strong tie to the United States formed the basis of Adenauer's European and world policies. Although opponents scornfully dubbed him the "chancellor of the Allies," Adenauer's negotiations with Germany's former enemies resulted in a plan of West European unity and prosperity which rivaled Charlemagne's empire in scope. From the early 1950s on, Adenauer offered to contribute to the European Defense Community and in 1954 to raise a new German army within NATO. Under his guidance West Germany became an active member of the Council of Europe, the West European Union, and the European Economic Community (European Union).
By the early 1960s Adenauer was an octogenarian and had come to be called Der Alte (the Old Man). He was increasingly out of touch with the new generation, liberal opinion, and the thaw in East-West relations. He resigned the chancellorship under heavy political pressure from his own party in 1963. When he died in 1967, his funeral occasioned an almost unprecedented foreign tribute to a German chancellor.
Adenauer's Memoirs (4 vols., 1965-1968; trans., vol. 1, 1966) is an important if not objective source. No fully adequate biography of Adenauer exists. Paul Weymar, Adenauer (1955; trans. 1957), suffers from being an "authorized" version of the Chancellor's life. Both Charles Wighton, Adenauer: A Democratic Dictator (1963), and Rudolf Augstein, Konrad Adenauer (1964; trans. 1964), tend to be hostile. For a good broad evaluation of Adenauer's role after 1945 see Richard Hiscocks, The Adenauer Era (1966). Arnold J. Heidenheimer, Adenauer and the CDU: The Rise of the Leader and the Integration of the Party (1960), treats domestic politics. Edgar Alexander, Adenauer and the New Germany: The Chancellor of the Vanquished (1956; trans. 1957), is a study of the man and his personality and an assessment of present-day political Germany. See also Gordon A. Craig, From Bismarck to Adenauer: Aspects of German Statecraft (1958; rev. ed. 1965), and Wolfram F. Hanrieder, West German Foreign Policy, 1949-1963 (1967).
Gotto, Klaus., Konrad Adenauer, Stuttgart: Bonn Aktuell, 1988.
Schwarz, Hans-Peter, Konrad Adenauer: a German politician and statesman in a period of war, revolution, and reconstruction, Providence, RI: Berghahn Books, 1995. □