End of an Era

Summers were hotter and longer, the music was better and politicians were all great. That’s my childhood dealt with, then. Maybe I still think the music was better.

Helmut Kohl was definitely my Chancellor of Germany, in the same way Tom Baker was my Doctor. Kohl was Chancellor from when I was eleven through my first (of many) trips to Germany and on to just a couple of years before Abbi was born. That was a crazy proportion of my life at that point. But when he died this week, I realised that I really couldn’t tell you much about him. Mind you, I also can’t remember a single Doctor Who episode Tom Baker was in, only the hair and scarves. It seems wrong to say I have memories of either of them, it feels more like only impressions and perhaps, like the weather and the music, those impressions are unjustifiably rosy.

Kohl was always just there, somehow. Physically imposing, he seemed to embody the strength and might of what was then still West Germany. When the East German leader, Erich Honecker, visited Kohl, the picture of this colossus of Western democracy standing beside the diminutive representative of the Eastern bloc seemed more than a little symbolic. But really, no more than another impression.

I remembered Kohl for the two big events most of us associate him with. German re-unification and the introduction of the Euro. Both examples of his politics trumping good economics in the way both were brought into being.

And that’s about it. I couldn’t tell you a single domestic German policy or change he brought in. Not one. And yet I find myself with a lingering affection for a man who seems to have had no contact with either of his sons for years, leaving behind him a divided family and equally divisive legacy which seems to reach into the present via his once protege Angela Merkel.

Last year, we went to a play about Willy Brandt’s life, his political and personal demons and the scandal of one of his advisors turning out to have been an East German spy. I went in knowing more about Brandt than about Kohl (Brandt was from an era just far enough in the past to have come up at university) but the play brought out so much of the torment of the man that could be hidden behind the persona of the politician. I wonder if, one day, we will see a play based on Kohl’s life. Until then, there are obituaries aplenty to keep us going.

However irrational it is, when Kohl died, it felt like losing a part of my past. I’m not going to risk watching old episodes of Doctor Who, that’s for sure. At least the music is still around.

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