Genscher was a legend – as a politician and as a human being

01.04.2016 - Interview

An obituary for Hans-Dietrich Genscher by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, published on Spiegel Online on 1 April 2016.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher kept two fountain pens right up until his death. He used one of them to sign the Two plus Four Treaty, which paved the way to German reunification, and the other to sign the Maastricht Treaty establishing the European Union. Both of these are watershed moments in the history of Germany and Europe, and both bear Genscher’s unmistakable signature. He wrote history with both of these pens.

German unity and European integration – these were two sides of the same coin for Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Having been born in eastern Germany and after experiencing the horrors of war first hand, what he wanted, throughout his life, was a united Germany in a peaceful, united Europe.

The Helsinki Final Act was the result of a visionary policy of détente by the social‑liberal coalition, which Hans-Dietrich Genscher played a major role to achieve alongside Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr. He was one of the first to identify the opportunities for overcoming the division of Germany and Europe that lay in the policies of glasnost and perestroika as championed by Mikhail Gorbachev and Eduard Shevardnadze.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher eventually saw his dream become a reality. Memories of the fall of the Iron Curtain will always be inextricably linked with the image of the balcony of the Prague Embassy. “We have come here today to tell you that you are free to leave...” – while the message was drowned out by the crowd’s cheers, it re‑echoed throughout Europe, until this day. A new age had dawned.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher stands for a Germany that, after the crimes of the National Socialist period, regained trust piece by piece in Europe and around the world – with modesty and restraint, with great diligence and quiet perseverance, and always with clear goals in mind.

He played many roles in his long and fulfilled political life – co‑initiator of the policy of détente, architect of German unity, advocate of European integration and guarantor of Germany’s transatlantic anchor. He became an influential icon with his yellow pullover and superhero nickname “Genschman”. His clever bon mots, profound humour and his humanity are legendary to this day.

However, Hans-Dietrich Genscher was, above all, a wonderful human being. Allow me to pay tribute to this great German and European!

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