Great European of the week: Konrad Adenauer

In celebration of the 65th anniversary of his election as the Chancellor of West Germany (15 September 1949) we commemorate one of the greatest European politicians of the 20th century: Konrad Adenauer. By Veronika Czina

Konrad AdenauerKonrad Hermann Joseph Adenauer was born on 5 January 1876 to a Catholic family in Cologne. He was the third of five children of Johann Konrad Adenauer and his wife, Helen. After completing his secondary education he studied law and politics in Freiburg, Munich and Bonn. He finished his university studies in 1900 and he started to work as a lawyer in his hometown. Two years later he joined a law firm headed by Hermann Krausen, chairman of the Centre Party group, the Catholic party of that time, in the city council. Soon, Adenauer also joined the party.

The Rhineland lawyer started his political career after 1904, which was largely facilitated by his marriage with Emma Weyer. Their marriage, besides gifting the couple with three children, brought political connections and success in the city council for Adenauer. Between 1917 and 1933 he served as Mayor of Cologne and from 1922 to 1933 he was also President of the Prussian State Council. During the period of the Weimar Republic he became one of the most influential political figures of Germany by achieving considerable development for the city of Cologne and also by openly calling for the dissolution of Prussia and for the creation of an autonomous Rhineland state. However, his fundamental federalist, Christian and republican views made him unpopular in certain political circles, and so when the Nazis came to power in 1933 he was removed from his office as Mayor and also banned from the city of Cologne.

Having been forced from his city of birth, Adenauer focused his energies in other areas, and played an important role in the foundation of the party of Christian Democratic Union. First he became its president in the British zone of occupation in 1946, and then he became CDU’s chairman for the whole West Germany in 1949. At the first general elections under the new regime, Adenauer was elected Federal Chancellor on September 15 1949. He was 73 years old that year, so it comes as no surprise that he was often referred to as ‘Der Alte’ (‘The Old One’).

During his four terms as Chancellor he became friends with Charles de Gaulle and established closed ties with France. Not only did he achieve considerable development in West Germany, but he also played a major role in laying the foundations of the European project. In 1957 he was among the signatories of the Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community. The last years of his political career were burdened by the construction of the Berlin Wall, and some internal conflicts within his own cabinet. However, he managed to crown his life’s work by signing the Élysée Treaty, which paved the way for a future cooperation and friendship between Germany and France. In his fourth term as Chancellor, he handed over his office to Ludwig Erhard. Konrad Adenauer, one of the founding fathers of the European Union died at the age of 91, on 19 April 1967.

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