The Tragedy of Helmut Kohl Battle Looms over Legacy of Frail Statesman
Part 2: A Slient, Shuttered Life
But people in Kohl's inner circle say Kohl-Richter is doing a very good job nursing him, and that he would no longer be alive if it weren't for her. Kohl himself has said so.
She had the house rebuilt for him. An elevator attached to the side of the building leads from the first floor, where Kohl sleeps, down to the basement where he has his office. The swimming pool has been altered so that he can use it without assistance.
Kohl swims every day. He spends much of his time sitting in his office or living room, having his wife read to him or writing letters together with her. The recipients wonder who really wrote them -- was it more Kohl or more Kohl-Richter? The signature is a bit scrawly. Kohl? Kohl-Richter? Probably Kohl, people say.
It is a silent, shuttered life in a house where Kohl lived for decades with his first wife Hannelore. She committed suicide in this building. Maike Kohl-Richter has to live with her ghost.
Sometimes visitors come to the house. But Maike Kohl-Richter has caused outrage by being strict about who can and can't get in. At the moment, the list of people she lets the drawbridge down for are the editor-in-chief of mass circulation daily Bild, Kai Diekmann, the chairman of the CDU's youth arm, Philipp Missfelder, and Kohl's former foreign policy advisor, Horst Teltschik. There are others, including his lawyer, and former Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel also recently paid Kohl a visit.
The people who aren't allowed in are Kohl's two estranged sons Peter and Walter, as well as his former driver and housekeeper, Eckhard and Hilde Seeber, and Kohl's former office manager and confidante, Juliane Weber.
Chauffeur Fired After 46 Years of Service
Eckhard Seeber was Kohl's chauffeur and a sort of personal servant for 46 years. He mowed Kohl's lawn, made small repairs, accompanied the chancellor to the sauna where he was in charge of pouring on the water to give more steam. On plane journeys, he would tuck his boss in at night when he had kicked off his blanket. He was a part of Kohl. That was never a problem for Hannelore Kohl, but his young wife Maike evidently didn't like it.
Three weeks after Kohl's fall in 2008, Seeber visited him in hospital. "Maike Richter told me -- not in the presence of Helmut Kohl, but outside in the car park -- that I should put the car in the garage and leave the keys in the house. I did so and that was it," Eckhard Seeber told celebrity magazine Bunte, in an article headlined: "Does She Want Him All to Herself?"
She definitely wants to be alone with her husband more. She soon found out that there's a market for information about the Kohl household. There's gossip and tittle-tattle and some of it ends up in newspaper articles and books. That created paranoia, a fear of being pursued for the purpose of obtaining sellable information.
This paranoia is not unjustified, and it led Maike to refrain from hiring nurses to help her care for her husband. She's afraid that they might talk about the state of his health in Oggersheim pubs at night. So Kohl-Richter does most of the nursing, but it's too much for her when Kohl falls out of his wheelchair, which once happened.
Is Kohl Still Writing His Own Statements?
As Kohl doesn't say much, a lot of attention is paid to what he writes. But is he really writing it? In the last 18 months, Kohl has given statements to the press five times, including a guest editorial in Bild defending nuclear power generation after the Fukushima accident and a guest editorial on the future of Europe for the same newspaper.
One of his statements criticized a book written by his son Walter about the trials of growing up in the Kohl family. The bestselling book had exceeded the "limits of taste and decency," Kohl said. His son said in a television interview two days later: "There is only one person who could have worked over that press statement, and that is Maike."
Schwan, the author, is also convinced that Kohl no longer knows what statements are issued in his name -- or is unable to prevent them if he does know. For example, he says, the editorial in Bild on nuclear energy did not reflect Kohl's position. He suspects it came from Maike and believes she is bent on claiming the right to speak for her husband. The frailer Kohl appears in public, the more demonic their marriage seems to some of his former friends and allies.
People who are allowed to visit Kohl agree that Maike Kohl-Richter wants influence and power and is motivated by a mixture of ambition and the desire to care for her husband. They say she was too harsh with Eckhard Seeber, the driver, and one of them says she is "clumsy in dealing with people." But, they add, she's good for Kohl.
630 Hours of Sound Recordings
Schwan is the last person who has spoken extensively to Kohl about his life as chancellor. He has 630 hours of sound recordings of interviews he conducted while working as a ghost writer on the first three volumes of Kohl's memoirs. That's a trove that could make Schwan rich and famous. "I spent 105 days talking to Helmut Kohl, five to six hours a day," says Schwan. "The knowledge I have on him, no one else in the world has it."
He spent months in the basement of the house in Oggersheim reading confidential papers: accounts of Kohl's telephone conversations with world leaders, personal letters written to and by the chancellor, even 13 volumes of Stasi files that Kohl had barred from public access in a long legal battle. Kohl had copies of the Stasi documents brought to his home.
"I sacrificed eight years for the memoirs," says Schwan. He thinks he's entitled to get some payback now. He's not quite sure what he's going to do with his treasure trove of information. His publishing company is urging him to show the "true Kohl". But he doesn't know yet when to go ahead with it.
Schwan had written three volumes of Kohl's autobiography and had presented the first 300 pages of the fourth volume, covering his departure from office and Kohl's dramatic fall from grace in the party donations scandal. That is what Kohl and the Droemer publishing house had agreed.
But then came a dispute with Maike Kohl-Richter about the use of some Kohl quotes for an anthology, and that marked the end of the ghost writer's links with the Kohl household. He received a letter from a lawyer stating that Kohl considered their working relationship to be terminated.
Schwan believes he was the first victim in a long line of cleansings carried out by Kohl's wife in order to strengthen her position.
Meanwhile, historian Hans-Peter Schwarz has just published a biography of the chancellor that gives new insight into how carelessly Kohl prepared the monetary union. Looking back from today's point of view, the passages on the Treaty of Maastricht read like a debacle of German policymaking. Kohl didn't insist on securing the single currency via a political union. He agreed with French President Francois Mitterrand that the path to the euro should at a certain point become "irreversible." That took the pressure off countries to meet the economic convergence criteria. Those two flaws in the Treaty are part of the reason why the euro is wobbling today.
Drawbridge May be Opening
Kohl was feted as one of the fathers of the euro, but now he's also the father of the currency's problems. History is fluid, it develops with events and with historical research. That makes the fight for who gets to interpret it so interesting. Now Maike Kohl-Richter has access to all the files. She's always by his side, and Kohl is probably telling her his views of this fluid history. After his death she'll be able to do what she wants with that information. She could even sell her own views as his. Kohl's former aides, the people who shaped history with him, are worried that she could finish the fourth volume of his memoirs and maybe write her own books about him.
But there's movement in the castle at Oggersheim. Maike Kohl-Richter is evidently unsure about whether she can continue restricting access to her husband so strictly. She was alarmed at the interview Kohl's driver Eckhard Seeber gave Bunte. Nothing makes her look worse than the complaint of a man who devoted his entire life to Kohl and is now no longer even allowed to visit his boss. Kohl-Richter is sick of looking like a monster.
The worst thing for her is that Bild editor Kai Diekmann has moved to America. He has been like a son to Kohl and an adviser to Kohl-Richter in how to deal with the press. She often telephoned with him and discussed public statements with the editor. Now he's no longer available, and the Kohls' access to Bild newspaper is not as strong.
For all these reasons Kohl-Richter wants to do something. She is considering a reconciliation with some of her husband's old companions. One person with access says there's activity behind the drawbridge. It's being let down now and again.
- Part 1: Battle Looms over Legacy of Frail Statesman
- Part 2: A Slient, Shuttered Life