'Intellectually Limited': Book Reveals True State of US-German Cold-War Bond

A new biography of former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher removes the veneer to expose the sometimes ugly side of international diplomacy. Some world leaders, it would seem, didn't always think much of former chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl.

Former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (left) and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in a 1978 archive photo. Zoom
DPA

Former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (left) and Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in a 1978 archive photo.

The personal and political aversions of leading international politicians to former German chancellors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl appear to have been greater than once thought -- at least according to details provided in a prominent new biography about ex-Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

French President Francois Mitterrand, for example, complained internally that Schmidt has a "faulty character," the book recounts. He also complained that Kohl was more an "electoral opportunist" than statesman.

For his part, Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to former US President Jimmy Carter, didn't care much for Schmidt either. He described the German leader as a man with an "oddly erratic personality" with "pathological problems." Kremlin chief Mikhail Gorbachev declared in 1989 that politics à la Kohl were "dyed-in-the-wool revanchism."

'A Good Contract Law Attorney'

The quotes originate from a new biography about Hans-Dietrich Genscher just released in German by publishing house Ferdinand Schöningh. Genscher, probably Germany's most widely-respected statesman and a member of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party, was assigned the task of absorbing irritations from seemingly all sides about the then-government leaders in the West German capital of Bonn.

He was even called on to smooth ruffled feathers in moments of presumed privacy. The book recounts a chance meeting between Genscher and Brzezinski in the restroom during a meeting between Carter and Schmidt. The chancellor was overly critical of the US president, Brzezinski complained. Seeking to play down the problem, Genscher laughed and said that Schmidt talked poorly even of his own cabinet. That could be, responded Brzezinski, but that is different that finding fault with the US president.

Biographer Hans-Dieter Heumann spoke with many of the the people directly involved. Former Chancellor Schmitt, apparently shared a number of anecdotes. Schmidt told Heumann that he considered the US administration of then President Jimmy Carter to be an "intellectually limited government." The former chancellor even had disparaging words for the former foreign minister, saying that Genscher was merely a "good contract law attorney," but not someone whom he viewed as "a particularly outstanding conceptual thinker." Schmidt said he sought to cede "playgrounds" to Genscher so that he could "appear successful."

Genscher, who is now 84, was Germany's longest serving foreign minister and remains an important intellectual figure in national politics today.

dsl/SPIEGEL

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