Konrad adenauer

Konrad adenauer


Konrad adenauer

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Konrad adenauer

KAS/Peter Bouserath

Konrad adenauer

KAS – Giuseppe Moro

Konrad adenauer

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I. 1876-1949

Adenauer was the third child of five siblings and grew up in cramped conditions. After graduating from high school (1894) he studied law and economics in Freiburg, Munich and Bonn with the help of a citizen scholarship. After 1. legal exams, traineeship and 2. After his state exams, Adenauer worked as an assessor at the public prosecutor’s office in Cologne; from 1903, he worked for lawyer Hermann Kausen (chairman of Cologne’s centrist faction); from 1905, he was an assistant judge at the regional court. 1904, he had entered into contact with the Cologne patriciate by marrying Emma Weyer (1880-1916). The marriage produced three children. Influenced by Christian humanist values on a Catholic basis, Adenauer remained turned toward the liberal spirit of the Rhineland, which was open to Western Europe, and influenced by the democratic federalist tradition of the Rhenish Center.

In 1906 Adenauer was elected alderman in Cologne, in 1909 1. Alderman. 1916 his wife died, 1917 he suffered a serious car accident. Elected mayor of Cologne in the same year, Wilhelm II awarded him. the title of Lord Mayor and appointed him to the Prussian House of Lords. 1919 Adenauer married Auguste Zinsser (1895-1948). Four children were born of this marriage. It is important to understand his personality that he was always coming up with new technical ideas ("inventions"), even acquiring patents for them. For 16 years, Adenauer determined the fate of Cologne and developed the Rhenish cathedral city into the metropolis of western Germany. With the invasion of British troops at the end of 1918, a seven-year period of occupation began. In the course of the "Rhineland Movement" in the winter of 1918-19, Adenauer advocated separating the Rhineland from Prussia, but not from the Reich. In the national and economic crisis of late autumn 1923, he opposed efforts by the Reich government of Gustav Stresemann to temporarily separate West Germany from the Reich in order to save "Restdeutschland" (remaining Germany). Adenauer took the French need for security seriously and strove for an "organic integration" of West German heavy industry with that of neighboring foreign countries.

Since 1921 the center politician (also leading in the provincial parliament and committee of the Rhine province) belonged to the Prussian council of state. Until 1933 he was elected its chairman every year. As president of the Munich Catholic Day in 1922, he advocated interdenominational cooperation. Re-elected in 1929, the mayor embodied for the National Socialists the republican bastion in Prussia they hated. The President of the Council of State was able to prevent the Gleichschaltung of Prussia by dissolving the Landtag after Hitler’s accession to power on 6. February 1933 could not be prevented. After the local elections of 12. Adenauer was relieved of his post on March 17. July dismissed.

He remained ostracized, threatened and monitored. 1933/34 he found accommodation for a year in the Benedictine abbey of Maria Laach. In 1934 he moved with his family to Neubabelsberg near Berlin, where he was arrested for two days at the end of June 1934, and in 1935 to Rhondorf. Expelled from the government district of Cologne, he lived in Unkel for a year. In 1937, he reached a settlement with the city administration in Cologne that allowed him to build a house in Rhondorf. Adenauer avoided contacts with the inner-German opposition. On 26. In August 1944 he was arrested and imprisoned in Cologne for three months. His wife, also temporarily arrested, contracted an illness in the process, from the consequences of which she died in 1948. On 4. Appointed mayor of Cologne by the American military government in May 1945, Adenauer energetically set about rebuilding the ruined city. His relationship with the U.S. occupation was good, that with the British military government (from the end of June) was strained. Am 6. October 1945 he was dismissed by the military commander. Since he was forbidden to engage in political activity, he resigned from his position as a member of the executive committee (since 2. September) of the newly founded Christian Democratic Party (CDP), a regional forerunner of the CDU. After the ban on political activity was lifted, Adenauer accumulated all the leadership offices of the CDU in North Rhine-Westphalia and in the British zone in a lightning career in party politics. He also headed the CDU/CSU working group, founded in 1947, and as an organizer and crowd-pleasing speaker played a decisive role in the rise of his party.

From the division of Germany and Europe, Adenauer drew the conclusion: no "seesaw policy" and nation-state restoration, but integration of West Germany into Western Europe. With his election as president of the Parliamentary Council on 1. September 1948 moved Adenauer into a key supraregional role. As "spokesman of the nascent Federal Republic towards the Western powers" (T. Heuss), he was able to give resonance to his conception of West Germany’s role in the free world and to assert his claim to leadership in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Konrad adenauer

Picture Alliance

II. 1949-1967

Regaining political freedom of action and reconstruction

When Adenauer was elected Chancellor, the supreme power over the new democracy lay with the three High Commissioners of the Western occupying powers: the United States, Great Britain and France. The Federal Republic, largely dependent on foreign rule, was in a state of quasi-protectorate, and it was still uncertain for some time whether the Western victorious powers would again call the state that had just come into being into question in new negotiations on Germany. In France in particular, there was great concern about the latent power potential of this "Western state" and the unstable situation in a divided Germany. But even in the Federal Republic, flooded with masses of refugees and still psychologically unstable due to occupation and division, it was uncertain whether reconstruction would actually succeed. Against this background, it is astonishing how, until the return of now almost unrestricted sovereignty on 5. By May 1955, the foreign-dominated and impoverished German core state in the West had already become the most efficient European economy, a democracy supported by broad majorities and a Western European power factor. According to general opinion, this was primarily due to Adenauer, who, from the point of view of the Western democracies and a considerable part of the electorate, ensured three things: first, thanks to his unassailable position after the 1953 Bundestag elections, a reliable consolidation of democracy, which initially still appeared quite unstable; second, the equally reliable Western connection, which protected the Federal Republic from the Soviet Union and the Federal Republic’s Western neighbors from the "incertitudes allemandes"; third, thanks to Adenauer’s calm policy of understanding and willingness to integrate with the West, a restoration of Germany’s political and moral credibility.

Adenauer’s CDU as the "Party of the Federal Republic"

Adenauer began his postwar career as a party leader and also saw himself to a large extent as a party leader in the office of chancellor. The CDU, as it developed in the 1950s, was both his work and his tool. Coming from the Catholic Center and rooted in firm religious convictions, he had early on – as president of the Catholic Congress in Munich in 1922 – advocated an interdenominational People’s Party. It was primarily thanks to his leadership that the CDU, which had been formed in 1945, in conjunction with the CSU, became the strongest political force in the Federal Republic, which largely identified with this core German state in the West and the policies shaped by Adenauer, and which stabilized the Federal Republic by means of a moderately conservative, pro-business, but at the same time also socially compensatory policy. Thus, it was not the traditional SPD party that became the actual party of the Federal Republic in the years of the Adenauer era, which were decisive for its later development, but the CDU, which at that time was still distinctly Christian, Western-oriented and modern in terms of both domestic and foreign policy.

Konrad adenauer

KAS – Peter Bouserath

Enforcement of the Social Market Economy

Before the currency reform of 1948, strong factions in the CDU also advocated a more or less far-reaching socialist development of the economy and society. In contrast, Adenauer was a proponent of the free-market direction, but combined with social protection and with compensatory measures. He pushed through Ludwig Erhard’s nonpartisan neoliberalism within the CDU and kept the "father of the economic miracle" in the cabinet until 1963. Adenauer vacillated between a free-market orientation (z. B. in wage policy, in tax policy, in policy toward the unions, in housing policy) and more strongly etatist and welfare-state preferences (z. B. in energy policy, agricultural policy, legislation on equalization of burdens, dynamic pensions, subsidy policy). All in all, however, the Federal Republic under his chancellorship took a distinctly free-market development with high growth rates, dismantling of protectionist barriers, great export successes, currency stability and little influence of the unions.

The invention of chancellor democracy

The term appeared in 1953, when Adenauer won his first major election victory. The institutional preconditions of chancellor democracy, however, were already laid down in the Basic Law. Adenauer, however, made maximum use of the corresponding possibilities. As with other chancellors after him, his position of power was based on the fact that he combined the office of chancellor and the chairmanship of the strongest governing party in one hand. Thanks to this dual power, Adenauer had the upper hand in all disputes vis-à-vis his own cabinet members, vis-à-vis the chairmen of the CDU/CSU parliamentary groups, vis-à-vis the coalition partners, also vis-à-vis the state associations of the CDU as well as vis-à-vis the CSU and in all conflicts with the state governments. In essence, Adenauer led the CDU from the Chancellor’s Office; election campaigns could thus be conducted with the slogan: "It’s the chancellor who counts!"In his dealings with the ministers of his cabinet, Adenauer thought highly of thorough argumentative factual discussion, but on the whole he also ruled authoritatively in his dealings with them. He also relied less on compromise and consensus than on conflict in his dealings with the smaller coalition parties. The Adenauer era is also the story of countless coalition crises, which the chancellor sought to provoke rather than avoid, in order to prevail in each case. From 1949 to 1995, Adenauer benefited from the favorable constellation. Until the return of sovereignty, all contacts with the High Commissioners and the Western governments went through him. He was his own foreign minister from 1951 to 1995 and was thus able to represent his policy in his own person in the early days of European integration. The Blank office, which was responsible for preparing Germany’s defense contribution, also reported directly to him until 1955. He did not allow any other party to interfere with his responsibility for the Federal Press and Information Office. His advanced age also contributed to his superior position. In addition, Adenauer knew how to keep everyone who had anything to do with him politically at a distance in a proud, ironic and often hurtful way. In this way, he also accustomed the German public, which at that time was even more fixated on authority than later, to the fact that democracy and government authority were not opposites, but ideally complemented each other.

Western ties

Since the end of the war, Adenauer had lived in constant fear of further expansion by the Soviet Union. An anti-communism rooted in liberal Christian convictions was one of his strongest motives. For this reason, he considered wait-and-see or mediatory positions in the East-West conflict to be misguided and advocated an unconditional commitment to the West, first of the Western zones and then of the Federal Republic of Germany. The desire to regain Germany’s freedom of action, at least vis-à-vis the Western powers, and the desire for protection by them, especially by the United States, coincided. A deepening of the division of Germany, as he saw it, had to be accepted under these circumstances. Basically, Adenauer conceived of the democracies in the Atlantic area as an ideal unity. Once his position had been consolidated, he never hesitated to play the three German powers off against each other now and then, albeit cautiously, if necessary. On the whole, however, he sought to avoid unilateral options, mostly following the American lead, at least until the early 1960s, when, disappointed with the Berlin and Germany policies of London and Washington, he increasingly turned to France under President Charles de Gaulle. From the very beginning, he was convinced of the indispensability of Franco-German reconciliation. This was expressed in the unreserved acceptance of the Schuman Plan as well as in the not quite so unreserved, but for a long time nevertheless emphatic cooperation in the plans for a European Defense Community (EDC) launched by France and constantly reformulated, which failed in Paris in 1954, thus opening the way to the German defense contribution within the framework of NATO. Even before de Gaulle came to power in 1958, after the Saar issue had been resolved in the German sense, he gave a privileged place to Franco-German cooperation within the framework of the Six-Party Community (France, Italy, Benelux countries and the Federal Republic of Germany) in the negotiations on the European Economic Community (EEC), also with the aim of joint nuclear weapons production in trilateral cooperation between France, the Federal Republic of Germany and Italy. The orientation towards France intensified until the conclusion of the Franco-German Treaty of 1963. As in all fields of foreign and domestic policy, however, his distrust of France never rested. Alongside constant efforts for cooperation, there was therefore a long succession of controversies.

Adenauer was initially unprejudiced toward Great Britain, despite his mortifying dismissal as mayor of Cologne, also in appreciation of Britain’s role as a world power, which, however, weakened in the course of his chancellorship. London’s unwillingness to participate in the various projects of European integration policy (GKS, EDC, EEC, Euratom) made it seek closer cooperation with France more and more. One of the main motives for his policy of "Westbindung" was his determination to build up his own armed forces to protect the Federal Republic from the NVA of the GDR and the Red Army, which were to be integrated into the defense organizations of the West. This initially led to fierce domestic political disputes with the SPD and with Gustav Heinemann’s All-German People’s Party. The entire policy of Western ties had to be pushed through against the SPD, which criticized any treaty to this effect, primarily by stating that it would deepen the German divide and exacerbate East-West antagonisms. In addition to the security issue and the need to achieve a return of the German economy to the world markets with the approval of the Western powers, Adenauer considered a conceivably close integration with the Western democracies indispensable also for the purpose of stabilizing the democratic development in the Federal Republic.

Germany policy

Adenauer conceived of the Federal Republic as a core German state in the legal succession to the German Reich and unswervingly adhered to it until the end of his chancellorship. This did not exclude the fact that from the mid-1950s onward, especially under the pressure of the Berlin crisis, he occasionally had modifications of this basic line worked out internally. In view of the unchanged expansionist Soviet policy, however, it seemed to him advisable to consolidate Western Germany and Western Europe first with the support of the United States. Only after that, according to his estimation, a solution to the German question through reunification, perhaps also a correction of the eastern borders, might be achievable at some point under favorable conditions. The fact that Adenauer gave priority to securing freedom, resurgence and prosperity through ties to the West over risky reunification policies has been strongly criticized. In retrospect, Adenauer’s reluctance to partition will be seen as one of the most important contributions to the stabilization of the Federal Republic and the Western European state system. That this system still contained a threat of war and remained unstable during Adenauer’s lifetime, due to unilateral Soviet pressures, was demonstrated by the crisis over Berlin that lasted from 1955-1962. Adenauer’s course of unconditional commitment to the West also resulted in his determination not to accept any proposals for a nonaligned status for a reunified Germany. Germany as a whole should at least have freedom of choice regarding alliances and European integration.

The stabilizer of Europe

From a historical perspective, Adenauer deserves to be called a "great European" in two respects. By maintaining the primacy of Western policy, he helped stabilize the unstable situation in Germany due to the division and the absurd status of West Berlin. Since the Reich had previously played a decisive role in the destruction of the European state system, the policy of this chancellor, who was balancing and integrative toward the West, was considered a great statesmanlike achievement. He will therefore have to be understood as one of the most important "stabilizers of Europe. But he was also a modernizer because he tried to advance the integration of Western Europe with remarkable open-mindedness, dynamism and foresight. As a result of the initially precarious situation, he took up and modified whatever was offered in the interests of Germany: Accession to the Council of Europe, the Schuman Plan, the EDC, the proposals for a European Political Community (EPC), the plans for a European customs union, from which the European Economic Community emerged after negotiations in the Six-Party Framework, France’s proposals for a European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) or de Gaulle’s insistence on the establishment of a political union. It was astonishing to see with how much joy in experimentation and optimism this aged Adenauer, who still came from the empire, was prepared to launch rather untested, but all in all forward-looking institutions. At the same time, he did not allow himself to be tied down to any particular concept of Europe. In this respect, too, he remained not a visionary, but an experimental pragmatist. The determination to anchor the Federal Republic firmly in the Western European communities was in any case one of his most important contributions to the history of the Federal Republic, but also to the history of Europe. Of all the statesmen who worked on the unification of Western Europe in the postwar decade, he was the most important.

The Modernizer Adenauer

The Christian Socialists, pushed aside by Adenauer, and the Marxist Left criticized the Adenauer era as an epoch of "restoration" already during the Chancellor’s lifetime, but also later on. The Marxist accusation of restoration can easily be ignored. Adenauer’s and Erhard’s social market economy was a concept of capitalism domesticated by regulatory policy and the welfare state. It is true that Adenauer as chancellor liked to govern authoritatively. Undoubtedly, this social climber, who was not free of arrogance, brought with him from the decades of the German Empire and the Weimar Republic an understanding of office that granted the highest officials freedom of action and the power to issue directives – provided they found majorities in the coalition cabinets, in parliament and in general elections. It was precisely this ultimately democratic understanding of office that distinguished Adenauer from the practice of government in the former authoritarian state. Quite inaccurate was the accusation of a militaristic restoration held against him because of the rearmament. In no other area has the democratic reliability of the middle and higher elites been so thoroughly scrutinized by parliament as in the case of the officers of the former armed forces. Nowhere was political and bureaucratic-civilian control so tight, even in Adenauer’s time, as with regard to the Bundeswehr. It is true that Adenauer endeavored to oppose Soviet power politics with Western counter-power. This aspect of the "restoration" of power politics, however, was raised primarily by communists, and also by advocates of a more or less unconditional pacifism. In reality, the Federal Republic was a society in full modernization throughout the Adenauer era. And in the shape of Adenauer, a determined modernizer had taken his seat in the Federal Chancellery. This type of modernizer – technology-friendly, willing to shape things, quite unobjectionable, open to innovation of all kinds – had already appeared during the industrial boom in the Kaiserreich, in the Weimar Republic and had also outlasted the Third Reich. Adenauer was, as is generally known since his time as mayor of Cologne, one of those headstrong, uncomfortable, daring modernizers from whom modern German society drew its dynamism. Many of the achievements just outlined can be understood as the work of a modernizer: the transformation of the outdated party system by means of the CDU, the establishment and expansion of chancellor democracy, the sustained continuation and promotion of cutting-edge technologies interrupted during the occupation, not least nuclear power, modernization of agriculture through the "Green Plans," highway construction, housing construction – there are few areas in which the federal government was able to become active that were not characterized by fundamental modernization in many cases in the 1950s and 1960s. Adenauer also proved to be a modernizer of the highest order in his unhesitating involvement in the completely new projects of European unification. It was only towards the end of his life that he became increasingly concerned when he realized how profoundly the technical innovation he himself had helped to unleash, together with prosperity, was affecting the hitherto prevailing religious value systems, the work ethic, the individual will to achieve, and also the familiar landscapes and buildings. Not only after leaving the chancellorship, but from then on more and more persistently, he began to lament "the chaos of values," a worldwide "disorder," the decline of religiosity and patriotism, the breathtaking restlessness of modernity, and likewise the slackening of creative power. The contradictions and unintended effects of modernization, which he himself had promoted throughout his life, caught up with him.

Curriculum vitae

  • 1894 Abitur at the Aposteln Gymnasium in Cologne
  • 1894-1897 Studied law in Freiburg, Munich and Bonn
  • 1897 1. Law degree, legal clerkship
  • 1901 2. State law examination
  • 1903-1906 Assessor at the public prosecutor’s office in Cologne, work in a law firm, assistant judge at the district court in Cologne
  • 1906-1909 Alderman of the City of Cologne
  • 1909-1917 First Alderman
  • 1917-1933 Lord Mayor of Cologne
  • 1921-1933 President of the Prussian Council of State
  • 1933 Dismissed as Lord Mayor by the National Socialists
  • 1933-1934 Stayed at the Benedictine Abbey of Maria Laach/Eifel
  • 1934-1935 Neubabelsberg
  • Since 1935 Residence in Rhondorf
  • 04.05.1945 Reinstated as mayor of Cologne by the occupying forces and dismissed again
  • 22.01.1946 in Herford Elected provisional chairman of the CDU in the British zone
  • 01.03.1946 Elected chairman of the CDU in the British zone in Neheim-Husten
  • 1946-1950 Member of Parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia
  • 1946-1949 Chairman of the CDU state parliamentary group
  • 1948-1949 President of the Parliamentary Council
  • 1949-1963 Federal Chancellor
  • 1949-1967 Member of the Bundestag
  • 1950-1966 Federal chairman of the CDU
  • 1951-1955 Federal Foreign Minister
  • 1966-1967 Honorary Chairman of the CDU.


  • Memoirs, 4 vols. (1965-1968).
  • Letters (= Rhondorf edition), 11 vols. from the years 1945-1967 (1983-2009).
  • Tea Talks 1950-1963, 4 vols. (1984-1992); Adenauer and the High Commissioners 1949-1952, 2 vols. (1989-1990).
  • CDU Federal Executive Board. The Protocols 1950-1965, 4 vols. (1984-1992).
  • Adenauer-Theodor Heuss. In private. Conversations from the founding years 1949-1959 (1997).


  • Dieter Blumenwitz u.a. (ed.): Konrad Adenauer and his time. 2 vols., Stuttgart 1976.
  • Annelise Poppinga: My memories of Konrad Adenauer. Freiburg i.Br. 1983.
  • Hans-Peter Schwarz: Adenauer. The Rise 1876-1952. Stuttgart 1986.
  • Ders.: Adenauer. The statesman 1952-1967. Stuttgart 1991.
  • Annelise Poppinga: The most important thing is courage. Konrad Adenauer – the last five years as chancellor. Bergisch Gladbach 1994.
  • Henning Kohler: Konrad Adenauer. Frankfurt on the Main 1994.
  • Hans-Peter Schwarz, The Stabilizer of Europe: Konrad Adenauer, in: Ders., The face of the century. Berlin 1998.
  • Arnulf Baring, What remains of Adenauer? The meaning of Adenauer, in: Power and Time Criticism. Festschrift for H.-P. Black. Paderborn 1999.
  • Rudolf Morsey: The Federal Republic of Germany. 4. Edition, Munich 2000.
  • Hans-Peter Mensing, in: U. Kempf/H.-G. Merz (ed.), Chancellor and Minister 1949-1998. Wiesbaden 2001.
  • Marie-Luise Recker: Konrad Adenauer : Life and Politics. Munich 2016.
  • Hanns Jurgen Kusters: Konrad Adenauer – The Father, the Power and the Legacy. The diary of Monsignor Paul Adenauer 1961-1966. Paderborn 2017.
  • Werner Biermann: Konrad Adenauer: a life of the century. Berlin 2017.

A detailed bibliography on Adenauer’s life and work can be found here

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