One Of The 20th Century’s Greatest

Steve Chapman has a great piece in the Baltimore Sun about the great German leader Konrad Adenauer who was recently voted the Greatest German in a German poll – a title he richly deserves.

Among the contenders in the poll, conducted by the ZDF public broadcasting network, were colossal figures known to everyone. Martin Luther, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Gutenberg, Albert Einstein, Karl Marx and Otto von Bismarck each had a claim to the distinction.

But when the results were counted, the winner was the one least known today beyond Germany: Konrad Adenauer. That he could be largely forgotten in much of the world is a tribute to what he accomplished.

It understates his achievement to say he was merely the greatest German in history. Mr. Adenauer was also one of the most important statesmen of the last 50 years, and deserves considerable credit for the freedom and prosperity that now prevail in Europe.

Indeed Adenauer’s name may be little known in the US, but he was one of the most crucial figures of the Cold War. Adenauer was responsible for turning West Germany away from Communism and towards the free market. Without Adenauer’s leadership, all of Germany could have fallen behind the Iron Curtain of Soviet domination. The results of such a disastrous event could have changed the history of the world for the worst and would have most certainly cost thousands of West German lives.

Adenauer fought against Nazism, communism, and socialism throughout his career and stood strongly on the side of individual rights and democratic rule. His economic policies created one of Europe’s strongest economies and helped shape European economic integration through his efforts at creating the European Coal and Steel Community – the forerunner of the EU. He was one of the first European leaders to acknowledge Israel, and helped that fledgling state protect itself against attack.

Adenauer deserves far more international recognition that it has. Without his personal fortitude and insight, our world would be a vastly different place. He was certainly one of the greatest Germans of the 20th Century, and a model of leadership in a turbulent time.

2 thoughts on “One Of The 20th Century’s Greatest

  1. Adenauer was that amazing combination of a great man in the right place to apply that greatness. He oversaw the reconstruction and the reintegration into Europe of West Germany at a time when he was stuck squarely between an unpredictable Soviet Union and an overbearing United States, with a dash of personalist politics coming from France. He ws in a horrendous situation, and he managed it brilliantly, making his state not only one of the military powers of Europe, but also an economic powerhouse in its own right, capable of assimilating its long-lost half decades later.

    And oh yeah, he did it all with a “best of what’s left” government underneath him, as those that knew the workings of the institutions had all lost their posts because they played some role, however small or large it may have been, in the single greatest mistake ever made by humankind.

  2. Adenauer’s politics made sure that Germany was a divided country. While it was not him who coined that phrase (Kurt Schumacher did), his actions had this plan written all over it: “I’d rather have half of Germany fully, than all of Germany, but only half-way” (sorry for the bumpy translation. For those who speak German well enough to understand, it was: “Lieber das halbe Deutschland ganz, als das ganze Deutschland halb.” Get the pun?).
    Adenauer was also known in the 1920’s to demand that all areas to the left of the Rhine river (i.e. west of it) should rightfully go to France. If he had had his way, cities like Aachen and Cologne would no longer be German.
    These facts were, for some reason, not presented in the TV show. I somewhat doubt that Adenauer would have won the popularity contest had those facts been presented to the audience.
    By the way, I don’t mean to discredit Adenauer. He was a pivotal figure in (West) German politics. You could probably argue that he prepared the way to the European Union. What I do intend to discredit, though, is the audience.

    J – I know I sound elitist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.