Herbert Kremp ✝︎: He recognized the statesman in Helmut Kohl

AWhen I read Herbert Kremp’s article for the first time in the 1970s, I did so with a certain shivering fascination. As a leftist who was shaped by the student movement, I found the authoritarian relentlessness that we ascribed to bourgeois society as a whole to the extreme.

There was someone who knew exactly how to differentiate between friend and foe, who didn’t want mediation and who thought “68” was just one misfortune. And yet there was something else. Kremp, who was editor-in-chief of WELT three times between 1969 and 1985, did not lack clarity, his profile was sharply conservative. In a way, he was at the forefront.

His style was elegant, his language melodious. You could feel the inner participation, the strictly restrained emotion. He listened to the world of his opponents, he was interested in them, he was never indifferent.

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Decades later I got to know him personally, just became an editor at WELT. The warhorse he was once was still noticed. But he did not match the image of a Springerian at all, as it was – not wrongly – in circulation.

He was a fighter, but not a lansquenet. It could be sharp, but it didn’t roar. His eyes, which constantly scanned the world, showed melancholy and sadness. He almost always met his counterpart with curiosity and respect and a formal but genuine kindness.

History was not a progress event for him. There were too many tragedies, too many crimes, too much misfortune for that. He probably didn’t think all of this could end. Hence its grieving undertone.

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The First World War had never passed for him

Once he wanted to be a pianist, he took lessons from Friedrich Gulda. Then he studied constitutional law, philosophy and history. Max Weber, Arnold Toynbee, Oswald Spengler: the wide arches. The great First World War had never passed for him.

When he was born in Munich on August 12, 1928, the fluctuating Weimar Republic was ten years old, and five years later Adolf Hitler was paved the way to power. For Kremp that was the primary experience. History as a chain of struggles, breaks, eruptions.

The successful Federal Republic can also be interpreted as a major attempt by the Germans to escape this doom, step out of history and live in an everlasting Biedermeier peace away from world politics.

Herbert Kremp could not fit into this West German complacency out of inclination and temperament. But perhaps precisely because of this view from the outside, he became a very close observer of political events in the federal capital of Bonn.

Helmut Kohl, the then editor-in-chief of WELT Herbert Kremp (center) and Peter Boehnisch (right) in August 1971 in the Springer Journalists' Club

Helmut Kohl, the then editor-in-chief of WELT Herbert Kremp (center) and Peter Boehnisch (right) in August 1971 in the Springer Journalists’ Club

Source: company archive

For example: In 1973 Helmut Kohl was Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate and, from Springer’s perspective, seemed to be a western Rhenish provincial, hardly able to look over the vineyards of his home country. But back then it was already noticeable that the energetic and robust cabbage wanted more. This interested and alarmed Kremps publisher Axel Springer, to whom Kohl was phenotypically alien and who saw him as a westerner rather than a German interested in reunification in his sense.

So he asked Herbert Kremp, with whom he was in constant, often conflicting contact, for an assessment of the Palatinate. Kremp then sent him a six-page characteristic of Kohl, which is a cabinet piece of political portraiture. In it he referred to Kohl as the “Palatinate Count”, threading him into the tradition of small German states.

Kohl appears here as a man who fits into tight spaces: home, manageability, the delights of ordinaryness. But then Kremp writes rather apodictically that this Helmut Kohl also has the talent for wide, very wide spaces. The more can manage as home.

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Kremp sensed – that was where his piercing look at history benefited – that Helmut Kohl had what it takes to be a statesman. That was quite ingenious at a time when Helmut Kohl was caricatured as a pear and when “Spiegel” and “Zeit” it was agreed that Kohl would go down in German history as a witty footnote.

Kremp looked further because he was interested in the person Helmut Kohl. Because he would never have thought of reducing a politician to his function. With his big blue eyes, he was a close observer.

In Herbert Kremp’s time, editors-in-chief were still rulers and drivers. There was money, journalism was also a party. Kremp enjoyed the convenience that resulted. But the distance to the Republic of Satisfaction Maximization remained. He was aching to say goodbye to history, which the Germans celebrated so devotedly.

Herbert Kremp was not a Eurocentrist

He was passionately interested in distant, foreign China and dedicated his perhaps most beautiful book, “The Bamboo Bridge”: observations, not judgments. He was not a Eurocentrist at all. For this reason, too, he hurt the self-isolation of the Germans, who exaggerated them as a lesson from their own history.

He wrote: “If there is something that has burdened Germans often and fatally, it was the dim view of the facts of the outside world and the sad view of themselves.”

Herbert Kremp saw a state of its own, new law in the Federal Republic, and he had respect for it. But he was bothered by the fact that it is a too staggered state. But he repeatedly showed that even in this so modest state, power had not evaporated.

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It fascinated and frightened him. Herbert Kremp saw that it is sometimes inexplicably large, but often quite banal. He favored the sober middle ground, which for a long time did not enjoy a great reputation in Germany. He wrote: “The true conservative will be mindful of the Freiherr von Stein reformer.”

Kremp’s 2003 novel “Memoirs of the Future” ends with a legacy to the grandchildren that shows the Catholic Herbert Kremp from his world-facing side and that contains a rule of distance that should not only apply to Corona times: “Be free spirit. Don’t let anyone think for you. Turn to your whole story. Struggle for God and love your country. Otherwise keep your distance. The music will not end. “

Will the liberal order keep?

He spent the last decades of his life on Schenkenschanz, an island in the Lower Rhine near the border with Holland, on which one of the most resistant fortresses in Europe had been built more than 400 years ago. Herbert Kremp felt a skeptical connection to the Federal Republic, he was just not convinced that the liberal order would be able to withstand the storms of time in the long run.

But when Schenkenschanz honored him on his 90th birthday two years ago, he said that this small, previously often flooded place was “a community that works, a happy place where it is good to live and work”. Herbert Kremp died on Schenkenschanz on March 21.

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