Konrad Hermann Joseph Adenauer ( 5 January 1876 – 19 April 1967) was a German statesman who served as the first post-war Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) from 1949 to 1963. He led his country from the ruins of World War II to a productive and prosperous nation that forged close relations with France, the United Kingdom and the United States. During his years in power West Germany achieved democracy, stability, international respect and economic prosperity (“Wirtschaftswunder”, German for “economic miracle”). He was the first leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a Christian Democratic party that under his leadership became one of the most influential parties in the country.
Adenauer, who was Chancellor until age 87, was dubbed “Der Alte” (“the old man”). British historian Roy Jenkins says he was “the oldest statesman ever to function in elected office.” He belied his age by his intense work habits and his uncanny political instinct. He displayed a strong dedication to a broad vision of market-based liberal democracy and anti-communism. A shrewd politician, Adenauer was deeply committed to a Western-oriented foreign policy and restoring the position of West Germany on the world stage. He worked to restore the West German economy from the destruction of World War II to a central position in Europe, presiding over the German Economic Miracle. He reestablished the German military (Bundeswehr) in 1955. He came to terms with France, which made possible the economic unification of Western Europe. Adenauer opposed rival East Germany and made his nation a member of NATO and a firm ally of the United States.
A devout Roman Catholic, he had been a leading Centre Party politician in the Weimar Republic, serving as Mayor of Cologne (1917–1933) and as president of the Prussian State Council (1922–1933).
The Cologne Years
Early life and Education
Konrad Adenauer was born as the third of five children of Johann Konrad Adenauer (1833–1906) and his wife Helene (née Scharfenberg; 1849–1919) in Cologne, Rhenish Prussia, on 5 January 1876. His siblings were August (1872–1952), Johannes (1873–1937), Lilli (1879–1950) and Elisabeth, who died shortly after birth in c. 1880. One of the formative influences of Adenauer’s youth was the Kulturkampf, an experience that as related to him by his parents left him with a lifelong dislike for “Prussianism”, and led him like many other Catholic Rhinelanders of the 19th century to deeply resent the Rhineland’s inclusion in Prussia.
In 1894, he completed his Abitur and began studying law and politics at the universities of Freiburg, Munich and Bonn. In 1896, at the age of 20, he was conscripted into the German army, but did not pass the physical exam due to chronic respiratory problems he had experienced since childhood. He was a member of several Roman Catholic students’ associations under the K.St.V. Arminia Bonn in Bonn. He graduated in 1900 and afterwards worked as a lawyer at the court in Cologne.
He was strongly interested in the use of medicinal herbs, according to famous French herbalist Maurice Mességué, whom he met and befriended. Adenauer credited his vigorous health in his later years to the use of an infusion of barley water taken at night, but also maize stigma, mallow, sage, and yellow roses, which he used for the coughs to which he was prone. These were his favorite medicinal plants according to Mességué, though he had extensive knowledge of a wide range of plants. He agreed with Mességué that plants had to be free of sprays and not grown too artificially. He told Mességué that he owed his good health to “the plants, to nature.”
Adenauer found relaxation and great enjoyment in the Italian game of bocce and spent a great deal of his post political career playing this game. His favorite holiday place to do this was in Cadenabbia, Italy, in a rented villa overlooking Lake Como, which has since been acquired as a conference centre by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, the political foundation established by Adenauer’s political party Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Leader in Cologne
As a devout Catholic, he joined the Centre Party in 1906 and was elected to Cologne’s city council in the same year. In 1909, he became Vice-Mayor of Cologne, an industrial metropolis with a population of 635,000 in 1914. Avoiding the extreme political movements that attracted so many of his generation, Adenauer was committed to bourgeois decency, diligence, order, Christian morals and values, and was dedicated to rooting out disorder, inefficiency, irrationality and political immorality. From 1917 to 1933, he served as Mayor of Cologne and became qua office a member of the Prussian House of Lords.