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Germany

Opinion: A funeral fit for Pharaoh Kohl

Helmut Kohl remains in death as he was in life: unique, headstrong, polarizing and not above bearing a grudge. That’s all reflected in the plans for his funeral, says DW’s Felix Steiner.

Helmut Kohl was one of the most distinctive personalities in German contemporary history. But that's easier to see from abroad than it is in his homeland, where some of the comments under obituaries appearing on news sites and on social media are almost unprecedented in their maliciousness. So much for not speaking ill of the dead.

And because Helmut Kohl wasn't just anyone, different rules apply to him in death than would be the case for the average citizen. Normally, the body of someone who has died at home has to be brought to the mortuary within 36 hours. But Kohl's widow has fitted out the family's living room in Oggersheim with air conditioning and dry ice, and wants to keep the former chancellor's body there until his official funeral, expected to take place on July 1.

It's a somewhat unconventional plan, especially in light of the current heat wave Germany is experiencing. But that's the price Maike Kohl-Richter is clearly willing to pay to retain control over who is allowed to pay their respects to her late husband - and more importantly, who isn't. Helmut Kohl was known for carrying a grudge, and his widow is keeping that part of his character alive even in death.

Only Bild is in the know

Germany's top-selling tabloid newspaper, Bild, is reporting exclusively on the happenings in the Kohl household, and the plans for the funeral. It's no wonder. Former Bild editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann was a witness at Kohl's wedding to Maike Richter, and had been on a first-name basis with him for more than 10 years, even though Kohl was old enough to be his father. The last photo of Helmut and Maike was printed exclusively in Bild.

Steiner Felix Kommentarbild App

DW's Felix Steiner

The paper is now reporting that Kohl specified that he did not want a state funeral. There can only be speculation about the reason for his wish. Was it because he was so certain of his place in history that he knew he could rely on his old friend Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU Commission, to organize a European state funeral for him? It's a suitable measure given Kohl's European achievements, but it's also never been done before. And that would have surely pleased Helmut Kohl, given his penchant for thinking in historic proportions.

But Bild has an alternative theory. A state funeral has to be ordered by the German president and for several months now, that post has been held by Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The same Frank-Walter Steinmeier who was appointed state secretary of the chancellery under Gerhard Schröder after Kohl's electoral defeat in 1998, and who filed charges against Kohl, accusing him of having destroyed files during the transition of power. The investigation that followed proved fruitless, and Kohl was cleared of the charges. Yet there he is again - the unforgiving Helmut Kohl with the memory of an elephant. It's a trivial incident given Kohl's historic achievements, and not one that is likely to mar his legacy.

Funeral barge on the Rhine

Now there's talk of a European state commemoration in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, followed by a funeral mass in the Speyer cathedral. To get from one place to the other, Kohl's coffin will be transported along the Rhine river. It brings to mind the funeral ceremony for former chancellor Konrad Adenauer, exactly 50 years ago. His coffin was transported on the Rhine from the Cologne cathedral to a cemetery in Rhöndorf. All in all, it promises to be a funeral fit for a pharaoh. And that's why it will almost certainly be a polarizing event. But that again is in step with the way Kohl lived his political life.

We don't yet know where Kohl will finally be laid to rest. Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the European Union - and before Kohl, the only honorary citizen of Europe - was buried in the Pantheon in Paris. But Germany doesn't have a similar hall of fame. There are four emperors and several kings buried in the Speyer cathedral, and Helmut Kohl loved the church. But most recently, only bishops have been buried there. So we're in for a surprise, at least until we read about it in Bild.

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