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Germany

The Infallible Visionary

A yellow jumper is his trademark, Genschman his nickname. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Germany’s foreign minister for 18 years, turns 75 on Thursday.

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A penchant for yellow jumpers - former foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher

Hans-Dietrich Genscher shaped the course of German politics like no other. The Free Democrat, born in 1927 in the former east German town of Halle, is considered one of the great architects of German unity.

Not only did Genscher play a major role in the "Two plus Four" negotiations which led to German reunification. His untiring commitment in the preceding years to European integration and the reduction of East-West tensions were the prequisites for a political climate which made reunification at all possible.

Through Genscher’s politics of appeasement, also called "Genscherism", a political climate was created that made the idea of a united Germany palatable, and then desirable to Germany’s European neighbours.

However, Genscher’s words that Gorbachev should be taken seriously and "at his word" led to an ideological controversy among West German allies over what appeared to be a soft stance towards the Soviet union.

But Genscher remained unpeturbed by any critiscm and continued to focus on his concept of detente and cooperation with Europe. His consistency eventually led to a breakdown in East-West confrontation, and German unification.

Genscher’s finest hour must have been on September 30 1989: Speaking from the balcony of Prague’s Lobkowicz Palace, addressing more than 5000 East Germans who had taken refuge in the German Embassy, he said "Dear fellow citizens, I have come to you today to inform you that your journey into the Federal Republic of Germany is now imminent!"

His speech was interrupted by a storm of jubilation.

A passion for Europe

Later, Genscher called the collapse of communism the "deepest revolution in the history of mankind" and 1989 a "deeply European year".

Today, after 23 years as minister serving the German state, of which 18 as foreign minister, the one-time FDP-Party chairman still has a full agenda.

Whether in his role as president of the Association for German Foreign Affairs or as guest in talk shows and cultural events, Hans-Dietrich Genscher is still dedicated to both a political and personal passion – Europe.

Fifteen years ago, on his 50th birthday, Genscher said he belonged to those "who like to hear praise when still alive". Hans-Dietrich Genscher is sure to hear enough on his 75th birthday, which he celebrates onThursday.