An overview of Germany's chancellors
Germany has had nine chancellors since 1949: eight male, one female. Here's an overview of the people and their legacies.
Olaf Scholz (SPD) since 2021
Olaf Scholz, took over as German chancellor, after having served as finance minister and vice chancellor for three years. The conservative and soft-spoken Social Democrat displays stoicism and unwavering self-confidence. The former mayor of Hamburg looks back on a decades-long political career, which included a number of upsets, none of which have been able to throw him off course.
Angela Merkel (CDU), 2005-2021
Angela Merkel was elected Germany’s first female chancellor. Through her pragmatic style of leadership, she successfully sidelined competitors within her party and navigated through numerous crises over 16 years in government.
Gerhard Schröder (SPD), 1998-2005
After Helmut Kohl’s fourth term in office, German voters were in a mood for change. Gerhard Schröder became chancellor in the first coalition of SPD and environmentalist Greens. For the first time, German armed forces were deployed abroad under a NATO mandate, including to Afghanistan. Schröder's reorganization of the welfare system, the so-called Agenda 2010, became a real test for his party.
Helmut Kohl (CDU), 1982-1998
His term lasted 16 years. For many years, Helmut Kohl was seen as sitting things out, in an unflinching, patient style, with no particular interest in big reforms. But his big historic achievement stands in stark contrast to this: German reunification and reconstruction of the former GDR. Kohl was not only the Chancellor of German Unity — he also pushed for further European integration.
Helmut Schmidt (SPD), 1974-1982
Helmut Schmidt took over as chancellor after Willy Brandt resigned. In the face of inflation and economic stagnation, Schmidt’s style was fact-oriented and efficient. He took a hard stance towards the left-wing extremist group Red Army Faction (RAF). He had to step down as a result of a no-confidence vote in parliament when his coalition partner, the FDP switched allegiances.
Willy Brandt (SPD), 1969-1974
Social upheaval in Germany led to a change in politics, with Willy Brandt becoming the first Social Democratic chancellor. He kneeled before the memorial in the former Warsaw Ghetto — a historic gesture of seeking forgiveness for Nazi cruelty and a sign of reconciliation. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 for his contribution to easing tensions with countries in the East.
Kurt Georg Kiesinger (CDU), 1966-1969
Kurt Georg Kiesinger forged Germany’s first "grand coalition" between the CDU and SPD. The government managed to add new impetus to the country’s stagnating economy. Kiesinger’s membership in Adolf Hitler's NSDAP party became the subject of heated debate. In 1968, Beate Klarsfeld publicly slapped him in the face during the 1968 Christian Democrat convention calling him a Nazi.
Ludwig Erhard (CDU), 1963-1966
In 1963, the CDU urged 87-year-old Adenauer to step down. Ludwig Erhard was chosen as his successor, having earned some popularity as minister of economics. He supported social economics and become the "father" of the west-German economic boom. He was rarely seen without a cigar in his mouth and is said to have smoked 15 per day. In 1966, Erhard stepped down as chancellor.
Konrad Adenauer (CDU), 1949-1963
Konrad Adenauer was the first German chancellor. During his term in office, the young federal republic became a sovereign state, with foreign policies looking towards the west. His style of governing was seen as authoritarian. Adenauer was from the Rhineland region and pushed for Bonn to become the German capital. But he was never a great fan of the Rhineland's popular Carnival tradition.