Walter Scheel, former president of West Germany, has died at the age of 97 after a prolonged illness. Scheel was known for his policy of reconciliation with the communist bloc.
In a statement after Scheel's death, President Joachim Gauck said the nation had lost a valued president and a politician, who shaped Germany's future in his own special way.
"Our country and we have a lot to thank him for," Gauck said, adding that without Scheel there would have been no change in Western Germany's foreign policy towards communist countries. The former head of state was also keenly interested in a unified Europe, the president added.
Scheel was born on July 8, 1919, in the West German town of Solingen. He trained as a bank clerk before being drafted into Nazi Germany's air force during World War II. He joined the Liberal Free Democrats (FDP) in 1946.
Scheel (center) with Chancellor Willy Brandt (right) and Heinz Kühn, North Rhine Westfalia's chief minister in Bonn in 1969
He served as foreign minister and Chancellor Willy Brandt's deputy from 1969-1974 when the FDP formed a coalition government with the Social Democrats (SPD) in the West German capital of Bonn. As the country's foreign representative, Scheel played a prominent role in easing West Germany's relationship with the communist bloc. The FDP leader served as West Germany's fourth president from 1974 to 1979.
Scheel gained immense popularity in 1973 when he recorded a song with the organization "Aktion Sorgenkind" to raise awareness about handicapped and underprivileged children. The record sold over 300,000 times.
In 2009, the leader moved to Bad Krozingen in Freiburg in southern Germany, where he lived with his wife, Barbara.
mg/jil (AFP, epd, dpa, AP)