Joschka Fischer: From Street Fighter to Foreign Minister | Election 2005 | DW | 18.08.2002
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Election 2005

Joschka Fischer: From Street Fighter to Foreign Minister

From left-wing radical in Frankfurt to foreign minister of Germany. No other German politician possesses a resume as spectacularly varied as Joschka Fischer.

Minister on the outside, green on the inside

"Minister on the outside, green on the inside"

He's been a street fighter, leftist radical, sneaker-wearing state minister, rabble-rousing opposition leader and a three-piece suit-wearing foreign minister. The metamorphosis of Germany's most-beloved politician has taken him down many paths.

Born in 1948 in Gerabronn, Fischer never completed school beyond the 10th Grade – instead preferring to become a self-taught man. While living in Frankfurt during the 1970s, he became a militant street fighter, a political revolutionary and a book salesman. He listened to lectures given by German philosophers like Theodor Adorno, Juergen Habermas and Oskar Negt without ever properly enrolling at any university.

Taxi driver and sneaker-wearing minister

Joschka Fischer Haus in Frankfurt

As a radical, Fischer was involved in the so-called "Sponti" scene in Frankfurt, so named for the members of a mostly student political group called Ausserparlamentarische Opposition (Opposition Outside of Parliament). They lived in squat housing (photo) and often held sometimes violent demonstrations. His involvement with the group created political problems later, when he admitted last year that he beat up a police officer at a demonstration in 1973. But Fischer departed from the movement earlier than many others, turning his back on the violent practices that made the movement as infamous for its tactics as its political ideas.

Eschewing violence, he became a taxi driver in Frankfurt and joined the nascent environmentalist Green Party in 1982. From the start of his political career, a politically tempered Fischer rejected revolutionary ideas and instead became the intellectual leader of the "realos" wing of the Green Party, which espoused a pragmatic rather than idealistic course for the environmentalist party. As a result of its more mainstream politics, the Green Party attracted enough voters in the state of Hesse in 1985 to enter into a coalition with the Social Democrats there. Fischer became the state's environment minister. At his swearing in, he raised eyebrows by wearing shiny white sneakers.

By then, Fischer was no stranger to the German political scene. Starting in 1983, he proved himself to be an exceptionally talented rhetorician as a member of the upper house of parliament, the Bundestag.

He put his first serious stamp on the Green Party's policies as the secretary of the party's parliamentary group. Although he never held the highest official position in the party, Fischer served as the party's intellectual leader in the 1990s. As a result, the party shifted in the direction of the pragmatic realos.

Foreign minister and marathon runner

As the party's first and most-effective campaigner, Fischer made the Greens an acceptable party for wide strata of society. In 1998, Germans rewarded the party's efforts with 6.7 percent of the votes, and Fischer led the Greens into a federal government coalition with the Social Democratic Party. The SPD's Gerhard Schröder became chancellor, and Fischer became foreign minister.

Joschka Fischer

Beginning in 1999, Germany was faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to send peacekeeping troops to Macedonia, Kosovo and later Afghanistan – the issue created a crisis within the Green Party, which was built on pacifist foundations. Fischer – once an active peace demonstrator – now argued passionately for deployment.

As foreign minister, Fischer has been a major proponent of the European Union. He has called for Europe to be transformed into a "European federation," with its laws laid out in an EU-wide constitution. Fischer is also recognized as an important international negotiator in the Middle East peace effort between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The decision marked the end of Fischer's years-long metamorphosis – not just politically, but also in appearance: now he was lithe and lissom. After his third wife left him about six years ago, Fischer undertook a drastic diet in 1996. The once-plump politician lost a dramatic amount of weight. Today, Fischer is an ascetic who doesn't drink alcohol and regularly competes in marathons.

The one-time left-wing militant is now a respected international leader – and part of that success stems from the fact that both his political and personal development happened in the public eye.