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Europe as Homeland (retrospective account, 2004)

During his chancellorship (1982-1998), Helmut Kohl was known as both a champion of European integration and a loyal native son of the Rhineland-Palatinate. As he explains below, he never regarded these two sides of his personality as contradictory but rather always saw them as inextricably linked, for German history has always been part of European history.

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Homeland Europe

What incredible winds rush past a person over the course of time, especially in a period of transition like the one I have lived through. When I was born on April 3, 1930, a Thursday, in the Ludwigshafen municipal hospital, General Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was the incumbent Reich President and Heinrich Brüning was Reich Chancellor in the Weimar Republic. My home region, the Palatinate, had been occupied by the French since the end of the First World War. Not until that summer of 1930 did the occupation forces leave the region west of the Rhine.

The Palatines are a curious folk. This has to do with their history. They know how to celebrate and have fun. God provided the Palatinate with an abundance of wine and sun. Like the grapevine that digs itself into the ground, the people there are deeply rooted in their homeland; they are well acquainted with their history and with the tales of the Romans, who brought wine to the area, of the Speyer Cathedral, where the German kings and emperors of the Middle Ages were laid to rest in eternal peace, and of the diets of Speyer and Worms.

In geographic and especially geopolitical terms, my homeland is a European heartland, as heralded by the Heidelberg Castle and the Trifels Castle overlooking Annweiler, where the Salian crown jewels were kept, the insignia of imperial power. The Speyer Cathedral, the largest church in the western world when it was built in the eleventh century, is for me a special symbol of the unity of German and European histories. While I was chancellor I led many official guests from all over the world through the cathedral and experienced the effect it has, in its simplicity and clarity, when the sun shines through the windows and brings to life the warm colors of the Palatinate red sandstone, so that it virtually speaks to us.

The Roman-German emperors ruled not over a nation-state but an early House of Europe extending from Sicily to the North Sea. They carried the consciousness of the western world within them, this culture influenced by antiquity and Christianity. In its heyday, the Palatinate was considered the center of the Holy Roman Empire, but later it became a pawn in the game of power politics. The Thirty Years’ War and the Palatinate War of Succession left a ravaged and depopulated land in their wake. In the nineteenth century especially, crop failure, material hardship, and the struggle for freedom drove many to emigrate.

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