Konrad Adenauer

Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) was the first and longest-serving chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), holding office from 1949 to 1963.

konrad adenauer

Born in Cologne in western Germany, Adenauer was the son of a Catholic bureaucrat. The family was devoutly religious and Adenauer himself remained a practising Catholic all his life. He studied in Freiburg, Munich and Bonn and became a lawyer, before entering politics after the death of his father in 1906.

A political moderate, Adenauer disliked the nationalism and militarism of Prussia and northern Germany. He became a member of the Center Party, known for its moderate democratic views and its close ties with German Catholics. In 1917 he became the lord mayor of Cologne, a position he held for 16 years. He was removed as mayor by the Nazis and during World War II spent several months in a concentration camp as a political dissident.

Adenauer returned to political life in 1945 when Allied occupying forces returned him to mayoral duties in the British zone. He became a founding member and the head of a new political party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), known for its anti-communist platform. Adenauer also participated in the drafting of a new constitution for West Germany (1948), a role that moved him from municipal to national politics.

The CDU was swept to power in August 1949 elections and Konrad Adenauer became the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany, at age 76. As chancellor, Adenauer consolidated Germany’s national division by adopting policies that were hostile or indifferent to East Germany. Conservative and staunchly anti-communist, Adenauer strengthened West Germany’s political, military and economic alliance with the West, particularly with France. He also oversaw the rearmament of West Germany and its admission as a member of NATO, which was granted in 1955.

Adenauer’s leadership was not without its controversies. He could be stubborn and autocratic, determined to force through policy without consulting or informing his ministers or government. Adenauer’s dogmatic and single-minded approach created rifts and factions within the ranks of the CDU, however, he was effective enough that the party did not seek his replacement.

Adenauer remained as West German chancellor well into his 88th year, when a political scandal forced him into retirement. He died in April 1967, aged 91. His state funeral in Cologne was attended by US president Lyndon Johnson and other Western leaders.

Citation information
Title: “Konrad Adenauer”
Authors: Jennifer Llewellyn, Steve Thompson
Publisher: Alpha History
URL: https://alphahistory.com/coldwar/kondrad-adenauer/
Date published: October 19, 2018
Date accessed: January 21, 2022
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