Helmut Kohl dies at 87

BERLIN (AP) — Helmut Kohl, the physically imposing German chancellor whose reunification of a nation divided by the Cold War put Germany at the heart of a united Europe, died Friday at his home in Ludwigshafen. He was 87.

“A life has ended and the person who lived it will go down in history” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking from Rome. “It will take some time, however, until we can truly judge what we have lost in him. Helmut Kohl was a great German and a great European.”

During his 16 years at the country’s helm from 1982 to 1998 — first for West Germany and then all of a united Germany — Kohl combined a dogged pursuit of European unity with a keen instinct for history. Less than a year after the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, he spearheaded the end of Germany’s decades-long division into East and West, ushering in a new era in European politics.

“When a new spirit began to sweep through Eastern Europe in the 1980s, when freedom was won in Poland, when brave people in Leipzig, East Berlin and elsewhere in East Germany staged a peaceful revolution, Helmut Kohl was the right person at the right time,” said Merkel. “He held fast to the dream and goal of a united Germany, even as others wavered.”

It was the close friendships that Kohl built up with other world leaders that helped him persuade both anti-communist Western allies and the leaders of the collapsing Soviet Union that a strong, united Germany could live at peace with its neighbors.