BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Thursday, 12 July, 2001, 20:39 GMT 21:39 UK
Suicide splits German media
Kohl grave
Hannelore Kohl's suicide has raised questions in the media
By Eckhard Berkenbusch in Berlin

There are roughly two camps among the German media's reactions to the suicide of the former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's wife, Hannelore, and the conspiracy theories which have sprung up around it.

One is led by the conservative Springer Group which publishes mass-circulation tabloids like Bild Zeitung and other papers.

Mourner at Kohl funeral
Hostile media has been blamed for her death
These are desperately trying to retrieve Mr Kohl's honour, which has been mired by the Christian Democrats' ongoing party financing scandal, and save his image as a considerate family man.

Bild's headlines include: "Kohl's desperate battle against his wife's terrible disease!", "Kohl even asked Henry Kissinger for help!", "Kohl cries at Hannelore's coffin!".

The papers have an ally in the Catholic priest who led Mrs Kohl's funeral service, and in his sermon blamed her suicide on hostile news media who he says hunted the ex-chancellor down over the slush-fund scandal.

'Single mother'

The other camp are the more critical and more liberal papers and magazines like Stern and Spiegel.

Hannelore Kohl
Hannelore was thought to want to shed her Hausfrau image
Under the headline "The lonely life and death of Hannelore Kohl", Stern's 40-page article describes the Kohl's 41-year marriage as a wife's progressive ordeal of loneliness and endless waiting for her husband.

The liberal weekly Die Zeit calls her a "de-facto single mother".

Mrs Kohl's last hope was that her husband would take more care of her after he lost the general election in 1998, it says.


But he didn't, it adds. He spent most of his time in Berlin politicking while she was alone in their marital home 700km away in Ludwigshafen.

She is said to have kept the home cold and dark, the curtains always drawn, because she suffered from a mysterious light allergy.

But medical experts quoted by Stern are puzzled by the disease and describe it as psychosomatic - a cry for help by a desperate woman.

Helmut and Hannelore Kohl
The suicide is a PR disaster for Kohl's image as a family man
The papers also point out - in a cautious way because the German media normally treat private matters very discreetly - that Mr Kohl still has his long-standing secretary, Juliane Weber, who is around him all the time.

She even accompanied him to Turkey to celebrate his son's recent wedding to a Turkish woman, whereas Mrs Kohl stayed at home.

There have been rumours of Mr Kohl having a very close relationship with his secretary for many years.

There have also been rumours that Mrs Kohl moved out of the marital home last year and rented a flat of her own, but none of this speculation has ever been openly picked up and spelled out by the media.


Stern and other papers point out that Mrs Kohl, a Prussian Lutheran protestant, always tried to keep up "Prussian" virtues of iron self-discipline and duty.

Stern and die Zeit compare her with Cherie Blair and Hillary Clinton and conclude that, unlike them, Mrs Kohl sacrificed her everything for her husband's career.

At the end, they say, she had no strength any longer.

Many even interpret her suicide as an emancipatory act of a woman who refused to go on being seen as the patient, all-tolerating "Hausfrau".

PR tragedy

Mrs Kohl's suicide is a PR disaster for the former chancellor who in his speeches always used to to praise marriage and family above anything else.

He obviously knows this himself.

Despite Mr Kohl's earlier request that the media should not interfere in private matters, he has released positive excerpts from his wife's eight suicide notes with sentences like "I shall always love you" to friendly newspapers, who published them immediately,

The one thing the two media camps can agree on is that Mrs Kohl's suicide is a tragedy.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

04 Jul 01 | Europe
Kohl's Stasi files stay closed
03 Oct 00 | Europe
Kohl's mark on history
03 Oct 00 | Europe
Germans mark decade of unity
28 Sep 98 | German elections
Kohl steps into history books
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories