Farewell to a Global Statesman

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Mr. Weizsäcker made his mark on the German presidency.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Mr. Weizäcker set high standards for the German presidency.

  • Facts


    • The German president is largely a ceremonial position but can influence public opinion.
    • The president is elected to a five-year term.
    • Five presidents have succeeded Mr. Weizsäcker.
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Richard von Weizsäcker, the German reunification president who died at 94, was one of post-war Germany’s most internationally prominent heads of state, excelling in a largely ceremonial post at a key moment in history.

Mr. von Weizäcker, who was president from 1984 to 1994, provided a bullet-proof air of stability in 1989 that eased Germany’s reunification, assuaging uncertainty in the West as well as within Germany.

The erudite native of Stuttgart, who was born into an aristocratic family, left a mark as a statesman above reproach in an office where a series of subsequent presidents have stumbled, or have departed suddenly or under a cloud.

“If I had to compare him with other presidents, I would think he is one of the most significant,” Stefan Bollinger, a professor of political science at Berlin Freie University, told Handelsblatt Global Edition. “Compared to many of his successors, he used his life experience, which was surely contradicting, to make Germany known to the world as a country that endorses a policy of peace. This is what he stood for, and this is what one should emphasize.”

Several of his successors left a mixed legacy on the office, which theoretically presides over the German legislature but usually derives its influence by playing a non-partisan role as head of state.

Johannes Rau, the former German president and state premier from North Rhine-Westphalia, was dogged during his term by a scandal involving the unauthorized use of corporate jets by employees in his state government.

Ex-president Horst Köhler, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, quit unexpectedly in 2010 only a year after being reelected after remarks he made about Germany’s military role drew critical press.

And Christian Wulff stepped down in 2012 after less than two years in office, after being accused of receiving an improper loan from a business associate. Mr. Wulff was later cleared of wrongdoing by a German court.

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