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Useful Notes / The Presidents of Germany

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After the end of Imperial Germany, Weimar Germany decided to install a president instead of the Kaiser. (In fact, the term Ersatzkaiser was often used.) While not carrying as much power as the American presidents (the Weimar presidents didn't do the actual government work, that's what The Chancellors of Germany had to do), as the supreme commander of the armed forces and the man who could appoint and fire governments at will, they were still pretty powerful. After the bad experiences with strong presidents, the constitution of West Germany gave most power to the chancellor and made the president a purely ceremonial head of state. Still, some presidents could take a bit of influence thanks to personal charisma.


Presidents of the German Reich:

  • Friedrich Ebert — Social Democrat. First chancellor (see The Chancellors of Germany) and then first President of the Weimar Republic. Had to deal with many rightwingers who accused him of being a traitor. And leftwingers who didn't forgive him that he had been pro-war (though not pro-conquest) during World War I, or not creating a socialist state after the revolution of 1918/19. And uprisings from left and right. And the ramifications of the treaty of Versailles. And the hyperinflation and the suffering economy. And the bureaucracy and judiciary being not exactly helpful. And one occasion when he appeared on a photo wearing swim briefs, which conservatives found inappropriate for the leader of a country. And many more problems. He died in 1925, before his term was finished.
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  • Paul von Hindenburg, former World War I marshal — no party, closest to the conservative German nationalists. Became the candidate for the right-wing parties in the second round of voting and defeated the democratic candidate, former chancellor Wilhelm Marx (not related). Hindenburg also won because the Communists would rather vote for Thälmann insted of Marx, splitting the anti-Hindenburg vote, and because the Bavarian Catholics supported the Protestant Prussian over the Catholic Rhinelander Marx (oh the irony). Although he didn't like the republic much, being a traditional monarchist, he still swore an oath on the constitution. He was already 77 years old when elected for the first time, thus making him 84 when reelected in 1932. However, at that time he was seen as the only one who could prevent a certain guy from Austria becoming president instead. And one year later, he appointed him chancellor. Another year later, he died, and Hitler had absolute power.
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  • Adolf Hitler — National Socialist. Hitler absorbed the state office of President during his tenure as leader of the German Reich, but he didn't actually use the title. Officially out of respect for Hindenburg, unofficially because it was a democratic institution and too reminiscent of the "hereditary" arch-enemy France. Hitler merged the Presidency with the Chancellery, creating the combined office of Führer und Reichskanzler, representing Hitler's dual roles as Chief of State and Chief of Government. Technically Hitler had a third role as Führer of the Nazi Party, but the relationship between the Party, the State and the Government was very chaotic in the Third Reich (and that's leaving out the military offices Hitler also acquired that confusingly enough made him his own subordinate several times over). In practice Hitler was simply the Leader, no qualification required. Fun fact: Being born Austrian, he got the German citizenship relatively late, otherwise he wouldn't have been electable at all.
  • Karl Dönitz — National Socialist. Supreme commander of Germany's submarines before. Hitler decreed before his death that his unique office would be split into the Presidency and Chancellery again, and Dönitz was handed the former. Hadn't really much to do after Hitler's suicide and signed Germany's capitulation in May 1945. Was arrested by the Allies, brought to court in Nuremberg and served 10 years in Spandau, together with guys like Albert Speer and Rudolf Hess (Göring having committed suicide in Nuremberg.)

Presidents of post-war Germany:

  • Theodor Heuss — Liberal Democrat. A jovial guy who liked humor and wine. Tried to keep party politics out of his office. Started the first Arbor Day in Germany. Albert Schweitzer was the pastor at Heuss' wedding; Heuss' wife was a personal friend of Schweitzer's. He had voted for Hitler's enabling act as a member of the Reichstag in 1933.
  • Heinrich Lübke — Christian Democrat. Became infamous for his broken English and various goofs, some of which became Memetic Mutation. While some of them may have been invented, it is true frex that on a visit in Madagascar, he greeted the president with "Dear Mr president, dear Mrs Tananarive..." (Tananarive being Madagascar's capital!) For some reason, Penfold from Danger Mouse was named Lübke in the German translation.
  • Gustav Heinemann — Social Democrat. Active in the Bekennende Kirche (the resistant faction of the Protestant Church) under the Nazis, he became a member of the Christian Democrats and a minister, but left party and cabinet when Adenauer started to rearm West Germany. He founded the small Gesamtdeutsche Volkspartei, which later joined the Social Democrats. Narrowly elected by Liberal and Social Democrats, the latter still being in a grand coalition with the Christian Democrats. Once when asked whether he'd love Germany, he answered "I don't love the state, I love my wife." Generally, a quiet guy. Only served one term, for health and age reasons.
  • Walter Scheel — Liberal Democrat. Former state secretary / foreign minister. Became famous for singing a popular German song, "Hoch auf dem gelben Wagen". Only served one term. His stepdaughter is married to Hella von Sinnen, Germany's most famous lesbian comedian.
  • Karl Carstens — Christian Democrat. His election was an alarm sign for the social-liberal coalition which had been weakened in the Länder. Somewhat controversial for having been a member of the Nazi party. Liked hiking and used this hobby to "meet the German people". Only served one term, feeling too old for a second one.
  • Richard von Weizsäcker — Christian Democrat. Former grand mayor of West Berlin. Compared to "a mixture of banker and church congress president". Proved to be very popular among all democratic parties, even the Greens, and was reelected unopposed. Presided during the reunification of Germany. Came from a prominent family of public servants and diplomats who thrived in all German systems since the Kaiserreich; his father was a defendant at the Nuremberg trial of diplomats and public servants. Most famous for his 1985 speech on the fortieth anniversary of the end of WWII where he said May 8 was "also a day of liberation", which had not been acknowledged by conservatives up to that point
  • Roman Herzog — Christian Democrat. Former head of the German Supreme Court. Became the candidate after Helmut Kohl's candidate Steffen Heitmann (who'd have been the first president from East Germany in The Berlin Republic) proved to be too conservative. Took three rounds to be elected, but he proved to be quite popular. Most famous for his "Ruck-Rede" (roughly: tug speech), criticizing the Germans for being too indolent.
  • Johannes Rau — Social Democrat. Grandson-in-law of his predecessor Gustav Heinemann, in fact. And like him, a former member of the GVP. (His opponent from the Left Party was his wife's aunt - how ironic.) First German politician to speak in the Knesset, the parliament of Israel. As a pious Protestant he was nicknamed "Bruder Johnannes" (brother or friar John).
  • Horst Köhler — Christian Democrat. Former head of the IMF (International Monetary Fund).note  First president who wasn't a politician. Reelected in 2009, but quit just one year later after some remarks he made about the military's role became hugely controversial - the first president to do so.
  • Christian Wulff — Christian Democrat. Former minister president of Lower Saxony. He was accused of getting a loan from a businessman for better conditions, which tripped an avalanche of other accusations. When it got so bad that he might have lost his immunity, he abdicated after less than two years in office, however, it should be noted that he was acquitted of all charges in a court of law. The only notable thing in his short term apart from the scandals was a speech he gave with the line "Islam is a part of Germany"
  • Joachim Gauck — Independent. Former Lutheran pastor from East Germanynote , who appeared on the political stage during the time of the Hole in Flag revolutions. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he was the head of the government agency responsible for investigating the crimes of The Stasi (the GDR's infamous Secret Police). Served only one term.
  • Frank Walter Steinmeyer — Social Democrat. Consensus candidate of SPD, CDU and Greens and former foreign minister. Highly popular (if considered a bit boring) due to him saying and doing very few controversial things even before entering Bellvue.

East Germany had a president until 1960 (only one office-holder, Wilhelm Pieck), then replaced that office with a collective council of state, which had a chairman.


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