Richard von Weizsäcker

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Richard von Weizsäcker
Richard von Weizsaecker 2009 Koeln.jpg
Richard von Weizsäcker in 2009
President of West Germany/Germany
In office
1 July 1984 – 30 June 1994*
Chancellor Helmut Kohl
Preceded by Karl Carstens
Succeeded by Roman Herzog
Governing Mayor of West Berlin
In office
Preceded by Hans-Jochen Vogel
Succeeded by Eberhard Diepgen
Personal details
Born (1920-04-15) 15 April 1920 (age 94)
Stuttgart, Germany
Nationality German
Political party Christian Democratic Union
Spouse(s) Marianne von Kretschmann
Children 4
Alma mater Balliol College, Oxford
University of Grenoble
University of Göttingen
Religion Lutheran
*From 1 July 1984 to 2 October 1990, Richard von Weizsäcker was Federal President of West Germany only. From 3 October 1990 until 30 June 1994, he was Federal President of the reunified Germany.

Richard Karl Freiherr von Weizsäcker (About this sound listen ; born 15 April 1920), known as Richard von Weizsäcker, is a German politician (CDU). He served as Governing Mayor of West Berlin from 1981 to 1984, and as President of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1984 to 1994. During his period in office German unity was accomplished through the incorporation of the territory of the former German Democratic Republic into the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990, and he thus became the first all-German president since Karl Dönitz in 1945 and the first democratic one since Paul von Hindenburg in 1934.

Early life[edit]

Richard von Weizsäcker (left) with his father at the latter's post-war trial

Richard von Weizsäcker was born on 15 April 1920 in the New Castle in Stuttgart, the son of diplomat Ernst von Weizsäcker and Marianne, née von Graevenitz, a member of the noted Weizsäcker family. Ernst von Weizsäcker was a career diplomat and a high-ranking official in the Foreign Ministry of Nazi Germany. Richard von Weizsäcker had two brothers, the physicist and philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker and Heinrich von Weizsäcker, who was killed in action in World War II in 1939. In 1967, his sister, Elisabeth married Dr. Konrad Raiser, the former General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).[1] His grandfather Karl von Weizsäcker was Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Württemberg, and was ennobled in 1897 and raised to the hereditary title of Baron (Freiherr) in 1916. Because his father was a career diplomat, he spent much of his childhood in Switzerland and Scandinavia. The family lived in Basel 1920-1924, in Copenhagen 1924-1926, in Oslo 1931-1933, and in Bern 1933-1936, where Richard von Weizsäcker attended the Swiss Gymnasium Kirchenfeld. The family relocated to Berlin in 1936.

When he was 17 years old, he moved to Britain, where he studied philosophy and history at Balliol College, Oxford. He subsequently also studied at the University of Grenoble in France. After the outbreak of World War II, he served in the German army, ultimately as a Captain in the Reserves. He was wounded in East Prussia in 1945 and transported home to Stuttgart. Then he continued his study of history in Göttingen and eventually studied law. In 1947, when Ernst von Weizsäcker was a defendant in the Ministries Trial for his role in the deportation of Jews from occupied France, Richard von Weizsäcker served as his father's assistant defence counsel.

He took his first legal state exam in 1950, the second in 1953, and earned his doctorate (doctor juris) in 1955. In 1953 he married Marianne von Kretschmann; they have four children: Robert Klaus von Weizsäcker, a Professor of Economics at the University of Munich, Andreas von Weizsäcker, an art professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich, Beatrice von Weizsäcker, a lawyer and journalist, and Fritz Eckart von Weizsäcker, a Professor of Medicine.

Richard von Weizsäcker worked for Mannesmann 1950-1958, as a scientific assistant until 1953, as a legal counsel from 1953 and as head of the department for economic policy from 1957. From 1958 to 1962, he was head of the Waldthausen Bank, a bank owned by relatives of his wife. From 1962 to 1966, he served on the board of directors of Boehringer Ingelheim, a pharmaceutical company.

Political career[edit]

Weizsäcker joined the CDU in 1954, becoming a member of the Bundestag (Federal Diet) in 1969, serving until 1981. In 1974 he was the Presidential candidate of his party for the first time.

In 1981 he was elected vice president of the Bundestag (1979–1981) and then served as Governing Mayor (Regierender Bürgermeister) of West Berlin (1981–1984). In 1984 he was elected President of Germany by the German Federal Convention, succeeding Karl Carstens.

Richard von Weizsäcker (then Mayor of West Berlin), with US President Ronald Reagan and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, at Checkpoint Charlie in 1981

Weizsäcker is known for his speeches. In 1985 he gave a famous speech in the Bundestag about the 40th anniversary of the end of the Second World War on 8 May 1945[2] where he "articulated the historic responsibility of Germany and Germans for the crimes of Nazism. In contrast to the way the end of the war was still perceived by a majority of people in Germany at the time, he defined the 8th of May as a day of liberation. Weizsäcker pointed out the inseparable link between the Nazi takeover of Germany and the tragedies caused by the Second World War".[3] Because of the high esteem in which he is held by Germany's political establishment and in the population, Weizsäcker is so far the only candidate to have stood for elections for the office of President uncontested; he was elected in such a way to a second term of office on 23 May 1989.

He took office for his second presidential term on 1 July 1989. His second term oversaw the end of the Cold War and Reunification of Germany. Upon reunification, Weizsäcker became the first all-German Head of State since Karl Dönitz in May 1945. At midnight on 3 October 1990, during the official festivities held before the Reichstag building in Berlin to mark the moment of the reunification of Germany, President Weizsäcker delivered the only speech of the night, immediately after the raising of the flag, and before the playing of the National Anthem. His brief remarks, however, were almost inaudible, due to the sound of the bells marking midnight, and of the fireworks that were released to celebrate the moment of reunification.

Weizsäcker stretched the traditionally ceremonial position of Germany’s president to reach across political, national, and generational boundaries to address a wide range of controversial issues.

He was a member of the Synod and the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany from 1967-1984.

Although now an elder statesman, Weizsäcker is still involved in politics and charitable affairs. He was the chair of a commission installed by the then Social Democratic-Green government for reforming the Bundeswehr.

Weizsäcker has served on many international commissions. He was chairman of the Independent Working Group on the future of the United Nations and was one of three "Wise Men" appointed by European Commission President Romano Prodi to consider the future of the European Union.

President Richard von Weizsäcker and First Lady Marianne von Weizsäcker in Jordan in 1985, with King Hussein of Jordan and Queen Noor of Jordan

Publications and honours[edit]

Weizsäcker's publications include Von Deutschland aus (From Germany Abroad); Die deutsche Geschichte geht weiter (German History Continues); Von Deutschland nach Europa (From Germany to Europe); and Vier Zeiten (Four Times). His memoirs have been published as From Weimar to the Wall: My Life in German Politics (1999).

Weizsäcker has received many honors in his career, including honorary membership in the Order of Saint John (Bailiwick of Brandenburg),;[4] an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1993; creation of the Richard von Weizsäcker Professorship at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University and the Robert Bosch Foundation of Stuttgart in 2003; and more than eleven other honorary doctorates, ranging from the Weizmann Institute in Israel to Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard universities, the Charles University in Prague, and the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras,[5] the Leo Baeck Prize from the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and the Buber-Rosenzweig Medallion from the Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation.

Foreign honours[edit]



  1. ^
  2. ^ Speech in the Bundestag on 8 May 1985 during the Ceremony Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the End of War in Europe and of National-Socialist Tyranny, Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, retrieved on 31 January 2014 (PDF, 123 KB).
  3. ^ Speech in the Bundestag on 8 May 1985 during the Ceremony Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the End of War in Europe and of National-Socialist Tyranny, Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg, retrieved on 31 January 2014.
  4. ^ Verzeichnis der Mitglieder der Balley Brandenburg des Ritterlichen Ordens St. Johannis vom Spital zu Jerusalem; Berlin: Johanniterorden, 2011; page 18.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Icelandic Presidency Website (Icelandic), Order of the Falcon, Weizsäcker, Richard von, 4 July 1988, Grand Cross with Collar
  7. ^ Prime Minister of Malta Website, Honorary Appointments to the National Order of Merit

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Karl Carstens
President of West Germany/Germany
1984 – 1994
Succeeded by
Roman Herzog
Preceded by
Hans-Jochen Vogel
Mayor of West Berlin
1981– 1984
Succeeded by
Eberhard Diepgen