Uwe Barschel

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Uwe Barschel
A 1987 political campaign poster featuring Barschel.
Barschel on a 1987 campaign poster
Minister-President of Schleswig-Holstein
In office
14 October 1982 – 2 October 1987
DeputyHenning Schwarz
Preceded byGerhard Stoltenberg
Succeeded byHenning Schwarz (interim)
Schleswig-Holstein Cabinet
Minister of the Interior
In office
1 July 1979 – 4 October 1982
Minister-PresidentGerhard Stoltenberg
Preceded byRudolf Titzck
Succeeded byKarl Eduard Claussen
Minister of Finance
In office
1 January 1979 – 30 June 1979
Minister-PresidentGerhard Stoltenberg
Preceded byGerd Lausen
Succeeded byRudolf Titzck
Landtag career
Leader of the Christian Democratic Union
in the Landtag of Schleswig-Holstein
In office
15 May 1973 – 8 January 1979
Preceded byGerd Lausen
Succeeded byHeiko Hoffmann
Member of the
Landtag of Schleswig-Holstein
for Lauenburg-Süd
In office
24 May 1971 – 11 October 1987
Preceded byPaul Rohloff
Succeeded byFrank Millack
Personal details
Uwe Ulrich Barschel

(1944-05-13)13 May 1944
Glienicke/Nordbahn, Province of Brandenburg, Free State of Prussia, Nazi Germany (now Brandenburg, Germany)
Died11 October 1987(1987-10-11) (aged 43)
Beau-Rivage, Geneva, Switzerland
Cause of deathDrug overdose
Resting placeMölln
Political partyChristian Democratic Union (1962–1987)
Freya Barschel
(m. 1973)
Alma materUniversity of Kiel
  • Politician
  • Notary
  • Lawyer
CabinetStoltenberg II, Stoltenberg III, Barschel I, Barschel II

Uwe Barschel (13 May 1944 – 11 October 1987) was a German politician of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who served as Minister-President of Schleswig-Holstein from 1982 to 1987.

Barschel resigned as Minister-President shortly after he became embroiled in a scandal known as Waterkantgate for alleged spying on his Social Democrat rival during the 1987 state election. On 11 October 1987, nine days after his resignation, Barschel was found dead under mysterious circumstances at the Hotel Beau-Rivage in Geneva, Switzerland. While a police investigation concluded that Barschel had committed suicide, the circumstances of his death remain controversial.

Barschel, having assumed office of Minister-President at the age of 38 and died at 43, is to-date the youngest head of government of a federal state in Germany and the youngest former Minister-President to die.

Early life[edit]

In 1963, Barschel was among a group of Geesthacht students who attended a school assembly which featured former admiral and convicted war criminal Karl Dönitz, speaking at the invitation of a pro-Nazi history teacher. The event, during which Dönitz gave an apologia for Nazi ideology with no rebuttal from students and staff, caused a furore when it was reported by the West German and international press.[1]

Barschel studied public law, economics, political science and education at the University of Kiel. Upon graduating in 1971, he was admitted to the bar and began working as a lawyer and notary. In addition to his legal and political activities, Barschel also developed an interest in science. He was reportedly preparing to withdraw from politics in the middle of the 1987 legislative session, and had almost completed his habilitation thesis at the time of his death.[2]

Political career[edit]

On 31 May 1987, shortly before the start of the 1987 state election campaign, a plane carrying Barschel and his bodyguard crashed on approach at Lübeck Airport. Both of the pilots, Elisabeth Friske and Michael Heise, were killed in the crash, and Barschel's bodyguard succumbed to his injuries at hospital a few days later.[3][4]


On 13 September 1987, the day before the election, the magazine Der Spiegel reported an account by Reiner Pfeiffer, Barschel's media adviser, that Barschel had ordered him to spy on the SPD's top candidate, Björn Engholm, with the aim of embarking on a smear campaign implicating Engholm in tax evasion. Pfeiffer further claimed to have been ordered to install a bugging device in Barschel's phone and accuse the SPD of being the perpetrators. The subsequent scandal became known as the "Barschel affair" or "Waterkant-Gate" (an allusion to the Watergate scandal, with Waterkant (from Low German "waterside").[5][6]


Barschel's autopsy uncovered a total of eight drugs in his system, including the sedatives lorazepam, diazepam, diphenhydramine, and perazine, along with the barbiturate cyclobarbitone and the sleep aid pyrithyldione. The Geneva prosecutor determined that Barschel's death was self-inflicted, and that he overdosed on these medications before stepping into the bath. This method of suicide corresponded with a guide published by a German right to die advocacy group. However, Barschel's widow and four children did not agree with this interpretation of the facts and were convinced that he was actually murdered.[7]

Alternative theories around Barschel's death[edit]

Various mysteries around Barschel's death are discussed in a January 1995 Washington Post article[8] based on German, Spanish and Swiss police investigations of the murder, and the possible motives for it. The article reported that the Barschel case had been reopened as a murder investigation because of evidence of third-party involvement.[8]

2011 Barschel case review[edit]

On 12 June 2011, the Public Prosecution Department of Lübeck announced that the Barschel case would be re-opened and re-examined, with more sophisticated techniques such as DNA profiling being employed to find out the actual circumstances of the politician's demise.[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Die Dönitz-Affäre, Beitrag zum Geschichtswettbewerb des Bundespräsidenten 2010/2011 (pdf; 2,2 MB), sowie Flensburger Tageblatt, 7 December 2013
  2. ^ Bis heute ein Staatsgeheimnis: Der Barschel-Mord. at the Wayback Machine (archive index) In: Netzeitung. 2 October 2006.
  3. ^ Lūbecker Nachrichten: Flugzeugbrand auf dem Flugplatz Lübeck-Blankensee, 2 June 1987
  4. ^ 31 Mai 1987 - Uwe Barschel überlebt einen Flugzeugabsturz: Unfall oder Attentat? Stichtag, WDR, 31 May 2012
  5. ^ "Today in History – DW.COM". Today in History. 11 October 1987. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  6. ^ Tuohy, William (2 November 1987). "Soul-Searching Over Barschel Case : West German Scandal Tests Faith in Politics". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  7. ^ "L'affaire Barschel" [The Barschel Affair]. Télévision Suisse Romande (in French). 27 October 2010. Archived from the original on 17 February 2011. Retrieved 31 October 2010.
  8. ^ a b Atkinson, Rick (6 January 1995). "'87 DEATH OF POLITICIAN STILL INTRIGUES GERMANS". The Washington Post. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  9. ^ "Tod von Uwe Barschel in Badewanne wird neu aufgerollt" [Death of Uwe Barschel in Bathtub Being Reviewed]. Augsburger Allgemeine (in German). 12 June 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
  10. ^ "Barschel-Kleidung soll in Labor untersucht werden" [Barschel Clothing is to be examined in the Laboratory]. Spiegel Online (in German). 12 June 2011. Retrieved 21 June 2011.
Additional sources