Wolfgang Thierse

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Wolfgang Thierse
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1990-0421-300, Wolfgang Thierse.jpg
President of the Bundestag
In office
26 October 1998 – 18 October 2005
Preceded byRita Süssmuth
Succeeded byNorbert Lammert
Deputy Leader of the Social Democratic Party
In office
27 September 1990 – 15 November 2005
LeaderHans-Jochen Vogel
Björn Engholm
Johannes Rau (Acting)
Rudolf Scharping
Oskar Lafontaine
Gerhard Schröder
Franz Müntefering
Preceded byUnkown
Succeeded byPeer Steinbrück
Personal details
Born (1943-10-22) 22 October 1943 (age 75)
Breslau, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland)
Political partySPD
Alma materHumboldt University of Berlin

Wolfgang Thierse (German pronunciation: [ˈvɔlfɡaŋ ˈtiːɐ̯zə]; born 22 October 1943) is a German politician (SPD). He served as the 11th President of the Bundestag from 1998 to 2005.

Early life and career[edit]

Thierse was born in Breslau (Wrocław in present-day Poland). He is a Roman Catholic and grew up in East Germany. After his A-levels he first worked as a typesetter in Weimar. Then he studied German language and literature at Humboldt University in Berlin, where he was an active member of the Catholic Student Community.[1] He also became a research assistant in the university's Department of Cultural Theory / Aesthetics. In 1975 / 1976 he was employed by the Ministry of Culture of the German Democratic Republic. But when he joined the protests against the expulsion of singer-songwriter and dissident Wolf Biermann from the GDR he lost his job.[2]

From 1977 to 1990 Thierse worked as a research assistant at the Central Institute of the History of Literature in the Academy of Arts and Sciences of the GDR. He was one of the editors of the "Historical Dictionary of Aesthetic Concepts".

Early political career[edit]

Although his father had been a member of the Centre Party in the Weimar Republic and later of the Christian Democratic Union (East Germany), Wolfgang Thierse did not belong to any political party before 1990. That did not mean that he was not interested in politics. His father regularly listened to the West Berlin radio station RIAS, so Wolfgang had a chance to hear speeches from debates in the West German parliament. He was particularly impressed by Carlo Schmid, Herbert Wehner, and later Willy Brandt.[3]

In October 1989, Thierse joined the opposition group New Forum and in January 1990 the Social Democratic Party in the GDR, whose leader he became in June. In August 1990, under Thierse’s leadership, the East German Social Democratic Party quit the governing coalition, apparently denying the coalition, which was led by Christian Democrats, a ruling majority.[4]

With regard to German reunification Thierse was in favour of a gradual process, but he realized soon that the majority of the population of the GDR wanted to join the West German state as quickly as possible.[2]

When the East German SPD merged with the West German SPD Thierse became the SPD's deputy leader, an office he held until 2005. Until 2009 he belonged to the SPD's national executive. He also belonged to various party commissions, which dealt with subjects like the party's basic values, or the special problems of East Germany. He was elected as a member of the East German parliament in 1990.

Member of the German Bundestag, 1990-2013[edit]

Following the German reunification, Thierse served as member of the Bundestag, the parliament of Germany. He was his parliamentary group's deputy chairman from 1994 on, under the leadership of its chairman Rudolf Scharping. From 1995 until 1998, he was a member of the Committee on the Election of Judges (Wahlausschuss), which is in charge of appointing judges to the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany.

President of the Bundestag, 1998-2005[edit]

After the SPD's victory in the 1998 general elections, Thierse was elected President of the Bundestag on October 26. That was "a historic date", as he called it, because it was the first time that a citizen of the former GDR became Germany's second highest representative. He had not been a lifelong resistance fighter against the rule of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany nor had he ever identified with that rule, he said, but he represented a large majority of the East German population in that. Journalists call him "the advocate of the East".[citation needed] He served for two terms until October 2005, when he was succeeded by Norbert Lammert. In addition, he was chairman of the German delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) from 2002 until 2009.

He has never given the impression "to be in the sole possession of truth". It is most important to him that you "include" your opponents, the "other" person, the "other" opinion. Therefore, it is necessary for speakers to put aside their manuscripts sometimes and to enter into a real dialogue with the speakers before them.[3][5]

As president of the Bundestag, Thierse visited numerous countries. He has always shown a great interest in inter-cultural dialogue. In his speeches he addressed a variety of questions such as the consequences of globalization on the one hand and increasing individualization on the other, or problems of the environment.[3]

Thierse passionately promoted the idea that the Bundestag should move to Berlin, thereby underlining the process of reunification. It was highly satisfactory for him when he was able to open its first meeting there in 1999.[6][7]

In response to the CDU donations scandal in 2000, Thierse imposed a $21 million fine on former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's party for accepting illegal financing. At the time, the fine was the largest in the history of the federal republic.[8] Thierse accused Kohl of "intentional violations of political contribution laws and the Constitution over many years."[9]

Thierse was especially involved in the fight against right-wing extremism. He takes part in discussions, campaigns and demonstrations. He visits neo-Nazi strongholds, particularly in East Germany, and encourages people to stand up for democracy.[10][11][12]

Vice-President of the Bundestag, 2005-2013[edit]

After the 2005 elections, Thierse was elected Vice President of the Bundestag, serving alongside President Norbert Lammert. He also served on the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Media. In addition, he was a member of the Art Advisory Board of the German Bundestag.

Other activities[edit]


Among the honours Thierse received are an honorary doctorate (awarded by the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Münster) and the Federal Cross of Merit.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Wolfgang Thierse is married with two children. He lives in Prenzlauer Berg, a north-eastern part of Berlin.

Thierse has published several books, especially about the situation in East Germany.[18] In 2003 a CD was published with Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" read by Thierse. The proceeds were for the "Green Berets", a charity that helped young Muslims and Christians to rebuild destroyed areas like Bosnia or Afghanistan.[19][20]

"Peter and the Wolf" is another fairy tale read on CD by Wolfgang Thierse. Again the profit is for charity.[21]


On December 30, 2012, Thierse caused outrage by an interview in a Berlin paper ("Berliner Morgenpost"),[22] criticizing gentrification tendencies in formerly poor Berlin inner city districts suchs as Prenzlauer Berg and Kreuzberg. He specifically mentioned so called "Swabians" (German: "Schwaben") who serve as prototype for wealthy migrants from western Germany who often work in highly paid jobs in the Berlin media and culture industry, as well as government and industry organizations, replacing the original Berlin under-class population. Thierse specifically mentioned the usage of Swabian or more generally South-German terms for food like "Wecken" or "Pflaumendatschis" instead of the Berlin dialect variants for rolls respectively plum cakes. Furthermore, those Swabians (symbolizing all migrants from the former West Germany) would be attracted by the cultural gems of Berlin and its status as chaotic, poor and sexy metropolis, but after some time in town would like to transform it in another variant of their small wealthy south German towns of origin.

Thierse received strong criticism from prominent Swabians such as Cem Özdemir (chairman of Germany's Green Party) and by European Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger (CDU, conservative party), as well as by fellow high-ranking SPD party members.[23] Oettinger pointed out that the Berlin state would only be a viable state because of Germany's internal rescue fund ("Länderfinanzausgleich") which is mainly financed by the two German states that comprise parts of the historic region of Swabia, namely Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, and in addition by Hesse. The state of Berlin is by far the main beneficiary of this rescue fund.

Some commentators (inter alia, Germany's Stern magazine[24]) even raised accusations against Thierse of discrimination against large parts of the West German population. Germany's Federal minister for Economic Cooperation, Dirk Niebel (FDP, liberal party), born and raised in Hamburg but representing a south-western constituency around Heidelberg, called Thierse furiously in a public reaction reported by the news magazine "Focus", a "pietistischer Zickenbart"[25] ("pietistic bitchy greybeard").

On January 1, 2013, Thierse re-affirmed his previous statements in the Berlin paper "Tagesspiegel": He called the public criticism "ridiculous", mentioned that intra-German migrants should be allowed to use their South German dialects only in their states/regions of origin and furthermore talked about an "Organisierte Schwabenschaft" (roughly "Organized Swabians")[26] that would have appeared in the nationwide media and that would abuse its influence. In particular this term "Organisierte Schwabenschaft" caused significant outrage, especially in West Germany, since the usage and wording resembled to the usage of similarly sounding racist terms by right-wing extremists against immigrants and religious minorities.[27][28] According to the weekly "Die Zeit" magazine, Thierse would have de-masked himself as a "babbit" who did serious harm to the gentrification debate by introducing ethnic terms and regional prejudice into the public discussion.

Prominent former TV host and political correspondent Ulrich Kienzle accused Thierse in an emotional personal letter to him of talking nonsense and artificially intensifying a deeply rooted rivalry between South Germans and Prussians that would date back to even before the Battle of Königgrätz where Prussian forces defeated Austria and its South German allies. This victory eventually led to the Prussia-dominated German Empire in 1870/1871.[29]

In an online essay for Der Spiegel, Jan Fleischhauer pointed out that so called "Schwaben-Hass" (discrimination or hatred vs Swabians) would be a politically correct variant of xenophobia for left-wing intellectuals and bohemians used to hide respectively camouflage otherwise totally unacceptable political positions against foreign infiltration or domination by immigrants.[30]

For reconciliatory efforts, Thierse received a „Goldene Narrenschelle“, an order of Carneval from Vereinigung Schwäbisch-Alemannischer Narrenzünfte (VSAN), an umbrella organization of Swabian–Alemannic Fastnacht.[31]

Selected publications[edit]

  • (Hg.): Arbeit ist keine Ware. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau [u.a.] 2009, ISBN 978-3-451-30290-9.
  • (Hg.): Grundwerte für eine gerechte Weltordnung. Eine Denkschrift der Grundwertekommission der SPD zur internationalen Politik. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-518-06720-6.
  • Zukunft Ost. Perspektiven für Ostdeutschland in der Mitte Europas. Rowohlt, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-87134-442-7.
  • mit Avraham Burg: Das Parlament in der deutschen und in der israelischen Demokratie. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Herzliya 2000.
  • Ernst Barlachs Plastik „Der Schwebende“ zwischen Ost und West. In: Barlachs Engel. Stimmen zum Kölner Schwebenden. Herausgegeben von Antje Löhr-Sieberg und Annette Scholl unter Mitarbeit von Anselm Weyer. Greven Verlag, Köln 2011, S. 54-57. ISBN 978-3-7743-0481-9.


  1. ^ "Es war schon eine turbulente Zeit" (in German). Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. September 2004. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  2. ^ a b "Biografie: Wolfang Thierse" (in German). Stiftung Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  3. ^ a b c d "Dr. Wolfgang Thierse: Wortgewandter Querdenker" (in German). Deutscher Bundestag. 2010-02-15. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  4. ^ David Binder (August 20, 1999), Social Democrats Quit East German Coalition New York Times.
  5. ^ "Vom Setzer zum Sitz im Parlament: Vizepräsident Wolfgang Thierse" (in German). 2010-07-01. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  6. ^ "Thierse eröffnet erste Sitzung im Reichstag" (in German). Bild.de. 2009-04-19. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  7. ^ "Als Bonn an die Spree zog" (in German). Spiegel Online. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  8. ^ Roger Cohen (February 16, 2000), Speaker Fines Kohl's Party $21 Million Over Illegal Payments New York Times.
  9. ^ Edmund L. Andrews (December 30, 1999 ), Criminal Inquiry to Look Into Funds Donated Secretly to Kohl New York Times.
  10. ^ "Wolfgang Thierse auf Demokratietour in MV" (in German). NDR.de. 2010-09-20. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  11. ^ "Wolfgang im Naziland" (in German). taz.de. 2010-09-21. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  12. ^ "Rechtsextremismus und Demokratische Kultur" (in German). Thierse.de. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  13. ^ Board of Trustees Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ASF).
  14. ^ Members Central Committee of German Catholics.
  15. ^ Council Foundation for the Humboldt Forum in the Berlin Palace.
  16. ^ Board of Trustees Green Helmets.
  17. ^ Board of Trustees Willy Brandt Foundation.
  18. ^ "Reden und Texte" (in German). Thierse.de. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  19. ^ "Wolfgang Thierse liest Charles Dickens "Ein Weihnachtsmärchen"" (in German). das hörwerk. Archived from the original on 2004-12-26. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  20. ^ "Rotbart für Grünhelme" (in German). Der Tagesspiegel. 2003-10-22. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  21. ^ "Peter und der Wolfgang Thierse" (in German). Berliner Zeitung. 2010-09-27. Retrieved 2011-08-16.
  22. ^ http://www.thelocal.de/society/20121231-47061.html
  23. ^ http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/schwaben-wehren-sich-gegen-thierse-angriff-a-875226.html
  24. ^ http://www.stern.de/politik/deutschland/schwaben-schlagen-zurueck-thierse-erntet-kritik-fuer-schrippen-patriotismus-1948478.html
  25. ^ http://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/schwaben-laestereien-des-bundestagsvizes-fdp-minister-niebel-nennt-thierse-pietistischen-zickenbart_aid_890003.html
  26. ^ http://www.augsburger-allgemeine.de/politik/Thierse-laestert-ueber-Schwaben-in-Berlin-Streit-schaukelt-sich-hoch-id23328466.html
  27. ^ https://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article112334332/Schwaben-nerven-aber-wer-nervt-nicht-in-Berlin.html
  28. ^ http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2013-01/thierse-schwaben-ber
  29. ^ http://www.swp.de/ulm/nachrichten/politik/Kienzle-an-Thierse-Grasdaggel;art4306,1787774
  30. ^ http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/die-schwabenveraechter-von-heute-sind-oft-die-schwaben-von-gestern-a-875546.html
  31. ^ Thierse erhält Narrenschelle der Schwaben, Tagesspiegel vom 23. Januar 2013.


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