Egon Bahr

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Egon Bahr
Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F030521-0007, Egon Bahr.jpg
Egon Bahr in 1969
Federal Minister for Special Affairs of Germany
In office
Minister for Economic Cooperation
In office
Preceded by Erhard Eppler
Succeeded by Marie Schlei
Personal details
Egon Karl-Heinz Bahr

(1922-03-18)18 March 1922
Treffurt, Province of Saxony, Prussia, Weimar Republic
Died19 August 2015(2015-08-19) (aged 93)
Berlin, Germany
Political partySPD
OccupationPolitician, statesman, journalist

Egon Karl-Heinz Bahr (18 March 1922 19 August 2015) was a German SPD politician. [1]

Social Democratic Party of Germany political party in Germany

The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany.


The former journalist was the creator of the Ostpolitik promoted by West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, for whom he served as Secretary of the Chancellor's Office from 1969 until 1972. Between 1972 and 1990 he was an MP in the Bundestag of the Federal Republic of Germany and from 1972 until 1976 was also a Minister of the Federal Government.


Neue Ostpolitik, or Ostpolitik for short, was the normalization of relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and Eastern Europe, particularly the German Democratic Republic beginning in 1969. Influenced by Egon Bahr, who proposed "change through rapprochement" in a 1963 speech at the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing, the policies were implemented beginning with Willy Brandt, fourth Chancellor of the FRG from 1969 to 1974.

Willy Brandt German social-democratic politician; Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany

Willy Brandt was a German statesman who was leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) from 1964 to 1987 and served as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1969 to 1974. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 for his efforts to strengthen cooperation in western Europe through the EEC and to achieve reconciliation between West Germany and the countries of Eastern Europe. He was the first Social Democrat chancellor since 1930.

Bundestag Federal parliament of Germany

The Bundestag is the German federal parliament. It can be compared to the lower house of parliament along the lines of the United States House of Representatives, the Irish Dáil Éireann or the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, with the Bundesrat, though a separate institution, having a similar role to the upper house of a bicameral parliament.

Bahr was a key figure in multiple negotiation sessions between not only East and West Germany, but also Germany and the Soviets. In addition to his instrumental role in Ostpolitik, Bahr was also an influential voice in negotiating the Treaty of Moscow, the Treaty of Warsaw, the Transit Treaty of 1971, and the Basic Treaty of 1972.

East Germany former communist country, 1949-1990

East Germany, officially the German Democratic Republic, was a country that existed from 1949 to 1990, when the eastern portion of Germany was part of the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. It described itself as a socialist "workers' and peasants' state", and the territory was administered and occupied by Soviet forces at the end of World War II — the Soviet Occupation Zone of the Potsdam Agreement, bounded on the east by the Oder–Neisse line. The Soviet zone surrounded West Berlin but did not include it; as a result, West Berlin remained outside the jurisdiction of the GDR.

The Treaty of Warsaw was a treaty between West Germany and the People's Republic of Poland. It was signed by Chancellor Willy Brandt and Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz at the Presidential Palace on 7 December 1970, and it was ratified by the German Bundestag on 17 May 1972.

The Basic Treaty is the shorthand name for the Treaty concerning the basis of relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic. The Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic (GDR) recognized each other as sovereign states for the first time, an abandonment of West Germany's Hallstein Doctrine in favor of Ostpolitik.

Life and career

Bahr was born in Treffurt, in the Prussian Province of Saxony, the son of Hedwig and Karl Bahr, a high school teacher. [2] After completing his secondary education in 1940, Bahr continued his education as an industrial specialist at the Rheinmetall-Borsig armament corporation in Berlin. During World War II, Bahr served as a soldier in the Wehrmacht from 1942 until 1944, ultimately in the capacity of “Fahnenjunker” (cadet) in the Luftkriegsschule VI in Kitzingen. He was, however, demoted after being accused of being non-Aryan (on account of his Jewish grandmother) and, thus, having “sneaked into the Wehrmacht”. [3] Thereafter, he received a posting as an armaments worker at Rheinmetall-Borsig.

Treffurt Place in Thuringia, Germany

Treffurt is a small town in the western region of the Wartburgkreis district which belongs to the federal state of Thuringia. The former municipality Ifta was merged into Treffurt in January 2019. The town lies near the Werra and is surrounded by the rivers beautiful valley, the Werratal. Treffurt is located next to the Hessian border and was a former part of the Sperrzone. Today is Treffurt a popular tourist destination, especially due to its idyllic town centre with many restored half-timbered houses and its landmark - the Normannstein castle.

Free State of Prussia former federated state of Germany between 1918 and 1947

The Free State of Prussia was a state of Germany from 1918 to 1947.

Province of Saxony province of Prussia

The Province of Saxony, also known as Prussian Saxony was a province of the Kingdom of Prussia and later the Free State of Prussia from 1816 until 1945. Its capital was Magdeburg.

After the war, Bahr worked as a journalist at the Berliner Zeitung , one of West Berlin’s prominent daily newspapers. He later worked at two other West Berliner periodicals, the Allgemeine Zeitung (West Berlin) and Der Tagesspiegel (West Berlin). [4] From 1950 to 1960, he served as chief commentator of the Bonn bureau of RIAS, (“ Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor”, or “Broadcasting in the American Sector”). In 1959, he received his posting as press attaché to the West German Embassy in Ghana. From 1984 to 1994, Bahr served as the Director of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, from which he received an honorary professorship in 1984. Bahr was married and had three children. On August 19, 2015 Bahr died at the age of 93. [5] [2]

Journalist person who collects, writes and distributes news and other information

A journalist is a person who collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information to the public. A journalist's work is called journalism. A journalist can work with general issues or specialize in certain issues. However, most journalists tend to specialize, and by cooperating with other journalists, produce journals that span many topics. For example, a sports journalist covers news within the world of sports, but this journalist may be a part of a newspaper that covers many different topics.

<i>Berliner Zeitung</i> German newspaper

The Berliner Zeitung is a daily newspaper based in Berlin, Germany. It was founded in East Germany in 1945 and continued publication after reunification.

West Berlin political enclave that existed between 1949 and 1990

West Berlin was a political enclave which comprised the western part of Berlin during the years of the Cold War. There was no specific date on which the sectors of Berlin occupied by the Western Allies became "West Berlin", but 1949 is widely accepted as the year in which the name was adopted. West Berlin aligned itself politically with the Federal Republic of Germany and was directly or indirectly represented in its federal institutions.

Political affiliation

Bahr was a member of the SPD from 1956 until his death in 2015. From 1976 until 1981, he served as the executive director (Bundesgeschäftsführer) of the SPD. During his tenure in that position, Bahr drew attention amid the uproar surrounding the expulsion of Klaus Uwe Benneter, who at that time had been serving as the Federal Chairman of Jusos (JungsozialistInnen in der SPD, or “Young Socialists in the SPD”. Benneter had piqued much political ire by expressing the view that the German Communist Party could be a potential coalition partner for the SPD, a statement that put the status of the youth organization into jeopardy.[ citation needed ]

Klaus Uwe Benneter German politician

Klaus Uwe Benneter is a German politician and member of the SPD. He is widowed and has one son.

German Communist Party Marxist–Leninist party in Germany

The German Communist Party is a minor communist party in Germany. The DKP supports far-left positions and was an observer member of the European Left. At the end of February 2016 it left the European party.

Member of the Bundestag

Egon Bahr, 1978 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F055062-0011A, Koln, SPD-Parteitag, Bahr.jpg
Egon Bahr, 1978

Bahr served from 1972 until 1990 as a member of the German Bundestag. He was directly elected in 1976 and 1980 as the representative of the Schleswig-Flensburg electoral district; in the remaining elections, he was elected from the SPD’s party list. Bahr also served as chairman of the Sub-Committee for Disarmament and Arms Control.

Other public offices

From 1960 to 1966 Bahr was the head of the Press and Information Office for the Land of Berlin (at that time, West Berlin). In that capacity, Bahr served as the spokesman for the Senate of Berlin, which was led at the time by Mayor Willy Brandt. From 1966 to 1969 Bahr served as an ambassador and as Ministerial Director of the Planning Staff of the German Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt). Bahr is considered to have been one of the most important and most influential advisors to Willy Brandt, especially with respect to the latter’s policy of Ostpolitik (“Eastern Policy”, also known as “‘’Entspannungspolitik’’”, the German equivalent of "détente").[ citation needed ]

Following the West German federal election of 1969, Bahr became Secretary of State of the German Chancellery as well as Bevollmächtigter (“commissioner” or “appointed representative”) of the Federal Cabinet of Germany in Berlin. It was in this capacity that Bahr served as an emissary to and negotiator with Moscow with respect to the 1970 Treaty of Moscow and the 1970 Treaty of Warsaw, as well as the Transit Treaty of 1971 and the Basic Treaty of 1972 that were concluded with the German Democratic Republic. On the basis of his success in guiding these treaties to successful conclusion, Bahr is often referred to as “Architect of the Eastern Treaties”.[ citation needed ] He is also credited with two of the Brandt government’s most influential mottos describing West Germany’s relationship with the German Democratic Republic, “Wandel durch Annäherung” ("change through rapprochement", a speech at the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing) and “Politik der kleinen Schritte” (“policy of small steps”). [6]

With respect to Ostpolitik, Bahr's field of work was mostly behind the curtains to prepare treaties. This secrecy was broken once, however. Bahr was in Moscow holding talks with Andrei Gromyko, and materials from these talks found their way, via an unknown leak, to the tabloid newspaper Bild. On July 1, 1970, they appeared in two issues. This unauthorized publication became known as the "Bahr Paper". [7]

Following Willy Brandt’s resignation of the Chancellery, Bahr also relinquished his position in the cabinet. He was, however, reappointed by Brandt’s successor, Helmut Schmidt (SPD), to the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. On 14 December 1976, following the federal elections that had taken place two months earlier, Bahr left his position in the Federal Government permanently.

Other political activities and initiatives

In 1980, Bahr became a member of the Independent Commission for Disarmament and Security under the chairmanship of Swedish politician Olof Palme. The Commission published its findings in a 1982 report titled “Common Security”. Among the report’s recommendations was the concept of a nuclear-free corridor in Central Europe.

Bahr went on to publish various writings about the future of German foreign policy following the end of the Cold War (see “Publications” below). He advocated among other things for Europe and Germany to exercise greater influence in the world as a “Civilian power” (“Zivilmacht"). In 1991, Bahr promoted discussion of the creation of a potential German peace corps.

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2005, Bahr confessed that, as a teenager, he had felt a “certain pride” that Poland, France, Denmark, and Norway had been conquered so quickly by the German Wehrmacht. [8] According to a book by German politicians Bernhard and Hans-Jochen Vogel, Bahr reportedly said at the beginning of November 1989, “For heaven’s sake, let’s stop dreaming and blathering about German unity”; the Berlin Wall fell only days later on 9 November 1989. [9]


"I have only ever been interested in ‘’Deutschlandpolitik’’. I didn’t become a Social Democrat in order to socialize banks. No, I became a Social Democrat because I was of the opinion that Adenauer did not really mean it [that Germany should be reunited], and that Schumacher really did mean it. I was always certain that Reunification would finally be achieved. I never lost that conviction." [8]

"Through all that has happened, I have all that I [ever] wanted. The decisive point in the change of mentality was that Wall. We determined in 1961 that everybody was content, that nobody wanted to change the status quo. Nobody was going to help us simply to make holes in it or to make it permeable [referring to his “policy of small steps”]. So it began. And since one could not get travel visas [by negotiating with] Bonn or America or Moscow, one had to negotiate with those who were authorized to give them out." [8]

Selected honors

In 1973, Bahr was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz (“Federal Cross of Merit”). He was named an honorary citizen of Berlin in 2002. In 2007, Bahr was honored with the Willy Brandt Prize by the German-Norwegian Willy-Brandt-Foundation and in 2008 with both the Göttingen Peace Prize  [ de ] and the Marion Dönhoff Preis  [ de ]. Bahr received an honorary doctorate in 2008 from the Internationales Hochschulinstitut Zittau in recognition of his service to the process of unifying Europe. [10] In January 2010, he received the Order of Merit of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Published works


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  1. Dennis Kavanagh (1998). "Bahr, Egon". A Dictionary of Political Biography. Oxford University Press. p. 27. Retrieved 31 August 2013.  via Questia (subscription required)
  2. 1 2 "Egon Bahr, Who Laid Groundwork for German Reunification, Dies at 93". The New York Times . 20 August 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  3. Hermann Schreiber (25 December 1972). ""Er denkt zuviel - die Leute sind gefährlich"". Der Spiegel . Retrieved 1 November 2009.
  4. "Bahr: Viel dazugelernt". Der Spiegel. 9 February 1970. Retrieved 1 November 2009.
  6. Wandel durch Annäherung (PDF), Egon Bahr’s speech from the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing, 15 July 1963 (in German)
  7. "Dealing with the Devil: East Germany, Detente, and Ostpolitik, 1969-1973". M.E. Sarotte, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 2001.
  8. 1 2 3 ‘’FAZ’’ interview with Egon Bahr, 29 April 2005 (in German)
  9. Buchbesprechung Ein Unikat im Doppelpack - Hans-Jochen und Bernhard Vogel resümieren ihr politisches Leben und danken dem Herrgott Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  10. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 June 2009. Retrieved 5 October 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)