The Cologne years
Early life and education
Konrad Adenauer was born as the third of five children of Johann Konrad Adenauer (1833–1906) and his wife Helene (née Scharfenberg; 1849–1919) in Cologne, Rhenish Prussia, on 5 January 1876. His siblings were August (1872–1952), Johannes (1873–1937), Lilli (1879–1950) and Elisabeth, who died shortly after birth in c. 1880. One of the formative influences of Adenauer's youth was the Kulturkampf, an experience that as related to him by his parents left him with a lifelong dislike for "Prussianism", and led him like many other Catholic Rhinelanders of the 19th century to deeply resent the Rhineland's inclusion in Prussia.
In 1894, he completed his Abitur and began studying law and politics at the universities of Freiburg, Munich and Bonn. In 1896, at the age of 20, he was conscripted into the German army, but did not pass the physical exam due to chronic respiratory problems he had experienced since childhood. He was a member of several Roman Catholic students' associations under the K.St.V. Arminia Bonn in Bonn. He graduated in 1900, and afterwards worked as a lawyer at the court in Cologne.
Leader in Cologne
(contemporaries). A 1931 modernist
painting with mayor Adenauer (in grey) together with artists and a boxer.
As a devout Catholic, he joined the Centre Party (German: Deutsche Zentrumspartei or just Zentrum) in 1906 and was elected to Cologne's city council in the same year. In 1909, he became Vice-Mayor of Cologne, an industrial metropolis with a population of 635,000 in 1914. Avoiding the extreme political movements that attracted so many of his generation, Adenauer was committed to bourgeois decency, diligence, order, Christian morals and values, and was dedicated to rooting out disorder, inefficiency, irrationality and political immorality. From 1917 to 1933, he served as Mayor of Cologne and became a member of the Prussian House of Lords.
Adenauer headed Cologne during World War I, working closely with the army to maximize the city's role as a rear base of supply and transportation for the Western Front. He paid special attention to the civilian food supply, enabling the residents to avoid the worst of the severe shortages that beset most German cities during 1918–19. In the face of the collapse of the old regime and the threat of revolution and widespread disorder in late 1918, Adenauer maintained control in Cologne using his good working relationship with the Social Democrats. In a speech on 1 February 1919 Adenauer called for the dissolution of Prussia, and for the Prussian Rhineland to become a new autonomous Land (state) in the Reich. Adenauer claimed this was the only way to prevent France from annexing the Rhineland. Both the Reich and Prussian governments were completely against Adenauer's plans for breaking up Prussia. When the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were presented to Germany in June 1919, Adenauer again suggested to Berlin his plan for an autonomous Rhineland state and again his plans were rejected by the Reich government.
He was mayor during the postwar British occupation. He established a good working relationship with the British military authorities, using them to neutralize the workers' and soldiers' council that had become an alternative base of power for the city's left wing. During the Weimar Republic, he was president of the Prussian State Council (German: Preußischer Staatsrat) from 1921–33, which was the representation of the provinces of Prussia in its legislature. Since 1906, a major debate within the Zentrum concerned the question of whether the Zentrum should "leave the tower" (i.e. allow Protestants to join to become a multi-faith party) or "stay in the tower" (i.e. continue to be a Catholic-only party). Adenauer was one of the leading advocates of "leaving the tower", which led to a dramatic clash between him and Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber at the 1922 Katholikentag, where the Cardinal publicly admonished Adenauer for wanting to take the Zentrum "out of the tower".
In mid-October 1923, the Chancellor Gustav Stresemann announced that Berlin would cease all financial payments to the Rhineland and that the new Rentenmark, which had replaced the now worthless Mark would not circulate in the Rhineland. To save the Rhineland economy, Adenauer opened talks with the French High Commissioner Paul Tirard in late October 1923 for a Rhenish republic in a sort of economic union with France which would achieve Franco-German reconciliation, which Adenauer called a "grand design". At the same time, Adenauer clung to the hope that the Rentenmark might still circulate in the Rhineland. Adenauer's plans came to naught when Stresemann, who was resolutely opposed to Adenauer's "grand design", which he viewed as borderline treason, was able to negotiate an end to the crisis on his own.
In 1926, the Zentrum suggested that Adenauer become Chancellor, an offer that he was interested in but ultimately rejected when the German People's Party insisted that one of the conditions for entering into a coalition under Adenauer's leadership was that Gustav Stresemann stay on as Foreign Minister. Adenauer, who disliked Stresemann as "too Prussian," rejected that condition, which marked the end of his chance of becoming Chancellor in 1926.
Years under the Nazi government
Election gains of Nazi Party candidates in municipal, state and national elections in 1930 and 1932 were significant. Adenauer, as mayor of Cologne and president of the Prussian State Council, still believed that improvements in the national economy would make his strategy work: ignore the Nazis and concentrate on the Communist threat. Adenauer thought the Nazis should be part of the Prussian and Reich governments based on election returns, even when he was already the target of intense personal attacks. Political manoeuvrings around the aging President Hindenburg then brought the Nazis to power on 30 January 1933.
By early February Adenauer finally realized that all talk and any attempts at compromise with the Nazis were futile. Cologne's city council and the Prussian parliament had been dissolved; on 4 April 1933, he was officially dismissed as mayor and his bank accounts frozen. "He had no money, no home and no job." After arranging for the safety of his family, he appealed to the abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Maria Laach for a stay of several months. According to Albert Speer in his book Spandau: The Secret Diaries, Hitler expressed admiration for Adenauer, noting his civic projects, the building of a road circling the city as a bypass, and a "green belt" of parks. However, both Hitler and Speer concluded that Adenauer's political views and principles made it impossible for him to play any role in Nazi Germany.
Adenauer was imprisoned for two days after the Night of the Long Knives on 30 June 1934; however, on 10 August 1934, maneuvering for his pension, he wrote a ten-page letter to Hermann Göring (the Prussian interior minister). He stated that as Mayor he had violated Prussian laws in order to allow NSDAP events in public buildings and Nazi flags to be flown from city flagpoles and that in 1932 he had declared publicly that the Nazis should join the Reich government in a leading role. In 1986 the magazine Der Spiegel reported that at the end of 1932, Adenauer had indeed demanded a joint government by his Zentrum party and the Nazis for Prussia.
During the next two years, Adenauer changed residences often for fear of reprisals against him, while living on the benevolence of friends. With the help of lawyers in August 1937 he was successful in claiming a pension; he received a cash settlement for his house, which had been taken over by the city of Cologne; his unpaid mortgage, penalties and taxes were waived. With reasonable financial security he managed to live in seclusion for some years. After the failed assassination attempt on Hitler in 1944, he was imprisoned for a second time as an opponent of the regime. He fell ill and credited Eugen Zander, a former municipal worker in Cologne and communist, with saving his life. Zander, then a section Kapo of a labor camp near Bonn, discovered Adenauer's name on a deportation list to the East and managed to get him admitted to a hospital. Adenauer was subsequently rearrested (as was his wife), but in the absence of any evidence against him, was released from prison at Brauweiler in November 1944.
After World War II and the founding of the CDU
Adenauer in 1951, reading in his house in Rhöndorf he had built in 1937. It is now a museum.
Shortly after the war ended, the American occupation forces once again installed him as Mayor of Cologne, which had been heavily bombed. After the city was transferred into the British zone of occupation, however, the Director of its military government, General Gerald Templer, dismissed Adenauer for incompetence in December 1945. The probable reason for this was that Adenauer considered the Germans the equals of the occupying Allies, a view the British did not appreciate, resulting in his sacking. Adenauer's dismissal by the British contributed much to his subsequent political success and allowed him to pursue a policy of alliance with the West in the 1950s without facing charges of being a "sell-out".
After being dismissed, Adenauer devoted himself to building a new political party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which he hoped would embrace both Protestants and Roman Catholics in a single party. According to Adenauer, a Catholic-only party would lead to German politics being dominated by anti-democratic parties yet again. In January 1946, Adenauer initiated a political meeting of the future CDU in the British zone in his role as doyen (the oldest man in attendance, Alterspräsident) and was informally confirmed as its leader. During the Weimar Republic, Adenauer had often been considered a future Chancellor and after 1945, his claims for leadership were even stronger. The other surviving Zentrum leaders were considered unsuitable for the tasks that lay ahead.
Reflecting his background as a Catholic Rhinelander who had long chafed under Prussian rule, Adenauer believed that Prussianism was the root cause of National Socialism, and that only by driving out Prussianism could Germany become a democracy. In a December 1946 letter, Adenauer wrote that the Prussian state in the early 19th century had become an "almost God-like entity" that valued state power over the rights of individuals. Adenauer's dislike of Prussia even led him to oppose Berlin as a future capital.
Adenauer viewed the most important battle in the postwar world as between the forces of Christianity and Marxism, especially Communism. Marxism meant both the Communists and the Social Democrats as the latter were officially a Marxist party until the Bad Godesberg conference of 1959. The same anti-Marxist viewpoints led Adenauer to denounce the Social Democrats as the heirs to Prussianism and National Socialism. Adenauer's ideology was at odds with many in the CDU, who wished to unite socialism and Christianity. Adenauer worked diligently at building up contacts and support in the CDU over the following years, and he sought with varying success to impose his particular ideology on the party.
Adenauer's leading role in the CDU of the British zone won him a position at the Parliamentary Council of 1948, called into existence by the Western Allies to draft a constitution for the three western zones of Germany. He was the chairman of this constitutional convention and vaulted from this position to being chosen as the first head of government once the new "Basic Law" had been promulgated in May 1949.