So this is two cheerful posts in one day. One less planned than the other.
I was out for a walk and grocery shopping when my mother whatsapped me to tell me that Helmut Schmidt died this afternoon.
This is neither surprising nor in any way tragic. The man was 96 years old; he had a rich life with many successes, he was everyone's favourite former chancellor, he had an exceptional marriage for 68 years, he was spared dementia and got to stir the pot almost until the very end, and the people who are still writing he was 'respected but not loved' are somehow still stuck in 1992, thank you.
So I know I was projecting all over the place and that nearly bawling at the supermarket checkout had much more to do with my life in the last week or so than Helmut Schmidt dying.
But I still feel bereft.
I feel bereft that I live in a Germany that doesn't have Helmut Schmidt anymore.
This isn't about how he was always right and perfect; he wasn't. But that's not the point. It's also not the point that I feel immediately compelled to point out that I know it's easy to be a moral authority giving good advice when you're no longer actually in politics. Because I do know that.
The point is, a lot of those I consider great Germans have died in recent years. Marion Dönhoff, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Richard von Weizsäcker -- Helmut Schmidt was the last one to go now, and to me the most important one. The people I'd point to with a sentimental, 'There, that is my Bundesrepublik.'
I don't know who else is left who does that for me. I don't know if there's anyone in contemporary politics who could grow into that for me.
One of my very earliest television memories is watching Schmidt lose the chancellorship in a no-confidence vote. He was a pragmatist and a conservative Social Democrat, and I did a lot (though not all) of my figuring out what sort of Social Democrat I am by reading up on his struggles with a party increasingly to the left of him.
He was sometimes vain, often arrogant. But straightforward. An intellectual whose best autobiographical book is about his love for the arts and philosophy. A guy who made the tough calls in the face of terrorism and didn't lose himself or the country its soul. Who's in it because he thinks he knows better than everyone else but also because he has a true idea of public duty. Who's not married to his fourth wife and who spent his time as an Elder Statesmen writing knowledgable books about European integration, not making a fortune from Russian oil companies.
I don't know if everyone who's said in recent years, 'We'd need a Chancellor like Helmut Schmidt' would really mean it if they knew more about the nitty-gritty of his chancelorship and the flaws that came with the package. I think I'd mean it, though.
Danke, Herr Bundeskanzler. You were right a lot more than you were wrong, especially about Karl Popper. And, yeah, the missiles. And you will be missed. And you're still the only guy who'd ever get to smoke in my flat.
English obituary, if you're curious.