Helmut Schmidt – a Hanseatic institution

He was born in Hamburg and he died in Hamburg. He lived for over 96 years in Hamburg. Helmut Schmidt always remained faithful to his home, the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. He was Federal Chancellor of Germany and a statesman. Yet he was also a Hanseatic institution. What Helmut Schmidt said went – whether as a politician or as a commentator on current affairs, in Hamburg and in the wider world.

“The typical Hamburg impudence, in which you could still hear traces of his youth in Barmbek, was as much part of him as the natural elegance of the freedom-loving Hanseatic burgher,” said the Mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz, in November 2015 at the state funeral in St Michael’s church for Schmidt, a freeman of Hamburg.

Helmut Schmidt made a name for himself early on as a doer and a crisis manager in the Hamburg storm floods of 1962. He was Hamburg’s Police Senator (minister) at the time. He earned recognition and respect in the city for his hands-on coordination of the response to the catastrophe including involving the army, and without losing any time arguing about responsibilities. The legend of Helmut Schmidt was born.

Loki and Helmut Schmidt lived in Langenhorn, Hamburg for half a century. The Schmidts moved into the house at 80 Neubergerweg in 1961; it functioned as a kind of unofficial second seat of government together with the Chancellor’s bungalow in Bonn. Schmidt’s friends, among them Giscard d’Estaing and Henry Kissinger, were regular guests. The King of Spain, Juan Carlos, and the Polish head of government, Edward Gierek, were visitors. The Soviet head of state, Leonid Brezhnev, caused a sensation in the quiet residential area on the edge of Hamburg. He visited Hamburg on 6 May 1978 at the end of a three-day state visit. In the middle of the Cold War, Loki and Helmut Schmidt deliberately chose to demonstrate everyday middle-class life through the visit.

Helmut Schmidt was a citizen of the world, but he never sought to deny his origins. He always remained rooted in the “sleeping beauty”, as he dubbed the city in 1962 in a critical anonymous article in DIE WELT.

For decades “Schmidt Schnauze” (Schmidt the lip), as he was called as a Bundestag member on account of his polished rhetoric, acted as a moral authority. As an elder statesman and author of over 50 books, Helmut Schmidt achieved unparalleled popularity. His understanding of economics was acclaimed worldwide.

From 1983 until his death he regularly made his mark as a joint publisher of the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT. In this role, too, he continued into old age to be a critical commentator on his home city. The “Langenhorn oracle” – as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung affectionately dubbed him – always got a hearing in Hamburg.

It was Helmut Schmidt’s last wish that the state funeral ordered by the President of Germany should take place here in the “Michel” (St Michael’s church), where the people of Hamburg had already said farewell to his wife Hannelore “Loki” Schmidt five years earlier. There were 1,800 invited guests – including friends and contemporaries from all over the world, such as the former President of France Valéry Giscard d’Estaing or the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger – at the funeral in Hamburg on 23 November 2015, all joining the German President and Chancellor to honour Helmut Schmidt the statesman. Thousands lined the streets as the cortège made its way from the Michel to Schmidt’s last resting place in Ohlsdorf Cemetery. The people of Hamburg united in paying their last respects to the city’s most prominent son.

There are plenty of reminders of Loki and Helmut Schmidt in Hamburg. The University of the German Armed Forces was renamed Helmut Schmidt University back in December 2003. In 2012 a grammar school in the Wilhelmsburg district was named after him, as was the auditorium at the Bucerius Law School.

Since November 2016 Hamburg Airport’s official name has been “Hamburg Airport Helmut Schmidt”. An exhibition in Terminal 2 is dedicated to the statesman and Hamburg resident who lived in the neighbourhood of the airport. 

The City of Hamburg also recognised the work of Loki Schmidt by giving her the freedom of the city. Her commitment to protecting endangered plants is continued by the Loki Schmidt Foundation that she established. The botanical garden is also named after the naturalist, as is the Loki-Schmidt-Schule, a school in Othmarscher Kirchenweg nearby.

The Helmut and Loki Schmidt Foundation is based in the couple’s home in Langenhorn. The archives and library, built next to the house, can be used by researchers and other interested parties. A virtual tour makes it possible to explore the Schmidts’ home. As laid down their will, it is to be preserved unchanged. 

Since January 2016, the building housing the offices of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit has been called Helmut-Schmidt-Haus. The Bundeskanzler-Helmut-Schmidt-Stiftung has been based just around the corner since the middle of 2017. Here – in “Kattrepel” – a public exhibition commemorating Helmut Schmidt is due to open in 2020.

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