Germany's Kohl keeps historic tapes in court ruling

By Damien McGuinness
BBC News, Berlin

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Helmut Kohl has a slab of the old Berlin Wall in his garden in Oggersheim

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has won a bitter legal battle to keep 200 tapes recording his political life.

A court in Cologne ruled against Mr Kohl's former ghost-writer, Heribert Schwan, who claimed copyright ownership of the tapes.

Mr Kohl was in power when the Cold War ended and he played a key role in German reunification in 1990.

The tapes, recorded in 2001, formed the basis of Mr Kohl's memoirs. They do not chronicle a big party funding scandal.

Mr Schwan, a journalist, recorded a total of 630 hours with the former chancellor and published three volumes covering Mr Kohl's life and political career from 1930 to 1994.

But before the final volume could be finished the two men fell out, after Mr Schwan released a book about Mr Kohl's first wife, Hannelore. As a result, Helmut Kohl's memoirs detailing the last four years of his political career, until he lost power in 1998, have never been published.

This is a seen as a crucial period, because of the financing scandal which rocked his centre-right Christian Democrat (CDU) party, scarring its reputation for years.

The slush fund scandal was uncovered in 1999, when it was revealed that through the 1990s the CDU had received donations illegally under Mr Kohl's leadership. Secret bank accounts and illegal wire transfers from foreign banks had boosted CDU coffers.

Amid the public outrage, the party's leaders were forced to step down, allowing Angela Merkel to take over as CDU leader. In 2005 she became Germany's first female chancellor.

The tapes are valuable also because Mr Kohl now has difficulties speaking, after a stroke and accident six years ago.

He was modern Germany's longest-serving chancellor, with a 16-year tenure, which coincided with the peaceful end of the Cold War.

His memories of that turbulent period in German history are viewed as historically crucial source material.

Although the judge ruled in favour of Mr Kohl there was also an indirect criticism of him. In the judge's view, the tapes are too important to be stored in someone's cellar, but rather should be stored safely in a public archive.

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