Karl Carstens
Karl Carstens was a German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 politician. He served as President of the Federal Republic of Germany
President of Germany
The President of the Federal Republic of Germany is the country's head of state. His official title in German is Bundespräsident . Germany has a parliamentary system of government and so the position of President is largely ceremonial...

 from 1979 to 1984.


Carstens was born in the City of Bremen
The City Municipality of Bremen is a Hanseatic city in northwestern Germany. A commercial and industrial city with a major port on the river Weser, Bremen is part of the Bremen-Oldenburg metropolitan area . Bremen is the second most populous city in North Germany and tenth in Germany.Bremen is...

, the son of a commercial school teacher, who had been killed at the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

 of World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 shortly before his birth. He studied law and political science at the universities of Frankfurt
University of Frankfurt
University of Frankfurt may refer to:*Goethe University Frankfurt, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany*Viadrina European University, in Frankfurt , Germany...

, Dijon
University of Burgundy
The University of Burgundy is a university located in Dijon, France.The University of Burgundy is situated on a large campus called Campus Montmuzard, 15 minutes by bus from the City Centre...

, Munich, Königsberg
University of Königsberg
The University of Königsberg was the university of Königsberg in East Prussia. It was founded in 1544 as second Protestant academy by Duke Albert of Prussia, and was commonly known as the Albertina....

, and Hamburg
University of Hamburg
The University of Hamburg is a university in Hamburg, Germany. It was founded on 28 March 1919 by Wilhelm Stern and others. It grew out of the previous Allgemeines Vorlesungswesen and the Kolonialinstitut as well as the Akademisches Gymnasium. There are around 38,000 students as of the start of...

 from 1933 to 1936, gaining a doctorate
Doctor (title)
Doctor, as a title, originates from the Latin word of the same spelling and meaning. The word is originally an agentive noun of the Latin verb docēre . It has been used as an honored academic title for over a millennium in Europe, where it dates back to the rise of the university. This use spread...

 in 1938 and taking the Second Staatsexamen
The ' is a German government licensing examination that future doctors, teachers, pharmacists, food chemists and jurists have to pass to be allowed to work in their profession. The examination is generally organized by government examination agencies which are under the authority of the...

degree in 1939. In 1949 he also received a Master of Laws
Master of Laws
The Master of Laws is an advanced academic degree, pursued by those holding a professional law degree, and is commonly abbreviated LL.M. from its Latin name, Legum Magister. The University of Oxford names its taught masters of laws B.C.L...

 (LL.M.) degree from Yale Law School
Yale Law School
Yale Law School, or YLS, is the law school of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Established in 1824, it offers the J.D., LL.M., J.S.D. and M.S.L. degrees in law. It also hosts visiting scholars, visiting researchers and a number of legal research centers...


From 1939 to 1945, during the Second World War, Carstens was a member of an anti-aircraft artillery
Anti-aircraft warfare
NATO defines air defence as "all measures designed to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of hostile air action." They include ground and air based weapon systems, associated sensor systems, command and control arrangements and passive measures. It may be to protect naval, ground and air forces...

 (Flak) unit in the Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

, reaching the rank of Leutnant (Second Lieutenant) by the war's end. In 1940 he joined the Nazi Party, reportedly he had applied for admission in 1937 to avoid detrimental treatment when he worked as a law clerk
Law clerk
A law clerk or a judicial clerk is a person who provides assistance to a judge in researching issues before the court and in writing opinions. Law clerks are not court clerks or courtroom deputies, who are administrative staff for the court. Most law clerks are recent law school graduates who...

. He had, however, joined the Nazi SA
The Sturmabteilung functioned as a paramilitary organization of the National Socialist German Workers' Party . It played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s...

paramilitary organisation already in 1934.

In 1944 Carstens married the medical student Veronica Prior in Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

. After the war he became a lawyer
A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political...

 in his hometown Bremen, and from 1949 acted as a councillor of the city's Senate
Senate of Bremen
The Senate of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen is the government of the city-state of Bremen . The senate has existed since mediæval times. The senate is headed by a President, who also holds the title of Mayor. The President's deputy also holds the title Mayor...

. From 1950 he also worked as lecturer at the University of Cologne
University of Cologne
The University of Cologne is one of the oldest universities in Europe and, with over 44,000 students, one of the largest universities in Germany. The university is part of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, an association of Germany's leading research universities...

, where he habilitated two years later. In 1954 he joined the diplomatic service of the German Foreign Office
Foreign Office (Germany)
The Foreign Office is the foreign ministry of Germany, a federal agency responsible for both the country's foreign politics and its relationship with the European Union. From 1871 to 1919, it was led by a Foreign Secretary, and since 1919, it has been led by the Foreign Minister of Germany...

, serving as West German
West Germany
West Germany is the common English, but not official, name for the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in the period between its creation in May 1949 to German reunification on 3 October 1990....

 representative at the Council of Europe
Council of Europe
The Council of Europe is an international organisation promoting co-operation between all countries of Europe in the areas of legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation...

 in Strasbourg
Strasbourg is the capital and principal city of the Alsace region in eastern France and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Located close to the border with Germany, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin département. The city and the region of Alsace are historically German-speaking,...

. In 1955 he joined the Christian Democratic Union
Christian Democratic Union (Germany)
The Christian Democratic Union of Germany is a Christian democratic and conservative political party in Germany. It is regarded as on the centre-right of the German political spectrum...

 (CDU) under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer
Konrad Adenauer
Konrad Hermann Joseph Adenauer was a German statesman. He was the chancellor of the West Germany from 1949 to 1963. He is widely recognised as a person who led his country from the ruins of World War II to a powerful and prosperous nation that had forged close relations with old enemies France,...


In July 1960 Carstens reached the position of secretary of state
Secretary of State
Secretary of State or State Secretary is a commonly used title for a senior or mid-level post in governments around the world. The role varies between countries, and in some cases there are multiple Secretaries of State in the Government....

 at the Foreign Office and in the same year was also appointed as professor for public and international law at Cologne University. During the grand coalition
Grand Coalition (Germany)
In modern Germany, grand coalition describes a governing coalition of the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, as they are the two largest parties.-Weimar Republic:...

 government of 1966-1969 under Chancellor Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Kurt Georg Kiesinger
Kurt Georg Kiesinger was a German politician affiliated with the CDU and Chancellor of West Germany from 1 December 1966 until 21 October 1969.-Early career and wartime activities:...

, he first served as secretary of state in the Ministry of Defence
Federal Ministry of Defence (Germany)
The Federal Ministry of Defence is a top-level federal agency, headed by the Federal Minister of Defence as a member of the Cabinet of Germany...

, and after 1968 as head of the German Chancellery
German Chancellery
The German Chancellery is a federal agency serving the executive office of the Chancellor, the head of the German federal government. The chief of the Chancellery holds the rank of either a Secretary of State or a Federal Minister ...


In 1972 Carstens was first elected into the Bundestag
The Bundestag is a federal legislative body in Germany. In practice Germany is governed by a bicameral legislature, of which the Bundestag serves as the lower house and the Bundesrat the upper house. The Bundestag is established by the German Basic Law of 1949, as the successor to the earlier...

, of which he was a member until 1979. From May 1973 until October 1976 he was chairman of the CDU/CSU
Christian Social Union of Bavaria
The Christian Social Union in Bavaria is a Christian democratic and conservative political party in Germany. It operates only in the state of Bavaria, while its sister party, the Christian Democratic Union , operates in the other 15 states of Germany...

 parliamentary group, succeeding Rainer Barzel
Rainer Barzel
Rainer Candidus Barzel was a German politician of the CDU.Born in Braunsberg, East Prussia , Barzel served as Chairman of the CDU from 1971 and 1973 and ran as the CDU's candidate for Chancellor of Germany in the 1972 federal elections, losing to Willy Brandt's SPD.The 1972 election is commonly...

. During that time he was an outspoken critic of left-wing tendencies in the German student movement
German student movement
The German student movement was a protest movement that took place during the late 1960s in West Germany. It was largely a reaction against the perceived authoritarianism and hypocrisy of the German government and other Western governments, and the poor living conditions of students...

 and particular accused the governing Social Democratic Party of Germany
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

 (SPD) of being too soft on left-wing extremists. He also famously denounced the author and Nobel
Nobel Prize in Literature
Since 1901, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded annually to an author from any country who has, in the words from the will of Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction"...

 laureate Heinrich Böll
Heinrich Böll
Heinrich Theodor Böll was one of Germany's foremost post-World War II writers. Böll was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize in 1967 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972.- Biography :...

 as a supporter of left-wing terrorism
Left-wing terrorism
Left-wing terrorism, sometimes called Marxist-Leninist terrorism or revolutionary/left-wing terrorism is a tactic used to overthrow capitalism and replace it with Marxist-Leninist or socialist government.-Ideology:...

 (specifically, the Baader-Meinhof Gang
Red Army Faction
The radicalized were, like many in the New Left, influenced by:* Sociological developments, pressure within the educational system in and outside Europe and the U.S...

) for his 1974 novel The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum
The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum
The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, or: how violence develops and where it can lead is a 1974 novel by Heinrich Böll....


After the 1976 federal elections, which made the CDU/CSU the largest group in parliament, Carstens was elected president of the Bundestag on 14 December 1976. The CDU/CSU had also reached a majority in the Federal Convention electing the President of Germany
President of Germany
The President of the Federal Republic of Germany is the country's head of state. His official title in German is Bundespräsident . Germany has a parliamentary system of government and so the position of President is largely ceremonial...

, and in 1979 the party nominated Carstens, though in contestation due to his Nazi past, as candidate, whereafter incumbent President Walter Scheel
Walter Scheel
Walter Scheel is a German politician . He served as Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development from 1961 to 1966, Foreign Minister of Germany and Vice Chancellor from 1969 to 1974, acting Chancellor of Germany from 7 May to 16 May 1974 , and finally as President of the Federal...

Free Democratic Party (Germany)
The Free Democratic Party , abbreviated to FDP, is a centre-right classical liberal political party in Germany. It is led by Philipp Rösler and currently serves as the junior coalition partner to the Union in the German federal government...

) chose to renounce a second term.

On 23 May 1979, Carstens was elected as the fifth President of the Federal Republic of Germany, prevailing against the SPD candidate Annemarie Renger
Annemarie Renger
Annemarie Renger , , was a German politician for the “Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands” ....

 in the first ballot. During his incumbency, Carstens was well known for hiking
Hiking is an outdoor activity which consists of walking in natural environments, often in mountainous or other scenic terrain. People often hike on hiking trails. It is such a popular activity that there are numerous hiking organizations worldwide. The health benefits of different types of hiking...

 Germany in order to decrease the gulf between politics and the people.

In December 1982, the new Chancellor Helmut Kohl
Helmut Kohl
Helmut Josef Michael Kohl is a German conservative politician and statesman. He was Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998 and the chairman of the Christian Democratic Union from 1973 to 1998...

 (CDU), recently elected in a successful motion of no confidence
Motion of no confidence
A motion of no confidence is a parliamentary motion whose passing would demonstrate to the head of state that the elected parliament no longer has confidence in the appointed government.-Overview:Typically, when a parliament passes a vote of no...

 against Helmut Schmidt
Helmut Schmidt
Helmut Heinrich Waldemar Schmidt is a German Social Democratic politician who served as Chancellor of West Germany from 1974 to 1982. Prior to becoming chancellor, he had served as Minister of Defence and Minister of Finance. He had also served briefly as Minister of Economics and as acting...

 (SPD) deliberately lost a vote of confidence in the Bundestag, in order to obtain a clearer majority in new general elections. Though already former Chancellor Willy Brandt
Willy Brandt
Willy Brandt, born Herbert Ernst Karl Frahm , was a German politician, Mayor of West Berlin 1957–1966, Chancellor of West Germany 1969–1974, and leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany 1964–1987....

 had similarly proceeded in 1972, this action gave rise to a discussion whether such a step constitutes a "manipulation of the Constitution
Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany
The Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany is the constitution of Germany. It was formally approved on 8 May 1949, and, with the signature of the Allies of World War II on 12 May, came into effect on 23 May, as the constitution of those states of West Germany that were initially included...

". On 7 January 1983, President Carstens nonetheless dissolved the Bundestag and called for new elections. In February 1983 his decision was approved by the Federal Constitutional Court
Federal Constitutional Court of Germany
The Federal Constitutional Court is a special court established by the Grundgesetz, the German basic law...

 so that 1983 general elections could take place on March 6.

In 1984 Carstens decided not to seek a second term on account of his age and left office on 30 June 1984. He was succeeded by Richard von Weizsäcker
Richard von Weizsäcker
Richard Karl Freiherr von Weizsäcker , known as Richard von Weizsäcker, is a German politician . He served as Governing Mayor of West Berlin from 1981 to 1984, and as President of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1984 to 1994...



  • Michael F. Feldkamp
    Michael F. Feldkamp
    Michael F. Feldkamp, is a German historian and journalist.-Career:Feldkamp was born in Kiel. After completing his high school studies at the Gymnasium Carolinum in Osnabrück, he studied history, Catholic theology, teaching, and philosophy at the Rhineland Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Bonn...

     (ed.), Der Bundestagspräsident
    President of the Bundestag
    The President of the Bundestag presides over the sessions of the Bundestag, the parliament of Germany, with functions similar to that of a speaker in other countries. In the German order of precedence, his office is ranked second after the President and before the Chancellor...

    . Amt - Funktion - Person.
    16. Wahlperiode, München 2007, ISBN 978-3-7892-8201-0
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