Gerhard Schroeder rose from humble beginnings in Lower Saxony to the top of one of the most powerful nations in Europe and remains one of the most important political figures in post-war Germany and Europe.
Schroeder became the first challenger since World War II to unseat an incumbent chancellor in Germany in 1998. As Chancellor, he defined Germany's role as a "civilian power."
Born in Mossenberg in 1944, Schroeder never knew his father, a soldier killed in Romania during World War II. As a youngster, he worked as an ironmonger's apprentice and a construction worker before completing his intermediate high school certificate at the age of 20. In 1966, Schroeder began pursuing a law degree, taking his state law examinations in 1971 and 1976. A fledgling Marxist and environmentalist, he idolized SPD chancellor Willy Brandt throughout the 1970's and particularly respected his Ostpolitik, which aimed for improved relations with communist Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
Schroeder became head of the youth wing of the Social Democrats, the Young Socialists, in the Hanover district in 1971 and was elected federal chairman of the Young Socialists seven years later. After working as a legislator from 1980 to 1986, he was elected premier of Lower Saxony in 1990, a period in which he became more involved in federal politics.
Soon afterwards, Schroeder joined then-SPD leader Rudolf Scharping's shadow cabinet as the minister responsible for economic, traffic and energy policies and quickly moved up into the Social Democrats' higher echelons. He soon became part of the party's leading "troika" along with Scharping and Oskar Lafontaine. Schroeder’s popularity grew and a 1997 poll showed that he, and not Lafontaine, was the people's choice for candidate most likely to replace incumbent Chancellor Helmut Kohl. After he won the state elections in Lower Saxony in March 1998 with 47.9 percent of the vote, SPD announced that Schroeder would be the party's candidate for chancellor. On Sept. 27, 1998, Gerhard Schroeder was elected to be the next leader of Germany, unseating Kohl, who had held the top job for 16 years.
Schroeder represented the new and optimistic face of Germany. While Kohl had overseen the reunification of the country and earned a reputation as a respected elder statesman, Schroeder projected a more dynamic image with fresh new ideas and promises of increased employment. He was reelected in 2002 on a platform that included firm opposition to the looming US-led intervention in Iraq.
Schroeder was the first German chancellor whose life, or youth, was not dominated by World War II. Under his leadership, Germany forged closer ties with France and Russia and lobbied for more voting power within the European Union.
Gerhard Schroeder is married to Doris Schroeder-Kopf and has two daughters.
Read Chancellor Schroeder’s message to the Aladdin Project’s launch conference