Former West German president Walter Scheel dies

Berlin (dpa) – Walter Scheel, who was West German president at the height of the Cold War and an architect of the nation’s contentious push for detente with the Soviet Union, has died, officials in Berlin said on Wednesday.

He died at age 97 after a long illness.

A member of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), Scheel was one of the nation’s leading politicians of the 1960s and 1970s.

He served as the nation’s foreign minister between 1969 and 1974, working with Social Democrat Chancellor Willy Brandt to recognize the communist German Democratic Republic.

“He has earned lasting credit for understanding and reconciliation on our continent with his policies on the eastern bloc and Europe,” said German President Joachim Gauck.

As the nation’s vice-chancellor, Scheel was forced to step in and take over the leadership of the country in May 1974 after Brandt was engulfed by a spying scandal. 

Scheel then went on to become the president of West Germany between 1974 and 1979.

Born in the western German city of Solingen, he also served as minister for economic cooperation.

Scheel was the third prominent FDP politician to die this year after the deaths of former foreign ministers Guido Westerwelle and Hans-Dietrich Genscher.

The former president will also be remembered as a singer. He made an unusual turn as an entertainer a few months before becoming president: a recording of the foreign minister and two choirs singing “Hoch auf dem gelben Wagen” (“High on the yellow wagon”). It made it to No. 5 in the West German charts early in 1974.

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