The last cigarette goes out: Helmut Schmidt dies

Article published on Nov. 12, 2015
Article published on Nov. 12, 2015

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Former German Chancellor, strong European supporter, publisher of the Die Zeit weekly and wise thinker Helmut Schmidt died yesterday at his home in Hamburg surrounded by his family.

"I don't want to live till I'm 100, but there is nothing I can do even about that," said Helmut Schmidt to Sandra Maischberger during his final televised appearance last April. His wish was granted this afternoon. He died surrounded by his family at his house in Hamburg.

At the beginning of September it was made known that Helmut Schmidt had given up smoking due to a thrombus in his right leg. When the news broke, I immediately thought of my grandfather, who lived with me and my mother until his death. At the age of 93 he still relished his cigars, enveloping the whole house in a thick cloud of smoke. To be honest, this was something that annoyed me because my clothes and hair were impregnated with smoke. All day long. But we let him have his cigars. In fact, he didn't smoke at all as he didn't inhale. But that was neither here nor there. His eyes would light up whenever he held a cigar between his trembling fingers. However paradoxical this may seem, his cigars were everything to him, his elixir of life.

Thanks to my grandfather, I can put myself in Helmut Schmidt's shoes and understand what it means when a doctor orders you to stop smoking. It's like an early death.

Having a smoke and a discussion

During his life, Helmut Schmidt had to do without smoking for 15 years and 2 months, that is, from birth to puberty and then in the last couple of months of his life. He smoked with so much style and charm, like no other personality of our age. "While having a fag" - this was how he talked about his conversations with intellectuals and philosophers. His work remained indissociable from his passion for nicotine.

Oil shock, Euromissiles crisis, Red Army Faction terrorism - his cigarettes never left him. The "fighter", "crisis manager" and Social Democrat was firmly attached to his moral and political principles and constantly distinguished himself by his uprightness.

A great statesman

In 2013, a Forsa survey found that the Germans thought of Helmut Schmidt as their most important post-war chancellor. He gave up this office in 1982. 31 years later, he has not lost any of his reputation, remaining one of the most prominent personalities. Talk shows used to fight over him. Ratings would go through the roof whenever Helmut shared his vision of the world with his characteristic perceptiveness and northern frankness. All smoke detectors used to be removed from television studios in order to prevent any fire alarms from going off. Yes, Helmut Schmidt was given preferential treatment.

It wasn't just my grandfather who looked up to him. He has been a great political and human influence on whole generations. Despite his fame, he led a simple life. A few years ago he thought of the following possible epitaph: "Here lies someone who has tried to do his job properly."