Reinhard Klimmt is a passionate book collector. His entire house in Saarbrücken is full of them, and he has put the works of Oskar Lafontaine on a shelf. One day he pushed a tape of Gerhard Schröder's interviews next to it. “I united them peacefully,” Klimmt joked a few years ago in “Die Zeit” about this paper merger. And now he's even succeeded in doing it for real - in real life.
Klimmt, 81, is the man who brought the former Chancellor and his greatest adversary back together at the table after almost 25 years of speechlessness. In this case it was the dining table in the Lafontaine house in Merzig, right on the French border. Gerd and Oskar, one still an SPD comrade and the other no longer a long time ago, met there in May 2023 and spoke out. Klimmt had arranged the meeting, and Stern has now reported exclusively on it.
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It is not without irony that Klimmt, of all people, took on the task of mending the rift between two men who not only fought each other, but were also sometimes a hindrance to Klimmt's own political career. Klimmt, a member of the SPD since 1964, had been the man behind Lafontaine for decades. Apparently he once asked him on the bus to Saarbrücken University whether they wanted to shake up the Juso city association together: Lafontaine as chairman, Klimmt as his deputy. That's how it happened and that's how it stayed.
Klimmt once said that the two of them were "a head and an ass" for a long time, which was intended less to describe their respective abilities than their deep loyalty. When Lafontaine became Prime Minister of Saarland in 1985, Klimmt took over the SPD parliamentary group. He was considered the eternal crown prince; it was only in 1998, when Lafontaine went to Bonn as Federal Finance Minister, that Klimmt moved into the Saarbrücken State Chancellery. But after Lafontaine gave up his new job after just a few months, Klimmt lost the following state election because of the SPD's poor image. Gerhard Schröder then brought him into the federal cabinet, where he had to resign after a year as construction minister because of a financial affair involving 1. FC Saarbrücken, also because Schröder, who had initially encouraged him to persevere, ultimately dropped him. It was the end of Klimmt's political career.
Although Lafontaine's resignation as finance minister and SPD leader, which his friend later described as a "stupid blackout," cost him the office of prime minister, Klimmt soon said: "I still like the guy." Although they sometimes acted very differently politically - Klimmt, for example, was a supporter of Schröder's agenda politics, which Lafontaine demonized - the two men are still friends today.
Apparently Klimmt has amazing abilities that promote such male friendship: Above all, he can strictly separate political and private matters. That's why he informed Lafontaine about the discovery of porcini mushrooms long after Lafontaine was agitating with the Left Party against the SPD. A few years ago, Klimmt described his relationship with Lafontaine to the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" as follows: "So if he called one night and said: I'm standing here in the deep forest and don't know how to get away, my car is dead . Can you pick me up? – What would I do: I would pick him up again at any time."
The fact that Lafontaine also retained his friendship is all the more astonishing since Klimmt doesn't mince his words. "It's like so often with Oskar," he said in 2012, for example, about the rift between Lafontaine and Gregor Gysi in the Left Party: "What he has built with his hands, he will sooner or later tear down with his own backside."
And sometimes it builds up again. Like the relationship between Schröder and Lafontaine. Klimt has no political motives whatsoever; he is obviously concerned with the human, emotional side. On that evening in May, Schröder and Lafontaine are said to have temporarily withdrawn for a one-on-one conversation. Klimt stayed there the whole evening anyway. Only his wife is said to have had enough of the old stories at some point. She retreated to a skating night with other friends.