Finally, the polls made it all clear.

On February 16, 1964, the extraordinary party congress of the SPD in Bad Godesberg elected Berlin's governing mayor Willy Brandt (1913–1992) as the new chairman.

He was the only candidate to succeed Erich Ollenhauer, who suddenly died in December 1963.

Initially, there were still dubious voices among leading Social Democrats who did not consider an election of the already secure SPD chancellor candidate Brandt as party chairman to be opportune.

But recent opinion polls have silenced such doubts.

Portrait of Brandt from 1964

Source: picture alliance / United Archive

The surveys initiated every month by the social democratic governing bodies showed that Brandt's popularity curve showed an upward trend.

He led with 35 percent before Federal Chancellor Ludwig Erhard (CDU), whom 34 percent of the respondents described as the most popular politician.

Compared to December, Brandt gained four points, while Erhard fell seven points.

The popularity of the SPD had also risen to 35 percent according to this poll;

it was ahead of the CDU / CSU (33 percent).


The party congress voted accordingly: 320 out of 334 votes were for Brandt, only nine delegates spoke out against him.

In the decision on the candidate for chancellor he even got three more votes.

Brandts spoke his acceptance speech with a hoarse voice - “as always”, commented WELT editor Hans-Werner von Finckenstein: “It is vocal rubble, dug, broken, collected and laboriously brought up from the depths in dark shafts.

The words come like individual boulders that you can almost watch as we slowly detach themselves from the structure of the sentences and rush down into the auditorium.

It is his own personal style to say so;

his rhetorical trick, as some think. "

That was rightly observed: Willy Brandt's way of speaking was unique in German politics in the 1960s. But was it really a trick?

Or the result of the broken life that Willy Brandt had brought to where he was in February 1964?


Born out of wedlock in Lübeck in 1913 under the name Herbert Frahm, Brandt, a staunch socialist (and at the same time an opponent of Moscow-based communism), went into exile after the Nazis came to power in 1933.

As a Norwegian citizen, he took on his new name, under which the Gerstapo was also looking for him, and kept it when he returned to Germany in 1945.

In 1949 he became a member of the first Bundestag for Berlin, albeit with limited rights, then from the end of 1950 (which is no longer possible today, but at that time was inevitable in view of the lack of serious political personnel) a member of the West Berlin Parliament, the House of Representatives.

In 1955 he rose to be its president, and in 1957 he became the governing mayor.

The SPD chairman Willy Brandt with Herbert Wehner and Fritz Erler at the SPD party conference in November 1964 in Karlsruhe

Source: picture alliance / Fritz Fischer

In the 1961 Bundestag election, a few weeks after the Wall was built across Berlin, Brandt stood for the first time as a candidate for Chancellor of the SPD and achieved a respectable success against the aged Konrad Adenauer.

“The governor”, ​​a common nickname, stood for the future, for reforms, for courageous foreign policy.

But after his election as party chairman, it took another five and a half years before he could actually move into the Bonn Chancellery, which the SPD was able to hold until October 1982 - perhaps the best time Germany's social democracy has ever had.


But Brandt definitely holds a record.

Because no one at the top of the SPD endured longer than he did: he chaired his party for 23 years, a month and a week.

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