Former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher is shown on September 30, 2014.

Story highlights

Genscher was an early advocate of detente when Mikhail Gorbachev became Soviet leader

Death comes two weeks after that of Guido Westerwelle, another former foreign minister

Current Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier: "We have lost a great German"

CNN  — 

Former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who played a pivotal role in reuniting East and West Germany after the fall of communism, has died at the age of 89, according to his office.

He served as the country’s foreign minister for a record-setting 18 years, from 1974 to 1992, during which time he was an early advocate of pursuing detente with the Soviet Union when the country began to open up – and, later, break apart – under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.

And he was instrumental in Germany’s reunification, which took place in 1990 – the year following the fall of the Berlin Wall – far sooner than anyone had initially anticipated.

He was an inveterate traveler as foreign minister, too. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze once joked that whenever two planes crossed paths over the Atlantic, “Genscher is on both of them.”

Genscher remained an active and popular figure even after leaving office. And his death triggered an outpouring of emotion on social media.

“Rest in Peace Mr #Genscher. And thank you for everything. I wouldn’t be, where I am now, w/out you. God bless!” one person tweeted.

Genscher’s death comes just two weeks after the death of another former German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, who died on March 18 at the age of 54.

The current German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is on a visit to Tajikistan, issued a tribute to his predecessor Friday.

“Over the course of his long and eventful life, Hans-Dietrich Genscher literally made history – that of our country, Germany, and of Europe,” Steinmeier said. “He is assured of a place in the history books. His lifelong task was to overcome the division of Germany and the rift in Europe.

“Hans-Dietrich Genscher was Germany’s longest serving foreign minister. He was fortunate enough to play a role in German reunification, his life’s great political goal, and to guide and support the completion of German unification during his own lifetime.

“We have lost a great German and a great European today.”

CNN’s Vasco Cotovio contributed to this report.