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Kretschmann is born to Catholic parents. He went to school in Riedlingen (District of Biberach). His parents wanted him to become priest. Instead he joined a school for teaching education and became teacher for Biology, Chemistry and Ethics.
Kretschmann's political career started at the University of Stuttgart-Hohenheim. In 1979/80 he was a co-founder of the Green Party in Baden-Württemberg. He was leader of the Green Party in Baden-Württemberg from 1983 to 1984 and 2002 to 2011. In 2011 he became ninth Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg. He was President of the Bundesrat from 2012 to 2013.