Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives farewell military honors

The Bundeswehr, Germany’s federal armed forces, bid farewell to Chancellor Angela Merkel. The “Grosser Zapfenstreich” is the highest military ceremony for a civilian, Deutsche Welle reports.

At a ceremony held by torchlight, the Bundeswehr, Germany’s federal armed forces, said goodbye to Chancellor Angela Merkel. The military tattoo has become the unofficial farewell ceremony for defense ministers, presidents and chancellors.

In a short, earnest speech on Thursday night, Merkel thanked Germans and called on them to approach life with a “lightness of heart” and be optimistic about their country’s future.

“Sixteen years as chancellor of Germany were full of events, often very challenging — politically and as a human being,” she said.

Multiple crises have shown the importance of international cooperation while tackling the challenges that face the world, she said.

The chancellor added that the “last two years of the pandemic in particular” had shown “how important trust in political leaders, science, and public discourse really is.”

Democracy, Merkel said, was also based on trust, “on solidarity, on listening to one another, and also on facts.”

“I would like to encourage you in the future to look at the world from other people’s perspectives as well,” she concluded.

Merkel was the country’s first East German chancellor and the first chancellor of post-war Germany to be seen off in Berlin.

She chose the Ministry of Defense’s Bendler Block complex for the ceremony. It is a place layered with history. Built as an office for the Imperial German Navy in 1914, it was enlarged by the Nazis and became the headquarters of a group of German officers who attempted to remove Adolf Hitler from power on July 20, 1944. The leaders of the conspiracy were executed in the courtyard, where a memorial to German resistance stands today. Since 1993, the complex has served as a secondary seat of the German Federal Ministry of Defense.

Merkel is only the third German chancellor to be honored with such a military grand tattoo ceremony, the “Zapfenstreich.” Helmut Kohl, Christian Democrat chancellor from 1982 to1998, was the first. He chose the Speyer Cathedral in his home state of Rhineland-Palatinate, a UNESCO world heritage site, as the backdrop for the ceremony. Social Democrat chancellor from 1998 to 2005, Gerhard Schröder, chose to have the ceremony staged in his hometown of Hannover.

The ceremony provides the outgoing chancellor with one of their final opportunities to speak. Kohl took full advantage of that opportunity, speaking for 13 minutes in 1998 about German and European history, the gift of peace and freedom, and the importance of universal conscription — since abolished. In 2005, Gerhard Schröder declined to give a speech.

Since the government and parliament moved from Bonn to Berlin in 1999, it has been the music, not the speeches, that have been best remembered. The music played by the military band is chosen by the person being honored and does not have to be marching music. In recent years, German officials’ requests have ranged from jazz to rock.

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