A bouquet of red roses and the music of Nina Hagen marked the farewell given by the German army to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who in a week will leave his position and who opted for a musical goodbye as unconventional as his leadership style has been.
The night parade of soldiers carrying torches, the “Zapfenstreich” or “Retreat”, reflected in the courtyard of the Defense Ministry the “end of the Merkel era”. His 16 years in power will end next Wednesday, with the inauguration of the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, the vice chancellor of his last grand coalition.
“I want to thank all those who have faced the pandemic with all their strength,” he said, addressing medical personnel and soldiers. He then criticized, in what will surely be his last speech as chancellor, “those who deny scientific evidence and spread hatred.”
Merkel, who will have been 5,860 days in her post – ten days less than the patriarch Helmut Kohl, record of permanence in power -, went from the rigor of that last message to the ironic tone in the musical and fidelity to the origins.
Sitting next to Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the leader listened with knowing smiles “Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen” – “You forgot the color film” – by Nina Hagen. The ex-punk queen premiered that song in 1974, the lyrics of which reproached a boyfriend -Micha- who only took black and white photos of her because he forgot the color film.
Hagen was then, like Merkel, a citizen of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Two years later, After moving to the western side, the singer gave her piece and her life a punk twist.
The question remains whether Merkel, like other East Germans, was already listening to Hagen’s success from the other side of the Wall. “Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen” was “a hit from my youth”, “also coming from the GDR”, the Chancellor limited herself to explaining, in a previous appearance before the media.
The next piece was “Für mich soll’s rote Rose regnen” – “Red roses will rain for me” -. A ballad of the great lady from the German song Hildegard Knef, woman with a deep voice who, as an actress, caused a scandal in 1951 with a fleeting nude in a German film – “Die Sünderin”, “The Sinner” -.
Completed your selection the 18th century religious song, “Grosse Gott, wir loben dich” – “Lord, we praise you” – presumably alluding to her past as the daughter of the Protestant pastor Horst Kasner.
The highest military honor
The “Zapfenstreich” is the highest military honor, intended to dismiss senior officials in Germany and is reserved for chancellors, federal presidents, defense ministers or top military officers.
It dates from 1838 and was consolidated in Prussian times, but its survival is not without controversy, since Adolf Hitler adopted it and some continue to identify the torchlight parade with Nazism.
Despite this, the ceremony has accompanied the farewell of successive leaders of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Each of them has imprinted their personal stamp on the choice of musical pieces to be performed by the band, between the military marches and the national anthem.
From “My Way” Schröder to Von der Leyen’s Scorpions
The selection of honorees has often been peppered with ironies. The social democrat Gerhard Schröder, chose for his farewell, in 2005, the “My Way”, a piece very consistent with the personality of a politician who always wanted to mark his own path.
The conservative Ursula von der Leyen said goodbye in 2019 as Defense Minister, before going on to chair the European Commission (EC), to the rhythm of the “Wind of Changes” from “Scorpions”.
The honor of the military farewell was also given to the Bavarian Social Christian Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who in 2011 left Defense for the scandal a plagiarism in his doctorate and who chose the “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. President Christian Wulff, who stepped down on suspicion of corruption in 2012, opted for Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow”.
By Gemma Casadevall / With information from EFE, video and photos from Reuters
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