World leaders on Saturday (July 1) paid a final tribute to Helmut Kohl, the former Chancellor who reunited Germany and helped shape Europe as we know it.
Kohl, who died on June 16 at 87, was lauded at a ceremony at the European Parliament as a dedicated European pacifist by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Russia Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and other figures.
His casket was then flown by helicopter across the Rhine from Strasbourg to his hometown of Ludwigshafen, where his body was later carried in procession before being transported by riverboat to nearby Speyer – one of Germany’s oldest towns where Kohl took former world leaders including Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Mikail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and Margaret Thatcher for private meetings.
Hundreds of dignitaries attended his funeral at Speyer cathedral, where as a teenager Kohl found shelter from bombings during World War Two. The resting place of many rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, it was seen by Kohl as a symbol of European unity.
The tribute in the European parliament was the first of its kind to a political leader. Inside the assembly, Strasbourg’s orchestra played both the German national anthem and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the European Union’s anthem.
“Helmut Kohl was a German patriot and a European patriot,” said Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister and close friend of Kohl who switched between German and French in his tribute. “We’ve lost a giant of the post-war era.”
Polish MEP and former president of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek remembered a conversation he had with Kohl about European integration.
“He told me you should not only be in the European Union as Poland, but also in eurozone as soon as possible. And he expressed his view on the euro currency: He said it’s a rather political project, not so much economic,” Buzek told Euronews.
The ceremony in Strasbourg honoured the key role Kohl played in reconciling France and Germany while pushing for a more united Europe as a whole.
“We need not only Germany and France, we to integrate and take other countries with us. Italy for example. Europe needs a kind of refoundation, and we should not do it alone, we should take other countries with us,” said Martin Schulz, German Chancellor candidate for the Social Democratic party (SPD).
From Strasbourg, our reporter Sandor Zsiros said: “This ceremony showed that the Franco-German alliance may be as strong in the coming years as it was during Kohl’s leadership, when the German chancellor cooperated very closely with the French president to build the European Union”.