Leaders from the United States, Russia and across Europe have paid tribute to former German chancellor Helmut Kohl as the architect of German reunification and a driving force for European integration.
Mr Kohl, who died on June 16 at 87, was lauded at a ceremony at the European Parliament as a dedicated European who abhorred war by former US president Bill Clinton, Russia Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and other figures.
A funeral service was held later on Saturday with 900 invited guests at Speyer Cathedral, where as a teenager Mr Kohl found shelter from World War II aerial bombings.
His casket was flown by helicopter from Strasbourg to his hometown Ludwigshafen before being carried by boat up the Rhine to Speyer, one of Germany’s oldest towns where Mr Kohl took former world leaders — including Mr Clinton, George HW Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and Margaret Thatcher — for private meetings.
“Helmut Kohl gave us the chance to be involved in something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our terms in office and bigger than our fleeting careers,” Mr Clinton said of the man who was German chancellor from 1982 to 1998 and oversaw German reunification in 1990.
“I loved [Mr Kohl because he] wanted to create a world in which no one dominated, in which cooperation was better than conflict.”
The two-hour memorial in Strasbourg, a city that has often changed hands and now lies in France, symbolised the role Mr Kohl played in reconciling the two erstwhile enemies France and Germany while driving European integration forward.
A blue European Union flag was draped over Kohl’s casket in Strasbourg. A German flag later covered the coffin in Germany, where thousands watched from the streets as his coffin moved through Ludwigshafen and later from the banks of the Rhine.
“He was the architect of the world order,” said Mr Medvedev of Mr Kohl, who skilfully negotiated reunification with communist East Germany with then-Soviet leader Mr Gorbachev.
“In Russia, we’ll remember him as our friend — a wise and sincere person.”
‘A giant of the post-war era’
Bill Clinton, Maike Kohl-Richter and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. (Reuters: Arne Dedert/Pool)
The resting place of many rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, itself a Europe-spanning polity, Speyer Cathedral was seen by Mr Kohl as a symbol of European unity.
“Helmut Kohl was a German patriot and a European patriot,” said Mr Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister and close friend of Mr Kohl who switched between German and French in his tribute.
“We’ve lost a giant of the post-war era.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who served as a minister under Mr Kohl in the 1990s but later had a falling out over his role in receiving $US1 million in illegal campaign cash donations, remembered Kohl as an at-times controversial figure with numerous enemies.
“I could tell you stories as well … but all that paled in comparison to his life’s achievements,” Ms Merkel said.
Ms Merkel said Mr Kohl had changed the lives of millions across all of Europe.
The ceremony concluded with the German national anthem and excerpts from Beethoven’s 9th symphony Ode to Joy, used as the anthem of the European Union.
The proposal to hold a European ceremony was enthusiastically advocated by Mr Juncker, and by Mr Kohl’s second wife Maike Kohl-Richter, who survives him.
His sons, however, boycotted the Cathedral’s funeral mass, because their father will not be laid to rest alongside Hannelore Kohl, his wife of decades.
Helmut Kohl (right) and French President Francois Mitterrand (left) formed a close relationship to push for European integration. (Reuters: file)