An evening parade of soldiers with torches, a bouquet of red roses and some music by Nina Hagen. This is how Germany said goodbye this Thursday in the courtyard of the Ministry of Defense to Angela Merkel, its chancellor who, after 16 years in power, will be relieved of her position next Wednesday, with the inauguration of the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, the vice chancellor of his last great coalition.
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“I want to thank all those who have faced the pandemic with all their strength,” Merkel assured in what may have been her last speech as Chancellor, in the direction of medical personnel and soldiers. However, the critical spirit of the German has added a severe reproach “to those who deny the scientific evidence and spread hatred.”
Merkel was moved at the ceremony honoring her 5,860 days in power and listened with knowing smiles, along with Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, to the well-known song by Nina Gafen: Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen –You forgot the color film. This unconventional song for an event of the stature, had been mentioned before by Merkel, who assured that she had heard this song when she was young.
Despite these dissonances in the ceremony, also accompanied by melodies by Hildegard Knef, the gala featured a selection of religious song from the 18th century, Grosse Gott, wir loben dich –Lord we praise you– presumably alluding to her past as the daughter of Protestant pastor Horst Kasner.
This peculiar celebration is known in Germany as the “Zapfenstreich”, and it is the highest military honor since 1838. This ceremony, which was consolidated in Prussian times, is intended only to dismiss high officials in Germany, such as chancellors, federal presidents, ministers of Defense or military of the highest rank.
Angela Merkel will also be awarded in Spain on January 15th “for her spirit of solidarity in opening the borders of Germany before the successive refugee crises”; her “brilliant political career” and “promoting European values”, as she has been unanimously chosen as the thirtieth recipient of the Professor Manuel Broseta Foundation Coexistence Award.
A ceremony that generates controversy
The survival of the event is not without controversy, since Adolf Hitler adopted it and some continue to identify the parade of torches 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.
In addition, the selection of the honorees has not been without criticism, because it honored the dismissal of the military to the Bavarian Social Christian Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who in 2011 left Defense for the scandal a plagiarism in his doctorate and of President Christian Wulff, who left office on suspicion of corruption, in 2012.
On the other hand, the songs chosen for each ceremony are always commented, such as that of the social democrat Gerhard Schröder, who 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; or that of the conservative Ursula von der Leyen, who fired in 2019 as Defense Minister at the pace of the Wind of Changes by 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 left office on suspicions of corruption in 2012, opted for Over the rainbow by Judy Garland.