Saturday 21 April 2018

Europe bids farewell to Helmut Kohl, one of the political giants

Lying in State: Yesterday’s ceremony for Helmut Kohl (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Lying in State: Yesterday’s ceremony for Helmut Kohl (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Justin Huggler

Helmut Kohl was yesterday hailed as an "architect of the world as we know it" and a "giant of the postwar period" as world leaders paid their last respects at the European Union's first funeral ceremony.

Kohl's body lay in state at the European parliament, his coffin draped in the blue and gold of the EU flag and flanked by an honour guard of German troops, as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron led the eulogies.

Later, thousands of Germans lined the banks of the Rhine for an emotional farewell as Kohl's body was taken home by motor launch to be buried, the flag over his coffin now swapped for the red, black and gold of Germany.

Some had travelled hundreds of miles from the former East Germany to pay their respects to the man who presided over the reunification of their country.

"Much of what we take for granted, we owe to Helmut Kohl," Mrs Merkel told mourners at the European parliament who included Theresa May, Bill Clinton and Juan Carlos, the former King of Spain. "The fact that East and West Europe live together, the single market, the fact there are no border controls, the European Union, we owe them all to him."

Mr Macron said: "Helmut Kohl was always an indispensable partner for France, but he was more than that: he was a friend."

Mrs Merkel, who grew up in the communist East, paid a personal tribute to her predecessor for his part in bringing down the Berlin Wall.

"Without Helmut Kohl, the lives of millions of people who lived behind the Wall would have been different," she said. "My own life would have been different. It is in large part because of him that I am here.

"Thank you for the chance you gave me. Thank you for the chance you gave to millions of others. Now it is up to us to preserve your legacy. I bow before you in gratitude and humility."

Kohl, who died last month aged 87, is believed to have made clear he did not want a German state funeral. Instead, at his own request, the man who more than anyone else made the reunification of Germany possible was honoured by the other great project of his life's work, the European Union.

Speaker after speaker paid tribute to Kohl for his work to heal the wounds of World War II.

Felipe Gonzalez, a former Spanish prime minister and contemporary of Kohl's, said: "He had a great sense of history. That was why he talked about a European Germany. So that there would never be a German Europe again.

"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," Bill Clinton, the former US president, said.

"Sleep well my friend. The greatest gift you gave us is the lesson that nothing matters more than what we leave our children."

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