Germany bids farewell to reunification president Weizsaecker

Germany held a state funeral Wednesday for Richard von Weizsaecker, the president at the time of reunification who helped the country deal with its wartime past by saying it had been "liberated" by the Nazis` defeat.

AFP| Last Updated: Feb 11, 2015, 21:01 PM IST

Berlin: Germany held a state funeral Wednesday for Richard von Weizsaecker, the president at the time of reunification who helped the country deal with its wartime past by saying it had been "liberated" by the Nazis` defeat.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was due to dash to Belarus later in the day for key Ukraine peace talks, was among about 1,400 guests gathered at Berlin`s Protestant Cathedral to bid farewell to the ex-president.

Weizsaecker --- who held the largely ceremonial post for a decade, including when East and West Germany reunited in 1990, less than a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall -- died on January 31 at the age of 94.

He is widely remembered for a stirring speech in 1985 to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II when he declared that Nazi Germany`s capitulation on May 8, 1945 had been a "day of liberation".

Current President Joachim Gauck led tributes to Weizsaecker, whose coffin was draped in the German flag at the front of the cathedral, saying he was a "great German" and had won "esteem and sympathy" worldwide for Germany.

"German history shaped him," Gauck said, "and he himself left deep traces in the history of our country."

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Weizsaecker had "given the world new trust in our country" at a time when Germany was moving towards reunifying.

Born into an aristocratic family, Weizsaecker, a member of Merkel`s Christian Democratic Union, won a seat in the Bundestag lower house of parliament in 1969 after a career in business and served as mayor of West Berlin from 1981.

He was elevated to the German presidency in 1984 and championed reconciliation with the communist East before winning a second term a few months before the Berlin Wall fell, later overseeing Germany`s joyous reunification and the end of the Cold War.

As a soldier during World War II, he was wounded several times. After the war assisted the lawyer at the US-run Nuremberg trials defending his father, Ernst, who had been a foreign ministry official under the Nazis.