STRASBURG — Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl was buried near a 1,000-year-old cathedral in the south-western German town of Speyer on Saturday after world leaders past and present paid tribute to the man known as a unifier and European patriot.
Kohl, Germany’s longest-serving post-war leader, died on June 16 at the age of 87.
He led Germany through its reunification in 1990 and served as chancellor of West Germany and then of the unified nation from 1982 to 1998. He is also seen as a key figure in European integration in the post-World War II era.
“We bid farewell to a truly great statesman,” said Catholic Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann, who led the funeral mass at Speyer cathedral.
The bishop expressed his condolences to Kohl’s widow Maike Kohl-Richter, as well as to Kohl’s sons and grandchildren.
Following the service, Kohl was honoured with a Bundeswehr military ceremony before being buried in a narrow circle of friends and families in the cathedral cemetery. The mourners left the cemetery Saturday evening, according to eyewitnesses.
The cathedral had been the final destination on a tour of remembrance that began nearly 12 hours earlier with an unprecedented ceremony in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
Kohl’s body was taken from his birthplace in Ludwigshafen, Germany, to Strasbourg for the European Ceremony of Honour, the first of its kind. Draped in the flag of the European Union, Kohl’s coffin was carried into the European Parliament’s main chamber for the two-hour service.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the Strasbourg ceremony that her path would have taken a different course were it not for Kohl, the longest-serving chancellor of Germany since Otto von Bismarck.
“Without Helmut Kohl, the lives of millions of people who lived behind the Wall until 1990 would have been completely different – of course my own as well,” Merkel said.
Merkel said that while she had sometimes disagreed with her former conservative political mentor, those differences “fade into nothing given the massive achievement of his life.”
“My own life without Helmut Kohl would have been entirely different,” Merkel said, concluding by offering her thanks for the “chances and opportunities” he gave her.
“I bow before you and to your memory – with gratitude and humility,” she said.
Former US president Bill Clinton said that “the 21st century in Europe, as you see, really began on his watch.”
Kohl “gave us the chance to be involved in something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our terms of office,” he said.
“I loved him,” Clinton said, pointing to Kohl’s coffin draped in the European flag.
“Hillary said I loved him because he’s the only person who had a bigger appetite for food than I had,” said Clinton, remembering the many times that he and Kohl met in Washington, and the German leader’s restaurant recommendation in the US capital.