Germany bids fond farewell to Angela Merkel with ceremony in Berlin

Germany bids fond farewell to Angela Merkel with ceremony in Berlin

After 16 years in office, Angela Merkel will formally hand the chancellery over to her successor, Olaf Scholz, next week. Thursday marked the high point of her farewell tour, with a special military tattoo show in Berlin

Military tattoo held in Merkel’s honour in Berlin

Germany’s “eternal chancellor” began the road to retirement with a ceremony held in her honour on Thursday evening. Broadcast live on German television, the military tattoo featured torch-carrying soldiers in full military dress, and a marching band that played three songs of Merkel’s own choosing. 

The custom of the ceremony - known as a Grosser Zapfenstreich in German - dates back to the 16th century. It’s been used to bid farewell to chancellors since 1998, when Helmut Kohl bowed out to Gerhard Schrӧder. 

Merkel chose Nina Hagen song in nod to GDR upbringing

Due to coronavirus restrictions, Merkel’s ceremony was a little more low-key than her two predecessors’, with just 200 guests, a short speech, and no reception. However, it did contain a few surprises from a chancellor who, even after 16 years, has managed to keep her private life close to her chest

Alongside some relatively standard song choices, including the Christian hymn Grosser Gott, wir loben Dich and Hildegard Knef’s chanson Für mich soll’s rote Rosen regnen, Merkel chose a GDR pop anthem from the 1970s, punk singer Nina Hagen’s Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen - a tribute to Merkel’s upbringing in East Germany, something which the chancellor rarely referred to when in office. 

Saying goodbye to Germany’s crisis chancellor

Unpretentious, down-to-earth and measured, Merkel will be remembered by many as Germany’s “crisis chancellor” - guiding the country through the financial crisis, the euro crisis, the refugee crisis, Brexit and then the coronavirus crisis - with a characteristic reserve and pragmatism that, to some in Germany at least, occasionally veered towards hesitancy rather than determined action. 

However, reflecting her Christian upbringing, warmth and compassion were equally her guiding principles. Indeed, perhaps the largest crisis of her tenure, the refugee crisis, was borne from a pledge of compassion, to take in a million Syrian refugees. 

It was compassion that helped anchor her place in the public’s hearts. Her approval ratings remain high - something that, after 16 years in office, cannot be taken for granted. One thing is certain: Germany will miss its “Mutti”.

Merkel’s successor, Olaf Scholz, could be sworn in as early as next Monday, December 6. Angela Merkel is expected to hand over the chancellery to him on the same day.

Image: Heide Pinkall /



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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