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The end of Angela Merkel’s reign as German Chancellor was marked by Beethoven, a romantic song and an East German punk hit, all played with clockwork precision by the Bundeswehr military band.

After 16 years in power, Angela Merkel passes the baton to Olaf Scholz next week, and has been awarded a military tattoo in her honor, the biggest tribute paid to a civilian. Clad in a simple black coat and black gloves, Europe’s most powerful politician looked grim, betraying little emotion, as she watched soldiers carrying torches in parade gear march through the courtyard of the Berlin Defense Ministry.

Hours before the ceremony, Merkel had announced tougher measures to curb the surge in coronavirus cases in Germany, including what her successor called “a lockdown of the unvaccinated.”

At the event, she said her four terms were “turbulent years and often very difficult.

“They challenged me politically and humanly and, at the same time, they were also fulfilling.”

The event started with a Beethoven military march and ended with Ich bete an die Macht Liebe (I pray to the power of love), a traditional song that has been part of the ceremony since the Napoleonic wars. During this play, the soldiers removed their gray helmets and Merkel briefly smiled at the officer conducting the chant as the last bars faded.

The custom of the Großer Zapfenstreich or Large tattoo The ceremony dates back to the 16th century, but the highest German military honor has only been bestowed on chancellors since the departure in 1998 of Helmut Kohl, whose farewell took place in front of Speyer Cathedral in his native state of Rhineland-Palatinate. .

While Schröder’s Großer Zapfenstreich gathered 600 guests, Merkel is said to have invited only around 200, including the 52 ministers who served under his tenure. She was seated next to the current German Defense Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a protege once tipped to replace Merkel, but who never conquered their CDU party. Another protégé, Ursula von der Leyen, the current President of the European Commission and former Minister of Family and Defense under Merkel, was not expected.

Angela Merkel bows to the sound of Beethoven and an East German punk hit |  Angela Merkel
Soldiers hold torches as German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the large Bundeswehr tattoo at the Ministry of Defense in Berlin on December 2. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters

The military band played three songs chosen by Merkel: the Christian hymn Großer Gott, wir loben Dich (holy God, we praise your name), Hildegard’s song Knef Für mich soll’s rote Rosen regnen (It should rain red roses for me), Nina Hagen’s song Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen (You forgot the color film) – the latest choice of a 1970s GDR pop hit that pays homage to Merkel’s East German upbringing a way she rarely did during her tenure.

Understood as a critique of the lackluster reality of East German Communism, the song is a furious lament that berates Hagen’s boyfriend, Michael, for taking only a black and white film while on vacation on the island. by Hiddensee. As a result, she moaned, “no one will believe how beautiful it was here.”

Merkel had described the song as “a highlight of my youth” and noted that it was set in the area that was her Baltic Sea constituency “so everything is fine”.

After the event, the current German Minister of the Economy and close ally, Peter Altmaier, tweeted that it was “a great Zapfenstreich for a great Chancellor”. Referring to Hagen’s song, he said: “Angela Merkel explained to us in black and white when it was serious and important”, adding in English: “Thank you very much. We will miss you very much.

Angela Merkel bows to the sound of Beethoven and an East German punk hit |  Angela Merkel
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a red rose after her military tattoo ceremony hosted by the Bundeswehr on December 2. Photograph: Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Merkel is expected to hand over the chancellery to Olaf Scholz next week but, first, the incoming government’s coalition deal will need to be approved by all three parties involved.

Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) will hold a party congress on Saturday, where its delegates are expected to ratify the deal under which the center-left will return to the chancellery for the first time since 2005. Unlike 2013 and 2018, the SPD will not give a vote on the future power-sharing agreement to all of its members.

The Liberal Democratic Party (FDP) will vote the next day at a digital congress, while members of the Greens have until December 6 to approve or reject the deal. While many Green Party members have voiced criticism of the deal’s environmental aspects, a rejection is seen as unlikely.

Once the document has been approved by the three parties, Scholz could be sworn in as Germany’s next leader from Monday, December 6 and no later than Wednesday at the end of the day. Thursday, a German chancellor will represent the country at the “summit for democracy” organized by the American president, Joe Biden.

Merkel is very likely to hand over the Chancellery on the same day as Scholz is sworn in.

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