Germans Lay Beloved Statesman Brandt to Rest : Funeral: ‘He shaped an era,’ the country’s president says of the former West Berlin mayor, foreign minister and chancellor.
On a crisp, clear autumn day, his countrymen bid a final farewell Saturday to Willy Brandt, a rare German statesman who earned both respect and affection in the global community.
Brandt, whose politics of reconciliation changed the image of his country and took some of the chill off a Cold War Europe during his five years as West German chancellor, was buried in a Berlin suburb after a state funeral at the Reichstag, the once-and-future national legislative seat.
While only family and close friends had been expected to attend the graveside services, many mourners, including a number of young people, managed to slip through police cordons and watch the burial from a respectful distance.
“He shaped an era,” said German President Richard von Weizsaecker in his eulogy at the Reichstag of the man who was mayor of West Berlin when the East Germans erected the infamous wall in 1961 and later became West German foreign minister and, finally, chancellor from 1969 to 1974.
Brandt died Oct. 8 at his home south of Bonn after a struggle against cancer. He was 78.
An array of leading European political figures, including French President Francois Mitterrand, Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, attended what was the first state funeral for a former chancellor in Berlin since the death of Gustav Stresemann in 1929.
Security in and around the Reichstag building--unusually tight and, at times, chaotic--seemed to reflect more the relative inexperience of the city’s law enforcement authorities in dealing with state events than any specific expectation of possible disruption.
Although Brandt’s poor health had effectively removed him from the political arena for much of the last year and he had held no office of real power since resigning as chairman of the Social Democratic Party in 1987, his death has reverberated through the country.
And while his active political life had ended, Brandt for many of his countrymen remained a symbol of what they hoped the new German democracy would become: open, tolerant, human, courageous and compassionate.
Many of Saturday’s eulogies, at least indirectly, lamented the dearth of those qualities as Germans watch their nation drift into the uncharted waters of the post-Cold War era.
“He succeeded in what so often fails in Germany--to overcome the distance between power and compassion and combine power with morality,” Von Weizsaecker said.
The present Social Democratic Party chairman, Bjoern Engholm, urged Germans to fight in the spirit of Brandt against what he called “the political vandalism of the right.”
Amid widespread public frustration at the lack of novel ideas to confront the new problems facing the country, three of those eulogizing Brandt--all senior members of Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union--described him as a “visionary.”
He was hailed as a reconciler at a time when divisions between the recently reunited east and west Germans seem to be deepening. As German youth--especially in the east--become increasingly alienated from the political process, Brandt was praised as a leader who captured the energy of an idealistic young generation.
“We somehow had the feeling he belonged to us too,” said a 23-year-old east German woman, trying to explain why she had joined the estimated 2,000 to 3,000 mourners who had gathered silently outside the Reichstag during the service inside.
Friday, some 14,000 people spent a few, brief seconds at Brandt’s coffin, displayed in the foyer of Schoeneberg City Hall, where he served as mayor of Berlin and where he once stood next to U.S. President John F. Kennedy as Kennedy assured the city’s residents that he, and America, stood with them against Soviet might.