Merkel was honored with a traditional military musical performance and march in front of almost all the country’s political elite — save for the far-right Alternative for Germany, who weren’t invited.
“Our democracy also lives from the fact that wherever hatred and violence are seen as a legitimate means of pursuing one’s interests, our tolerance as democrats has to find its limit,” said in a speech ahead of the ceremony.
The event, which was held at the Defense Ministry rather than in a more public setting due to pandemic constraints, involved a parade and a brass band playing three songs of Merkel’s choice.
The first piece was “You Forgot the Color Film” released in 1974 by East German-born punk singer Nina Hagen. In it, the singer recounts a young woman’s lament that her boyfriend failed to take color pictures of their beach holiday.
Hagen, like Merkel, grew up in East Germany, but emigrated to the West in 1976 after clashing with the communist country’s authorities.
Merkel explained that the song was “a highlight of my youth, which is known to have taken place in the GDR.” East Germany was officially known as the German Democratic Republic.
“By chance, (the song) is also set in a region that was in my former constituency” on the Baltic Sea, she added. “As such, it all fits together.”
Her second choice was a popular chanson by German singer Hildegard Knef called “It Shall Rain Red Roses for Me.” She was presented with a bouquet of the flowers.
The final piece chosen by the daughter of a Protestant pastor was an 18th century Christian hymn, “Holy God, we Praise thy Name.”
Merkel remains caretaker chancellor until her successor, the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, is sworn in next week. She wished him and his new center-left government “all the best, good luck and much success.”
The long-time leader also urged her audience to “always see the world through the eyes of others too” and to work “with joy in your hearts.”
Before Thursday evening’s ceremony, she met other federal and state leaders to agree on new measures to curb coronavirus infections in Germany.