Germany on Tuesday held a state funeral for former president Johannes Rau who died Jan. 27 after a long illness. Speakers at the ceremony hailed the former president as a man who always lived up to his own credo.
Köhler and Rau's widow watch soldiers carry the coffin out of Berlin's cathedral
Rau made his mark as premier of the country's most populous federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia and later became president from 1999 to 2004. Johannes Rau always aspired to make the world a more humane place.
Addressing an audience of 1,500 guests at the funeral, German President Horst Köhler portrayed the late statesman as a well respected and popular politician.
Rau joins a choir of coal miners in May 2003
"He won the esteem of people around world, but he also won the hearts and minds of Germans," Köhler said. "They appreciated his openness and genuine interest in their problems and worries. His travels always included encounters and talks with ordinary people.
"To shape politics in the public's interest was his number-one priority," Köhler added. "And he realized at an early stage that in order to improve the situation of ordinary people, talking to them directly was at least as important as listening to the advice of people in high positions."
E n ha n ci n g Germa n y 's reputatio n
Austrian President Heinz Fischer also shared kind words about Rau during the funeral.
Rau during a trip to Israel in 2003
"He largely contributed to enhancing Germany's reputation and image abroad," Fischer said. "As a German, Rau found the right words and political gestures vis-à-vis Israel. And I particularly remember his historic visit to Israel in the year 2000 when he was the first German to address the Knesset parliament.
"He expressed the wish that present-day Germans and Israelis could grow up in peace side by side," Fischer said. "Rau did everything in his power to help make this dream a reality."
E n couragi n g others
Hans-Jochen Vogel, one of Rau's closest friends and former chairman of Germany's Social Democratic Party, added that it had been next to impossible for anyone to hate the former president. He said he was a master of reconciliation and even in extremely emotional debates never lost his temper.
"Johannes Rau always had a word of encouragement and hope left for those around him," Vogel said. "At the same time, he did not shy away from warning people against what he though were dangerous developments in our society."
Rau now lies in Berlin's Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof near famous Germans such as Berold Brecht
Vogel alluded to the former president's strong words of criticism, directed at top earning German managers whose only aim was to maximize their profits without caring for the needs of ordinary people.
Rau requested to be buried in a Berlin cemetery in a private atmosphere with only his family members present. He'll be remembered by ordinary Germans as a politicians who strived to hear their voices and opinions.