German President Köhler urged Germans Sunday to keep alive the memories of the suffering inflicted by Nazi Germany."We Germans look back with horror and shame," he said during the WWII commemoration in parliament.
Crowds in Berlin follow a live broadcast of Köhler's speech
Speaking to a special assembly of both houses of Germany's parliament on Sunday to mark the 60th anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of WWII, German President Horst Köhler warned Germans that though the country had changed fundamentally, a final line couldn't be drawn under Germany's past.
President Köhler speaks in the Bundestag on Sunday, May 8
Köhler said that the tragedy that Germany had inflicted upon the world, continued till today. People are still suffering from their experiences of that time and innumerable people are still mourning the loss of their homelands, Köhler said.
"We Germans remember with horror and shame the Second World War unleashed by Germany and the Holocaust, this breakdown in civilisation, for which Germans are reponsible. And we remember the six million Jews who were killed with a fiendish energy," Köhler said in front of representatives of the Bundestag or lower house of parliament and the Bundesrat, the upper house.
"We have the responsibility to keep alive the memory of the agony and its causes, and we must ensure that it never returns," Köhler said.
But Germans had every reason to be proud of their country's
modern-day democratic reincarnation, Köhler added.
"We ask for forgiveness"
The president's speech was the centerpiece of two days of commemorations in Germany to mark 60 years of the end of Nazi Germany and the Second World War as celebrations marking VE day continued throughout the continent this weekend.
The ecumenical service in Berlin on Sunday to mark 60 years of the end of WWII
On Sunday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and President Horst Köhler, accompanied by high-ranking politicians and members of parliament, attended an ecumenical remembrance service in a Berlin cathedral.
German Cardinal Karl Lehmann said in his homily that the 8th of May 1945 marked not just the end of the rule of terror, but the start of a new beginning. He noted also that it was the people of eastern Europe who suffered most under the burden of the crimes committed during the Second World War.
Getman Chancellor Schröder along with President Köhler outside the Neue Wache, Germany's central war memorial
From there, the congregation moved across Unter den Linden boulevard to Germany's central war memorial the Neue Wache. In a simple ceremony, wreaths were laid by the heads of Germany's five main democratic institutions: the Federal president Horst Köhler, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the two heads of the chambers of parliament and the head of the consitutional court.
Earlier, in an article in Russia's Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, Chancellor Schröder asked for forgiveness for his country's sins.
"Today, we ask for forgiveness for the suffering inflicted upon the Russian people and other peoples at the hands of Germans and in the name of Germans," he wrote, while stressing how far relations had developed since then.
On Saturday, thousands of people braved the rain and cold to take to the streets of Berlin Saturday night to form a chain of light to promise that, 60 years after the end of World War II, Germany would never again be the source of war, far right politics and racism.
Berlin's Brandenburg Gate on Sunday
A colorful alliance of churches, leftist radicals, sports stars, celebrity chefs and national politicians were to take part in events on Sunday, May 8, dubbed as a "festival of democracy." Stars such as former tennis player Boris Becker and actor Bruno Ganz, who played Hitler in a hit film about the dictator last year, were to address the crowd at the Brandenburg Gate.
On Tuesday, a monument to the Holocaust, with 2,711 anthracite gray pillars representing the genocide of the Jews, will be inaugurated near the Brandenburg Gate.
Neo-Nazis risked embarrassing Berlin event
But, the occasion was clouded by a huge gathering of neo-Nazis who were planning a march in the German capital and possible counter-actions by extreme leftists.
NPD supporters at Berlin's Alexanderplatz on Sunday
Police said around 3,000 protestors from the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) had gathered in the Alexanderplatz square in eastern Berlin. Many had come from countries like Sweden and Romania. Riot police surrounded the NPD demonstrators in a bid to prevent clashes with an estimated 10,000 left-wing protesters who had marched across the city in a counter-protest.
In the end, however, the police cancelled the planned march because of the risk of clashes.
Earlier the NPD said it wanted "an end to the cult of guilt" after "60 years of lies". On Friday, Germany's Constitutional Court reaffirmed a ban on neo-Nazi demonstrations near the Holocaust Memorial which is to be officially unveiled next week.
The NPD was instead allowed to march from Berlin's Alexanderplatz in the east of the city to a train station a few blocks from the Brandenburg Gate. Their path would have taken them past a memorial for victims of the war, but only after politicians lay wreaths at the monument.
"Prepared to fight for democracy"
Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit on Saturday urged young people to assemble in a show of democracy against the right-wing extremists. "We must remain vigilant," the social-democrat mayor said, calling for the defense of democracy "with democratic means." There will be "a mixture of
commemoration and celebration. We are prepared, if necessary, to fight for democracy," Wowereit said.
Interior minister Otto Schily urged the Germans to show proof of "civic courage" in opposing the neo-Nazis, and said he found it encouraging that so many young people were rising in opposition to the extremists.
One of the leaders of the ruling Social Democrats, Ottmar Schreiner, said that all school pupils should obligatorily be made to visit a concentration camp. Speaking from the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex in Poland in an interview with the daily Bild, he said "here one feels a profound sense of shame."