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Germany marks Willy Brandt's 100th birthday with tribute

German and international figures have marked what would have been the 100th birthday of Willy Brandt, the first Social Democratic Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Some 1,500 guests gathered Wednesday in the northern city of Lübeck to honor and remember the life of former Chancellor Willy Brandt just one week shy of what would have been his 100th birthday.

In the Music and Congress Hall in Lübeck, German President Joachim Gauck said that even more than 20 years after his death the political values ​​of Brandt are still felt. "Willy Brandt is still present - with everything that he embodied: his love of freedom, and his quest for peace and justice."

Gauck's Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer, who was invited as a guest speaker, praised Brandt saying, "He had good friends, enthusiastic supporters and bitter enemies. But history has decided in his favor. Today we know that Germany and Europe were lucky to have Willy Brandt," Fischer said.

Born in Lübeck on December 18, 1913, Brandt was one of the greatest European statesmen of the 20th Century. In 1933, Brandt fled Germany for Norway to escape Nazi persecution.

After World War II, Brandt helped rebuild West Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) and in 1969 he was elected as the first Social Democratic Chancellor since 1930.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 for his efforts to achieve reconciliation between West Germany and the countries of the Soviet Bloc. Brandt died in 1992 in Unkel near Bonn.

hc/lw (dpa, epd)