Berlin-based politicians have paid respects to Helmut Kohl at a requiem in the capital requested by fellow conservatives. The late chancellor's funeral, plus an EU ceremony in his honor, is scheduled for Saturday.
A plea for harmony within Kohl's estranged family was made during Tuesday's service in Berlin's St. Hedwig's Cathedral by the Catholic priest Karl Jüsten.
"We all wish that they experience reconciliation and peace among themselves," said Justen during his sermon, while urging family outsiders to withhold judgement. Kohl could polarize but also had the "outstanding gift of fostering friendships," the prelate - whose Berlin role involves liaising with German politicians - added.
Funeral and commemoration preparations for Kohl, 87, who died in Ludwigshafen-Oggersheim on June 16, have been overshadowed by publicly evident strains between the former chancellor's second wife, Maike Kohl-Richter, and Kohl's estranged first son, Walter.
Kohl had the courage as a politician to speak his mind to both the Catholic and Protestant churches, said Justen
Kohl-Richter had given her approval for Tuesday's Berlin requiem, according to conservatives in the Bundestag. Their leader Volker Kauder had said last Friday that many parliamentarians felt the need to honor the chancellor who presided over German reunification in the once-divided Berlin.
Parliament itself held a brief ceremony last Thursday to honor Kohl, himself a Roman Catholic, who served as chancellor between 1982 and 1998 and was a member of parliament in the Bundestag until 2002.
Addressing those gathered, Kauder praised Kohl for his "perhaps greatest vision" of a peaceful Europe without borders. "We bow before Helmut Kohl's lifetime achievements," Kauder said.
Berlin's Catholic Archbishop Heiner Koch said that Berlin's diocese - divided during the Cold War - owed gratitude both to Kohl the Catholic, and to Kohl the advocate of European unity.
Merkel, Steinmeier attend
Attending Tuesday's requiem inSt Hedwig's were Chancellor Angela Merkel and members of her (CDU) Christian Democrats and allied Christian Social Union (CSU) Bavarian allies led by Kauder.
Germany's new head of state President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, formerly Germany's foreign minister and a center-left Social Democrat, also attended, as did the parliamentary speaker in the Bundestag, Norbert Lammert of the CDU.
Strasbourg tribute, Speyer burial
Kohl is to be buried on Saturday in cathedral grounds of Speyer, a German Rhine river town with numerous European historic links, up-stream from his home Ludwigshafen. Before that, just across the French border at the European Parliament's Strasbourg chamber, Kohl will be honored in a ceremony.
Speyer's cathedral is regarded as a symbol of German-French reconciliation after two world wars. In 1984, Kohl stood hand-in-hand with the-then French president Francois Mitterrand at Verdun, a World War One battlefield.
Kohl's first wife Hannelore, who took her own life in 2001 after losing her eyesight, is buried at Friesenheim near Ludwigshafen.
Walter Kohl told the Die Zeit newspaper last Friday that he would not take part at the Speyer burial, describing the decision to bury Kohl separate from Hannelore Kohl's resting place as wrong and "undignified."
"He had always stressed that without his wife Hannelore his life‘s works would never have been possible," Walter Kohl told Die Zeit. According to Maike Kohl-Richter, Kohl made his desire to be buried in Speyer clear in a private 2015 conversation.
Walter argues for Brandenburg Gate
Instead of the EU Strasbourg ceremony, a formal ecumenical farewell should have been held at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate with military honors, Walter Kohl said.
Greens politician and deputy Bundestag speaker Claudia Roth told public ARD television on Tuesday that she too had wished for a German state funeral.
"Of course there is every right in the world to organize grief in private. But he was not only a private person. We have also to experience him as a political personality,” Roth said.
ipj/msh (KNA, epd, dpa)