German Chancellor Angela Merkel and ex-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger have honored one of the founding fathers of modern German democracy. Konrad Adenauer, who died 50 years ago, remains a German icon.
The commemoration ceremony took place at Berlin's German Historical Museum, which is hosting a major exhibit devoted to the first chancellor of West Germany, Konrad Adenauer.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was too ill to attend in person, but said in a video message that Adenauer had been a catalyst for "a dynamic that still lives on today."
A very frail-looking Kissinger, who was born in Germany, but fled the Nazis as a youth, described how after World War II Adenauer announced that a free and democratic Germany would rejoin the world community and become a motor for European unity.
"Within a decade Adenauer took his country from being a pariah to being an equal partner in a political and security sense," Kissinger said.
"The extraordinary German-American friendship, which began under Adenauer, developed out of a diametrically opposed situation."
The 'master mediator'
Kissinger's physical absence left it to Chancellor Angela Merkel to pick up the slack in front of hundreds of guests, including many of Germany's leading conservative politicians.
"More than anyone, Adenauer personified Germany's return to the community of nations," Merkel said, going on to describe the highlights of Adenauer's political career.
Merkel characterized Adenauer as a "master mediator" who increasingly became "the face of the Federal Republic" during the drafting of West Germany's provisional constitution, the Basic Law. The first chancellor, Merkel added, was a man of "consensus."
Merkel described how Adenauer sought to embed Germany within Europe "as a community of destiny and shared values" as a means of overcoming the guilt the country had incurred and used trust-building as a way of preventing further wars in Europe.
"We still have to keep investing in that trust," Merkel said. "We see that clearly right now."
Merkel drew the biggest applause from the conservative audience when she said that Adenauer had not wanted the division of Germany but had no alternative available.
"The fact that we meet here today in the former eastern part of Berlin, and that I. as someone who spent many years in East Germany, stand before you, is thanks to Konrad Adenauer's determination," Merkel said.
Anti-fascist, anti-communist, democrat
Adenauer's first major political office was as mayor of the city of Cologne, a position he held from 1917 until the National Socialists came to power in 1933. The centrist-conservative was stripped of that post among other things because he refused to raise the swastika flag and shake hands with prominent Nazis. He was arrested late in the Third Reich but survived to see the end of Nazism and World War II.
After the war, US occupiers re-appointed him Cologne's mayor, and he rejoined one of four reconstituted local conservative parties that were the predecessors of today's Christian Democratic Union.
On September 15, 1949, the Bundestag elected him West Germany's first chancellor by a single vote. But he quickly established himself as the leader of the country and was re-elected three times.
Adenauer was instrumental in tying his country to the Western Allies and reconciling it with its historic enemy France. In 1955, West Germany joined NATO, cementing its Western partnership.
"This is the question of the German destiny," Adenauer said in a famous speech to the Bundestag. "We stand before a choice between slavery and freedom. We choose freedom."
The price for this freedom was the division of the country, with Communist East Germany joining the Russian-led Warsaw Pact, until German reunification in 1990.
In 1963, US President John F. Kennedy called Adenauer "a great European statesman" and "a champion of liberty."
A father of the EU and a tough politician
Adenauer presided over the so-called "Economic Miracle," in which West Germany recovered from the devastation of the war to become one of the world's leading economies by the late 1950s. Although his Economics Minister Ludwig Erhard is often regarded as the mastermind of the upsurge, Adenauer, too, deserved great credit for West Germany's relative prosperity.
The European Economic Community, the early precursor to today's European Union, was also founded during his tenure in office in 1955. And from 1951 to 1955, he served not only as chancellor but also as West Germany's first foreign minister.
In his later years, Adenauer clung tenaciously to power and became embroiled in what was known as the "Spiegel affair," in which critical journalists working for West Germany's leading news weekly were detained under accusations of treason.
"He was always controversial," said Merkel. "His methods and goals polarized people, but he was someone who gave people orientation and faith."
Adenauer finally retired in 1963. He died on April 19, 1967 at the age of 91.
Before his death, Adenauer said he hoped he would be remembered as a someone who "did his duty."