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From foes to friends

September 22, 2012

On September 21, 1962, veteran French leader Charles de Gaulle opened a new page in Franco-German ties with a passionate speech. Half a century later, Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande mark the date.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande arrive at the Baroque palace of Ludwigsburg, southwest Germany, on September 22, 2012 for a ceremony to mark a watershed 1962 speech by Charles de Gaulle, then President of France, to German youth in Ludwigsburg. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS KIENZLE (Photo credit should read THOMAS KIENZLE/AFP/GettyImages)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her French counterpart Francois Hollande  attended a ceremony in the southwestern city of Ludwigsburg on Saturday, marking 50 years since one of the most famous speeches in Franco-German history.

Some 650 guests are in attendence, with Baden-Württemberg's state premier Winfried Kretschmann saying before the event that the organizers "hope to throw a party for all citizens from both countries."

ARCHIV - Händedruck zwischen dem damaligen französischen Staatspräsidenten Charles de Gaulle (l) und Bundespräsident Heinrich Lübke nach der Rede des französischen Staatsgastes im Schlosshof von Ludwigsburg am 09.09.1962. Vor 50 Jahren begeisterte der damalige französische Staatspräsident de Gaulle mit seiner Rede an die Jugend. Am Samstag 22.09.2012 erinnern Kanzlerin Merkel und Staatspräsident Hollande an die Ansprache, die als wichtiger Schritt in der deutsch-französischen Aussöhnung gilt. Foto: dpa (Zu lsw: «Merkel und Hollande erinnern an de Gaulles Rede vor 50 Jahren» vom 18.09.2012) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Fifty years ago, de Gaulle and German President Heinrich Lübke shared a handshake in LudwigshafenImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The ceremony remembers French military and political leader Charles de Gaulle's emotional speech, delivered in German, to a crowd of young Germans in Ludwigsburg in 1962. The speech is remembered as the start of a new, friendlier post-war chapter of Franco-German relations - made all the more poignant as it was fierce French wartime leader de Gaulle who delivered the message.

The 71-year-old de Gaulle congratulated his audience "first and foremost, for being young," in his optimistic address that went on to examine the new challenges of the modern age - before expressing a position that would have been unthinkable 20 years earlier.

That's right, a great people!

"I congratulate you, also, for being young Germans, which means you are children of a great people. That's right, a great people! Which has also made some great mistakes in the course of its history," de Gaulle said in his slow, measured German.

This commendation of Germany was particularly significant coming from de Gaulle's mouth. He was the firebrand leader of the French resistance, the only top general never to accept the terms of France's June 1940 armistice to Nazi Germany in the Second World War, the leader of the Free French Forces resistance army, and the politician least inclined to merciful treatment of Germany after Hitler's defeat. It was a sign of the changing times that the quintessential French fighter showed such readiness for a new dawn.

A few months later, in January 1963, de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signed the Elysee Treaty or Treaty of Friendship, a document securing closer cooperation on a number of political and civic levels.

50 Jahre deutsch-französische Freundschaft # 22.09.2012 16 Uhr # gaulle15f # journal englisch

Merkel and Hollande will also take time on Saturday to discuss current topics like the eurozone's modern-day debt difficulties during a working lunch on the sidelines of the commemorative event.

msh/mr (AFP, dpa)