An ecumenical service has been held in Cologne to mourn the victims of the Germanwings flight that crashed in France last month. Among those joining relatives of the victims is Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The main memorial service to mourn the 150 victims of Germanwings flight 4U 9525 began at noon local time (1000 UTC) on Friday with short reading from the Bible by the Catholic archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, and the president of the Protestant Church of Westphalia, Annette Kurchus.
This was followed by solemn hymn music and further Bible readings meant to help console some 500 relatives of the victims. Some 1,500 mourners packed Cologne's Gothic cathedral in the heart of the western German city for the memorial ceremony.
One hundred and fifty candles were burning in the cathedral, one for each of the deceased.
A number of dignitaries were also among the mourners, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Joachim Gauck, and the premier of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft.
Cabinet ministers from France, where the plane crashed, and Spain, where the ill-fated flight had originated, were also in attendance. Around 50 Spanish nationals were among the 144 passengers who lost their lives when the Airbus A320 crashed on March 24.
Lufthansa, the parent company of Cologne-based Germanwings, was represented by the German flag carrier's CEO, Carsten Spohr, as well as other executives.
Deutsche Welle reporter Kate Brady observed the memorial service from outside of Cologne Cathedral, where mourners were able to watch the service on big television screens.
The memorial service was broadcast live on a number of public and private television stations in Germany and other countries.
What may have made the relatives' initial shock at the loss of their loved ones even worse, was the fact that after listening to the plane's quickly recovered voice recorder, investigators came to the preliminary conclusion that its co-pilot most likely deliberately steered the plane into a mountain. The plane's flight-data recorder, which was recovered some time later, also appeared to support this theory.
It has since emerged that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had a history of depression and had a doctors' sick note meaning that he should not have been flying on March 24.
Solidarity with France and Spain
President Gauck used his speech at the memorial service to touch on the horror of the news, but also spoke of the good in people, specifically thanking those who have contributed to the effort to recover the bodies and wreckage in the French Alps.
"We would like to thank the police officers, fire fighters, mountain guides, paramedics, doctors, laboratory technicians, criminologists, aviation experts and the many people who went above and beyond the call of duty," Gauck said.
The president also welcomed French Minister of State Alain Vidalies, who represented Paris at the memorial service, saying that "particularly at difficult times, our peoples stand together."
Welcoming Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz, the president noted that "our two countries are also specially united in grief."
pfd/msh (dpa, AP, epd, AFP)