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Steinmeier honored by a symbolic gesture in France

May 11, 2015

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier became an honorary citizen of Reims, after presenting his hosts with stained-glass windows for the cathedral in the historic city. German troops damaged the ancient sanctuary in WWI.

Neue Fenster in der Kathedrale von Reims Steinmeier Fabius
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Carstensen

The cathedral, built over 800 years ago, was targeted by German artillery in 1914, shattering many of the medieval windows and causing a large fire. French authorities replaced or restored most of the panes in the following decades.

At a large ceremony on Monday, Germany's top diplomat Frank-Walter Steinmeier revealed three German-made windows in a gesture to close "the last scar of the war."

The foreign minister also said that he, as a German, was "deeply grateful that you have received us in this French sanctuary, which was once deeply wounded by Germans."

"In the light of these windows there is a glow of the new quality of German-French friendship," he said at the event which was attended by his French counterpart Laurent Fabius and archbishop Thierry Jordan, as well as Reims mayor Arnaud Robinet.

After the windows were revealed, Steinmeier received an honorary citizenship from the mayor, saying that it made him "a bit more French"

"I am thankful and touched by this honorary citizenship of your proud city," Steinmeier said.

Artist refuses fee

French officials also awarded the title of honorary citizen of Reims to German painter and installation artist Imi Knoebel, who gave up his fee for creating the windows.

The stained-glass windows are composed out of 5402 individual pieces, with total surface of 64 square meters.

The German foreign ministry paid for most of the expenses, contributing 900,000 euros, (over one million US dollars).

Turbulent 20th century

Reims played an important role in French and European history since the Middle Ages, with French kings coming to the northern city to be crowned in the cathedral.

However, Reims took own a whole new significance in the 20th century, as a city where German general Alfred Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of German troops to the allies on May 7, 1945.

Reims was also the scene of a historic meet between German chancellor Konrad Adenauer and president of France Charles de Gaulle in 1962, when the two leaders met in the city's cathedral for a ceremony paving the way to the French-German reconciliation.

dj/bw (KNA, AFP, epd, dpa)