On Wednesday, 7 September 2016, the official ceremony in memory of former Federal President and Foreign Minister Walter Scheel was held in the Berliner Philharmonie. In his address, Foreign Minister Steinmeier described Scheel as a “great German and European” who, as one of the architects of Germany’s Ostpolitik, decisively contributed to the reunification of Germany and to European cooperation.
Official ceremony with 2000 guests
“We are losing a far-sighted politician who was willing to take risks and possessed extraordinary courage,” Foreign Minister Steinmeier said at the beginning of his speech at the official ceremony for Walter Scheel. More than 2000 high-ranking guests from Germany and abroad had been invited to the ceremony at the Berliner Philharmonie in memory of the former Federal President and Foreign Minister, and flags at all federal agencies were at half-mast. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal President Joachim Gauck paid tribute to Scheel at the ceremony, and musical accompaniment was provided by the Orchestra Academy of the Berlin Philharmonic.
Courage to bring about and embrace change
Walter Scheel possessed extraordinary courage, Steinmeier said, “courage to bring about and embrace change.” Scheel served as Foreign Minister in the SPD/FDP coalition government headed by Willy Brandt and, as such, was one of the architects of Germany’s Ostpolitik. After Scheel undid his FDP party’s strong ties with the CDU and instead formed a coalition with the SPD, many were furious with Scheel for “breaching a taboo”. According to Steinmeier, this was not Scheel’s only radical policy move. He will also be remembered for Germany’s Ostpolitik and for the attempt to “call into question the finality of the division between East and West through dialogue with the adversary”. “Staying the course and fighting for these goals required great determination and courage. Scheel had both.”
The courage to build bridges
Scheel’s convictions helped bring about not only German reunification, but also an end to the division of Europe. Steinmeier quoted his predecessor Scheel as saying that “a sustainable, peaceful order in Europe is not feasible without European society and its dynamics”.
These words, Steinmeier went on to say, are particularly relevant today, 40 years later, because nationalist rhetoric and calls for putting up walls are undermining European integration. “Today, too, we need the courage to build bridges across deep divides,” Steinmeier concluded. “I think that Walter Scheel would agree.
”The FDP politician Walter Scheel died on 24 August, at the age of 97. From 1969 to 1974, he served as Foreign Minister under Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt and was a strong proponent of the Ostpolitik of the SPD/FDP coalition government. He subsequently served as Federal President from 1974 to 1979. After the official ceremony in Walter Scheel’s memory, he was buried at Waldfriedhof Zehlendorf.