Central memorial ceremony in Berlin  Remembering those who have lost their lives during the pandemic

The central memorial ceremony to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives to the pandemic was held in Berlin on Sunday; Chancellor Angela Merkel attended. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was behind the ceremony, which was intended to provide a framework to allow people to mourn together and support one another, and to remember the lives lost.

Service for the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Remembrance service for those who have lost their lives in the COVID-19 pandemic. Few people could attend the service in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church because of the pandemic.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

In Germany, some 80,000 people have died; worldwide the figure is about 3 million. The central memorial service in Berlin on Sunday, attended by the Chancellor, was designed to provide space for mourning. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was behind the ceremony. As a result of the pandemic, the number of people who could attend was extremely limited. Representatives of the constitutional organs of the Federal Republic of Germany were at the ceremony: Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble, Bundesrat President Reiner Haseloff and the President of the Federal Constitutional Court, Stephan Harbarth. Along with families who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, and a representative of the diplomatic corps, they attended a service of remembrance in Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The service was broadcast live. It was followed at midday by a special memorial event in the Concert Hall at Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt.

Remembrance service in the Memorial Church

On Sunday morning, the bells of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz tolled. The flags in the capital flew at half-mast. “Mourning and solace” was the motto of the ecumenical church service. It embraced Jewish, Muslim and Christian elements – to symbolise the diversity and individuality of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19. During the service, testimonies were heard from a person who recovered from COVID-19, a nurse and an artist, who reported on their individual experiences during the pandemic. Between the individual addresses, music underpinned the remembrance in the church.

Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, Chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany and Bishop Georg Bätzing, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, led the church service along with Archpriest Radu Constantin Miron, Chair of the Working Group of Christian Churches in Germany. At the start of the ceremony, actor Ulrich Noethen reminded us that today we remember the fate of 80,000 individuals. “Behind every number is a name, a life, a story, and a family that is left behind,” he said. “Behind every number is a person.”

Memorial event at the Gendarmenmarkt

The subsequent memorial event was held at midday in the Concert Hall at Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt. Following Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened the event with an address. “We are worn out by the burden of the pandemic, and rubbed raw by the arguments about the right way forward. That is another reason why we need to step back for a moment, to step away from day-to-day politics, to take in the big picture of the human tragedy of the pandemic,” he said. “We want to remember the people who have died since the outbreak of the pandemic, and we must remember them. Today, we as a society want to pay tribute to those who have died a lonely and often agonising death in these dark days.”

Even during this memorial ceremony, continued the Federal President, people are fighting for their lives in intensive care units. His impression, he said, is that “as a society we do not always realise that behind all the figures are individual destinies, individual people”. Their suffering and their deaths have often remained unseen in public. A society that ignores this suffering, will suffer as a whole, he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel meets the mother of a victim at the service in Berlin's Memorial Church for those who have lost their lives in the pandemic.

Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to Michaela Mengel (at left), who lost her 23-year-old daughter to COVID-19.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

After the address of the Federal President, relatives who have lost loved ones to the pandemic spoke. Their addresses were accompanied by a projection of the names and photos of the dead. The personal experiences shared by these relatives represented the huge number of individual fates already marked by the pandemic. Along with one representative of each of the constitutional organs of the Federal Republic of Germany, the relatives placed a lit candle in the middle of the room after their address, beside a memorial point decorated with flowers. Between the brief emotional addresses, Berlin’s radio choir sang Johannes Brahms’ A German Requiem via a video link.

After the relatives’ addresses, photos of those who have lost their lives during the pandemic were projected onto the walls of the Hall accompanied by string music. These people represent all those who were unable to say goodbye to their families, or were able to do so only with great difficulty. The black and white photos gave the people behind the numbers a face.

The event was also dedicated to the people who fight the pandemic every day with enormous dedication and energy. “Today we also remember the doctors and nurses, who are fighting day and night for every life, who are often on the brink of total exhaustion and who are not infrequently beyond that. We remember all those who are there for the dying in hospitals and nursing homes, in pastoral care and hospices until the end, and who have tried in spite of everything to allow them to take their leave in dignity,” said Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “We are grateful for their care and their love. All of them are risking their lives for others, just to be there. Many of them have become infected in the course of their duties and some have died. We want to pay tribute to them as well today. We bow in respect before their selflessness and their dedication.“

The ceremony closed with those present quietly remembering the dead. A small orchestra played the European anthem and the German national anthem.

The memorial event was designed to pay tribute to the many people who have died since December 2019 during the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany. Some 80,000 people have died to date in Germany of or with COVID-19. The global death toll is currently about 3 million.