Angela Merkel surprises public with music request for farewell ceremony

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is given a ceremonial send-off - and chooses unconventional music.

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Jerusalem, October 10, 2021. (photo credit: YOAV DAVIDKOVITZ / POOL)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Jerusalem, October 10, 2021.
(photo credit: YOAV DAVIDKOVITZ / POOL)

On Thursday, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel will be given a ceremonial farewell with the Großer Zapfenstreich (Great Taps). Merkel's term is expected to end a few days later after 16 years. The new coalition parties plan to elect Olaf Scholz (SPD) as chancellor in the week beginning December 6.

The Großer Zapfenstreich is considered the highest honor that the German armed forces can bestow on a civilian. In addition to chancellors, federal presidents and defense ministers are also honored with this custom at their farewell ceremonies. The honorees are allowed to choose three pieces of music themselves without any special instructions. The respective requests - such as pop hits - are then transcribed for the military orchestra.

The outgoing chancellor set the tone with her choice of the evening's traditionally three pieces of music. "Für mich soll's rote Rosen regnen" (For me, it's supposed to rain red roses) by Hildegard Knef was Merkel's choice, as was the ecumenical hymn "Großer Gott, wir loben Dich" (Great God, we praise you).

Merkel grew up in a pastoral household - her father Horst Kasner, who died in 2011, was a Protestant theologian. Merkel's mother Herlind, who was still present when her daughter was sworn in as chancellor for the fourth time on March 14, 2018, died in April 2019.

Her choice of the song "Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen" by German punk singer Nina Hagen caused a surprise. The song was considered a hit in East Germany in 1974. It is likely to be a reminiscence of Merkel's youth in the former GDR. By choosing a song that many people tend to sing along to, the outgoing chancellor is demonstrating, not for the first time, a subtle sense of humor. 

A view of the German Bundestag (credit: REUTERS)A view of the German Bundestag (credit: REUTERS)

At the Bundeswehr Staff Music Corps, Merkel's selection caused time pressure. "The requests came late and surprised me," conductor and Lieutenant Colonel Reinhard Kiauka told the newspaper Taz. "We had nine days' notice."

The songs by Knef and Hagen were not available in the sheet music archive - the instrumentation for the Zapfenstreich is fixed with wind instruments and percussion. Within two days, the Hagen song had been newly arranged for a brass orchestra. For the Knef piece, wind music notes would have been present at least with a music publishing house.

Singer Nina Hagen was also perplexed by Angela Merkel's selection. "By the way, I was just as surprised by the Zapfenstreich music selection as my friends and my enemies were in equal measure," she explained.

The origins of the Zapfenstreich date back to the 16th century. The ceremony always takes place in the evening and consists of a procession, several pieces of music - including the national anthem - and the march out. Torches are also part of the ceremony when Merkel receives the ceremonial tribute in the Bendlerblock, the Berlin headquarters of the Ministry of Defense.