On November 10, 2015, just three days before the infamous Paris attacks, Hamburg lost a legend.
Helmut Schmidt, one of Germany’s most loved politicians and a Hamburg native, died.
Besides being known for having the most German-sounding name possibly ever, Schmidt is best remembered for serving as chancellor of West Germany from 1974 – 1982, though he held several other major political offices throughout the years. He was active in the military and was chairman of his political party, the Social Democratic Party, for several years. He was good friends with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. His funeral was held today, November 23, in the St. Michel’s Church in Hamburg. Chancellor Angela Merkel described him at his funeral as an “astute observer and commentator” with a “reputation for dependability.”
He was the kind of person who got things done and always did what he believed was right, from getting suspended from the Hitler Youth as a teenager for his anti-Nazi views, to illegally getting the German army involved in flood relief efforts in 1962 in order to save a thousand lives, to blatantly ignoring smoking bans in public places.
Hamburg took Schmidt’s death hard. Although it’s sometimes hard, as a foreigner, to get a good understanding of what’s going on around you, Schmidt’s death was something I couldn’t ignore. The story dominated the newspaper headlines, the TV news clips, and the Twitter trends. One of my German friends who is in the military told me he was sad, because Schmidt was an awesome guy. The internet was filled with memes of famous quotes from him, and the tongue-in-cheek types took delight in vandalizing public spaces with stickers bearing the slogan, “Helmut Schmidt would smoke here.”
On the day of Schmidt’s funeral, nearly two weeks later, the police were out in full force around the city. Although the media had forgotten about him in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, by the day of his funeral he dominated the news coverage once again.
Sechs Busse mit Soldaten für die Beerdigung von Helmut Schmidt. pic.twitter.com/pfuMzLFsgI
— Rem0te (@grauhut) November 23, 2015
Funnily, the word for “funeral” in German is “Trauerfeier.” Trauern means to mourn; feiern means to celebrate. A celebration of loss.
The Economist has a nice article about Schmidt’s legacy in English, if you care to read more.