World leaders from past and present gathered in the French city of Strasbourg Saturday to honor the late former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, who is credited with forging the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990.
Kohl, who died June 16 at the age of 87, is the first national leader to be honored with a ceremony at the European Parliament’s seat in Strasbourg.
Several world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May and former U.S. President Bill Clinton were on hand to pay respects to Kohl’s family.
Clinton, during his remarks, addressed the other world leaders who had gathered at the funeral and asked them, rhetorically, why they had come.
“Why? Because Helmut Kohl gave us the chance to be involved in something bigger than ourselves. Bigger than our terms of office, bigger than our fleeting careers.” Clinton said. “Because all of us, sooner or later, will be in a coffin like that. And the only gift we can leave behind is a better future for our children, and the freedom to make their own choices, including their own mistakes.”
Clinton said he “loved” Kohl and that the 21st century in Europe really began on his watch.
“He had really 5 big questions to answer, which all have ramifications today. And because of the answers he gave, we’re here,” Clinton said.
Merkel, who served under Kohl as a minister in the 1990s, said she had plenty of stories to tell about Kohl, but “all that paled in comparison to his life’s achievements.”
“The lives of millions of people would have been a lot different without Helmut Kohl — including my own life,” she said.
Kohl served for 16 years as German chancellor, presiding over West Germany from 1982 to 1990 and serving as the first chancellor of the reunified Germany from 1990 to 1998.