Angela Merkel adds a dash of punk to the pomp as she steps down with military honours

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Angela Merkel watches members of the German armed forces carry torches during the military tattoo ceremony
Angela Merkel watches members of the German armed forces carry torches during the military tattoo ceremony

Germany's military on Thursday honoured outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel with their highest ceremony for a civilian, playing an eclectic mix of music of her own choosing that has intrigued the nation.

In the Großer Zapfenstreich ceremony, pared back due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Bundeswehr staff music corps played a hymn, a 1960s song that includes the words "I can't acquiesce, can't make do, I still want to win", and a 1970s punk rock hit.

The hymn, Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, is a nod to Merkel's Protestant upbringing, the Sixties song It Should Rain Red Roses For Me perhaps reflects her youthful ambition, while the rock hit, You Forgot The Colour Film, was first performed by East German punk artist Nina Hagen.

Merkel attends a Grand Tattoo of the German armed forces Bundeswehr
Merkel attends a Grand Tattoo of the German armed forces Bundeswehr

Born in the northern port city of Hamburg as the daughter of a Protestant pastor, Mrs Merkel grew up in Communist East Germany before taking the helm of a predominantly male, Catholic western German party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

After 16 years in office, she is due to be succeeded as chancellor by Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, next week.

Mrs Merkel's choice of a song by Hagen, known as the “godmother of German punk”, raised eyebrows. The singer once scandalised the Netherlands when she mimed masturbation on Dutch television.

But there may be more to Mrs Merkel’s choice than the desire to shock. She and Hagen both grew up in communist East Germany, and the song she has chosen was a massive hit there in 1974 – long before Hagen escaped to the West and became a punk.

Controversial shock rocker Nina Hagen - Gijsbert Hanekroot/ Gijsbert Hanekroot
Controversial shock rocker Nina Hagen - Gijsbert Hanekroot/ Gijsbert Hanekroot

The song ostensibly tells the story of a girl angry at her boyfriend for bringing black-and-white film for their camera for a holiday on the Baltic coast.

But the hidden meaning, which was well known at the time, is a dig at the dreary monochrome nature of life behind the Iron Curtain — a message that clearly resonates with Mrs Merkel.

There was no punk movement in East Germany at the time, and though Hagen later rerecorded the song in her trademark snarling style, the original version was much more traditional, and early performance videos show her doe-eyed with flowers in her hat.

It is unclear which is Mrs Merkel’s preferred version. Her other chosen songs include It Should Rain Red Roses for Me, a Sixties number by Hildegard Knef, which features the lyrics: “I was supposed to conform...Oh, I can’t conform, I can’t make do, I always want to win too”.

Her third choice, an 18th-century hymn entitled Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, is perhaps the least surprising for the daughter of a Protestant pastor who has usually appeared more conventional in her tastes.

Some 400 troops will take part in the military tattoo, which features two platoons of armed infantrymen and a torchlit procession in full ceremonial uniform.

There was controversy when the military held a traditional torchlit parade for troops returning from Afghanistan earlier this year. Critics said the ceremony was reminiscent of Nazi torchlit parades, but the armed forces said the tradition was much older and dated back to the Prussian military.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting