Auf Wiedersehen, President Rau
TWIG - Germany paid tribute to outgoing President Johannes Rau this week with an elaborate farewell ceremony and a number of appreciative newspaper editorials.
Rau, 73, left the presidential residence on Wednesday, a day before his successor Horst Koehler began his five-year term.
The traditional military farewell ceremony that capped off Rau’s 50-year career in politics included torchbearers, a rousing performance by the German armed forces band and a presentation by the guard battalion.
A veteran Social Democratic Party politician and former premier of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Rau did not seek a second term in the largely ceremonial post — knowing that the governing coalition did not have a majority in the special assembly that picks the President.
His departure from public life inspired a number of newspapers to take stock of his tenure as head of state.
"As was the case with his predecessors, Germany was lucky to have this man in its highest office," wrote Bonn’s General-Anzeiger.
"Germans have good reason to thank a man who attended to their concerns for half a century. He was a highly-educated and well-read spirit, but someone who could effortlessly switch from speaking at a philosophical conference to chit-chatting with average citizens — because he never forgot that he was one of us."
Other papers remembered Rau’s historic address to the Israeli parliament in 2000 — the first ever by a German leader — and his commitment to German reunification.
Leipzig’s Volkszeitung called him "a President for all Germans who merits especially high praise for his efforts to bring about reconciliation with Israel and to protect the rights of minorities."
Cologne’s Express praised Rau’s staying-power, dubbing him a "marathon man who saw his contemporaries rise, fall and even fade into memory."
"Millions of Germans grew up and grew old with him. His name is as well-known as Coca Cola. But what will remain of him?
"Above all the memory of a soft-spoken man who was’t free of flaws. But he always stayed true to his motto ‘unite instead of divide’ with the understated expression of a resolute message."
He was no cookie-cutter politician, said the paper: "And
that is what made him so likeable."
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