Germany’s most popular post-war president dies, aged 94

Angela Merkel describes death of Richard von Weizsäcker as a ‘great loss for Germany’

Post-war Germany's most popular president, Richard von Weizsäcker, who oversaw unification in 1990 and described the Nazi defeat as a "day of liberation" for Germany, has died aged 94.

German and European leaders united to pay tribute to Mr von Weizsäcker, a member of chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

"Richard von Weizsäcker stood worldwide for a Germany that had found its way to the centre of the democratic family of peoples," said German president Joachim Gauck. "He stood for a federal republic that faces up to its past."

Richard von Weizsäcker’s was born in Stuttgart in 1920, he was called up and earned the Iron Cross from the Nazis in 1944. After the war he studied law and defended his father – a one-time aide to Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop – at the Nuremberg trials. His father received a seven-year sentence, later reduced to five.

Speech

Mr von Weizsäcker joined the CDU in 1954 and served on its executive committee from 1966 and also acted as mayor of Berlin. He was elected federal president in 1984. A year into the role he filled for a decade, he gave a speech marking the 40th anniversary of the end of the second World War, in which he described May 8th, 1945, as a “day of the liberation from the inhuman system of the National Socialist tyranny”.

His speeches soon established a tradition of testing the boundaries of his largely ceremonial office, touching a nerve among ordinary Germans and infuriating West German leader Helmut Kohl, who often found himself competing with Mr von Weizsäcker for attention.

Angela Merkel described his death as a "great loss for Germany".

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin

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