Berlin gives army a hot reception

Germany's militaristic past collided yesterday with its ambiguous present when pacifists disrupted the first all-German army parade in Berlin since the Nazi era. A swearing-in ceremony for 300 Bundeswehr recruits in front of the Hohenzollerns' palace resounded to the chant of "Murderers" as more than a thousand protesters stormed the police cordon.

The demonstrators lobbed stones, tried to break through the barrier and staged sit-ins on the tarmac. Riot police at first dragged them away and then tried to douse the inflamed passions with water cannon. There were several arrests, though no injuries.

President Roman Herzog, who now resides in Germany's official capital, greeted the Bundeswehr as the "army of democracy", provoking yet more gibes from the uninvited guests. The government has recently tried to ban the "murderer" epithet being attached to soldiers but its attempt was ruled unconstitutional by the country's supreme court.

A move to forbid demonstrations against yesterday's parade was also foiled by a local court. Protesters were allowed to gather about a third of a mile from the venue, Charlottenburg Palace, near the Brandenburg Gate. The pacifists warmed event by spreading butyric acid, the substance that gives butter its rancid smell, on the parade ground on Thursday night.

That had been cleared up by the morning but the foul air was soon replenished by smoke bombs. One went off as President Herzog was speaking, the dark mist eliciting anxious looks among the mostly uniformed audience.

"You protect and defend the freedom of our land ... even the right of people to protest against you," President Herzog told the new soldiers of the 42nd Panzer Division. The army as the upholder of democracy was a recurring theme. The Bundeswehr had "no responsibility for the crimes of the past and nothing to do with sable-rattling," Mr Herzog said.

The military oath was itself an outpouring of democratic sentiment. "I pledge loyally to serve the Federal Republic of Germany and to defend with courage the rights and freedom of the German people," mouthed the soldiers, their oath barely audible in the chorus of whistles. Berlin's conservative Mayor, Eberhard Diepgen, said: "We don't hide our soldiers but are proud of them." But many of his compatriots are still uncomfortable with people marching in German uniforms and anti-militaristic sentiment runs highest in Berlin. Before the fall of the Wall, West Berlin, as a demilitarised city, became a haven for draft-dodgers.

The tradition lingers. Whilst "only" a third of potential German conscripts opted for a civilian service last year, in Germany half the men of military age proclaimed themselves conscientious objectors.

Unease with the spectacle of marching German soldiers in the former Prussian capital extends across the country. Criticism of yesterday's ceremony had come not just from the vociferous youth of Berlin but also from political groups ranging from the post-Communist Party of Democratic Socialism in the east to the Greens and Social Democrats in western Germany.

With the abolition of conscription in France, the Bundeswehr is set to become West Europe's largest standing army, with a mission still undefined.

Opinion polls indicate that Germans continue to mistrust soldiers and that fear of a revival of Germany as a military power runs as high within the country as among its neighbours in Europe.

But those who were looking for humility in yesterday's parade could hardly be reassured by a triumphant remark by Volker Ruhe, the Defence Minister. "The reunified Berlin is once again a garrison city," he said in his speech.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Foundation Phase Teacher required

£90 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Exciting opputunities availabl...

Learning Support Assistant

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Learning Support Assistant - Newport

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Operations Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently recruiting for an Operati...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz