Angela Merkel will ceremonially bow out of office on with a military tattoo held in her honour on Thursday evening, before she is expected to formally hand over her seat of power to Olaf Scholz in the first half of next week.
Featuring torch-carrying soldiers in full military regalia, precision choreography and three songs of the outgoing chancellor’s own choosing played by a marching band, the event will mark the high point of Merkel’s leaving tour after 16 years of holding office.
Due to coronavirus restrictions the ceremony will be more low-key than those that honoured her predecessors Gerhard Schröder and Helmut Kohl when they left office.
Broadcast live on German television from 7.20pm, the ceremony in the courtyard outside the defence ministry in Berlin will start with a short speech by the chancellor and wrap up after just over an hour, without a reception.
The custom of the Großer Zapfenstreich ceremony dates back to the 16th century, but the German military’s highest honour has only been bestowed on chancellors since the departure in 1998 of Helmut Kohl, whose farewell was held in front of the Speyer Cathedral in his home state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
While Schröder’s Großer Zapfenstreich was attended by 600 guests, Merkel is reported to have invited only about 200, including the 52 ministers that have served under her tenure. Ursula von der Leyen, the current president of the European Commission and a former family and defence minister under Merkel, is unlikely to attend due to a meeting with South American heads of state scheduled for the same day.
As the soundtrack for her leaving ceremony, Merkel has reportedly chosen the Christian hymn Großer Gott, wir loben Dich (Holy God, we praise thy name), Hildegard Knef’s chanson Für mich soll’s rote Rosen regnen (It should rain red roses for me), Nina Hagen’s Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen (You forgot the colour film) – the latter pick a GDR pop hit of the 1970s that pays tribute to Merkel’s East German upbringing in a way she has rarely done while in office.
For Merkel to formally hand over power to her successor-in-waiting Olaf Scholz next week, the incoming government’s coalition agreement will need to be approved by the three parties involved.
Scholz’s Social Democratic party (SPD) will hold a party congress on Saturday, where its delegates are expected to ratify the deal under which the centre-left will return to the chancellery for the first time since 2005. Unlike in 2013 and 2018, the SPD won’t give a vote on the future power-sharing agreement to its entire membership.
The liberal Free Democratic party (FDP) will hold a vote at a digital congress the day after, while the Green party’s members have until 6 December to approve or reject the agreement. While many members of the ecological party have voiced criticisms of the environmental aspects of the deal, a rejection is seen as unlikely.
Once the document has been approved by all three parties, Scholz could be sworn in as Germany’s next leader as soon as Monday 6 December and no later than the end of Wednesday. On Thursday, a German chancellor will have to represent the country at the “summit for democracy” hosted by the US president, Joe Biden.
Merkel will most likely hand over the chancellery on the same day as Scholz’s swearing in.