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Article 2010.10.26 Of­fi­cial mourn­ing through the ages

The presentation “Official Mourning through the Ages” documents what has changed and what elements have been retained in state mourning ceremonies from 1888 to 2006, using selected examples from the Wilhelmine empire, the Weimar Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany.

Numerous archival photos show the official ceremonies for Kaiser Wilhelm I in 1888, Reich foreign ministers Walther Rathenau (1922) and Gustav Stresemann (1929), Reich President Friedrich Ebert (1925), Berlin’s Governing Mayor Ernst Reuter (1953), former federal chancellors Konrad Adenauer (1967) and Willy Brandt (1992) and former Federal President Johannes Rau (2006).

State funerals and official mourning ceremonies are the highest honours the government can bestow.

Three state funerals during the Weimar Republic

The state funerals of Reich President Ebert and Reich foreign ministers Rathenau and Stresemann were organized under the direction of art historian Edwin Redslob, who as Reich Art Curator was responsible for government policy on culture and the arts. He introduced a new aesthetic for the Weimar Republic intended as a fresh start after the end of the Wilhelmine empire. This aesthetic was reflected in the symbols and ceremonies of the new democracy. 

Redslob believed that these ceremonies of mourning were very important as a way to increase public support for the republican idea through the integrative effect of sensory experience. These ideas were based on the integrative theory of legal scholar Rudolf Smend.

State funerals and official mourning ceremonies
in the Federal Republic of Germany

In the Federal Republic of Germany, only the Federal President can order state funerals and official mourning ceremonies at federal level. They are reserved for public figures who have rendered outstanding service to the German people. These honours are intended to remember their achievements, honour their services to the nation and fix them in the collective memory.

According to government practice, these honours are reserved for the highest representatives of the federal constitutional bodies, such as former federal presidents, presidents of the Bundestag, federal chancellors and in some cases federal ministers; they may also be given in exceptional circumstances, for example to victims of terrorist attack.

The German Länder may also order state occasions for their highest representatives at state level or in exceptional circumstances.

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