BERLIN: Germany held a national memorial service on Sunday for its nearly 80,000 victims of the coronavirus pandemic, putting aside deep divisions over Covid restrictions to share the pain of grieving families.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier joined an ecumenical service in the morning at Berlin’s Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a memorial against war and destruction.
They will later attend a ceremony at the capital’s Konzerthaus concert hall, where the president will make a speech.
“Sickness, dying and death cannot be just pushed away in this long year, they have cut deeply into the lives of many people,” said Georg Baetzing, the chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, at the morning service.
With pandemic curbs still in force restricting the number of people who can attend, the ceremonies were being broadcast live on public television.
“As president I believe it is very important for us to stop to say goodbye in dignity to those who died during the pandemic — including those who did not fall victim to the virus but who also died in loneliness,” said Steinmeier as he announced the national service.
Besides suffering the pain of losing a loved one, restrictions in place to curb infections mean that relatives are often unable to even hold their family members’ hands as they lay dying.
Others have been left grieving on their own, as funerals or memorials are curtailed by pandemic curbs.
In a dialogue with the president earlier this year, relatives of coronavirus victims voiced their loneliness.
Michaela Mengel broke down in tears as she recalled her daughter’s last minutes as she died from the coronavirus in hospital.
“Last time I saw her alive was on Christmas Eve when I had to leave the hospital. She had oxygen piped into her nose, she looked at me with her big eyes,” Mengel told the president at the time.
“Since she could not talk I told her, bye my dear, I love you, mama will be back.” Mengel is to attend the memorial ceremony on Sunday afternoon.
Steinmeier stressed that it was important to look beyond the daily victim counts.
“Behind every number, there’s a human fate,” he said.
Regional leaders urged citizens to join in the remembrance including by lighting candles by their windows from Friday to Sunday.
“We want to be aware of what we lost, but we also want to find hope and strength together,” the premiers of Germany’s 16 states said in a statement.
Sunday’s ceremony comes as health authorities warn that many more will succumb to the virus, as Germany struggles to put down a vicious third wave gripping the country.
Europe’s biggest economy had come out of the first wave relatively unscathed but has struggled to take decisive action to end the current one fuelled mainly by the more contagious British variant.
Another 19,185 new infections were recorded in the last 24 hours, according to the disease control agency RKI, with the numbers of deaths also rising by 67 to 79,914.
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2021