King Charles said he wanted to “renew the special bond of friendship” between the UK and Germany, without mentioning the B-word that has caused the friendship to grow cold in recent years, as he addressed the Bundestag in Berlin on Thursday.
The monarch’s speech in front of Germany’s federal parliament was the first by a non-elected head of state. It was pitched as a celebration of cultural commonalities and joint ventures past and present – from a shared love of music and comedy to energy and security cooperation – and an attempt to repair ties that have fractured since the Brexit vote seven years ago.
“Great Britain and Germany are, and will remain, close allies and trusting partners, even after the decision to leave the European Union,” said the Bundestag’s president, Bärbel Bas, in her introduction, but Charles III did not pick up the baton. In his 25-minute speech, he declined to mention Brexit or the EU.
Instead, the king thanked the German people for their condolences on the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, “who had held a special place in German hearts”, and spoke of the role she had played in the reconciliation process that brought the two countries together again after the second world war.
In a stopgap history that covered the Hanseatic League, Shakespeare, football rivalries, Kraftwerk and the Beatles, the king also highlighted Anglo-German leadership on offshore wind-power production and material and financial support for Ukraine’s defensive war against Russia.
“Germany’s decision to give Ukraine such great military support is considerably brave, important and welcome,” Charles said.
Switching repeatedly between his English tongue and the German language spoken fluently by his late father, he only occasionally stumbled over unwieldy compounds such as Rechenschaftspflicht (“accountability”). It might have helped if an aide had pointed out that there is no “sh” sound in Bundestag.
At a gala dinner at Bellevue Palace on Wednesday night, the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, described the king’s decision to visit Germany ahead of his coronation as not just a great personal statement but a “strong European gesture”. “It means a lot to me, a lot to us Germans,” he said.
The German head of state tried to repay the gesture to his British counterpart by putting on an evening full of the kind of formal pageantry that is a relatively rare sight in the comfortably dishevelled metropolis on the river Spree.
About 120 guests including the former chancellor, Angela Merkel, key cabinet ministers, some of the king’s aristocratic German relatives, the architect David Chipperfield and Campino, the Anglo-German singer of the rock band Die Toten Hosen, walked down the red carpet in evening gowns and tailcoats and chatted over Rheingau Riesling and carp with Erfurt watercress until midnight.
For some members of Germany’s parliament, the pomp and circumstance was too much. The co-chair of the leftwing party Die Linke, Martin Schirdewan, complained before the speech that it was “inappropriate” for the country’s highest democratic body to “bow” in front of a monarch who was “born with a silver spoon in his mouth”.
His party colleague Jan Korte suggested the Bundestag should have invited a Rolling Stone instead. “Even if Keith Richards were to merely play guitar in the plenary chamber it would be a greater sign of the connectedness between the people of Great Britain and the Federal Republic than the appearance of a king who has inherited his right to speak.”
Some of the seats in Die Linke’s section of the plenary chamber remained empty throughout the king’s speech on Thursday. Of those who did turn up, half a dozen remained seated upon the monarch’s entrance but rose during the two-minute standing ovation at the end.
After his speech, Charles visited the refugee shelter at Berlin’s former Tegel airport before heading from the heart of the capital to the countryside. In Brandenburg state he was due to meet soldiers from the German-British Amphibious Engineer Battalion 130 and visit Brodowin, an eco-village where farmers use homeopathic remedies to work their land and treat their livestock.