BERLIN: Chancellor Angela Merkel joined Berliners in rolling out the red carpet for Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday, with the monarch warning against a “division in Europe” as Britain debates its EU future.
Dyed-in-the-wool fans and tourists braved leaden skies to line the banks of the Spree River where the 89-year-old queen and her husband, Prince Philip, 94, kicked off a state visit with a brief boat trip though the capital’s political district.
As the open-air boat “Ajax” came into view with its German flag fluttering in the wind, cheers rippled through the crowd patiently waiting for a glimpse of the royal couple, who waved back.
“Your majesty”, shouted one hopeful onlooker; another played Britain’s National Anthem on a mobile phone. Cellphone cameras held high tried to capture a fleeting moment of the queen’s fifth state visit to Germany.
Some waved British flags; others talked about the queen’s attire — an elegant white dress coat with a brimmed hat and gloves. But the much discussed colour palette of her wardrobe was not the only quality admired.
“Her charisma, her discipline and the lovely clothes!” enthused Berlin resident Roswitha Meiritz, 76, who said she had a fascination with the queen and had also gone to see her on her first state visit in 1965.
The queen went on to meet Merkel at the chancellor’s ultra-modern offices. Merkel also held talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Berlin as he seeks support from the eurozone’s top economy for his EU reform wish list.
At a state banquet later, the monarch warned against complacency in Europe.
“In our lives, we have seen the worst but also the best of our continent,” she said, according to the British media.
“We know that division in Europe is dangerous and that we must guard against it in the west, as well as in the east, of our continent.”
Newspapers have played up the timing of the state visit, the queen’s fifth to Germany in 50 years, as Cameron heads towards an in-out referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
While stressing the queen’s role is not a political one, German commentators have homed in on the political symbolism of the visit.
“Every gesture, every word of the queen in the coming days has meaning, for Germany, Britain, Europe,” Handelsblatt business daily said Tuesday. “It is the politics of the apolitical.”
The Bild mass daily described her as “the secret weapon of British diplomacy” on a visit to “remind everyone of how poor Europe would be without the UK”.
German well-wishers said they did not believe the excitement around the visit would sway Merkel or influence the debate on Europe.
Sophia Manske, who teaches English and watched the queen’s boat trip with her baby daughter, said she did not see the visit changing “anything for England politically”, but said the queen was a “good representative”.
Pensioner Norman Metzler agreed.
“I think it’s rather unpolitical,” he said. “It won’t have an influence. It’s a symbolic thing.”
Merkel’s spokesman later released a short video showing her welcoming the queen and pointing out where the Berlin Wall ran through the formerly divided city until its fall in 1989.
“Where the train goes there, there was the Wall,” Merkel tells the queen, pointing into the distance, adding: “And I lived in East Germany, just 200 metres behind this… train railway.”
The royal couple’s packed agenda also includes a visit to the former Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp Friday where teen Jewish diarist Anne Frank died shortly before it was freed by British troops in April 1945.
On Thursday they head to Germany’s financial capital, Frankfurt.