The French President Francois Hollande and his German counterpart Joachim Gauck led a commemorative event in Alsace marking 100 years since Germany declared war on France.
The event was held in Hartmannswillerkopf, also known as Vieil Armand by the French, where where an estimated 30,000 soldiers were killed during WW1.
Hollande and Gauck embraced when they visited the crypt at the site, which houses some 12,000 unidentified soldiers who died in the area.
In a speech at the site of the former battlefield, Hollande celebrated the strength of France and Germany’s relationship today.
“To those who are desperately regarding the peace process in the Middle East, what better message can we deliver than today’s message. The history of France and Germany shows that will can always win over fatality and that people who were seen as hereditary enemies can, within a few years, reconcile,” Hollande said.
Standing at Hollande’s side, Gauck spoke of how both of their families were involved in the WW1 fighting, saying: “Our two grandfathers, [Gauck’s and Hollande’s] who fought each other, couldn’t have imagined this scene. It’s like a dream. But it’s our reality, that people, after spilling so much blood, can find each other and come together like this.”
Hollande and Gauck laid the first stone for a joint Franco-German memorial and museum at the site at Hartmannswillerkopf, which is set to open in 2017.
The two leaders will meet again on Monday (August 4) in the Belgian city of Liege, where heads of state from across Europe will gather to mark the German invasion of Belgium.
In London, a candle-lit vigil will be held at Westminster Abbey on Monday evening, finishing at 23:00 local time, the moment that Britain declared war on Germany 100 years ago.
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