- Merkel and Hollande mark centenary
- 300 days, 300,000 dead
- France emerged the victor
- Joint commemorations seen as symbol of good relations between the two countries
The Chancellor of Germany and President of France have held a joint and poignant ceremony to mark the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Verdun.
Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande began the day by laying a wreath at the German military cemetery of Consenvoye in north-eastern France in memory of the soldiers who lost their lives in the battle.
The main commemorative ceremony was held at the Douaumont Ossuary, where 130,000 of those who died are buried.
4,000 French and German schoolchildren took part in a performance choreographed by German filmmaker Volker Schloendorff and meant to symbolise the battle.
Church bells were then rung throughout the Verdun area.
Merkel and Hollande both signed the commemorative book before giving impassioned speeches stressing the importance of European unity.
Angela Merkel evoked the migrant crisis:
“Thinking and acting purely on a nation-state basis will set us back. This goes for conquering the economic crisis in Europe, for dealing with the many people who seek refuge here and for all the great challenges of our times.”
The German Chancellor’s words were echoed by the French President, Francois Hollande.
“The forces of division, of obstruction, of withdrawal are once more among us, they are spreading fear and hatred through weakness, delays, mistakes, all of these things that are faults, without a doubt. Europe is seen as the root of all evil when in fact evil is what led to it being created.”
Did Merkel and Hollande talk politics?
The two leaders had lunch together and made joint statements later in the day.
Hollande said earlier this week that talks would focus on the future of Europe, including the migrant crisis, security and the rise of populist movements.
Commemorations of Verdun has come to signify the close relationship between Germany and France.
A photo of leaders Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl holding hands at Douaumont cemetery at the first joint commemoration in 1984 has become a potent symbol of Franco-German reconciliation.
Verdun: 21 February – 15 December, 2016
- The longest battle of the First World War – 300 days (10 months) of fighting
- 300,000 soldiers killed
- France emerged the victor, reclaiming almost all the territory it had lost
- 60 million shells fired during the battle. 25% failed to explode and remain unrecovered.