Why the King and Queen's historic visit to Germany matters to Britain
Right across Berlin, the red, white and blue of the Union flag is flying next to the black, red and yellow of the Federal State of Germany.
There are long convoys of police motorcycle outriders and a motorcade that concludes with the State Bentley - which has been brought to Germany to transport the King and the Queen Consort around Berlin.
On Thursday, the Bentley brought Charles III and Queen Camilla to the German Parliament, where the King became the first British Monarch to address a session of the Bundestag.
Germany wasn’t supposed to be the first foreign country to receive King Charles on an official visit - that honour was meant to go to France - but Germans are enjoying their time as host this week on what is an historic occasion.
There is, too, a neat symmetry here given the last State Visit that Queen Elizabeth completed was also to Germany.
That was eight years ago, in 2015, the year the late Queen decided she’d done enough overseas visits during her reign and would stop travelling abroad.
So, as we flew with King Charles and the Queen Consort on Wednesday on board an RAF plane, Germany dispatched two Luftwaffe fighter jets to escort the British Monarch into Berlin.
“I have the honour of welcoming your Majesty over the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany,” the Typhoon pilot said.
In return, the King spoke to the Bundestag mostly in German – with some passages in English – in an address that was designed to strengthen the bonds between Britain and Germany.
“Meiner Frau und mir bedeutet es sehr viel, dass wir auf meiner ersten Auslandsreise als König nach Deutschland eingeladen wurden. Und vor allem, dass ich hier sprechen darf, um das Bekenntnis zur Freundschaft unserer Länder zu erneuern“, the King said.
Translated: “It means a great deal to both my wife and myself that we have been invited to Germany on my first overseas tour as Sovereign, and it is a particular honour to be here with you where I wish to renew the pledge of friendship between our nations”.
And, despite his political neutrality, the King the reflected on how far Britain and Germany have come since the dark years of the Second World War and now are jointly supporting the “defence of freedom” in Ukraine following what he called “the unprovoked invasion” by Russia which has brought “the scourge of war back in Europe”.
There will also be a moment, in Hamburg on Friday, to remember the horrors of both German and British tactics during WWII.
40,000 civilians were killed when RAF and American bombers blew apart Germany’s second largest city in 1943.
Last night, at the State Banquet in Berlin’s Bellevue Palace, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke of the “terrible suffering that Germans unleashed on the continent in two world wars”, but he noted how he and the King would “stand together in Hamburg and remember the bombing of the city” just as they remember “the dreadful bombing campaigns by German aircraft that devastated British cities”.
The British relationship with Germany, the King told his hosts, “matters greatly to me” and he gave them this promise: “Throughout the time that is granted to me as King, I will do all I can to strengthen the connections between us.”
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And there we have the reason why King Charles and Queen Camilla are here.
It is because the British government has decided it needs to mend ties with its closest European neighbours after years of Brexit tensions and political acrimony.
The prime minister could have dispatched his King and Queen to a Commonwealth country or a Realm, but inside he chose instead to send them to Germany, Europe’s biggest economy.
For a government that says that economic growth is one of its five key policies, this is a convenient way to show some love to the UK’s nearest trading partners – despite the additional challenges many businesses now say they face since the UK left the European Union.
France might have been postponed because of the violent pension protests, but that will be re-arranged just as soon as the diplomats and find some space in the diary – most likely in the summer.
Given his own family’s ancestry, the King has also been reflecting on his own ties to Germany.
He said: “Like many British people, I have close personal ties here - in my case, cherished family relationships and associations that go back generations.”
His German relatives through his father, Prince Philip, include Prinz Bernhard of Baden, who is the grandson of Philip’s sister Theodora. He was at the State Banquet last night.
This is a personal visit for the King as well as an important state visit and both countries are hoping this royal tour will help to close the door on the period of heated political tensions caused by Brexit.
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