German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a torchlight military parade in honor at the Defense Ministry in Berlin on Thursday. Photo by Clemens Bilans/EPA-EFE
Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel thanked her countrymen and urged them to defend democratic values during a farewell speech delivered Thursday.
Merkel, who is stepping down in less than a week following 16 years in office, addressed the country during a torchlight military parade, or "Grand Tattoo," held by the Bundeswehr, Germany's federal armed forces, at the Defense Ministry in Berlin.
"Sixteen years as chancellor of Germany were full of events, often very challenging -- politically and as a human being, but at the same time they have always left me fulfilled," she said, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Merkel, the country's first East German-born chancellor, said the COVID-19 pandemic had shown "how important trust in political leaders, science, and public discourse really is" and called on the German people to reject hate and view life with a "lightness of heart."
She also issued a strong defense of democratic values at a time when the forces of authoritarianism were on the march in many parts of globe.
"Our democracy also lives from the fact that wherever hatred and violence are considered a legitimate means of asserting one's own interests, our tolerance as democrats must find its limit," she said.
Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, who will lead the new coalition government, was present at the ceremony and Merkel wished him and his administration "all the best, the best of luck, and much success."
Torchlight military parades serving as farewell ceremonies for outgoing presidents and chancellors are a German tradition stretching back to the 16th Century. They include pieces of music chosen by the honoree -- one of Merkel's choices was the song "You Forgot the Color Film," a 1974 hit by East German punk rocker Nina Hagen.