BERLIN – King Charles III became the first monarch to address Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, on Thursday as part of a high-profile visit by the U.K. head of state aimed at bolstering ties between the two European powers.
Speaking to lawmakers and other dignitaries in the packed lower house, Charles stressed the close bonds between the United Kingdom and Germany going back centuries, including his own family links to the royal House of Hannover, and the present-day economic, scientific, cultural and military cooperation between the two countries.
Charles noted that London and Berlin have provided considerable aid to Ukraine in its efforts to fend off Russia's invasion, a point that will appeal to German government officials more used to hearing how their country isn't doing enough to help Kyiv.
“Germany's decision to provide so much military support to Ukraine is extremely brave, important and welcome,” Charles said.
Speaking mostly in fluent German, he noted how the intertwined history of the two nations could be seen in the home of the Bundestag itself. The restoration in the 1990s of the former Reichstag building, that was heavily damaged during World War II, was capped with a glass cupola designed by British architect Norman Foster intended as a symbol of transparency and accountability.
“From here the citizens can actually watch their politicians work,” Charles said. “Democracy in action.”
The 74-year-old largely trod on safe territory, making gentle jokes about soccer rivalry, national humor and mutual admiration for each other's cultures — from the Beatles to Kraftwerk and from Brahms to Byron. Charles briefly touched on the grim history of Nazism and WWII.
Charles and Camilla, the queen consort, will visit Hamburg on Friday to pay respects at a memorial to the Kindertransporte, or children's transports, which saw more than 10,000 Jewish children rescued from Nazi Germany 85 years ago. They will also commemorate the more than 30,000 people — most of them civilians — killed in the Allied bombing of Hamburg in July 1943.
“Heeding the lessons of the past is our sacred responsibility, but it can only be fully discharged through a commitment to our shared future,” he said. "Together we must be vigilant against threats to our values and freedoms, and resolute in our determination to confront them. Together we must strive for the security, prosperity and well-being that our people deserve."
When Charles finished his speech, the lawmakers rose for a long, standing ovation, something rarely seen in Germany's parliament.
Charles is on his inaugural foreign trip since becoming king. He and Camilla arrived in Berlin on Wednesday. Crowds of well-wishers and Germany's head of state, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, greeted the couple at the capital’s iconic Brandenburg Gate. They later attended a banquet in their honor at the presidential palace.
Pomp and royal glamour aside, the three-day visit has a decidedly political purpose. The U.K. government is trying to mend frayed ties with its continental partners following the painful Brexit process.
The fallout has been considerable: Britain's departure from the European Union's common market has resulted in trade barriers and labor shortages, and locked the country out of key European science programs. By devoting special attention to the EU's two biggest powers — France and Germany — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hopes to normalize relations with the 27-nation bloc.
Charles originally planned to stop in France first, but anti-government protests there delayed that part of his trip. That put the focus on Germany, where the U.K. royal family and particularly the late Queen Elizabeth II have long commanded interest and admiration.
Not all were pleased by the visit, however. Jan Korte, a lawmaker with the opposition Left party, said it wasn't in keeping with Germany's democratic tradition to have Charles address the country's highest political body, the Bundestag.
“A king isn't elected,” Korte told public broadcaster ZDF. “He can obviously speak everywhere and is very welcome, including by me, but I think that particularly in the Bundestag, which is about representing the people, it's not really appropriate to have a monarch speak.”
Charles has spoken to the Bundestag before, at an event in 2020 commemorating the victims of WWII, though he was still the Prince of Wales at the time.
Before his speech Charles met briefly with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and visited a farmers' market in Berlin.
After his speech, Charles visited a refugee center for Ukrainians at Berlin's former Tegel airport, and met representatives from a joint German and U.K. military unit stationed near Berlin to see a demonstration of their bridge-building amphibious vehicles.
Later on Thursday afternoon, he visited an organic farm 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the capital where he helped make an orange-colored cheese with a crown imprint.
His drive to the countryside was slowed down by torrential rain, and he had to skip a tour of the cowshed with newborn calves. Still, Charles had enough time to try a special, crown-shaped cake made by the farm's pastry chef in his honor.
When the king's motorcade left the farm, a few royal fans huddled under umbrellas on a nearby lawn shouted in German “Long live the king,” as Charles waved good-bye from his car.
Kirsten Grieshaber contributed.