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Germany yet to plan official WWI events

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Germany yet to plan official WWI events
German troops cross the French border in summer 1914. Photo: DPA
09:45 CET+01:00
As most of Europe readies itself to commemorate a century following the start of World War I, the German government has, as yet, no plans to organize an event to remember the Great War.

The government said it was not planning any large public ceremonies of national remembrance, but would give some financial backing to some events throughout the year.

"There are an abundance of civil society and international events," said Martin Schäfer, spokesman for Germany's foreign office, during a press conference on Wednesday. "We see our role very strongly as encouragement, support and co-ordination, where there is a wish for us to do so."

This year marks 100 years since the start of World War I, which began on July 28th, 1914, and lasted until November 11th, 1918.

The war saw the Allies, including the UK, France and Russia, fighting against the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, resulting in more than 37 million casualties.

Although there is much debate over the start of World War I, Germany has been largely blamed for the outbreak of war and as a result has been closely scrutinized over its plans for the 100-year anniversary.

But Schäfer pointed out that the centenary was not solely a German occasion, although it had "a lot to do with Germany".

"What went massively wrong in 1914 also had a lot to do with Europe," he added.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said there were a number of activities and events that would be taking place throughout the year, some which are being supported by the German government, such as an exhibition called "1914 – 100 years afterwards" at the German Historical Institute in Berlin.

Seibert told the press conference that in Germany memorial events had a tradition of being organized by civil society and at a local rather than a national level.

Meanwhile, Schäfer said that while the foreign ministry was not involved in the organization of any event involving President Joachim Gauck, Chancellor Merkel or Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, it was still too early for the government to make concrete statements about events occurring in the second half of the year, considering the government had not even been in place for three weeks.

However, a spokeswoman for President Gauck's office confirmed that he would be attending events outside of Germany including a commemoration of the victims of World War I with French President François Hollande in eastern France on August 3rd and a joint British-German memorial ceremony at the St Symphorien military cemetery close to Mons, in Belgium on August 4th.

He will also attend an event on September 23rd in Berlin on the meaning of memorials. 

The German War Graves Commission is also supporting a number of events that will take place throughout the year.

As well as being a big anniversary for the beginning of World War I, 2014 also marks other important points in German history. This year marks 75 years since the outbreak of World War II and 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Louise Osborne

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