Defence Minister’s day off for dressage contest

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen was the unexpected star at the opening ceremony of the International Equestrian Federation's European Championship on Tuesday evening, taking part in a display put on by the Germany's state stud farms.

Defence Minister's day off for dressage contest
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen at the opening of the European Equestrian Sports Championship. Photo: DPA

Von der Leyen rode into the arena in Aachen among a group of four riders at the head of 68 stallions from Germany's ten state stud farms.

Wearing the uniform of the Celle stud farm in Lower Saxony, she joined in with a quadrille – a display in which four horses or groups of horses perform complex interlocking manoeuvres – in front of the 40,000-capacity stadium.

“The really big stars are the riders and the horses,” the minister told Westdeutsche Rundfunk television before her appearance, promising a “fascinating quadrille”.

“I extended my holidays specially into this time” to spend three days training for the dressage, von der Leyen added.

Von der Leyen is likely to face criticism from some quarters for taking such an obvious break from her duties, as the Bundeswehr (German military) has been crying out for more funding and better administration over the past year.

A series of embarrassing equipment failures in high-profile international interventions has made clear the extent of the damage to Germany's fighting force.

Dressage team defends European title

Now that the festivities are over, the German national dressage team faces a tough battle to defend its title on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We are grimly determined” to see it through, team leader Klaus Roeser said.

Germany must fend off teams from the UK and the Netherlands if they are to make it into a third year as European champions.

The European Equestrian Sports Championships will see 13 titles awarded across five disciplines between Wednesday and August 23rd.

One of the most anticipated events will be the jumps next week.

This year's event is likely to be the biggest ever, with 300,000 spectators expected in the northwestern city of Aachen.

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Swan Late: Mourning bird holds up German trains

A swan mourning the death of its companion on a German railway track held up 23 trains for almost an hour and had to be removed by firefighters using special equipment, police said.

Swan Late: Mourning bird holds up German trains
A swan sat on the tracks, mourning its companion. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Bundespolizei/Bundespolizei

The two birds had strayed onto the track area of the high-speed line between Kassel and Göttingen in central Germany “during an excursion”, according to Kassel police.

One of the birds died, likely after getting caught in the overhead power cables, said the statement on the December 23rd incident, which was made public late on Monday.

Its companion then sat beside the body in mourning, resisting attempts by officials to lure it away and temporarily closing the line to traffic.

Firefighters with special equipment were later called in and managed to lift the dead swan and its surviving companion away from the area.

Twenty-three trains were delayed for about 50 minutes while the rescue operation took place, the police statement said.

The surviving swan was unharmed and later released onto the river Fulda, it

According to Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, swans try to find a mate for life.