"All of us will miss Helmut Schmidt," Chancellor Angela Merkel told the 1,800-strong congregation at St. Michael's Church. "The traces he leaves behind are deep."
She herself admired Schmidt's famously level-headed management of the disastrous floods of 1962 while he was mayor of Hamburg, the town of her birth, from across the border in the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
Standing by his coffin draped in the black, red and gold German flag and surrounded by bouquets of sunflowers and white lilies, Merkel hailed Schmidt for his unwavering stance during a bloody campaign by the far-left Red Army Faction (RAF).
"We are again faced with horrific attacks," she said.
"Our thoughts constantly drift to Paris. The motives today are different and the circumstances are too. But terror remains terror."
Merkel, 61, said the answer, then as now after this month's deadly jihadist attacks in the French capital, lay in a muscular response without a sacrifice of shared values.
"Freedom is stronger than terror and hatred," she said. "Humanity is stronger than barbarity.
Merkel, a conservative, also pointed to the centrist Social Democrat Schmidt's leadership in responding to a global economic downturn sparked by the oil crisis by establishing the forerunner to G7 summits of industrialised nations with the French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who also attended the funeral.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger , addressing the crowd in his native German, called Schmidt "a sort of conscience of the world".
The former Chancellor had managed to embody courage and vision without ever claiming them for himself, Kissinger said.
Capable of being both amusing and brusque, Schmidt once famously dismissed an interviewer's question, saying: "Anyone who has visions should see a doctor."
"Helmut will remain with us, perfectionist, moody, always searching, demanding, inspiring, always dependable," he added.
And Hamburg mayor Olaf Scholz called Schmidt the greatest son of the Hanseatic port city.
"We have lost a giant," Scholz said of his predecessor, adding that it was barely imaginable "that in the future we will have to hold our social and political debates without him."
After the church ceremony, Schmidt's coffin, draped in the national flag, was carried out by eight pallbearers followed by President Joachim Gauck and Schmidt's daughter, Susanne, for a short military ceremony.
The hearse brought Schmidt's remains slowly past the crowds thronging the city to the Ohlsdorf cemetery.
In many places along the route, the passing coffin was greeted simply with applause for the former Chancellor.
Many media outlets rebroadcast Helmut Schmidt's request to be remembered as "someone who recognized his responsibilities and then fulfilled them."