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Germany remembers loyal friend, honors victims

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BERLIN — Germany and its capital Berlin pledged support to its loyal friend the United States Friday as 200,000 people joined political figures at a somber memorial service to the victims of Tuesday's suicide attacks.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, members of his Social Democrat-Green cabinet and opposition leaders gathered and stood silently by Brandenburg Gate to hear the addresses of President Johannes Rau and America's ambassador Daniel Coats.

"Nobody knows more than the people of Berlin what America has done for freedom and democracy in Germany," Rau said. "We would not be able to stand here tonight without their support through the years and through tough times."

The towering gate was a poignant backdrop for the memorial service, as it stood in the no-man's-land between communist east and capitalist west before Germany was reunited.

Thousands of Germans, many in tears, have placed flowers in front of the American Embassy in Berlin and consulates around the country.

Many Germans remember America's Cold War era support for Germany, including the 1948-49 airlift that kept West Berlin alive. The American-led airlift carried supplies for more than a year to West Berlin, then an island in East Germany.

In 1963, as tensions mounted over the Berlin Wall, President John F. Kennedy visited the city and famously declared "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner). Rau said Germany should pay back the loyalty the United States had shown in times of European strain.

"That's why we say today from Berlin to all Americans: America is not alone," Rau said.

Coats said the images of hijacked planes slamming into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon would stay with him forever. But so too would the images of solidarity and tears seen round the world and in Germany.

"Germany has shown over the last few days that America could not wish for a more reliable friend. ... America will never forget this," Coats said.

Placards for peace

Crowds of people, a number with American flags, some carrying placards pleading for peace, stretched along the roads on either side of the monument.

The ceremony faced westward, as if to America. Those behind the gate to the east watched proceedings on a giant screen.

"It's important to be here in person, to show our common humanity," said Wolfgang Becker, who works for the government.

Reflecting a strong pacifist streak in Germany, which is still haunted by memories of World War Two, many banners bore messages urging moderation.

"No more deaths through military reprisals" said one. "War is no solution," read another. One huge placard in front of the stage said simply "Peace."

Manfred Kraemer, a history teacher, had brought his pupils.

"We've been discussing this all week. I hope young people can see there's a difference between a simple short-term measure and a long-term solution, which has to be political," he said.

Germany has pledged to support the United States militarily if necessary. According to a poll released on Friday, two-thirds of Germans support their government's stance.

However, Rau echoed some of the concerns of those who attended the ceremony in Berlin with its tradition of pacifism.

"Hate should not lead us into hate. Nothing is as difficult to build and nothing so easy to break as peace," Rau said.

The service, one of many held in Germany this week, followed a Europe-wide three-minute silence earlier in the day.