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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 May, 2005, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Reporters' log: Marking VE Day

Millions of people across Europe are celebrating the end of World War II. BBC correspondents report on the events - and memories.


In Berlin, thousands of people came to a 'Festival of Democracy' at the Brandenburg Gate. Music, speeches, and reflections on the war underlined that May 8th was the day Germany was freed from Nazism.

But elsewhere in Berlin, around 3,000 skinheads gathered at a far-right demonstration where a speaker told them: 'May 8th is no day for celebrations. May 8th was not a day of liberation.' The group had planned to march through the city, but several thousand counter-demonstrators surrounded the area - blocking them in.

Politicians laid wreaths at a monument which contains the remains of an unknown soldier and an unknown concentration camp victim. Later, they heard a speech by the President, Hoerst Koehler, at a special sitting of Parliament in the Reichstag.

There were also church ceremonies. The protestant Bishop of Berlin, Wolfgang Huber, led a service at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church - a building dating from 1961 that sits alongside the preserved ruins of the original church, destroyed by Allied bombs in 1943. At another service Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the head of Germany's Catholics, said May 8th was a 'new beginning' for Germans. 'We had to newly define ourselves. We had radically lost our way into barbarism.'


President George W Bush said that some at the outset of war thought that democracy might be too soft to survive. But the truth was there is no power like freedom. As the new century unfolds, Mr Bush said Americans and Europeans were still working to bring freedom to places where it had been long denied, through sacrifices of a new generation of men and women.

Earlier the Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, paid tribute not just to the soldiers who had fought in the war but the founding fathers of the European Union who insisted that co-operation was the best guarantee of lasting peace.

It was a morning though not just for the set-piece speeches as for the memories of the veterans who could be here, veterans such as Bill Shirtlef, now in his 80th year. With the US 42nd Rainbow division, he fought through Germany all the way to Munich. His unit liberated Dachau concentration camp. Leaning heavily on his walking stick, Mr Shirtlef said that the commemoration was necessary. "You forget the past," he said, "you will be sure to repeat it."


As a huge French flag billowed beneath the Arc De Triomphe, President Jacques Chirac laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in memory of the quarter of a million French soldiers who died in World War II.

Then he rekindled the flame which has been lit afresh here every day since after the World War I. Then came a minute's silence in honour of the dead, as a band played the Last Post, while representatives of the French and Allied armies stood to attention.

President Chirac presented medals to eight French veterans now in their 70s and 80s, who stood stiffly to attention.

Yet this remains a difficult anniversary for France to commemorate. During the war itself, it was occupied, its Vichy government collaborating with Nazi Germany.

Only the work of the French Resistance and from late 1944 the French army, allowed the nation to regain its pride in the post-war years.

The building of the European Union begun by France and Germany played a large part in that process, and today that rapprochement between former enemies was marked with a choir singing the Ode to Joy, now the European anthem.


As the veterans gathered at the Cenotaph, the Royal Artillery band played. Prince Charles was here to lay a wreath, so were the current service chiefs for the army, navy and air force. The veterans, too, took their place. Elderly men now, but proud to wear their medals.

For many of the veterans, their thoughts were with their comrades who hadn't made it home. After Prince Charles had left, they came forward to place their own wreaths. This was a sombre moment of commemoration. Tonight there'll be more fun with a concert in Trafalgar Square, and the forces' sweetheart, Dame Vera Lynn, will make an appearance.


If the end had a beginning, it was in Berlin where Hitler took his life. Not every German solder gave up and some fought on. If you ask witnesses what they were doing at the time, many may not remember. VE Day was not so much an event. It was a day when allied country leaders could announce the end of the world war. Perhaps we should call it VE week.


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