BERLIN, Germany - Britain's Charles III arrived in Germany on Wednesday for his first state visit as king, with the trip billed as "an important European gesture" to maintain strong ties after Brexit.
The royals' plane, with "United Kingdom" marked on the sides, landed at Berlin-Brandenburg airport shortly before 2:00 pm (1200 GMT).
Britain's King Charles III (R) looks on next to Britain's Camilla, Queen Consort, as they are greeted by a delegation after landing at Berlin Brandenburg Airport in Schoenefeld near Berlin, on March 29, 2023. Britain's King Charles III began his first state visit, having postponed a trip to France due to widespread political protests. Charles will undertake engagements in the German capital and in Brandenburg before heading to Hamburg during the three-day tour.
Odd ANDERSEN / AFP
"Ahead of our first State Visit to Germany, we are very much looking
forward to meeting all of those who make this country so special. It is a great joy to be able to continue the deepening of the longstanding friendship between our two nations," said Charles and Queen Consort Camilla on Twitter via the Royal Family's account.
Standing at the top of the plane's steps, the royal couple were greeted with a 21-gun salute as two military jets made a flypast.
The British Union Jack was flapping alongside the German and European Union flags along Berlin's central Unter den Linden avenue, which leads to the Brandenburg Gate, where Charles will receive a formal welcome.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and German first lady Elke Buedenbender will greet the royal couple with military honours at the landmark, the first time it has provided a backdrop for receiving a state guest.
During his three-day visit, Charles will become the first monarch to address the German parliament, with a speech on Thursday, before travelling to the port city of Hamburg on Friday.
The decision to call on the EU heavyweight first is widely seen as an attempt to build post-Brexit bridges, with Steinmeier calling it "an important European gesture".
The choice of Germany for Charles's first visit, after a planned trip to Paris was postponed, showed Berlin was a "key partner" for Britain as it seeks to reset relations with the EU, daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote.
Well-wishers arrived at the Brandenburg Gate hours before the royal couple touched down in hope of getting a glimpse of them.
Anja Wieting, 50, who works at a clothing store, took days off to drive five hours to Berlin with her daughter Lili, 18, for the spectacle.
"It's the visit of the king in Germany. We want to celebrate it, regardless of how long the queue is," she told AFP, adding that she finds "big ceremonies and state visits by royals great".
Teacher Sylke Freundentahl, 56, had been waiting in the queue since 9:15 am before being let into the secured zone.
"I am a royal fan," she said, adding that she will try to travel on Friday to Hamburg as well.
- Public interest -
"The British royal family garners a lot of interest" in Germany, said Michael Hartmann, a sociology professor at Darmstadt Technical University, noting the bestseller status of the tell-all memoir by Charles's son Prince Harry.
The fascination with the House of Windsor has not dimmed since the death last year of Elizabeth II, Hartmann told AFP.
The late queen first visited Berlin in 1965 when the city was divided between a capitalist West and communist East, a trip that was seen as a key step in post-war reconciliation.
Charles himself has been a regular visitor to Germany, with the British embassy in Berlin saying that he has been to the country 40 times.
"We will always be friends, partners and associates," the then-Prince of Wales told the Bundestag in 2020 switching between English and German.
Charles's command of German may be a nod to the British royal family's roots in Germany notably through Charles's great-great-great-grandfather Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, queen Victoria's husband.
- Organic farm -
Following Wednesday's welcome ceremony, Charles and his wife will travel to Steinmeier's Bellevue Palace for a state banquet where vegetarian options like spinach tarts will be served along other dishes like free-range chicken.
On Thursday, Charles will speak to Chancellor Olaf Scholz and meet refugees recently arrived from Ukraine.
Steinmeier and the royal couple will then visit a British-German military unit and an organic farm in the surrounding state of Brandenburg.
In Hamburg on Friday, the king, who has for decades pushed an environmental agenda, is due to tour a renewable energy project.
And in what Bild daily has described as a gesture of deep significance, Charles will in Hamburg commemorate victims of 1943 air raids over the city.
The bombings, codenamed Operation Gomorrah, were carried out by night by the British air force, and by day by US forces.
Charles was initially supposed to travel to France before heading to Germany, but his trip was postponed in the wake of violent pension reform protests.
The visit was intended to highlight warming Franco-British relations but will now have to wait for another date.