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 Mar 21 2022

Der Grosse Zapfenstreich - A Traditional German Ceremony

Ulm, Germany – Lieutenant General Jürgen Knappe, the first JSEC Commander, retired after more than 40 years of service in the German Air Force last Thursday. He was honoured with the most important ceremony in the tradition of the German Armed Forces, "Der Große Zapfenstreich" – A Grand Tattoo.

In Germany, the "Zapfenstreich" is reserved for national celebrations or farewell ceremonies of distinguished persons, such as the Federal President, the Chancellor, or highest-ranked military leaders. It takes place in the evening hours and consists of two armed platoons of the Guard Batallion, a military band, pipes and drums, and two lines of soldiers carrying torches, in total about 400 men.

In addition to the traditional programme, a serenade of three songs is granted to the person in whose honour the ceremony is being held. Lieutenant General Knappe chose Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline", "The March of the Soldier Robert Bruce" (Anonymous), and the title song of the series "Band of Brothers" by Michael Carmen.

The term Zapfenstreich

The history of the grand tattoo dates back to the times of the "Landsknechte", when a specific trumpet signal was played to announce the provost (the officer responsible for military justice) sweeping his sabre over the taps of the beer and wine barrels, symbolically ending the sale of drinks and ordering the soldiers to go home for the night. Contraventions of this ordinance were "exemplarily punished". The word Zapfenstreich ("tap strike") is similar to the Dutch "tap toe", from which the English word tattoo originated.
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The Grand Tattoo took on its formal ceremonial form in the 19th century.

In 1838, the music corps of the Prussian Guard Corps prepared a Zapfenstreich in nearly its present form. They arranged a great outdoor concert for King Friedrich Wilhelm III and his guest, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, in Potsdam. At the end of the concert, over 1,000 musicians performed the Prussian tattoo signals, a newly composed tattoo march, and the choral "Ich bete an die Macht der Liebe". The basic concept of the ceremonial act did not change ever since, although, since 1922, the Grand Tattoo has been concluded by the National Anthem.


Story by Joint Support and Enabling Command

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The Zapfenstreich is the most important ceremony in the tradition of Germany's Armed Forces; it consists of two armed platoons of the Guard Batallion, a military band, pipes and drums, and two lines of soldiers carrying torches, in total about 400 men.
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To honour Lieutenant General Jürgen Knappe, the first JSEC Commander, retiring after more than forty years of service, a serenade was played by the German Army Music Corps Ulm.
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During the ceremony, Lieutenant General Jürgen Knappe is officially reported the Zapfenstreich by the leader of the honour formation.

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