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Germany Mourns Train Crash Victims

June 21, 1998

CELLE, Germany (AP) _ One hundred candles flickered at the altar _ one for each victim _ as President Roman Herzog led a memorial service Sunday for those killed in the high-speed train crash that was Germany’s deadliest postwar rail disaster.

About 700 mourners packed the main church in Celle, a northern town near the village of Eschede where InterCity Express train 884 derailed on June and crashed into the concrete supports of an overpass.

``More than two weeks have passed since the accident, but the shock is even deeper and the pain even stronger,″ Herzog told mourners who included 230 relatives of the dead.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his cabinet ministers attended the service, as did Gerhard Schroeder, Kohl’s challenger in national elections Sept. 27 and the governor of Lower Saxony state, where the accident happened.

The crash injured dozens of passengers _ 73 crash victims were still hospitalized Sunday _ and deeply shook a society that has prided itself on the safety and speed of its high-speed trains.

Inaugurated in 1991, the InterCity Express network had been running at top speeds of 175 mph for seven years without major technical failures. Now, German rail officials are investigating how a wheel could have broken and caused the train to derail.

All of Germany was devastated by the accident, Herzog said. Technology makes our lives easier, he said, but accidents like the one in Eschede remind us that we can never overcome our mortality.

Roman Catholic Bishop Josef Homeyer echoed that sentiment in his address to the mourners, saying: ``We turn around and suddenly, in the middle of the accelerated tempo of life, were are reminded of our humanity _ reminded of the vulnerable human being and his fragile hopes.″

Right before the service started at 11 a.m., between 2,000 and 3,000 trains of Deutsche Bahn, the Germany rail company, blew their whistles. Loudspeakers in trains and stations asked travelers to observe a minute of silence. Flags nationwide flew at half staff.

The memorial service was broadcast on local television. In Eschede, 13 miles north of Celle, about 300 mourners watched the service on screens set up in a tent in the center of the village.

After the memorial, Herzog visited the crash site and thanked Eschede residents and rescuers who worked round the clock to aid the injured and recover the dead.

``It is not true that our country has only selfish people,″ the president said. ``Your town has set an example for all of Germany.″

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