Thousands of people lined the streets of Hamburg on Monday to pay tribute to former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, one of the city's most respected sons who died two weeks ago at age 96.

Schmidt guided West Germany through some of the tensest moments of the Cold War and economic turbulence, emerging in later years as a prolific writer and elder statesman.

People watched solemnly as Schmidt's casket, draped in a German flag, was driven slowly from the city's St. Michaelis church to the Ohlsdorf cemetery where he was to be buried in his family's plot.

Schmidt made his name on the national scene as a state politician in Hamburg during severe flooding in 1962, coordinating rescue operations and calling in the German military to help — a move that overstepped his legal authority but was widely credited with preventing a much worse disaster.

Chancellor Angela Merkel remembered Schmidt as a leader who was prepared to do what he thought was right, no matter the political consequences.

"He was prepared himself to pay the highest price," she told some 1,800 guests gathered at the church for Schmidt's funeral.

As chancellor, Schmidt, a center-left Social Democrat, led West Germany from 1974 to 1982. He brought a sometimes abrasive self-confidence and his experience as West Germany's defense, finance and economy ministers to the job, which he took during the economic downturn that followed the 1973 oil crisis.

Schmidt's chancellorship coincided with a tense period in the Cold War, including the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.

Speaking at St. Michaelis, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger remembered Schmidt as a "special friend."

"At Helmut's 90th birthday I expressed the hope that he would outlive me, because a world without him would be very, very empty," said 92-year-old Kissinger, speaking in German.

"I was wrong — Helmut will remain with us. Perfectionist, moody, ever searching, inspirational, always reliable — that is how he will accompany us for the rest of our lives."