Germans feel "gratitude" for the Nazi defeat that ended World War II in Europe 75 years ago, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a landmark commemoration speech on Friday.

"Today, we Germans are allowed to say: the day of liberation is a day of gratitude!" Steinmeier said at a solemn Berlin ceremony.

The May 8 anniversary of Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender to the Allies is a one-off public holiday in Berlin this year, although events have been scaled down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Steinmeier's words recalled former President Richard von Weizsaecker's watershed speech in 1985 when he became the first to call on Germans to remember May 8 not as a day of defeat, but as a day of liberation from the Nazi tyranny.