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Bonn or Berlin - Fight Over Germany’s Seat of Government

April 4, 1991

BERLIN (AP) _ Thriving, bustling Berlin offers something for nearly everyone, but what Germans want to know is whether the city will host their federal government.

Six months after the unification of east and west Germany, Germans seem no closer to deciding whether to move their leaders from Bonn to Berlin than they were last summer.

The continuing tug-of-war has prompted Chancellor Helmut Kohl to warn against any ″bitterness″ once a decision is made - something his party would like to happen by June’s end.

Seemingly oblivious to the debate, Berliners are plunging headlong into a future likely to make their metropolis of 3.4 million residents the crossroads of Europe.

For Poles, Berlin is a shopping mecca, offering plentiful electronic goods they can sell for a large profit back home. Tens of thousands more Poles are expected to rush to the city starting Monday, when visa requirements are dropped.

Business people and others are coming to Berlin at such a pace that the housing market has dried up. Don’t even go to an apartment rental agent without being ready to pay a couple thousand dollars to get a foot in the door, many people say.

Berlin is making a serious bid to host the 2000 Summer Olympics. To avoid he unpleasant specters of the Third Reich, organizers promise to hold the opening ceremony somewhere other than the stadium once bedecked with Nazi swastikas for the Games’ opening in 1936.

Tourism increased 14 percent last year in western Berlin, and hotels were filled for the Easter holidays. Tourist officials expect similar numbers this summer.

Shoplifting, break-ins and homicides have increased, prompting the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper to declare in a January headline: ″The Feared Russian Mafia is Also Active Now in Berlin.″ Yugoslav con men with ties to organized crime fill the sidewalks with illicit shell games.

The leftist, punk and transvestite scene is virtually taking over parts of Berlin’s bohemian Prenzlauer Berg section. Outrageous nightspots recall the sin-city reputation that Berlin earned during the Weimar Republic of the 1920s.

″Sodom and Berlin,″ said Italy’s L’Espresso magazine in the headline for its Feb. 10 report on Berlin’s kinky nocturnal scene.

Exactly how members of Parliament - accustomed to the white-gloved attendants and restrained debates of Bonn - would fit in to all this remains to be seen.

Bonn became the ″provisional″ federal capital with the founding of West Germany in 1949 and stayed the capital until unification last year. Bonn reportedly was chosen over Frankfurt and other contenders because it was close to Rhoendorf, home of Germany’s first post-war Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer.

Kohl, meanwhile, has taken a break from the fray by visiting his Austrian retreat of Bad Hofgastein. He has, however, promised to address the capital issue soon.

″In the end, there must not be any result that causes people to go at each other full of bitterness on account of the question Bonn or Berlin,″ Kohl told the SAT 1 television network on Wednesday.

Avoiding hard feelings may be easier said than done, especially since the greater part of the government seems ready to stay in its scenic home of 290,000 residents along the Rhine River.

Kohl reportedly has made his decision, saying the government should stay in Bonn and spend the badly needed money elsewhere, according to the influential newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

Popular President Richard von Weizsaecker has been a champion of moving the whole government to Berlin, which is the country’s official capital.

While Weizsaecker’s eloquent pronouncements on nearly every subject from the Holocaust to the Third World earn him praise, his Berlin stance has been criticized by some.

″I always thought Weizsaecker was a smart man, but in the Berlin question, he’s pig-headed,″ said member of Parliament Adolf Herkenrath, a member of Weizsaecker’s own Christian Democratic Union.

Erwin Huber, the No. 2 official in the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, said a move to Berlin would cost taxpayers $36 billion to $60 billion.

Huber ominously added: ″In that case, the president would have to accept the consequences for tax increases.″ Talk of tax increases is anathema to Germans at the moment.

Kohl broke a campaign promise by forcing Germans to pay more to finance reunification, infuriating critics and supporters alike.

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