Related topics

German Unity Doesn’t Extend to Capital Debate

July 3, 1990

BONN, West Germany (AP) _ Germans racing toward unification are anything but united over what city to make their capital: this dowdy seat of the West’s government or the vibrant but tainted Berlin, once hub of Hitler’s Third Reich.

The issue has turned into one of the most sensitive to be resolved in the frenzied work to join the two German states.

″It will be the last question decided,″ said Dieter Vogel, the deputy government spokesman in Bonn.

Some Bonn residents are lobbying hard to make their city, which is already the capital of West Germany, the government seat of a united nation. Some bumper stickers seen around the city proclaim ″Ja Zu Bonn″ (Yes to Bonn).

Bonn’s supporters say this city symbolizes a democratic and peaceful Germany. They argue that Berlin is a bad choice because it was capital of imperialistic Prussia and Hitler’s Germany.

However, Berlin’s supporters sport their own stickers saying ″Berlin Hauptstadt Deutschlands″ (Berlin, Germany’s capital).

The list of leaders backing Berlin, the symbol of Germany’s postwar division, grows almost daily. It includes West German President Richard von Weizsaecker, East German Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere and Willy Brandt, the charismatic former West German chancellor and ex-mayor of West Berlin.

Several polls indicate a majority of Germans also favor Berlin, which lies in East Germany about 100 miles from the West’s border.

Although West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has said he favors Berlin, the government’s official position is that the final decision must come from the new German Parliament expected to be seated after all-German elections proposed for December.

Bonn is not giving up without a fight.

″Our chances are good,″ said Bonn Mayor Hans Daniels. ″It is of course a battle of David against Goliath, but history teaches that David can win.″

A majority of the minister-presidents of the 11 West German states also say they want Bonn to remain capital - or at least the seat of government, the Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported.

The issue involves more than civic pride. The economic impact on the Bonn area would be enormous if the capital is relocated, said Klaus Rauen, Bonn’s deputy city manager.

He gave no specific figure, but he said about a third of the local residents are directly dependent on the government, 126 embassies, political parties and lobbying. Thousands of others in businesses ranging from restaurants to local shops make their livelihood from government-related business.

In addition, Rauen said the actual cost of moving the government would be at least $30 billion. Bonn proponents say the money could be better spent helping to bring East Germany’s crippled economy up to Western standards.

The Bonn-or-Berlin debate also touches another, deeper level of the German psyche.

Bonn, made ″provisional capital″ when West Germany was founded in 1949, lies along the Rhine River and seems to take its rhythms from the slow-moving river.

The city’s population is about 290,000. But the greater Bonn area, which has expanded over the years to dozens of little villages, has about 450,000.

A united Berlin would have a population of about 3 million. Long a cultural mecca and counterculture haven, Berlin has an intriguing mix of ethnic groups, a vivacious night life, grand architecture, a famous symphony and deep historical resonances.

But its history has provided fodder for Bonn’s advocates.

″We, the Germans, carry a heavy historical burden,″ said Rauen, who is coordinating Bonn’s quiet crusade to retain the capital. ″We know that the imperialistic, hegemonial claim with which we are still connected by history still causes fear and apprehension among our surrounding neighbors.″

In the interview, he also argued that the success of West Germany has been built on its ability to develop a ″balance of power between the states and central government.″

Berlin as capital ″would have a superpower influence″ over Germany, he said.

De Maiziere, however, says Berlin should be the capital to promote the integration of future East German states and serve as a bridge to the East.

East Berlin Mayor Tino Schwierzina said making Berlin the capital would have symbolic importance for East Germans, who would feel they had brought something to the union of the two countries.

There have been recent suggestions of compromise. One proposal involved moving the capital to Berlin but leaving at least some working government in Bonn.

An aide to Bonn’s mayor summed up the city’s thinking by saying:

″We have got the arguments, and if the arguments will win, we will win. If the emotion will win, Berlin will win.″

Update hourly