When the mayor of Bonn, Hans Daniels, welcomed Mikhail Gorbachev to his city last June, he declared his faith in an eventual reunification of the two Germanys. Bonn, Daniels told the Soviet president, “knows that it is only deputizing as the capital for Berlin.” In reality, German unity seemed then to be a nearimpossible prospect. Just nine months later, with reunification becoming reality faster than nearly anyone had predicted, pressure is growing to restore Berlin as the capital of a united Germany—leaving Bonn facing an uncertain future.
Officially, the sleepy university city on the Rhine (which spy novelist John le Carré characterized as A Small Town in Germany in his 1968 novel) was never intended as West Germany’s permanent capital. The postwar government named Bonn as its “provisional capital” to underline its desire for reunification and a return to Berlin. For three decades, West German politicians built a minimal number of government buildings in Bonn, and civil servants often had to work in substandard quarters. Not until the mid-1980s did the government authorize a $1-billion program to build
new ministries and a new parliamentary complex. But now, a shift to Berlin seems inevitable, and Bonn is already feeling the effects. Because one-third of the city’s 300,000 residents—civil servants, diplomats and their families—live in Bonn only because it is West Germany’s capital, property values have fallen by up to 10 per cent in the past two months. And the government has frozen plans for a $ 175-million media centre.
Derelict: Bonn’s downturn contrasts sharply with the new buoyancy of Berlin, where property prices and rents are climbing as companies bid for space. Derelict ground along the west side of the Berlin Wall is eagerly sought after. And the authorities in West Berlin (population two million) and East Berlin (1.4 million) have set up a commission to catalogue existing buildings that could form the basis of a new capital. Most obvious are the old Reichstag, or parliament, close to the Wall on the west side, and the complex of ministries and embassies in East Berlin that were built for the capital of the fast-fading German Democratic Republic.
Meanwhile, the expected move to Berlin has raised concerns in several quarters. West Berlin has acquired a reputation as an island of
alternative culture that puts a strong emphasis on preserving green spaces. But now, Michaela Schreyer, West Berlin’s senator in charge of planning, worries that there will be no effective controls on development in East Berlin after reunification. “We have been able to make something special here,” she said, “and we don’t want to create another Los Angeles.” Domination: In fact, some Germans feel that Berlin never should have been the capital. It became so only in 1871, when the various German kingdoms and principalities were unified under Prussian domination. Many south Germans—Bavarians, in particular—say that Munich would be a more appropriate capital. And in East Germany, Berlin is unpopular because á the government spent heavijc. ly to make it the showpiece of 1 the Socialist world at the ex? pense of such equally historic cities as Dresden and Leipzig. At the same time, many
Germans contend that reinstating Berlin would send the wrong signals about the nature of a reunited Germany. For them, Bonn’s modest size and lack of pretension make it an ideal symbol of the new, democratic postwar nation. Berlin, with its Prussian past, its bombastic architecture and its more recent role as the capital of Hitler’s Third Reich, is largely the opposite. And some Germans say that its location, only 80 km from the Polish border, may give the country’s current allies a false and dangerous impression that it is moving away from its established ties with the West. Said Uwe Holtz, a member of the West German parliament: “It is my fatherland, but Europe is my future.” Added the legislator, who proudly displays both the German and European Community flags on his desk in Bonn: “It is proper that the capital be closer to Brussels than to Warsaw.”
Competing: In the end, observers say, the solution may lie in splitting the capital’s role between Berlin and Bonn. Under that proposal, Berlin would be Germany’s parliamentary capital only, with Bonn retaining its administrative role. Such a plan, said Wolfgang Stutzer, director of West Berlin’s Institute for Inter-European Studies, “would fit well in the German tradition of accepting competing capitals.” It would also save much of the cost of moving the entire capital to Berlin—estimated at $56 billion to $175 billion. For many West Germans, that money would be better spent on rebuilding the broken-down economy of the East.
ANDREW PHILLIPS in Berlin with PEGGY TRAUTMAN in Bonn
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