Germany's Kohl favors Berlin as nation's capital

April 24, 1991|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Special to The Sun

BERLIN -- A yearlong battle for possession of united Germany's government tilted decisively in favor of Berlin yesterday when Chancellor Helmut Kohl gave the city his backing.

"I came to this conclusion because I thought it would best serve the unification of our fatherland," Mr. Kohl said.

Mr. Kohl's sudden decision to step into the fray pitting Berlin against Bonn makes it likely that Parliament will vote to move itself and many ministries away from Bonn, the current seat of government and the former West German capital.

In addition to Mr. Kohl, leaders of all other major political parties now back Berlin. A vote is likely in June.

Eberhard Diepgen, Berlin's mayor, said the decision would help attract investment to his overcrowded, financially strapped city, now the symbolic capital. Mr. Kohl, he said, wants to set a sign that newly united Germany is not just West Germany "with a few extra square kilometers.

"It's a decision for a new Germany in the middle of a new Europe," Mr. Diepgen said.

Even though Bonn probably willnow lose the main pillars of government, Mr. Diepgen said it should keep several ministries, such as defense, so that the local economy is not hurt too badly and to stress Germany's continuing commitment to Western Europe.

In addition, all sides agree that the move will take time.

Mr. Diepgen supports a 10-year program, while Mr. Kohl said it should take 10 to 15 years, to reduce costs and to make it easier for both cities to cope.

There are few reliable estimates of the move's cost, with Berlin backers saying it would cost about $10 billion and Bonn supporters claiming it would be three to four times as high.

Mr. Kohl's decision was a surprise because he comes from near Bonn and has never been popular in Berlin.

Despite the consensus for Berlin, the situation looked radically different up until last month.

Bonn supporters had been gaining the upper hand steadily with their argument that Bonn had stood for more than 40 years of successful democracy and that the billions needed to shift the government could be better spent rebuilding the former Communist part of Germany.

But then President Richard von Weizsaecker became the first top political leader to support Berlin and said he would move to Berlin with or without the Parliament and chancellor.

In time, more and more leaders began to say that Germany would only be really integrated when the capital moved to Berlin, the prewar capital.

This feeling is based on strong support for Berlin by east %J Germans, who feel that Bonn, a small, quiet city on the Rhine River, was far removed from their massive economic and social problems.

The government's perceived indifference to east Germans' plight -- Mr. Kohl has only visited the distressed region once in five months -- reinforced the feeling that Bonn was isolated.

But this sits hard with many west German states that suspiciously view Berlin as a strange metropolis only 60 miles from the Polish border.

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