Waiting for bureaucrats Berlin boom: Germany's metropolis is becoming Central Europe's capital again.

July 23, 1996

THESE ARE HEADY days for Berlin. Although Germany's largest city -- home to 3.5 million people -- will not replace Bonn as the capital until 1999, feverish construction is proof that it is reacquiring its old reputation as "the crossroads of Europe."

Some $20 billion has been invested in Berlin since 1990, when the wall that had divided the city came down at the collapse of East Germany. No fewer than 1,200 cranes are counted at several hundred sites where major construction is in progress. The very heart of 759-year-old Berlin, which remained an empty wasteland after World War II bombings and the subsequent division of the city, is being transformed.

Take Potsdamer Platz, for example. During the final days of World War II, many of the government complexes of that district were reduced to rubble. Now this is coveted land for redevelopment. Towering yellow cranes, pipes and girders are everywhere as a 27-acre area is being transformed into a corporate showpiece headquarters by Daimler-Benz and Sony.

So spectacular is this redevelopment project that since October more than 1 million curious have paid the admission fee to see a multi-media display of the plans. In terms of the number of visitors, Potsdamer Platz today exceeds the Brandenburg Gate, the long-time symbol of Berlin, which can be seen for free.

Nearby, the imposing Reichstag is being overhauled to become the parliament building of Germany again. Friedrichstrasse, once the center of the city's nightlife and cabarets, is turning into a shopping and office district. And at Checkpoint Charlie, one of the few crossing points between East and West Berlin during the Cold War years, a huge office, apartment and shopping complex called the American Business Center is rising. Its centerpiece is a 50-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty.

Some politicians argue that the previously announced transfer of capital status from Bonn to Berlin should be postponed because of Germany's economic problems. But such a delay is unlikely. Even before the bureaucrats move in, Berlin is re-emerging as the capital of Central Europe.

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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