Germans Have Second Thoughts About Berlin as Capital

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

ASK Germans - East or West - where the capital of a united Germany should be and a majority of them would answer ``Berlin.'' But some West Germans and politicians warn that before the government pulls up stakes and moves from the 40-year-old provisional capital of Bonn to the former Prussian capital of Berlin, it should consider the downsides of such a move.

Two of these are the expense of moving the government and the negative symbolism associated with the former Prussian and Nazi capital.

The move would be a logistical nightmare. An estimated 30,000 government workers live in Bonn. Add foreign diplomats, journalists, lobbyists, political party headquarters personnel, and all their families, and the total grows to more than 100,000. Many of the moving costs would either be paid outright by the government or subsidized in some way.

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Furthermore, there's the problem of where to put them in Berlin.

``Berlin has problems of its own right now,'' says J"urgen Endemann, Bonn's deputy mayor, pointing out that West Berlin has an extreme housing shortage.

Office space for the newly moved bureaucrats would also be hard to find. Some of the former East German government's buildings could be used by a new united German government, but still more would have to be constructed.

Moving the capital from Bonn to Berlin also involves symbolic costs. Some politicians worry that making Berlin the capital may raise fears among European neighbors about Germany becoming too big, too powerful.

``Berlin is the wrong signal,'' says a West German government official who specializes in German-German affairs. ``It is closer to the border with Poland than it is to the rest of Germany.''

Berlin was the capital of Germany during the Nazi period. ``The capital of Bonn on the other hand,'' says the official, who asked not to be named, ``symbolizes the Federal Republic's close connection to the West.''

Deputy Mayor Endemann agrees. Bonn symbolizes close West German ties to the West and also to a 40-year history of a decentralized, democratic federal government.

``Bonn's small size symbolizes West Germany's federalism,'' explains Endemann. ``One city does not control the whole country. Frankfurt is the capital city for business, Karlsruhe is the center for legal affairs, Munich is where many of West Germany's high-tech companies are based, and Berlin is the center of film, arts, and culture.''

Opinion polls indicate that, although most Germans prefer a capital in Berlin, some are thinking twice about staying in Bonn. A poll released in mid-February showed 67 percent of West Germans wanted Berlin as capital compared with 21 percent for Bonn. One month later, a poll taken by a West German television station indicated that 59 percent favored Berlin and 33 percent favored Bonn. Among East Germans, however, the overwhelming majority - more than 90 percent - prefer Berlin.

West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and Bonn city officials, would like to split the duties of a capital city between Bonn and Berlin. Details would have to be decided by a pan-German parliament. One proposal is for Berlin to be named the capital but for Bonn to remain the government seat. Under this plan, the German president would move to Berlin - where a presidential office and residence have long been maintained - and hold ceremonial parliamentary sessions in the former Reichstag building.

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