Don't Neglect Bonn After Berlin's Return

THE reunification of Germany is followed by the expected announcement that Berlin will again be the capital, which poses the good question of what do we do with Bonn? Bonn was a quiet university town nodding, if not sleeping, on the west bank of the Rhine, seemingly oblivious to the frantic traffic of the river, when suddenly greatness was thrust upon it. France, England, and the United States selected Bonn as headquarters for their joint occupation after the Nazi collapse, and as a logical consequence Bonn became the capital of the German Federal Republic.

The next town upriver from Bonn is Bad Godesberg, and next is Mehlem, where the United States built a huge office building for the folks it sent over there to take care of just about everything. This place, headquarters for the United States ``occupation,'' was in charge of our High Commissioner for Germany, and became known as HICOG.

In 1953 I was asked to go there and do what I could to put Germany back on its feet, a mission so sensitive I was never told exactly what it was I was supposed to do. That was my only brush with the public trough, and I have always been grateful to the American taxpayers for their generosity in giving me four gem"utlich months abroad.

I was expected to fly, but at that time the transatlantic liner was having its last fling, and I decided to go on the liner United States in the likelihood that before too long a time such vessels would give up. So I came to Le Havre, then by train to Paris, and arrived at Bonn to find the specialists at ``State'' had booked me into an American-made hotel, with American staff, American food, and even American plumbing. I spent that night there.

Arriving at HICOG, I asked a German secretary if she couldn't find me a place to stay where I could meet some German people, practice my der-die-das, and eat like a native. So I spent just that one night in Bonn, and after that lived at the Maternus Weinhaus in Bad Godesberg, where the landlady said she was pleased to have me because the Americans seemed unfriendly.

I ``did'' Bonn in strolls. There had been some bombing, but Bonn had recovered somewhat - more than had Frankfurt and Munich by 1953. The university seemed valid and I was reminded often that Bonn was the birthplace of Beethoven.

I was amused by the general attitude that this capital business was purely temporary. In the heart of every German, Berlin is the capital. Sooner or later, hap what will, Berlin will again be the capital. Bonn seemed uncomfortable that the Bundestag was meeting there, and nobody seemed to know just what to do when der Alte, Herr Kanzler Adenauer, passed in his limousine.

In 1953, not all the foreign legations had been settled at Bonn, but each day the nature of the city was being changed as governance grew. But there remained an air of apology, as if the folks at Bonn felt they were not really minding their own business. A make-do situation, until Berlin returned.

I've been back to Bonn once since then. In 1966 my favorite wife and I arrived by automobile, and Bonn had meantime acquired a real cloak-and-dagger complexion. Everybody we saw looked like a diplomat or a spy. We stepped into the restaurant of the Maternus Weinhaus, hoping to have brotzeit, and got a sort of heave-ho from a Herr Ober who let us know at once that reservations were required. I didn't bother to explain that I had once enjoyed the comfort of Room No. 1 upstairs - so long ago.

So what's to become of Bonn? A great pity if it is torn down like the Berlin wall. The Germans are not unsentimental about such things. In Bremen there is the statue of Roland, and the statue of the city musicians. At Hamlin the Pied Piper appears every afternoon to blow his clarinet, children trooping behind on their way to Koppelberg Hill. There is even a foolish statue of the Baron Munchausen riding on half his horse. Rothenberg is perpetuated solely as a city with no future beyond perpetuity, and in Munich they reenact the Oktoberfest every September when every reason for doing so lapsed two centuries ago.

I'm for Bonn. I believe some way must be found to keep Bonn forever famous for the greatness thrust upon her. Berlin is Berlin, always was and forever shall be, but Bonn was capital in Germany's finest years. Ich bin ein Bonner!

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