W. German mayor scouting high tech in US. Hamburg leader looks at Boston for tips to spur economy back home
Hamburg — Hamburg Mayor Klaus von Dohnanyi isn't dashing off to the United States this week solely to attend the annual Quadrille Ball of the German Colony in New York. He's also conducting a high-tech scouting trip -- and he might even be launching his campaign for reelection at the end of the year. The high tech comes first, today and tomorrow in Boston. What the Hub can do, Hamburg can also do, hopes Dr. von Dohnanyi, in turning a declining industrial area -- unemployment stands at 12.8 percent here -- into a Route 128 electronics-and-information revival.
In an interview in his city hall office, he acknowledges that this won't be easy, given German doubts about the morality of the collaboration between industry and university that underlies Boston's success. But he thinks that the port city of Hamburg has the right combination of scientific talent and commercial acumen to go in this direction.
To this end, von Dohnanyi and his small delegation of Hamburg professors and a leading businessman will get briefings at the Massachusetts Development Council, the Bay State Skills Corporation, and the Industrial Liaison Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among other issues these talks will cover venture capital (a still infant concept in West Germany), training of workers for high-technology employment, and the all-important conversion of laboratory innovation into useful products and processes.
On his whirlwind trip, von Dohnanyi will also discuss these topics with Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis and New York Mayor Ed Koch. On Sunday and Monday, before flying home, he will inspect New York City's restoration of a 19th-century harbor at South Street Seaport and will talk about issues of sea law with UN Undersecretary General Carl-August Fleischhauer.
In addition, von Dohnanyi will argue to the Council on Foreign Relations that Europe can bridge the technology gap with the US. And he will address Harvard's Center for European Studies on the future of his party, the Social Democrats. The subjects are not unrelated, since in recent years the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has tended toward a certain romantic resistance to social change wrought by technology, whether in universities, jobs, or trade unions.
Von Dohnanyi is probably as well placed as any SPD state premier -- Hamburg is big enough to rank as a state -- to tackle what in the German context is usually a conservative rather than a Social Democratic issue of technological adjustment.
As a native of this city, he shares the Hamburgers' nonideological approach to things. He is thoroughly familiar with the American example, having studied law in the US as well as West Germany.
And before turning to politics he was himself a businessman, first with Ford in Detroit and Cologne, then as founder of his own marketing and opinion research firm.
Moreover, von Dohnanyi has also proved to be something of a political integrator.
When he first came to Hamburg from Bonn five years ago, the SPD was losing its traditional majority in the city for the first time and was being outflanked on the left by the newly elected Green Alternative List (GAL) from the radical communist end of the Greens protest movement.
After half a year of chaotic minority SPD government, von Dohnanyi called a new election -- and rewon an absolute majority, a feat he hopes to repeat in this year's election.
He has tried to preempt some of the Greens issues, but he is also determined to keep Hamburg abreast of the times. Partly because of this and partly because of the exasperation of Hamburg burghers' with Greens theatrics, the GAL has dropped in opinion polls from its 1980s high of some 15 percent approval to some 6 or 7 percent today.
On environmental issues, von Dohnanyi deems Hamburg's 70 percent energy reliance on nuclear power excessive -- but he says Hamburg must live with this, since it is locked into decisions made a decade ago.
He wants to see further cleanup of toxic industrial wastes; Hamburg has some of the country's worst dumps and spills.