Bonn: Hello High-Tech, Bye-Bye Bureaucrats
BONN — It would be hard to overemphasize how important the German government has been to Bonn. In the 47 years that the government has been here, it has changed from a politically insignificant, sleepy college town to one of the foremost cities in the world.
As the capital of West Germany for 41 years, Bonn gained significance as a political hub and a bastion of NATO's eastern flank.
Now, with reunified Germany preparing to return its government to Berlin, the new capital, Bonn is searching for a new identity outside the halls of parliament.
"We're on the way to getting a new profile," says Monika Hrig, a spokeswoman for Bonn. "We used to have a monostructural profile - just a government city - but we have been struggling to find out what our other talents are and to strengthen those fields."
Still three to five years away from the "big move" of the capital to Berlin, Bonn has begun to strengthen the "five pillars" that will form its future: politics, culture, scientific study and research, a future-oriented economy, and headquarters for international organizations.
A political pillar
Foremost among these is politics. Bonn will become Germany's "second political city" after the government's move to the new capital - the 1994 Berlin-Bonn Law decrees it. The law also guarantees a "permanent and fair division of labor between Berlin and Bonn." In fact, more than half of all government jobs, 13,500 in all, will remain in Bonn.
Seven ministries, including defense, education, and mail and communications, will remain in Bonn entirely, and every ministry will have some representatives here. In essence, the separation amounts to a political-administrative split, with the latter remaining in Bonn.
But despite the German government's repeated assurances that the government's presence in the city will be ongoing, Bonn is trying to build a future independent of the government.
"They made a promise, but we do need to worry about it. It doesn't sound very efficient to run a government that way," Ms. Hrig says. "We should be willing to structure our future ourselves."
Before Bonn became the Bundesstadt, or federal city, it was known for Beethoven and the University of Bonn. Born here in 1770, Beethoven is the symbol of Bonn's rich culture. The Beethovenhalle Orchestra and the four museums of the city's Museumssmeile are the cornerstones of Bonn's culture.
The university, founded in 1786, is the historic cornerstone of Bonn itself. In many ways, the city is looking to the university to lead the way in post-government Bonn.
As a part of the agreement to move the government to Berlin, Bonn will receive a total of $2.25 billion over 10 years (begun in 1995) from the government. The city is giving the largest portion of this money, $1.05 billion, to the university. These funds will help finance scientific study and new programs such as CAESAR, a center for the study of life science, physics, and computer science.
Bonn also sees its future in building a diverse economy based on its burgeoning telecommunications industry and its ability to attract international organizations. By doing this, the city is dealing with the two major problems caused by the government's departure: a loss of jobs and the deterioration of the city's impressive international infrastructure.
To fill the void, the city is looking to organizations such as Deutsche Telekom (DT) and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV).
As the new home of DT, the largest telecommunications company in Europe, Bonn has become Germany's telecommunications capital. More than 320 smaller telecommunications companies have followed DT to Bonn; by the year 2000, projections indicate they will have brought about 15,000 jobs here.
Bonn is also seeking out organizations like UNV, which moved from Geneva in June.
Bonn styles itself as both an ideal conference center and a prime site for the headquarters of such nongovernmental organizations.
But the number of jobs these groups bring is "not so important," Hrig says. "The fact that Bonn remains a seat of international organizations is."
One in every 7 Bonn residents is a non-German. From its eight international schools to its produce markets filled with obscure foods for the demanding cooks from the various embassies, Bonn has built itself up with international amenities that most cities of 313,000 could only dream of. By bringing more foreigners to Bonn, the city hopes to retain its international feel.