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Bonn to Berlin move still controversial

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Wolfgang Thierse holds the Reichstag key in 1999. Photo: DPA
08:16 CEST+02:00
Two decades after the German parliament decided to move the government from the Cold War capital of Bonn back to Berlin, some politicians still disagree over whether all functions should be brought from the state of North-Rhine Westphalia.

Bundestag Vice President Wolfgang Thierse spoke on Tuesday to mark next week's anniversary of the decision to move, calling for all ministries which are still in Bonn to be brought north to Berlin.

But Peter Hintze, head of the North-Rhine Westphalian Christian Democratic group said the original agreement should be maintained – by which a number of ministries remained in Bonn.

The original vote was tight – 338 votes to 320 in favour of the move – reflecting the groupings on both sides of the argument that had formed regardless of political party.

The compromise was struck that all ministries would maintain offices in Bonn, while six would remain there entirely. Nearly half of the 20,000 ministry staff still work in Bonn, in these ministries and a collection of other offices. Those in Bonn are the ministries for defence, agriculture and consumer affairs, economic cooperation and development, environment, health and education and research.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said the original Bonn-Berlin law should be respected, but admitted that changes could be possible. He said he had been strongly in favour of the move to Berlin 20 years ago.

“Changes are naturally – as with all contracts – possible in agreement between the contract partners,” he told the magazine Super Illu.

“The division is not sensible in the long term,” argued Thierse, saying the communication within the political body was not helped by the 500 kilometre distance between the cities. He did not call for an immediate move, but said sensible steps could be taken to improve the capabilities of the ministries.

Hintze, who in 1991 had voted against the move, said Bonn remained important symbolically.

“Bonn stands for the German contribution to the European Union and that we returned morally and politically to the circle of free peoples,” he said, although he admitted the move to Berlin was correct.

Thierse said Berlin was also an important symbol of a new Germany. “That German politics now takes place in the middle of East Germany is also an important political-psychological point,” he said.

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He said fears that Bonn would be destroyed by the departure of the government had not materialized. “Bonn is doing gloriously,” he said. “Bonn was not damaged economically, socially or culturally by this decision. It is a thriving city.”

DAPD/hc

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