When the Cold War split the country in two, the US-allied West German government chose Bonn as its government seat, while the Soviet-allied East Germany picked East Berlin within the divided metropolis.
Once the country reunified in 1990, the government began the transfer of powers and paperwork from Bonn to Berlin, and the Bundestag (German parliament) officially moved into its current building in Berlin in 1999.
But in 1994, the government passed a law to halt a complete transfer of functions to Berlin. Concerned about the impact to the region that would result from a complete move away from Bonn, the government passed the Berlin-Bonn Act to preserve some of the Rhineland city’s importance and keep certain agencies there.
All federal ministries today have double offices in Bonn and Berlin. The defence, and environment ministries, for example, all have headquarters in Bonn with secondary offices in Berlin.
But the continued split entails numerous video conferences and phone calls, as well as tens of thousands of trips back and forth, as revealed in a draft study presented by Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks on Tuesday in Bonn. And all this is costing the government in time, efficiency and money, according to the report.
“The functionality of the federal government is sustained through a substantial amount of excess effort and expense, and therefore a loss in efficiency,” Hendricks said.
Of the nearly 20,000 federal agency workers last year, 36 percent were working in Bonn while the other 64 percent were in Berlin. And in total these workers made about 20,700 trips between the cities.
Hendricks emphasized that physical presence in a meeting cannot truly be replaced by technology, no matter how expensive or advanced.
“This kind of collaboration works. But it only really works with considerable additional effort and costs.”
But Bonn has been resistant to the idea of all offices moving to Berlin, with local officials insisting in July that the Berlin-Bonn Act not be “further eroded”.
The Berlin-Bonn balance already has tipped further towards the east than Bonn would like. On average Bonn workers are five years older than those in Berlin, and three-quarters of them plan to retire in the next 20 years.
Hendricks said that the new report does not explicitly state a position on the matter, but she did share with reporters her own perspective.
“My personal opinion is that it would be in the interest of the Bonn region if people would stop acting as if everything will remain the same if we do nothing.”