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Journalist Johannes Gross Pleads for a More Urbane Berlin Republic (1995)

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The second constitutive element of the Bonn style was the absence of the people. Bonn is a medium-sized city, dominated by federal government personnel, and by the university with its professors and students; local residents, who are scattered everywhere and who provide the necessary day-to-day services, account for the remainder of the population. There are virtually no workers because large businesses are missing; there is a flag factory that is still well-known beyond the city and the manufacturer of prodigious quantities of gummi bears; and there is someone who cooks up egg-liquor. Bonn cannot perceive problems in the economy or the labor market as its own. [ . . . ]

The federal capital of Berlin will create a political style that is fundamentally different. There is no way that the name Berlin can be linked to the word “provincial,” which always clung to Bonn – unfairly so, because the politics conducted in Bonn from Adenauer onwards was by no means provincial in caliber, but certainly held its own in terms of efficiency and results alongside the politicking done in large capitals. The goings-on in Bonn were seen as provincial in Munich, Frankfurt, and Hamburg, though it was not recognized that these cities were in fact provincial themselves – though only in terms of politics, of course. They were home to a political naiveté that believed itself morally superior; the Stammtische* where people engaged in feeble moralizing were found in those cities, not in Bonn. Anyhow: the metropolitan flair that is being restored ever more nimbly and the character of Berlin will guard against the stigma of provincialness.

On behalf of the new capital and the old, one must first state the simple truth that in the coming decades Berlin can only win, and every other German metropolis can only lose. However, a second simple truth must be added straight away: every capital is threatened by a loss of political substance, and that is especially true of the European capitals. As long as the capital market is global and free, there will be no government that is still the master of its national economy in the long-accustomed way, and European unification irrefutably brings the loss of competencies in its wake, a loss that is increasingly draining everything outside of the economy as well, even if the process of unification will not formally include foreign and security policy for a very long time to come. [ . . . ]

Yet the capital cities, Berlin included, will be left with a substantial political preserve. The internal makeup of the states will be determined in these cities, and, because no one wants to put his soul at someone else’s disposal, we Germans, too, will finally abandon the urge – not infrequently felt in Bonn – to delegate as much as possible of our own affairs to Europe and to excuse ourselves from politics (which also revealed itself in the fact that we prefer small-caliber personnel for the European bodies and thus exempt ourselves from any significant influence). Berlin will become a capital in the same way that Paris and London are capitals. Our capital has firm cultural foundations but insufficient social and economic ones, and virtually no unbroken tradition that could be carried on. The city, which is dealing with reunification with more difficulty than the country as a whole – the mutual dislike between the less-subsidized Western petty bourgeoisie and its not yet sufficiently subsidized Eastern counterpart may last for decades to come – is starting off in the novel situation of not being both the federal capital and the capital of the largest constituent state. Prussia’s existence was formally terminated by the Allied Control Council in 1947, though it merely issued the death certificate, since Prussian history had come to an end in 1932, at the latest, with the “Prussian coup” of Reich Chancellor von Papen. [ . . . ]




*Tables reserved for pub regulars – trans.

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