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Germany

Berliners disagree on how best to remember President Reagan

Former US President Reagan would have turned 100 last Sunday - an occasion which has unleashed a strong political debate in Berlin about how best to commemorate Reagan and his role in reuniting the once-divided city.

Ronald Reagan

Reagan will always be linked to the fall of the Berlin Wall

Joachimstaler Square sits right in the middle of Berlin's exclusive and famous shopping mile in the city center. The busy square in the heart of the city has become the focus of a fierce political controversy this week.

Some members of Berlin's Christian Democratic party want to rename the square "Ronald Reagan Square" in an effort to keep the memories of the 40th President of the United States alive, especially due to Reagan's role in bringing down the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Robbin Juhnke, a CDU politician in Berlin, is among the politicians who want to see the prominent square renamed.

"Ronald Reagan has long-lasting merits when it comes to German reunification and the reunification of Berlin," Juhnke told Deutsche Welle. "He is still not forgotten for his call to Mr. Gorbachev to 'tear down the wall,' and I think this has had a lasting impact on political movements in Germany and especially in Berlin."

Legendary speech

The speech Juhnke is referring to was made in June 1987 in front of the 40,000 Berliners gathered at the Brandenburg Gate. It made Ronald Reagan legendary in the city. Reagan's push for German reunification brought him the honorary citizenship of Berlin in 1992, two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Reagan delivers his speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate

In 1987, Reagan called on Gorbachev to 'tear down the wall'

However, Berlin's local Christian Democrats believe that this is not enough recognition for Reagan, and they have strong backing on a national level.

Last Sunday - which would have been Reagan's 100th birthday - Germany's defense minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg spoke at a commemorative event held at a memorial site for the victims of East German communism. There, he said Berlin should be ashamed that this was the only official event marking Reagan's 100th birthday.

Guttenberg said that Reagan deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as other great American presidents. He also called on the city government to honor Reagan in more fitting fashion, criticizing that the ruling Social Democrats were less reluctant to name a street after a 1960s anarchist student leader, Rudi Dutschke.

Overrated

Berlin's Social Democrats believe though Ronald Reagan's role in the collapse of Communism is overrated. Christian Gaebler is a senior Social Democrat leader in Berlin.

"Ronald Reagan is already an honorary citizen of Berlin, which is the highest honor Berlin can give to a person, so there's no need for more," Gaebler said. "I know that Ronald Reagan is, in the opinion of Americans, a very popular and successful president, but in terms of international relations and arms reduction policy, I think he was not that successful."

"The fall of the Wall is not a matter of Ronald Reagan but a matter of Mikhail Gorbachev and his policy of perestroika. At the time there was also a big debate about Ronald Reagan and his policy and there were big demonstrations against him when he was here in Berlin."

Ballot measure

Ordinary Berliners passing by Joachimstaler Square appear to be as split in their opinions about Ronald Reagan as their local politicians.

Joachimstaler Square, Berlin

Ronald Reagan Square would be in a central location in Berlin

"I wouldn't mind if there's a street named after him," said Ludwig Reimann, a pensioner. "It's hard to say if he deserves it, but he's done quite a lot for reunification. So I would say yes."

"I'm pretty indifferent, but if it's not a huge investment of money and if it doesn't mean stepping on toes, then why not," said Julia Stanke, a housewife.

"I don't think Ronald Reagan is a politician we should honor," said Susanne Helbrecht, a shop assistant. "There are so many other great politicians out there, and I think better politicians. I really don't think this square should be renamed."

With no clear preference among Berliners, the issue may have to wait to be resolved until local elections in the city later this year.

Author: Uwe Hessler, Berlin (mz)
Editor: Susan Houlton

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