Berlin Faces Cultural Garage Sale as Court Cuts Funding | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 25.10.2006
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Berlin Faces Cultural Garage Sale as Court Cuts Funding

Berlin, a capital full of historically and culturally rich sites, is set to be plunged further into the red by a federal court decision to refuse emergency funds. The decision means the poor city may have to sell assets.

Picture of Klaus Wowereit

Clouds of financial gloom hang over the culturally rich but literally poor German capital

Berlin has been rejected for emergency aid from central funds by the Federal Constitutional Court, to assist with paying off over 60 billion euros ($75 bn) in debt. The court decided that the financial outlook for Berlin was bleak, but it was also "highly likely" that it could sort out its own debts.

The cultural offerings of the city have been its biggest draw card for attracting tourists and money, but also one of its biggest financial burdens -- boasting opera houses, theatres, art galleries and concert halls. However, these may now be threatened when the city tries to work out where it will find money to repay its debts.

The German federal government now has responsibility for funding many of the cities major institutions, but this is not enough to pull the city out of debt or assist with making the financial strain manageable.

Berlin's mayor Klaus Wowereit, when speaking to journalists, said that he was not "so naïve as to believe that we would return to Berlin with a suitcase full of money." The charismatic mayor, who was re-elected last month, promised there would be financial belt tightening.

In an interview with Spiegel magazine, Wowereit was positive about the city's future: "The judges think that Berlin's not so poor -- I'll makes sure that it stays sexy."

Further to the already huge debt, is the 2.5 billion euros that the capital pays in interest alone.

Berlin has also tried to manage its dismal unemployment numbers that has been described by reports as the worst of any of the big German cities.

Culture scene up for sale?

Deutsche Oper from the outside, at night time

The Deutsche Oper may be one of the cultural icons at risk

Berlin relies heavily on its cultural attractions, including three major opera houses like the Staatsoper, which dates back to the 18th century, the Komische Oper and the Deutsche Oper, as well as dozens of theatres and a number of symphonies. However, some have predicted already that these opera houses, which were inherited when east and west were in cultural competition during the days of the Berlin wall, are threatened with closure.

Olaf Zimmermann, managing director of the German Council for Culture said that tourism has been Berlin's biggest financial driver and that the city is "the cultural showcase for Germany."

But with the financial burden now the responsibility of the city, the cuts to pay off debts, may have to come from the art and cultural scene and social provisions.

"There will be fewer performances, exhibitions and fewer people working in all of these places…That would really be the worst imaginable scenario," Zimmermann said, according to a Reuters report.

Berlin 's historical debt

Blick über Berlin mit Marzahner Plattenbauten im Hintergrund

Berlin has been burdened financially by its past

Berlin has been shaped by its struggle between the communist east and the capitalist west and plagued by the constant ideological struggles by these two powers.

The city accumulated the huge debt following the cold war, after money coming from West Germany dried up.

Other regions of Germany have been burdened with stabilizing the city financially, injecting two billion euros annually.

There were hopes that following reunification in 1990 that the once financially stable city, would once again be the model of economic successes for Germany.

However, these prospects have been shattered, after the city was plagued by financial scandal that contributed to the demise of the previous state government, job losses and scrapping of state subsidies.

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