Germany′s Divided Capital | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 02.02.2006
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Germany's Divided Capital

Berlin became the German capital after reunification, but many civil servants remained in the old one, Bonn. Despite a new debate about the costs of the divide, it's likely to stay that way -- at least for now.


Moving the entire government to Berlin would cost billions

Government ministries located in two different places are good news -- at least for the airlines. They're profiting handsomely from the crowds of government employees who commute between the old West German capital, Bonn, and the current capital, Berlin.

But for people like Wilfried Temme, a civil servant working for the federal health ministry in Bonn, the divided government is an annoyance. He doesn't like the constant back and forth.

Flughafen Köln/Bonn Konrad Adenauer

Cologne/Bonn airport is almost becoming a second home for many

"It's stressful because it's inconvenient," he said. "The stress is there because you have to leave for work really early. You're stressed at work, because you're only in Berlin for a short time. The work is all pretty condensed. And then you get in the plane and you land sometime around quarter past six in Bonn. Then I get my things and I have to try and get a bus. And if I'm lucky and catch the bus, I'm back home sometime around eight."

Formalizi n g the divisio n

Berlin is where the chancellor is, where the final decisions are made. Its status as the German capital will soon be formalized in the constitution. But in return, Bonn will remain the main location of several ministries -- those for agriculture, defense, education, environment, economic development and health for the foreseeable future.

Auswärtiges Amt

The foreign office is the only ministry that has completely moved to Berlin

All others, except the foreign ministry, have a second seat in the former capital. Some 10,200 civil servants and other government staff work in Bonn -- 1,400 more than in Berlin.

As a result, Germany is still governed from two different cities despite reunification. It's a situation Bonn city officials intend to maintain.

Bonn is thriving despite the departure of the German parliament to Berlin. Unemployment is only half what it is in Berlin. And a number of international organiations and major corporations have moved to the city. Berlin can only dream of such progress.

Rathaus Bonn Stadt Bonn

Officials at Bonn's city hall (right) wouldn't dream of agreeing to a move

Friedel Frechen, a spokesman for the city of Bonn, said that the coalition agreement of Germany's new government reinforces Bonn's status as the seat of the United Nations in Germany and promotes the city as a location for international institutions. The agreement also leaves intact the so-called Berlin-Bonn law, which deals with the division of government between the two cities.

"That is a clear political statement by the grand coalition and we have faith in it," Frechen said.

In the case of the health ministry, the division is currently being cemented into place in the form of this 28-million euro ($44-million) building. In Berlin, only 120 people work for the ministry.

A n i n ability to reform?

Treffen von Klaus Wowereit und Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba, Präsident von Gabun, in Berlin

Wowereit (right) would love to show Berlin to government officials from Bonn

For Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, this physical division of government ministries is nothing less than a symbol of Germany's inability to reform.

"Does it make any sense that the ministries are divided? If you ask me -- independently of Berlin - it doesn't make any sense," he said. "And that's why it would, of course, make sense to put the ministries together in one place. But of course I can also understand that my colleague (Bonn Mayor Bärbel) Dieckmann says: 'We can't do that. We have an agreemennt.'"

That's why Temme from the health ministry will likely keep traveling to Berlin or meeting with his colleagues via videoconference -- a form of communication he does not like.

"You just don't get a sense for the emotions on the other side," he said.

U n ity comes at a price

Flugzeug mit Kondensstreifen

Civil servants spend a large part of their time on planes

Video conferences and expensive flights do their part in increasing Germany's debt. The taxpayer foots a bill amounting to millions of euros annually. And the Association of German Tax Payers has even more reasons for opposing the government's geographical divide.

"You've got loss of working time," said Karl Heinz Däke, the group's president. "When the civil servants are sitting in the plane flying from Bonn to Berlin and back again, or sitting in a taxi or a bus, they can't work. That's where losses occur."

Bodemuseum am Abend

Berlin's Spree river might not be the Rhine, but water isn't everything

Although Temme knows all the arguments against a divided government, he still thinks things should stay as they are. And so do most of his Bonn colleagues. In fact, keeping things as they are for another 500 years would cost Germany the same as moving the entire government to Berlin.

But Temme said it will probably happen earlier.

"Taking the long view I would say we need 20 years and then everything will be in Berlin," he said.

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