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Berlin - the city's role as a bridge between Western and Eastern Europe

12.03.1999, Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin

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Prof. Dr. Herwig Haase
12.03.1999, Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin
Rede des Präsidenten beim Mittagsgespräch mit amerikanischen und deutschen Studenten und Professoren

It was Winston Churchill who coined the expression "Iron Curtain". To our great surprise, this iron curtain was raised on 9 November 1989 - this was the triumph of the unexpected and the East Berliners in their hundreds of thousands streamed into West Berlin. There was action again on the stage of world history, the icy stillstand of the Cold War was over, there was again movement in the middle of our continent.
The European history of the second half of our century can be seen and experienced in Berlin as in no other city. In Berlin the political rift in our continent was set in cement, Berlin and its Wall embodied the division of Europe into two blocs. Timothy Garton Ash summarizes the decade-long efforts to overcome this division in the title of his book "In the Name of Europe". And, in fact, the European idea has experienced a powerful impetus since the removal of the blocs.

In Berlin, you can see from the cityscape how the gap is gradually closing. East and west Berlin are growing together into a new Berlin. From my office which is situated in the eastern part of the city I can see the Potsdamer Platz where the Wall was. Here, at a breathtaking place, the new centre of Berlin is rising up.Right next door, the new government quarter is being built.

Both parts of Berlin bring their respective experiences from the time of division. Thus Berlin today is oriented to both western Europe and eastern Europe. Here, in the figurative sense, the strengths and weaknesses of London or Paris and Warsaw or Prague are present within only one city. The city which was divided for so long now stands for the growing together of Europe.
Because the division of Europe was overcome Berlin has moved from the farthest edge of the free world to the centre of Europe which has again become free - Berlin has regained its historically favourable location.

Budapest is closer to us than London, Warsaw is closer than Brussels. This proximity to new markets is important, however what is even more important is that they can be accessed quickly and inexpensively through a good infrastructure. In Berlin the major transport routes between Paris, London an Brussels via Warsaw to Moscow intersect with those from Scandinavia to Italy.

There is no doubt that a good infrastructure is a basic precondition for economic development. Therefore Brussels is making considerable funds available for the repair of the existing eastern European motorways or for new motorways to be constructed. Most of them, by the way, start in Berlin. In the meantime Berlin is in the process of building a major airport.
Berlin is not only favourably situated with respect to eastern and central Europe, Berlin is also situated within the European Union, with all the advantages this has for trade.

We are familiar with the so-called "tiger states" from South East Asia. Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and the Baltic states will also become economic miracle countries like these. Although, on the one hand, they pose some problems for us, e.g. because of low wages, and the French, in particular, fear for their agricultural market, on the other hand they are nevertheless rapidly growing markets - and that is the decisive factor.

Excluding those countries which resulted from the break-up of the former Soviet Union but including the Balkans, Central Eastern Europe has almost 170 million inhabitants. But let us consider only the three most probable aspirants for entry into the European Union. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary together have as many inhabitants as Great Britain. The economic growth of these countries is impressive.

These eastern European "tigers" have a huge demand potential and renewal requirement - (because what is still functioning that is left over from socialist times has become completely antiquated). It is by far not only consumerism which gives an impetus to trade. These countries need modern tools and other investment goods if they are to supply competitive products to world markets. Germany now exports goods to the value of over 60 thousand million marks to central and eastern European countries! We thus export more there than to the USA. And, after the European Union, the USA is our most important trading partner up to now.
As well as the economic growing together of Europe, we Germans in particular are very interested in a political growing together.
After the terrible second World War we want to be reconciled with our neighbours. This has developed in a positive way with France over the decades. This desire to conclude friendship with France is today the driving force of European integration. We aim at a similarly good relationship with Poland and the Czech Republic.

We Germans are such dedicated Europeans because we have experienced the harm exaggerated nationalism can do. We have, however, also learned by experience that peace and political and economic cooperation are the basis of our prosperity. Since being convinced Europeans also resulted in economic gains for us, this dedication to Europe is deeply stamped on our national consciousness.

By the way, the economic historian Kennedy demonstrated a few years ago that, in world history, world powers always fell when their economic power was consumed by their military ambition. Or, to put it another way, those who keep their military expenditure in reasonable proportion to their economic force have more from their prosperity over a longer period.
Seen in this light also, countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary or the Baltic states should be admitted to NATO, but above all to the European Union, as soon as possible. We could all profit in the true sense of the word from this, in the medium term.
I should just like to remind you that there were discussions about the expansion of the European Union to the south - that is the acceptance of Greece, Spain and Portugal. Today no one would want to do without these members. In addition, we all make a profit from the exchange of goods with these southern countries which is greater than the amount of subsidies that are pumped into them Brussels.
Berlin is, so to say, the entry gate to eastern Europe.

Concerns like Sony are at present building their European headquarters in Berlin or, like the American energy enterprise, Southern Company, are starting their eastern European activities from here. With the participation of Southern Company in the Berlin energy producer, BEWAG, which has just been arranged, it is the first foreign firm to gain a foot in the German energy market. You see that things are on the move in Berlin.

It is not only geographical proximity and the infrastructure that speak for Berlin as a starting point for eastern European activities. Many east Berliners speak the languages of eastern Europe, just as the west Berliners speak English and French. And above all, they are familiar with the customs of Poland or Russia.

However, Berlin is not only the entrance gate to eastern Europe since passage through a gateway is always in two directions.
It is no coincidence that the symbol of our city is the Brandenburg Gate which is situated on the precise seam line between east and west. Just as some go to the gate to the west for most of those who come from eastern Europe.

There are more than 100 institutions in our city which are concerned with west-east cooperation. Here there are special financial services, management courses for senior business executives and top level civil servants and advice on how to transform a planned economy into a market economy. Here the " Treuhandanstalt", that is the organisation which successfully privatised the former state companies, hat its seat.

We offer eastern European firms the opportunity to settle in Berlin under preferential conditions. We are building up an East-West Cooperation centre, a centre for new enterprises from eastern Europe. Some things fell into Berlin's lap when the Iron Curtain was lifted - but, as regards the city's internal economic structures, we had to fight hard for many things.

When the Berlin Wall was opened up and it was clear that Germany would be reunified, the press added together the strength of the two German armies and the economic power of the two German states - and nervously invoked visions of a fourth Reich. In Berlin at that time we had other concerns - the city was in the grip of a gold rush mood. Berlin was quickly seen to be the economic driving force for the whole of east Germany, land prices sky-rocketed. It took about two to three years for it to become clear that many dreams would end abruptly or only bear fruit after several years.

For, at breath-taking speed, the German Federal Government cut off subsidies in the thousands of millions which had served to keep West Berlin alive during the Cold War. When the previously subsidised enterprises then had to provide evidence of their competitiveness without financial support a large part of West Berlin industry collapsed. Many enterprises were simply no longer competitive because of high subsidies paid to them over many years. In the eastern part the collapse began even earlier and more strongly.
Unemployment rose sharply because more than 300,000 jobs have been lost since reunification.

In the meantime the wheat has been separated from the chaff through the structural crisis of the Berlin economy which particularly affects industry. Those who are in the market now have good prospects for the future. Besides, in past years Berlin has also done something to make the best of our advantages of location and use them. For this includes not only the favoured position between eastern and western Europe. The Berlin region with its 5 million inhabitants has something to offer which makes it interesting to invest here, even if there is no desire to make use of the East-West turntable function.

In research and development, Berlin is taking the first place in Germany. Here we are building on times which were characterised by Nobel Prize-Winners like Albert Einstein or Otto Hahn. Berlin's advantage in the area of research and development is that both parts of the city have given proof of excellence. In the unified Berlin we had above all to work on the respective strong points, reduce duplication and link up this area with industry.

A further locational advantage of Berlin is the importance of the transport area. The Deutsche Bahn (railway) alone, which has moved its seat from Frankfurt am Main to Berlin, will invest about 20 thousand million marks in the expansion of railroad construction in the region by the year 2000. Our regional market for railroad technology is one of the biggest single markets in the world. This applies not only to the construction of railway stations, locomotives and carriages, underground railways and trams but, to a special extent, transport direction technology.

Because of the importance of transport technology Siemens, for example, has moved a part of its board to our city.
Also with the goal of making progress in transport technology Berlin is advocating the construction of the Transrapid. This is a magnetic levitation train which will shorten the travelling time between Berlin and Hamburg to less than one hour. At present, if the autobahn is not congested, it takes about two and a half hours by car. By the way, the planning company has its seat in Berlin. "Quick" and "modern", in the 20s these were adjectives that described Berlin - our city can become quick and modern again within a few years.
What applies to rail will soon also apply to air travel. With the central European air juction, in a few years our region will also be an important location for air travel. This applies not only to engine producers like BMW-Rolls-Royce, who are already situated on the edge of Berlin, but, also the manufacturers of navigation systems, for example. In the Berlin-Brandenburg region about 40,000 people are working in 260 transport technology enterprises.

Within Germany Berlin is the city which has the most dense telecommunications cable network and one of the best expanded digital telephone networks. This is of use to the many enterprises which are working in the media and communications branches. A further future-oriented branch is environmental technology. There is still contaminated soil, a high degree of air pollution and a lack of sewage treatment plants in eastern Europe, as was formerly the case in east Germany.

You see that we are placing all our emphasis on industries with a future for which the connection to science and research is an important advantage of location. It is of great importance to the services location, Berlin, that from 1999, the federal government and parliament will move to the capital city. It is probably hard for non-Germans to understand why the move to the capital city did not take place in 1991. The English publicist, Jonathan Carr, who has lived in Germany for years explained it like this:

"Berlin is not loved by all Germans - this was already the case in the 20s. On the contrary, foreigners seem to like Berlin better than the Germans do". The move of the government to Berlin will not reduce Germany's ties to the west, nevertheless German efforts to integrate eastern Europe into the western European structure will certainly be intensified from here.

There is much in motion in Berlin. The process of the growing together of east and west can be felt most clearly here. We therefore call Berlin the " workshop of unity" because it is here that east Germans and west Germans are together shaping their home town. And in no other western European city will you meet so many eastern Europeans.

Berlin is a warning to the west and a promise to the east that Europe as a whole must continue to grow together. Naturally, there are many tensions and contradictions - but that is just what makes for the decisive restlessness which results in the basis for nurtuting an interesting, striving European metropolis.

The opportunities of profiting from the growing together of east and west in our city are huge.

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