As Reagan's 100th birthday is marked, some Social Democrats say Berlin's "honorary citizenship" is enough for former US president credited with accelerating reunificaton.
Remains of the Berlin Wall (Bernt Rostad)
BERLIN Its not exactly a return to the Cold War, but Germanys ruling right-leaning CDU party and the left-leaning SPD opposition are battling over plans to dedicate a square in Berlin to late U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
On June 12, 1987, Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate and famously challenged Russian premier Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Klaus-Dieter Gröhler, a CDU member of the Berlin city board for building and planning, was standing in the crowd that day. "It was incredibly emotional," Gröhler remembers. Thats why he is supporting with heart and soul the Conservative initiative to dedicate a square in West Berlins Kurfürstendamm to the former American president.
The issue has been causing quite a stir in the German capital. The citys Social Democrat SPD-led administration has been on the defensive ever since Conservative Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg first used a December speech at the German Senate to criticize Berlin for never having dedicated a street or square to Reagan. Under pressure from the Conservatives, a Senate ally of Berlins Mayor Klaus Wowereit issued a request in January to the city districts to find a suitable spot on the Berlin map to immortalize the former US president.
The West Berlin district of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf quickly responded suggesting Joachimstaler Platz, a small square on the Kurfürstendamm, near the citys famous Café Kranzler. "The advantage of this square is that there are no residents who have been living there for decades, who would have to change their letterheads," says Gröhler. However the initiative is unlikely to succeed as neither the Social Democrats nor the Greens have said they will support the motion when the district parliament votes next Thursday.
Fréderic Verrycken, head of the SPD district parliamentary group, says the initiative is dead in the water and has dismissed it as a premature campaign to win votes at the next election. "The west of the city isnt appropriate in any case because that was where the largest protests occurred during Reagan's 1987 visit," says Verrycken. The SPD politician sees the 1992 decision to appoint Reagan an honorary citizen of Berlin as "sufficient." He believes a dedication to the people of East Berlin would be a more appropriate commemoration of the fall of the wall.
The Berlin Senate, meanwhile, has been forced to defend itself against accusations of being too passive in commemorating Ronald Reagan, whose 100th birthday was being marked elsewhere. Senate spokesman Richard Meng points to a variety of wreaths and plaques already dedicated to the ex-president in the capital. In addition to his honorary citizenship, there is the inscription "Tear down this wall" in the new underground station at Brandenburg Gate, a stele not far from the gate, a flower arrangement placed under Reagans image in the Rotes Rathaus City Hall to mark the Presidents 100th Birthday last Sunday and a wreath sent to Los Angeles on the same day.
The Senate is leaving the final decision to the district council. If Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf decides next week that a Reagan square would go down well in the district, that would be "absolutely fine," says Meng. He says Berlin is grateful for what Reagan did for the city and that Guttenberg's criticism was "completely wrong."
But theres one final, administrative twist: a new district council regulation stipulates that honoring women should have priority when considering changes to the Berlin map, in order to redress a major gender imbalance in the city. Perhaps a tribute to Nancy Reagan is in order?
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