Berlin faces budget cuts after court ruling
25 October 2006, Berlin (dpa) - The German capital is looking for ways to reduce costs, following a court ruling denying it federal support to pay off its mammoth 61.6 billion euros ($77 billion) debt. The ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court last week came as a stunning reverse for Berlin's charismatic Mayor Klaus Wowereit, who was just one month ago re-elected to a new term. "I was not so naive to believe that l would be returning to Berlin with a trunk full of money. But the negative news is that
25 October 2006
Berlin (dpa) - The German capital is looking for ways to reduce costs, following a court ruling denying it federal support to pay off its mammoth 61.6 billion euros ($77 billion) debt.
The ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court last week came as a stunning reverse for Berlin's charismatic Mayor Klaus Wowereit, who was just one month ago re-elected to a new term.
"I was not so naive to believe that l would be returning to Berlin with a trunk full of money. But the negative news is that we are not to get any money at all," said the man nicknamed Wowi by the city's tabloid press.
"Wowi's worst moment," said the headline in BZ, Berlin's biggest selling tabloid newspaper, which devoted seven pages to analysis and commentary of the court's decision, and what it could portend for the German capital.
"Berlin will have to go it alone," Der Tagesspiegel said. In a front-page commentary the newspaper said the verdict sounded logical and that jurists would probably agree with it.
But in reality, "it is a catastrophe and the consequences for Berlin will be devastating. Not only for the politicians, who come and go every few years, but for the people who live here and cannot escape from its effects," the paper said.
Some 50 billion euros of Berlin's debt resulted after the unification of the city in 1990, due in large part to the former East and West Berlin having having "double structures" and over-staffing in the administration, argued columnist Gerd Appenzeller.
Every year Berlin, which has a population of around 3.3 million, has to pay 2.5 billion euros in interest on its debts.
In rejecting the city's application for help from the federal government and other German states, Winfried Hassemer, the vice- president of the Federal Constitional Court - the nation's highest legal instance - noted that Berlin had decorated itself for some time with the Wowereit slogan "poor but sexy."
But another connotation could be read into the slogan, one which said the city was "not as poor as it is made out to be," said Hassemer.
Berlin's financial misery has a fairly long history. When the city was reunited in 1990, the hitherto (West Berlin) government found itself virtually overnight having to budget for the whole of Berlin.
This, at a time when industrial promotional aid given to the city during the years when it was cordoned off from the rest of West Germany by the communist German Democratic Republic was suddenly done away with by the then Bonn-located German government.
A series of city government financial scandals in the 1990s when the conservative Christian Democrats ruled in Berlin also contributed to the pile-up of debt.
Among the belt-tightening measures suggested were cuts to the culture budget, introducing university fees for students and selling off some of the 270,000 city-owned apartments.
For years, there has been speculation that one of Berlin's three heavily subsidised opera houses might have to close. To reduce costs a foundation was created several years ago.
Currently, the powerful State Opera House where Daniel Barenboim wields the baton, is being restored at a cost of 130 million euros. Wowereit feels the city's oldest opera house should be viewed as a "national" cultural jewel, financed by the federal states.
But outside of Berlin there is little sympathy for a "national opera house."
The three Berlin universities - the Free University and Technical University in the west, and the Humboldt University in the central Mitte district, could face pressure to introduce fees.
The cost of running two zoos - one at Tierpark in the eastern part of the city, the other in Charlottenburg, close to the Zoologischer Garten railway station - has also come under question.
Some of Berlin's many libraries, sports facilities and swimming pools could also face closure as the city battles to regain financial viability in the coming years.
Subject: German news