Mayor of 'poor but sexy' Berlin steps aside

11th December 2014, Comments 0 comments

Berlin Thursday bid farewell to its colourful mayor since 2001, Klaus Wowereit, credited with turning the "poor but sexy" city into an arts and party capital.

Wowereit, one of Germany's first prominent politicians to come out as gay, surprised supporters in August by announcing he would step down in the wake of botched plans to open a new international airport.

His technocratic successor, Michael Mueller, will now bear responsibility for the ill-fated facility on the city's southeastern outskirts, whose opening is several years late amid massive cost overruns and technical flaws.

No new date has been set for its inauguration.

The airport fiasco tarnished the national profile of the charismatic Wowereit, who had once been seen as a potential Social Democratic challenger to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

During his 13-year tenure, Wowereit presided over the transformation of the long-divided city into an all-night party metropolis and cultural hub with legendary nightclubs, world-class museums and concert halls.

The daily Der Tagesspiegel said Wowereit, a fixture of the city's giant annual gay pride parade and its countless galas, had been better at marketing Berlin than running it but would nevertheless be missed.

"He was like the city's mascot, a top-notch promotional factor -- priceless when he used his quite dazzling image to sell his hometown to the world," it said.

Wowereit's departure comes just weeks after he hosted jubilant celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall which drew hundreds of thousands of guests to the capital.

Berlin is also one of Germany's 16 federal states and the 61-year-old Wowereit was the longest serving regional leader in the country.

After Wowereit's over-the-top flair, Mueller, a 50-year-old career politician, is seen as a safe pair of hands to address infrastructure problems, high unemployment and soaring rents.

The Berlin economy has recently gained in strength, with some 150,000 jobs created since 2005 and hundreds of new start-up firms setting up shop.

But the famously affordable rents in the city of 3.4 million people have risen apace, particularly in the historic city centre.

Berlin is still heavily reliant on subsidies from the wealthier regions of Germany, Europe's biggest economy, 24 years after national unification.

Mueller's term will run until late 2016, when Berlin will hold new elections.

© 2014 AFP

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