FOR THE FIRST time since World War II, Germany's leaders are operating out of Berlin. The capital has moved -- or at least the long and expensive process of moving capitals has been punctuated by the relocation of the prime minister's office. Inevitably, the move from the famously sleepy town of Bonn to the old imperial center is about more than geographic convenience. The birth of "The Berlin Republic," as Germany's premier now styles it, is about the country's place in Europe and the world, both past and future.

Seeing the government move into buildings that once housed Hitler's ministries inevitably causes discomfort to some. The city that became a symbol of the fight against Communist tyranny was earlier a symbol of undiluted evil. But Germans, by facing their history and coming to terms with it, have earned a right to make this move without arousing untoward suspicion. More than Japan, more than any other modern society, Germans have wrestled with questions of collective guilt and responsibility. West Germany's half-century commitment to near-pacifism was one outcome of that process. The country's more recent participation in a just war to save the Kosovars, as part of the NATO alliance of democracies, marked a further step in its recovery from Nazism.

Germany still will be watched warily by its neighbors. That wariness, heightened by reunification, will rise another notch based on this move. The country will be judged on how it controls its skinheads and neo-Nazis, how it continues to handle issues of reparations, how it deals with the question -- vexing for all of Western Europe -- of immigration from poorer countries and treatment of newer arrivals.

Most of all, though, history is likely to judge the Berlin Republic by how generously and openly it helps knit Europe back together -- by the role it plays in bringing the Baltics and Balkans into Europe's prosperity, by how it reaches out to Russia and Ukraine, by its continuing efforts to strengthen ties with neighboring Poland and the rest of Central Europe. In these endeavors, a Berlin-based Germany once again must play a leading role in Europe, not as aggressor this time but to help anchor peace and democracy.