The German Parliament paid tribute to Bonn's humble virtues today in an emotional final session in this modest, slumberous capital on the Rhine River before embarking on a summer-long project to return the seat of government to Berlin.
Over the next two months, more than 14,000 politicians, civil servants and assorted lobbyists will shift their workplace from a tranquil community that epitomized the downsized ambitions of postwar Germany to the sprawling metropolis some 400 miles to the east that is associated with the darkest chapters of the nation's past.
German President Johannes Rau, who was inaugurated in the ceremonial post today, is already based in the new capital. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, along with his cabinet ministers, will reside there starting this week. Other government workers will stagger their moves, but all are expected to be in place when Parliament resumes meeting in the renovated Reichstag on Sept. 6. The cost of the move is projected to be at least $11 billion.
In speeches today, former chancellor Helmut Kohl and other prominent figures among the 669 members of the Bundestag, or lower house of Parliament, insisted that democracy, prosperity and trust among allies had become firmly embedded in the German historical landscape in ways that would not change with the geographical move.
"Bonn has been the symbol of conspicuous modesty for Germany," said Kohl, giving his first speech in Parliament since bowing out as chancellor nine months ago. "It has been the embodiment of a Germany that forever turned away from the Nazi insanity, the imperialist longings and any desire for domination."
Kohl differed with Schroeder, his successor and leader of the Social Democratic Party, who proclaimed that a "Berlin republic" should mark a new beginning for Germany. The departure from Bonn coincides with the arrival of a new generation of German leaders who came of age after the war and yearn to be treated like other Europeans -- without constant deference to the need to atone for Nazi atrocities.
"We are moving to Berlin, but not into a new republic," Kohl declared. "Germany and the world are not the same as 50 years ago. War and peace have changed us all. But it is wrong to look at this as the end of an episode. Above all, let us resist the temptation to show off our increased influence in a self-important way."
Today's closing debate -- which was titled "Fifty Years of Democracy: Thank you, Bonn" -- finally drove home for many Germans the realization that the long-awaited transfer to Berlin was imminent. Ever since Parliament gave its approval by a narrow vote in 1991, squabbling over the terms of the move has been so shrill that reasons for delay seemed endless.
Even after the decision, Bonn's defenders fought a rear-guard battle to block the move. They argued it would spurn the most successful 50-year record in German history, stir megalomaniacal tendencies among politicians hankering to return to the capital of the Nazis and the Prussian imperial state, and estrange Germany from its Western democratic neighbors.
But Berlin's advocates insisted the move was necessary not so much for historical reasons, but to shove Germany's center of political gravity toward the heart of Europe. They said it was vital for Germany's seat of government to bridge the gap with the country's newly reclaimed eastern states and move closer to the fledgling democracies of Central Europe to bolster the region's economic fortunes and political aspirations.
In the end, Bonn drove a hard bargain that earned the city nearly $2 billion in compensation, along with the right to keep a substantial number of jobs from six government ministries that should sustain its prosperous base. In addition, Bonn will continue as home to one of the country's most popular universities and hopes to attract a United Nations agency.
"The lights are not going out in Bonn," said Mayor Baerbel Dieckmann. "Contrary to what people think, we are actually gaining jobs. The big problem is not so much the economy here, but a question of our future identity after being so long in the political limelight."
An even better deal, it seems, was struck by federal government workers. Accustomed to Bonn's serene lifestyle and unimpressed by the attractions of Berlin's nightlife, they managed to secure a remarkable array of perks by claiming that their new location will bring undue hardships. To the outrage of many taxpayers, concessions by the German government will drain the nation's treasury for years to come.
When German bureaucrats argued that the cost of living in Berlin was exorbitant, the government offered to pay for weekly round-trip flights for two years. At least 5,000 civil servants are expected to leave their families in Bonn and commute home for weekends. They also will receive daily "separation allowances" to compensate for the aggravation of shuttling.
Those who do move to Berlin will have all expenses paid, including the costs of shipping such possessions as horses and motorboats. If they decide to buy a house, they will have access to interest-free loans. If they rent an apartment, they will receive subsidies for up to 20 years, and the government will even cover the cost of new kitchen appliances.
To fund such inducements, the government is courting investors who might be interested in buying the Bonn parliament building, which was renovated at a cost of $135 million just six years ago.