West Berlin celebrates 750th without friends from the East
Queen Elizabeth II, United States President Ronald Reagan, and French President Francois Mitterrand all will be birthday guests in coming months. There will be a spectacular display of fireworks as explosives and sparklers that were 1 years in the making in Japan all are ignited within the space of a few hours for the entertainment of both West and East Berliners.
But one major guest will be missing at West Berlin's six-month-long 750th anniversary celebrations: East German leader Erich Honecker. Under a Soviet nudge he turned down the invitation.
The official opening of the West Berlin festivities therefore took place yesterday with a notable absent seat as West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, ex-Chancellor and ex-Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, and other dignitaries kicked things off.
Mr. Honecker was probably glad he wasn't there. There were plenty of references to the notorious Berlin Wall that went up 25 years ago under his personal supervision and today still keeps East Berliners locked in. And Mr. Bradley, mayor of West Berlin's American sister city, said pointedly that while Berlin is divided, the spirit of its people is not.
For his part, West Berlin mayor Eberhard Diepgen pledged, ``We act in the confidence, in the certainty, that the wall will have no permanency before history. Our loyalty goes to our democratic state and to our divided nation.''
Neither East Germany nor the Soviet Union acknowledges as legitimate the political ties that Mr. Diepgen was referring to between West Germany and the enclave of West Berlin deep inside East Germany; it was to avoid any implicit recognition of this connection that Honecker stayed home. Nor does East Germany endorse the West German concept that both West and East Germans belong to one ``nation'' and will eventually be reunited.
Had Honecker been present in the audience, Mr. Kohl might have been somewhat more discreet.
As it was, he went even further than other speakers to draw an unmistakable comparison between the totalitarianism of Hitler and of Communist rule in East Germany. ``The division of the city will not be the last word in history,'' he said. ``The National Socialists [Nazis] could not win a majority in Berlin [in free elections]. And all Berlin clearly rejected totalitarian ideology in 1946,'' when Berliners voted overwhelmingly against the Communists.
There will no doubt be more politics in both East's and West's celebrations as Western leaders visit West Berlin and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visits East Berlin this year. For the rest, however, the two half cities' festivities will now focus largely on more cultural, historical, and recreational events.