THE RISE OF THE NEW REICH; One of the Defining Symbols of the Millennium Is the Rebirth of Berlin. but as Germany Takes over the EU Presidency, Intent on Creating a New Europe, There Is a Sinister Campaign to Rewrite Its Nazi Past

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Byline: TOM BOWER

FIFTY-FIVE years after thousands of RAF bombers failed to reduce Berlin to ashes, and ten years after the Berlin Wall crumbled, Germany's former imperial city has become the temporary capital of Europe.

But as Germany takes up the presidency of the European Union, strengthened by the birth of the euro, unease has spread that the country's powerful influence could resurrect its historical bid for domination.

Berlin, a tough, unsentimental and ugly city, infamous for the debauchery of Cabaret and the violence of Hitler's storm troopers, is celebrating its reincarnation as the future crossroads of united Europe. Under the shadow of hundreds of building cranes rather than the shadows of more sinister emblems - the imperial eagle, the swastika and the hammer and sickle - the mammoth reconstruction has aroused the New Germans to issue a defiant challenge.

The successors of Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor who waged war across Europe to unite Germany under the Prussian monarchy in 1870, want to celebrate their nation's recovery from a long nightmare based upon a disturbing credo.

Hitler's legacy, Germany's new leaders declare, is no longer relevant.

Symbolised by the reunited and modernised Berlin, Germany's postwar generation want to begin the new millennium without the burden of their fathers' sins. Cynically, they have asserted their right to draw a schluss-strich - a bottom, final line - under the Nazis' unprecedented crimes by terminally shedding the stigma of Auschwitz. The Nazi era, they say, should be consigned to history.

This challenge to Europe is awesome and raises fundamental questions about Britain's future. Should Germany be allowed to bury its past? Should Europe tolerate a campaign to minimise the Nazi era in people's memories? Finally, do the New Germans' cavalier attitudes towards that era pose a threat to Britain's sovereignty?

Inspired by the dramatic reconstruction of Berlin, Gerhard Schroeder, the newly-elected socialist German Chancellor, certainly hopes to exploit his temporary assumption of the EU's mantle. He believes that replacing the vast wastelands of Prussia's former capital with monuments to Germany's impressive wealth will remove morbid memories of the Third Reich.

He hopes that restoring Germany's historic legacy in Berlin will also impose a decisive watershed upon the continent's history.

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RISING from hundreds of excavation craters is Europe's biggest railway station, countless stunning tower blocks, glittering shopping malls, a new 'Whitehall' to house the government ministries being transferred from Bonn and a new Reichstag, the parliament building torched by Hitler to destroy Germany's torrid democracy.

Echoing Berlin's unique political culture and the new ambitions to influence Europe's destiny, the reconstructed parliament, designed by Sir Norman Foster, is astutely encased in glass to discourage malevolent suspicions of secret plots. But Schroeder's challenge to Europe is too transparent to conceal even behind a ton of granite blocks.

Berlin before the war was a vibrant, sprawling metropolis of wide avenues and impressive buildings surrounded by parks, lakes and forests. In the aftermath of Germany's unification in 1870, it became a mecca for artists, musicians, writers and politicians.

But by 1914, the Kaiser, Ger-

many's emperor, also hosted ambitious German nobles and aggressive generals united by their desire to dominate not only Europe but also the colonies occupied by Britain and France. The defeat of those ambitions wrecked Europe.

Since 1945, Europe's comparative peace has become symbolised by the natural modesty imposed upon German Chancellors by the rural domesticity of Bonn. That has now changed. The massive reconstruction of Berlin has galvanised the New Germans to assert a brazen, political agenda regardless of the fears among Europe's older and injured generations. …