No Paved Way for Naming Berlin Street after Reagan

Article excerpt


BERLIN -- n this once-divided city where Ronald Reagan famously challenged the Soviet Union to tear down this wall, a proposal to rename a public square or street in his honor has sparked heated debate over the U.S. president's role in Germany's recent past.

Ahead of the Feb. 6 centennial of Reagan's birth, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg surprised many here when he called on Berlin to pay tribute to the former U.S. president by renaming a square Ronald-Reagan-Platz.

Naming a street after such a great honorary citizen would be very welcome, Mr. Guttenberg told the German daily newspaper Bild in December.

However, his suggestion has proved to be complicated. The Berlin Senate passed along Mr. Guttenberg's call to the city's 12 districts, which hold the power to name streets and squares.

The first response came from the Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district in former West Berlin, where the local center-right representatives suggested renaming a bustling, commercial square called Joachimstaler Platz. (Joachimstaler is an ancient Bohemian coin named after St. Joachim, who is regarded as the father of the Virgin Mary.)

The proposal was struck down quickly in a district vote. Local Social Democrats and Green Party members called the selection overtly political and provocative.

That choice of place is by far the worst idea if one really wants to honor Ronald Reagan because the biggest demonstrations against President Reagan and his government took place right in Joachimstaler Platz during his 1987 Berlin visit, said Social Democrat Frederic Verrycken, who voted against the proposal. It's really just senseless.

During his 1987 Berlin visit, Reagan delivered a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate and called on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, which the communist regime had erected in the 1960s to prevent citizens in the East from fleeing.

Frank Henkel, head of Berlin's center-right Christian Democratic Union, said it was time to seize a long-overdue opportunity and pay tribute to Reagan's memory. Berlin has a lot to thank Ronald Reagan for. He was a great friend to our city and was undoubtedly one of the pioneers of Germany unity, he said.

Reagan was granted honorary citizenship in Berlin, the greatest award the city can bestow, in 1992. His portrait hangs in the Berlin City parliament building along with fellow honorees former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Mr. Gorbachev. During a ceremony to mark Reagan's 100th birthday, U.S. Ambassador Philip D. Murphy and parliament President Walter Momper laid a wreath in front of his photo.

A plaque with the words from Reagan's iconic Brandenburg Gate speech also hangs in the subway station by the city landmark.

Gunter Kolodziej, a spokesman for the Berlin Senate, said a Ronald Reagan street or square would make sense only if it were in proximity to the Brandenburg Gate. But real estate in and around the landmark is fully booked: Streets, squares and plazas have all been dedicated to other historical events and figures. …