- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

BERLIN Politicians in the German capital broke a historic taboo yesterday when they put together a new government composed of Social Democrats and the former communists who built the wall that divided Berlin.

But the election of the new government was marred by an embarrassing episode, in which several Social Democrats abruptly pulled their support for their own candidate to head the Department of City Development.

Klaus Wowereit, a 48-year-old Social Democrat, took office yesterday as head of a coalition that included, for the first time in Berlin, the former East German Communist Party, now called the Party of Democratic Socialists.

Mr. Wowereit will have to govern along with the leading light of the PDS, Gregor Gysi. Mr. Gysi, a popular talk-show guest who had been a member of the federal parliament but never in government, expressed hope that the PDS could win political rehabilitation through its work in Berlin.

"I hope we can learn to respect each other's point of view and each other's particular history and development," Mr. Gysi said before taking office.

The PDS will control three of the eight departments economics, culture and health that make up the government of the city-state of Berlin. To the astonishment of much of Germany, Mr. Gysi, an avowed socialist, will serve as economics minister, a job that involves encouraging business investment.

Mr. Wowereit, who forced the PDS to sign a long statement acknowledging its tarnished history, yesterday emphasized that heavily indebted Berlin now faced tough choices if it was to restore order to its tattered financial situation. He has said his government may ax up to 15,000 city bureaucrats, and seek a bailout from the federal government.

"Berlin is something of a special case, and we have the biggest problems of any of Germany's states," Mr. Wowereit said.

Mr. Wowereit's coalition came together at the last minute after a series of missteps.

His top choices for finance minister, a crucial job given his political priorities, failed to pan out. One day before taking office, he settled on Thilo Sarrazin, a Social Democrat from the western city of Mainz. But it became evident that Mr. Sarrazin had failed to satisfy his bosses in two separate jobs at Germany's railroad system.

The new minister irritated his own party by choosing Mr. Sarrazin as well, because many Social Democrats assumed it would go to a woman.

The embarrassments continued into yesterday as eight members of the SPD-PDS coalition refused to support Mr. Wowereit's pick for minister of city development, Peter Strieder, depriving Mr. Strieder of a majority.

Mr. Strieder, who was also the SPD party chairman in Berlin, was accused yesterday of being involved with an investment fund that obtained easy loans from a now-bankrupt state-owned bank.

Mr. Strieder claimed his office a few hours later, but the conservative opposition had a field day with the performance of the new government. Frank Steffel, chairman of the Christian Democratic Union, called it "the first day of the end of this coalition."

Guenter Rexrodt, head of the Free Democratic Party, called it "a bad defeat for the party chief and a bad start for Mr. Wowereit."

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