Auf Wiedersehen Bonn, Willkommen Berlin

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Imagine moving Capitol Hill and the White House from Washington, D.C., to downtown Manhattan, and you’d have some idea of how German legislators must be feeling. Germany’s government opened for business in Berlin Monday, for the first time since Russian troops raised their flag on the Reichstag in 1945. And, like the press corps assigned to cover it, Germany’s political class is reveling in the decision to move the capital from the sleepy provincial city of Bonn. "I’ve yet to talk to anybody who’s unhappy about the move," says TIME Berlin (formerly Bonn) bureau chief Charles Wallace. "Even Chancellor Schroeder himself has said, somewhat controversially, that Bonn was a small town where there was nothing to do but think about government. Berlin is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, with plenty to think about besides government."

But the magnet that drew the capital back to Berlin wasn’t the city’s storied nightlife. Berlin had been Germany’s historic capital, and the establishment of the West German government in Bonn was an expression of postwar trauma (and an acknowledgment of the difficulties of operating in isolated West Berlin). "Chancellor Konrad Adenauer made clear after the war that the reason they chose Bonn was precisely because they were looking for a city without a history," says Wallace. The return to Berlin, its reviled wall now shattered into millions of sobering souvenirs, is a sign then that after the horrors of Nazism and the Cold War, Germany is finally ready to reconnect with its history. In the editorial tradition of signifying a country by its capital, "Bonn" referred to the democratic western half of Germany that achieved unprecedented prosperity in the postwar years. Now that the country has reclaimed its impoverished east, it needs a new signifier — and what better shorthand for a reunited Germany than "Berlin."