Reagan remembered in Berlin

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At the height of the Cold War, in 1987, Ronald Reagan famously urged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."

He was referring to the Berlin Wall, right next to the Brandenburg gate.

Two years later the Berlin wall came down. But in the German capital today, there are few signs of Reagan's historic statement or the man himself for that matter.

Berlin has streets named after prominent Americans like Benjamin Franklin, John Foster Dulles, and Frank Zappa.

John F. Kennedy has a plaza, an institute, a school to his name, not to mention a private museum at the Brandenburg Gate. But there is no reference to Ronald Reagan there.

Some Berliners think there should be some commemoration of America's 40th president, but Berlin Senate spokesman Günter Kolodziej said there is simply no room.

"It's a very historically significant place, and therefore space is very tight," Kolodziej said. "He added that they have passed on information to Berlin's districts to see if they can find a street to name after Reagan, but they had not heard back."

Kolodziej pointed out that Ronald Reagan was made an honorary citizen in 1992, along with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev – the highest honor the city can bestow.

"Of course, Berlin reveres Mr. Reagan," Kolodziej said. "I believe that Berlin has recognized him, and that his spirit remains present in the city."
Left-wing Senate

It is not just a question of space. There is a policy now in Berlin to name streets after women to make up for the gender imbalance.

Then there is the cost of changing street signs. But Martin Lindner, a member of parliament, said those are just excuses.

"The real background is that there is a pretty left-wing Senate," said Lindner, a member of the free market, pro-business FDP.

He has been campaigning in vain for several years to have a street named after the Republican president. Lindner blamed political in-fighting and lukewarm feelings about Reagan in the former east for holding things up.

"I have learned in politics naming streets is one of the most emotional things you can do," Lindner said.

After Reagan died in 2004, Lindner proposed changing the name of the area near the city's new train station, which was named after George Washington in 1932. "When people come by train to Berlin, they would arrive at the Ronald Reagan Place. Good idea!" Lindner said.
Tear down this wall

But the idea never took hold. Instead, one of the only places you find the "tear down this wall" line, along with a small photo taken during the 1987 speech, is in one of Berlin's newest subway stations.

On a recent day, those passing through the station had mixed feelings about naming something in the city after Reagan. A few people supported it. But Gabriele Feltzger, who was born in 1945, said street names don't tell the whole story.

"With 20 years of hindsight, when we see how everything turned out, maybe those in charge weren't as clever as we always thought they were," Feltzger said.

Her friend, Stephanie Prose was more concerned that a ceremonial street naming would be an empty gesture. "When we name places after well-known political figures who have done something for Berlin, we need to explain it on a sign or a plaque, explain why we should care."

On Sunday, February 6th, there will be celebrations at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, CA, for the 100th anniversary of Reagan's birth.

In the library, a piece of the Berlin Wall, decorated with a graffiti butterfly, holds a place of honor.

In Berlin, however, no movement on the issue of commemorating Ronald Reagan is expected until after the next local election, in September.