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Monday, 22 October, 2001, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Profile: Berlin's cult-status mayor
Klaus Wowereit
Eyeing the future: Wowereit faces financial battle
Whatever Klaus Wowereit does or does not achieve as Mayor of Berlin, he has already guaranteed his place in history.

He became Germany's first openly-gay senior politician earlier this year, using a sentence which has achieved cult status.

''Ich bin schwul und das ist gut so'', he declared - "I'm gay and that's ok", or "I'm gay and it's good that way".

The signal from this election is that Berlin is a tolerant city, an international city, and it doesn't matter which skin colour or religion or life orientation a person has

Klaus Wowereit
The phrase caught on in a way which no-one could have predicted. The party's website revels in the name ""; advertisers have started using it; it has even been copyrighted.

Like Paris, Berlin now has an openly-gay, left-wing mayor - with a name non-linguists wrestle with. Mr Wowereit (pronounced vovv-er-ite) in Berlin and Mayor Delanoe (de-la-no-way) now share a similar quest: to be remembered not for their sexuality but for their politics.

Before his spectacular coming out - reportedly to head off tabloid newspaper attempts to discredit him - Mr Wowereit had few claims to fame either inside or outside his left-wing Social Democratic Party (SPD).

PDS candidate Gregor Gysi
Charismatic Gregor Gysi contrasts with the quiet Wowereit
Generally regarded as a rather bland figure, the 48-year-old Berlin-born lawyer had been on the city council only since 1995. He was thrust into the job of acting mayor in June 2001, when the city's ruling coalition collapsed in a bank scandal over bad loans.

After his spectacular coming out, Mr Wowereit attempted to prevent his homosexuality dominating the campaign.

His partner was kept out of the spotlight during the campaign and for major occasions - such as a reception for Russian President Vladimir Putin - Mr Wowereit reportedly "borrowed" someone else's wife for the evening, to avoid creating a stir.

Some politicians could not resist making an issue of his sexual orientation - perhaps not surprisingly in such a conservative country.

CDU candidate Frank Steffel
The CDU's Frank Steffel says Wowereit has a "deformed character"
He had a "deformed character", said Frank Steffel, mayoral contender for the right-wing Christian Democrats (CDU). He would lack credibility and "respect" on key issues such as family matters, said another senior official.

But Berlin has more pressing matters for the mayor to tackle.

The city owes a staggering 78 billion marks ($36bn). Unemployment is running at 16%.

Mr Wowereit has promised a major focus on righting the economic wrongs.

The immediate focus of interest will be the coalition partners Mr Wowereit chooses

A "thrifty" financial policy, investment and more jobs have all been pledged.

But even before that, the immediate focus of interest will be the coalition partners Mr Wowereit chooses.

Much speculation has focused on whether he will do business with the ex-communists, the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), an alliance he has refused to rule out despite the potential for controversy.

The PDS is opposed to the bombing of Afghanistan, and more particularly in Berlin, has never apologised for the building of the Berlin Wall.

Berlin issues

Between the issues of homosexuality, ex-communists and bombing Afghanistan, the issues of Berlin itself have struggled to make themselves heard.

My priority is the reconciliation of the city - reconciliation is a strength of democracy

Klaus Wowereit
Mr Wowereit has repeatedly attempted to distance the party from the discredited coalition with the CDU.

A change of mentality - "mentalitaetswechsel" - has been his cry, as he stresses his commitment to dealing openly with the city's problems.

He is also pledging to:

  • get a grip on the city's problems and deal with them, not brushing them under the carpet, as he hints has been past practice
  • create new jobs - although critics say he is prepared to sacrifice 15,000 public sector jobs, and increase privatisation, to cut budgets
  • boost education - "making Berlin a place of learning, science, research and culture"
  • open dialogue between the administration and citizens - including asking people to email him directly
  • stress inclusiveness - his website is published in Turkish and English as well as German
  • rebuild Berlin as a world-class city - and possibly making a Berlin bid for the 2012 Olympics.

"My priority is the reconciliation of the city," he says. "Reconciliation is a strength of democracy."

Whether reconciliation will mean deals with ex-communists remains to be seen.

See also:

07 Jun 01 | Europe
Berlin city coalition collapses
04 May 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Berlin: Soaked in history
02 May 01 | Europe
Schroeder gets new home
09 Nov 99 | Europe
Berlin marks the fall of the wall
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