If the devil is in the details, the controversy over street names in former East Berlin tells the story. In September 1993 Berlin’s transport secretary, Herwig Haase, a Christian Democrat, impaneled an Independent Commission for the Renaming of Streets. Composed of four historians and several other prominent individuals, it was to make recommendations about twelve “politically compromised streets.” These included large intersections such as the Rosa Luxemburg Platz and the Marx-Engels Platz, and main thoroughfares such as the Wilhelm Pieck Strasse (named for East Germany’s first president) and the Clara Zetkin Strasse.
In March of 1994 the commission delivered its report: Marx, Luxemburg, and Karl Liebknecht could remain, but street names honoring communists who “actively contributed to the destruction of the first German Republic,” like Zetkin Strasse, had to be changed. Instead Haase ignored the recommendations and asked only that Marx-Engels Platz and Pieck Strasse be renamed. One Social Democratic member of the commission, the historian Heinrich August Winkler, exploded. A conservative politician had “fallen to his knees,” he charged, “capitulating” to the power of the former Communist party in Berlin....
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