Schroder gives his cabinet a taste of Berlin

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BELOW THE stained-glass murals of muscular workers and pretty women of immaculate peasant stock, history was made yesterday when the government of a united Germany held its first meeting in Berlin since 1945.

In a symbolic outing to the old capital, Gerhard Schroder's cabinet marched through a gateway rescued from the Prussian royal palace, and into the building that was once used by the state council of the former East German leader, Erich Honecker.

There, they took up seats around a large table and discussed ways of tackling one of the few social ills alien to the former East Germany: youth unemployment.

A new chancellery being built by the river Spree will be delayed by several months, so the first government meeting cannot be held there until next October at the earliest.

In the meantime, guests from the West must make do with temporary accommodation. Mr Schroder will be working from a cavernous office adjacent to Mr Honecker's, but will live in a villa in what was west Berlin. The renovated Reichstag, seat of the parliament, is to open on schedule in April.

Ugly as it might be, the State Council building has the merit of offering historic continuity, albeit a warped one. Incorporated in its red brick facade is a portal of the Hohenzollern palace, from whose balcony Karl Liebknecht proclaimed the short-lived "Socialist Republic" in 1918.

After the fall of the Wall, it is here that ministers of post-communist East Germany met before their country was subsumed into the FDR.