Bathtub fiasco pulls the plug on Bonn's efficiency

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The Independent Online
BONN is a capital (or rather, an ex-capital) that prides itself on its efficiency. It may not be big, and it may not be glamorous. Soon, it will no longer even enjoy its international prestige as a seat of government. But at least it believes itself to be efficient - unlike dirty, noisy, anarchist-ridden Berlin.

Sometimes, the boast is accurate. Sometimes, less so. Thus, Berliners did not conceal their glee when the final opening of the new Bundestag parliament building in Bonn, due to open in 1992, was delayed by almost a year, because of disasters with the super- sophisticated acoustic system, which turned out to be too clever for its own good.

And now, what might be described as the Great Bathtub Disaster. The Schurmann Building - named after its architect, Joachim Schurmann - was to be a grand new building for MPs' offices in Bonn. As with the unfortunate Bundestag building, the go- ahead for the building - offices, library, archives, swimming pool, sauna, gym - came just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall and then of East Germany itself. In 1991, German MPs voted that they would move from Bonn to Berlin, which meant that the building was already doomed to redundancy.

Meanwhile, the digging of foundations continued. Indeed, by the middle of last year, the construction was already pounds 60m over-budget. In November, the politicians finally decided that they would never move in, since they will arrive in Berlin in a few years' time; the overall cost of the project was by now reckoned to be around pounds 300m. Then came the drama. At Christmas, the Rhine flooded. At the Schurmann Building, a special protective shell was supposed to prevent flood damage. That was fine, in theory. Unfortunately, the protective shell was missing a section, and the water poured in.

A watchman noticed what he later described as a 'cracking' sound on the night of 22 December. In effect, the basement of the Schurmann Building was half afloat. The building was then deliberately flooded, to make the so- called 'white bathtub' - the inner shell - heavier, and thus prevent it from floating up further, and doing still more damage.

The bathtub is still flooded with 200,000 tonnes of water, waiting for a decision. The cabinet this week agreed to rip everything out and start again from scratch.

Many, however, remain unhappy. The official auditors have complained about the potential cost of the new project. The opposition Social Democrats complain of 'deceit', and 'wasted millions', and insist that it is unnecessary to pull the building down. The daily Frankfurter Rundschau argued that the decision to get rid of the Schurmann Building is an attempt to persuade people to forget the blunders that were associated with it. 'Out of sight, out of mind . . . This building would have been a symbol of political failure, in concrete.' The mass- circulation daily, Bild, summed up the result: 'The most expensive bathtub in the world.'