Berliners drag feet over Olympics

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'ICH bin dafur' - I am in favour - declares the slogan above the face of the little yellow bear that seems to grin at you everywhere you turn in Berlin at the moment.

Quite what he is in favour of is left unclear. But for most people here, no explanation is necessary. The city's symbol and mascot has been brought in to show Berliners that he, at least, supports the city's bid to host the Olympic Games in the year 2000 - and that, if it is good for him, it will be good for them too.

That such an advertising campaign is deemed necessary at all is extraordinary. If Berliners have to convince themselves that they really want the Games (opinion polls suggest that only 56 per cent are in favour), how are they going to convince anyone else that they deserve them? More to the point, how do they expect members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to vote for them when other candidates are not riven with such self-doubt?

Managers of Berlin's Olympics campaign concede that the level of opposition - which has taken the form of bricks through windows displaying pro-Olympics stickers and arson attacks on shops backing the bid - has harmed the city's chances. But, they insist, all is not yet lost.

'Our goal has always been to join the lead pack and we have achieved that,' Axel Nawrocki, head of the organising committee, said after an IOC report on the technical merits of each contender showed Berlin in a favourable light. 'We are like a runner in third place nearing the end of an 800-metre race. We still have a good chance to win in the home stretch.'

The idea to host the Olympic Games in Berlin in the year 2000 was born in the mid-1980s when the city was divided and it was felt such an event would help to break down barriers between East and West. When history intervened in 1989 to bring those barriers down faster than anyone had expected, the city's authorities decided to press ahead with the bid, now arguing that Berlin would be a symbol of hope and reconciliation.

Political considerations apart, the city's leaders had strong economic motives. Bringing the Games to the city would necessitate huge investment in the badly run-down infrastructure of the eastern half, speeding the process of equalisation. That was not, however, how many Berliners saw it. Daunted by the escalating costs of unifying the city and moving the government here, many were horrified at the idea that billions more should be spent on the Games.

Many critics, including Boris Becker, argued that with nationalism and xenophobia on the rise in Germany, it was not ready or suitable to host the Games. The shadow of the past has also reared its head. If Berlin were selected, the focal point of the 2000 Games would be the Olympic stadium built by Hitler to stage the infamous 1936 Games.