Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit, whose city reclaimed its place as a European capital in the years after he labeled it “poor but sexy,” said he plans to resign in December after 13 years in office.
“I will step down on Dec. 11,” Wowereit told reporters today in Berlin. “I made my biggest hobby into a career.”
While Germany’s biggest city built up technology jobs and tourism on his watch, Wowereit, 60, struggled with cost overruns, a legacy of debt and unemployment and delays in projects including the stalled Berlin Brandenburg International Airport. Efforts to woo industry to the reunited city have been slow in the 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell.
Wowereit, a Social Democrat from the city’s western Tempelhof borough, is Berlin’s longest continuously serving mayor since German reunification in 1990, which also ended the capital’s divide during the Cold War. Re-elected twice, the mayor has seen his approval ratings slump as the airport and other projects in the city of 3.5 million people faltered.
Wowereit took power two years after the federal government returned to Berlin from Bonn and staked the capital’s claim to trendiness with his “poor but sexy” moniker. He shot to prominence during his election campaign in 2001 by declaring “I’m gay and that’s a good thing.”
Setbacks included his failure at Germany’s constitutional court to win more federal aid to trim Berlin’s 60 billion-euro ($79 billion) debt, the second-highest per capita among the 16 German states. That left the capital’s leeway for spending crimped, a legacy of destruction during World War II and West Berlin’s four decades as a subsidized capitalist island surrounded by East Germany.
“One of the biggest defeats -- I don’t want to conceal this -- is the fact that BER airport hasn’t opened as planned,” he said. “I deeply regret the fact that this hasn’t been fixed.”
Real gross domestic product in Berlin increased at an average of 2.3 percent between 2005 and 2012, compared with a national average of 1.5 percent, according to official data.
While that helped push unemployment to 20-year lows this year, the jobless rate was still 11.1 percent in July, compared with 6.6 percent nationally and 3.6 percent in Bavaria. The city’s biggest employer is Deutsche Bahn AG, Germany’s government-owned railroad.
Wowereit, whose predecessors as mayor include former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, governed for a decade with the successor party to the former East German communists, which polled as much as 29 percent in eastern districts in the last state election in 2011. As his approval ratings have slumped, polls suggest Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union would win the most votes in Berlin if elections were held now.