GaWC Research Bulletin 180

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This Research Bulletin has been published in Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 22 (1), (2007), 51-68.


Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Berlin and Warsaw: In Search of a New Role in the European Urban System

E. Korcelli-Olejniczak*


After 1989 cities of Central and Eastern Europe have entered inter-urban competition, a process characteristic of the urban scene since the beginning of the European integration. This question has attracted major research interest. A body of literature has accumulated pertaining to the observed, as well as potential future role of capital cities in the region. A number of studies have focused on the position, as well as interdependence of Berlin and Warsaw ; two urban nodes of what is hypothesized as a future West-East development trajectory (see: Domanski 1999). This paper deals with emergence and development of metropolitan functions in the two cities. It is based on a comparative research project which involved a series of structured, in-depth interviews with planners and policy makers in Germany and Poland , conducted by the author during 2001-2003. In the paper, project results are discussed regarding types of development factors and their role in the creation of metropolitan potential of Berlin and Warsaw . The identification of these factors is interpreted as a basis for determining future position and rank of the two capital cities in the European urban system. The analysis is complemented by a comparison of trends in employment structure of Berlin and Warsaw during 1994-2002. The results allow the author to evaluate some hypotheses exposed in strategic planning documents concerning Berlin and Warsaw.


The development of urban systems in Europe has been strongly influenced by the European integration and globalization of the economy which lead to an intensification of inter-urban competition. Such is an effect of the even partial elimination of economic barriers and the growing integration of political borders. The emergence of global markets for capital and consumer goods, the increasing mobility of all production factors lead to location footlessness of enterprises, and make it possible for newcomer cities to challenge the role of established centers (Wegener and Kunzmann, 1996). As pointed out by Bourne (1995), the local impacts of global change may be particularly important, and often acute, in smaller, specialized towns that function on the periphery of both the global and national economies. Conversely, globalization and the shift to information economy tend to bring special advantages to large cities which are centers for efficient information exchange (Hall, 2001). Cities in Central and Eastern Europe have become recently absorbed by these processes; their functions are now undergoing an accelerated evolution. This pertains first of all to those cities that aspire to a transnational role, among them, Berlin and Warsaw . Before 1989, Warsaw and East Berlin were functioning within a closed ­– command economy system, while West Berlin 's economy was to some extent shielded from market competition, both internal and global, by federal subventions and other regulations. Today, a pertinent question to be posed is if we can consider these cities as nodes of a larger, international urban system, or whether their positions among European cities are mainly defined by their function of national capitals.

The question was a topic of various hypotheses which appeared at the outset of the transformation period. Thus, as Hall speculated: “the entire European urban hierarchy is likely to be profoundly affected by the momentous change occurring in East Central Europe. In particular, Berlin – and to some extent Vienna – may well recapture much of their former roles as key junction points for international traffic, making them much more attractive for high-level service activities” (Hall, 1990, p. 184). With respect to the effects of change upon urban systems in countries such as Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, Lichtenberger anticipated that: “…only the primate cities will participate actively in the co-operation of, and competition between, the eurometropolises and will become innovation centers for new international economic and technological developments. Only the primate cities will profit from the transfer policies of international financial markets” (Lichtenberger, 1994, p. 29-30).

On the other side, Kunzmann and Wegener (1996) have argued that the evolution of peripheral cities, in particular those of Central and Eastern Europe , can shake the existing spatial patterns of European urban development. Van der Meer (1998) points to the potential role of new innovation centers: Copenhagen , Berlin , Warsaw , Vienna , Belgrade , Budapest , Rome , Barcelona and Madrid . One of the scenarios presented by Kunzmann (1997) forecasted a shift of European urban potential to the East. According to his prognosis Berlin , next to Dresden , Nürnberg and Vienna , would take up the role of an exchange node between Eastern and Western Europe . This idea found a reflection in a paper by Kunkel and Zillmer (2004) who suggested that Berlin , together with Dresden , Leipzig and Vienna , can gain important functions as East-West hubs, linking the East European growth centers the Warsaw – Budapest ­Prague triangle with the established West European core area.

Referring to these general ideas, several comparative studies were designed focusing on development trends and development potential of major capital cities in the region, as well as their interrelations with metropolitan centers situated in the neighboring West-European countries. Such projects were undertaken, for example, by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Fassmann 1994) and by the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation (Demarie 1994). While presenting extensive empirical material, these studies have provided rather inconclusive answers regarding main patterns of inter-urban competition. One of the points of agreement was that the later the countries in question would participate in the European integration, the longer their primate cities would continue to expand at the expense of the remaining components of national urban systems.

Some work has also focused on the emerging interdependence among individual pairs of metropolitan centers situated across international boundaries, including that of Berlin and Warsaw . It was hypothesized that the Berlin-Warsaw axis might develop into a high growth intensity zone, by attracting modern economic activity from both West and East (Domanski 1999). Similarly, Heinze and Kill (1994, p. 113) anticipated that the new direction of European development (next to the traditional North-South axis) would lead from Brussels through the Ruhr region and Berlin to Warsaw and, consequently, to Moscow . This coincided with the postulate expressed in the European Spatial Development Perspective (European Communities 1999), according to which urban structure in Europe , now heavily dominated by the so-called Pentagon area, should in the future assume a more polycentric character. It also corresponded with projections showing the development of Berlin into a global city (Jalowiecki 1999, Kuklinski 2000), as well as with results of some studies that traced a shift of Poland's economic core from the Upper Silesian conurbation, with its concentration of heavy industries, to the Warsaw metropolitan area (Rykiel 1996).

Against these assumptions, Hall approaches the positioning of Central and Eastern European Capitals, including both Berlin and Warsaw , as Sub-Continental Capitals, or Gate-way cities, located peripherally with respect to the European Central Capitals Region, “with its dense cluster of cities closely networked through air, high-speed train and telecommunications” (Hall 2005, p.7). These gate-way cities are, according to Hall “major air hubs for flag carriers and increasingly the cores of regional high-speed train systems which are not yet connected to the “Pentagon” system (Hall 2005, p.7). In this respect the promotion of Warsaw and its connectivity with ECCR could be supported by developing a system of transport linkages between the Polish capital and Poland 's two other major cities, namely Poznan and Wroclaw . As south-western Poland has a relatively developed transportation system, considerably well connected with the western part of the EU, while at the same time partly disconnected with the central regions of Poland , the focus could be put on the improvement of these latter linkages. In fact, it is a prior idea set by the authors of the study: Poland's Spatial Organization at the Beginning of the 21 st Century to enhance the connections within the Warsaw-Poznan-Wroclaw triangle, thus increasing the competitiveness of the region in the urban system of Central Europe (Weclawowicz et al 2006).

Against these opinions and expectations, it is relevant to refer to Mäding (1995) who pointed to the well-established position, vis-à-vis Berlin , of the metropolitan centers in the Alte Länder of Germany . Paradoxically, if Berlin fails to gain a dominance within the national urban system, this may actually enhance its role to be played in East-Central Europe (see: Urban systems and regional change, 1995, p. 11). Also, Krätke (2000) listed a number of barriers encountered in the process of transformation of Berlin 's economy, and in the integration of its society. Krätke estimated that, when compared with the metropolitan regions of Western Germany, Berlin 's economy was a weak one. Therefore, so far as global city functions of economic character were concerned, Berlin could not aspire to the highest ranks in the world urban hierarchy. In a similar vein, authors such as Furman (2003) expose limitations in the development process faced by Warsaw , including its inadequate technical infrastructure and the weakness of its knowledge-based economy sector.

This spectrum of views and expectations demonstrates that functional profiles of cities, as well as patterns of urban interdependence in Central and Eastern Europe are far from stability. These questions seem to represent a relevant topic for systematic studies. The present article focuses on the evolving positions of Berlin and Warsaw within international urban systems, mainly on the European level, but also in a broader globalization context. It is presumed that in the growing integration ­– the mutual interlinking of national urban systems that lead towards the formation of the European urban system, capital cities perform a particular role. In the section below some arguments are given in support of considering Berlin and Warsaw as a pair of national capitals that can be analyzed from the perspective of observes as well as possible future interdependence. The origin, main scope and data sources used in the study are presented in section three. This is followed, in section four, by an analysis based on experts' interviews, of the state of development and growth potential of selected metropolitan functions of the two cities. These questions are further elaborated on in section five which brings to a focus factors that sustain, as well as those that hinder the development process. In section six recent trends in the employment structure of Berlin and Warsaw are mutually compared . The general findings are confronted in section seven with those found in selected recent literature related to the topic. The concluding section reflects on questions put forth at the outset and also includes a suggestion concerning the scope of further studies.


While differing from each other in many respects, Berlin and Warsaw share a number of common characteristics, which also make them specific when compared with other capital cities in the region. One of these features is geographic situation in the northern part of Central and Eastern Europe , along a major historical West-East axis. According to present day regionalization schemes, the two cities are part of the Baltic Sea Region (VASAB 2010 1994), unlike the urban cluster comprising Prague, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest which are usually associated with Central and South-Eastern Europe, or the Danubian region (Atlas für Süd- und Osteuropa, 1999). Furthermore both Berlin and Warsaw are located in the Eastern, peripheral parts of the countries concerned, in regions with relatively low urban network density, in zones characterized by below-average level of economic development.

Another specific, and in fact quite unique characteristic common to Berlin and Warsaw is the extremely low primacy at the level of the national urban systems which have a strongly polycentric structure (ESPON 1.1.1., 2004). With 3.4 Million inhabitants (2002) Berlin accounts for only 4.2 % of the total population of Germany , while the Berlin agglomeration (5.1 Million) for 6.3% of the total. The respective proportions for Warsaw (1.7 Million inhabitants in 2004) are strikingly similar – 4.4%, and in the case of the Warsaw agglomeration (2.5 Million inhabitants), 6.5% of Poland 's total population.

The functional change in Warsaw and, in particular, Berlin , has been accompanied by a physical reconstruction of the central city district, where large tracts of land were lying idle since World War II. The entry of new urban functions onto this urban fallow marks yet another trait which is quite unique for the two capital cities.

Against these analogies one has to consider the disparities in size and the overall socio-economic potential. Berlin 's ascendancy is expressed both in its population size, twice the size of Warsaw , as well as in the fact that it represents the World's third largest economy. This cannot be matched by Warsaw 's greater relative economic strength on the domestic level. These are the contrasts that prompted some authors (see Krzeminski 2000) to speculate that the future development of Warsaw , following Poland 's entry to the European Union may be affected, in fact constrained by Berlin 's foreseeable functional dominance in Central and Eastern Europe . This however is one of the scenarios to be discussed in the light of the materials presented below.


All results presented in this article are drawn from a research project (Korcelli-Olejniczak, 2004) which aimed at a comparison of the development of metropolitan functions of Berlin and Warsaw during the 1990s, as well as their growth potential and prospects till 2015. In that project most information was obtained from two sources: a survey involving a series of structured, in-depth interviews, as well as employment statistics for Berlin and Warsaw for the period of 1994-2002. The survey was carried out in the form of a complex questionnaire addressed to 30 experts – mainly spatial planners and policy makers – both from Poland and Germany . It was composed of four groups of open-ended questions, each group referring to a separate research issue. The main aim of the survey study was to verify three alternative hypotheses describing the interdependence of Berlin and Warsaw in the urban system of Central and Eastern Europe: Berlins 's dominance, an equilibrium of the ranks, and Warsaw 's subdominant position in the region1.

For the purposes of the present paper the research has been to some extent reworked, as the article addresses different research questions than those put forth in the background study. More specifically:

a) Berlin and Warsaw are perceived here as two cases of metropolitan transition in Central and Eastern Europe.

b) The functions and development factors characteristic for Berlin and Warsaw , respectively, are mutually compared mainly in order to identify processes and phenomena common for both cities.

c) The analysis is targeted at the following question: which functions can make cities such as Berlin and Warsaw competitive so as to enable their integration into the global urban networks, and, hence, to facilitate their advancement within the European urban hierarchy. A second, related question concerns patterns of possible future interdependence between Berlin and Warsaw in the region of Central and Eastern Europe.


In the light of the experts' judgements, Berlin and Warsaw are characterized by numerous parallels with respect to the state of their development, as well as their development potential (in the period of 2003-2015). The hypothesized prospective range of influence of the cities is here presented and compared with respect to eight major metropolitan functions, both those of economic and of non-economic nature2. Figure 1 shows averaged assessments by 30 experts concerning chances of Berlin and Warsaw to perform a transnational role with regard to the respective functions.

The survey has identified a number of trends and phenomena which exemplify the information presented in the figure above. In the case of Berlin these are, among other things, the following generalizations:

  • With respect to most of the functions, Berlin is more advanced in regaining a core position in the urban system of Central and Eastern Europe than within its national system; the position of Berlin in Germany, after 1990, with the exclusion of the capital city functions, has not changed significantly.
  • The transfer of functions of national capital to Berlin has become its main growth factor and a generator of other metropolitan functions, which determine the city’s transnational importance.
  • Berlin is considered to be on its way to become a railway transportation node of European importance – its transnational potential with respect to air traffic is estimated as weak.
  • With respect to functions of ‘control and regulation’, a distinct dominance of political functions (public administration) over economic functions (corporate control) is visible. This is to a large extent connected with the relative weakness of Berlin’s economy.
  • Berlin is considered to be one of the global ‘cultural’ metropolises. Berlin’s importance as a cultural center determines its position in the European and global urban systems. Berlin is a cultural metropolis both in the ‘absorptive’ and ‘generative’ sense.
  • Berlin has a leading position in Germany as a scientific and academic center – this is a factor which also strengthens its transnational position.

In the case of Warsaw the following generalizations can be put forward:

  • The inflow of foreign capital and foreign investments after 1989 has substantially contributed to the development of new metropolitan functions.
  • The quality and spatial range of preexisting functions has increased.
  • The so called ‘generative’ functions, connected with the spatial, economic, social and cultural radiation of Warsaw have been the least affected.
  • The transnational role of Warsaw as a transportation node can only be attributed to the expansion of the international airport Okęcie. With regard to road or railway transport no development prospects are identified.
  • The development of corporate control functions is mainly restricted to the national scale; only a limited number of regional headquarters of international corporations, in addition to numerous national headquarters of Polish companies, including those of transnational importance, are located in Warsaw. The rather weak transnational position of the city is due primarily to the limited overall size of the Polish economy and some of its structural characteristics, but also to a relatively low attractiveness of Warsaw as a place to live.
  • Owing to several phenomena Warsaw has a considerable development potential as a cultural center of transnational importance. These are among others: the variety, number and artistic level of its cultural ventures and institutions, as well as geographic situation – in the sphere of overlapping Western and Eastern cultural influences.
  • The multitude of Warsaw’s scientific institutions, and the professional skills of scientific staff constitute a basis for the development of a transnational role of the city with respect to the function of scientific and research center.

These partial generalizations will now be elaborated upon and verified by a closer identification of factors, which either support or hinder the development of metropolitan functions in Berlin and in Warsaw.


Figure 1 shows which of the metropolitan functions can assume a transnational range and may be treated as important components of the overall development potential of Berlin and Warsaw , respectively. The growth of these metropolitan functions depends on the presence of certain factors which are either primary components of the urban system or have been a posteriori elaborated by the system.

Primary factors are shaped independently, without the inducement of other factors. They constitute, for example, features of the city (geographical location, environmental values) or processes not directly concerning the city, referring to broader, regional, national or transnational phenomena (such as EU-enlargement).

Secondary factors, on the other side, represent more specific features of the city, being the result of human activities (well-developed infrastructure, multiethnic structure of population, symbolic character of the city etc.) or constitute specific urban and metropolitan functions, which can generate the development of (new) metropolitan functions, forming the so called synergy loops (relations based on mutual interaction and interdependence between components in a multi-component system). The application of the notion of synergy effect in social sciences (see Domanski, 2001) allows us to perceive the dynamics of the urban systems, especially of systems undergoing socio-economic transformation. In this case synergy describes dynamic relations between individual development factors, but also between functions which can play the role of development factors.

There are various types of development factors. In this analysis both positive (supportive) and negative (hindering) factors are divided according to the sphere of activities they concern into five major groups: (a) economic, (b) political and administrative, (c) social, cultural and/psychological, (d) infrastructural and/or spatial and (e) other factors.

5.1. Hindering Factors as Barriers in the Process of Development of Metropolitan Functions

Figure 2 presents the experts' assessments concerning the role respective types of negative (hindering) factors play in the development of metropolitan functions of the two cities.

Some major differences between the situation of Berlin and that of Warsaw can be identified. In the case of Berlin the hindering role of economic factors is felt the strongest. They mainly relate to the financial crisis and indebtedness of the city, as well as the competition of economically strong cities in the Old Lands of the Federal Republic . Only a relatively minor, negative role is attributed to political factors, and also to social and cultural factors, which reflect the still existing perception of Berlin (in western Germany ) as an “eastern” city, as well as difficulties encountered in the process of its integration.

In Warsaw , the negative influence of economic factors is less important, in the light of the experts' judgement, than the hindering role of political and administrative factors. These refer mostly to the administrative system which existed until 2002, and proved to be inefficient and conflict- generating3. A general lack of strategic thinking among local political elites has also been emphasized.

Notwithstanding this differences, the main similarity is the strongly negative role, played in both Berlin and Warsaw , by infrastructural and other spatial barriers to development. They are related to historical and political heritage of the two cities, their peripheral position in the context of globalization processes, and, in the case of Warsaw – the poor time - accessibility and insufficient connectivity by both road and rail with the urbanized core area of the European Union.

Whereas the negative impact of most of the factors identified can be limited by appropriate public policies and private activities carried out on the local, regional and national scale, the negative impact of those factors which are related to the so called “latecomer position” of Berlin and Warsaw in the process of urban competition referring to the consolidation of global economy is difficult to control. In this respect, some changes may only be expected in the longer-term perspective.

5.2. Supportive Factors in the Development of Metropolitan Functions

The confrontation between Berlin and Warsaw with regard to positive (supportive) development factors (see Figure 3) shows some interesting differences and similarities among others in the way the role of existing functions is interpreted as generators of other metropolitan functions. Firstly it points to a particular importance of (the new) capital functions in Berlin , and also of its unique cultural institutions, with their wide range of influence and attractive potential. Secondly, it accentuates the role of geographical, in fact, geopolitical situation of Warsaw in Central and Eastern Europe . In fact, this perspective, very sharp and widely shared among Polish planners and social scientists prior to Poland's entry to the European Union, is now giving way to a perspective of peripheriality as Warsaw's major locational feature. Thirdly, the comparison identified some eminent parallels, which may be treated as characteristic for the two cities and the region of Europe they are part of. It is clearly observable that soft development factors prevail as main growth impulses in both Berlin and Warsaw . Among the four most frequently chosen development factors for Berlin , all are of non-economic character. In Warsaw , these include two out of the main factors. Beside the aforementioned, the role of factors such as the strong position as center of science and education and staff quality (level of education, qualifications and experience of the employed and potential employees) are pointed to as significant.

One can also notice the following regularity: when resources of the two cities are comparable (keeping in mind the scale differences), as in the case of labor skills or the availability of free space for investments in the inner city areas, the experts' tend to focus on Warsaw in their evaluations rather than Berlin. This can be explained by lack of attributes of the former city that can be treated as its absolute advantages.

The analysis of patterns of interdependence among the groups of supportive, and of the development hindering factors allows one to identify a category of the leading factors. They stimulate the emergence and growth of metropolitan functions by producing synergy linkages (some in the form of loops) with other factors (for a discussion see: Korcelli-Olejniczak 2004, p. 149-166). In the case of Berlin two such factors are identified that are placed at the top of hierarchy. These are: the role of the city of the cultural of center and its function of the federal capital. Both of these development factors interact with a number of other factors and have positive impact upon the development of several metropolitan functions. The interaction between these two factors is evaluated as the most intense, while their next strongest linkages point towards the position of Berlin as center of science and education. All these factors belong to the group of non-economic supporters, at least in the direct sense.

With respect to Warsaw , its geographical situation and skills of its labor are assessed to be the most important development agents. It appears, nevertheless, that the role of national capital function is greatly underestimated, as it is taken for granted. Another major generator of new metropolitan functions in the case of Warsaw appears to be its role as a node of international air traffic. Warsaw 's monopoly in this regard, however, is now fading away together with a gradual expansion of regional airports in cities such as Cracow, Gdansk and Katowice.

To sum up, non-economic functions (political, cultural), or economic functions of indirect character (such a science and education) play a major role in the contemporary metropolitan development of Berlin and, although to a lesser extend, Warsaw . They are expected to continue to perform such a role in the future.


The comparison of employment structure by sections of the Standard Industrial Classifications Index shows important similarities between Berlin and Warsaw . Considerably high employment indicators are registered in both cities in such sections as: manufacturing (D), wholesale and retail trade (G), property development, renting, business and research activities (K) as well as health and social work (N). In Warsaw also education (M) takes up a high rank, whereas in Berlin public administration, defense and social security (L) are characterized by a high share of employment. In both cities such sections as: agriculture, forestry, fishing (A/B), and mining, quarrying, electricity, gas and water supply (C/E) are weakly represented. In the case of Warsaw also in the section H: hotels and restaurants, the employment share is comparably low.

6.1. Evolution of the Employment Structure of Berlin and Warsaw in the Period of 1990-2002

The recent evolution of employment structure indicates a growing divergence between economic patterns of the two cities (Figure 4). Some common trends however can be noticed. Among other things, the sections A/B and C/E are characterized by a slow but continuous employment decline (since 1994), whereas the most sharp decrease occurs in section D (manufacturing). This phenomenon is connected with basic structural changes – a gradual decline of the former, pre-1990 strong position of industrial production in both Warsaw and East Berlin.

A pronounced similarity between Berlin and Warsaw refers to the considerable rise in sector K, which is an important indicator of metropolitan development and urban socio-economic transformation. The employment increase in activities connected with property development, renting, business and research amounts to 4.52 percentage point in Berlin , while in Warsaw – 3.33. As to other growth sections, Berlin witnesses a rise in activities concerning hotels, restaurants, health and social work, and other community, social and personal service activities (culture, recreation, sports), and in cleaning, services rendered to care etc. in private households. In Warsaw employment growth occurs in such sections as financial activities, transport, storage and communication, public administration and defense, as well as social security.


The analyses presented show quite distinctly that both in Berlin and Warsaw the metropolitan “power” lies beyond its purely economic functions. When compared with the most of hitherto existing forecasts regarding the development of Warsaw, which estimate the position of the Polish capital as strong with respect to its economic metropolitan functions, such as those of corporate control or financial center and/or seek development chances of the city in promoting the expansion of these activities (Domanski, Guzik, Gwosdz 2000; Dutkowski 2000; Kuklinski 1999; Kudlacz, Markowski 2002; Lijewski 2003; Sleszynski 2002), the present evaluation to some extent questions these, suggesting some alternative development patterns. By doing this, it offers a supplement to Warsaw's still current strategic document, the “Strategy of the development of Warsaw till 2010” (Strategia… 1998), and the national-scale planning document, the “Concept of the national spatial development policy” (Koncepcja… 1999), stressing, next to Warsaw's potential as a scientific center, also its cultural and political gate-way city functions. The main strategic document of Berlin on the contrary, the BerlinStudie (The Berlin Studie…. 2001) focuses mainly on the importance of development of non-economic functions (scientific center, political aspects of gate-way city functions etc.). This remains in concordance with the present findings.

For both Berlin and Warsaw two parallel occurring phenomena are characteristic:

Firstly, with respect to factors which support the metropolitan development of Berlin , and, to some extent Warsaw , a prevalence of non-economic potential is visible. Secondly, notwithstanding some differences in the character of factors identified as negative in the two cities, in the European (though not Central-European) dimension, both Berlin and Warsaw are seen as “latecomers” with reference to their metropolitan competitiveness. Although Berlin and Warsaw are a scene of important consolidation processes occurring in the structure of global economy, the cities have poor chances to become the centers of these processes, to reach the highest economic ranks in the European or global urban system. This means that despite Warsaw's leading role (also with respect to economic functions) in the national (Poland's) urban system and Berlin's position, as capital-city of one of the world's strongest economies, at least with respect to clearly economic functions neither Berlin nor Warsaw will be able to take up central positions and will remain beyond the economic core (at least in the next 10-15 years). This indicates that in both Berlin and Warsaw efforts should firstly be put onto the support of those functions, the development of which is not directly dependent upon economic globalization. These are functions such as: scientific center, cultural center, non-economic gateway city. Especially in the case of Berlin , the evolution of the employment structure confirms such trends. It should also be stressed that with respect to the development of most functions Berlin is more advanced both in the ‘absorptive' and ‘generative' sense. The transnational role of Berlin as a cultural metropolis should be understood in a twofold way: in the ‘absorptive' meaning, as a placenta of multicultural influences, and in the active sense as generator of classic and modern culture.

These findings generally correspond, among others, with results of a recently concluded ESPON project (ESPON 1.1.1 2004), in which potential for urban development in Europe outside its core (the Pentagon) area was sought mainly in the promotion and generation of linkages between cities, as well as their functional specialization. As to the resent status, among 76 MEGAs (Metropolitan European Growth Areas) identified in the project report, both Berlin and Warsaw are allocated to the second highest level (out of five) with respect to the knowledge function (i.e. centers of higher education), industrial function, as well as public administration function. Berlin was also graded as a transportation hub of European importance (level 2), while Warsaw – only “a major transport node” (level 3). Conversely, Warsaw was allocated to a higher level (3) as a decision-making center (in the private sector), while Berlin 's role was evaluated as only of a “regional decision-making center” (level 4), subordinate to both Munich , Hamburg , as well as the Rhein-Ruhr conurbation (ESPON 1.1.1. 2004, p. 103-105)4. Hence, the conclusion according to which it is mainly functions of non-economic nature (in the strict sense) that determine the position of the two capital cities within transnational urban systems, is basically corroborated by the ESPON project results.

Taylor and Hoyler (2002), as well as Taylor and Derudder (2004), who investigate the networks of cities and their integration in the system of contemporary world economy, have found out that both Berlin and Warsaw perform as high-ranking nodes in the networks, although their range of influence is European, rather than global. It was suggested by the present author (Korcelli-Olejniczak 2004, p. 188) that such a position in the case of Berlin was mainly due to the overall potential and export-orientation of the German economy, while, in the case of Warsaw , to its dominance, with respect to major metropolitan functions, within Poland5. Yet, as revealed by Komornicki (2003), the share of the Warsaw metropolitan area in the total value of Poland 's imports (30.5 percent) is three times its export share (11 percent). This documents the role of Warsaw as the main focus for inward-oriented economic linkages that spread concomitantly throughout Poland . Following the terminology applied in the present article, Warsaw 's national position is stronger in the ‘absorptive' than in the ‘generative' sense. This corresponds with an assessment by S. Furman, who has observed that exports generated by Warsaw contain a very small proportion of technologically advanced products and services. According to that author, this is an evidence for a one-sided character of the process of globalization of Warsaw 's economy which for long years to come is likely to remain a recipient rather than generator of growth impulses in a transnational scale (Furman 2000, p. 446).

As to future outcomes of interurban competition, two alternative approaches may be referred to. One of these is to assume, on the basis of experience from previous enlargements of the European Community, that a country's accession to the EU brings additional growth stimuli to its capital city (among others, as an effect of investments in accessibility improvement), at the expense of the remaining components of a national urban system (Angelidis, 2003). Conversely, an entry into the European Union can be perceived as an opportunity for regional centers and intermediate-size cities to enhance their role and ‘visibility'. In other words, interurban polarization described by Lichtenberger (1994) may no longer prevail. Such a standpoint is taken by Zienkowski (2004) who anticipates that the attracting power of Warsaw is likely to dissipate gradually, and by Domanski (2004) who points out that the relative pull exerted by other major urban centers (such as Poznan, Wroclaw and Crocow) has already been growing due to locational advantages comparable to those of Warsaw, which are however available at lower cost.

With respect to the functions of Berlin, a number of authors refer to divergences between forecasts and observed trends. Plans from the early 1990s which assumed the construction of up to 12 million sq. meters of office space, now seem unrealistic (Jałowiecki, 2005). After the initial boom, symbolized by the Potsdamer Platz development, few firms have been choosing Berlin for their headquarter location. Moreover, numerous enterprises have departed from the city, once federal subsidies connected with the special status of West Berlin were discontinued after 1991. P. Gans and F.J. Kemper (2002, p. 175), following H.M. Blotevogel point to an unbalanced structure of business services in Berlin – an overrepresentation, when confronted with other major cities of Germany, of employment in science, education, art and the media, with relative deficits in finance, insurance, legal services and wholesale trade. Similar generalizations are made by S. Krätke (2000), who also suggests that this disequilibrium is likely to persist in the future.

With respect to the functions of Berlin , a number of authors refer to divergences between forecasts and observed trends. Plans from the early 1990s which assumed the construction of up to 12 million sq. meters of office space, now seem unrealistic (Jalowiecki, 2005). After the initial boom, symbolized by the Potsdamer Platz development, few firms have been choosing Berlin for their headquarter location. Moreover, numerous enterprises have departed from the city, once federal subsidies connected with the spatial status of West Berlin were discontinued after 1991. Gans and Kemper (2002, p. 175), following Blotevogel (1998) point to an unbalanced structure of business services in Berlin – an overrepresentation, when confronted with other major cities of Germany, of employment in science, education, art and the media, with relative deficits in finance, insurance, legal services and wholesale trade. Similar generalizations are made by Krätke (2000) who also suggests that this disequilibrium is likely to persist in the future.


For both Berlin and Warsaw the road upwards the European urban hierarchy is not a smooth one. This general conclusion that stems from many sources, is corroborated by the results presented in this article. In the case of Berlin , it is justified to anticipate its growing role mainly as a political and cultural metropolis rather than a center of transnational business activity. Also in the case of Warsaw , the future is by no means primarily connected with the scope and range of its economic functions. Referring to the question formulated at the beginning, it is the national capital functions that constitute the main raison d' etre for Warsaw as well as for Berlin , today and in the foreseeable future. As Hall (2001, p. 64) puts it (in Europe) “ the combination of state power , language and culture create protected urban systems in which even relatively small capital cities have a command over their national territories”. This role is not likely to diminish substantially even at more advanced stages of the European integration.

The question of future interdependence of Berlin and Warsaw and of its specific patterns, remains an open one. There is little indication of a rapid growth of interaction between the two capital cities. Prospects for mutual collaboration may be attached to the parallel development of science, education and culture related functions. One can also argue however, that in particular with respect to political gate way city functions a strong competition between Berlin and Warsaw is only a question of time. This problem should perhaps be tackled more effectively on a broader plane, by examining the changing functional structure and linkages of other major cities of Central and Eastern Europe .


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* Ewa Korcelli-Olejniczak, Institute of Geography and Spatial Organization, Polish Academy of Sciences

1 The detailed contents of the questionnaire, the interview regime, the names of experts and their selection rules are given in: Korcelli-Olejniczak (2004).

2 The scope of metropolitan functions identified is based on: Gawryszewski et al. (1997) who adopted a concept developed by Bourne (1997). They cover functions of at least national range in the following activity categories: communication and circulation (transportation node, media center), production and reproduction (center of innovation and knowledge, high-tech industry center, center of culture), control and regulation (seat of government and parliament, firms headquarter).

3 With the introduction of self governance at the local level in Poland in 1990, the city of Warsaw was subdivided into seven townships (gminas). The townships formed an obligatory union, although its competencies remained restricted. That system was object of diverse criticism and it became modified in 1994. The new pattern consisted of eleven townships, out of which the central township (Warszawa-Centrum) was accounting for more than two-thirds of the total population of Warsaw and more than one-half of its area. This division brought with it a new set of policy and planning controversies. A subsequent reform of 2002 has consolidated the city which now constitutes one township subdivided into 18 districts.

4 In total, Berlin was allocated to category 1 MEGA (London and Paris were identified members of a separate category of global nodes), and Warsaw to category 3 (out of four), owing to its poor scores on the criteria of the competitiveness (GDP per capita and company headquarter location), as well as connectivity (volume of air traffic and a multimedial accessibility indicator).

5 This dominance has in fact been growing. According to Lijewski (2003) out of the 500 biggest firms registered in Poland , 178 maintain a headquarter in Warsaw. For comparison, in 1992 the respective number was 77 firms. In fact, as stressed in the Introduction of the present article, several Polish authors (Jałowiecki, 2000; Kudłacz, Markowski, 2002) tend to associate Warsaw’s prospective advancement in the European urban hierarchy with the possible growth of its financial services and corporate-control sector. The recent expansion of the Warsaw Stock Exchange is seen as a case in point.

Figure 1: Berlin and Warsaw: Prospects for transnational importance regarding selected metropolitan functions in the period until 2015



State capital and political forum

Berlin, Warsaw

Transportation node

Berlin, Warsaw to a limited extent


Poor chances for Berlin and Warsaw

Cultural center

Berlin (global importance), Warsaw (European importance)

Media and communication center

Some chances for Berlin

City of knowledge and innovation (industrial and scientific functions)

Berlin, Warsaw

Financial center

Most probably no chances

Gateway-city (economic and political aspects)

Berlin, Warsaw


Figure 2:. Share of individual factor types among the total of negative factors in Berlin and Warsaw


Economic factors


Political and administrative factors


Social, psychological and cultural factors


Infrastructural and spatial factors


Other factors


Figure 3: Evaluation of importance of individual supportive factors


strong position as a cultural center


capital city functions


strong position as center of science and education


geographical situation


EU-enlargement to the East


staff quality


environmental qualities


free space for investment in the inner-city area


Figure 4: Evolution of employment structure in Berlin and Warsaw (1994-2002)

Edited and posted on the web on 14th October 2005; last update 21st February 2007

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 22 (1), (2007), 51-68