Citizens' perspective on street names

10. May 2024
Michael Sch. / Wikipedia

In the German city of Warendorf, a Citizens' Jury is to consider the future procedure for naming streets. This was decided by the city council on 16 May 2024. The background to this is the naming of streets after people accused of supporting National Socialism.

The Citizens' Jury is to develop recommendations on the following topics:

1. basic guidelines for future street names

2. general procedure for applications for street renaming

3. dealing with the specific requests for the renaming of four streets

The administration is commissioned to prepare the exact organisation of the further procedure in cooperation with the Citizens' Participation Working Group in preparation for the Citizens' Jury. In particular, the specific questions to be asked, the scope and limits of the work to be carried out by the mini-public and the exact timetable are to be discussed. The resolution is to be passed by the City Council in the last meeting before the 2024 summer holidays.

Against racism and anti-Semitism

In December 2023, the SPD, Greens and Die Linke/Die Partei in the city council applied for a revision of the naming of streets and squares as well as their renaming. Among other things, they proposed giving the city council responsibility for the issue. Naming suggestions from local residents should be taken into consideration. In addition, exhibitions on this topic are to be organised in the city museum in the event of renaming. The proposal also provides for the reimbursement of costs incurred by residents, for example for changing documents.

By changing street names, the aim is to show that the city "no longer wants to have anything to do with racism and anti-Semitism". The "strange survival" of Nazi supporters in street names should be documented and explained.

"An emotional topic"

Specifically, it is about Wagenfeldstraße, Freiherr von Langen-Straße, Agnes-Miegel-Weg and Heinrich-Tenhumberg-Straße. While the first three namesakes are accused of supporting National Socialism, the former Bishop Heinrich Tenhumberg is accused of being responsible for sexual abuse under the umbrella of the Catholic Church.

The motion picks up on a decades-long, still open discussion about how to deal with historically charged street names. "The history of political applications and discussions makes it clear that there is no clear definition of honourability in the context of street renaming and that some of the street names applied for cannot be directly and unequivocally identified as street names to be renamed," reads a submission from the city administration. Street renaming is often an emotional and costly issue for the residents of the respective streets.

Citizens' jury guidelines as a basis

The administration therefore proposes setting up a citizens' jury to develop recommendations on these issues. The Citizens' Participation Working Group was also in favour of setting up the first Citizens' Jury in Warendorf to deal with this topic. "It would be good to get a broadly supported result," said Mayor Peter Horstmann on 6 May 2024 in the main, finance and economic committee.

A budget of 25,000 euros has been set aside in the 2024 budget to organise a citizens' jury. The mini-public is to take place on the basis of the guidelines for testing municipal citizens' juries in the city of Warendorf, which the city council adopted on 21 March 2024.

Expert commissioned

The administration has commissioned historian Dr Matthias Frese (LWL Institute for Regional History), a proven expert on the subject of "street renaming", to provide a scientific assessment of the street names mentioned. The opinion will be available after the 2024 summer holidays. It is intended to provide a basis for discussion and decision-making for both the Citizens' Jury and politicians.

Learn more: Submission to the citizens' jury on street renaming