Amerika Haus in Berlin returned to the city

26th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

26 September 2006, BERLIN - In a poignant symbol of changing US-German relations, the much-loved cultural institute Amerika Haus in Berlin, which was visited by millions of Berliners over five decades, has been given back to the city of Berlin.

26 September 2006

BERLIN - In a poignant symbol of changing US-German relations, the much-loved cultural institute Amerika Haus in Berlin, which was visited by millions of Berliners over five decades, has been given back to the city of Berlin.

In a short ceremony to mark the return of the building to the city, Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit confessed to a feeling of "melancholy" in receiving the building back.

The building had always been owned by the city and was rented by the American authorities. It was originally intended to be given back only when the new American embassy, which is being built at Pariser Platz next to Berlin's Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, was ready. The new embassy is scheduled to open at the end of 2007.

However building work on a neighbouring property caused the return to be brought forward, as deep excavation work was thought to pose a security risk.

In 1955, Amerika Haus, which was then located in Einemstraße near Nollendorfplatz, received 1.2 million visitors. In the last few months the total has been around five per month, according to the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel. After the 9/11 attacks in the US strict security checks were introduced and visitors had to register for a visit, at the latest the day before.

Speaking at the ceremony, US ambassador William Timken said that the building had been a symbol of America's commitment to a free Berlin. He proposed a toast at the end of the ceremony to the past and future of the building.

Timken presented a cheque for EUR 10,000 to Claudia Lux, the general director of the Central and State Library. The money is intended to be used to digitise the remaining book stocks from Amerika Haus so that a virtual knowledge portal can be created by the American Embassy in collaboration with Berlin libraries.

Among the dignitaries present at the ceremony were the former US ambassador John Kornblum, the CDU politician Friedbert Pflüger, the executive director of the American Academy in Berlin, Gary Smith, and the director of the Alliierten Museum in Berlin, Helmut Trotnow.

Trotnow recalled how East German citizens who had borrowed books from Amerika Haus shortly before the Berlin Wall was built made a point of returning them 28 years later when the Wall fell.

The distinctive building, which was designed by the architect Bruno Grimmek, was opened in 1957 and is now a listed building. However its future is still unclear, Wowereit said.

The city district council of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf has decided that a museum of West Berlin will be built at the location. However, the Greens, some of whom perceived the building in the past as a symbol of American imperialism, would rather have an anti-Vietnam War museum.

Copyright Expatica 2006

Subject: German news, Amerika Haus in Berlin, US-German relations, US Embassy in Berlin, American embassy, William Timken

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