Collapsing new buildings
East Germany's former cultural and political centre, the Palace of the Republic, is becoming raw materials for Dubai's rapidly expanding high rise skylineTearing down the socialist Palace of the Republic - once dubbed the "Palazzo Prozzo" by the East Berliners - is bringing handsome profits for scrap firm operators involved in its demolition.
Vast-sized steel girders from the socialist era building, some of them 90 metres long and weighing more than 100 tons, have been removed from the premises recently, amidst a blaze of sparks and noise.
Hardly a happy ending for the former seat of the East German (communist) parliament which apart from its political role was once a popular dance and leisure facility for East Berliners in the 1980s.
Not that many people shed tears about the demise of the former 180-metre-wide building, considered a prize piece of socialist architecture when it opened in 1976.
Heavily involved at the Schlossplatz Palace site is Schrott- Wetzel, a Rosslau-based scrap company in Saxony Anhalt, some 120 kilometres south-west of Berlin.
In recent weeks 30 of its workers have been using powerful steel- cutting gear to get at the building's maze of steel girders.
Demolishing the building is a costly undertaking for the government, involving the removal of 56,000 tonnes of concrete, 20,000 tonnes of steel and iron, 500 tonnes of glass, as well as other materials.
The bill is likely to be high for the government, close on one billion euro (1.5 billion dollars) according to some city experts. This is even though the heavily indebted city is likely to gain 10.7 million euros from the sale of the building's steel.
Massive-sized girders from the Palace's once proud parliamentary chamber were dismantled recently, cut into six-metre-long segments, then loaded into barges docked alongside the Schlossplatz site - prior to a three-day river journey to Rosslau.
There, the steel will get melted down for shipment to the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, and to buyers in Turkey for use in Volkswagen engines.
"The quality of the steel is excellent," maintains Henryk Wetzel, the Rosslau scrap-metal boss in Berlin. "We have no difficulty finding markets for it."
A new home by the ocean
Steel from the palace will be is used in the 1,200-metre-high "Al Burj" tower project, now under construction in Dubai. The 228- floor Dubai "super tower" will be the world's tallest building when completed in 2010.
Wolfgang Lindau, the head of the Schrott Wetsel steel smelter, says shipping steel to Dubai is important for his company and that the arrangement would continue.
"So far we've gotten two barges with 1,600 tonnes steel from Berlin. We await the rest in November," he said.
The Rosslau company has Europe's most dynamic steel-cutting equipment, possessing a 2,000-ton pressure ability. It's capable of snapping the thickest steel girders like matchsticks, say company workers.
Involvement in the Berlin demolition project brings welcome publicity for the firm. "We hope our equipment will become better known as a result," Henryk Wetzel said.
A ghost of former greatness
Today, little of the once palatial socialist era building remains.
Once tagged "Erich's Lamp Shop" because of the many lamps it used to have in its foyer and its links to the late communist leader Erich Honecker - the task of destroying the "Palast" will be finished by the spring of 2009, perhaps earlier.
Meanwhile, curious tourists gather at the Schlossplatz site, snapping pictures of the ruins and taking shots of the nearby Protestant Cathedral and Museum Island through the yawning holes in the doomed structure.
After Berlin's reunification in 1989-90, a huge debate arose over what should be done with the building. Many in the west were in favour of it being torn down, arguing it was not only an ugly edifice, but also too closely associated with the reviled East German (GDR) regime.
In the east, however, such views riled citizens raised in the former communist state. They claimed its destruction would rob thousands of people who had enjoyed dances, bowling and theatre performances there during the socialist era of part of their "cultural identity."
But Gerhard Schroeder, Germany's former Social Democratic chancellor, was unimpressed by such talk. In the mid-1990s he labelled the Palace of the Republic "a ghastly building" and strongly urged it be done away with.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, experts found the Palace was riddled with 720 tons of hazardous asbestos. Removing it cost a whopping 50 million dollars, reducing the premises to a skeleton-like state.
Later, still more asbestos was discovered in the building. By 2002, the German parliament had had enough and voted to pull it down.
Now, the plans are to replace it with a Humboldt cultural Forum and a building with a "historical facade," reminiscent of the pre-war Hohenzollern Palace, blown up in 1950 by the communist authorities.
Redevelopment of the famous Schlossplatz, say city planners, will enable the square to become a focal point of city art, culture, and scientific activity in the years to come.