Death knell rings for Berlin's East German palace

20th January 2006, Comments 0 comments

20 January 2006, BERLIN - Germany's parliament on Thursday gave a green light to tear down communist East Germany's "Palace of the Republic" in order to rebuild a Prussian royal castle which previously had stood on the site.

20 January 2006

BERLIN - Germany's parliament on Thursday gave a green light to tear down communist East Germany's "Palace of the Republic" in order to rebuild a Prussian royal castle which previously had stood on the site.

Members of the revamped East German communists and the Greens had been seeking to save the building in downtown Berlin. But with all major parties supporting demolition, the socialist palace is now doomed.

A total of 431 members of the Bundestag voted in favour of tearing down the structure, 120 voted against the move and 18 abstained.

The steel-and-glass "palace" opened in 1976 to house East Germany's rubber stamp parliament, the Volkskammer, as well as cafes and restaurants for the public.

This has left some Berliners with fond memories of time spent in the communist palace and fuelled support for its preservation. But others find the brutalist-style building an eyesore and former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder described it simply as "ugly".

During the collapse of East Germany in the run-up to October 3, 1990 German reunification, the building was found to be contaminated with asbestos and immediately closed.

Since then it has been gutted and cleaned of asbestos. All that now remains is the steel frame of the building.

Tearing down buildings which symbolise power has tradition in Berlin.

East Germany's rulers built their people's palace on top of the ruins of the Prussian Hohenzollern royal castle. The communists had blown up the building, which was damaged during World War II, in 1950 on ideological grounds.

The move was widely condemned as an act of cultural vandalism, given that parts of the Prussian castle dated back to the 15th century.

Support grew during the 1990s for rebuilding the Prussian palace.

Following years of debate, the German parliament voted in 2002 to tear down the communist structure and build what it dubbed the "Humboldt Forum" in the shape of the royal palace to house city art collections and other cultural institutions.

Some critics insist that rebuilding the Prussian palace makes no sense because Germany no longer has a royal family. The last Kaiser (emperor), Wilhelm II, abdicated in 1918 after Germany's defeat in World War I.

Others, such as Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, dismiss recreating the royal palace as a sort of Disneyland.

"It's a bastard ... a disaster in the sense of art history," fumed a commentary in the paper.

But with wide political support and public disappointment over the quality of many of the modern buildings which have gone up in Berlin since unification, the Prussian palace looks likely to go ahead.

There is, however, one big remaining problem.

So far there is little money for the project which could cost up to 1.2 billion euros (1.4 billion dollars). Berlin's city government, which is staggering under 60 billion euros of debt, has no funds for such things.

Wolfgang Tiefensee, Germany's federal construction minister, admits there is no chance the Prussian palace will be rebuilt before 2018 or 2020.

"First we have to clear up the money questions and that won't be easy," said Tiefensee in the newspaper Die Zeit.

Private sponsors of the project are seeking to copy a fundraising drive which paid for the rebuilding of Dresden's Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) which reopened last year after being gutted by Allied bombers in 1945.

There are hopes that part of the palace could be used by a hotel or for retail space in order to secure private funding.

Following demolition of the East German Palace of the Republic, the site will be planted with grass and bushes as a provisional park in the middle of downtown Berlin.

Given the financial obstacles, some wags predict the park could become permanent.

For more information on rebuilding plans for the Prussian palace:


Subject: German news

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