High-security US embassy in Berlin to open

10th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Berlin's new US embassy is near completion after the previous embassy was torn down following the Second World War.

10th January 2008

Berlin (dpa) - A new US embassy is nearing completion in Berlin at the city's hub, following a decade of delays and wrangles over US demands that all traffic be kept away from the building.

The building is located on the site of the old, pre-Second World War embassy on Pariser Platz, a square containing Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate.

Crowned by a glass and steel penthouse conference room, the embassy rises four storeys above the intersection. US officials say it will be inaugurated on July 4, US Independence Day.

The previous embassy, badly damaged during the Second World War, was torn down by the East German communist authorities in 1957.

The opening will bring relief in Berlin that the United States has caught up with Britain and France, which opened new embassies several years ago on pre-war sites next to the square.

William R Timken, 69, the US ambassador to Germany, admitted it might have been simpler to build a new embassy elsewhere in the city, but the United States felt it was important to return to the "historic heart of Berlin" near the Brandenberg Gate.

Since Germany's 1990 reunification, US diplomats in Berlin have had their offices in a former Prussian officers club in an unwelcoming side street which is sealed off with concrete barriers and has guards on duty round the clock at both ends.

Security to defeat terrorist bombings, drive-by shootings or mob attacks on the Pariser Platz embassy is likely to be even more comprehensive, with dozens of bollards around the compound to prevent vehicles approaching.

The 180-million-euro (265-million-dollar) embassy resembles a fortress, sniped “Der Spiegel”, the news magazine, recently.

Wrangles over security caused the delay in making a start on the embassy, which was designed by a Santa Monica, California architecture practice, Moore Ruble Yudell, and was expected to be up and running by the late 1990s.

After the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, US officials demanded that Berlin shift two streets.

That was needed to provide a 30-metre buffer zone between the building and the roads, as required by US law.

The proposal upset the Berlin authorities. It would have required a redesign of the historic streets.

A compromise was reached. The buffer zone was reduced to 25 metres, and one street was re-aligned by 8 metres.

In return, US officials promised to provide a sidewalk with trees, fronting on to the adjacent Holocaust Memorial.

Manuela Damianakis, a Berlin city development spokeswoman, said, "I am sure it is going to be an enrichment for Berlin," adding that the flow of traffic would not be disrupted by the kink in the road.

Resentment remains in the German port city of Hamburg, where a main road past the lakefront US consulate-general has been permanently closed since 2001 to foil car-bombings.

Motorists had hoped that the closure, using ordinary traffic barriers, would be temporary, but the city has decided to play safe and declare a section of the scenic drive a kind of no-man's land.

Workmen have already completed a 1.4-metre-high fence of dark grey steel bars, separating the buffer zone from a lakeside park.

Guard houses are to be built by April or May for the armed German police who protect the site day and night. The barriers are being paid for by the state of Hamburg.

Some city residents have suggested the US government should give up the white palace it has occupied since 1951 and move its offices away from one of Hamburg's most beautiful locations to a quiet cul de sac.

The newspaper Hamburger Abendblatt quoted one stroller in the park, Thomas Neuendorf, 64, saying, "The fence is ghastly. It mars this beautiful landscape. And on top of that, the taxpayer has to pay for it."

Hamburg Interior Ministry spokesman Torsten Voss said the fence was needed because the US is at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. "There's no date to remove the fence. Perhaps we can once we have world peace," he said.




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