More than fireworks for 4th of July

More than fireworks for 4th of July

3rd July 2008, Comments 0 comments

This year's Independence Day is being uniquely marked in Berlin, as the American Embassy is officially opened

The stars and stripes have been flying over the new US embassy in Berlin for more than a month, but nothing can detract from the powerful symbolism of the formal opening by former president George HW Bush on Friday.

The site is redolent of history. It was here on Pariser Platz right at the Brandenburg Gate that the embassy stood when Nazi Germany declared war on the United States in 1941.

Within earshot is the spot where Bush's predecessor, Ronald Reagan, called out to the Soviet Union's last communist leader: "Mr Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

And it was Bush, the father of the current president, who was in the White House when the Berlin Wall fell some two years later in November 1989.

Historic location 


Just round the corner is Berlin's Holocaust Memorial - the stark expanse of stelae commemorating the 6 million Jews who died under the Nazis.

And on the other side is the Reichstag. It was the arson attack on the home of the German parliament weeks after he took power in 1933 that allowed Adolf Hitler to pass the first laws giving him dictatorial powers.

The German parliament didn't take up residence in the historic building until 1999, after a gap of 66 years. Now the US embassy follows suit, after a 67 year interval.

Ambassador William R Timken has chosen Independence Day for the celebrations to be attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany on the "wrong" side of the Wall.

The architects, the Californian practice Moore Ruble Yudell, have inevitably come in for criticism over the new 130 million dollar building with its tasteful sandstone facade.

Berlin critic Gerwin Zohlen has called it a "boring" example of a 1980s style of post modernism that was already out of date.


Abandoned by the US in 1941, the former embassy was badly damaged in World War II and torn down by the East Berlin communist authorities in 1957.

When the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, the site found itself in the bleak no-man's-land created by the communist authorities on their side.


The old embassy 


The US embassy to the former East Germany moved to a former Prussian officers' club not far away. It had a permanent police presence outside -- mainly to ensure dissidents did not slip inside to seek asylum.

When the capital moved from Bonn to Berlin in 1990, this became the US embassy of the newly reunified Germany.

It was evidently unsatisfactory, particularly when security was increased at US facilities around the world following the 1998 attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The relatively cramped position meant ugly concrete barriers and steel fences watched over by conspicuous cameras and a heavy police presence.

Years of wrangling between the US and Berlin authorities ensued over the siting and design of the new embassy.

US security demands, which are laid down in law, were in conflict with the traditional street layout that the city authorities were determined to retain.

It was seriously suggested to the US that it move its embassy out of town and out of sight.

"We could have built an embassy out in the woods at half the cost and twice the security," Timken told reporters at the beginning of the year as the new embassy was nearing completion.

"We are here as a symbol of our desire to be a partner to Germany."

As the final preparations were being made for the formal opening of the new premises, a couple of hundred metres away on Neustaetdische-Kirchstrasse, workmen were removing the unsightly concrete bollards and heavy fencing that had protected the old one

Expatica with DPA 

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