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A Palace for a Poor City

A commission of experts has decided that the palace of the Prussian kings in Berlin, torn down by East German communists, will be rebuilt. Who will pay for it is another question.


An attempt to recreate the past

A decade-long debate came to an end Wednesday when an international commission voted to rebuild the palace of the Prussian kings in Berlin.

The 15-member commission was the second body to approve the reconstruction of the baroque palace - be it in an altered form.

But the debate looks to continue.

In its decision, the commission narrowly voted to use the original baroque facade, which remained even after the communist East German government dynamited the building's remains in 1950.

Several prominent politicians, among them Germany's culture minister and Berlin's Mayor are against the use of the original facade.

Culture Minister Julian Nida-Rümelin argued the facade of the Berlin palace was never one of the most significant examples of baroque architecture in Germany. He would have preferred holding a competition among international architects for the right solution.

Who will pick up the check?

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit is also against the facade. But he has other concerns. His city is 40 billion euro in debt. Swimming pools are closing and the city's police have already lost their helicopter and are looking at getting their gas money cut significantly as well.

Paying even some of the estimated 670 million euro bill for an 18th century palace is out of the question.

"Otherwise," said Wowereit. "We would be discussing this for the next 10 years."

Baroque palace over a Communist Relic

Wednesday's decision means the death knell for the modernistic "Palace of the Republic," East Germany's monument to itself.

Following the almost total destruction of the palace in WWII, the communist government forgoed a rebuild attempt, preferring to blow up the remains of a building they believed symbolized Germany's feudalistic past.

Palast der Republik Berlin

"Palace of the Republic"

In its place, they built a building of glass, marble and steel, which housed the East German parliament, cafés and restaurants. Over the years, it became popular with many East-Berliners and an integral part of East German identity.

But after German reunification in 1990, scientists discovered that the "Palace of the Republic" was contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos and closed the building down. For the past eleven years it's been sitting unused. It's seriously deteriorated and has become an eye-sore in the heart of Berlin.

The reconstructed Prussian palace is due to house cultural and scientific institutions. The layout inside will be modern, the facade baroque.

"The architecture will continue to be debated," said commission head Hannes Swoboda in addressing the facade controversy. "Even after its built."

Swoboda, once a member of Vienna's architectural council, said the experts hadn't been guided by nostalgia. Rather, the facade would just fit better in an area which already houses a number of architectural landmarks.

Just across from the palace is Berlin's historical museum complex Museumsinsel, which was dedicated an UN cultural heritage site. And next to the palace are other historical buildings dating back to Prussian times.

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