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Culture

Berlin to build unification memorial despite financial problems

After 10 years of planning, a monument to mark the German reunification finally got the green light to be built. But its divisive history will cast a long shadow over its upcoming construction.

Leading members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament, have agreed on having a "Monument to Freedom and Unity" built to commemorate Germany's bloodless revolution of 1989 and 1990, which started with the fall of the Berlin Wall and led to the reunification of the country.

Dubbed "the unity seesaw" ("Einheitswippe"), the structure is intended to resemble a bowl that can rock back and forth according to pedestrian traffic, symbolizing the slow and steady nature of change that can grow out of civil movements - such as in the lead up Germany's eventual reunification in 1990. But the final go-ahead came only after a prolonged controversy over costs:

The Bundestag had decided to have the monument erected back in 2007, but budgetary considerations put an indefinite hold on the project last year, when it was revealed that the structure would cost 50 percent more than originally intended.

Model of Berlin's unification memorial (picture-alliance/dpa/Foto: Milla & Partner)

The design of the monument has attracted criticism from various camps

Controversy upon controversy

The location of the unity monument will be next door to Berlin's City Palace, which is currently being rebuilt. Having suffered intense damage during World War II, the palace was torn down and replaced by the GDR's Palace of the Republic - the seat of East Germany's parliament ("Volkskammer").

The idea of erecting a memorial for Germany's peaceful reunification had first surfaced in 1998. Following a number of competitions, the design tender was given to the winners, design specialist Johannes Milla from Stuttgart and choreographer Sasha Waltz from Berlin, in 2007. The design, known as "Bürger in Bewegung" ("citizens in movement"), was then ratified by the Bundestag in 2008. Waltz later departed from the initiative, citing irreconcilable artistic differences with Milla.

Planning permission to start work on the monument was finally issued in 2015, but a number of secondary objections further slowed down the process, including the discovery of a colony of bats that had made the urban site their home. Critics welcomed the lack of funds to finance the 15 million euro ($16 million) project as a way out.

It remains unclear when the city will begin construction on the unity monument and how long it may take. The edifice had originally been intended to open to the public in 2017, but without a single brick laid there might still be a lot of seesawing for years to come. 

ss/kbm (dpa, AFP, epd)

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