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Culture

The Palace's Last Gasp?

The Palace of the Republic in Berlin is set for demolition within three years. But the former East German parliament building with the golden glass façade may yet find another use.

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The Palace of the Republic, once home to East Germany's parliament

BERLIN -- This is the way things happen in Berlin: The wall goes down in 1989. Asbestos is detected in the Communist-built Palace of the Republic, a symbol of the East German capital. The government pays 70 million euros ($69.6 million) to have it cleaned up. Then it tears the building down. No wonder Berlin's bankrupt.

Now, however, a European research project is hoping to turn things around for the doomed "palace." Studio Urban Catalyst is collecting proposals to ensure that, in the future, the building doesn't remain an empty eyesore in downtown Berlin.

The Berlin State Opera, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, hopes to perform an opera there. The popular techno nightclub WMF also wants to move in. And rounding out the group of suitors, the German Technical Museum says it wants to stage exhibits there.

Using Derelict Space

Funded by the European Union, Urban Catalyst examines the uses of derelict spaces in European metropolises. The project is working with the Berlin Technical University to forge plans for using the Palace of the Republic during the three year interim period until the wrecking ball moves in.

The palace is already open to the public for guided tours. If the government agrees to Urban Catalyst's concept, the organizers will still have to get together 1.2 million euros to put in necessities like toilets and proper ventilation.

Klaus Overmeyer, an Urban Catalyst spokesman, told DW-WORLD his group is engaged in talks with potential private sponsors. The other half of the money is to come from donations, he said.

Palast der Republik

In the former plenary chamber (photo), where 500 members of parliament from the German Democratic Republic debated the issues of the day facing the Communist Party, up to 800 clubbers could be reveling the night away by next May. The center of debate

It would be fitting, too. When Berlin was the capital of the GDR, the Palace of the Republic adorned the country's central square, Marx-Engels-Platz (now Schlossplatz). It was not only the seat of East Germany's parliament, it also housed governmental offices and Communist Party events. The trade unions and the communist youth group met here. Exhibitions, concerts and theater productions took place there. There were restaurants, bars, cafés, meeting places and a bowling alley. In other words: It was a real palace of the people.

From the moment the asbestos was discovered in 1990, the palace became the subject of 12 years of heated debate. Then, in July 2002, Germany's parliament voted 384-589 to knock down the palace and re-build an earlier palace, the 19th century baroque Stadtschloss, which was heavily damaged in World War II and demolished in 1950.

The fans of the last Kaiser's home were vindicated, while its opponents, who feared that a rebuilt palace would glorify Prussia's militaristic past, were shocked by the decision of democracy's representatives.

The German parliament decided that three façades of the baroque palace will be reconstructed, while the interior will be fitted with modern facilities for cultural uses.

Construction won't start until 2006 at the earliest.

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