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Berlin's Palace of the Republic Faces Wrecking Ball

DW staff (sac)January 20, 2006

Germany's lower house has approved the demolition of one of communist East Germany's ugliest, but best-loved buildings. The vote to tear down the Palace of the Republic concludes a heated debate spanning over a decade.

The sunny days are over for the Palace of the RepublicImage: AP

Last-minute efforts by two opposition parties to save the Palace of the Republic have failed. The Bundestag voted by an overwhelming majority to tear down the building, which opened in 1976 to house both the East German parliament and an entertainment complex that was unparalleled behind the Iron Curtain.

The vote followed a heated debate in the lower house. Gregor Gysi, parliamentary group leader for the socialist Left Party, said the CDU/SPD coalition government was dividing Germans into winners and losers, instead of avowing itself to its past.

"The demolition is wrong and irreparable," Gysi said, adding that tearing down the building wasn't any better than the communist, who in 1950 blew up the Imperial Palace, which used to stand on the same site.

A campaign by the Left Party and fellow opposition Green party had stopped demolition crews, who started work on schedule in December. But it was only a brief stay of execution.

The Palace defaces Berlin

"I see no truly persuasive reasons to overturn this decision," said Wolfgang Thierse, a vice president of the Bundestag. The SPD politician, who served as parliamentary president under the previous government, was himself a member of the opposition movement to the East German regime. The palace was, after all, a platform for the East German government to rally, Thierse said.

Palast der Republik Berlin Baucontainer
Preparations for the demolition have begunImage: AP

Conservative CDU politician Wolfgang Börnsen said the colossus was "architectural debris."

"This palace has to go because its ruins are just too ugly and it defaces this beautiful city," Börnsen said.

However, the president of the federal architects' lobby, Arno Sighart, said the demolition would "create a gaping wound that is unlikely to be closed in the foreseeable future."

60 Jahre Danach - Bildgalerie - Berlin 11/20
The Palace is a sharp contrast to the adjoining Berliner DomImage: dpa

The destruction of the Socialist Realist monstrosity of steel girders and bronze mirrored windows is expected to begin in February. It is to be completed by early 2007 at a cost of at least 12 million euros ($14.5 million).

The Bundestag had already voted in 2003 to build a more "aesthetic" cultural center on the site, behind replicas of the facade of the Baroque Hohenzollern Castle, the former residence of the German emperors.

But a lack of financing means that construction is unlikely to begin before 2012.

Destroying a part of East German history

Many eastern Germans have fond memories of the palace, with its giant dance floor on hydraulic lifts, bowling allies, a wine bar, a theater, cafes and an international list of concert headliners including Harry Belafonte and Carlos Santana.

Some East Germans nicknamed it Ballast der Republik ("Ballast of the Republic") or Erichs Lampenladen ("Erich's Lamp Shop", referring to East German leader Erich Honecker and the 1,001 lamps hanging in the foyer).

Palast der Republik soll 2005 abgerissen werden
This art installation in 2004 flooded the Palace, allowing visitors to paddle throughImage: dpa

After being gutted and stripped of 700 tons of asbestos after German reunification in 1990, it won a new generation of fans in recent years as a venue for contemporary art installations and plays.

In a poll published this week, 60 percent of eastern Germans said they opposed tearing down the Palace, as it would "destroy a part of the GDR's history." The survey taken by the magazine Super Illu interviewed 1,005 people in eastern Germany.

At the same time, a majority said they would prefer a permanent green space instead of the planned castle.