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A new, old Berlin Palace

June 12, 2013

Germany has begun reconstruction of the Berlin Palace, home of a line of Prussian and German monarchs. The ruined original was razed after World War II, and the rebuild is proving controversial.

Construction machines, cranes and workers are visible on the construction site (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Image: Getty Images

Berlin on Wednesday to formally began the recreation of a controversial baroque palace that once served as the residence of Prussian kings and German monarchs.

The foundation stone for the 590-million euro ($780 million) project was laid by German President Joachim Gauck on Wednesday afternoon.

The original Hollenzollern palace, the "Stadtschloss", was damaged by Allied bombing in World War II. Its remnants were razed in 1950 by leadership of the-then communist East Germany.

The palace is being rebuilt on an 8,000-square-metre hole in the ground at the eastern end of the city's leafy Unter den Linden boulevard. The rebuild is intended, in part, to give tourists to Berlin an insight into part of Germany's heritage. Construction is to be completed in 2019.

While the facade of the palace will be recreated, the interior structure will be a modern design by Italian architect Franco Stella. Displays paying tribute to world cultures are planned as key features – with collections from Berlin's Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asia Art to go on show.

Berlin, Kaiser Wilhelm memorial on the western side of Berlin city palace (Photo source: Wikipedia)
The building was a symbol of the German Empire

The cost of the project at a time of financial austerity in Europe has been criticized. The German government and financially-strapped Berlin will stump up most of the bill, alongside 80 million euros to be raised via wealthy donors.

A survey by the research firm Forsa published by the magazine Stern on Wednesday indicated that 65 percent of Germany's population did not support the project. Advocates were in a minority at 30 percent, with 5 percent undecided.

Growing stature, rapid decline

The first sections of the original Hollenzollern palace were built in 1443 by the-then ruler of Brandenburg, Frederick II - also known as "Irontooth." The status of the building grew when it became home to Frederick I, the first king of Prussia.

In 1871 it became the seat of a united Germany, beginning with Kaiser Willhelm I. It remained the symbolic center of the-then German Empire until the abdication of Willhelm II in 1918.

The original complex was severely damaged by Allied bombing during World War II, with the shell that remained being finally destroyed by East German authorities in 1950.

Controversy also linked to ex-GDR

The project has also proved controversial because - as a first step - it entailed the pulling down in 2006 of the Palace of the Republic, the East German parliament building that had been built during the communist era on the site of the former palace.

That building - completed in 1976 and demolished in 2006 – was regarded by some East Berliners as a symbol of their identity while memories of the old royal palace were seen as symbolic of Prussian militarism.

Germany has in recent years reproduced several landmarks destroyed or damaged during WWII, including the Adlon Hotel in Berlin and the Frauenkirche in Dresden.

rc, ipj/ rg (AFP, dpa epd)