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Lights Out for Erich's Lamp Shop

November 13, 2003

The Palace of the Republic's days are numbered. The German parliament decided on Thursday to replace East Germany's former seat of government in Berlin with a park until there's money in the budget for more.

In better days: the Palace of the RepublicImage: Bilderbox

Only the two parliamentarians from the PDS, the successor party to the East German Communists, voted against razing the Palace of the Republic. Apparently, even discussing the issue appeared superfluous to parliament on Thursday. In any case, the decision to demolish one of Berlin's most infamous eyesores came as no surprise to anyone in Germany.

The real issue was what would come next. Parliament already decided in 2002 to replace "Palazzo Pretentious" -- one of the building's disparaging local nicknames -- with another palace, the 19th century baroque Hohenzollern palace that was heavily damaged in World War II and demolished in 1950. But with light in the tunnel only barely visible after three years of economic stagnation, there's no money in Germany's budget for a project estimated to cost around €600 million (roughly $700 million).

Instead, the gutted husk of a parliament-cum-entertainment center in downtown Berlin will yield to a park until the federal government and the city are in better financial shape.

Ballast of the Republic

Palast der Republik
Now just a shadow of its former selfImage: StadtBild

But not everyone's satisfied with that solution either. Federal Minister for Transport, Building and Housing, Manfred Stolpe, whose ministry will have to foot a large part of the bill for demolishing the building, argued against tearing it down in the near future. The work is expected to cost around €20 million, money that could be better used for other, more urgent problems, Stolpe said.

Berlin's senator for building, Peter Strieder, has supported a quick removal of the palace though and said a call for tenders should be made throughout Europe as soon as possible. Strieder says the demolition work, which would take up to two years, could begin in 2005.

The Palace of the Republic was built in 1976 on the exact spot where the Hohenzollern palace had been torn down 26 years earlier. When East Berlin was the capital of the GDR under Erich Honecker, the building not only housed parliament, governmental offices, restaurants, bars, cafés and a bowling alley, but it was also the venue for Communist Party events, exhibitions, concerts and theater productions.


The building was closed to the public in 1990, when asbestos was discovered in it. The German government then shelled out €70 million to remove the cancer-causing fibers. Since the work was completed, the building has only occasionally been open for guided tours and cultural events.

Berliner Stadtschloss 1950
The Hohenzollern palace shortly before its demoltition in 1950.Image: AP

Some people believe that "Erich's lamp shop" -- dubbed so for the thousands of light fittings it had -- should be preserved. Parlamentarian Petra Pau, one of the two who voted against the building's demolition, said the decision was a "victory of ideologues." She referred to the numerous petitions circulating to save the building where the freely-elected East German parliament voted in favor of uniting with West Germany in 1990.

When the budget does finally allow it, the park that replaces "Palazzo Pretentious" will make way for a partial reconstruction of the Hohenzollern palace façade and a modern interior. State Secretary for Culture Christina Weiss has said an international architectural competition for the palace is already being prepared.