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Historic Moment

DW staff (sp)July 4, 2008

The United States opened its new embassy in Berlin on Friday, returning to its old home before World War II on the historic Pariser Platz, next to the city's iconic Brandenburg Gate.

US embassy in Berlin
The opening was heavy with symbolism as the US embassy returned to its old homeImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Former US president George Bush Sr. and ambassador to Germany, William Timken, together cut a red ribbon to symbolically open the $130-million embassy in Berlin on Friday, July 4 in a ceremony coinciding with US Independence Day.

At the celebrations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel recalled how late US president Ronald Reagan had once stood up nearby and appealed to the Soviet Union's last communist leader in Moscow: "Mr Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Germany and the United States remained firm friends, said Merkel.

"We have many challenges ahead of us that we can only master together," she said.

Former President Bush, father of current President George W Bush, praised Germans for reunifying their country in 1990. The people of East and West Germany had never forgotten that they were one people with one language.

Recalling the fall of the Wall, one of the most dramatic events of his own presidency, he said, "It ended the division of Europe."

Living history

Former U.S. President George Bush, Sue Timken, wife of the U.S. ambassador to Germany and U.S. ambassador to Germany William Timken, from left to right, cut the ribbon in front of the entrance of the U.S. Embassy
Former US President George Bush, left, took part in the opening ceremonyImage: AP

The United States invited 4,500 people, including pilots who flew missions in the 1948-49 Berlin airlift, to the opening party which spilled out into cordoned-off areas outside the pale sandstone building.

A large outdoor festival near the Brandenburg Gate will be open to the public on Saturday, in the surroundings that are full of history.

The US embassy occupied the site in the 1930s. The Holocaust Memorial -- a stark expanse of tomb-like stones -- is next door and commemorates the 6 million Jews who died under the Nazis.

By the time US diplomats moved into the embassy in April 1939, Washington had already recalled its chief envoy to protest the Nazis' anti-Semitic pogrom the previous year.

The remaining diplomats left in 1941 after Germany declared war on the United States.

During the Cold War, the land was part of the desolate no-man's land along the Berlin Wall.

A new beginning

US embassy opening at Pariser Platz
The Pariser Platz and the area around Brandeburg was a sea of stars and stripesImage: AP

Some diplomats have said the new embassy symbolizes US support for Germany during the Cold War and improved transatlantic relations following the rift that opened up between the two sides over the US-led invasion of Iraq.

In a speech on the eve of the inauguration, George Bush said he believed US-German ties were stronger than ever.

"My son is under a lot of pressure as president of the United States," he said at the American Academy in Berlin after receiving the Henry Kissinger Prize. "One of the things I draw great comfort from is the truly excellent ties with your chancellor for whom I have a lot of respect," he said of German leader Angela Merkel.

Merkel on Friday said she wanted to use the occasion to express her "sincere, heartfelt thanks" to the United States for its support of Germany, which she believed altered the course of history.

A special moment for Germany

US embassy in Berlin
The entrance to the somewhat bland, tan stone facade of the embassyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Speaking before the opening ceremony, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier too drew on the past and the fact that the opening marked a special moment for Germany.

"The United States played a decisive role in the fact that the Brandenburg Gate is open today and the German issue has been settled," Steinmeier said.

Steinmeier called for the United States and Europe to unite on new issues.

"A solid new agenda" in the transatlantic relationship was needed, he told a conference organized by a German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The purpose should be to cope with 21st-century challenges.

Key issues were how to manage resource shortages, arms control and a policy of international responsibilities shared with rising powers such as China, India and Brazil, Steinmeier said.

Embassy panned by architecture critics

The embassy, designed by California firm Moore Ruble Yudell, took four years to build and ran into a string of problems and bitter wrangling between the Berlin city government and American diplomats.

It has also been heavily criticized by German architecture critics. An article in respected German daily Suedeutsche Zeitung described the embassy building as "Fort Knox at the Brandenburg Gate" earlier this year.

Berlin critic Gerwin Zohlen called the building a "boring" example of a 1980s style of post-modernism that was already out of date.