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Re-building Berlin's Royal Palace

January 16, 2002

Berlin was largely destroyed during World War II. Many buildings that survived the bombing were torn down in the 1950s and 60s. Now Berliners are debating whether to rebuild the Prussian Palace in the heart of the city.

Berlin's "Palace of the Republic" will be torn down if the Prussian Palace is rebuiltImage: Bilderbox

In the years since German reunification, every international architect of note seems to have wanted to put his or her mark on "The New Berlin".

Designing a building in the German capital appears to be a matter of prestige. Be it one of the federal ministries, the chancellery or a corporate headquarter.

But many ordinary Berliners don't care much about the new architectural jewels. They would like some of the old buildings back, which graced the city before the Second World War.

The palace should be rebuilt

Berliner Schloss
Historic view of the Palace

One of the most hotly debated projects is rebuilding the royal palace in downtown Berlin, the so-called "Stadtschloss" in which the Prussian kings and German emperors resided.

For more than a year, Berlin's so-called "Schlossplatz Commission" pondered what to do.

The Schlossplatz Commission is made up of 17 art historians, experts in historical preservation and architects.

On Wednesday, the commission recommended the palace should be rebuilt. It is now up to the city of Berlin and Germany's Federal Government to give the final go-ahead.

The cost of the reconstruction is estimated at 770 million euro ($ 688 million). The Schlossplatz Commission is due to present a financing plan on Friday. One idea is to generate the funds by selling shares.

Destroyed by the Communist regime

The palace was largely destroyed during the war, but its remnants could have been saved and reconstructed after the fighting ended.

But after the war, the communist government of East Germany decided to eradicate all traces of what it considered the city's bourgeois past. They blew up what was left of the palace.

Shortly after German reunification in 1990, some people began to promote the idea of rebuilding the royal palace.

The idea was controversial. Many architects and historians called it highly questionable because it would seem like trying to turn back the wheel of time.

Berlin's historic center

The row over what to do with Berlin's historic center began when the Wall fell.

The "Schlossplatz Commission" debated different options for the historic heart of the city for a year and concluded that the Prussian palace should be reconstructed.

But even if the city of Berlin decides to rebuild the palace, this will not end the row. Opponents say the whole endeavor is much too costly and there is simply no need for a building of this kind in Berlin.

Many people also think that the "Palace of the Republic", which the East German government built in place of the historic structure in the 1970s should be preserved. If Berlin decides to rebuild the historic palace, the newer structure would have to be torn down.

"I want to see a solution that brings something new to the city, something no other European city has," explains Hannes Swoboda, chairman of an organization called 'Historic City Center Berlin'.

"Secondly, I can certainly imagine elements of the palace being reconstructed, provided that a forward-looking solution can be found. A purely historical reconstruction, both inside and out, is not what we should be building for tomorrow."

The old Stadtschloss

The "Stadtschloss" was formerly situated at the end of the Unter den Linden boulevard.

Communist East German leader Walter Ulbricht ordered the palace to be blown up after the Second World War.

Its foundations below the asphalt are all that's left.

Only the reconstruction of the palace, say opponents of the idea, would revive the old face of the city and give other structures and the avenue as a whole its true focus.

The 'Palace of the Republic'

What poses a problem, however, is former East Germany's communist parliament: after the communists blew up the imperial palace, they erected the so-called "Palace of the Republic" in its place.

East Germany's last prime minister, Lothar de Maizière, admits the glass and asbestos behemoth isn't very charming, but he's angry about how East Germany's history is being discarded.

He thinks tearing down the "Palace of the Republic" would not do justice to the place this building has in the history of 20th century Berlin.