Short on funds, Berlin′s City Palace could become naked landmark | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 15.04.2010
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Short on funds, Berlin's City Palace could become naked landmark

The elaborate Baroque design is long since approved, but the money isn't in the bank to fund the reconstruction of Berlin's historical City Palace. Some are asking whether an ornate dome is really worth all the trouble.

The Humboldt-Box, the site of the Berlin City Palace will be built

It could be a while before the billboard is replaced with a building

According to the German parliament, the reconstruction of Berlin's historical City Palace will cost 552 million euros ($750 million). Of that, 80 million euros will be invested in the palace's Baroque facades. The Association for the Rebuilding of the Berlin City Palace, founded just for that purpose, is currently working on raising 80 million euros in donations.

But what if the contributions don't add up to enough? So far, only 20 million euros have been raised by the association, which has caused a heated debate in parliament and could mean the Palace will have to be built without its regal Baroque dome and facades.

A naked landmark

On the inside, the Palace will be a modern structure made of steel and concrete, but "the facade is naturally planned to be historical, since all the relevant ornaments will be present," said Bernhard Stokar von Neuforn from the representative from the Association for the Rebuilding of the Berlin City Palace.

Color photo of Berlin, the Kuerfüster Bridge with the City Palace, around 1900

The City Palace, pictured around 1900

Wilhelm von Boddien, the association's chairman, who has been actively supporting the rebuilding of the Palace for nearly 20 years, said he is not worried. Willingness to donate will grow as the City Palace does, he believes, as was the case with Dresden's Church of Our Lady, which underwent reconstruction from 1994 to 2005.

Still, to prevent the palace from becoming nothing but a concrete block, certain precautions must be made, said von Boddien: Important architectural aspects such as the ornamental moldings, window reveals and sandstone capitals should be integrated into the facade from the very beginning. Snails, cherubs and other large Baroque figures can be added later.

While the association has calculated the true cost of the facade, it is unclear how close the number is to 80 million, since their calculations have not yet been reviewed.

"All the prices were calculated based on today's standards," Von Boddien said. "But if we are faced with inflation, then no one can make an accurate calculation, even the finance minister."

Expensive extras

Oswalt Phillip

Dessau Design School director Oswalt Philip criticizes architect Franco Stella's design

The original City Palace was built by Frederick I in the 17th century and demolished in 1950, when the communist East German government replaced it with the Palace of the Republic, which housed the country's parliament. This symbol of the communist state was closed after German reunification in 1990 and demolition was completed in 2008.

Rebuilding Berlin's City Palace has been a controversial project since the decision was made in 2002. Not long after Italian architect Franco Stella won a competition to design the new Palace, he was faced with public doubt that his tiny firm could manage such a momentous job. A competitor filed a lawsuit against Stella's firm, but it proved unsuccessful and Stella has continued managing the project.

In light of the financial shortcomings and public misgivings, the entire project seems to be turning into a farce. Philipp Oswalt, the director of the Dessau School of Design and a critic of the project, questions the architect's decision to include expensive Baroque elements in the first place.

The architecture firm Kuehn/Malvezzi, which also bid for the Palace reconstruction project, was considered for a special award by the competition jury.

"They complied exactly with those things that are now causing problems," Oswalt said. "They did not plan to build a dome. Instead, their concept entailed building the facade bit by bit. How Stella is going to make his concept work, is not clear to me."

The biggest problem, though, was the decision to limit funding before the project expenses were fully calculated.

"The sum does not suffice, which is known to all those involved," Oswalt added.

Appeal for more money

Von Boddien sees only one way out: The government needs to front the money for all the Baroque elements in advance, as an incentive for potential patrons, he said. The loan would later be paid off with all the donations the impressive new City Palace would then draw in.

The chairman is planning to discuss the option with officials this year, but it won't be easy to persuade them. Peter Ramsauer, the third urban development minister to deal with the seemingly unending reconstruction project, is hardly a fan of Baroque remakes. He has made it clear that he prefers to spend his time on new highways rather than investing money on a replica of a Baroque palace dome.

Author: Sigrid Hoff (ad)
Editor: Kate Bowen

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