The Berliner Schloss, the old Hohenzollern imperial palace which was blitzed by Allied bombs in 1945 and razed by communist ideologues in 1950, is to be rebuilt – at a cost of €600,000,000.
The original Schloss dated from the 15th century and was extended by Prussian kings, German Kaisers and dozens of architects over more than five centuries. When it was levelled Walter Ulbricht, then Secretary-General of the East German Socialist Unity Party, crowed, ‘The centre of our capital, the Lustgarten and the area around the “Schlossruine” (palace ruins) must become a great parade square, where we will express the people’s will to fight and rebuild our state.’
Ulbricht’s deluded vision became a reality, and on May Days as many as 750,000 East Germans filed passed him and other Communist leaders. In 1974 the glass-and-steel Palast der Republik was built on one side of Marx-Engels-Platz. Unfortunately during construction its steel skeleton was treated with 5000 tons of asbestos-based fire retardant and so, after the fall of the Wall and reunification, that building too was demolished.
Now the federal government has committed itself to rebuilding the imperial Schloss, or at least its vast façade and dome. Behind and beneath them the Italian architect Francesco Stella will create modern galleries, offices, shops and a spacious ‘Agora’, a kind of covered piazza. The vast building will become – as part of the Humboldt Forum -- both the 'new and ancient' centre of Berlin.
Individual Germans are being encouraged to contribute to the project, by paying for a palace stone (€250), a balustrade (€1,250) or even a carved column capital (€159,900). Americans are also being asked to make donations, which will be tax deductible according to the IRS. At a recent fund-raising event Henry Kissinger spoke of the project as ‘the opportunity to return the centre of Berlin to its historic unity’ ... restoring ‘a legacy of European heritage which crosses geographic and ideological frontiers’. The former U.S. Secretary of State went on to suggest that rebuilding the palace will ‘give back to Berlin its cultural heart and a good part of its soul.’
A majority of Berliners do want the Schloss rebuilt, and politicians recognise that this prestigious project – despite its enormous cost -- could be both a vote-winner and an ego-booster. Work is due to begin in 2014 after the completion of an extension of the U5 underground line. But is it the right decision? So many of Berlin’s once-vacant places have been filled with new buildings. Already it has become difficult to trace the route of the Wall in the centre of the city. And modern Potsadamer Platz is today more reminiscent of Chicago than old Berlin’s hub. Johannes Rau, former president of the Federal Republic, once spoke of the ‘dreadful emptiness’ of Schlossplatz. To my mind, it is that emptiness which is essential for understanding, remembering and respecting Berlin’s history. Paradoxically, the recreation of the Schloss will obscure the past. Let it – and the Palast der Republik – be recreated only as holograms, to be projected on alternate nights on the square, like the profoundly-moving Tribute in Light art installation on the site of the World Trade Center. That would be a truly-imaginative creation with so much more soul.
Donnerstag, 9. Februar 2012
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