Berlin’s Palace of the Republic – “Us” vs. “Them”

     |    Monday, der 25. July 2011

The former GDR Palace of the Republic is history. Its last  slabs were removed by cranes in December 2008, leaving a gaping construction pit in the center of former East Berlin.

From its opening in 1976 to its closing in September 1990 – due not  to the imminent dissolution of the GDR a few weeks later, but to the health hazard asbestos building material – the Palace harbored the parliament, spaces for cultural events, a disco and a bowling alley.

Post-reunification debates about the Palace’s fate need not be reproduced here in further detail (for more information on that, see the film A DEMOCRATIC DECISION). Suffice it to say that the site is awaiting the reconstruction of the Stadtschloss (city castle), blown up in 1950 by the GDR government (as a symbol of “Prussian imperialism”) after being heavily damaged during World War II. The new Stadtschloss is to house the Humboldt Forum, a cultural center including parts of the Dahlem Museum’s non-European art collections. Messy procedural mistakes during the architectural competition und unclear financing have recently made setting a date for the Humboldt Forum’s completion somewhat of a challenge.

While those Germans who grew up in the GDR are mourning to varying degrees the loss of “their” Palace, West-Berliners have rediscovered their very own – the shopping mall Europa Center in the so-called City West. Built in 1965, the Europa Center was a focal point for both tourists and natives alike, until City East (re-)gained prominence after the opening of the Wall.

To tie in with festivities celebrating the 125th anniversary of West Berlin’s self-styled counterpart to Broadway, the Kurfuerstendamm, a variety of events and PR campaigns are underway. With this nearly year-long birthday bash the businesspeople in the vicinity hope to help the Ku’damm regain some of its former glory (and re-lure some purchasing power). So that’s where the Europa Center, located near the Ku’damm’s eastern starting point, comes in. The iconic mall has been declared to be West Berlin’s equivalent to the controversial but influential Palace. The off camera commentator in the video below has a very strong opinion about the poster’s relationship to history… However, maybe as a small and bizarre consolation, “Ossis” can feel oddly flattered that the “Wessis” are putting the Palace on the same level as the Mercedes star topped mall-cum-office highrise. Which doesn’t bring the Palace back, though…