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BERLIN (Reuters) - Italian architect Francesco Stella has been chosen to design a new 552-million euro ($715 million) baroque-style palace on the spot where Berlin's 15th century "Stadtschloss" stood until it was destroyed in 1950.
The historic site in the heart of the German capital, where the ultra-modern East German communist parliament stood from 1976 to 1990, is being cleared of the final remains of the controversial "Palace of the Republic."
"It wasn't an easy decision," German construction minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said in announcing on Friday that Stella's design had been chosen from more than 100 bids, ending a heated 18-year battle about what to do with the site.
"It's such a sensitive building and there's so much history," said Tiefensee, himself an easterner. "But the decision we've made is anything but a lousy compromise."
The facade of the new building -- a reconstruction of the original baroque building -- will be complemented by a modern and functional interior, Tiefensee said.
"The architectural plans, which will only be presented to the public at the beginning of December, also represent a link between Berlin's culture, science and society," he added.
Built by the Prussians, the original palace was bombed by the Soviet Army during World War Two and demolished by East German communists in 1950. Fired by ideology, they destroyed the building because they believed it glorified Prussian traditions.
East Germany's Communist ruler Walter Ulbricht once declared it "a decadent symbol of Prussia's militaristic past."
The original palace was built from the mid-15th century by Prussia's Hohenzollern dynasty and its 1,500 rooms were completed in 1716. It was the residence of Germany's last Kaiser, Wilhelm II, until his abdication in 1918.
With no Kaiser around, no royalty will be moving in to the new building. Instead, the palace will be devoted to exhibition halls, displays of art and artifacts, and a state library.
"It will house workshops of wisdom," said Tiefensee, aware of the touchy nature of the decision to rebuild the palace, expected to be completed by 2013.
Formally known as Humboldt Forum, the building will take up a space the size of two football pitches and restore the area along the Spree river to its pre-war splendor, advocates say.
Germany's lower house approved the demolition of the communist structure in 2002, sparking heated debate about the form and function of a replacement. Debate on the issue exacerbated lingering resentment between east and west Germans.
Many former West Germans thought that the decrepit building, beside the Berlin Cathedral, was an eyesore, but easterners were nostalgic about a landmark of the city's communist past.
"With the reconstruction we hope to create a sense of harmony between new and old, both on the facade and inside the new palace," said Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, who helped pick the architect.
"I hope that the architect creates something original and special that does justice to Germany's history but is also functional," he said.
He added that the Reichstag building, with its large glass dome designed by British architect Norman Foster -- who also put in a rejected bid for designing the palace, was a good example of a construction that embodies both past and future.
Editing by Michael Roddy