Berlin rebuilds baroque palace despite cost concerns

Wed Sep 12, 2012 9:53am EDT
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By Elisa Oddone and Jane Mwangi

BERLIN (Reuters) - A baroque royal palace is slowly rising from the ashes in Berlin decades after communists ordered its demolition, but critics say the project is too costly and contradicts the democratic ethos of modern Germany.

Supporters say the Berlin Palace, due to open its doors to the public in 2019 as a cultural centre, will restore the city's "old architectural balance" and they are hoping the German public will help to fund the restoration of its baroque facade through donations totaling 80 million euros ($102.77 million).

The critics, however, say the project - first agreed in 2002 but only begun this summer - is an extravagant distraction from more pressing needs, for example public transport infrastructure, in the city of around four million people.

"This won't be an emperor's palace, rather a people's palace," Wilhelm von Boddien, head of the Association of Friends of the Berlin Palace, told Reuters, dismissing suggestions that rebuilding the palace is an elitist project.

Prussia's Hohenzollern dynasty used the 18th century baroque palace as its winter residence until the end of World War One when Germany's last emperor, Wilhelm II, was forced to abdicate.

It served as a museum under the Weimar Republic but was largely neglected by the Nazis.

Badly damaged in World War Two, the East German communists later demolished it to make way for a grand square and a new parliament building, the Palace of the Republic. That building was razed in 2008 after much heated debate.

Total costs for the reconstruction of the baroque palace have now jumped to 590 million euros from an initially planned 552 million, with federal state funds meeting most of the bill.   Continued...

People stand near a sample facade of the proposed reconstruction of the Berlin City Palace (Berliner Stadtschloss) in Berlin June 5, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Peter