BERLIN (Reuters) - This was one Soviet gift Berlin felt like hanging on to after the fall of the Wall - an intimate Tajik tea salon, complete with sandalwood columns, rugs, floor-cushions and samovars.
First displayed at the Soviet Union pavilion at an exhibition in Leipzig in 1974, East Germany installed the tea salon in a Prussian palace on Berlin’s grandest boulevard, housing the German-Soviet Friendship Society.
News that the salon is due to close at the end of the month because the building will be restored has triggered wide dismay and a rush of visitors to the small establishment, which offers seats and cushion space for 60 tea-drinkers.
“The atmosphere here is really unique, it is a quiet place to relax in the heart of the city,” said Aris Papageorgiou, who has run the salon since 1997.
The surprising approach to the salon is one of its major charms. Visitors sweep into the palace and mount its grand staircase, passing underneath glowing chandeliers and along worn parquet corridors.
Then they remove their shoes and enter the dark Tajik chamber, where an old poster of Soviet Union holiday resorts graces the wall. Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia, declared its independence in 1991.
In a city where genuine traces of the Socialist past are fast disappearing, the Berlin tea house has huge value, and visitors fear restoration may stifle its character.
The organization which runs the palace on behalf of the city pledges the tea salon with its fittings is a protected space and will reopen, but that reopening, it warns, could be years away.
Reporting by Alexandra Hudson, editing by Paul Casciato