Re-Creating Historic Places - But Why?

Plans to construct a replica of a German palace in Berlin are being met with confusion and derision. It's a project that many critics say has no point.
January 5, 2009, 6am PST | Nate Berg
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"Berlin's plan is to erect a fake Baroque palace, a copy of the Hohenzollern Stadtschloss that once stood where that hole is, the site culminating the great avenue called Unter den Linden, at whose other end is the Brandenburg Gate. In December a little-known Italian architect, Franco Stella, won what passed for the building's competition, which required a design faithfully reproducing three of the four original facades and much of the interior courtyard, leaving the fourth to the designer's imagination."

"Few serious architects bothered to apply."

"The idea has been years in the making, but exactly what's supposed to go inside this new Schloss still remains vague. At the moment the scheme calls for a museum of non-Western art, a library, restaurants and cafes. German officials, often inclined toward euphemism, have christened it the Humboldt Forum, after the philosopher and his naturalist brother. Carson Chan, who runs a gallery here, put it better. 'A Schloss-shaped mall,' he said."

"The saga of the Schloss, a cultural misadventure from the start, captures Berlin in a nutshell, as a city forever missing the point of itself. The original Stadtschloss, partly damaged during the war, was ripped down in 1950 by the Communist East Germans as a loathed emblem of Prussian militarism and imperial power. They replaced it in the mid-'70s with the Palace of the Republic, a bronzed glass-and-steel behemoth, the last remains of which were torn down, at eye-popping cost, during this past summer and fall. The palace housed the East German parliament but also a clutch of restaurants, theaters, art galleries and bowling alleys that provided East Berliners with a measure of escape from the drudgery of Communist life. Even some West Germans developed a little nostalgia for it, as the place before which news reporters in East Berlin were always posing."

"It's hard to find a thinking Berliner these days who actually likes the Schloss idea, the latest in a slew of historical reconstructions across Germany and Central Europe that includes the Alte Kommandantur, a former Baroque palace just next door to the Schloss, and also the Frauenkirche in Dresden and the Stadtschloss in Braunschweig, which has become a mall."

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Published on Thursday, January 1, 2009 in International Herald Tribune
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