Anyone in Ireland despairing over how much hospital €1 billion buys you these days can take heart from Germany’s new spy HQ.
Five years late – and, at €1.1 billion, 42 per cent over budget – the complex in central Berlin became a national joke long before it opened its doors.
On Friday, chancellor Angela Merkel inspected the new home of the foreign intelligence service, Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), saying she looked forward to having her spies down the road. Until now, in an idiosyncratic cold war holdover, the BND was based 600km away in Bavaria.
“The BND has taken on successfully its mandate transition since the end of the cold war,” she said. “In an often unstable world order . . . more urgently than ever before, Germany needs a strong and able foreign intelligence service.”
But many Germans are hoping the BND will prove more able with its new home than in the past.
In 2010 it emerged that blueprints for the complex had been stolen – nobody knows by whom – forcing a rapid, costly redesign during construction. Then, in 2015, thieves broke in to Berlin’s highest-security building site – not to steal secrets but a few dozen bathroom sink taps. It was several hours before security noticed the resulting flooding, by which time water had leaked between floors, destroying doors, technical equipment and wiring.
In a final insult, the new BND headquarters is already too small, with space for just 4,000 staff – meaning 1,500 agents and support staff have been left behind at their old home near Munich.
News of the space problems have come as a surprise to the BND’s neighbours, who have watched the colossus rise from Berlin’s sandy soil with a mixture of fascination and horror. Locals have derived amusement that BND’s promises of an “open” complex – spread over 260,000sq m or 36 soccer pitches – has turned into a forbidden city behind high fences, guarded by scores of cameras and other hidden security features.
The first architectural reviews are in, and they're not kind. The Süddeutsche Zeitung daily dubbed the complex "megalomaniacal", attributing its endless windows to "a 3D printer run amok".
“It’s not clear if the design has as its role model Ceausescu’s parliamentary palace in Bucharest or 1930s Italian rationalism,” it added.
Either way, nearly 11 years after its foundation stone was laid, Berlin’s new spy HQ offers the city a new tourist feature: a towering fake palm tree said to contain high-frequency eavesdropping equipment.