Prussian palace in Berlin rises from the ashes

Germany begins rebuilding of demolished palace to serve as museum for non-European art

The Berlin City Palace, or Stadtschloss, occupied by Wilhelm II until 1918, seen before and after the second World War.

The Berlin City Palace, or Stadtschloss, occupied by Wilhelm II until 1918, seen before and after the second World War.


What would Kaiser Bill say? Nearly a century after marching into a world war that ended in defeat and Wilhelm II’s abdication, Germany has begun rebuilding the Prussian palace in Berlin vacated in 1918 and demolished in 1950.

German president Joachim Gauck yesterday laid the foundation stone for the palace 2.0, dubbed the Humboldt Forum and planned as a museum for non-European art. Berlin’s original palace expanded over the centuries, reflecting the rise of the ruling Hohenzollern family and Prussia. Like Prussia, however, the ruined palace vanished after the war – dynamited by East Berlin as an unwelcome symbol of German imperialism. They used the site as a parade ground and later for its own parliament complex, the Palace of the Republic.

Following German unification a decade of debate over the site ended with a 2002 Bundestag vote to demolish the East German structure and rebuild the Prussian palace.

Advocates see it as the architectural axis and historic heart of central Berlin but critics dismiss it as expensive, revisionist kitsch in a city with a €60 billion deficit and a mixed record on large infrastructure projects.

A survey for Stern magazine yesterday suggested that two-thirds of Germans oppose the project with about a third in favour. “Only when such projects are completed will people see what has been created, then there will be great enthusiasm,” said Manfred Rettig, chairman of the Humboldt Forum foundation. Most concern surrounds the cost of the project: originally budgeted at €550 million, costs have already risen to €620 million. Germany’s federal government is picking up the lion’s share of the bill; and some €80 million is set to come from donations with €20 million raised to date.

“We already have a quarter of what we need without one stone on top of the other,” said project initiator and chief fundraiser Wilhelm von Boddien. “Imagine the run we’ll have when people realise they can buy an eagle or window ledge, beginning at €50.”

The palace is scheduled to be completed in 2019, built to plans by Italian architect Franco Stella. His final design foresees a reconstruction of three baroque palace facades designed by Andreas Schlüter in 1699. The facade to the river Spree and much of the interior will be modern.

Local architects have voiced concern that the new structure will cause subsidence in Berlin’s sandy soil and destabilise the adjacent cathedral and museums. Parallel to construction, an underground train tunnel is to be bored under the site.

Tempers were divided and heated at the building site yesterday. “The original palace is the only thing that fits on that site. It will draw the tourists and tourism is the only industry Berlin has,” said taxi driver Christian. “I would have left the East German palace standing as a museum,” said Annette Fischer, a tourist from Bonn. “No one can convince me they need the old palace here.”